Monday, November 29, 2010

Progressive Music Classics. Blind Willie Johnson's "John the Revelator"



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

Texas blues great Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945) may be even more mysterious than that blues enigma, Robert Johnson. For a start, only one known photo exists of Blind Willie (versus two known photos of Robert Johnson).

And, like Robert Johnson, much about Blind Willie's life is shrouded in mystery. It's not even known for certain how Blind Willie lost his sight, although theories and stories abound. What is known for sure is that Blind Willie died in obscurity and poverty in Beaumont, Texas in 1945. It seems that his house burned down and, having nowhere else to go, he lived in the burned-out ruins in the open air until he contracted malaria and died. His wife later said she tried to take him to the hospital, but they refused him because he was black. Such was everyday life for African-Americans in the brutal Jim Crow racist society of the South.

This song, "John the Revelator," recorded by Blind Willie in 1930, has been covered by many artists over the years, ranging from R.E.M. to John Mellencamp. Every single cover version has been inferior and unnecessary. Blind Willie's haunting version reigns supreme.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Most Nauseating Lie in Bush's New Book


George W. Bush has had two years to carefully work out a strategy for rehabilitating the legacy of his disastrous presidency. And now, we are seeing the first major salvo in that effort: Bush's new book, Decision Points.

As could be expected from a man who brazenly lied his way through his presidency, Decision Points is a book filled with outrageous lies and distortions of history.

Clearly, Bush is channeling his mentor, Karl Rove. Rove's credo has always been: if you want to get a message out, don't worry about whether it's true. Just repeat it loudly, over and over. It's a blunt force tactic that usually works with the sort of simple-minded people who voted for Bush and who are lining up to buy his book today.

Reading Decision Points is a surreal experience. It's from a man whose worldview comes straight from the likes of Fox News and Rush. It is remarkably detached from reality.

The most nauseating lie in Bush's new book comes, as you might expect, from the central event that defined the Bush years: the disastrous Iraq War.

In his book, Bush writes that he was astonished to find after the invasion that there were no WMDs in Iraq. "No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find the weapons," Bush writes. "I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do."

Indeed, Bush should have had a "sickening feeling" every time he thought about the non-existent WMDs. It should haunt him for the rest of his life.

But the record shows otherwise. In fact, a mere year after he ordered the Iraq invasion, Bush was already flippant about the missing WMDs. Incredibly, he even thought the topic was suitable fodder for humor.

In one of the most jaw-droppingly offensive performances by any U.S. politician in history, Bush laughed and joked about the missing WMDs in Iraq, during his March 24, 2004 appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

To Bush, the non-existent WMDs were nothing more than a butt of a joke that night. While an overhead projector displayed photos of a puzzled-looking Bush searching around the Oval Office, Bush recited a comedy routine.

"Those weapons of mass destruction have gotta be somewhere," Bush laughed, while a photo showed him poking around the corners in the Oval Office. "Nope--no weapons over there! Maybe they're under here," he said, as a photo showed him looking under a desk.

Meanwhile, the assembled "Liberal" media elites at the White House Correspondents Dinner were laughing heartily during Bush's performance.

Bush joked about the same non-existent WMDs that represented his case for taking the nation to war with Iraq. Recall how in the 2002-2003 build-up to the invasion of Iraq, every other word out of Bush's mouth was "WMD."

Bush and the other chickenhawk NeoCons constantly did their best to make the case that Saddam had WMDs that posed a threat to America. The NeoCons in effect used WMDs as a club to beat over the head of anyone who dared question whether the U.S. was following a wise course in invading Iraq.

We Progressives never bought Bush's case for war. We tried to point out to anyone who would listen that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. We also tried to point out that Iraq was a small Third World nation with less than one-tenth of America's population, a nation with little industry.

Indeed, if Iraq did pose some sort of threat to America, we argued, then the question wasn't whether the U.S. should invade. Instead it was this: exactly why wasn't the Pentagon, with its trillion-dollar budgets, up to the job of protecting America? (Note that the U.S. spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined).

