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Who'll Stop The Rain? | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Who'll Stop The Rain?

My Think Again column is called “Billionaire Media Moguls vs. Occupy Wall Street” and you can find it here

Alter-reviews:
John Fogerty plays “Cosmo’s Factory” at the Beacon:
Twenty-three years or so ago I saw John Fogerty play Creedence music for the first time in decades in honor of the opening of the Vietnam Veterans’ memorial in Washington and as a personal catharsis over psychological issues that had prevented him from making (almost) any music at all following the bitter breakup of the band and the loss of all of his publishing rights. Fogerty was, by his own admission, a pretty sour fellow back then. Now he’s such a happy fella, it’s almost embarrassing to be around the guy. His stage patter is Paul McCartney-esque, about how wonderful his wife and kids are, and you know, sunshine on his shoulders makes him happy, that kind of thing.

But oh, the songs…. Also like McCartney, Fogerty has, in his back pocket, some of the most powerful, nearly perfectly crafted pop music and his band recreates the originals to perfection. Beginning with Cosmo-CCR’s strongest album, he made this 41-year-old-relic sound as fresh as my 13-year old kid. (Tonight he is playing “Green River.”) Given that Fogerty grew up thousands of miles away from the various southern bayous, cotton fields, nooks and crannies of American life that give these songs their inspiration, one is tempted to feel that there is a larger force of life and creativity working through him in an almost supernatural fashion. But it is not a tombstone shadow; rather it’s a good moon rising; an archetypal American artform being re-invented while so much of the rest of the world around him was immersed in psychedelic experiences that yielded mostly self-indulgence. Fogerty’s tight, locomotive-like arrangements put you in a frame of mind that makes you glad to be alive. Here’s some Youtube from the wayback machine.

New CDs/collections from The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, U2, Nirvana, The Arcade Fire, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, R.E.M., Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, The Grateful Dead and a few others:
It’s been a great season, cd-wise, for people like me, who are getting kinda old for new music but interested in going more deeply into the music we’ve always loved, and particularly enjoy getting some historical context to accompany the moment, both to deepen the enjoyment and expand our knowledge. In the past few weeks, I’ve discussed massive box sets by Pink Floyd, Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys, all of which clock in at least $100, hardly a casual purchase.  But for fans, (rather than fanatics, scholars, etc.) the companies and the artists want your money too and some of them are willing to put some time and effort into this as well.

The most elaborate of the mini-boxes is the two-cd version of “The Smile Sessions,” which comes with a nice, informative booklet, some lovely tchotkes, and the cool poster that’s in the big box set. Also excellent and well worth re-purchase are the “Experience” two cd versions of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side” and “Wish You Were Here,” which I actually like even better. Both cds come with live versions of the entire albums. Floyd also as a single cd best of called “A Foot in the Door,” which is what it says it is… this is not a “best of” kinda band but it does have the remixed versions of these songs, which means you might want to replace “Echoes,” even though there’s a lot missing given its single disc-ness. I’ve not seen the fancy version of U2’s “Achtung Baby” but I guess I agree it’s their best album. It’s pretty decently packaged and there’s a second cd of outtakes and covers, that’s not bad at all.  Ditto the pretty excellent new double cd version of “Nevermind”—a crucial album in anyone’s collection, which has been remixed and given a whole bunch of demo versions and outtakes on an extra cd and a half. The Nirvana box of outtakes was just horrible, and so are some of these particularly the “Boombox” versions, but the b sides and the “smart studio sessions” are a pleasant surprise, especially if you like the quieter side of Nirvana. I also got the new single cd expansion of The Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” which is a genuinely near-great album, and the only band I’ve been able to love since Radiohead. I think it’s got three new songs and a nice new booklet. Finally, also nicely packaged is the two cd “Sinatra: Best of the Best,” which is really a single cd “best of” that includes both the Capitol and Reprise years—an absolutely crazy idea if you ask me—and an out of print Seattle concert, along with a nice booklet and some postcards. There’s a version without the concert too. Again, nice packaging.

R.E.M. broke up and they’ve got a two cd best of, which, truth be told, is a lot like their last two cd best of—I believe thirteen songs are repeated—but if you don’t have that and also didn’t get their last three records then this one will do just fine. And Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band—one of the relatively unsung and underappreciated acts in rock despite having sold a gazillion records—also has a new, double cd collection which draws heavily on the remixed live albums, plus “Night Moves” and “Against the Wind” two of the best records by anyone of that era. Not to be missed unless you’ve got one of the boxes, also, is the two cd collection, The Essential Phil Spector which contains 35 of the sixty songs I was so excited to get years ago on the the Back to Mono box, (made more easy to choose by the absence of the absolutely crucial “Christmas Album.”  There’s a great deal of silliness on these records: that’s the thing with boy geniuses. But I think they are a pretty good bet to put you in a good mood whenever you put them on. None of these collections is anything to blog home about packaging-wise. They are relatively bare-boned attempts to capture the pocketbooks of casual, but not-that-casual fans. People who know what they should like, even if it’s not their particular fare. Since I feel rather more strongly about all of these bands, I’m not the best judge.  (Also in this year’s old-but-new sweepstakes are a new version of “Some Girls,” which, I’m willing to admit, is actually my favorte Stones album ever, I supose for having been 17 when it came out, with a cd of outtakes, a new version of “Quadrophenia,” with some demos, unless you buy the really expensive version, and a deluxe version of “Aqualung”; none of which I’ve heard yet, but all of which smart fans should own in some version, whether or not you choose to invest in the crazy editions.

