All Apologies

All Apologies

My newest pieces, the fight over Social Security, a tribute to Bruce Springsteen and more.


I’ve got a new “Think Again” called “Media to McCain: How Long Has This Been Going On?” and it is about the media’s collective broken heart and it’s here.

My Nation column is called “The Terrorists Win” and you can guess what it is about. It’s here

My Daily Beast column this week is called “Obama’s Silent Jewish Majority” and it is a reply to Charles M. Blow’s Times column and that’s here.

The below is from my favorite blog and I promise it’s real:

"The Spine I Apologize…"   [And God, what a backstory this must have…]

I apologize to my readers and to Liza Minnelli for quoting from Tunku Varadarajan’s otherwise estimable column about John McCain a remark slighting to her and her gifts. Minnelli has been a talented singer and actress for several decades, and she still has the the warranted courage to perform. What’s more, she is one of those paradigmatic entertainers who gives of herself–her ample brain and enchanting personality–in the cause of human rights, a cause not as popular as it once was was.

As it happens, my movie director son, Jesse, cast her in his film of three years ago, "The X." I am biased: the film was very very good and so was Liza in it.

I am sorry for the grievous mistake…which in a way was not mine. But I take responsibility.

And, by the way, what an exemplary private life she has had.

Here are a couple of the comments:

08/24/2010 – 9:15pm EDT | mingoc

Jesse Peretz’s 2006 movie was entitled "The Ex." (It is about an EX-boyfriend, not the letter X.)

Liza Minnelli was not in it.

Ok, more arguments. Now please note. I’m not saying that the great songs that don’t belong in the top 50 are not great. They’re just great but still overrated for being in the top 50.

Rolling Stone Top Fifty Songs That Actually Belong There:

1. "Like a Rolling Stone," Bob Dylan
2. "Satisfaction," The Rolling Stones
4. "What’s Going On," Marvin Gaye
5. "Respect," Aretha Franklin
6. "Good Vibrations," The Beach Boys
7. "Johnny B. Goode," Chuck Berry
8. "Hey Jude," The Beatles
9. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
11. "My Generation," The Who
12. "A Change Is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke
15. "London Calling," The Clash
21. "Born to Run," Bruce Springsteen
27. "Layla," Derek and the Dominos
28. "(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay," Otis Redding
29. "Help!," The Beatles
30. "I Walk the Line," Johnny Cash
32. "Sympathy for the Devil," The Rolling Stones
33. "River Deep – Mountain High," Ike and Tina Turner
37. "No Woman, No Cry," Bob Marley and the Wailers
42. "Waterloo Sunset," The Kinks
45. "Heartbreak Hotel," Elvis Presley
46. "Heroes," David Bowie
47. "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Simon and Garfunkel
49. "Hotel California," The Eagles

The Ones that Belong on a List of the Worst Fifty Songs of All Time

3. "Imagine," John Lennon
13. "Yesterday," The Beatles
31. "Stairway To Heaven," Led Zeppelin
41. "The Weight," The Band

Songs That Are Perhaps Great, But Still Vastly Overrated by Rolling Stone:

10. "What’d I Say," Ray Charles
16. "I Want to Hold Your Hand," The Beatles
17. "Purple Haze," Jimi Hendrix
18. "Maybellene," Chuck Berry
19. "Hound Dog," Elvis Presley
20. "Let It Be," The Beatles
14. "Blowin’ in the Wind," Bob Dylan
22. "Be My Baby," The Ronettes
23. "In My Life," The Beatles
24. "People Get Ready," The Impressions
25. "God Only Knows," The Beach Boys
26. "A Day in the Life," The Beatles
34. "You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’," The Righteous Brothers
35. "Light My Fire," The Doors
36. "One," U2
38. "Gimme Shelter," The Rolling Stones
39. "That’ll Be the Day," Buddy Holly and the Crickets
40. "Dancing in the Street, Martha and the Vandellas
43. "Tutti-Frutti," Little Richard
44. "Georgia on My Mind," Ray Charles
48. "All Along the Watchtower," Jimi Hendrix
50. "The Tracks of My Tears," Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Songs from the Bottom 450-500 that belong much, much higher:

