On The Perverse Effects Of An Upside Down Music Business 



I began reading Mohamed Sadek’s piece A Musician’s White Whale: Perfectly Recreating the ‘Funky Drummer’ Beat  with piqued interest as a music maker, session musician, composer, etc. Its subject and his recreating efforts intrigued me. But as I read further my arcane attention became less benign, and my once eager interest became disgruntled astonishment at the nascent then firmly established creative procedures within what was once an industry comprised largely of creators creating with others who physically performed and recorded body-felt inspired music.

In the “classic” rock era of recording (as in years before) the prevailing process was in pursuit of an ideal: players, singers in synchronous simultaneous fashion. There was an innate veneration informing each individual that became manifest in an ensemble effort.

The current laboratory-like process of seek, scan, scroll, review, formulate, emulate and import seems antithetical to that collaborative performance-based spirit, more aspirational than inspirational. I doubt the joy during the process as well as the gratification after is at all comparable to those found and shared after a live ensemble performance which was also recorded. Having worked within both live ensemble tracking processes, “one at a time” live tracking as well as file import-based "loop productions", I’ll attest to the disparity between the overall goofy zeal that players show when listening back for the first time to that "nice take" together in the control room, or on the headphones they’re all wearing, and the mere successful completion of a cobbled together track comprised of bits and pieces of performances recorded elsewhere by others.  I've indeed been involved in both processes and know that for me there's no comparing the voltage and sweat of those two particular giddy "celebrations". 

Production processes have steadily and constantly innovated, adapting to fashion/style/trends etc and ushered toward larger economic compulsions. But the most brilliant innovators and pioneers (such as the oft cited and reasonably artistically worshiped drummer Clyde Stubblefield) were bringing their own body, mind, heart and soul to that event, creating music anew informed by vast and myriad influences, such as ever was the case. See this piece by Brian Eno.

Rap, Hip-Hop and other Avant-Garde brought audio sampling into the process, which led to further “needle-drop” tactics that were, and are still, exciting within the paradigm of anything becoming art, with and to which I truly  agree and occasionally subscribe. Digital recording has accommodated further and admirable “democratization” of musical creativity with prerecorded loops that undoubtedly allow more meagerly-funded and otherwise under-resourced artists to create on a higher, daresay, competitive level.

The forensic aspects of re-conditioning recorded music have always been fascinating, as any conversation with a “remastering” engineer will bear out, especially those who technically revitalize older, deteriorating ad/or primitively recorded pieces (hello Smithsonian Folkways).

I'm all in for creativity for its own sake, live and let live, live and let play. But I’m also an advocate for righteously corrective legislative efforts such as Fair Play/Fair Pay, and have been to Capitol Hill to help grass-roots lobbying for the rights of my fellow musicians who’ve been historically excluded from performance royalties by dint of the fact that US terrestrial radio had never been required to pay for those repeat usages via a legal loophole unchanged since the 1920’s. Those remedial efforts have been marginally successful despite--and perhaps due to--the confluence of transitions in market paradigms precipitated by non-unit based sales, digital streaming and subscription platforms. These developments--beginning in the mid 1990's--and the opportunistic measures ushering them to the fore have been the culprit for a tragically decimated income stream for songwriters and musicians. Perhaps not as much for deejays, but that’s another story.

There are, nevertheless, some fascinating forensic aspects in the re-conditioning of recorded music that have always proved fascinating, as any conversation with a “remastering” engineer will bear out, especially those who technically revitalize or restore older, deteriorating ad/or primitively recorded pieces (hello Smithsonian Folkways) to new improved sonic appreciability. 

But when this current "blueprint the lick" niche market emerges (and I’m surely not intending to disparage anyone’s admirable work ethic here, much less those that are cultural and arts-based) whose very existence was born from the sonic pursuit of a “more affordable” requisition option other than the statutory norm, thus enabling the "client/buyer/creator" to sidestep higher fees and royalties that would be paid to the owner of the master recording (which could perhaps eventually trickle down to the artists, players, producers, etc., but more often does not) then proceeds elaborately, intricately further by laboriously recreating as many nuanced aspects of that original artistic expression as possible, the line from homage-like dedication is thereby brazenly crossed into the realm of “just business”. At that point, it's cultural appropriation and exploitation, all procedural artistic admiration notwithstanding.

I've personally and repeatedly seen my work as a writer, arranger and player become part of a larger licensed income stream for other business entities. I've seen musical notes that required reverent artistic deliberation and many hours formulating, creating and expressively performing end up as commercially marketed sheet music, the proceeds from which I've seen nary a penny. These situations aren’t rare. Artist's recording deals are signed and recording sessions (contracted and not) eagerly occur, but by the time the lucrative “back-end” is in someone else’s pocket, any efforts to reclaim some rightful share would require lawyers, energy and time. As many a struggling (most are) artist might attest, we’ve got more creative things to do. The litigious process can not only sap one’s muse, it can eat one's spirit along with other more wisely spent elsewhere resources.

In light of this all, I read here of a fellow musician, surely blessed with formidable talent and developed craft, glowingly praised for his entrepreneurial spirit and industrious efforts in meticulously recreating/re-manufacturing/reselling what someone else has already created, thus achieving a purvey-able facility that surgically removes the remunerative rights of those who are the original conveyors of such work as well as those of their survivors. 

On the one hand, it’s quite impressive. But on the other, it sheds a scorching and unbecoming light on this increasingly more normalized but lamentably vampiric era. Whose hands made that nearly exact but always better music in the first place? 





Preaching Empathy, Compassion and Solidarity from Boo Radley’s Porch 


                                                                                                                                                                 Wanda Gág

 Preaching Empathy, Compassion and Solidarity from Boo Radley’s Porch


She stands transfixed in the wake of recent turmoil, stilled and swooning in the all-knowing hum of the hot summer night. An ever observant eight year old girl reflects inwardly and outwardly. She takes in the view of her home from a new angle, one that until this night was but a panicked and perilous intersection of fight and flight, danger and sanctuary. 

A new and profound knowledge courses through her, bestowed by this wondrous experience: the sight of her house, her entire neighborhood—from that diametrically “other” place. How unimaginable this scene and sensation has been, with nary a hint glimpsed during her few young years. But now, all has changed and from now on, all will be cast anew. 

Scout, the young protagonist of Harper Lee’s classic adventure novel To Kill A Mockingbird  expresses her astonishment at the unexpected simplicity of this discovery as she  states with humble certainty, “Just standing on Boo Radley’s porch was enough”. 

A  deceptively basic, undeniably stark proclamation: the larger world awaiting would be inhabited by myriad and disparate realities, inconvenient and stubborn, just beyond the reach of most, unless a conscious choice is made to acknowledge, imagine and explore a perspective other than our own. 

The grand effervescent arch of literature is comprised of these hero’s journeys, each culminating in a rewarding homecoming, a return to where all is as it should be and as we want it ever to be: safe, nurturing, unconditionally supportive, understanding, charitable, forgiving and loving. 

It’s a widely accepted and wisely appropriated narrative model in Greek mythology: characters jostled from their “ordinary worlds”, stirred by a call to adventure, who initially refuse the call, then finally accept it before being irreversibly thrust upon their personal odyssey. Along the way they discern and cherish faithful allies, while becoming wary of lurking treachery in enemies. Mentors on high advise and guide them as thresholds are crossed, battles are fought and crises are confronted in every imaginable form of obstacle. They are dared to grow. 

We've notoriously identified with one particular protagonist as she gazes down upon revelatory ruby slippers upon her own two feet. Our hearts resonate with this moment as we wait longingly for the one earnest incantation that will launch us with her back to a safer, more sensible, serene and familiar world. 

Consistently, and only after learning to rely solely upon their own fortitude and a newly discovered inner strength, the heroes “find” themselves. Yes, they return home, but that is not the ultimate resolution of their quest. They arrive to a newly transformed origin to present the retrieved gift—a magical elixir—for the larger tribe, a salve that enhances new courage with which to brave its larger plights and woes: the no longer hidden codes of redemption. 

This achievement is not a “return” to what once was, for that would merely be a regressive retreat, but rather the progressive evolution of character and spiritual growth. 

We invented the word quixotic to describe a futile effort-- windmill leaning, as it were--for it was Cervante’s anti-hero that endeavored to rediscover and recapture a time when all was right, noble, fair and good, essentially to “find what was once home”, yet failed to realize that his retrospective was illusory. He pursued not transcendent knowledge, but merely entertained a nostalgic obsession with what was at best a vivid aspiration, a fleeting man-made impossible dream which never completely existed. 

That is each our own private place of reckoning. Our future is informed with our past, but that past is enhanced with the same creative imagination that fashions our desired future. We’re encouraged to optimism by promises of an imagined reward, yet hindered by wary skepticism born of the still stinging scars of past experiences. We fear first for ourselves before turning a braver gaze outward to others. 

Our larger society is comprised of smaller, closer communities. Within them dwells our respective individual realities. An endemic struggle exists between these tiered cohorts as we each experience the varying degrees of loosenings and tightenings of the societal harness, each pulling (or pushing back) his or her share of cynically resistant or civically responsible load, cultivating a future for both our smaller and larger selves. 

As the world continues to be exponentially more humanly populated, an ever more inescapable fact insists: each is not alone but affected often profoundly by the consequences of behavior from the parochially trivial to the globally pervasive. 

Today, chronic dysfunctional divisiveness increasingly proves to be the competitive currency, baiting individual responses, feeding the larger special interests of consorted commerce and mega-industries. 

But there still remains a larger and more reliable truth. 

It says that one is all and all are one, whether or not that’s ever consciously perceived. It too often is not, and I, for one, am frequently astonished by our seeming inability to accept even our one common planet as a unifying concept. This truth bears out in the scientific conclusion that everything we do or say begets consequential effects for us all. It's in these ways, from the nuanced and trivial to the profoundly impactful, that we are each other. 

