I note with sadness the passing today of the great Clyde Stubblefield, for 50 years the funkiest cat in the world. Catch you on the other side, Clyde.
I note with sadness the passing today of the great Clyde Stubblefield, for 50 years the funkiest cat in the world. Catch you on the other side, Clyde.
I have loved the music and words of Leonard Cohen since I first encountered him in 1964.
I used to joke that if you dared to listen to a whole Leonard Cohen album at one sitting you’d have to have a counselor on hand, because you would become so sad you might decide to take your life.
Today, however, I am listening to DJ Chris Douridas’ sweet tribute to Leonard on KCRW in Los Angeles. My heart is in pieces, but the music is graceful and healing, melancholy and uplifting. I’m grateful that Leonard was in the world at the same time as me, and that his spirit was woven through my life in the best and worst of it, and that he shared with us his graceful sadness and his gentle smiles.
I say goodbye today, but I will return to him for the rest of my life.
Janey and I were traveling aimlessly through the beautiful state of Oregon, taking turns at the wheel of my 1964 VW bus.
It was August 8, 1974, and we were headed for Crater Lake when we heard the news on the radio — Nixon was set to deliver an important speech. The Watergate affair had been occupying the top spot on the evening news for months, but we had been out of the loop for a week or more, so we didn’t know for sure what almost everyone else in the country knew: that Nixon was being forced out of office.
It’s difficult to describe the impact Richard Nixon had on my generation. He was every bit as important as President Kennedy, the earnest, slightly creepy A/V Club guy to Kennedy’s dashing frat boy. And even though we know that politics ain’t beanbag, Nixon found ways to reduce it to its most brutal elements, and he was good at it. He lost some Big Ones, but he won more than he lost. Elected for the first time just a few months before I was born, and stretching all the way through to just before my 25th birthday, Nixon haunted the hallways of our lives, in his dark blue suit and his five o’clock shadow, never looking straight at us, always seeming to harbor some hidden motive.
He had gone from Congress to Eisenhower’s Vice President in 1952, but after his first term in the number two job, the Republican Party wanted him gone, and, under pressure to leave Ike’s ticket in 1956, he went on television and gave the famous Checker’s speech, saving his job and surprising the political old hands of the day. Again, I thought he was finished after he lost the 1960 presidential election to JFK, who apparently had learned from Nixon himself the power of TV. Silly me. Two years later Nixon was back making a credible run for Pat Brown’s job as governor of California. In his concession speech it seemed that even Nixon himself figured his career was over, telling the press that they “wouldn’t have Dick Nixon to kick around” anymore.
But then came Dallas, and LBJ, and later LBJ’s decision not to run for reelection in 1968. Rested and fit, Nixon was back, and this time he won all the marbles. He was like a zombie that we just couldn’t kill, no matter how many times we didn’t vote for him.
Up to this point he was only a political opponent with whom I strongly disagreed. And disagreeable it was to have him in the White House, even if he did open relations with China and authorize the creation of the EPA. But once he got the top job, something must have changed in Nixon. Maybe it was simply the feeling that he had nothing more to strive for, or maybe he really was crazy all along, but by the time of the 1972 election he had become delusional, paranoid and criminal. He won that election, but he had begun to disintegrate psychologically.
His presidency was unraveling. He was caught sending burglars to break into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, keeping an “enemies list” of journalists, and authorizing “hush money” to keep witnesses quiet. And he was tape recording the whole thing, keeping an audio record for future prosecutors. During the two years after his second inaugural he was revealed as the dirty Tricky Dick we all remember. Not some weasel-assed nobody like Grover Norquist, but the President of the United States! It was appalling.
Janey and I got to some lodge on Crater Lake that afternoon. The grounds appeared deserted, but when we went into the bar, there were hundreds of people crowded in, watching the television. I have never seen such rapt attention to any political speech before or since. It was as if we were holding our collective breath. Only a week before, under order from the Supreme Court, Nixon had been forced to release his secretly recorded tapes. Tip O’Neill had told reporters that the House Judiciary Committee was going to vote — Democrats and Republicans alike — to impeach the President. Nixon was cornered, and I’m not proud today to say that I enjoyed seeing the rat trapped as he was.
Nixon made a dignified speech, not exactly beating around the bush, but stalling and offering excuses for a while before he got to point, which of course was that he was “not a quitter,” but he was quitting. He took no responsibility for what was happening to him. There was no way he could have stayed in office, but sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if he had apologized, admitted his wrongdoing, and left the world stage quietly. Would Republicans still feel they had to find a way to impeach Clinton and Obama?
Either way, Janey and I shared a long kiss, and soon — very soon, actually — we forgot all about Richard Nixon. But he’s still with us, in ways few historical figures can ever be. Many of us who lived through the Nixon years, what Gerald Ford would call “our long national nightmare,” wake up occasionally in a cold sweat, as an imagined footfall sounds just outside a door, and it takes a moment to remember — he’s is not coming back.
My father was born on this day in 1913.