496. "Miss You," The Rolling Stones
493. "Then He Kissed Me," The Crystals
495. "Shop Around," Smokey Robinson and the Miracle
490. "Brown Sugar," The Rolling Stones
480. "Into the Mystic," Van Morrison
465. "Surrender," Cheap Trick
454. "My Sweet Lord," George Harrison

I could obviously go on, but we all have work to do…

Now more seriously, Reed Richardson writes:

Socialize Insecurity

You have to hand it to former Sen. Alan Simpson, at least he’s trying to help. And by trying to help, I mean trying to demonstrate over  and over and over how much of a condescending, belligerent, and ill-informed jerk he really is, so that the American public just might start to see this National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform for what it really is, a stalking horse for cutting Social Security benefits.

Sure, Simpson quickly apologized for crassly comparing a program that keeps nearly 20 millions Americans out of poverty to a “milk cow with 310 million tits.” But putting one’s size-15 feet in one’s mouth, as he so folksily puts it, is what happens when someone makes a brief, impolitic, off-the-cuff comment. Writing a series of cranky and dismissive emails to anyone who dares to argue Social Security isn’t facing an imminent crisis and—as he apparently loves to say—“babbling” on and on with same thoroughly debunked right-wing talking points about the program “going bankrupt,” on the other hand, paint a pretty clear picture of one’s true feelings.

Unfortunately, our president doesn’t APPEAR troubled by Simpson’s apparent disdain for Social Security and the press seems increasingly willing to accept as conventional wisdom the mantra that  “something must be done to fix Social Security now.” In fact, this past Monday, just one day before Simpson’s email became public, Time’s Mark Halperin, oracle of the Beltway pundit class, laid out the political landscape as only he can:

“A bipartisan partnership on Social Security — as on every other tough issue, including Afghanistan, immigration, energy, education, deficit reduction and jobs — is going to require trust: trust between the President and Republican leaders to stand up jointly to the extreme forces in Congress and at the grass roots in both their parties, meet in the center, take some political risks and find creative compromises to get things done. On Social Security, that means Obama will have to support raising the retirement age and cutting some benefits, while Republicans will have to back some increased taxation. And they will have to work together and present a united front.”

Two questions: Just what parallel Universe, pray tell, has Halperin been living in the past 18 months? And how does he plan to transport all of Washington D.C. there after November 2nd?

On issue after issue—stimulus, health care, financial reform, education, unemployment benefits—one party has demonstrated a open and willful intransigence against participating in governance, while the other has made concession after concession in order to peel off even a tiniest sliver of support from the opposition. To think that the Republicans, after they boost their numbers in both houses of Congress this fall, will be more willing to accept any compromise—particularly on an issue like increased taxation—put forward by the Fiscal Commission is to engage in magical pony thinking.

Instead, what’s really likely to happen is that, despite the public’s strong opposition to cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit  and willingness to even pay more taxes to ensure its survival, Democrats will be increasingly boxed in by a press corps consumed by the idea that something must be done and so they will compromise themselves and the nation’s elderly out of untold benefits. 

On Wednesday, the New York Times’s Matt Bai joined the growing chorus calling for just such a result with an especially disingenuous and inaccurate piece of reporting. In it, he tries to use a fairly anodyne interview with liberal Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who talks about cutting unnecessary farm subsidy and military spending, as a platform to further chasten reluctant Democrats and liberal groups into accepting a kind of “we have to destroy Social Security, in order to save it” argument.

“The liberal groups that are already speaking out against the debt panel’s unfinished work have chosen to start with Social Security because it is likely to be at the center of any budget compromise. “If there’s a place where it looks like Republicans and Democrats can reach agreement, we’re afraid it’s Social Security,” says Frank Clemente, the director of Strengthen Social Security. (In other words, the two parties might actually work together on something. They must be stopped!)

