Monday, March 20, 2017

Welcome to Rock ‘n Roll Heaven; Your Throne Awaits

It was with great sadness, this weekend, that I learned of the passing of Chuck Berry.

There is no possible way to over-estimate the influence of Chuck Berry on rock and roll.  He pretty much invented it, Elvis and Bill Haley be damned.

If it wasn’t for Chuck, the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame would be nothing but an overly-stylized greenhouse.

I know for me, none of my favorite groups would have been my favorite groups, or likely anyone’s favorite groups, without Chuck Berry.

The Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, AC/DC, George Thorogood, Joan Jett, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, The J Geils Band, ELO, Aerosmith, Guns and Roses, Motley Crue, The Kinks, Huey Lewis, and practically every rock band that featured an electric guitar, owe their careers to Chuck Berry.  Hell, Angus Young practically stole Chuck’s whole act.  (Although I’m pretty sure Chuck never wore an English schoolboy suit.)

Someone once asked George Thorogood why he didn’t write many of his own songs.  George replied, “Because Chuck Berry already wrote all the good ones.  On his 1990s live album, Thorogood called Johnny B. Goode the “rock and roll national anthem.”

With the latter quote in mind, I had a thought on Sunday, as the Penguins regular anthem singer, Jeff Jimerson, stepped onto the ice:
That might have set off a scandal amongst this country’s “true patriots,” though, who are against anything but dewy-eyed reverence when it comes to the anthem, and the NHL doesn’t need that kind of bad PR.  Maybe they could have done it along with the regular anthem like they do when a US team plays a Canadian team and they do both anthems.  Would have been awesome!  Without Chuck, few of the bands they use in hockey arenas would even exist.

Johnny B. Goode is one of the most “covered” rock songs in history; any garage band worth its salt has a version.  Besides Thorogood’s, Johnny Winter’s version is my favorite.
It’s no accident that the Back to the Future scene where Marty McFly has to play for a 1950s dance, they used JBG.  Not Elvis, not Jerry Lee or Bill Haley, but Chuck Berry.

That’s what gave the scene resonance; if Chuck Berry wasn’t the root of modern rock music, that bit falls flat.

In the last verse of Bob Seger’s Rock ‘n Roll Never Forgets, he name-drops Chuck Berry:

Well all of Chuck’s children are out there, playin’ his licks
So get into your kicks.
Come back baby, rock ‘n roll never forgets.”

I think the musician most closely associated with Chuck is Keith Richards.  It was Keith who was the driving force behind the feature film “Hail Hail Rock and Roll,” which was part documentary, part concert film. 

Keith had a camera crew follow him around as he convinced Chuck to do the project, put a band together (including forging a peace between Chuck and his old piano player, Johnny Johnson), and rehearsed the show.

There’s no question that Chuck was a ball-buster.  The film shows Chuck and Keith going nose to nose when Chuck doesn’t like the way Keith is playing a particular lick and makes him do it again and again.  And Keith takes it, as a show of respect for Chuck. 

That respect is probably the only thing that kept Chuck out of the hospital, on another occasion where he punched Keith right in the face.  See, Keith picked up Chuck’s guitar, which is something he allowed no one to do, ever.

"If that was anybody else," Keith said later, "I'd have slit his fuckin’ throat.” 

Chuck had several quirks that were known throughout the music business.  From at least the 70s on, he never had a permanent backing band.  He’d just roll into town and the promoter would have a local band play with him.  It was a given that they all knew his songs.  Whether they could agree on a key to play them in, was another story.

Chuck insisted on being paid in cash, following his shows.  He did all his business on a cash basis.  And after the royal screwing black musicians got throughout the 50s and 60s, from record labels and businessmen, I don’t blame him.  Those guys got screwed dry by the very machine that made them famous.

There’s one thing that always bugged me:  Out of all the huge, timeless, inspirational hits… Johnny B Goode, Roll Over Beethoven, Livin’ in the USA, No Particular Place to Go, Maybelline… his only number one Billboard hit was a ridiculous 1972 novelty song called “My Ding-a-Ling.”  

Just goes to show that there’s no accounting for taste.  (Sure, I liked it at the time, but I was eleven, for cryin’ out loud.) 

So, the next time you find yourself jamming to some glorious, blues-drenched, three-chord rock ‘n roll, give a thought to where it all came from and remember Chuck Berry.

Rest in peace, Chuck.  And just wait till you get a load of your new backup band!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Repealing the ACA

I have never seen so much “pretzel logic” as I have surrounding this ACA repeal.  Politicians on the right are twisting themselves in knots trying to sell this shit sandwich as something positive for America when it is clearly only positive for the super-rich people who are getting their taxes slashed.