Western capitalists may decry socialism, collectivism or any other myriad “taboo” non-competitive systems, but these too are cynical and manufactured precepts. The larger, longer continuum is comprised of individual lives, each beginning and ending at their own respective points within it. Moments become life chapters become lifetimes become historical epochs. Along the way, those who episodically subscribe to an “on your own” meritocratic approach to citizenry are the least likely to consider any extensive exploration of an other’s life circumstance as worth the time and effort. What useful insight might lie within striven for for sympathy? Why bother, when compared to one’s own more nourished state, the revelation may prove to be abject, poignant and unpleasant? Once elements of protective avarice and caste-related guilt are added to the recipe, the resultant mixture becomes a repellant—forcing one to push from the true self those uncomfortable notions until they're out of sight and mind. A handy helplessness is a byproduct of the process, and apathy is disguised with its uncaring cloak. 

Prejudice and bigotry are endemic to the human species as we’re blessed and cursed with a stubborn proclivity to imagine. We perceive through lenses of experience, veils of suggestions and the fluid metrics of convenience, comfort, cause and compulsion. We navigate like animals, ever mindful of possible threats, and we discern these dangers with information that we’ve learned first hand or have supposed from related portrayals and narratives. With these templates we build our personal “realities”, and we rush to defend them whenever they’re threatened, for fear they may be dispelled. 

Haven’t we each, since childhood, constructed our own ideas and images of upcoming events, persons or places with no more fuel for fancy than a vague description or notion? We instinctively create the overall tones, settings, faces, voices, feelings— anything with which we can initially relate before actually posting in person for the genuine experience. 
Words create pictures, verbal accounts evoke experiences, either impressively real or vicariously interpreted. 

The class trip, the party, the blind date, the audition, the concert etc.—those words alone evoke a faux reality based upon an inner perception we’ve weaved from descriptive yarns and the threads of our own recollection. We treat ourselves to a supposed reality and without these “gifts of expectation” those people, places and sensations lurking before us in time would be quite literally unimaginable, perhaps frighteningly so. 

Having taken that trip, having had the experience, we’re bemused at the newly discovered disparities between those “before” and “after” renditions of truth. We only then realize that what we’d imagined (sometimes in spectacular detail) was merely a “stand-in” reality that we could conveniently anticipate. The ‘before’ scene existed purely behind our eyes. The ‘after’ was vividly before us as three dimensional reality. We continue to edit, enhance and shape the experience afterward, as well. 

Often we’ve heard “I don’t know what I was expecting but…” or “I wasn’t prepared for that...” , but we indeed did expect something in our attempt to gird ourselves for the unknown. 

We compulsively prepare. It’s instinctual, involuntary and survival oriented. We as a species suffer from chronic prejudice, and the fear of losing that sufferance results in chronic bigotry. 

As children seeking understanding with limited experience, we asked questions: 
Why is that child crying? 
Why is that man angry? 
What is happening? 
Why is it happening? Who are they? Who are you? Who am I? 

We received answers from our supreme mentors—our parents and elders—who replied with “explanations”. As youngsters, we’ve no other contradictory information with which to question or challenge, so the explanation is largely accepted and becomes what we anticipate until we learn for ourselves otherwise. With enough verifications within a small number of possible contexts—sometimes only one—we're delivered to an ever more intransigent place where we’d rather our “certainties” not be challenged. We have, unwittingly, embraced our own “confirmation bias”. 

We are doing the same as a society. Our legacy is to be the natural victim of hand-me-down partial-truths, convenient misrepresentations, carefully cultivated faux-fact, to put it charitably. More bluntly put, we’ve been lied to, sold myths and kept ignorant. Although hardly a fresh concept, I believe that this societal ignorance, with its critical peaks and nadirs oscillating throughout the eras, has recently gained a chaotic momentum delivering us to a desperate moment. This chaos must be attenuated with reason, knowledge and self-discovery lest the ugliness become a self-manufacturing entity all its own. 

In the face of lament or a sincerely expressed grievance, when faced with the prospect that our words, actions, policies or intimations have indeed offended someone’s sensibilities,  we hear time and again the incredulous: 
“Who says?” 
“I don’t see why they can’t just…” 
“After all, what was so offensive?” 
“Apologize for what?” … 

…all selfish inquiries, pleas for charitable exemption and undeserved clemency. 

I’ve one personally peevish button-pusher: “They have all the same rights and privileges as the rest of us. Why can’t they appreciate that and stop whining”, and its many related variants. My reply in such conversations is to encourage more exploration of “the other’s” realities, after which you may not be quite as perplexed. 

As inexperienced children, we created realities with which we could eagerly anticipate a journey. As “experienced” adults, we close the doors and windows, pull up stakes and put down the periscope in order to minimize any new information that may challenge long-held sometimes sacredly cherished beliefs. We may even be offended ourselves when such ludicrous complaints issue forth from theretofore negligible quarters. To acknowledge the challenge, problem or "squeaky wheel" would be an admission of having been wrong or unfairly neglectful. But in the hero’s journey it is knowledge that fuels our forward motion. It is what we learn, more than what we know, that steers us home. 

There was prejudice throughout To Kill A Mockingbird, in young and old, within and without, before and probably after. From Scout the weight of her particular prejudice was lifted as if by angels with just one gesture. She’d made a years-long journey to see, hear, learn, feel, try, fail and finally succeed in making her way home only to take a few additional brave steps, delivering Boo to his home. She’d by then learned first-hand that he was not the cryptic monster she had imagined him to be, but a true and caring ally. He had held her dear, being a crucial friend in his unique way. He’d been a vigilant protector for Scout, Jem and Dill for longer than they had realized. He was an ally they’d yet to size up as such. He saved them. 

But the larger, more profound reward was earned merely by turning on her heels to take in the scene before heading back home. The street had not changed, nor the houses, but nothing would ever again be exactly as she’d once imagined, for her real experience was now enhanced with a new angle, long denied to her by circumstance, fear and predisposition. 

The lesson is the elixir: One must make the journey to the other place to earn it, to have it. We must see it for ourselves—in ourselves. But if that’s not physically possible, we might usher our mind’s eyes a few steps further, prevail upon our natural gifts of invention to consider what we may very well have overlooked. 

Only then can we widen our souls’ horizons to prepare ourselves for other truths before those actual trips. It requires imagination. It requires creativity. Those human gears already turn with each day’s plan-making, but when we’re challenged with an alien concept, behavior or customary tradition or a belief strange to us, we might put aside a bit of knee-jerk caution to take a few steps farther outside our comfortable yards. 

If we can heroically summon the will, we might venture part way into the misty veils of faint plausibilies and imagine how someone else’s circumstance may look and feel from where they live. If you’ve not been there, please refrain from throwing up helpless hands. Take a breath, count to three, take a closer look. You may still be wearing the ruby slippers, and you can make that trip. Upon arrival you’ll have won the reward: a fresh take on the origin of another universal sensibility. The glimpse will look different to you. But you’ll also see something familiar that allows you to relate, even a little bit. And it’s all relative. 

There’s  a North Star winking above us all, and we each and all have multitudes more similarities than differences. We all have hearts, and we’ve all been hurt. And we all have imaginations. 

But we must take that walk—in our own minds and in our own shoes. When we resist, we shun the challenge. But if we’re to prevail as heroes, we must finally accept that call and make the journey. It may be dark and we may need a lantern, but that light will show the way to where truths exist. If we turn it inward as well, we may catch a glimpse of some fairy tales whose truths aren’t as reliably absolute as we had once preferred them to be. 

 We can then return stronger with eyes, hearts and minds opened wider with hard-earned enlightenment. That elixir might help to join some smaller pieces of our world into larger sturdier ones. 

We can then “find” ourselves on that other porch that, albeit in the very same neighborhood, offers an altogether fresh view. Sometimes just standing on it and having one gaze is enough to change the look and feel of your own street forever. 


Lou Reed’s Dirty Blvd. 





A Songwriters Appreciation:



Anyone passingly familiar with the mystique and work of Lou Reed would be aware of his status as one of the primary progenitors of the “new honesty” in rock: an unflinching stylistic trend that preceded "punk" in the mid to late 70's. Ian Hunter & Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, NY Dolls, Iggy & The Stooges, Alice Cooper, etc. were fresh new voices that returned to and embraced a stark expressionism. Vivid and lyrical, it was not altogether nascent, but a return to the blunter styles of early blues and rock. Eric Burdon & The Animals, early Rolling Stones—perhaps even Buddy Holly-- were ‘punk’ in that the delivery was direct, forthright and unadorned with pretentious production trappings. They were stripped down to big notes and sounds with a won’t-run-can’t-hide presentational approach that torched all chances for misinterpretation.


