Saturday, November 3, 2012

Your Brain on Obama

Waiting for the Man

This is your brain on Obama: 

Smoking Obama increases apathy and reduces empathy, regardless of race, creed or color. Now blacks, as well as whites, don’t care in the least how many dark-skinned people America kills throughout the world. Before the Obama epidemic, the entire American working class had no class consciousness, but now it’s most historically progressive element (blacks) has no race consciousness either. (Blacks, like all factions of the Democrats, only have symbol consciousness -- tangible improvements are never required.) For American capitalism, that Obama is some good shit. 

Using Obama makes some people prone to wild mood swings and abrupt changes in personality. In their brainwashed cult-like state, Obama users have turned on friends and colleagues who kept their principles regardless of which capitalist flunky commits the crimes. What were shameful atrocities ten minutes before Obama was inaugurated suddenly became badges of “toughness” after he swore to uphold/destroy the Constitution. (Take your pick -- that what he does.) Obama users need treatment but, unfortunately, funds have been fast and furiously diverted to buy guns for Mexican drug cartels. 

Sometimes the initial Obama trip will ruin a life for years. After that first big hit of Obama on election night four years ago, liberals soon papered over their “Question Authority” bumper stickers with a smorgasbord of new ones: “War Is Oftentimes The Answer,” “Love Your Mother Drone,” “All Options Are On The Table,” “Visualize World Domination,” “Live Simply -- That’s All You Can Afford Now, Assholes,” “The Earth Does Not Belong To Us -- It Belongs To The US,” “Please Spy On Me And Strip Me And Check My Cavities And Make Me Safe,” and “Indefinite Detention And Execution Without Charge Or Trial: Fuck Yeah!”  

Mainlining Obama emboldens liberals to express their racism in the socially-acceptable way of hating another “other,” the Muslims, whose women cover up their heads and sometimes aren’t allowed to drive, things that keep white liberal women awake at night. These liberals are righteously certain that head scarves and no learner’s permits are bigger problems for Muslims than racist American goons kicking down Muslim doors at midnight and taking away adult males to be tortured and jailed for years without charge or trial, or Muslim children living in constant terror of America’s flying killer robots that circle the skies above their schools and houses. Enjoy your freedom, ladies, as you drive from your nonpaying job at home to your three/fourths-paying job at work while being carpet-bombed by the messages of “your” society, freedom central, that says you’re either good for sex or good for nothing. But, damn, those head scarves could lead to sharia law -- and lawn jockeys replaced by camel jockeys in the coming Allahbama! The horror, the horror...  

Snorting Obama causes Hollywood celebrities to stand on the corner of Sunset and Vine, waiting for the Man for four years. When the Man finally drove up and rolled down the window, he took $15 million in exchange for this: “Yo, homies, you are way too rich and important to be treated like a plague of locusts anymore. I personally don’t care who you’re fucking or how you want to consecrate it. Just be responsible and practice safe democracy: never be a protester who fucks over a cop, never be a whistle blower who fucks over my government, never be a peasant who fucks over our demockracy-dispensing soldiers and, most importantly, never ever interfere with a rich person getting richer. Ah, you like that last one! Thanks for the cash! Love the rainbows! Peace out! ...Step on it, I have to be at the pro-choice rally in 10 minutes to deliver my latest historic speech, ‘Combatting the Politics of Fear.’ I hope the brochures are ready about the mysterious new group that’s backing Romney, the ‘Mormon Tabernacle Baby Fuckers and Coat Hangers for Christ Choir.’”   

Throwing back too many cold wet Obamas can make union members forget that the current administration never lifted a finger to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed even though unions gave millions of dollars to Obama’s previous and current campaigns. See, junkies aren’t always skinny shadows in an alleyway -- they can also be potbellied autoworkers taking a forty year spin, if they’re really lucky, in the walking dead wage slave treadmill.    

Breathing in secondhand Obama makes right wing politicians absolutely crazy -- they’re getting nearly everything they want but they hate it coming from a black man -- so they become even more outrageous to justify their purpose and donations. What will they do in January when Obama starts shot-gunning them with Social Security and Medicare cuts! OMG, just close your eyes and enjoy it, Mitt and Newt, and all you other unelectable Republicans with ridiculous names. (What will be the names of Republican presidential candidates four years from now -- Spooge, Suds, Glitch, Glub, Santorum, or will the eventual nominee’s name simply be changed to He Hate Me?)  You don’t get it -- you’re the joke now -- all of the capitalists’ most important business is transacted through the Democrats. You’re the jesters and clowns. No one trusts you with how to roll back working class gains in Central and South America and give them back to the landed oligarchs and Wall Street, no one trusts you to breath new life into the formerly moribund American nuclear power industry, and you’re a long way from getting your black belt in Judo-Christianity and being able to instantly subvert the Arab Spring, turning it into a divide and conquer bloodbath for the benefit of the United States of Israel -- they trust Obama and the Democrats for these “achievements.” Can you stand on your head, Mitt? Cool. What about walking on your hands? Or a cartwheel -- let’s see a cartwheel.

William Burrough’s explained Obama’s “Naked Lunch” presidency a long time ago: 1) “Never give anything away for nothing” -- like drawing down in Iraq while doubling up in Afghanistan and expanding war into Pakistan, Yemen and Libya.  2) “Never give more than you have to (always catch the buyer hungry and always make him wait)” -- like: after eight years of the Bush/Cheney rampaging evil, give back some verbal crumbs but nothing tangible.  3) “Always take back everything if you possibly can” -- like Social Security and Medicare, promised prosecution of CIA torturers and spying telecom companies, or offers of a public option in healthcare and closing Guantanamo.    

So there you are, America: jonesin’, begging for a taste, standing on the corner on November 6, waiting for the Man.

published 11/2/2012 at

If You Meet the Cat-God Along the Road

Cisco, My Shadow

Cisco, my little black cat of 11 years, died recently of kidney disease. 