As for actual new music, I really like the new Joe Henry and the Tom Waits, about which Reed wrote recently. The new Nick Lowe is also a quiet pleasure, as is the new Glen Campbell. On the new/old continuum, though I’m not sure where, I’m perfectly happy with the choice by the “Road Trips” people of the Dead show from the Boston Music Hall in 1976, since that’s about when I started seeing the band and really, so much of rock music is about that feeling. Still, it was also, in retrospect, the band’s best period; post-Pigpen (sorry, pig fans) and pre-Keith and Donna going off the deep end. The available song selection also was quite high with lots of choices from Bob and Jerry’s solo albums, which also peaked around then. It’s the last of the “Road Trips” series, but I don’t exaclty know what that means, since a new series of releases is about to commence. (I saw “Furthur” last week, and they were just fine, but it only made me miss Jerry more.)

I’m sorry there are no links above, but I think all you guys are smart enough to find them yourselves and it’s not like I make any money on the deal….

Also I’ve been doing a weird amount of reading/listening—well actually all listening--to new novels, often by new writers of late, and it’s been time well rewarded. Here are some of the results.

Audio Books I loved:
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Audio Books I liked just fine:
The Leftovers by Tom Perotta

Audio Books I liked, but with problems:
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Rules of Civility by Amor Toles

Audio biographies I liked, but did not love for reasons too various to go into here:
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
My Song by Harry Belafonte and Michael Shnayerson
Malcolm X by Manning Marable
Coal Miner’s Daughter by Loretta Lynn with George Vescey (read by Sissy Spacek)

Baseball biographies I enjoyed for their amazing research, but felt overwhelmed by because of sportswriters’ tendencies to have never met a cliché they didn’t use and because too many reporters insist on publishing stuff that should have been kept in their notes:
Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax by Jane Leavy.

I will try to have more to say about some of the above in the relatively near future.

Now here’s Reed:

Our Democracy Could Use a Little Messiness Right About Now
By Reed Richardson
A media tragedy in three acts.

Act 1 - Right wing news outlets and pundits march to a steady drumbeat of unsubstantiated and/or sensationalized anecdotes about rampant sexual attacks, violent crimefilthy conditions and drug abuse within the Occupy protests, to drown out the movement’s increasingly popular message about addressing income inequality.

Act 2 - After awhile, this right-wing media barrage begins to seep into the minds of public officeholders and local business owners, who then cite this very same stream of ‘reports’ as a justification for cracking down on or displacing altogether the Occupy encampments.

Act 3 - And then, despite the instances of police-imposed press blackoutsarrogant, capricious arrests and excessive-use-of-force tactics, the mainstream media swoops in afterwards to happily pick up and air the right wing’s dirty hippie meme, now that it has been freshly laundered through authoritative sources like city hall and local law enforcement.

Just how badly can a supposedly objective news organization fall for this flagrantly anti-Occupy narrative manipulation? Consider this alleged news article from Tuesday’s Washington Post—rife with disingenuous generalizations, false equivalencies, and right-wing framing—as perhaps the drama’s defining soliloquy. Sounding as if were ripped from the front page of Rupert Murdoch’s Post, this two-byline, three-contrbitor ‘news’ story uses as its thesis the intellectually loaded political question: “Is this an occupation or an infestation?”

The article’s first paragraph alone gives the game away, pillorying the Occupy movement with the now acceptable recitation of right-wing talking points. Of course, if accurate, any institution party to this many transgressions would be worthy of intense scrutiny by the press. But the Post’s phony outrage here is all the more evident thanks to some unfortunate juxtaposition to current events. That’s why you’ll forgive me if I don’t hold my breath waiting for its upcoming article on the “infestation” of college football, what with its many recent examples of unsanitary public behaviordrug overdoseoccasional deaths, and, of course, rampant sexual abuse.

To further demonstrate the Occupy protests’ widespread lawlessness, which the paper says “reads like crime blotter,” readers are presented with this rather weak list: 

A man shot near the encampment in Oakland. A homeless person dead in Salt Lake City. A suicide in Vermont. Two drug overdoses and a molotov cocktail in downtown Portland, Ore. A sexual assault in Philadelphia. Hypothermia in Denver, police brutality in California and a 53-year-old man unnoticed in his tent in New Orleans, dead for at least two days.