Since then, the tradition continues from mid to late 70s to now with New Wave/Punk icons The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Patti Smith, Black Flag (continually Henry Rollins) into the Post-Punk 80s & 90s with B-52s, Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Severed Heads, R.E.M., Mission of Burma, U2 and on to post-punk revivalists like The Strokes, Social Distortion, naming but a comparatively prominent few: those who embrace a more direct style to convey many and varied themes, tales, rants and laments, the last of which may hazard to be romance and love if those particular yarns were abjectly truthful, proud and with no nod to vulnerability. Sweetness for its own sake was elementa non grata.
Lou Reed was the principle writer of the Velvet Underground before a long career of collaborative adventure and solo works, and among the first of these artists to expound unabashedly on and of societys underbelly, its underdogs, the underserved and underrepresented in and out of the drug culture, moreover, sub-culture and alternative lifestyle writ large with multitudes theretofore underexplored. His social commentaries were, for the most part, delivered through the lenses of vividly drawn characters, although hes also known for not-so parenthetic rants directed at societys soulless and villainous entities, albeit usually uttered in tones of street-corner commiseration. 
"Lou Reed doesn't just write about squalid characters, he allows them to leer and breathe in their own voices, and he colors familiar landscapes through their own eyes. In the process, Reed has created a body of music that comes as close to disclosing the parameters of human loss and recovery as we're likely to find. That qualifies him, in my opinion, as one of the few real heroes rock & roll has raised."
—Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone, (1979)
Mainstream Pop music, as with film or any other medium, might include the merely sincere among its myriad characteristics, but it was Punk that flipped the switch refreshingly back to Rock and Rolls original proclamatory (and in the purest sense, mandatory) adherence to the ethos of saying what you mean with as little incidental packaging as possible. The superfluous is an obstruction, no lightweight consideration especially when constructing a narrative arc no longer than a 3 minute record.
During his final few years alive Reed returned to radio, hosting--along with old pal producer Hal Wilner--the gleefully received eclectic weekly 5 hour New York Shuffle on Sirius-XM which still continues, with the implicit youre welcome if youre doing something interesting playlist policy. His broad-scope spin choices reveal other interesting aspects to his top-shelf artistic taste.
Throughout his artistic life Lou Reed maintained a loyalty to all that is straightforward.
He mostly recorded and/or performed sure-handed cleanor broadly dirtypresentations and portraits that relied on his deft ability to wrangle as much potency from a cunningly considered lyric, a true gift to be appreciated again and again in multitudes of well-turned phrases.
During his early growth as a student of journalism, film-making and creative writing he was profoundly impressed by the high-octane possibilities of well deliberated minimalism, propelling his lyric writing ever more toward that ideal.            
 The basic, aurally strong-boned construction of Punk provided the perfect accommodation for Reeds glib style which stands starkly and undeniably expressive, with imagery abiding in scandalous cahoots with primal rhythms and multi-entendre word craft.
Its this hybrid brew of narrative styles that that I find the most effecting throughout the Lou Reed catalog. Its sneaky, as though there may all the while be one continuous chaotic sub-text, a slip-stream cum river raging beneath a mundanely dead-pan commentary. I find Reeds dryly elegant effusiveness a deceptively rich archeological terrain begging to be upturned for closer scrutiny.
One of my very favorite songs can be found on his 1989 album release New York, a contiguous three-act collection that was performedsometimes stubbornly in its entirety during its initial promotional tour.
 For those allowing the indulgence, I’ve chosen the song Dirty Blvd. for a somewhat granular and reverent, if you will, unpacking: an “under the hood” look at why I consider it an exemplary piece of great songwriting, its layout so vivid and masterful that I had somehow managed to overlook it’s mostly spoken delivery for years. That was until last Spring when I listened with a college class of young aspiring songwriters. One student exclaimed that it was “the weirdest rap song” he’d ever heard.
Its urban universe revolves around the ambiguously young, cursedly poor, dreamily wistful Pedro. Within this relentless and cruel environment his pragmatic coping devices will inevitably, one might deduce, mature along with his hopelessness into an illicit and morally deficient existence.
Bleak? Undoubtedly. But truthful and credibly fashioned as only a native empath of the mean streets would manage. Over the years the haunting tale would come to wrap ever closer around my head much as this harsh reality would tighten intractably around the pitiful boys choked future. See if you might experience the same reaction.
First, the lyric only:
(The mix of the recording is wonderfully narrator-centric, as if the storyteller waits just out of the frame during the compellingly simple guitar intro before stepping in, immediately nose to nose with us listeners)
Dirty Blvd. 
(Lou Reed) 
Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel
He looks out a window without glass
The walls are made of cardboard, newspapers on his feet
His father beats him 'cause he's too tired to beg
He's got 9 brothers and sisters--they're brought up on their knees
It's hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs
Pedro dreams of being older and killing the old man
but that's a slim chance, he's going to the boulevard
He's going to end up, on the dirty boulevard
He's going out, to the dirty boulevard
He's going down, to the dirty boulevard
This room cost 2,000 dollars a month, you can believe it man, it's true
Somewhere a landlord's laughing till he wets his pants
No one here dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer or anything
they dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard
Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on 'em
That's what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death
and get it over with and just dump 'em on the boulevard
Get em out, on the dirty boulevard
Going out, to the dirty boulevard
They're going down, on the dirty boulevard
Going out
Outside it's a bright night, there's an opera at Lincoln Center
Movie stars arrive by limousine
The klieg lights shoot up over the skyline of Manhattan
But the lights are out on the mean streets
A small kid stands by the Lincoln Tunnel
He's selling plastic roses for a buck
The traffic's backed up to 39th street
The TV whores are calling the cops out for a suck
And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
He's found a book on Magic in a garbage can
He looks at the pictures and stares up at the cracked ceiling
"At the count of 3" he says, "I hope I can disappear"
And fly fly away, from this dirty boulevard
I want to fly, from the dirty boulevard
I want to fly, from the dirty boulevard
I want to fly, fly, fly, fly, from the dirty boulevard
I want to fly away
I want to fly 
Now with some notes, just for fun:
(And it need not be said that these thoughts, interpretations and suppositions are this writers alone. Its perilous to analyze songwriting. Most writer dont enjoy doing it to their own work, and I apologize if the reader is repelled by this overstep. On the other hand, step offits just a song, a really good song.
Dirty Blvd. 
(Lou Reed) 
Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel
He looks out a window without glass
(The stage is economically set within 5 seconds with these  first two lines.Taken literally: abject poverty.  Figuratively, it might suggest there is no lens or protective layer of shelter between outside and in: One reality. Pedro doesnt live IN the Wilshire (will share?) Hotel, he lives out of it.
The walls are made of cardboard, newspapers on his feet
His father beats him 'cause he's too tired to beg
(Further establishing the environment as deprived, abusive, flimsy to the point of ephemera)
He's got 9 brothers and sisters--they're brought up on their knees
It's hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs
(The begging is reiterated as we learn there are many others there, and they are brought up on their knees, raised to believe that they are lower and worth less than most)
Pedro dreams of being older and killing the old man
but that's a slim chance he's going to the boulevard
(Back to Pedro, he dreams. To wit, his pathetic visionary aspiration is to one day murder his parent. And our credibly world-wise narrator dryly and jarringly dashes even that demented hope as futile, pointing out that Plan A is sadly:
He's going to end up, on the dirty boulevard
He's going out, to the dirty boulevard
He's going down, to the dirty boulevard
(The signifiers here are quick and potent: end up, going out, going down)
This room cost 2,000 dollars a month, you can believe it man, it's true
Somewhere a landlord's laughing till he wets his pants
(Reed introduces what will be a recurring device here and elsewhere throughout the album, using defecation as a handy expression of a total lack of dignity and respect.)
No one here dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer or anything
They dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard
(Here again is the insistent mention of dreams, a term for aspirations, but now they lead irrevocably back to the dirty boulevard, perhaps as Robert Frosts After Apple Picking refers to the hauntingly perseverating images which cannot be dispelled by an exhausted laborer at the end of a long day) 
Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on 'em
That's what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death
and get it over with and just dump 'em on the boulevard
(Boldly animating--then desecratingthe Lady in the Harbor, taking four lines to further dehumanize the immigrants to so much rodential detritus thereby conflating to national policy the landlord laughing while he wets)
Get em out, on the dirty boulevard
Going out, to the dirty boulevard
He's going down, on the dirty boulevard
Going out
(Now we are introduced to the third act which offers some specificity to the job descriptions on the boulevard. Going out is a streetwalkers standard pitch, while going down is often at offer)
Outside it's a bright night, there's an opera at Lincoln Center
Movie stars arrive by limousine
(We stay out, outside Pedros world, and the privileged and well-heeled are antithetically busy in theirs. Their night is bright, although Lou slyly and seductively reforms the word limousine into the name of a drug like mescaline or Dexedrine. Just as this listener is thinking this, the following lines affirm the theme): 
The klieg lights shoot up over the skyline of Manhattan
But the lights are out on the mean streets
(No explanation required.)
A small kid stands by the Lincoln Tunnel
He's selling plastic roses for a buck
(I discovered that The Robert Frost poem alludes to “stem end and blossom end” as well as other salient images and themes that correspond not too remotely.) 
The traffic's backed up to 39th street
The TV Whores are calling the Cops out for a Suck
(A vivid scene,with metaphors for those who are looking. Economical phrasing right down to numbers and acronyms.)
And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
He's found a book on Magic in a garbage can
He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling
"At the count of 3" he says, "I hope I can disappear"
(The cracked ceiling: figurative, literal with multiplied metaphoric weight and now, after all, Pedros dream and hope, is to disappear)
And fly fly away, from this dirty boulevard
I want to fly, from dirty boulevard
I want to fly, from the dirty boulevard
I want to fly, fly, fly, fly, from the dirty boulevard
I want to fly away
I want to fly
(The Doo-Wop style backsing remember the doot da doot in Walk On The Wild Side?function as Greek Chorus and Uriah Heep, ushering the listener, and Pedro to whatever comes next. Another voice (a grown man) assumes Pedros persona with the vociferous desire: I wanna fly)
 This song is a wonderful example of how a simple, thoughtfully considered lyric can achieve amazing and transporting results.
Many Thanks, Lou.

Senate Votes for Lawlessness--Whose Pyrrhic Victory? 

In An Unreal Play, Here's Something Real. We're Not Rotten. #NoWitnesses #Sham

Like an overly ripe plumb, it's nearly sickening but still somewhat sweet as it's swallowed. But one post-mortem assessment is worth noting as something of which we might be proud as a justified entity:

After 3+ years of blatant malfeasance, miscreant, abhorrent and at many times undeniably unlawful behavior that to all who bear a shred of dignified moral discernment allowing only scant room for charity in the form of reserved opinion, it was the last straw when the whistleblower emerged.