If he had lived, he would be 98 today. But he died a long time ago, exactly 19 years after I was born. He was rip snorting drunk a good portion of those 19 years, and just plain not around for a few of them, so I only knew him the way a child knows his parents. We never got to talk at a time when I was mature enough to ask the important questions, let alone understand the answers. A lot of what I think I know is pieced together from things he told me, or things I heard from others.
He came from a huge Catholic family. I am out of touch with almost all of them now, and I don’t remember most of them anyway, but he had something like five brothers and three or four sisters. By his own admission he was a troublemaker in grade school, and claimed to have quit altogether after 5th grade. I have no idea what he was into from then until his teens, but as a young man he joined the National Guard. I suspect that he had no particular patriotic motive, but just needed the cash during the depression of the 1930’s.
He was in the infantry in Europe during World War 2. I gather his mission was to lay communication wire. He said the Germans were jamming the radios, or maybe they were listening in, I don’t know, so the Allies resorted to laying telephone wire across the battlefields, for secure command and control. He got out of the Army in 1946.
I have come to think of the war years as the defining time of his life. Some of my earliest memories are of him getting liquored up and desperately trying to relive his days as a staff sergeant, gathering his little family and forcing us to listen to him describe mostly routine military stuff, like marching and saluting and polishing your boots and making your bed so a coin would bounce on the bedspread.
These topics didn’t come up when he wasn’t drinking, so I came to associate military talk with the angry, threatening drunk in our house. I don’t know if getting drunk made him think back to his Army days or if his experience in the Army made him want to get drunk. Once — only once — he told me of an actual combat incident, a time when he managed to blow up a German military vehicle, knowing that two soldiers were inside of it. I have no idea how he did it, or even if it really happened, but he wept in front of me when he told the story. I was confused at the time: Weren’t these Germans the enemy? What was wrong with incinerating them? Why would a grown man — a soldier — cry about it? Today I think I know.
I disappointed him. I wasn’t a brawler like him, or — during his lifetime — a drinker. I didn’t care to fish or hunt like he did with his brothers. I was a soft kid, a reader, a musician. I was in college during the last year of his life, and he had already written me off as an over educated oaf — his words exactly. I hope my memory is not playing tricks on me when I tell you that in his last few months I made my peace with him. Not directly face to face, because you can’t do that with an addict, but in my heart I forgave him, and I loved him, because he was my dad and he’d had it impossibly hard and he didn’t know how to deal with the whirlwind that was his life.
I don’t know if my father loved me, his firstborn. My parents had five children, and thinking back over those years it now seems to me that he — they — must have been scrambling like crazy to keep up with the life they had made for themselves. They survived the Depression, served in the War, then got married in a fever and before they knew it, had five kids. I’m sure it was all they could do to keep it together.
But I do know that I got an electric train for my fifth Christmas. A Lionel electric train. Just a small oval track, a locomotive and three cars, but it was a complete surprise and, to me, the best gift ever. It was set up and circling the base of the Christmas tree when I first saw it. Many years later my mother told me that he had bought it for me on the day I was born.
Happy birthday Pop, and thanks.
For those of us who remember Camelot, this is a somber final moment.
Ted Kennedy was the last of the brothers, and the only one who got to live out his life. He screwed up a few times, but I believe he made up for those during his 40 years in the United States Senate. He was a champion of civil rights, Americans with disabilities, immigration reform and health care reform.
Born to privilege, he spent his life defending the vulnerable. We are better off as a people for the laws he wrote, sponsored, fought for and got passed.
So long, Senator. Thank you for your service.
John Updike, novelist, died today at the age of 76.
For at least a decade I was lost in Updike’s books. He wrote about love, God, human need and greed, about how Life happens when you are busy doing something else. He won two Pullitzer prizes, but he didn’t let that stop him from writing more good books.
He tracked one of his characters — Harry Angstrom — in his “Rabbit…” quartet from coming of age, through an entire adult life, all the way to his grave. I took Rabbit’s death pretty hard when I read about it, but this one pains me more.
Thanks, Mr. Updike, for a lifetime of great stories. It’s been good to know you.
You always knew when you were around my old rock’n’roll friend Tom Santo that sooner or later something bad was going to happen, and now he has gone and died on us.
I hadn’t seen him since our band split up in the early eighties, but I got a call from one of the other guys in the group last night. Tom had had a seizure, gone into a coma, come out of it, was recovering, then got some kind of infection and was gone by morning. I said I’d been thinking of Tom and wished I could have seen him, but I couldn’t track him down. Turns out he didn’t want anyone to track him down.
I met him when he joined the wedding band I was playing with in 1975. We were thrown together in a showbiz twist of fate: in order to mount a tour of Japan, he needed a band and we needed a singer. Playing hard rock for concert audiences in a foreign country seemed like a good idea to us, compared to what we were doing, but there was just one catch: We had to leave in five days. I would learn that with Tom, everything happened fast. He was always late, and always in hurry.
The promoter pulled strings to get us passports in two days instead of three weeks. We had a couple of days of frenzied rehearsals. I could tell that we were not ready musically, but Tom wasn’t fazed. I’m sure his mind wasn’t on such details. He was no doubt thinking of adoring crowds and cute Asian girls. Before any of us were fully aware of what we had agreed to, we were on an L-1011 bound for Tokyo.