Back in August of 2000, after working the night shift at a hospital, I drove home at 7 a.m. on an elevated four lane road in downtown Springfield, Ohio. I was in the left lane, heading south, and I could see a squashed black furry creature right on the yellow stripe with cars whizzing by in both directions. As I went by, I wondered what poor animal this was -- a skunk maybe? I turned my head and looked down and a little kitten, very much alive and not squashed at all, looked up at me. Just lying there petrified. I couldn’t imagine how he got to that point without getting hit because there weren’t any houses or green space nearby. He was just plunked down in the middle of car and concrete hell. I drove till I could get off the overpass and turned around. I came back up the other way and, as there was no shoulder, I parked in the right lane, put my flashers on and, for good measure, left the driver’s side door open as a way of saying: “Stand clear, everybody: crazy animal person at work!”

I waited for some cars to go by. The kitten was still alive, still staying put... Just as I was about to pick him up -- he ran from me, shit, across two lanes to the other side of the road. I ran after him. He ran again up the side of the road. Goddamit. Cars are flying by, everybody in the daily rush to have the marrow sucked out of their bones. This time, however, he let me pick him up. 

I needed another cat like I needed a hole in the head. I had several of my own and I also was taking care of my mother’s cats. I’d sold my house a few months before and moved in with mom because her cancer was getting worse, spreading to the bones. When she got the diagnosis of breast cancer 10 years before we agreed that she’d either beat it or die at home -- and now we were at Plan B. She had gone into the hospital a couple days before I found Cisco because her left arm had broken, weakened by a tumor. I called my friend Dave Nibert that afternoon and told him, “I can’t take on one more cat.” Dave listened, finally saying, “Maybe this will turn out to be a good thing.” 

And it turned out to be a great thing. No cat ever loved me as much as Cisco. He was my shadow for 11 years. He was also one of the last living links with my mother. Thanks, Dave.

That night I took Cisco in a brown paper bag up to the fourth floor of Community Hospital during visiting hours. Mom was very depressed, not just about bone cancer which, as we joked, quoting some movie about something else, “ain’t no goddam joy ride,” but also about being in the Temple of Doom, as the late Dr. Robert Mendelsohn called hospitals, and by the lengthy time she was away from her cats for the first time in a long time. She was mighty surprised and happy to see this little bundle of love that I pulled out of the bag.  

The hospital actually had some vegan spaghetti for her that night and she sat up in the bed with the plate on her lap. Cisco began walking in the spaghetti, purring, meowing and rubbing up against her, occasionally giving the spaghetti a lick. Recognizing him immediately as a Cat-God, we let him do as he pleased. Hell, if you can’t make a mess in a hospital where can you make it? He came to the right family. A couple nurses saw him but didn’t say anything. Sometimes if your illness is serious or painful enough even medical professionals will cut you a break. 

This was a time when the NASDAQ was still imploding and the tech company Cisco was very much in the news and that’s what I named him after. Nothing made mom tireder than hearing about the stock market and NASDAQ mania, and she unwillingly absorbed minutia about it like other multi-month spectacles -- like a presidential campaign or the OJ Simpson murders and trials. She was a little puzzled that I’d named Cisco after a capitalist entity and said, “Why don’t you just call him Advanced Micro Devices?”

Cisco turned out to be a kind of an advanced micro device. He was the other cats’ own personal Jesus. As the years passed, he befriended cats that the other cats didn’t like or who were loners. I had never had a cat like this. Cisco was the first furry friend that Scamp had ever had in his life -- Cisco took Scamp on immediately and was always grooming and snuggling with him. After Dominic and Koko’s mother, Cheek, died, Cisco took on Dominic and became his sleepytime pal. I thought Dominic might follow Cheek straight into the grave because he couldn’t stand to not be in view of her at all times. With Cisco’s help, Dom’s now 17. The first time Cisco saw Cheek, he ran up to her and tackled her around the neck. Little cat jaws were dropping as all who witnessed this thought: Are you out of your fucking mind? (My cats cuss a lot, too.) Cheek was sweet with people but not to be trifled with by other cats. But Cisco got away with it -- he gave a lot and he got away with a lot. Everybody loved him. Until his illness, he was ever-present happiness. Cisco aka Cissy aka Brat Cat aka Little Black Velvet Bastard was an instigator of many purr parties. 

Cisco couldn’t get close enough to me. He was always biting my cheek or nose or chin. More love! More attention! More food! I wish I was as good as he thought I was. He thinks I’m his mother or I’m god, I’d tell somebody. Adoration was the operative word for anybody who saw us... Most nights for 11 years he would sleep against my chest with his head under my chin and his paws over my left arm. But it seemed to be a thing of just getting me to sleep because he would be gone by when I woke up. It seemed very deliberate. A pattern, a routine. Stability. If I was curled up with my girl friend he’d either try to horn in between us or be on the other side waiting patiently for when I would turn over-- you know, get back to the important stuff! I had a couple other aggressively loving cats but little Cisco was determined to go to the head of the class. 

December marked the start of his mysterious illness. Overnight, he had trouble walking -- he swayed. He looked like part of his backside was paralyzed. He stopped eating, he seemed like he was going to die. $1800 worth of hospitalization, lab work, an EEG and an ultrasound couldn’t figure it out, turning up only that he had some kidney disease. The vet started talking about “quality of life” and euthanasia. 

However, just as mysteriously as he got sick, he started getting better. By February he seemed to completely reverse whatever was wrong -- he was running and jumping again. It looked like a miracle. That lasted until May when he took a turn for the worse, so I started force feeding him and giving him fluids under the skin because of dehydration with kidney disease. I went full court press on love and attention and bought him a heating pad which he enjoyed, as he often sat on my lap when I was on the computer or watching a movie. I took to buying used movies at the video store. We must have watched 100 of them May through September, although he didn’t want the nutritional yeast popcorn anymore. One time I remember saying to him: Well, if you’re not giving up, neither am I. So on we went -- fluid bags, needles, movies, nose rubs and kisses.    

I force fed him for weeks, not ever expecting him to eat again on his own. But on July 4, when he heard me feeding the other cats, he came from upstairs and went over to the chow dish and ate. I was stunned. And he kept eating on his own, through July, August and most of September. He went back to enjoying the Friday night catnipalooza. I thought he was going to pull off another miracle. But the loss of kidney function was inexorable (so said the vet) and finally overtook him in late September.  