Most had been frustrated with Nancy Pelosi's and the House's extensive hand-wringing and hem-hawing prior to formal impeachment, their opting to optimize--then emphasize--the "information gathering" phase which would serve to vividly display the abject nature of this dark administrative season replete with as many wince-worthy nooks and crannies as possible for the overall complexion to be regarded as starkly irrefutable.

They did just that, lacking only a total and probably foolish intransigence in the pursuit of a successful enforcement of subpoenas in the face of a stonewalling, obeisant and corrupt AG William Barr-led judiciary. A challenge to each obstruction would likely be tied up in courts for years as per the audaciously designed agenda of the Trump corp.

It's my opinion that the Democrats did the only thing they COULD do, and did it with proper prudence, did it as effectively as possible once the decision to impeach had deliberately reached. 
At this moment, we can be assured and perhaps slightly mollified that the right was on our side, the moral spine was ours and a proper posture of respectable forbearance was almost solely exhibited by an honest, thorough and forthright team of House managers each of whom were articulate, righteous, dignified and truthful.

The maddeningly blind dedication of the liberally estimated 30-40% of Trump's GOP electorate is too far gone in their transfiguring ingestion of alt-reality for their re-convincing or re-educating. Alas, they're not worth demeaning any more than they continue to demean themselves.
It should suffice to say that the present day legislative GOP has demeaned itself almost incredibly.

The rest of us should and shall continue to wage a morally resolute war of compassionate souls and honest fair minds that sees to it that this infested and manifested GOP will be held accountable for their moral and legal negligence come this November and beyond. We must however assist them with their political suicide.

Our pride is real. We're not bent. Our heads are held high, bearing forward and full on for the bigger battles ahead in this insideously fomented culture war. We will win or go down proudly on the right side of an endemically bent arch of history.

Comment re: Sen. Patrick Leahy's Take on Senatorial Conscience and Responsibility 

Responding to: 
What The Senate Does Now Will Cast A Long Shadow

Historians and politicians are quite fond of invoking the "point of inflection" within any active paradigm. There are in fact an infinite number of these. With today's 10 to 20 minute news cycle the epochal benchmarks are ever more frequent and nearer between but, as Senator Leahy points out, this trial phase of this impeachment portends to be the real doozy. 

The GOP appears to have been rather unabashedly building its one-party conscience over the last 40 years, holding party unity and fealty to the cause as its paramount credo and this moment may be the "high-noon" of this insidiously planned and sometimes clumsily implemented campaign.

No one doubts the intent of this majority Senate. It will hold its collective breath in the face of an all-pervading truth storm until every lawyerly slight of hand, word, reason and logic are manifest within an all too pro forma protocol toward their retention of legislative power.

All linguistic orchestration and improvisation, every policy construction and each manipulative gambit has more than affirmed their resolve.

There will be no change of heart or moment of moral relenting. If so it would have occurred by now. The litany of assailable optical demonstrations of this President's moral turpitude had long ago reached the critical point.  They'll stand in there, blue lipped, bug-eyed and swooning until the last gavel strikes.

A small consolation is Trump's narcissistic pathology making this more discomfiting for them. Too small.

Comment on "The Slut-Shaming of Nikki Haley" Op Piece NYT By BARI WEISSJAN. 29, 2018  

The legislative Left has--had, rather--for too long insisted on bringing a high and holy frisbee to the knife fight that the Right is unabashedly still waging, praising and perpetuating.

Since those obliquely insidious conservative Republicans are allowed to sling about all sorts of variably encoded to outright blatantly inflamed red meat to their eagerly homophilic base, then wink and chuckle later that it was perhaps "merely politics as usual" and that it's a "dirty business", why then must the Dems-- who rather naively enjoyed the civility and restraint of their last executive branch champion while he chronically opted to not be perceived as the "angry black man"--continue to play nice and trust that their postures, platforms and ideological policies must inevitably "will out" alone by dint of the moral high ground they occupy?

Those same arbiters of low ball politics then rather effectively play the shocked victim as if "they never!" would throw a punch with lower than a dignified trajectory. Please...

Lest the Pollyannas among us are neglecting to notice, our country is in the midst of a constitutional coup and it's time to take the f*cking gloves off and bravely counter-punch hard. No more Mr. Lose What We've Fought For. Let's cut to the immediate and real story, the battle at hand, and see to inflaming those in our ranks to get "fired up and ready to go" to the polls later this year, vote as many of these guys out as possible, then see to impeachment.


"The Slut-Shaming of Nikki Haley" By BARI WEISSJAN. 29, 2018  

Why I'm Keeping My Sirius-XM Subscription 

Some thoughts, notions, knee jerk reactions of my own on this unsubscribe from SXM movement due to Bannon’s return:

There are more than a couple Fox stations broadcasting on the platform, there’s the Patriot channel and others whereon much partisan and bigoted gasconade blows chronically if not harshly and steadily. It’s my opinion that many of these “broadcasters" suck at it that job. Their style is hackneyed, their elocutionary skills negligible to nonexistent and their efforts to compel are pedestrian, at best.

I am a professional musician, songwriter and artist, have been for nearly as long as I can remember. I’ve performed at Sirius/XM, and my own recordings as well as those upon which I’ve contributed are regularly played on various channels, a few of which are adroitly hosted  with the talents of some my oldest and dearest friends.

I’m somewhat regularly surprised when other fellow artists seem unaware of the existence of some relatively rarified informational/ talk / debate/ conversation/ interview show programming on SXM channels such as POTUS, Insight, PRX etc. Many times and to many bright folks have I enthusiastically explained that after being a faithful and enthusiastic denizen within the comparatively meager listenership of those shows that if they were indeed made available in the “mainstream” media that our country would have already taken a few more evolved, erudite and enlightened turns away from the situational chaotic mess we’re in now.

I was in fact out for my afternoon run on a tour stop in Iowa City this past Summer, when I heard Llewelyn King (whose show, White House Chronicle is albeit a weekly PBS/NPR mainstay, but whom is a regular guest on Stand-Up w Pete Dominick (Insight), Morning Briefing w Tim Farley, and The Press Pool w Julie Mason etc.) as he was assessing insightfully how a White House should NOT be run state: “This is chaotic without historic precedence, and NO GOOD has EVER come from chaos.” I had to pull up my gait and ponder that pensively.

I’ve been a subscriber to XM and Sirius/XM for over 10 years now and I must unabashedly state that my awareness, my social and political scholarship, and political views have been informed, formed and made more than ever robust via more than a dozen truly enriching, elucidating and opinion fortifying (and dispelling) articles, authors, journalists to who I’ve become aware through these AMAZING shows and their programming. 

The number of authors, journalists, pundits, specialized and dedicated EXPERTS (yes, remember them?), provocateurs, satirists, inflective agents from qualified and compelling quarters are far too many to mention here if I were to try to lay out a litany of pathfinding champions that have no better nor more accommodating formats in the post Suskind, Pine, Cavett, King (and now Charlie Rose) age of interview shows. Stephen Kinzer, Matt Taibbi, Eric Segal, Aaron Carroll, Chris Frates, Jennifer Bendry (actually, the Weekly Round Table on Julie Mason’s Press Pool show on POTUS has more unfettered and factually formed opinions than ALL the network Sunday shows combined. Anyone who would like a direct line to the worlds and wiles of straight up honest to goodness investigative journals need only prevail upon the Twitter feeds of the hundreds of adroit and arcanely savvy and skilled minds heard on the multitude of these impartially dispassionate shows.

I thought it was a joke when I tuned in two mornings ago to hear callers say, on the seminal StandUp! with Pete Dominick show, that they were unsubscribing due to Sirius XM’s gift of a platform to this “monster”. The reason was that they “had to stand for something” and that this was the only way in which they could have their “voice heard”. Again, this was on a show called Stand Up! and they were voicing their opinion on live radio. Oh, well anyway…

...I agree that Bannon's an asshole, but he most certainly isn’t alone. I can tune him out—and usually should and do. BUT, if I were to want to tune in to inform myself of the particular tack and spin being employed by him to his dim minions on any given day (ever read Don’t Think Of An Elephant by George Lakoff?), I would be able to call and challenge he and them directly, or at least do it live and in real time.

Over 16 years ago, when XM & Sirius were slowly birthed as the Gemini twins of the new satellite broadcast technology whose eventual demise was speculated and trumpeted by forecasters and detractors  (XM Satellite Radio's first broadcast was on September 25, 2001, nearly four months before Sirius) there remained terrestrial radio and a slowly emerging 'new-normal’ which we now know as media streaming.

12 years later in 2013, the survival of the companies relied on their merging, and since then Sirius/XM has slowly come literally out of the blue, out of the red and into the great black as a cash juggernaut of an established economic model with 30.1 Million subscribers.

During its touch and go years, though before the merger, both companies were hemorrhaging dollars,. After the merger, one life-saver was the acquisition of Howard Stern’s show. It had already garnered solid millions of faithful listeners. It’s been arguably claimed that Howard and his show which many consider jarringly sexist and otherwise offensive to many, was indeed was one of a few stalwart assets that kept it all going during those formative subscriber-base building fiscal years.

There was one 6-month period of my life when I listened to terrestrially broadcast Howard Stern show (and was sporadically entertained by it). After one or more profoundly offensive allusions therein, I made a point not to continue listening. I see that his show is still carried on SXM, just as Fox carries Sean Hannity and Co. (not to mention White House Briefings) and well, I feel this is not a zero sum gain.

I could reiterate the obvious, stomp my feat and say no, no, no to anyone who is participating in any way in the accommodation or propping up of a truly evil person, but since we’ve been seemingly waltzing at times blindly with the devil himself in so many broader realms in myriad fashions, I choose to stoke up on as much compassion-based knowledge and implementable insight that I proudly receive, ingest, digest and make manifest with my own tools of persuasion therein to make small differences in my daily sentient life and creative art. I choose to stay engaged, informed, enticed, interested and eager to learn and be proven wrong from time to time while arming myself with fact-based insight and arcane data with which to debate folks who’ve proudly imbibed and are eagerly regurgitating their various flavors of Kool-Aid.