Indeed, many of us progressives rejected the very term, "Weapons of Mass Destruction." It was nothing more than a deliberately scary, propagandistic term, meant to frighten Americans into doing whatever the Bush/Cheney regime wanted. WMD was a term that belonged in a Marvel comic book, not in the real world.

Fast-forward to 2010. Bush is now trying to whitewash his presidency and hawk his book--the advance for which he reportedly pocketed a cool $7 million. Apparently unaware of the existence of sites like YouTube, Bush is now trying to pretend the 2004 White House Correspondents Dinner never happened. And now, he have us believe that the non-existent WMDs left him feeling "shocked," "angry" and with a "sickening feeling."

Actually, that exactly how I felt upon reading Bush's pack of lies.

I like Mother Jones writer David Corn. But I have to admit, I was a bit dismayed to see his Nov. 19 piece, "Bush's Biggest WMD Lie?" which makes exactly the same point as my Nov. 9 article above. (No, I'm not saying Corn copied my article----I doubt he's aware of my obscure blog). But the coincidence is spooky indeed.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Progressive Music Classics. Crass: "Reality Asylum"



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

I recently read where Maureen Tucker, drummer for the legendary band, The Velvet Underground, has embraced the Tea Bagger movement. When I first read the news, I thought it must be a joke.

But when I read her comments in detail, it was clear that Tucker had indeed drunk the wingnut Kool-Aid. Anyone who was expecting a subversive or "hip" take on Tea Bagger politics from Tucker was indeed disappointed. Indeed, it just seems like she regurgitated Rush Limbaugh's stale, turgid talking points.

I'll be writing more about this in detail in a future post. But suffice it to say, it was a disappointment to me. Since the Golden Era of progressive/left-field music pretty much petered out in the mid-1980s, it's been all downhill.

The late, great Bill Hicks once decried the music of the late 1980s as a "Republican wet dream." And things are even worse now.

Not only does today's music suck, it is incredibly conservative, politically. Few bands have any message at all, besides: "Be a Good Little Consumer."

Either that, or it's the self-aggrandizing and the worship of bling-bling in hip-hop culture (which has gotten rather tiresome after nearly three decades). Rap-wise, we've gone a long ways downhill since the golden era of Public Enemy.

Of course, there are exceptions to today's sanitized, conservative music scene (like Britain's underrated Manic Street Preachers). But by and large, today's music artists have nothing to say. And when they do say something, it's often shockingly reactionary (as were Tucker's idiotic remarks).

But I'd given up on the Velvets years ago, anyway. For me, their mystique and credibility pretty much vanished when they opted to do a cash-in reunion tour in the 1990s.

One band that you'll never see reuniting, or selling out, is Britain's Crass. The 1979 Crass song, "Reality Asylum," (which I posted above) is the sort of daring, defiantly uncommercial, left-field music that simply isn't being created by anyone these days. Nobody has the balls.

It's a shame, because we need challenging music like this more than ever, in an era of corporate propaganda. Indeed, things are vastly worse today that they were when Crass were around, three decades ago. After all, back then, there was no Fox News or Rush Limbaugh.

A take-no-prisoners tirade against religion, "Reality Asylum" no doubt will be deeply offensive to "Christians" (whatever that term means). But like it or loath it, you've gotta admit that it's a song with a message that makes you think. Not like today's music, which is designed (as Elvis Costello once noted), to "anesthetize the way that you feel."

A few days ago, after reading Tucker's idiotic, pro-Tea Bagger comments, I felt a bit depressed. I reached for some of my old vinyl records, to cheer myself up. And listening to the likes of "Reality Asylum," made me even more despondent, when I realized that nothing like this music is being created today.

It's not just that today's music scene is full of brainless idiots. It's that Tucker has been hailed as a genius and canonized as a giant of 20th century music. And meanwhile, Crass's Eve Libertine is one of those truly deserving and brilliant musicians who has toiled her career away in relative obscurity. For my money, she is vastly more talented than Tucker, or today's pop mediocrities like Lady Gaga.

Libertine is a brave artist who never backed down from attacking the rich and the powerful. And in today's post-Bush/Cheney era, we need the likes of Crass more than ever. But instead we get banal, mediocre pop from the likes of Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton.