If you meet the Cat-God along the road, always save him or her. You might just be saving yourself, too. Or go to your local animal shelter and rescue an animal from death. Never buy from breeders, the slave traders who help create and perpetuate pet overpopulation. (A “responsible breeder” is an oxymoron. If they were responsible they wouldn’t be trying to make a dollar off slave trading.) Go to the pound and walk down dog and cat death row. You’ll see plenty of purebred dogs along with the mutts. Look at the dogs standing up at the front of the cages, with cocked heads and expectant eyes, literally begging for their lives, or look at the withdrawn and abused cat sitting at the back of a cage. All it would take is a pet or two from you and you’d find out that this being would like nothing more than to love you till the end of her/his or your days. Abused and neglected as they are, they are always willing to give humans more chances. Remember: they’re the gods, not us. Every pound is the reality of assembly line killing but also the potential of Epidaurus, a center of healing. Go there, or you can do what I do: build a concrete and steel-reinforced bunker 100 feet below the surface of the earth, bolt the door, be very quiet, and cat in trouble will still find you.

Cisco, I miss you my little buddy. You’ve got big paws to fill.

published 10/12/2012 at

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Laura Nyro Incarnations

The Fury in Her Soul

I’m gonna take a day off from hating America -- I’ll be back on the job tomorrow -- and, instead, rhapsodize about Laura Nyro. I was inspired by a performance I saw this past week at the Sellersville Theater of “One Child Born,” a one-woman play/performance about Nyro and the effect she had on her fans, starring Kate Ferber. I highly recommend it.

When I was coming of musical age in the late 1960s I was swimming in the sea of Laura Nyro. As I listened to my mother’s records and read the covers and credits I kept seeing Laura Nyro’s name. It started with the Fifth Dimension (“Sweet Blindness,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stoned Soul Picnic”), progressed to the Blood Sweat and Tears (“And When I Die”) and Three Dog Night (“Eli’s Comin’”) and was capped off one day when mom came home from work with the 45 of “Stony End” by Barbra Streisand. There was Laura Nyro again. What a well-traveled wise-woman genius Laura Nyro must be! But I still hadn’t heard Laura Nyro herself. When I finally heard her I could see that nearly everyone who covered her tamed her -- they pulled back from the idealism and passion that she leapt into.

In 1962 Nyro exclaimed to her Aunt Esther, “I’m fourteen years old, and nothing has happened to me yet!” And then the rains came. At age 22, on the same weekend she sold out Carnegie Hall, three songs she had penned as a teenager (“Wedding Bell Blues,” “Eli’s Comin’,” “And When I Die”) were in Billboard’s Top 10 by other artists. By then she had already been offered and turned down the lead singing job of the Blood Sweat and Tears after Al Kooper left. By then she had been flirted with by her idol Miles Davis, sought out at a party by Bob Dylan who told her, “I love what you do, I love your chords” and bowled over by an up and comer named David Geffen who became her manager. She was an early influence on Todd Rundgren and Elton John (check out “Burn Down the Mission”) and garnered kudos from jazz pianist Billy Childs who cited her as his favorite composer. There was a private piano duet with Stevie Wonder, and don’t forget yoga with Joni Mitchell, who would later tell music magazine Mojo, “Laura Nyro you can lump me in with, because Laura exerted an influence on me. I looked to her and took some direction from her.”

At age 20, a week after Bobby Kennedy got shot, Nyro wrote and recorded the wail of “Save the Country.” At age 19 she wrote “Sweet Blindness,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” the relentless “Eli’s Comin’” and counseled the world that nothing cures like “Time and Love.” In the vicinity of age 17 or 18 she was going down the “Stony End” when she wasn’t “Blowin’ Away” on the high of love or pleading with Bill to get on the ball and marry her in the “Wedding Bell Blues.” And at age 16 she looked death square in the eyes and wrote “And When I Die” and at age 14 “Nothing has happened to me yet!” So there I am, 13 years old, watching Laura Nyro’s name spin around a turntable, probably taking a pen and making a spiral on the red Columbia label as I was wont to do. The sexy sensitive powerful joyous well-traveled wise-woman genius -- this dream female -- who could send ecstatic shivers up my spine and make me cry without me ever knowing exactly why... was a teenager! Just like me! Well, not really. Not at all, actually. Were we on the same planet? The idiosyncratic words and phrasing, the changes in tempo, the dropped beats, the hail mary beats, the masterful dynamics, the four minute Shakespearean dramas, the incredible imagination and artistic maturity, the fusion of a visual artist’s eye with a poet and a great singer wrasslin’ with love and justice and sexuality, all of the brilliance was right there at age 16. She influenced legions but she herself was never compared to anyone.

I’ve always felt that Nyro did something that no one else has ever done and not really gotten the recognition for it: she wrote more great songs as a teenager than anybody, including Lennon and McCartney, Dylan and Stevie Wonder. Those guys went on to conquer the world and I love their work, but they didn’t come remotely close to doing in their teenage years, even collectively, what Laura Nyro did. She was on fire. And those songs listed above were just the hits -- there were plenty of other songs of beauty and daring, including “Buy and Sell,” “Goodbye Joe,” “I Never Meant to Hurt You,” “Poverty Train,” “Woman’s Blues,” “The Confession” and “Emmie,” considered by some the first lesbian pop song. By the way, none of those guy gods ever wrote a song as wild and exciting as “Eli’s Comin’,” with its different horns each playing in different rhythms. The teenage Laura Nyro was one of the greatest concentrated bursts of imagination that the world has ever seen.

I’ve read a lot about her, her musical family, singing in the subways and on street corners of NYC but nothing adequately explains her for me. She still seems like a big anomaly. She did well financially but she also turned her back on much more money and fame (as well as big city living), “retired” at 24 and went to live in the New England countryside, married, had a son, divorced, released albums sometimes five years apart, toured occasionally and lightly, and spent the last 17 years of her life with painter Maria Desederio, with whom she frequently traveled America in a camper. She died in 1997 at 49 of ovarian cancer, the same age her mother died of the same disease. Michele Kort’s biography of Nyro, “Soul Picnic: the Music and Passion of Laura Nyro,” provided most of the quotes for this article.