I’m keeping my subscription to Sirius-XM. It’s worth every penny. Plus, they pay broadcast performance royalties, which is more than I can say of terrestrial radio. What a country. I do love it, though.



To My Best Friend Mike. I Love You and Miss You. 


Backstage at Maloney Hall, Catholic University 1975
November 15, 2017

Dear Mike~

Today is your birthday. I’d be calling you today, and probably sending you a video or something that I think was funny, maybe it'd make you laugh. If you were having a “good” day, you may even call me first. You’d loudly make a stentorian declaration that was joyous as it was absurd about another year in a long life. Anyone who knows you can fill in that blank.

That’s what’s easy about this: so many folks loved you and knew you. They’re closing their eyes, probably wiping them, right now because yours was a personality that was easy to conjure, easy to love, easy to celebrate. They’re hearing right now, because yours was “the big voice, that leaves little choice”. You’ll always reverberate. I’m happy for that.

But I’m also very, very sad. Because you were my best and oldest friend in this world until you left.  Yes, our families know us and love us, thank God…but 12 year old buddies? Forget it—we knew SO MUCH about one another, for SO LONG. 

I never apologized for our regressive goofball behavior because why should I? There was too much information there for us NOT to return to high school, where I think we may have been the happiest. Everything thereafter—what we did and didn’t share—was too copious a lot to haul into our every moment. It was the world we all are forced to confront, and it’s not always easy. It actually very seldom is.

There’s something I never told you, Mike. I didn’t because I hadn’t realized it as the truth until after you were gone. I trust that you may have known nevertheless, in fact, I’m sure you did on some level because you were so smartly observant and sensitive to others’ feelings.

Let me explain. From the earliest I can remember until right before my father died, I was a fairly happy kid. My parents and my siblings made me feel special, the world was playful and interesting and I felt that I had some special ways that I could make people feel good. They all had a good time and made a big deal when I played and sang, or danced and performed in stage musicals. I felt that I “knew my calling” pretty early, I think.

You had that early childhood, too! You were bright and brave (braver than I) and the grown ups and other kids alike, for the most part, found you entertaining, helpful, and jovial to be around.

But you and I had yet to meet. I was in Fredericksburg playing in my first bands, in early school operettas and in talent shows. You were more or less doing the same sorts of things in Springfield.

When I was nine years old, though, my Dad got sick and stayed sick for a long while. My younger sister and I were young enough to compel the others to keep from us the harsher aspects of what it would portend until the end. I didn’t know he “wouldn’t make it” until the day before, and my sister didn’t until the day he died.

After that, things got complicated and in many ways worse than before. 

Needless to say, things weren’t easy for us, and our Mom, especially. A  good and consoling friend to her soon after died abruptly, we had a chronic prowling peeping tom at our house plus a fellow assigned to me from the Big Brothers Association turned out to be a pedophile who indeed kidnapped another kid the following year. And the Viet Nam era was raging with its assassinations, riots and transformative madness.

When we moved from Fredericksburg to DC in Jan ’69, we stayed in my grandparents’ house in NW Washington and my sister and I were the “new kids” at a parochial school in the neighborhood.

It was a long, cold and sad winter. The kids—in my class, at least—weren’t very welcoming to the kid who some “thought was a hick” for his “southern accent”.  The big deal “boogie woogie” boy in small town Va. was to most there in DC, a personae non grata. That really hurt, because I was more than ready for a happier next chapter to begin for me and my decimated family.

Mike, we still hadn’t met, but soon I would SEE you for the first time.

That May my mother enticingly informed me that she and I would that weekend be attending the Spring Musical production at Bishop Ireton High School. My cousins Steve and Tim Sheehy were in the pit orchestra, and BI enjoyed a sterling reputation for high quality productions. I’d be attending there the next year, and I was holding out hope that all it had to offer, according my Mom, wasn’t more mere hype. (She had tried, bless her, but living right off of Tenley Circle kinda sucked--barely skate-able sidewalks, a library and the biggest Sears store up the block not withstanding. I was also at that point suffering symptoms of PTSD from the last year and a half in Fredericksburg).

We drove to Alexandria, and my mind raced the entire way. The show was Mame, and you played Patrick Dennis, the kid. I had been in a couple of school shows, had seen a few, but THIS was the BEST I’d ever seen, the music sounded top notch, the singing, the acting…and YOU were spectacular. You sang and danced, acted believably, projected articulated zeal. It was a true thrill! 

I learned that you were allowed to audition even though you were an 8th grader. You were awarded the part since you would be a Freshman there the next year (like me !), you had a brother there already, and two more to follow, and you were so blatantly and perfectly qualified for the role. Of course you were, I thought, and I was transfixed with an anxious excitement for the near future for the first time in what felt like ages.

A month later I looked for you in vain at the language aptitude test night. It was great knowing that ALL of the kids would be new there, but I was still pensive about this new scenario—but man, that show was great, and where IS that guy?!

We finally moved to our new house in Alexandria for which we’d left Fredericksburg, and the first day of high school arrived. You had to be there somewhere, but there were so many kids everywhere, I thought perhaps we’d be lost to one another among the masses of long hair, sneakers, ties, corduroys and desert boots.

It was the second day of school that I heard a commotion up ahead in the main foyer of the school. “Aw, MAN…” a familiar voice crowed, “…come ON, you guys…gimme a break!”

Wild laughter erupted from the gaggle of older guys who had—for the second or third time—just batted all of your books out of your arms and onto the floor. “What?? Little Cotterrrrr!?” one taunted. “Get your brother to help!!” Tommy, your brother, was a Senior whom I’d soon later see straddling the bannister at the top of the stairs and winging a hefty book pretty damned hard down the stairs at someone. I'm not sure if it related to little brother's episode, but I like to think so.

It was chaos amid the rush of boys headed to their next class. You didn't push back, strike out or call names, but merely let them and that pass until you had the time and room to finally pick up your spilled stuff. 

I helped you, and you thanked me. I told you that I’d seen you in Mame the prior Spring and that you sure were great. “Aw man, REALLY??” you said and introduced yourself. I did the same, and said that I had been in shows, too. But you wanted to talk about music, said you had a classical guitar, but wanted a nicer steel string one. I mentioned that I played, and you said, again “REALLY? You play? Man, we should have a duo!”

That’s how I remember it, Mike…it was that quick. The next day we played and sang together, and it was as if that was always the reason that we had come there. At the time, modular scheduling was somewhat experimental--students could arrange their classes and schedules to foment huge blocks of continuous “study” time, which was time NOT in class. A,B,C,D,E & F days. Your schedule coincided with mine on E, “togetherness day”, and we’d hang and rehearse wherever we could find a space or stairwell.

Mike, you and I and most folks looking over our shoulder at this letter know everything that happened after that, since then and what it meant, the things to which our friendship would lead, but I never thanked you for being the first person to turn the page from a few really bad, sad and seemingly interminable laboring chapters of a kid's life to the next happier, more exciting and rewarding chapters that led all the way to this moment I’m gratefully appreciating right now.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share something else about you with everyone:

When we graduated—after so many adventures both personal and professional throughout our high school years—and college--that great Sword of Damocles of the growing adolescent-- loomed above us like a great interrupter of all our most appetizing dreams. You would be going to Catholic University and I to Miami University in Coral Gables. We both lamented the interruption and our separation, but held out hope that my Miami University deal with my mother wouldn’t work out and I would be back in the Spring to pick up where we left off—doing shows, writing songs, opening for big acts in big halls by ourselves and with Bill & Taffy and others. Mostly, Cotter & Carroll would resume and not falter in DC.

I hated it in Miami. There were no clubs in Coral Gables, just a juke joint a few miles away that had 50 cent 7 and 7s on Wednesdays. Mostly all I did was play piano, sing and write by myself in cramped rehearsal rooms on campus. Circled on my calendar was Oct 26th, when I’d be flying home so you and I could join Bill & Taffy for their set at DAR Constitution Hall, opening for Jackson Brown. It was in fact a magical evening, when Jay Winding, Jackson’s sideman convinced me that THIS was what I should be doing, that college wasn’t for everyone, and that I’d have time to get back to it if it didn’t pan out, but he thought that it WOULD. I decided that night that I’d return from Florida after the semester, one way or another.

After repairing back to Miami and in the worst kind of funk, I thought that I might not last until then. About a week later, Bill & Taffy phoned to propose an idea: come back to DC, but stay in school by enrolling at nearby Catholic University. And, would I be interested in rehearsing a few songs as a group—a singing group. The group would be Bill, Taffy, Margot Chapman and me. I said sure, are you kidding?

No, they weren’t, but I was asked to not mention it to anyone for fear that word might get out too soon, and that could be a bad thing for a few good reasons. I reluctantly agreed.

You were so excited, and I was too--I was coming back, and we'd both be at CU, no better. 

But there was more to this picture than I could divulge and that was difficult, awkward and I thought somewhat unfair. My promise would be broken within a week on the night I showed up at your door at Spaulding Hall dormitory with a bottle of Stoly.

I explained it all, sheepishly, shamefully and contritely. It wasn’t that Cotter & Carroll would be handcuffed from doing our thing, but this other thing was very much on the platter, too.

“Oh…” you halted for thought. I sat and watched your eyes dart about with your high-velocity thoughts and braced for understandable anger, disappointment and indictments of my betrayal.

“Wait a minute, so, you, Bill and Taffy and Margot—that hot chick from Breakfast Again?—that’s kind of cool, huh!?”

“Yeah, I guess”, that aspect was indeed exciting I supposed and concurred.

“Wow…” Another pause…here it comes, I thought.

—“Man! I can’t WAIT to hear THAT, man! That’s gonna be FUCKING AMAZING!”

