Ramblings and Revolutions

I think, therefore I'm dangerous.

The Trouble With Music …

So the New York Times has reviewed the new album by a certain country singer busily engaged in the business of leaving her roots behind and moving to a pop sound.  She shall remain nameless here, but for those interested, the album comes out next week.

Here’s an excerpt from the review:

… [O]n “[album name]” she uses her voice — processed more than ever — in different ways than before… [added emphasis mine]

This is a singer who demonstrated on national television a few years back that she couldn’t harmonize worth a darn in a live performance with a certain legendary ’70s diva. A singer who pretty much owes her professional existence to AutoTune.

“Processed more than ever” is exactly what’s wrong with too much contemporary music. And no, I’m not referring to just the current crop of vocalists. There were packaged, sanitized, uninspiring, DULL artists and bands in the ’70s too.

What we need is more originality, more quirkiness. More Adele, and Amy Winehouse and Keb’ Mo’ and Black Keys.

We need more authenticity. Less “process.”

In other words, AutoTune must die.


Farewell to a Legend

I never met Ben Bradlee. Never had the opportunity to work for him. But he influenced my decision to become a journalist.

Sure, there were other factors and influences. The Louisville Courier-Journal, when the Bingham family owned it. The scrappy little newspaper of my hometown.  Lou Grant, both as Mary Tyler Moore’s boss and as a curmudgeonly newspaper editor.  (He became my fashion icon as well, to the later chagrin of my wife and coworkers.)

But I grew up in the era of Watergate. It really was the first political issue I paid much attention to. By the time of Nixon’s resignation, I was entertaining the idea of becoming a journalist. Bradlee, as the editor of the Washington Post, and reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward had me hooked on the idea.

By the time I got to college,  The Post had become a daily reading requirement for me in the library.  Under Bradlee’s leadership, it was bold, fearless, everything I always expected a newspaper to be. Better yet, he was a larger-than-life figure, a swashbuckler, a raconteur, a scion of Washington.

In short, he made the gritty business of newsgathering glamorous. He was journalism’s James Bond.

But that’s selling short his massive accomplishments. Bradlee took a backwater metro and remade it into a powerful force for truth, a news source to rival the mighty New York Times.  When he and publisher Katharine Graham took on the federal government to win the Supreme Court’s approval to print the Pentagon Papers, it set a precedent crucial to journalists to this day.

And of course, Watergate. Bradlee’s willingness to support a couple of green reporters breaking the biggest stories of their careers, information that helped bring about the only resignation of a U.S. president in history, can’t be undersold.

There were other triumphs as well. He introduced the Style section to the post, a provocative new way of looking at pop culture — and high culture. He went out of his way to seek diversity in the newsroom. By all accounts, he was beloved by those who worked for him.

And now he’s gone at the age of 93. He lived life to the fullest.

As the digital age progresses, there aren’t likely to be more lions of print journalism like him. When any citizen with an internet connection can break news, there’s less need for a strong leader, with an equally powerful institution behind them. And that’s unfortunate, for I fear we’re losing something in the more impersonal era.

But for Bradlee, and for those fortunate enough to have read the Post when he was in charge, what a time it was.

It took a few more years than I anticipated, but I eventually was able to become a full-time journalist. It’s a title I wear with honor, because people like Ben Bradlee made it honorable.



What do you call a snobbish criminal walking down the stairs?












A condescending con descending!

Beware the Furniture!

With all the hysteria about Ebola in the news recently, you’d think Americans were dropping in the streets from the dreaded virus.

Guess what? We’re not. So far, we’ve had ONE death from Ebola in this country, and that was a patient who became ill after being infected elsewhere. TWO nurses have been infected, both of whom took care of that patient. They’re both recovering.

Ebola is scary, sure. But it’s far from the most dangerous thing we face every day.

Here’s a fun fact — Nearly 30 Americans die every year from furniture falling on them.  So why aren’t we more anxious about armoires or terrified of tables?

Check it out:



The Fan and The Furious

Ah, Florida, my current home state. Where would American politics be without you? From butterfly ballots to hanging chads, you always find a way to make election season interesting.

And with this year’s governor’s race, you didn’t disappoint. The battle between incumbent Rick Scott (R) and Charlie Crist (Currently D, ex-R) is a close one, closer than we could have imagined. As a result, we’ve been bombarded with scores of nasty, negative TV ads from both sides, accusations and mud-slinging all around.

Now comes “Fangate.” (Never mind that the  -gate suffix should have been retired with Water-).

This silly saga erupted at the gubernatorial debate Wednesday night, when Scott allegedly refused to come on stage because Crist had a small electric fan at his feet. Crist, a former governor, has a long-standing, thoroughly documented aversion to sweating in public and rarely travels without the fan. Seven long minutes of TV time went by with Crist alone at a lectern while pundits vamped desperately as everyone waited to see if the scheduled debate would happen.  Eventually, Scott strode onto the stage, and the debate began.

