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The Mexicali Blues | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

The Mexicali Blues

We've got a new Think Again column here called "Conservatives Know the Real Origin of Swine Flu."

And I did a short 100 Days post for the Daily Beast.

What I've been seeing:

Desire Under the Elms, at the St. James Theater. Ben Brantley'sTimes review of Eugene O'Neil's smoldering, sex-obsessed mini-opera does a pretty good job of communicating the intensity of the performances and the impressive power of the sets and staging. CarlaGugino, who plays the incredibly sexy agent on Entourage, is thesmoldering sex interest who drives everyone nuts, including herself,and with the help of Dylan, treats this as grand opera-meets GreekTragedy. Isherwood notes that the play dates from what might be calledO'Neill's High Freudian phase, which would also include the trilogyMourning Becomes Electra (a modern-day retelling of Aeschylus'Oresteia) and Strange Interlude, a long evening's journey into thetortured heart of a neurotic named Nina and is drawn from Euripides'Hippolytus.

He adds that "Rarely has sexual passion been depicted withsuch tense, animalistic ferocity on a Broadway stage." I guess we'llhave to defer to him on that. People do by and large keep their clotheson, however. The only (other) problem with it is that it's totallyunbelievable. But that's not really the point.

I saw the Dead on Tuesday night. Nate Chinen's Times review appears here.

I think it's pretty fair. Some people can't stand thethought of the Dead without Jerry. That's a mistake. I do find it oddthat people want to see the Jerry Garcia Band without Jerry but the Deadwere, of course, something else entirely. With Allman Brother Warren Haynes and Ratdog's Jeff Chimenti, and the night I saw them, Branford Marsalis. I got there latebecause the Port Authority got rid of their bus to the Meadowlands andnobody told me--or would tell me, so I missed what I heard was some goodstuff in the beginning. The good stuff I did see and hear included aterrific "Turn On Your Love Light" that ended the first set, and areally terrific "Franklin's Tower" which served as the second encore. Ifound their version of "Milestones" pretty interesting too. And WarrenHaynes sounded surprisingly moving on "High Times." "Dark Star" waspainful though. And Phil convinced me to be an organ donor by pointingout he'd be dead if someone hadn't been one. So I feel good about that.

I believe I've already recommended the recently released Hartford 77show that just came out from Rhino. I think it's one of the best showsI've ever heard. I know people rave and rave about Cornell, from thesame tour. I think I prefer this one, though that's in part because ofthe terrific sound quality, something I don't hear in any of the Cornelll tapes. It's called "To Terrapin" and there's a press release for ithere.

I also caught one of the great loves of my life, Maude Maggart, at theAlgonquin's Oak Room last night. I recommend that you do too. I'll writesomething longer about her when I have a chance as I want to sit downwith her and ask her stuff. In the meantime, you can read about herhere.

The mail:

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, Ky

I was very impressed by President Obama's press conference Wednesdaynight. I liked most of the questions and thought he gave goodanswers, although he dodged some and on some I would have liked morecandor. But that's the way it works. I'll let the spinners andpolitical analysts dissect the issues.

What I have done is distill Obama's message of proper behavior, sortof like a Miss Manners of the White House. Here is the list Obamapresented at the presser (some paraphrased - some translated):

Work as a team Don't disagree just to disagree Make your bestarguments Listen hard to what other people have to say Coax folks inthe right direction Don't quit playing just because you have tocompromise Help all people, especially the most vulnerable Don'tmistreat people, it reflects badly on you Consider the other person'sperspective Wash your hands Cover your mouth when you cough If youare sick, stay home If your child is sick, keep them out of school

Gee, it's like "Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten."Robert Fulghum says, "Everything you need to know is in theresomewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology andpolitics and equality and sane living. Take any one of those itemsand extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it toyour family life or your work or government or your world and itholds true and clear and firm."

I think what really impressed me is how a man of such sophisticationas President Obama scattered so many basic simple codes of goodbehavior into remarks about the most difficult political,philosophical and administrative issues we face today. It all reallyis quite simple if we are willing to actually solve America'sproblems rather than exploit them for our own satisfaction or self-promotion. This optimism can be contagious. Senator Arlen Specterseems to have caught at least a mild case. I rather doubt the swineflu will be the pandemic it is being hyped as, but wouldn't it begreat if optimism could be so contagious?

Name: Walter Crockett
Hometown: Worcester, Mass.

Marvelous Pierce smackdown of the snotty Kos.

I'm no fan of today's newspapers, including Pierce's Boston Globe,but the idea that a bunch of unpaid or barely paid bloggers -- nomatter how intelligent or resourceful they are -- can replace paidnewspapers staffs is the kind of magical thinking that got us intothe current economic crises. Somebody has to have the time to do thegrunt reporting, and the way you get time is to have money. So unlesswe want to leave journalism up to a handful of trustfund babies, weneed full-time, paid reporters. Why is that so hard for Kos tounderstand?

Name: Shelly Lowenstein
Hometown: Chatsworth, CA

Dear Mr. Pierce,

I just want to thank you for allowing Eric Alterman to write on yourblog every Friday or so. While I agree that he is not the caliber ofwriter that you are, it's still nice to see you give him some airtime, so to speak. The kid has potential. Keep up the great work. Ilook forward to all the hard work you put into the blog every weekand also appreciate the occasional tidbit from Eric.

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