I sat amazed and grateful and a little less ashamed for my silent period of non-disclosure, but mainly I realized what a true friend is. You were more psyched than I, about something that would ultimately mean the end of our duo. We would always play gigs, you and me, you and Margot, me sitting in with your band and vice versa, but it never crossed your mind that our friendship was threatened. I was prepared to lose and lose again, but you flipped the polarity switch masterfully. This was a GOOD thing. It was a win-win. I had never admired anyone more than you at that moment.

Your “up” side was the most buoyant lift that I could ever imagine.
It was a constant, a lighthouse that was always on and spinning above a churning coastline.  Nothing could deter or reset your positive compass, your proactive enthusiasm. We started with the simplicity of doing something we loved that we could trust would always be there, and ended by having the thing that was simply always there. Love and Friendship. 

Mike, I was aware early on of your chronic attenuators, how you could be profoundly hobbled during those emotional valleys, but you muscled through them countless times. I hope folks will remember and appreciate just how many times you soldiered through the darkness so bravely.

A few years ago, when the two of us were going over some parts in a dressing room before John Jenning’s fundraiser finale, you were so tenuously there—I looked up from the page to see an expression on your face that I thought was surely your goofing at me like so often, only to realize that you were desperately reaching to the bottom of your stores of stability for a gasp of fuel and strength. I know if it weren’t that particular reason for which we were all there--for John--that you wouldn’t have been. You would have been in the place where “misery doesn’t know better times” until a sunnier day dawned. 

You were BRAVE, Mike.

And you had so much love for your friends, for your family. We all know how utterly ironclad your resolve was when it was time to be there, when we really needed you.

I just need to know that somehow you’re aware of your profound meaning in my life. I need everyone else to know, as well. The day we met was Day 1 of the rest of my life. I wasn’t at all certain that things would ever start to work out, then you were there. Like a lighthouse. A life preserver. You’re my oldest and dearest friend and I’m just now beginning to contend with your being gone. I miss you so so much, and I know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I hope I see you later, somehow, some way.

My last conversation with you was on July 1, and we talked about all sorts of things. Mostly you were just erupting with joy and enthusiasm over your Summer with Georgia, her studio project and how wonderful a person Lisa was. You told me how much you missed sister Christine, how she lured you lovingly over to her house and laid books on you all the time. Gratitude gushed from you that night. No one appreciated good will more than you, Mike.

You exclaimed again that you “never talk on the phone this long with anyone!” and we laughed alot and loudly. 

Then you told me you had just finished an “amazing” book—James Agee’s A Death In The Family.
“That’s one of my favorite books of ALL TIME”,  I spat. “Meredith had seen it somewhere and thought I might like it and, wow...”

“It’s UNBELIEVABLE.”  We spoke of it being brilliant, how it managed to decode the shock of an untimely death through the eyes of a child. I mused of how the brakes failed on the car in the story, how the accident left nary a mark but a just a slight cut on the bridge of the victim’s nose, as I remembered. 

You chimed something abruptly that was at first garbled.

"Huh? What?"

“A Cotter pin!! It was a COTTER PIN!” You loudly exclaimed.

You couldn't stop. “Do me a favor…read just the last ten pages—it’s amazing—just read the last ten pages.”

Happy Birthday, Mike. I wish you could come back, even for a day. Visit us in a dream, OK? We're waiting. 

~Me (insert any of your nicknames for me here)

From the BI-Word, March 1972


Below are some notes and perhaps some insights that I had prepared in case I had the chance to speak at Mike’s Memorial:

We wake each morning to gravity. We usually don’t consciously address it—we merely rise, get up somehow, greet and get at a day wherein we’ve mostly learned to ignore the utterly inescapable and inexorable force—that constant reminder that the center of the earth wants us.

We do it, day after day after day, because we manage to somehow find a reward. We’re fortified with purpose and we see to our dedicated endeavors until we get there— a sigh, a laugh, some measure of gratification, a prize that’s a degree measure of a larger elation. We defy the gravity that has never—will never—let go, leave us alone. Its tenacity is ancient, its origins only a distant cry of unfathomable forbearance.

It’s quite possibly the first worldly in utero sensation we have. It’s our oldest companion, friend and foe.

Some find aid and splice in a skewed perspective, something that makes the challenge ahead look approachable, do-able, manageable.

We feel we’re in a vessel upon rough waters, and the deck is coated with renegade rolling marbles. Or maybe tumbling rolling tubes which won’t rest until they come to rest. Where gravity puts them. We clamor sometimes desperately toward something to which we can cling—a rare slab of stability where we can regroup and refresh. This ride is even thrilling, maybe…perilous…we don’t worry about the landing but …

We grow and come to realize that the vessel is just an illusion. We are and have always been completely IN the water.

We rise, fall, gasp, hold our breath, become completely submerged…all the while the current carries us.

Like the naturally wise adult salmon we see or feel reason to battle our way upstream …against the most tenacious and inexorable currents…to our natal homelands. Some of us need to do that regularly and some early on realized that they would need to remain close to their beginnings.

Whether a boat, a fish, a bird, a man…we as Neil Young puts it “collide with the very air we breath”.

We make bolstered runs up against the very wind we need to fill our sails, to lift our wings. We swim upstream to survive, in the very water that will sustain us and our offspring.

The moments where we can merely relax and enjoy the ride are seemingly few and far between.

Our futures are nagging entities in need of building, planning, providing for the future. The future steals much of the present, wouldn’t you agree? And much of our concerns, cares and conundrums reside in not so tidy compartments tucked well within the family home on the back side of that welcome mat.

Our friends, our families, our fellow humans are in need, and we draw many lines to sort out for whom and to what we choose to see.

There are those among us who find their calling within the framework of rescue, companionship, care giving—the immediate alleviation of another’s pain and suffering, are they are lucky…for they have the instant gratification of immediately improving the well-being of another.

Alas, there are those among us who aren’t personally rewarded by an altruistic spirit. They don’t get a rush, they only get slightly inconvenienced. 

What Mike and I had in common, I think, and what has also been a frustration of sorts is that our spirits, whatever our  gifts and tools that we bring as entertainers, are usually gifts of joy, mollification, relief, inspiration. Plus we usually love doing it while we’re doing it. We bring a release, maybe some elation, some healing if we’re lucky and we dig it while we’re doing it. A win win.

If only it were that simple. Art reacts, it reflects, it even thankfully deflects…rock and roll, it doesn’t solve our problems, it just allows us to dance all over them for a while. The hard realities and the hard work still stare at us coldly when we return to the churn. 

As much as he may have appeared to be the typical exemplary middle class fence painting lawn mowing suburbanite male (which he was, in at least those respects) Mike didn’t believe in the paint by numbers life.

What conforming to convention Mike managed to do was voluntary, or discretely begrudging. By discrete, I mean to say he was polite and considerate of others’ feelings, respectful of others’ RIGHT to have their own beliefs. BUT, one large ethos of our friend, what he DID NOT believe in, was passing himself and his beliefs off disingenuously. Mike was not a hypocrite. He loathed hypocrisy, yet he did not loathe the hypocrite. He understood THEIR plight. That was their “cross to bear”. But he was highly unnerved when one expected him to go along with the motions, the ceremony, the pageantry of and about something he truly knew in his heart he DID NOT BELIEVE. 

And when a scabrous policy on high reached indiscriminately down to affect the under-privileged, the under-served, and the under-informed, well…here we are and we know how Mike felt about that. 

He was of this world, but his boyish enthusiasm for the weird, the wild, the wonderful was couched in an old soul’s discerning insight into much much deeper philosophical issues.

Cognitive dissonance and dishonesty came into play only when he needed to cover his rear end to keep from shame. From shaming himself or his family and friends.

In his affairs, his relationships, his dealings, I never knew Mike to EVER be—in even the slightest way— underhanded or deceptive out of avarice or spite.

In this way, and in so many others, Mike was so very brave. He was brave to choose to always be true to his heart. He knew how much work that would require. The currents he would come up against within and without.

So many of us need to adhere to some existing code to help us determine our paths, decisions, battles. We turn to sacraments, commandments, societal and familial expectations. That’s our culture, and it includes multitudes of other cultures big and small, heirloom and nascent.

I think Mike was up against those deliberations ALL THE TIME, for he thought for himself. That should make all of us even more appreciative of those times when he went the extra mile, or yard or footstep to be where he knew he counted most. To be there for someone else. To put in the good word. To refrain from a personally derogatory one. To be a cheerleader. A fan. A friend.

To not be petty. To see to the other side of a sticking point and move on. Michael looked to see the diamonds in the rough. Ironic, but true. Between the two of us, I heard from him scads more pep talks than he ever heard from me.

The truth is that none of us have any of the sure answers. Well we have some. That money changes everything. That it’s better to have it than to need it.

We hold other answers in our hearts. It’s better to love than to hate. It’s better to try to see someone’s perspective, or at least respect that one’s perspective, whatever it may be, is inarguable. At least try to understand. If Mike and I were Jem and Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird we’d have spent more time than they on Boo Radley’s porch.

Mike’s Spiritual Creed: Be good for goodness’ sake. These approaches are better. Not because we give them 4 out of 5 stars, but because we should give them 9 out of 10 nods. We should affix them like pocket watches in folds nearest to where there is the least sunshine. We should WORK to be BETTER. Then we’ll ALL be doing better, a little closer to all doing well.



For and Of Our Beloved Friend John Jennings  

For Our Buddy John Jennings on his Birthday
(I never got around to formally reading this at our friend’s Memorial Service 1 year ago today):

OK, then..it would appear--somewhat reasonably--that the vast majority of the good folks here today would consider themselves "middle-aged".

Those who subscribe to the tenets in pre-conceived dispositions of "ageism" would probably impose the particular year middle-age begins…whether it be 30, 40…50....

My mother-in-law is presently 92 years old. What she would consider to be her middle-aged years I don't know. I do know that when she relates stories from her younger years she does not begin "back when I was middle-aged".