Now it’s not for me to decide who was wrong or right. Scott aides say their man wasn’t dissing the fan, but was waiting on Crist to do something unspecified. Bottom line is, the debate eventually went on, and both men spoke persuasively on  serious issues.

But guys, really — do you have to make us look bad in the eyes of the entire country again? There’s been snickering about Fangate all over social media today, and on the daily news shows. We look like a bunch of hicks who can’t vote straight.

Look, Florida’s the fourth-most populous state in the U.S.A. We’ve got both great opportunities and great challenges. We need strong, effective leadership.

There wasn’t much of that on display last night.

Danger, Will Robinson!

Wow,  is it getting scary out there.

There’s a highly contagious virus already in this country  that has the potential to kill you.

Because it’s a virus, antibiotics are useless. There is no cure beyond supportive treatment.

It kills thousands of people every year. It has ravaged the world in the past.

There’s only one thing you can do to nearly eliminate your chances of being infected by this deadly virus.

Get a flu shot.

What? You thought I was talking about something else? Get real. Influenza kills more people every year than Ebola has killed throughout history.  And the flu is a whole lot easier to catch.

Stop worrying about something that’s so unlikely to happen that it’s off the statistical charts. Worry about a real threat to you, your family and community.

Get a flu shot.


Sometimes Tuesday just feels like Son of Monday. This is one of those.

Thoughts on Hacks

The news about security breaches and compromised data has been pretty grim lately. Home Depot, J.P. Morgan Chase, Kmart and even Dairy Queen have reported hacks that can leave customer data exposed to those who would exploit it.

It occurs to me there’s a fairly simple solution most of the time:  cash.

Cash is not hackable. It can’t reveal your bank account, your Social Security number, your address, It’s anonymous without using a VPN, Tor or multiple firewalls.

Let’s face it, if you’re going to Target or Kmart, how often do you buy something on a debit or credit card that you couldn’t just pay cash for?

Obviously, that’s not always practical.  Chances are, you’re not going to carry enough cash into Home Depot to buy that zero-turn-radius mower or top of the line range. Nor would you want to. But for furnace filters, light bulbs and the occasional gallon of paint, why not?


What Price Hall of Fame?

So this year’s crop of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. In no particular order, they include:

Green Day; Nine Inch Nails; N..W.A.;  Joan Jett and the Blackhearts; Lou Reed; The Smiths; The Spinners; Sting; Chic; Kraftwerk; The Marvelettes; Bill Withers; War; Stevie Ray Vaughan; and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

While I like the music of most of the above artists, and that of the vast majority of artists already enshrined in the hall, some of those nominations have me shaking my head. N.W.A.? A rap group. Kraftwerk? Electropop/dance, yes. Rock and Roll, not so much. And CHIC? Are you kidding me? The disco-est of disco groups!

Once I take a deep breath, I come back to my original concern with the R&R HoF in the first place — its very existence.

See, here’s the thing: rock and roll was never meant to be respectable. When it first came along in the 1950s, it was rebellious.  It had an attitude. It was, in a word, DANGEROUS.

Elvis threatened the fabric of the nation to the extent that television cameras showed him only from the waist up. That sneer! Those hips! Can’t have the kids getting ideas…

And if Elvis was threatening, the African-American artists were downright terrifying. Chuck Berry? Little Richard? Lord help us, lock up the womenfolk and children!

Things calmed down a bit when Elvis went into the Army. Then along came the British Invasion. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones, channeling Chicago bluesmen.  The Kinks. And by the time of the Sgt. Pepper album, the young folks were growing their hair long, smoking dope and refusing to be drafted and go to Vietnam.

The ’70s brought punk rock. The snarl and the sneer were back. The Ramones, Blondie, the Sex Pistols, all brought that dangerous edge back to a scene that had been dominated by earnest singer-songwriters.

No, rock was never meant to be respectable. It was meant to be rude, loud and impolite. And that’s the problem with a Hall of Fame.

The Hall confers a layer of respectability, of establishment approval on what has always been at heart an anti-establishment art form. The best rock and roll challenges the listener in some ways, breaks through preconceptions of what music “should” be. It doesn’t have a standard of excellence other than how it makes you feel. That, and that alone, is its raison d’etre.

With that in mind, anything that implies respectability is a false representation of the anarchic spirit of the sound. Just say no to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Age of Innocence (More or Less)

Ah, the early 1970s.  A time it was, of innocence, as Simon and Garfunkel sang.

But not THAT innocent. One of the popular songs of the time was a ditty by a duo named Brewer and Shipley.

You know it — One Toke Over The Line, a happy little paean to the joys of illicit drugs.

Yet even then, there were pockets of innocence. The Lawrence Welk Show, for example.

The good Mr. Welk was well-known for his Saturday evening TV show celebrating “champagne music,” light standards and classics that barely had a pulse. Clean-cut, wholesome stuff, safe for the whole family.

So how in the world did THIS happen?



A “modern spiritual” indeed, Mr. Welk.

Not sure if Gail and Dale knew, but you KNOW the accordion guy did….

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