Let’s hear several more of those quotes. Here’s Phoebe Snow, commenting on a Nyro performance at a songwriter’s roundtable: “She was touching God. Her voice was pristine and perfect... The tears were streaming down my face. Laura came back for, like, four encores: we wouldn’t let her leave. Everyone in that room had sort of a communal moment where we all knew that this was as good as live music gets.” Critic Ian Dove, after witnessing a 1971 Long Island performance: “She maintained the religious feeling right to the end and it was a surprise to see her walk off the stage rather than levitate.” And Melissa Manchester: “I just never heard anybody running down the hallways of their soul, just running and running and running and running, trying to outdistance some devil. I worshipped her music... She was the muse.” If you think that the young Laura Nyro can’t or won’t get any higher, louder, bolder, bangier or more thunderous, you’re happily wrong -- she always goes there.

But facts aren’t so much “stubborn things,” as somebody said, as they are tedious things. So in the spirit of not-entirely-baseless speculation, hold out your hands, readers, because we’re going to do a reading. I don’t think Nyro’s talent and the tremendous effect she had on people can be explained without resorting to hocus pocus. As nothing is beneath me, I will now step into the world of God and the Devil and the unseen and say that Laura Nyro was the reincarnation of several great adventurous romantic and poetic spirits. Please join me in this virtual (!) seance as we try to call up Laura Nyro’s past lives, the pertinent ones that karmic astrology says we all bring to this lifetime to help us grow and learn. Freedom is great but, as Americans know, free is much better -- so there will be no charge for today’s reading.

Ommmmmm, um, ahhhhhh, I’m now seeing the specter of poet John Keats join us... Don’t cough on me, nightingale boy, just have a seat! Can you feel the vibe of Keats in Nyro’s work and, especially, life? Like Nyro, Keats wrote his most phenomenal work in a tiny period of time, nearly all of it in 1819 when he was 24, especially the spring when he wrote five of his great odes: “Grecian Urn,” “Melancholy,” “Psyche,” “To a Nightingale,” and “Indolence.” That year also saw “The Eve of St. Agnes,” “Hyperion,” “La Belle Dame sans Merci” and the “Ode to Autumn.” Keats had the desperate foresight to know he had to take some time off to pour out his soul because soon he would have to “earn a living” to help support his brother George and from whence there was no coming back alive, dead at age 25 of tuberculosis.

How might the spirit of John Keats come back into the world to finish its business, this person who wrote his beloved Fanny Brawne: "I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my friends proud of my memory – but I have lov'd the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember'd." How else would new lessons be taught to the sickly fevered TB-wracked Keats but to be born into the fires of spring of Laura Nyro whose soul is always “raging” and in a “fury”? (But in a good way.) Keats wouldn’t have come back in late 20th century America as a poet because he would have been scrupulously ignored (again.) But he would have come back as a pop musician and singer. Keats was derided by the literary critics during his life but his spirit would have learned what love and adulation were like in the form of Laura Nyro. His one champion was Percy Byssche Shelley whose last four stanzas of “Adonais,” his elegy on Keats, are my favorite lines in the English language. 

With Keats incorporated inside her, informing her, Nyro was free to learn that recognition and even creativity itself are not the be and end all. Fame didn’t faze Laura Nyro because she always thought of herself as famous even when she was a child -- that’s why she was momentarily perplexed at age 14 when nothing had happened to her yet. I’m not comparing Nyro’s words to Keats’ words because only Shakespeare is in Keats’ league. What I’m saying is that Nyro can be likened to Keats because she seemed to have no progenitors. Nobody put words together like Keats and nobody put songs together like Laura Nyro -- the daring mixture of styles within a song, her march to the non-beats of invisible drummers, her rich suggestive language. Not to mention her pioneering influence on other artists and the depth of feeling she conveyed and aroused in her listeners. Nyro is what Keats would look like in the late 20th century . 

(Otherworldly aside: I’m not well-versed in Robert’s Rules of Reincarnation but I believe we are allowed to bring previous lifetimes with us into this lifetime even if those previous lives were contemporaneous with each other. You just can’t be someone that you’re contemporaneous with -- that’s because a competing group of psychics will label you dysfunctional and make a bundle treating you for a long period of time called “progress.” To use a musical analogy, you’d be a record royalty: every time your craziness plays, they get a little somethin’. So be sure that your incarnations have the good form to be dead before you were busy bein’ born.)

Given the above, it makes sense that I’m also seeing the apparition of Keats’ contemporary, Shelley, joining us now as one of Nyro’s past lives. This is very strong. The anti-war, anti-monarchy, pantheist, defender of the downtrodden, vegetarian animal libber Shelley pretty much had no place to go in 1822 with his revolutionary ideas -- he had to get off the planet for awhile. Poet Matthew Arnold dismissed Shelley as “a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain.” But the beat of Shelley’s wings carried for 150 years: his advocacy of nonviolent resistance in “The Masque of Anarchy” would influence Thoreau who would influence Gandhi who would influence Martin Luther King who, as Nyro sang in “Save the Country,” was at the “Glory River” and “who loved to sing in the sun, ‘We shall overcome.’” Shelley would have loved to be mingling with his friend Keats in the corpus delectable of vegetarian Laura Nyro. Shelley wrote ringing defenses of vegetarianism, saying, among other things, "It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion, and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust."

A rap on Laura Nyro is that she “dropped out.” Here’s what happened when she “dropped out”: she embraced and wrote about motherhood, feminism, environmentalism, the struggles of Indigenous peoples, vegetarianism and animal liberation. She was expanding the scope of who she loved from Eli and Emmie to Miss Piggy and Elsie and the gardenias and the sassafras trees. It’s entirely possible that she dropped out of the juvenile concerns of sexist speciesist male writers. (Anthropologist Louis Leakey wrote that, “Sexism is roughly inversely proportional to vegetarianism.”) 