As soon as the Republican Insurance Plan (or RIP*) became public, Republicans began a campaign to discredit the Congressional Budget Office (or CBO) because they knew this independent, bi-partisan bill evaluation committee would depict their health care bill accurately.  They knew it would be bad PR because they absolutely knew their proposal does very little to help lower and middle-class Americans.  The last thing they want is the truth getting in the way of their rosy narrative.

Director’s DVD Commentary: Yes, I know that they actually call the bill the American Health Care Act, (or AHCA), but I think the RIP is a much more realistic name.  Actually, they should have called the bill the American Crisis of Health Edict, or ACHE.  Truth in advertising, right?

 The funny thing about this CBO report… Trump spent all last year slamming Obama by using CBO projections.  They seemed pretty accurate to him then, right?  And since his election, the CBO is led by one of his own appointees.  But now their projections are “unbelievable, wrong and virtually impossible?”  Please.  It’s just one more example of the GOP making up claims out of whole cloth and attacking anyone who rebuts them.

OK, it’s a different subject but the same principle.

It’s obvious this bill is nothing but a gift to the rich… look who’s lining up against it: The AARP, the AMA and other doctor and nurse organizations, an array of hospital groups, and then the usual assortment of liberal interest groups. 

And then there are a number of conservative groups who are also against it, albeit for vastly different reasons.  The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots think it still gives too much away to all those wretched poor people.  But it might be enough to kill the bill.

And that’s what Trump seems to want now.  He’s asking why they don’t just let the ACA implode on its own so they can blame the Democrats.

That’s akin to the Democrats launching a giant balloon, which the Republicans shoot down and then blame the Democrats for the crash because it’s their balloon.

Of course the ACA will die if insurance companies know it won’t be supported by the government.  They’ve got no reason to work with a system that’s going to be abandoned at the first moment it is politically expedient to do so.  That’s why it’s been going down the tubes in the last couple of years.  Republicans have been causing uncertainty over the program, taking symbolic vote after vote to repeal it, and generally showing hostility.  But now those votes to repeal won’t be merely symbolic.

And Republicans have become expert in shifting blame… all they have to do is keep repeating “It’s the Democrats’ fault, it’s the Democrats’ fault.”  Their minions at Fox “News” and on talk radio will provide the echo chamber and soon, “everyone will know” that the Democrats are to blame.  They don’t even have to blow the smoke from the barrels of their guns.

The only thing we can do is be unrelenting with the truth and call “foul” every time they try to shift the blame.  Republicans killed the ACA in its crib through abandonment, neglect and withholding remedies, all because it costs the richest Americans some tax dollars, without which they are STILL the richest Americans.  But yeah, now we have the “freedom” not to have to purchase insurance, so we can die off that much faster and leave an even greater slice of the pie to the wealthy.  That’s a win/win for them.

There are no protests or petitions or speeches that will change any of this.  They absolutely don’t care what the average American has to say.  They listen only to their political benefactors, who finance their campaigns.  They do not dare displease their sugar daddies, or else they’ll find themselves facing a tough primary challenge, as the money guys buy someone else to do their bidding.

The only recourse is to vote the bastards out.  We must make our voices heard at the voting booth and proclaim “you will do OUR bidding instead of that of your corporate overlords.”  We must REMEMBER what’s going on right now and who is robbing people of their health care.

Granted, I’m not hopeful.  By the time November of 2017 rolls around, Republicans will have come up with a new distraction or outrage, designed to divert our attention from those who pull the strings of government; leaving them free to push our tax dollars into their bulging coffers.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hypocrites

One of the things that bothered me about the Republicans for the last several years is the staggering hypocrisy they exhibit.  Now I know politicians lob that bomb back and forth across the divide constantly, but I’m going to demonstrate my point with specifics… a lot of them.

Obstruction
Republicans obstructed everything Obama wanted to do for his entire eight years, although they were most effective during the latter six when they had control of the House and eventually the Senate.  They filibustered any bill they saw fit, meaning anything that was important to the president or Democrats.  They held up judicial appointments until there was no more than a trickle, leaving hundreds of spots on the bench unfilled.  Most famously, they held up Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee for 10 months, for no good reason other than they didn’t want any Obama nominee (who might upset the advantage they’ve enjoyed for the last 40-odd years.)

Now, even with control of both houses and the presidency, they complain about the Democrats slowing down progress on Trump’s cabinet nominees.  The Kings of Obstruction complain about the Democrats obstructing.  That’s hypocrisy.

