On the web, my new Nation column is called “What We Really Learned From Jeb Bush’s Tongue-Tied Response to Questions About Iraq,” but that’s not really what it’s about. (“Fool Me Twice” is the magazine head.) The tagline, “The mainstream media are unwilling to hold the architects of the war accountable” is accurate however—though it’s more about what that means for the future.

Today’s List, The Underrated:

When I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash in deepest Brooklyn the weekend before last I was reminded, as I am every time I see them: that Stephen Stills is one of rock music’s most interesting and inventive guitarists and yet he is almost never recognized for it. That thought inspired today’s list, which was fun to make. People are always making “overrated” lists, but those are mean-spirited even when accurate. Also, mine would be too long. So, below is my underrated list broken down in three categories. Once again, it’s not meant to be exhaustive:


The Extremely Famous But Still (Somehow) Underrated:

Stephen Stills’s guitar playing

Bruce Springsteen’s guitar playing

Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors

Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry

Philip Roth’s My Life as a Man

Philip Roth, Letting Go

John Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis

John Kenneth Galbraith’s record of being right about almost everything

Also Bill Moyers and (surprisingly) Pat Moynihan

Balzac’s Lost Illusions as the best book ever written about journalism (even better, alas, than What Liberal Media?)

John Adams’s self-sacrifice to avoid war with France in 1800

John Quincy Adams’s entire career (especially his post presidency, though not so much his presidency)

Henry Adams as a novelist

The role of Common Sense and the Federalist Papers (especially #10) in US and world history

Jerry Garcia’s voice

Clyde Frazier’s unselfish play (defense and assists) on the 69-73 Knicks

Robert Osborne

Johnny Carson in retrospect

Kafka’s stories besides The Metamorphosis

The ambitious excellence of almost every work by Tom Stoppard and Tony Kushner

George Harrison’s songwriting and voice

Everything about Merle Haggard (including his politics)

Late Jerry Lewis, especially The King of Comedy and Funny Bones

Marilyn Monroe as an actual person, but also her politics

Clint Eastwood’s late-career repudiation of his early career, (though American Sniper is a massive exception)

The imbecility of CNN

The creative versatility of Chick Corea

The fact that David Remnick can be the editor he is, while also being the journalist that he is (and also the businessman, alas….)

The role that Israel today plays not only in American politics but also in the global imagination, especially given how small that role was before 1967

The incredible incompetence, amorality, and dishonesty of the CIA (I recently read Tim Weiner’s book)

The role of money in US politics

The craziness of the contemporary conservative movement

Freud’s continuing influence

The near perfection of Truman Capote’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s (though it should be “At Tiffany”)

David Bowie as an actor

Alexander Hamilton’s dedication to ending slavery

Terry Gross


The Pretty-But-Insufficiently Well-Known and Therefore Underrated:

The warmth of Ben Webster’s tone post-Ellington

The radical humanism in both Sun Ra’s and George Clinton’s sci-fi visions

The inspirational lyrics of Sly Stone, especially when combined with the music

Lester Young’s contributions to the Basie Band

Wayne Shorter’s contribution to the Miles Davis Quintet

Randy Newman’s later work especially Faust

Lucinda Williams’s Lucinda Williams

Raul Malo’s voice

Mid-career Kinks (Sleepwalker, Schoolboys, Preservation I, Preservation II, etc.)

Paul Simon’s Songs from The Capeman (Just the songs, not the play)

Richard Price’s early novels

John Prine and Steve Goodman

The impenetrability of Lionel Trilling’s writing style especially given his influence

That goes double for John Dewey

Tom Edsall’s New York Times column (despite the frequency with which his overall argument is, sadly, misguided)

Derek Trucks

Israeli cinema, generally speaking

The genuinely delightful literary appeal of Lemony Snicket for adults

The Abby Lincoln/Stan Getz collaboration album

Paul Desmond

Bertrand Blier

Tom Jones’s non-schlocky work

Levi Stubbs’s voice

Aretha Franklin live at the Fillmore West with Ray Charles

Wilson Pickett singing “Sugar, Sugar”

Countless Rosanne Cash covers but most especially “Ode to Billy Joe”

Tom T. Hall (especially “Harper Valley PTA”)

Warren Zevon as a composer

Bacon and chocolate at the same time, also red wine and chocolate (which I choose to believe, is good for my heart)

The Museum of the City of Paris

Joan Didion’s journalism

Cognac in coffee

The contemporary influence of Patti Smith

Mordechai Kaplan’s impact on non-Orthodox American Jewry

Harry Belafonte’s role in the Civil Rights Movement

Hubert Humphrey’s speech at the 1948 Democratic Convention

Dave Alvin, but also Chris Gaffney

Alexander Herzen’s contributions to liberalism


The injustice of Yes not being in the RRHOF


The All-But-Unknown and Therefore, By Definition, Underrated:

The Silver Jews

The Canadian show The Newsroom

It’s a Disaster currently on Showtime

David Foreman’s only album (Best album never released on CD in my opinion)

The movie of Goodbye, Columbus (Best movie not on DVD in my opinion)

The soundtrack to The Hot Spot

Joan Osborne’s forays into both soul and country

The secret Leonard Cohen album Blue Alert with Anjani

Deadline, USA (also not on DVD)

Robert Altman’s remake of The Long Goodbye

The original Heartbreak Kid (also not on DVD)

Ricky Fanté and Terrance Trent D’Arby’s first albums

Multi-instrumentalist Barry Mitterhoff

O.C. Smith’s version of “Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp”

Lester Bangs’s essay on The Clash in Psychotic Reactions…

Joan Micklin Silver’s early films including Crossing Delancey, Between the Lines, and Chilly Scenes of Winter

Garland Jeffreys’s Ghost Writer

Who the Hell is John Eddie?

The personal bravery of Henry Wallace’s 1948 campaign, despite its incredible wrong-headedness and subversion by Communists

The Israeli show Prisoners of War which inspired Homeland


The near complete refusal of the New York Intellectuals to address the issue of civil rights but also that of other famous liberals, like Niebuhr, Schlesinger and even Galbraith

Bell and Shore’s L-Ranko Motel (available only if you write Shore) and Greg Trooper’s Straight Down Rain

The profound emotional resonance of John Lennon’s “Stand by Me,” but also try the version by Jimmy and David Ruffin



Garland Jeffries at the High Line Ballroom

I got to see my old friend Garland Jeffreys do a complete version of Ghost Writer at the Highline Ballroom on Saturday night. I still remember seeing him do those same songs at the Bottom Line when the album came out in 1977. And at 71, his voice was in fine form and his spirits even better. The album itself is timeless and nobody has a better time on stage than Garland does. The album is genuinely great and Garland drew out every song—to be honest—beyond its natural length and wrung every ounce of emotion from each one. The full band more than did justice to them and once again, rock music proved to be the opposite of what people assume it is: grownup and timeless.

After an intermission, Garland came back and did his newer stuff to a no less appreciative crowd and closed with some non-Ghost Writer classics, with final rave-ups on “99 Tears,” and “Waiting for my Man,” which was not only fun but appropriate given how essential Garland and Lou were to the life of the city for long and how they remain so today. Check him out this genuine urban poet if you don’t know his work. Start here.

The Complete Riverside Recordings of Thelonious Monk on Concord

This is an incredible fifteen-disk set of his recording sessions, in the studio and on stage, and what a lovely thing it is. Everything Monk recorded between 1955 and 1961, 153 performances in the studio, plus club and concert location tapings, and all of it in chronological order with notes by the late Orrin Keepnews, who produced the original sessions, and both researched and assembled this terrific box set. This is Monk’s most fertile period and you get to hear him working out his talents as a composer, a pianist, and a bandleader. You get Monk solo, and leading trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, septets, and a big band. Shows include Town Hall, the Five Spot, the Blackhawk, along with shows in Paris and Milan. And the guest stars: OMG: John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan, Max Roach, Clark Terry, Thad Jones, Charlie Rouse, Johnny Griffin, Kenny Clarke, Shadow Wilson, Philly Joe Jones and Wilbur Ware, for starters; and many of them at their best, thanks to Monk’s ability to draw out unknown and previously unseen “brilliant corners” of the music. This box was originally released in 1987 and that year it won Grammy’s for “Best Historical Album” and “Best Album Notes.” It’s a shame that Keepnews, who died recently, did not live long enough to see it return to life for a new generation to enjoy and from which to learn.

Wes Montgomery, In the Beginning

I’ve also been listening to a collection of recordings by the guitarist, Wes Montgomery made between 1949 to 1958. It’s called In the Beginning, on Resonance Records. Wes died in 1968 and since then, this is only the third set of unreleased recordings to be unearthed.  It’s 26 songs, two CDs or three LPs and includes a complete never-before-released 1955 Epic Records session produced by Quincy Jones, newly discovered 78 RPM sides with Montgomery working as a sideman recorded for Spire Records (1949), and a bunch of live recordings recorded between 1956 and 1958. The liner notes are by Ashley Kahn, and include stuff by Quincy Jones and Pete Townshend, alongside rare never-before-published photos from the Montgomery Estate and friends in Montgomery’s native Indianapolis.

Jethro Tull, Minstrel in the Gallery: 40th Anniversary La Grande Edition

The fancy Jethro Tull rereleases continue with a nice box based on Minstrel in the Gallery on its 40th Anniversary with a “La Grande Edition” of two CD’s and two DVD’s. Back in 1975, Tull was still, if not great (Aqualung, Thick as a Brick) then pretty damn good (Passion Play and this). This set includes the original album plus seven bonus tracks (six of which are previously unreleased), two mixed to 5.1 surround, and all to stereo by Steven Wilson, as well as flat transfers of the original LP mix at 96/24, flat transfer of the original quad mix of the [Can anyone play quad anymore?] and an eight-minute film of the band performing Minstrel in the Gallery in Paris from July 1975, together with an 80-page booklet with track-by-track annotations by Ian Anderson and more and more and more.