Since you didn’t ask, and since ass-kissing male rock music critics won’t tell you, I’ll tell you who dropped out in plain sight: the comfy rock gods who would bob and weave and feint but never actually name the names and hit any targets that mattered. Instead, music critics would explain and parse the gods’ coded cagey nebulous words and thoughts while the world burned before our eyes. When the smoke cleared, this is where we ended up: last March Bob Dylan had the Presidential Medal of Freedom hung around his neck by the Master of War, the drone and death squad lover, the extinguisher of due process and habeas corpus, the deus ex machina for saving HMOs and Wall Street thieves and CIA torturers, the kidnapper and the false imprisoner, the keeper of secret prisons, the cool killer that liberals love, another rotating head of the Great Satan and, coming in January, the eviscerator of Social Security -- the American President, Mr. Chump Change, Barack Obama. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ smoke up your ass, the answer is blowin’ up your ass...

Fuck that shit. Give me the directness of Laura Nyro who told the real 99%, the world of speciesist bigots, that hunting, meat eating, zoos, circuses and fur-wearing were wrong. Nyro responded to the rising concern for non-human beings by writing “Lite a Flame (The Animal Rights Song)” and dedicating her 1988 tour to the animal movement. That rising concern over the last 30 years for non-human life, and the deleterious effects animal exploitation has on human beings and the entire planet, has apparently been of no interest to male rock gods even though large segments of the capitalist class and their congressional errand boys are so interested that they’ve enacted a host of special laws that criminalize the dissent, investigative journalism and nonviolent protests of animal activists. (You’d be surprised at what happens when people, let alone the gods, conquer their taste buds and stop eating animals: they quickly and vocally have the religious experience of seeing the wrongness of zoos, circuses and rodeos.) 

Animal and environmental activists are rotting for years in supermax prisons for nothing more than property damage. They are political prisoners. They’ve never actually hurt a person -- they’ve hurt money, they’ve committed crimes against money which, of course, makes them quite treasonous. These brave people alarm the ruling class. The rock and roll gods don’t bother the ruling class in the least -- they’re just trophies that you hang a medal on and get your picture taken with: “I, Barackus Obombus Caesar, with the impunity vested in me, now bestow this trinket, this inducement to silence for past, present and future ruling class crimes, on Bob Dylan who, 50 years ago, would have written a scathing song about even the offer of this trinket, let alone its acceptance. But I conquer -- just like I used my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to diabolically diss Martin Luther King and justify my wars. I just bagged another icon! Facebot friends, consumers, homelandians -- my sheeps -- come and join the evil, ‘cause even the Fucker-in-Chief sometimes must have to stand naked.” 

The American ruling class doesn’t hate “radical” animal and environmental activists and foreign suicide bombers because of their “destructiveness” -- it hates them because of their integrity, the fact that they can’t be bought off. People who give their freedom and lives for a purpose higher than money scare the hell out of the well-protected warmongering cowards in Washington, DC and, of course, they’re incomprehensible to the comfy-corrupt American populace. Oops, went off on a little busman’s holiday here, hating America. I love vacationing! Thanks for being so patient, Keats. Shelley, I’m sure you get it. Back to Laura.

(When Bette Midler inducted Nyro into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past April, she mentioned Nyro’s social consciousness about the “peace movement” and the “women’s movement” but failed to mention anything about her concern for animals. People like Midler fancy themselves as “getting” Laura Nyro but Nyro is still light years ahead of any group of people who would feel the need to “tame” her again, in death, by not mentioning the chief political concern of the last 15 years of her life -- just because it’s of no concern to them. Hence, they weren’t sincerely, completely honoring her. Everything has to be safe and smooth for coward country America, nobody must be made uncomfortable or be faced with anything they disagree with. That, in fact, is the state of rock and roll. Had she been alive, I bet Nyro would have put “Lite A Flame” in the audience’s face with the same aplomb as she played the gritty anti-drug “Poverty Train” to the drugged-up 1967 Monterey Pop Festival audience. Why Patti Labelle wasn’t chosen to induct Nyro is a mystery, as Labelle knew her early on and sang with her many times.)  

With Shelley as a guide we get closer to what Nyro’s life was really about -- it wasn’t about singing or art or creativity. It was about the stripped-down soul, as it always is. It was about lining up your actions with your beliefs -- popularity be damned. It was about finding a balance between the outer world and the inner world, about staying involved and fighting injustice without being overwhelmed by it. It was about being stronger than cruelty. It was about not looking away. It was about changing yourself if you were part of the problem. I don’t think it was an accident that the specific focus of “Lite a Flame” (which also makes connections between racism, sexism and speciesism) was the plight of elephants in zoos and circuses, as a younger Nyro once insouciantly ate canned elephant meat. “Lite a Flame” was an attempt at redemption. On the live acoustic version of “Save the Country,” it wasn’t just Nyro’s pure voice that choked people up, it was the striving of a soul to be better, the hope that we could all be better, and a conscience that didn’t “choke.” Nyro’s idealism, righteousness and compassion must seem like bizarre artifacts to today’s jaded, entitled, conformist young people. Her soul chose her wonderful parents because she had work that needed done in the 1960s: she was the best artistic expression of the best values of one of the best times in American history, an era of questioners and risk takers, people with tremendous personal courage in the civil rights and antiwar movements, and others who were spreading the seeds of feminism and nature liberation. And she embraced and spoke to all of it in a way that sexist rock gods couldn't. Idealism, compassion, beauty, joy, justice. That's the meaning of Laura Nyro, and the gap between then and now is the tears.

One more thing...The fans felt it but they could never name it: Laura Nyro had the life-long innocence and charismatic vulnerability of icons like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean but she had different values and a different path -- it was never set loose on the world in a big way. But make no mistake, she had bushel baskets of "it" -- and very few do.

Some critics called Nyro’s later work “didactic,” which is dog whistle for: “She said something true about me that I don't like. When she says something true about someone that I don’t like, that’s speaking truth to power.” She wasn’t didactic, she was matter-of-factic. She was successfully synthesizing what it meant to be a red diaper grandbaby and being one with the trees -- there was no contradiction.