Goldman Sachs
Trump and the rest of the GOP contenders relentlessly hammered Hillary Clinton because she gave a speech to Goldman Sachs executives.  “How could middle-class Americans trust her if she’s so close to these Wall Street guys?” they asked.

Then their guy gets elected and packs his cabinet and advising staff with six guys from Goldman Sachs.  They complain about her giving a speech to these guys, then put six of them in the White House.  That’s hypocrisy.

Adjacent note: They also complained about Hillary getting paid for her speeches… as if Republicans are beyond paid speaking gigs.  Total hypocrites there too.

Wall Street
The GOP presidential nominees seemed to think that Hillary’s closeness with Wall St (in general) was a major liability.  “How could she represent or understand the needs of the poor or middle class when she’s so cozy to Wall Street?” 

Republicans are currently working on a bill that defangs “Dodd-Frank,” which was enacted to prevent the kind of financial collapse that happened in 2008.  Part of that defanging is defunding, eliminating, or removing the independence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose only job is to protect Americans from getting conned, misled, and generally screwed by Wall Street banks. 

This is essentially a big gaudily-wrapped Christmas present to the banking industry, who will now be able to get back to the business of deceiving its customers, in search of greater profits.  They didn’t really mean any of that about it being bad to be so tight with Wall Street because they’re hypocrites.

Another adjacent note: Trump also signed an executive order eliminating “The Fiduciary Rule,’ which stated that brokers are required to put their customers’ financial interests before their own.  Republicans apparently think that brokers cannot function without permission to steer clients into investments that lose money but earn the brokerage high fees and bonuses.  That’s because they’re hypocrites.

Information Security
Republicans spent years investigating Hillary’s use of a private email server, pretending that it was some kind of great crime and a risk to the nation.

President Trump uses his standard, unsecured, civilian-issue Android cell phone to call, text and tweet.  Members of his cabinet all use a private server set up by the Republican Party.  Nobody cares about information security anymore.  Obviously, it only applies to Democrats, which makes them raging hypocrites.

Travel and Leisure
Obama was castigated any time he was seen on vacation.  In fact, Republicans criticized him pretty much whenever he had to travel, for whatever reason, for wasting the taxpayers’ money.  Any time he played a round of golf, the GOP was in uproar.

Trump has played 8 rounds of golf in 6 weeks, commandeers Air Force One to take him to Florida so he can play his own golf course, and stay at his own resort… all at taxpayer expense.

The black guy and his family are expected to work around the clock, 24/7.  But it’s perfectly fine to subsidize the white guy so he can funnel money into his own investments… because Republicans are hypocrites.

First Ladies
Michelle Obama was raked for anything she did, however benign, from planting a garden to daring to wear sleeveless dresses, which were deemed insufficiently classy.  She was called all manner of racist, repugnant names and held to a standard not asked of any past first lady and especially not the present one.

The internet is full of naked pictures of Melania Trump, but no conservative has dared to criticize her or call her classless.  And if Michelle Obama forced the taxpayers to foot the bill so that she and the girls could stay outside the White House on a semi-permanent basis, there would have been Tea Party riots in the streets.  The Tea Party was supposed to be all about eliminating waste and balancing the budget, right?  Where’s the outrage over the million bucks a day it takes to secure the first lady in Manhattan?

There isn’t any because the Tea Party is full of hypocrites.

Decorum
Obama was criticized for not wearing a jacket in the Oval Office, from time to time (just like every other recent president).  Republicans felt such informality was beneath the dignity of the office.

Kellyanne Conway was photographed sitting on her knees on an Oval Office couch, during a gathering of presidents of traditionally black colleges, like she was hanging out at in her bestie’s family room.  No one from the right said jack shit about it… because they’re hypocrites.  Only Democrats have to meet these arbitrary standards of decorum.

The thing is, these last couple of issues are completely unimportant.  I only highlight them here because they were set up to be standards that Republicans refuse to acknowledge for themselves.  They’re very good at establishing lofty, unrealistic and unattainable goals for their opponents.  But when it’s their turn, we have a case of conservative mass-amnesia.  

This is what we have to keep in mind for future campaigns:  The Republicans don’t really care about what they use to criticize Democrats.  The only goal is to get you mad about it, or afraid of it.  They don’t care if it’s true, false or indifferent, and they have zero plans to live up to the same standards.

It’s all about getting you to vote for them, in most cases, against your own financial interest.

They actually convinced 23% of America (in the right places) that the rich real estate heir cares about Joe Sixpack and would look out for him and all his little half-pints.

And as soon as he got elected, the Republicans flipped everyone the bird and went on with directing federal money back to the wealthiest people in the country, which is what they planned to do all along.

Because they’re all fucking hypocrites.