My New Nation column is called “News We Can’t Lose,” and notes that “As prospects for traditional media decline, alternatives are emerging.”
I also published a lengthy interview with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on the crisis of inequality and the blind spots of the Democratic Party as he launches a new “Progressive Agenda to Combat Inequality.”
And if you’re interested in the question of sanctions and divestment, I hosted a really interesting panel at the New School, organized by the journal Social Research recently and the entire conference is online here.
In honor of the end of Mad Men, here is my list of the best television dramas and comedies of my lifetime. (Note: I believe I have seen every episode of every show listed below with the exception of the last season or so of Buffy, upon which I finally gave up and I am still working my way through the box sets of Dr. Katz and some later Twilight Zones. And of course almost no one has seen every Johnny Carson show.)
Star Trek (original, of course)
The Twilight Zone
Freaks and Geeks
Friday Night Lights
The West Wing
The Good Wife
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Odd Couple
The Bob Newhart Show
The Larry Sanders Show
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Other Categories and Countries:
Monty Python’s Flying Circus, (England, Comedy)
Angels in America (Miniseries)
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (Late-night)
The Daily Show (Late Night)
The Colbert Report (Late Night)
Borgen (Denmark, Drama)
Prisoners of War, (Israel, Drama)
The Newsroom (Canada, Comedy)
The Johnny Cash Show (Music)
Elvis Costello’s Spectacle (Music)
The Old Gray Whistle Test (England, Music)
Wayne Shorter Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center
It took them a while, but Jazz at Lincoln Center sure did (finally) justice to the great Wayne Shorter (now 81) with a four-day festival in all three of its venues. I made it to the most elaborate of these—the extremely rare big band reinterpretation of some of the compositions spanning Shorter’s six-decade (so far) career, rearranged by the various members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, beginning with his work with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet, through Weather Report and the present. If there’s a more influential jazz composer alive than Shorter these days, well, you’d get an argument from me.
I was particularly thrilled with the structure of the show I saw—I assume they were identical given how tightly rehearsed the numbers were—because if one wanted to see Shorter in recent years, at say, Carnegie Hall, one had to go where he was going. Like later Coltrane, he has often left melody behind. But in going back to 1959, we not only got some of the unsung highlights of his past—songs many have never heard before—but fresh arrangements and even the familiar sound new. Shorter himself was Buddha-like. He did not say a word all night. He soloed quite a bit and apparently gave Marsalis plenty of background on each tune—why and when he wrote it and what he had in mind with its title. These were not always terribly revealing, but they lent an intimacy to the show in the big hall, as Marsalis always does so well, with the 15-piece orchestra. The titles, like “Teru,” “Armageddon” and “Contemplation” both reveal and obscure at the same time. But the music soared and sometimes transcended time and space lifting one out of one’s own psyche into places for which this writer, at least lacks the words. To say it was worth waiting for would be an unforgiveable understatement. But there it is—an unforgettable evening.
Megan Hilty at the Café Carlyle
Last night was the second time I’ve seen Megan Hilty in a few months. The last time was at the Appel Room for the “American Songbook” series in February. As I mentioned then, I got weirdly attached to Megan Hilty when she played Ivy on “Smash.” Her last show was a mixture of Broadway tunes and classics, with a gorgeous “Heart of the Matter” from her first and only album thrown in. This one was completely different. It focused on Ivy’s greatest hits, which were a lot of fun to hear and a bunch of “Songbook” style songs that leaned heavily on Cole Porter and her recent experience of giving birth with her guitarist/band member husband. She’s got a winning personality a booming voice and a face that is almost too perfect for her own good. What’s not to love? Well, one thing. Ivy could use a little more irony. We got a bit when she imitated her daughter 20 years from now, making fun of her mom—though as the father of a 17-year-old, this struck me as overly optimistic—but she has the making of a big, big Streisand-style star if she could veer a little further from the straight and narrow. As it is, she is a near perfect performer for the Carlyle, in its traditional role as the keeper, and defender of this peculiarly (and wonderfully) American form of performance. (Ok, one other piece of advice: Bring back “Heart of the Matter.” It can be her “Send in the Clowns.”) As always the food, the décor and the atmosphere at the Carlyle were wonderful, but only if you’re rich and/or on a really special occasion.
Crosby, Stills & Nash at King’s Theatre
I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash the same weekend, and it was sweet and warm in the way that all CSN shows are, punctuated by real rock ‘n’ roll, driven by Stephen Stills’s deeply underrated guitar together with Crosby’s no slouch in that department skills either. But the real star of the show this weekend was the amazing King’s Theatre in Flatbush Brooklyn, not far from the wilds of Brooklyn College. Originally opened in 1929, it has been closed since 1977. Following a gazillion dollar (partially taxpayer funded) renovation it reopened on February 3, 2015 with a Diana Ross show, and now books quite similarly to the Beacon and the Capitol in Port Chester, though it feels much bigger than either of those two (majestic, it must be said, in their own way) rock halls. This place was really breathtaking and made the soaring harmonies in which CSN specializes all the more soaring. And if you’ve not had a chance, you can read the really long interview I did with Graham Nash not that long ago here.