Years ago, a "Spin" magazine article noted that challenging and controversial music was no longer being created. Today's young people were unshockable, the article claimed. It said that Americans had become so jaded that it had become impossible for any rock band to create a controversial song and shake up society like the Sex Pistols did in the late 1970s. In fact, the "Spin" article blamed this state of affairs on the Pistols themselves, and claimed that the band had killed the idea of "controversy" in music. "Fuck you, Johnny Rotten," the article sneered.

To this, I say: bullshit. People today are as shockable as ever. The problem lies with our safe-as-milk, cowardly pop artists, who are afraid to rock the boat. We saw this during the Iraq War and during the whole nightmarish eight years of the Bush/Cheney era. Virtually no rock star spoke out against the madness (much less penned a protest song). There were a few exceptions (like Neil Young). But by and large, the music establishment was silent.

Actually, I think "Reality Asylum" would still shock a lot of people, were it released today. And were Crass American instead of British, I'd suspect they'd get death threats from right-wing religious crazies. After all, the band got a lot of grief over this song in relatively secular Britain. Imagine what the outcry would have been in the Bible Belt had the song been released in the U.S. (it wasn't).

"Spin" magazine was wrong. The problem isn't that Americans are too jaded to be shocked. Rather, it's that our cowardly musicians today are too timid (and lacking in imagination) to make any radical statements, or "dangerous" music.

It's a shame, because that's precisely what our society needs these days. We're a smug, self-satisfied, sleep-walking society that needs to be jolted out of our corporate-media-induced apathy. That's what real Free Speech is all about.

God knows, today's American society has no shortage of sacred cows that need to be challenged and attacked. Mindless, blind flag-waving patriotism. Stupid, pointless wars. Downright evil politicians. An immoral economic system that steals from the working class and gives to the rich. And right-wing politicians who cynically use "Christianity" and twist around the Bible's words to make gullible working people vote against their own interests.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Please Get Out and Vote Today--It Ain't Over Till It's Over


Yes, I've been disappointed with the wimpy Dems as much as any other progressive the past couple of years. But we all need to get out and vote today. That is, unless you're nostalgic for the Bush years.

As Michael Moore said:

"And if they win on Tuesday, they plan to show no mercy. They will not speak of bipartisanship or olive branches or tolerate any filibuster threats. They will come in and do the job with a mandate they'll perceive the electorate will have given them. They will not fart around for two years like the Democrats did. They will not "search for compromise" or "find middle ground." They will not meet you halfway on the playing field. They know that touchdowns aren't scored at the 50-yard line. Unlike our guys, they're not stupid or spineless. Make no mistake about it, my friends. A perfect storm has gathered of racists, homophobes, corporatists and born agains and they are on fire."

So PLEASE, get out and vote (and encourage your friends to do the same).

Here is helpful voting info from

Election 2010 Voting Information

Today, November 2nd, is Election Day! Make sure to get out and vote. Voting is pretty simple, but if you have any questions, here's an outline of helpful information. Please share this information widely---post it on Facebook and Twitter, etc.

Q: Where and when do I vote?

Find your polling place, voting times, and other important information at, using an application developed by the Voting Information Project.
You can also get your polling location by texting "where" to 30644 from your mobile phone.

These resources are excellent, but not perfect, so to double-check information, you can use the Voting Information Project application to find contact information for your state or local election official.

What do I need to bring?

Voting ID laws vary from state to state, but if you have ID, bring it. To find out the details, check out your state's info at
You can also find more information by calling or checking out the website of your state election official. Look up their contact information here:

What if something goes wrong?

Not on the voter list? Make sure you're at the right polling place, then ask for a provisional ballot.
Need legal help? Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE or email

On your ballot

The League of Young Voters has put together a site where groups and individuals can post do-it-yourself voter guides. Check out your state here:

How can I help get out the vote today?

Make calls to voters right from your home:

And a quote to remind us all how important it is to vote today...

"Because if everyone who fought for change in 2008 shows up to vote in 2010, we will win this election, I'm confident that we will." --President Barack Obama