That trip was a blur of liquor, limos and laughs. I’d like to say I’ll never forget it, but the fact is I don’t remember much about it. I do recall that Tom was clearly the star of the show and the center of attention from the start to the finish. He wasn’t the eye of the hurricane — he was the hurricane.
The next time I saw Tom was when he brought his new band into my studio in Hollywood. This was around 1978, I think. We were recording a lot of L.A. punk bands: X, The Alley Cats, Black Randy and the Metro Squad, The Weirdos, and “New Wave” was just starting to happen. Tom was oblivious to all that, and his band played good old fashioned straight ahead rock, written by Tom himself. We recorded six songs, and before that project was finished I had gone from engineer to band member. As with so much of my involvement with Tom, I still don’t know how that happened.
That band became The Rev, and played the whole L.A. punk/new wave scene: Madame Wong’s, Club 88, The Hong Kong Cafe. It was exactly like being rock stars, except we didn’t have a record deal, so we never got ripped off by a record company. But we worked hard, played our asses off and partied like crazy. Basically, wherever Tom was, there was a party, and it was crazy.
After a couple of years with no big breaks, The Rev disbanded. Once again, the collapse happened fast and I don’t really know the reasons. If I did, that story would have to wait for another post anyway.
I never saw Tom again.
After a few years I heard he was doing a cabaret show at The Dresden, but I couldn’t find the time to check it out. Over the years I asked old band members and friends if they’d seen him and how could I get in touch with him, but there was always something.
The last time I saw Tom we were in our thirties and he had more energy than any three teenagers. When I’m rockin’ and rollin’ on stage these days (yes, I still do), sometimes I get a glimpse of myself, maybe in the mirror behind the bar, maybe just in my mind, and I wonder what the hell I think I’m doing, and how long can this go on? The next time I think that, I’ll remember you, old friend, and I’ll answer the question as I’m sure you would have:
One more time!
I don’t have a picture to post, but I can see Tom in this recording. Maybe you will too.
Â Â Â Click the blue button to hear Sooner or Later, by The Rev, featuring Tom Santo, circa 1981.
George Carlin, 1937 – 2008
“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.”
It happened on Sunday night. Goodbye, George. I’ll miss you.
Just a couple of random thoughts before I start my wild weekend.
I was getting a little tired of Tim Russert. He’s the guy who started the school of broadcast journalism known as “Gotcha.” He’d bring some lying scumbag politician on his show and read him a quote from a speech he made six years ago at the commencement ceremony of the Idaho Skinhead Academy or some such, and then ask “Do you regret making that statement?” Better yet, he’d play the video, and then we’d all get to watch Tim’s victim squirm and wriggle, trying to put some kind of acceptable spin on it. Really, it was a miracle that anybody ever went on Meet The Press.
But the technique was so compelling that everybody on the teevee eventually came around to thinking there was no reason to discuss actual issues with actual newsmakers when it was so much more fun and telegenic to just hoist them on their own petards and watch them sputter in the wind. What Tim was doing was taking advantage of politicos who had not yet figured out that the times, they had a’changed, and there was no hiding anymore. Stuff you said to a racist crowd in the deep South was gonna get played back in New Hampshire, and right before the election, too. Everything was on tape, and modern technology made it all available to the producers at NBC. The problem, in my mind, was that everyone has said something stupid in their lives, and Tim generally didn’t bother making any distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. He tortured them both equally, and he usually let both off the hook at the end.
Still, I admit I watched the show every chance I got, and I’m sad that Russert is gone. I mean, he milked the Democratic primary as hard as all the other pundits, trying to make it seem as if there was really any suspense to it, but when it was over (after the Indiana primary) he was the first to just come out and say it was over. I could tell he was crestfallen about it, too, not because he didn’t like the way it turned out, but because he was enjoying the ride and he didn’t want it to end.
I can’t even remember who the hosts of Meet The Press were before Tim Russert, and I can’t imagine the show without him.
The concept of habeas corpus is the basis for a little thing I like to call “the rule of law.” Yesterday the Supreme Court upheld our right to have a legal proceeding before a civilian court whenever any part of our government wants to put us in jail. They have to say why they want to lock us up, and they have to prove their case. They can’t just lock us up because… well, just because. Let me rephrase that: Without habeas corpus, we got nuthin’.
The Bush Administration has been doing that whole detention thing without charges, hearings or evidence for six years now, and yesterday the Court smacked them down for it. But, of course, negative guy that I am, all I can think about is that four Supreme Court justices voted against the preservation of this precious right, which has been a sacred, untouchable part of Anglo-Saxon law for at least 500 years. That’s four votes out of nine.
We are one vote away from becoming a police state.
The next president will likely make the appointment that could change the balance, either in favor of the Constitution, or against it. So if you’re thinking you’re going to vote for McCain because of “the way Hillary was treated,” or because “there’s no difference between the two parties,” or because “the country isn’t ready for a black president,” or for the perfectly logical reason that Barack Obama is a Muslim, you might be really surprised at the way things look in this country in a few years.
As always, my heart beats only for you. Have a great weekend!
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
November 11, 1922 â€” April 11, 2007