Joan Osborne at City Winery
I also went to a pleasant Mother’s Day show with Joan Osborne, doing her now annual benefit at City Winery with Chely Wright, a lesbian country singer. (I’m sure there are many lesbian country singers, but if I’m not mistaken, Ms. Wright is the only one to write a book about it.) I love Osborne, especially when she dips deep into her soul catalog. This show was nice, and moving in parts—when Wright was talking about her estrangement and reunion with her mother right before her death—but I could have used a bit more Joan—though her “Brokedown Palace” makes up for plenty and her finale—“Mother and Child Reunion,” well, was pretty wonderful.
I also caught a show at Joe’s Pub by Isabel Rose. I reviewed her wonderful show tied to her record release last summer. That was here. This show was a bit of a workshop—a crack band but almost no outfit changes and featured the drag queen Paige Turner. It was short and fun and risqué and clever, but very much a work in progress. I look forward to seeing her progress as Rose is a real original, and a warm-spirited performer.
The 14 CD Yes 1972 box on Rhino
Finally, if you agree with the bipartisan campaign to reverse the crime of Yes being kept out of the RRHOF, then you may be in the market for the 14 CD collection of seven 1972 Yes shows taken from the same tour as “Yessongs” but with vastly improved sonic quality. It’s seven shows, and each one has the same track listing, but Yes, like the Dead, did things differently each night within the same song. And 1972, following the release of “Close to the Edge,” gives you almost all the songs you’d want—only “Tales from Topographic Oceans” is missing in this opinion, along with a few of the excellent covers like “America” and “Something’s Coming.” It’s got a handsome flip top box and new Yes-style artwork from Roger Dean. If you’re not as crazy as all this, you can get the two-disc version called “Progeny: Highlights from Seventy-Two,” which cherry-picks from the 14-disc version. Everybody should want that.
Eric Alterman is a journalist, but certainly not an historian. As a member of that profession, I am obliged to tell him that contempt is not a tool in the writing of history. Yet that is what emerges from his remarks about the Weathermen and similar movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. His retroactive use of categories like “fanatics” and “terrorists,” very much in the public mind in 2015, does nothing to increase our understanding of those times, but does show how a self-described “liberal” likes to conflate the left and the right, the better to promote his own version of the “centre” as the only form of viable politics today.
As a young faculty member at Columbia during the events of 1968, I knew many of those among the students who later turned to violence. Granted, their analyses were wrongheaded and their actions counterproductive, but they were not contemptible. As Alterman himself says, one cannot understand their motivations without reference to the Vietnam War and the general politics of the time. As to their childhoods, which Alterman criticizes Burrough for neglecting, I would think that their actions did not constitute a rebellion against their parents, but rather an engagement with the values they had been taught, but by other means.
And finally, Alterman misleads us and obscures the reality of the period by labeling all the groups he mentions, notably the Black Panthers, idiots and murderers, so as to consign them to the dustbin of history. I can also tell him that the lawlessness of the Nixon administration and the FBI was not a reaction to the violence he indicts—the government had long been using illegal methods of surveillance and disruption of left-wing activity. Indeed, the knowledge that this was so may well have been one of the reasons for the next generation’s turn to violence.
Eric replies: Actually, Eric Alterman is a historian, and has PhD parchment from Stanford University to prove it. The rest of Jeffrey Kaplow’s silly missive is similarly fact-challenged and sloppily-argued. It would take at least another column to refute all of it, but I would simply point out—again, purely as a factual matter—that nowhere in my column did I call “all the groups [I] mention[ed], notably the Black Panthers, idiots and murderers so as to consign them to the dustbin of history.” (Indeed, I hardly think of history as a “dustbin.” Does Mr. Kaplow?) If this is the best case that can be made for the actions of the actual idiots and murderers I did discuss in my column, than it is a sorry one indeed.
In “To the Editor”:
I was a youthful member/advocate of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) during that period from 1969-1971. I was never a part and never a supporter of the Weatherman faction of the SDS. In fact, I argued against tactics that could cause human harm. The split in the SDS that created the Weatherman faction was largely about the appropriateness of violence and the acceptability of collateral damage (harm to humans) from actions against the war machine.
But let us look back. US interference in Vietnam goes back to Eisenhower blocking free elections to unify the country in 1958 because it was clear Ho Chi Minh would win. This was followed by an ever-escalating war being waged by the US Government against the Vietnamese people. A decade and more later, Johnson had expanded the war and Nixon was dropping bombs in Cambodia as well as Nam.
We had been marching to get the US out of Vietnam for years. If the purpose was to end the war, chanting "Bring the troops home" was not working.
"Bring the War home" changed the picture. The idea that a few casualties here might spare thousands in Vietnam was compelling. Young Americans coming to the point of view that if we have to have a war, we might as well have it here, this helped scare this country to its senses. It changed the conversation. The actions of the Weathermen the author describes as "idiotic" helped to bring the war on Vietnam to an end.
Eric replies: “I don’ thin’ so, Lucy.”