In astrology, Nyro’s “final signature” -- the combination of qualities (Cardinal, Fixed, Mutable) and elements (Earth, Air Fire, Water) that gives an overall feel to a person --- was “fixed fire” or Leo, like the August 4 born Shelley. Nyro was a peacemaker, a diplomatic Libra Sun but people didn’t get it at first how stubborn she was, and that’s Leo, the fixed fire. One of the strongest themes of Kort’s book on Nyro is how Nyro stood her ground and prevailed over some of the most powerful male producers, musicians and executives in the music business. Ever civil, she kind of wore them down with nonviolent resistance.

Wow, after all that with Shelley, I feel like I need some drugs. And look who’s come to our party: the old absinthe and hashish user, French poet Arthur Rimbaud. This enfant terrible was a celebrated and influential poet who abandoned poetry at age 19. His big 1875 “fuck you” farewell to the world of art and creativity is sometimes used as a marker for the decline of the artist and the individual in society and the rise of the machine. He had a tumultuous affair with fellow poet Paul Verlaine then became a wanderer on three continents, taking mostly menial jobs until he died at age 37. Not knowing how to get along in the “civilized” world, he eventually engaged in gun running, smuggling, slave trading and ivory dealing (Laura’s penance for pachyderms again.)

I hear the libertine Libran Rimbaud whispering in Nyro’s ear: try everything, love everybody, man or woman, break down all barriers, drink that bottle of Robitussin when you’re a kid listening to Miles and Coltrane, drop that acid, toke up, take a hit, see what you feel like, even better if you feel like nothing at all: no changing of minds without thinking, no attempts by the mere world to mar your perfect birth. I see Rimbaud speaking and writing in colors, using them as verbs and vowels, and Nyro speaking in terms of textures and colors when rehearsing musicians. As Janis Ian said, “She’d tell the musicians, ‘Play more purple, more like that chair.’”  “Bring in some blue horns,” she would say, and she once described the instrumentation on a song as ”a warm pale blue with a few whitecaps on it.” I see Rimbaud running wildly through Nyro’s veins, saying: tour like crazy, dazzle everyone you meet, burn out, die young, and Laura saying, “Whoa, Rimbaud!” 

I see Rimbaud hitching a ride on Laura Nyro’s birth, looking forward to more gypsy life and drugs and then being stunned by one thing after another: drowned by the torrent of Laura’s black loves Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane and, most of all, Miles Davis whose work she felt so close to that she said: “I feel that somehow he got lost in my blood, he got mixed in somewhere inside.” Rimbaud probably thought he’d experienced it all when he ended up harmonizing with Patti Labelle on “Save the Country.” All souls moving, all the time. But Rimbaud wasn’t done. His debauched isolated “Drunken Boat” self, gladly seeking oblivion in the 19th century, was instead grabbed up by another teenage genius (he thought he was grabbing her -- but this was Laura Judo Nyro we’re talking about) who changed course and set sail for pantheist transcendence.    

But now the spirits are flickering a bit and my powers are waning. Most of Laura’s incarnations, of course, aren't famous poets, they're just ordinary people. With no planets in the grounded earth signs in her horoscope, Nyro definitely had an impractical naive incarnation that was destined to be a Geffen-magnet, the kind of incarnation who would materialize later and, upon finding out the day of a  show that her piano would block the view of people sitting too close to the stage, ask the promoter, “Could you lower the stage?” Informed that this was impossible, Nyro earnestly asked for more impossibility: “Well, could you raise the audience?” I can see Nyro in 1871 Paris at the barricades with fellow communards, perhaps tending the wounded or lifting spirits with a song of liberty, fraternity and equality, come on people, come on children, perhaps being listened to by the self-seeking adventurer Rimbaud who was rumored to have joined the Commune for a brief time, the kind of incarnation who a century later would tell a journalist: "At a certain point music and business are opposed to each other... I'd sooner be looked on as a comrade than a star... The star system perpetuates the economic system." Now I’m seeing the “spiritual but not religious” Nyro as being nailed by organized religion in a previous life (so many choices), perhaps a witch at Salem drowned with her precious cats. There goes Laura Nyro, fading out, perhaps going down the tantalizing “Stony End” as the adulteress on the road, looking for a Christ who wasn’t there -- or the kind of world, a kind world, where you didn’t need a Christ because everyone, more or less, was a Christ. There was nothing like her, but she’ll be back.  

I’m signing off now but you should surry on down with Rimbaud and Shelley and Keats into the Fifth Dimension and partake of the Sweet Blindness and the derangement of the senses at the Stoned Soul Picnic. If you don’t know how to surry, I bet Rimbaud can show you, I bet he whispered that word in Laura’s ear to begin with. You’re in good hands. Make sure Keats parties also. I don’t think absinthe could make his heart any less fonder. Ask Shelley what’s on his mind because in 200 years it will be on everyone’s mind. Love, strive, believe. Later at night, if you’re awakened by broken hearts dropping on the stairs and a pounding at your door, and you’re wondering what your own racing heart would sound like smashed, don’t be surprised if Eli’s Comin’, the one you’ve been warned about, and don’t be surprised if you open the door anyway. And if it turns out to be Barbra Streisand, grab your lucky crystals from the night stand and threaten her with a New Age stoning if she keeps not doing Stony End in concert or doing half-assed versions of it or dissing the words. As you send her away, tell her that people don’t need “People,” they need Stony End. Then imagine how you’ll Lite a Flame in the hearts of your comrades to do the right thing and Lite a Flame in the womb of your partner to do the nice thing because it’s all one and the same, the fucking and the enlightening, sometimes you get to be Laura and sometimes Emmie and sometimes, if you’re really Luckie, you get to be the unconditional love curled up at the foot of the bed. And if your love is away, just Walk the Dog and Light the Light until they return, though it may be in another lifetime. But you never know for sure, so light the light. Then get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow you’ll be schlepping your Keats and Shelleys and Rimbauds, and all those other furies in your soul, onward to the glory goal, as you head out to Save the Country, because you’re optimystic, you know it can and will be done, just like Laura knew. That, in fact... it’s done already. Somewhere. Play more purple.

published 9/28/2012 at

Saturday, July 21, 2012

When I Started Hating America

The People, No

Yesterday, July 19, was former Democratic senator and presidential candidate George McGovern’s 90th birthday.