Bai snarkily dismisses the Strenghten Social Security proponents as reflexively partisan, but of course their objections aren’t simply some sinister plan to submarine any attempts at bipartisanship (based on results of the past 18 months, that job falls to the Republican Congressional Leadership.) Instead, their objections are actually based on the belief that such a compromise would be bad policy, as in potentially forcing millions of Americans—both the elderly and children—into poverty.

Then, in a rebuttal of the liberal prebuttal, Bai throws out in the very next paragraph this ridiculous layman’s explanation of Social Security’s supposed failings—one that would make Sen. Simpson proud.

“The coalition bases its case on the idea that Social Security is actually in fine fiscal shape, since it has amassed a pile of Treasury Bills — often referred to as i.o.u.’s — in a dedicated trust fund. This is true enough, except that the only way for the government to actually make good on these i.o.u.’s is to issue mountains of new debt or to take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget, or perhaps impose significant tax increases — none of which seem like especially practical options for the long term. So this is sort of like saying that you’re rich because your friend has promised to give you 10 million bucks just as soon as he wins the lottery.”

Newsflash, Matt, the cash in your wallet could also be “referred to as i.o.u.’s,” but something tells me you aren’t planning on exclusively carrying around gold krugerrands anytime soon. And thanks to his third-grade-level analysis, Bai actually judges the odds of our federal government being able to issue enough debt to cover the Social Security outlays a generation or two from now as roughly the same as winning the grand prize in last night’s Powerball lottery, which, in case you were wondering, were 1 in 195,249,054. Simply put, this is a preposterous analogy. It not only distorts the debate, it makes the reader poorer for having read it. And any self-respecting journalist and legitimate news organization should hang its head for perpetrating it.

Unfortunately, the press coverage over the next few months will likely serve up more of the same thin gruel, when it should facilitating a larger debate about our nation’s priorities. But for a news media that admittedly suffers from an inability to process and publish complex stories, there’s actually a fairly clear way to present this contrast: the Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years roughly equals the revenue to be gained from repealing the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent of Americans. So what does our country value more: balance sheets or people’s lives, further rewarding the rich or further punishing the poor? That seems like a meme that would play well even on cable TV.

The mail:

Full Name: Dave Richie

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Message: Dr. A,Certainly the entire body of work that is the screeeching of Cindy Lauper needs to be considered as bad as anything ever recorded.But for sheer pain there is an early Bob Dylan effort of the blue grass classic, "Man of Constant Sorrow." WOW!! It must be heard to be believed. He was to become a counter-culture hero with this kind of stuff until he began recording music not intended for bats. At that point he was unceremoniously labeled a "sell out."For more really awful stuff see the Pete Seeger early, very early PBS series devoted to thr roots of folk music. Some brilliant, but most were old timers way past their performing prime.Eric replies: Disagree. I like that great Cindy Lauper album. But I’m told the credit all belongs to her producer. She never made anything decent again.

Full Name: Trudy Ring

Hometown: Los Angeles

Message:Re: Bad Songs"Treat Her Like a Lady" was by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, not Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds. The latter group’s big hit was "Don’t Pull Your Love."I spent way too much time listening to Top 40 radio in the ’70s!

Eric replies: That’s the Flowers in the Toilet guy’s error, if true… “Don’t Pull Your Love” was a pretty good song, by the way.

Full Name: Carl Cole

Hometown: Muscle Shoals

Message:Hey, Doc, I have to admit to occasional twinges of envy, what with living in the Apple, getting tickets to great shows, and knowing Rosanne Cash. However, since you’ve admitted to admiring "Honey", I feel much better about my own life…

Eric replies: “And I’m feeling good….” And just for that bit of nastiness, buy Rosanne’s memoir today. It’s wonderful.