Four Film Festivals

Though they haven’t happened yet, I want to give shout outs to the 2015 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which will be presented from June 11 to 21 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center, together with Human Rights Watch. This year’s film festival is organized around three themes: Art Versus Oppression, Changemakers and Justice and Peace. It also features a series of special programs, including a discussion around the ethics of image-making in documenting human rights abuses, a master class on international crisis reporting and digital storytelling, and a multimedia project on the women activists of the Arab Spring.

Tickets are available online at filmlinc.com for the screenings at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and ifccenter.com for the IFC Center.

The festival follows the “Open Roads” festival of new Italian cinema at the Film Society, which begins this week—schedule here—and also a terrific show of films made by the Titanus, the family-run Italian film company that yielded so many masterpieces in the forties, fifties and sixties. I discovered a bunch of films of which I had never heard going to these and I recommend doing a little research on them to find out what you can see now that the festival is over. You can start here. My favorite was Bread, Love and Dreams, featuring an irresistible Gina Lollobrigida. Finally, there is the always remarkable and surprise Israel Film Center Festival beginning June 4, whose schedule you can find here. Too bad one has to choose between this and Open Roads, which runs simultaneously.


The Mail:

To the Editor:

As a fan of Eric Alterman’s media commentary, I was disappointed by his May 4 column, “Days of Crazy,” which turned a lukewarm review of Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage into an ugly and gratuitous polemic.

Although frustrated with Burrough, Alterman is far more irritated with the book’s historical subjects, especially the leaders of the Weather Underground. (Full disclosure: My father was a founding member). Alterman ponders the knack of “the most extreme, however nutty…to hijack movements purporting to fight for social justice.” His emphasis is on the word “nutty,” just one in a slew of pejoratives that also includes: “nuts,” “idiotic,” “stupidity,” “ignorance,” “arrogance,” and “lunatics.”

The claim that a small group of extremists hijacked the entire movement is hardly a historical argument. Any serious assessment of the collapse of the New Left must include other pressures, ranging from doctrinal conflicts to FBI infiltration and brutal police harassment. To reduce it to a matter of individual personalities is precisely the type of “he said, she said,” reporting that Alterman regularly—and rightly—despises in mainstream political coverage.

Alterman would have benefited from the example of one of his predecessors, a reporter whom he has described as “America’s most prominent independent journalist”—the “late, great I.F. Stone.” Writing just weeks after the 1970 Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, Stone took a more nuanced position in a remarkable editorial entitled “Where the Fuse on That Dynamite Leads.” No apologist for the Weathermen, Stone—unlike Alterman—could nonetheless empathize with the idea of insurrection: “I must confess,” he wrote, “that I almost feel like throwing rocks through windows myself.”

The point is not to agree with the actions and ideas of the Weather Underground, but only to comprehend the larger context. This is what Stone did, ascribing ultimate guilt to American leaders and their genocidal politics, not to the activists who had been driven to rage—yes, crazy rage—by the results of those policies. “Until the war in Southeast Asia is ended,” Stone concluded, “until the Pentagon is cut down drastically, until priorities are revised to make racial reconciliation and social reconstruction our No. 1 concerns, the dynamite that threatens us sizzles on a fuse that leads straight back to the White House.”

Thai Jones

Author of A Radical Line

Eric replies:

Here we go again. Mr. Jones is confused about a few things. In the first place, nowhere did I claim with regard to the anti-war movement “a small group of extremists hijacked the entire movement.” It did, however, hijack the SDS, and that requires not only understanding—and I explicitly criticized Burrough for leaving out the politics of Vietnam in his analysis—but also condemnation, given their proclivity toward both terrorism and idiocy. Nor did I, “reduce it to a matter of individual personalities,” though a thorough analysis would address the question of why some anti-warriors turned to terrorism while the vast majority did not.

I don’t blame my late friend Izzy for wanting to throw a few rocks over Vietnam. I’m sure I would have felt the same way. I would have blamed him, however, had he actually thrown those rocks. Instead he did his best to tell the truth about what he saw his government to be doing and put his faith‑good “Jeffersonian Marxist” that he was—in democracy rather than revolution.

As for the role of the White House, FBI, etc, I did not write an essay about US policy in Vietnam or official attempts to subvert the antiwar movement, though I did mention both. Rather I wrote a column of fewer than a thousand words about a book about a bunch of left-wing terrorists whose lunatic actions and arguments had the effect of allowing the opponents of the larger antiwar movement to discredit the honest, peaceful and democratic opposition. For those who are interested in my views on the larger issues, feel free to read my book (based on my PhD dissertation) When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences which delves deeply into the causes and consequences of the war, both at home and abroad.