I thought of McGovern recently because I was trying to pin down when I first started hating America. I’ve been a little tired of all these Osama and Anwar al-come-lately’s and the glory they get for hating America when many of us have toiled unpaid and unknown hating America for decades. The way I see it is these are foreign terrorists taking what ought to be American jobs. (To be fair, Anwar al-Awlaki wasn’t a foreigner, he was an American citizen, just like his 16 year-old son, Abdulrahman, and Obama killed both of them in separate drone strikes. To be fairer still, from everything I’ve read, the elder Awlaki was not a terrorist -- he was a skilled propagandist and his killing was simply another of Murder Inc.’s free speech hits serving the parallel goals of getting praise in some parts of America while throwing intimidation into others, i.e.: “See how confidently outrageous and barbaric we are -- don’t ever give a thought to effectively opposing us!” Bringing it all back home, indeed.) 

Also bolstering my America-hating street cred: Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki both initially collaborated with the US government which I’ve never done. (Bin Laden worked with the CIA in the 1980s to drive out the Russians from Afghanistan. In 2002 al-Awlaki was invited by congressional staffers to be the first imam to conduct a prayer service at the US Capitol to “improve relations” between Muslims and the American government that’s murdering them like there’s no tomorrow.) Boogeymen though they became, bin Laden and al-Awlaki strangely imagined that the American government would not double cross them (leaving American troops in Muslim holy lands, starting brand new wars in the Middle East, etc.) No one from the coal-mining desecrated hills in West Virginia to the racist police state along the Mexican border or the stop-and-frisk streets of NYC would make such a mistake about the US government.

I’d like to report that I was hip enough to hate America when I was still in the womb -- that I could immediately sense America’s malevolent vibrations -- but, hard head that I am, it actually took 16 years. (Although I was said to be a “terror,” I grew up in a time when even the scuzziest American president didn’t drop bombs on 16 year-old American kids.)

Here’s how it happened: My mother and I stuffed envelopes for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign and we were very happy we had such a good man to support. I was too young to vote but I was looking forward to being on the winning team. It would be unthinkable that the American people would choose the corrupt, racist, warmonger Nixon over McGovern, who was a World War II war hero running on a platform of ending the Vietnam War. For the country to choose Nixon would mean that something was deeply wrong with the American people. 

Triple dog duh! 

McGovern got landslided in 1972 and the American working class has been landsliding the world ever since in proud ignorance, cowardly violence and infinite obedience. So I say, contra Carl Sandberg: the people, no, hail no, for god sakes, no. I know as a Marxist I’m supposed to promote working class solidarity but I’m never really feeling the love. The union guys I work with don’t know anything about May Day, Big Bill Haywood or surplus value but they’re idiot savants when it comes to fantasy football, Philly strip clubs and the most Eden-like places to blow away defenseless animals. 

People are always making excuses for the American working class, echoing Jimmy Carter’s maggot-gagging line about America deserving “a government as good as its people.” I say America is the same old racist genocider it started out as, it just goes into hibernation for awhile, dormant like a retrovirus. Genocide and stealing from people of color was kind of like our first love -- we never got over it and we’re always trying to replicate it. If America wasn’t the same old racist genocider, we would have made reparations to Indigenous peoples, black Americans, the several million we killed during the Vietnam War and the million Iraqis killed in our latest rampage. The problem is that America never gets corrected, there’s never enough Geronimos, John Browns or Ho Chi Minhs to go around.

I’d like to see what happens when the American working class gets pushed to the wall, that revolutionary crisis when we’re impelled to rebel, the tipping point when the price of a gallon of gas gets higher than a pack of Marlboros. Will we turn to reaction and lay waste to the nearest defenseless minority or will we unite in solidarity and lay waste to the capitalist tapeworms?   

It’s hard to relate to something as alienated and shut down as the American working class, maybe because they never learn anything, as in the Wisconsin recall vote, where they chose a tentacle of the Kochtopus, or a Globescan poll of two weeks ago which showed that 58% of Americans believe that rich people deserve their wealth. The kicker: it was up 1 point over the same 2008 poll -- this, after the capitalist magicians turned public money into personal bonuses, 401Ks into 201Ks, vibrant neighborhoods into ghost towns and the greatest destruction of black wealth in 100 years, to which Don Corleobastardone and his chief unenforcer Eric “Fold’em” Holder say “Fugettaboutit!” as far as any fraudsters being prosecuted. Number one in the same poll were Australians, 61% of whom enjoyed being fucked by the capitalist class, up from 53% in 2008. Way to go champs/chumps! Throw another prole on the barbie! All props to the Greeks who came in the lowest at 9%, though it remains to be seen how many of the other 91% can be leveraged into torches, pitchforks and Molotov cocktails.  

In 1976, when I was 20, a really cool thing happened: newsman Paul Duke of the Public Broadcasting System did several shows on 3rd party presidential candidates. There was a libertarian, a communist, a couple socialists (one of whom was Julius Levin of the Socialist Labor Party) and a few others. It was refreshing to hear these candidates explain their platforms and philosophies, their critiques of the Democrats and Republicans. You won’t get a national TV show today with people respectfully and rationally discussing why the American government should be overthrown and what would replace it. Parents, please teach your children well that the “freedom” to surf the web while taking a dump is not the same as having meaningful political choices.

I was very excited about what Julius Levin was saying about the socialist industrial union form of government: a government based on industry instead of an anachronism like territory, a government of nurses, farmers, machinists, secretaries, plumbers, etc., democratically elected at every level -- local, regional and national -- from all workplaces with no union reps making any more money than the average worker. This all-industrial council of workers would replace the nonproductive pampered professional politicians called Congress. In short, industrial unionism would make Jefferson’s citizen-legislators real -- ALL the citizens: blacks, women, unpropertied white males, everybody. Capitalism’s Supreme Court weather vanes would be sent packing and the Whitey House would be turned into a museum honoring working class heroes. I imagine a fun and funky gift shop also, a kind of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, “honoring” 200 years of various capitalist administrations and their absurdities -- for instance, it might sell blue dresses and cigars to commemorate the Clinton years.  