Full Name: Ryan Scott

Hometown: Portland OR

Message:Hello Dr. Alterman,I’m writing you about a topic that is arguably relevant — though tangential –to your Kabuki Democracy article, but not something you’ve touched on in any great detail (unless I’ve missed it). But your writing has impacted my thinking on the subject, so I thought I’d share. The issue is Obama and gay marriage.I go back and forth on whether Obama truly supports gay marriage and is keeping it to himself for political or cynical reasons, or he is honest and straight forward — albeit wrongheaded — about his personal beliefs on the subject. I’m a strong supporter of gay marriage, but I am disinclined to join in the complaint that he is not doing enough to lead on this particular issue.I’m a criminal defense attorney, although I think all trial attorneys have this experience: the judge is arguing with the lawyer on the other side, and your client is strenuously nudging you to get up and say something. Your response to your client is, "Why? We’re winning."I think the same is true regarding Obama and gay marriage. There are a lot of Republicans who, for whatever reason, are starting to favor gay marriage. Experience, family, common sense, who knows, but it’s showing up consistly in the polls. What good does it do for Obama to associate with it? We are going to win this issue, and sooner than anyone thought 5 years ago. Taking a strong pro-gay marriage stand only gives some people a reason to oppose gay marriage. As long as we’re winning, I’d just as soon he stayed out of the way.This is where you come in. I seem to recall that you’ve written about a similar dynamic during the Vietnam War, that studies had shown that a number of people who were turning against the war stopped doing so, and in fact embraced the war, because they didn’t want to be associated with the protesters. Forgive me if I’ve mischaracterized what you’ve written. But that was my recollection, and it made sense to me. Except in very unique circumstances, I do not understand the value of protesting, other than to claim "hooray for our side." (Incidentally, the liberals I know who are most likely to romanticize protesting are also the ones most likely to have voted for Nader, fwiw.)Anyway, just my thought on the topic, and if it’s encouraged you to write about it yourself, then I figure I’ve done a good thing.

Eric replies: Thanks for the thoughtful letter.  And I share your analysis, (which by the way is different than knowing it’s true, which I did on the basis of lots of research in re Vietnam), but even knowing it, I don’t think it would make much difference. I have actually made this argument to my gay friends regarding those “Gay Pride” parades, and they say, even if that’s true, they are still worth it to the people who need them. I’ll defer on that point.  But my feeling about most protests is that they exist because people enjoy going to protests. I don’t think they do any good except to make the people protesting feel better.

Full Name: Jim Wiseman

Hometown: Downingtown, PA

Message: Hi Eric, Tsk, tsk. Remember your Flaubert:"L’homme c’est rien, l’oeuvre c’est tout." Imagine is a beautiful song and poem that should be judged on its own merits, without reference to the inconsistencies, hypocricies, and personal failings of the artist that wrote it. Once again it is proven that, as far as the Beatles (and post-Beatles) are concerned, no one, not even serious scholars, seem able to separate their musical achievement from their act, their legend, and their personal lives.

Eric replies: You are right, of course. And I felt guilty writing those words when I did since I knew it at the time. But I still HATE that song. “Imagine no possessions” is an idiotic line no matter who sings it.

And finally, some unabashedly, unbelievably great news.

Columbia Records will release Bruce Springsteen’s "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story" on Nov 16. The Deluxe Package comprises over six hours of film and more than two hours of audio across 3 CDs and 3 DVDs. The media contents are packaged within an 80-page notebook containing facsimiles from Springsteen’s original notebooks from the recording sessions, which include alternate lyrics, song ideas, recording details, and personal notes in addition to a new essay by Springsteen and never-before-seen photographs. Containing a wealth of previously unreleased material, "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story" offers an unprecedented look into Springsteen’s creative process during a defining moment in his career. ‘The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story’ will additionally be released as a 3CD/3 Blu Ray disc set. The set will be available as ‘The Promise,’ an edition which consists of only the unheard complete songs on two CDs or four LPs, along with lyrics and the new essay by Springsteen. The previously unheard song "Save My Love" and an excerpt from the documentary will be streaming here. The Deluxe Package includes ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,’ digitally remastered for the first time.