I admit to being no expert in jurisprudence, so maybe someone smarter than me can point out the laws against hypothermia, suicide, and dying of natural causes? And call me a cynic, but I highly doubt that the tragically common deaths of the homeless elsewhere in this country routinely garner the same level of selective indignation in the Post’s daily coverage. I am quite certain, however, that there are laws against police brutality, but adding that particular crime to the Occupy movement’s tally is patently dishonest, since the protestors were its victims rather than its perpetrators. So, by my count, that’s four non-crimes out of ten examples mentioned and one of the legitimate crimes was committed against instead of by the Occupy movement—not exactly a slam dunk case of reasoning here.  

Taking another tack, the article tries to pin the label of hypocrisy on the Occupy movement by intentionally obfuscating their income inequality message:

City officials have said that the demonstrations have cost them millions of dollars—even as the protesters call for fiscal responsibility. Denver estimates its bill at $200,000 per week. Oakland has spent more than $1 million just to pay overtime for police officers. Businesses near Zuccotti Park say protesters have cost them a combined $500,000 in profits.

To read this obtuse and stilted paragraph is to think that the Occupy movement is populated by nothing more than feckless Blue Dog Democrats intent on passing a balanced budget amendment. Using the term “fiscal responsibility” in this context is simply an outright distortion of the protestors’ actual call for economic justice. What’s more, the article’s obsession with the public costs associated with the Occupy movement exemplifies an common media blind spot, one that routinely ignores the much larger fiscal price that our country pays because of its increasing fealty to corporate America.

If just one of the story’s five contributors had thought to consider the Occupy movement’s real point of view, he or she might have found that Coloradans, for example, get very little in return for that state’s corporate tax giveaways, which annually total $75 million—an amount that could fully cover 375 weeks of Denver protests. And if the present mayor of New York City is really so incensed about a few million dollars being spent on the Occupy protests in Zuccotti Park, maybe someone at the Post should have asked him why he didn’t spent more time trying to collect the $627 million in back taxes Lehman Brothers has owed the city since 1996. Then again, characterizing as criminal former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld’s reckless financial strategies, which helped ignite the largest economic crash in four generations, just wouldn’t be professional journalism, especially since he never slept out on the street in a grimy sleeping bag.

As childish as it may sound, there’s a lot to this line of reasoning in our establishment press. The Occupy protests really bring out the ick factor in the media and this Post story is no exception. The protestors aren’t showering!, They’re making a lot of noise!, They’re sleeping outdoors!: It’s all too much for our tender country to bear, the Post implies, right before it goes and commits a gross rhetorical miscarriage of historical ignorance so great that it boggles the mind:

Democracy has rarely looked so messy.

Please. Eighty years ago, this same tired excuse was being trotted out to marginalize similar groups of Americans who weren’t willing to simply disappear into the background of a society still suffering from a previous bout of financial speculation run amok. And compared to the decades-long upheaval of civil protest and counter-violence our nation endured before it came to its senses on civil rights, the Occupy movement, whatever its faults, barely registers. (And not for nothing, but where, pray tell, was this delicate sensibility on the part of the Post a few years ago, when Donald Rumsfeld was famously dismissing the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians and coalition forces with his glib “democracy is messy” explanation?)

Whether its willing to evolve and affect real change in our economic policy will determine whether the Occupy movement is but a few harmless specks of dust easily whisked away by the status quo and a complicit media or a real honest-to-goodness mess that can’t be ignored. But hey, nobody ever said real progress was easy. It’s hard work. And we, as a nation, shouldn’t be afraid of getting ourselves a little bit dirty in the process.

The mail:
Brian Donohue
Brooklyn

Outstanding column on Jobs (I was writing years ago about the Chinese e-sweatshops and the problems with the Nike connection, and like others doing the same, was generally ignored).

One coincidence that I think exposed so much about the idol-worship compulsion of our media was the death of Dennis Ritchie, about a week after Jobs. Dennis Who? Well, without Dennis Ritchie, there would be no iPod, iPad, OS X, or in fact, no Emperor Steve. Ritchie was the co-inventor of UNIX and the C programming language; the technical cornerstones of virtually everything of popular value that has been built in the modern techno-universe. Ritchie's vast influence on the modern world was appropriately noted in places like slashdot and C-Net; yet in the popular (non-geek) media, it was met with little more than a respectful yawn while the Adoration of the Cupertino Magus went on for weeks.

Make no mistake: Jobs deserves his place in our cultural and technological history, but only as a single player on a vast, diverse, and layered stage. The reality, well known to those who actually work in IT, is that tech is no more a kingdom than is (was?) Zuccotti Park.

Roy Hanley
Santa Margarita CA

Read the article on Jobs, very instructive and thank you for it. I am a big fan of Apple products, and I will likely continue to use them, but I do believe in reality therapy and need it regularly.

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