My son demurely mumbled to me somewhen around his 33rd birthday that he "doesn't feel very young anymore".

I once attended the funeral of a wonderful woman who had  died at the age of 101. Ripe, old? I suppose those adjectives are fair.

In light of the loss of my Father as a child and my Mother as a young adult, I declared to my companion that the occasion of her funeral after 101 years was somewhat refreshing since she had “made it to the finish line”: lived a long and multitudinous life. A joyful occasion, really!

My friend quickly countered, “No it’s not. She didn’t want to die!”

The point that most of us would gladly take life over no life at any point within a life. John and I chronically invoked the famous scene from Unforgiven wherein the blubbering young cowboy posse initiate is shakily confronting the emotional aftermath of his first killing.

Clint Eastwood says, "It's a hell of a thing killing a man: take away all he’s got and all he’s gonna have” to which the kid says, " yeah but I guess he had it coming, huh?"

"We've all have it coming, kid”, utters Clint.

At some point in our lives we look up to notice that we've been lucky enough to be around long enough and work at one type of thing along with a small group of people. And within that relatively cozy group, we’ve made life-long and cherished friends.

Weeks, months, years, decades pass and bonds are formed. Each unique. Some stronger or weaker than the last or next, a course with peaks and valleys as we forge ahead like a plow horse until the day you realize that you've known a particular soul for longer than most others in your life, you've spent more time with that person than you with your own nuclear family before you flew from the nest toward adulthood.

And with these souls, if things went so rightly, you managed to create and accomplish some mightily profound feats. You’ve healed, entertained, taught, learned, served and earned your worth as you together gained and sustained.

I firmly believe that all of our years here are formative ones.

Those hours add up and—lo and behold—you have a true brother or sister. They know you—and you know them— extremely well. Sometimes it feels too well!

The things you done, the places you've been, the experiences you’ve shared…together…realtime…over a long time. That history. Is anything more precious?

At one point during one of our many late night powwows (in our 20s and 30s— the fires were usually stoked by any number of mind altering substances, and in our 40s and 50s they were stoked with experience, jaded retrospect and hard-fought wisdom. The latter being every bit as—no make that more—intoxicating then the former) John confessed and professed a deep and abiding commitment : "Jon, I've known you since you were 19 years old and we are now in our 40s”. Regardless of what you may have ever said to me, about me or done to me and whatever I have ever said about or done to you, well…(taking a long thoughtful John pause) we're still here and I am highly rewarded with this relationship. Man, I am all in until the end of the line.”

It's interesting to me that John and I very seldom spoke in any sort of granular detail about what we did within the context of shows, recording sessions and such.

But we certainly talked about most all else.

John loved bandying on about any art whatsoever. His polymathic intellect new no bounds, and that made it especially difficult for the unsuspecting and quixotically reluctant new acquaintance to escape the compelling clutches of John's charmingly amiable, expertly convincing, informative, elucidative and engaging manner. John was pretty danged irresistible.

On a tour flight to Boulder, Colorado John was seated next to an attractive(ly) off duty flight attendant. He chatted her up for the entire way, as usual, and by the time we had landed John had not only made a new friend but had garnered an invitation for himself and a few of us others to meet her and her pilot husband for a late morning & early afternoon training session in a full-scale FAA grade 747 flight simulator. The ones in which the guys up front did their training.

It made total sense, this sort of encounter, and John’s associates would see this type of thing again and again:

A stranger, a friend of a friend at a party, a bandmate, a travel mate…hearing perhaps the voice first…gentle, genteel, that of a broadcast announcer who may always make it home to read the bed time story to the kids. His voice was velvety, lyrical, laced with experience, compassion and empathy. Perhaps prior to that, or concurrently…she’d see the eyes. John’s eyes were extremely easy on the eyes. And they were extremely intelligent eyes, and that—coupled with his overall demeanor and sympathetic ear—were indeed windows into an exceptionally beautiful soul.

He had that woman at “how ARE you?”, and the following Tuesday John and a few others were at the controls, trying not to crash.

John would later glowingly report on the splendid field trip, how he was rather impressed with himself to be the only one in the group to NOT crash the simulated jumbo jet.

In an interview with Bill Holland, John states that in his younger years, one of his less than admirable behavioral traits was that “he could be manipulative”.

I’m venturing to guess that was born from an early life discovery of his spellbinding way with people. We all know that many folks found themselves wanting to impress John, longing to please John, as doing so rendered them pleased with themselves.

John somehow managed on many occasions to show, and/or share that he was indeed pleased with—well, proud of— himself, and he did that in a becoming way. It was undeniably evident and, hell, you had to agree with him.

Yes, John was more than aware that he was extraordinary, with the self-assuredness of a phobic person who time and again has rediscovered his more than adequate tools for survival: a multitude of natural abilities and gifts,…intellect, compassion, hard fought and heartfelt worth…

We all know John was one of those rare individuals to whom the skill for tasks difficult and tenuous for others would come relatively easy.

It was John's way to somehow manage a disarming humility, fronted with a winkingly disingenuous modesty when he would remark that guitar playing was something that came "pretty easily" to him.

He must've been aware just how much that could piss off at least a dozen other guitar players we know, yeah?

John knew—and would privately share— which other players amazed him or “gave him a run for his money”. You all know who you are. Maybe not. I’ll tell yaz later. He probably told you already. John would say, “I don’t want to talk out of school” pretty frequently.

John knew how to do a lot of things and knew how to do them well without a whole lot of help from others. It was because of this that, when the rare situation arose wherein John asked for your help, it would certainly bolster your confidence, up your seeming (“conscious and unconscious”) aptitude and your self-esteem, for we all knew of his prickly discernment of everything practical, artistic or just plain trivial, how fussy he could be.

We all know that horn players can be bawdy, string players may be meekly sensitive, drummers can be crude, bass players smooth—always get the girls, piano players are somewhat snobby and aloof, but guitar players… by and large are…a fussy lot.

And John was fussier than most.

He wasn't always outspoken about his opinions of things, no wait…yes, he usually was…but that was usually when within small groups of people and definitely when it was just the two of you chatting.

Here's the thing – John would matter-of-factly state this—he was good at "getting" people... that is to say: he was a great judge of people... he could pick up what made you tick and do it pretty damn quick, enough to make you sick…figure out your trick, make you feel like such a  d***.

He “could think faster than you could ever run, run, run…”

That  could be a bit nerve-racking sometimes.

John could dish. For the most part his dishing was about music and art – let's just say music, because he was first to disclaim with a global "what do I know?… however" of literature or movies. but being a musician songwriter – brilliant songwriter – and a record producer, he felt he had the license to spill some acid for the benefit of a brighter more evolved scene on folks’ behalf from time to time.

Politics, current affairs…NOW we’re rocking’. John would chronically contextualize his sociological points with “let’s not worry about me…my politics are so left of left of left, they are OFF the table the radar is on…"

As an artist, that license is extremely healthy: the exchange (sometimes heated) of ideas, beliefs, concerns and consternations that apply to our communal belief that in our artistic endeavors we should primarily focus on creating something that matters. As an artist he felt that and strongly. As a producer, he was primarily concerned with the piece, that the track, the project on which you were working well, was “working”. He excelled at that.

There was a calm and sure-handed approach to all his projects, which fostered a reassuring and angst free (for the most part) collaboration with many songwriters and artists. There was something about John that, if you allowed it to work, and didn’t fight it, could make you feel verrrry good about yourself. And that’s verrrry good, when recording yourrrr record.

John didn't like young bands very much. In fact, I don't think he took naturally or affectionately to youngsters much at all. When speaking of young bands that invite their friends to fill up a pub once a week, or a band of other-than-musical professionals: lawyers, doctors and dentists who throw together a band and play at the country club every now and then... John could be pretty merciless. He resented their “air time”, and he was outspoken about it.

I would say something like “ah what the hell, live and let live, live and let play” or some such shite, and John would say "no I don't agree with that because they're out there taking up air meant for the the rest of us." Somehow I didn't see this as an elitist statement, I saw it as the way John was committed himself to seeing to  music and art getting the respect they deserve. If you were merely noodling on the guitar during an idle chat, there should still be a modicum of deliberation behind every half-minded lick. In other words: When it came to making music, John didn't fuck around.  That's not to say he didn't have any fun, he had buckets of fun. In the studio he had a way of being so totally low-key...as many an adroit producer aspires to be--that he somehow got great performances out of folks most of the time. Laid back, praising, ENJOYING himself…enjoying others.

I think he loved being the first person to say, let’s take a break…this’ll be great…and we’d repair to the porch for chocolate and a smoke and conversation having absolutely NOTHING to do with the work at hand.

John was intense without appearing intense. When he was working.

When he wasn’t working John appeared intense. Not in a bad way, (unless really bugged “Jaking” as a close friend would say) but in a thoughtful, sometimes lofty way, as if his hyper-awareness rendered  most situations and conversations to be something with which he was either familiar, or one whose aspects and concepts he’d once easily grasped, or could easily grasp again. He bored easily.

He could come off as jaded, pre-occupied, cynical, skeptical, sardonic. Also whimsical, fantastical, and oh so funny.

Just when I’d be thinking or grousing internally that John had a bit of a superiority complex, he would say something so disarming, so self-deprecating, so…humble, that I’d feel guilty for thinking he was any other way.

He was taken aback, truly…whenever I’d compliment him on his economy, sensitivity and approach to piano parts. OK, I merely praised his part, and it seemed to stop him in his tracks.

When he’d make some of the best and wittiest remarks, resulting in my wincing and tearing with laughter he’d say, "Oh my God, Jon…you’re laughing at MY joke? Damn!"

John’s ego was huge, but it was dwarfed by his enormous heart.

Being friends with John meant seeing the world through the eyes of John, and that wasn’t always an uplifting experience.