1. Badlands
2. Adam Raised A Cain
3. Something In The Night
4. Candy’s Room
5. Racing In The Street
6. The Promised Land
7. Factory
8. Streets Of Fire
9. Prove It All Night
10. Darkness On The Edge Of Town

"Darkness’ was my ‘samurai’ record," Springsteen writes, "stripped to the frame and ready to rumble…But the music that got left behind was substantial." For the first time, fans will have access to two discs containing a total of 21 previously-unreleased songs from the "Darkness" recording sessions, songs that, as Springsteen writes, "perhaps could have/should have been released after ‘Born To Run’ and before the collection of songs that ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ became." Highlights include the extraordinary rock version of "Racing in the Street," the never-before-released original recordings of "Because the Night," "Fire," and "Rendezvous," the supreme pop opus "Someday (We’ll Be Together)," the hilarious "Ain’t Good Enough for You," the superb soul-based vocal performance on "The Brokenhearted," the utterly haunting "Breakaway," and the fully orchestrated masterpiece and title song "The Promise." All 21 songs have been mixed by Springsteen’s long-time collaborator Bob Clearmountain. According to long-time manager/producer Jon Landau, "There isn’t a weak card in this deck. ‘The Promise’ is simply a great listening experience."


1. Racing In The Street (’78)
2. Gotta Get That Feeling
3. Outside Looking In
4. Someday (We’ll Be Together)
5. One Way Street
6. Because The Night
7. Wrong Side Of The Street
8. The Brokenhearted
9. Rendezvous
10. Candy’s Boy


1. Save My Love
2. Ain’t Good Enough For You
3. Fire
4. Spanish Eyes
5. It’s A Shame
6. Come On (Let’s Go Tonight)
7. Talk To Me
8. The Little Things (My Baby Does)
9. Breakaway
10. The Promise
11. City Of Night

The Deluxe Package also features "The Promise: The Making of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,’" a documentary directed by Grammy- and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Thom Zimny. The ninety-minute film combines never-before-seen footage of Springsteen and the E Street Band shot between 1976 and 1978–including home rehearsals and studio sessions–with new interviews with Springsteen, E Street Band members, manager Jon Landau, former-manager Mike Appel, and others closely involved in the making of the record. Advanced word on the documentary is so strong that it was invited to debut at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival on September 14 and will make its television debut on HBO on October 7.


In addition, the set features more than four hours of live concert film from the Thrill Hill Vault, including the bootleg house cut (the footage that appeared on-screen at the concert) from a 1978 Houston show, and a 2009 performance of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ in its entirety from Asbury Park. The special performance in Asbury Park was shot in HD without an audience and successfully recreates the stark atmosphere of the original album.


1. Badlands
2. Adam Raised A Cain
3. Something In The Night
4. Candy’s Room
5. Racing In The Street
6. The Promised Land
7. Factory
8. Streets Of Fire
9. Prove It All Night

10. Darkness On The Edge Of Town


1. Save My Love (Holmdel, NJ 76)
2. Candy’s Boy (Holmdel, NJ 76)
3. Something In The Night (Red Bank, NJ 76)
4. Don’t Look Back (NYC 78)
5. Ain’t Good Enough For You (NYC 78)
6. The Promise (NYC 78)
7. Candy’s Room Demo (NYC 78)
8. Badlands (Phoenix 78)
9. The Promised Land (Phoenix 78)
10. Prove It All Night (Phoenix 78)
11. Born To Run (Phoenix 78)
12. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (Phoenix 78)


1. Badlands
2. Streets Of Fire
3. It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
4. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
5. Spirit In The Night
6. Independence Day
7. The Promised Land
8. Prove It All Night
9. Racing In The Street
10. Thunder Road
11. Jungleland
12. The Ties That Bind
13. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
14. The Fever
15. Fire
16. Candy’s Room
17. Because The Night
18. Point Blank
19. She’s The One
20. Backstreets
21. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
22. Born To Run
23. Detroit Medley
24. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
25. You Can’t Sit Down
26. Quarter To Three

Editor’s Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

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