At the end of Paul Duke’s show there was contact info for each political party so I wrote to the SLP. In no time at all I went from disillusionment about McGovern’s walloping four years earlier to my blood being on fire with Marx’s “Paris Commune,” Gustav Bang’s “Crises in European History” and everything that the great American Marxist Daniel De Leon ever wrote. Not only that, but I became happy, not because I thought change was imminent in America, but because I was free, no longer living in a fog or lost in a dream, and because there was a great future out there ready for whenever the working class decided to take it. Suddenly, I was going where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain, whether anyone else was going or not, whether it ever came to fruition or not, I could see the way out of this, the country and the world started making sense -- why even “good men” capitalist politicians like George McGovern could only go so far. In Marx, De Leon, Rosa Luxemburg and others, here were long dead people whose thoughts were more relevant to my experience in the world than all the obfuscation and lies of Carter, Ford and Reagan. Despite all the media we have, does a young person today have an opportunity to get exposed to people who have a fundamentally different view of the world than the ruling class? Paul Duke’s show came out of the blue, I wouldn’t have known to “search” for Socialist Industrial Unionism, for example, because I didn’t know that it existed. It came to me because the ruling class let it come to me, it was a more open and freer time.  

Thanks, Paul Duke. And thanks, world, for letting me in and come of age when you did, that remarkable gust of freedom between when the Beatles came (1964) and Nixon went (1974.) After 1974, it was all over, the last victory for the American working class was probably Nixon saving the wolf with the Endangered Species Act, though, as everything is always up for grabs under capitalism, wolves are now being hunted again. For the last 40 years it’s been nothing but reaction and unremitting working class defeat. 

George McGovern accomplished something that we still see the fruits (and vegetables) of today: he chaired the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs which released the 1977 “Dietary Goals for the United States,” commonly called “The McGovern Report.” The committee gathered studies on human health and nutrition and took testimony from a diverse group of Americans and concluded that, for better health, Americans should eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less meat, dairy products and sugar. Common knowledge now, but not then among the general public. This report incensed animal slavers, especially in McGovern’s home state of South Dakota, and he was defeated for reelection in 1980.    

The aftermath of the McGovern Report is instructive as to how immaterial truth and science are under capitalism. First off, after furious meat and dairy industry lobbying, many of the initial conclusions of the report were watered down. And in the years that followed, despite the bounty of healthy food and health knowledge available, despite study after study showing the superiority of plant-based diets, despite how much easier it is to be a vegan now than in 1977, despite all of the awareness raised by animal activists about how cruelly farm animals are raised and killed, despite the work of environmentalists showing how wasteful and destructive animal agriculture is, despite the work of biologists and animal behaviorists showing that other animals have social, emotional and psychological lives just like we do, despite philosophers making powerful cases that there are no morally relevant differences between us and most other animals -- despite all of this, 10 billion farm animals are now raised and killed each year in America (not including fish) versus less than 4 billion in 1977 when the McGovern Report was released. Six billion more animals killed each year than 35 years ago, an onslaught of mind-boggling suffering, waste of resources and death. As befits our air-headed world, I know many vegans who view the present as a golden age because we can get every little vegan thing for our own personal consumption while the 10 billion farm animal deaths-per-year number doesn’t budge. Capitalism is the Devil, and the Devil can be very accommodating. (I have a big interest in non-human beings but you can substitute and contrast any issue then and now-- civil liberties, the military, the environment -- and find the present incredibly lacking. If you tell me that blacks can sit at lunch counters and the front of the bus, I’ll say great and I’ll raise you one incarceration nation, a poverty draft, racial profiling, the dusty old chips of redlining and  disenfranchisement and I’ll go all in with the greatest inequalities in wealth since the Great Depression.) 

The McGovern Report won the intellectual battle and that’s only strengthened as years go by. But in the real world of blood and money, corporate welfare and  relentless brainwashing advertising, the meat industry prevailed. Subsidies are still given for animal products that the government itself says we should minimize eating, not to mention all the grain and water subsidies and cheap grazing rights on public land. The government also helps American factory farmers sell their cruel, wasteful polluting confinement systems to China and other countries. As these nations take on the rich western diet their previous good health disappears and they start having the same chronic diseases seen in Americans. If we can’t beat them militarily we’ll help them destroy themselves nutritionally and environmentally. (For a wonderful group dedicated to helping the humans and non-humans of Ethiopia, including keeping factory farming out of Ethiopia, go the the website of the International Fund for Africa.)

Every movement for a better world -- civil rights, environmental, antiwar, animal lib -- bumps up against the profit motive of capitalism, finds out how much/little is possible and then slinks back into ineffectiveness and irrelevance because, for these movements to progress any further, they must end capitalism. In my neck of the woods that means macho idiot savants conquer women and non-human beings but refuse to fight the only battle that matters against the capitalist masters. 

Anyway, thanks Senator McGovern for trying to stop the war, thanks for visiting impoverished areas of America in the 1960s and bringing them to the attention of the rest of the country and expanding the food stamp program in response, thanks for your first speech on the senate floor in 1963 criticizing Kennedy’s policy on Cuba and being the first senator to criticize the Vietnam War that same year, thanks for changing the equation about how the nation looks at food and health, even if it’s mostly in peoples’ minds and not their tongues. You probably outlived all those animal farmers who ousted you from office and I bet, no matter what physical condition you are in, you are more ethically fit than anyone in the current US Senate. Happy 90th!

And now, a coda. This is McGovern addressing his senate colleagues in 1970 for their lack of opposition to the Vietnam War. Imagine any of today’s venal, cowardly US Senators -- working as they do for Lockheed, Israel and Wall Street -- saying anything like this even though the words are more pertinent than ever:

“Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land - young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.”

“This chamber reeks of blood.” 

Unpopular, unconstitutional war waged by a murderous arrogant emperor with a compliant congress, a little somethin’ somethin’ we can believe in!

published 7/20/2012 at