You had a much better shot at rosy-ing up your outlook by listening to Marilyn Manson, Morrissey or something, but… we all know how it was to be greeted by John: Never a "hey how are ya”, or “hi” it was more than often “(your name here) how ARE you!”

When asked how HE was doing he would glow with aplomb..”I have NO complaints.” “All the better for seeing you!”

John held fast onto pearls of wisdom, and would readily recite them.

As fussy, particular and bristly as John may seemingly be, he was an overall zealous celebrant of life and love. Love was most important in a life filled with “just details”.

John was very strong. "Strong like bull”, he would say. He was more self-reliant than most folks. He was intellectually strong, and for someone who had serious bouts with phobias and neuroses he was a remarkable exemplar of high emotional IQ. John dealt with all people in a most civilized fashion, but when holding fast to his principles, his tenacity was cement-solid. …whatever the aspects behind any contentious issue, he had thought about them a great deal.

John had strong opinions, and so do I, and it was remarkable that we remained friends in light of the fact that when we had opposed views, they were diametrically such, but those instances usually had nothing more crucial than Kubrick’s framing, Cukos ethos, Solti, Visconti or Debra Winger’s performance in Mike’s Murder.

There was the accident wherein the sky actually fell on he and Tamara.  A big tree, actually.

Mere months later John would be arriving to his gig, Holiday lights coruscating on the apparatus screwed into his skull and affixed to his torso, a device ironically called a ‘halo’…and exclaim gently and firmly “I am the luckiest person I know.”

But years later as John and I walked the corridors of NIH after his second cancer surgery—one day afterward, actually—he was his usual optimistic, highly philosophical self, praising Tamara, the network of folks supporting him, his top-drawer doctors. Grateful, humble, shuttling, scuffling, hobbled, strapped, poked, and tubed…he was upbeat.

But at one point, in that way we all know of John, he stopped, turned to look me straight me in the eye with a semi-beseeching rise in one eyebrow, and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I AM aware of and appreciate the gravity of the situation.”

As much as John enjoyed spinning yarns from the old days (show business does tend to generate many entertaining, funny, interesting tales. I can’t imagine why... it’s not inhabited with many entertaining, funny, interesting people) he was anything but a backward glancer. He cared not for rehashed, post-game analysis, or even discussions of past productions. He was ever and already onto the next thing. “Way down the road”…John would say….”I’ve moved waaay past it” he would say to someone longwindedly contrite after an argument.

John liked and lived to move forward.

In the end, as I believe he was for most of his life, John was a realist. Albeit one with the intellectual and spiritual gifts enabling him to pull cheeky hope from the jaws of a most dire situation. John was a true romantic, an egoist (with one ’t’), but he did not frivolously romanticize, and I know that he cared for and about others very deeply. He respected those with heart, and he supported, encouraged, advocated for and so many times facilitated those who had something important to say.

Life was important, and it was important to John to make sure it stayed important. Dwelling, resenting or recounting the past was wasted time. He once said, “One day I’ll sit on a porch with my old chums and do the 'remember when’ thing. But for now I’m going to keep going."

We often talked about future projects—our own and others’. “We’ve always got potential”, he’d say…quickly, tersely…as smooth as John’s voice was, and as long as he may have taken in any discussion to formulate what he was about to say (you know, with his hands raised as if to say, ‘hold up…I’m devising the perfect most convincing way to make my point here’)…when he finally said it, he’d say it FAST. He was a fast talker. There was an autobahn of neurotic alacrity between his brain and his mouth. One would not delay the other. 

John always had a lot on his mind, and not usually in a worrisome way. His brain was full, and so was his heart…and he was always happy and proud to give you generous pieces of both.

Bless his soul.

 I hope and I pray (yes, regardless of one’s beliefs concerning demiurges and deities, I believe in that great collective energy of prayer…) at any rate, for it would make me feel better to know, that somewhere along the arduous and rutted road of John’s last journey that his brilliant mind, his gifts of wisdom, his talent for devising ways forward conspired to reward him with a clear discernible vision that made some sort of sense, offered solace, laid the warm hand of grace…calming him with the knowledge that it was alright to “move way past it”.

That it was OK to keep looking forward toward whatever is next.  

 John left us with so much to ponder, to enjoy, to carry and he inspired so many with so much.   

Some of my favorite John sayings:

Remarking on digital manipulation of recorded performances:
This was intoned within the discussion of bars being ever lower, “It is now possible, to make a purse from a sow’s ear”

On Capital Punishment : “If you want someone dead, just be patient and you WILL get your wish.”

Missing a cue in the studio: “Sorry. I was hanging out like a kid at the 7-11 on that one.”

Relationships: “Even the best relationships are not always mutually rewarding. But all relationships must be rewarding enough to make you want to continue maintaining them.”

On touring, and spoken while sitting on opposable benches: “I love playing music, and I love all of you, don’t get me wrong…but I can think of lots of things I’d rather be doing than this right here.”

“Topiary Donkey with a Dick.”

Now for a famous jingle we'd never tire of recalling and reprising:

Bye for now!


Milk’s the soft soft drink, it doesn’t burn foam or fizzle
Doesn't snap doesn’t sizzle when you want to wet your whistle
Its the soft soft drink that’s good for you it'll make your
Whole insides say ‘thanks’

Makes your teeth grow strong starts a belly celebration
And a muscle jubilation, people all across the nation
Drink the soft soft drink for a vitamin sensation
Drink the soft soft drink drink milk

Milk’s the…
soft soft drink it doesn’t shout about its flavor always on its best behavior
When its food you wanna savor
Its the soft soft drink that’s always been the favorites
It’s the soft soft drink drink milk! 

On Public Discourse, Moral Re-examination, Offended Sensibilities, Court Rulings and Emblems of the Confederacy in Leesburg, Va 

As Americans, as a Nation, we stand unified in our belief that each and all have the right to express their opinions proudly and openly, especially when doing so opens heretofore obscured pathways to a deeper understanding of our collective humanity during broad discourses such as these; vigorously reassessing an ever progressing and changing identity.

As a Democracy, we ideally look toward and rely upon a majority representation of our majority personality. There are many compelling forces in this broad “heritage” argument. I hear confidence and resolve from folks holding nearly sacred the recognition of those (especially our ancestors) who “died for their beliefs”.

As a native Virginian (Fredericksburg, Northern Virginia and until recently Leesburg) I'm proud of our multi-faceted history--rife with admirable and remarkable personalities manifest in myriad trajectories, often times in contradictory fashion. That any may have died "standing for something" doesn't automatically meet my personal standards for veneration. History is rife and rancid with all sorts of agents displaying hideous conviction.

Leesburg has indeed and repeatedly been a bed of revolutionary passion. Loudoun County earned the colloquial status of “Breadbasket of the Revolution” during that war, for its formidable agricultural support of the Continental Army as it feverishly fought to extricate its citizens from the demeaning and crippling clutches of a far-away and tyrannical regime.

The colonies—united—won that war. We became an officially independent nation, the United States of America. For months, years, decades and centuries we progressed as a young nation navigating, negotiating a brighter, fairer and ever more promising future for each and all. Relative to other "great” nations of the globe, we today still remain a young one.

No one can accurately predict when one established era's characteristic practices, social mores and moral standards will seemingly—suddenly—tumult into another with its laws, practices and traditions slightly more effectively reasonable, rational, righteous, enlightened and otherwise evolved.

The "War Between the States” was a bloody and divisive conflagration, when certain States within our unified nation attempted secession from  the majority collective thus allowing themselves to adhere only to their own codes and economic methods, one of which is now clearly recognized as a cruel, demoralized practice, that of keeping and utilizing human beings as livestock.

It is fact that many of our honored “forefathers” were slave owners, but during all that while an ever flowing enlightenment was by degrees reaching many enough shores to gradually become a mainstream. Those cultures—multiple generations of them—slowly gave way to change much as a frightened uprooted child slowly learns that a new home can be better, even while holding the memory of the old home near.

Of course, acceptance moves and grows by degrees as well. It requires dialogue both external and internal.

Recently, in the wake of "rulings" (we've been inoculated to steel ourselves as a reaction to that word) it’s irrefutable that this slow conversion is requiring this conversation, even within the considered climate of many a jarred sensibility. Perhaps we’ve evolved to a farther point where all of these opinions, reactions and detractions can be civil (writ large), constructive, non-violent (literally and literately), and made (and heard!) with patiently open minds and compassionately open hearts. We are compelled to examine ourselves as private and public entities, and do so privately and publicly.

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently stated (perhaps within another context, perhaps not) that "pain (like stubbing your toe on the edge of furniture in the dark) is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap in knowledge. The pain is a lot of information really quick." In that sense, intransigence is our enemy, both as an end result and as a practice fostering more unpleasantness along the stubborn way.

As a unified Nation, we won the Revolutionary War.  Later, as the Confederacy begrudgingly struggled to deny this union, they lost the Civil War, a long and ugly conflict whose legacy, by virtue of its origins of regional solipsism and nationalistic self-loathing, is one of which, as an American, I’m not proud.

But we move on and we change…little by little. Whether they be flags or statues, we hold on to icons and emblems as commemoration of history. Some have become somewhat perverted vestiges of our times and culture, even while they gaze back on those that are past.

On the one hand, we feel strongly that the Confederate facet of our region’s identity should be recognized and taught. On the other, its arguably most salient historical mantle is slavery--universally deplored. Any nod to icons standing for this cause of the Confederacy risks being perceived as approval even celebration.

I personally find it rude to question and argue others' clear reasons for taking a valid and expressed offense. The offended sensibilities of our fellow Americans, and Leesburg/Loudoun citizens (especially those of African ancestry) should be of paramount importance and utmost consideration. Even so, many may hear protests against the location of statues and such to be but from a weak-kneed chorus of politically correct whiners.

I say let the cognitive dissonance flow like a robust and widely drinkable wine. In vino veritas.