Who’s Still Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

whosafraidvwoolf_075pyxurzIt was 50 years ago in 1966 when one of the most controversial films ever made shocked critics and audiences alike and forever changed American cinema.  That film was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the film adaptation of Edward Albee’s 1962 play of the same name.  Most who saw the play thought it could never be made into a film because of its vitriolic subject matter and caustic language.  Nothing like it had ever been seen.

Edward Albee

Edward Albee

Edward Albee (1928-2016), along with fellow playwrights Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, and Samuel Beckett, is associated with theater of the absurd, a movement of the late 50’s/early 60’s that focused on the absurdity of the human condition as exemplified by existentialism.  These playwrights’s characters often find themselves in situations that make no sense because life itself is meaningless and random.  The truth is often hard to discern; the happy  portrait of the post-WWII world replete with its nuclear family and two car garage is a lie.  And with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Albee ripped that portrait to shreds on the Broadway stage in front of stunned audiences.  

The play takes place in the wee hours at the home of the middle-aged George and Martha, an associate professor of history and his wife, who also happens to be the daughter of the president of the university. They have been to a faculty party, and Martha, unbeknownst to George, has invited a younger couple over for more drinks. The couple then walk into the buzz saw of George and Martha’s  “vile, crushing marriage,” as Martha describes it at one point.  George and Martha are locked into a twenty year battle filled with acrimony, love, betrayal, and, ultimately, disappointment.  The young couple are Nick and Honey, a young, ambitious biology professor and his mousy wife.  George and Martha put on a show for the couple with their biting and sometimes amusing banter that quickly descends into blood-letting.  Nick and Honey, like the audience, are embarrassed at first to witness the ugly side of the couple’s marriage but then find themselves trapped in the cross hairs and drawn into the war as George and Martha use them to destroy each other.  Nick and Honey do not escape unscathed, and neither do we.  

George and Martha, as some sort of survival mechanism, have created an elaborate fantasy world that neither the young couple, nor the audience understand until near the very end of the play.  Incidentally, Honey, herself, has created one of the biggest and most objectionable lies.  Truth or illusion, a constant motif of absurdist theater,  is questioned throughout the night:  

Martha:  That is not true; that is such a lie.  

George:  You must not call everything a lie, must she? (to Nick)  

Nick:       Hell, I don’t know when you people are lying or what.  

Martha:  You’re damned right.

George:  You’re not supposed to.  

Martha:  Right  

And later this exchange:  

Martha:  Truth and illusion, George.  You don’t know the difference?  

George:  No, but we must carry on as if we do.

The play was a smash hit and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the drama jury, but the Pulitzer committee refused to give Albee the award because of the play’s subject matter and profanity. However,  it won a Tony for Best Play in 1963, and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. The actors playing George and Martha, Arthur Hill and Uta Hagen, won Tony awards as well.  

No one who saw the play thought it could ever be translated to film due to its vulgarity and “adult content.”  No one but Jack Warner, that is.  He paid Albee $500,000, an unheard of sum, for the rights to the play.  Consequently, he needed bankable stars to play the leads to insure the film would be profitable. And in 1966, no stars were more bankable than Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  Both had to be convinced to do the film.  Taylor, known more for her beauty than her stellar acting, was, at 32, far too young to play the blowsy, 50-something Martha.  Burton was too young as well and wasn’t too keen to play a wimp on screen.  Ultimately, they agreed. Taylor gained 30 lbs. for the role, and with a messy grey wig and smudgy eye make up, looked the part.  George Segal and Sandy Dennis were cast as Nick and Honey.

virginia_woolfEven with the Burtons on board, the film almost was not made because of the Motion Picture Production Code, a censorship board that had ruled Hollywood with an iron fist since the 30’s. The “immoral” subject matters and profanity would be a problem. For example, never on screen had audiences heard an actor say “goddamnit.”  Quaint by today’s standard, that word was hugely shocking in 1966.  One Warner Brothers’s executives upon seeing it declared that they had a $7 million dollar dirty movie on their hands.  But Jack Warner held firm and was able to negotiate a “for mature audiences only–no one under 18 admitted without an adult” rating, the first film ever with that designation.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? effectively ended the old Code, and it was replaced in 1968 with the G, M(ature), R, and X ratings. This is but one of many notable things about the film.

The Burtons had negotiated to have their choice for director, Mike Nichols.  It was an unconventional choice as he was an actor and Broadway director known for his comedies. This was the first movie he ever directed in his long and illustrious career. While black and white films were on their way out, Nichols fought to make the movie in b/w, and it was the last film to win an Oscar for the Best Black and White Cinematogrophy category before that award category was ended.  It is also one of two films to have been nominated for an Academy Award in every category it was eligible for.  It was the first film to have every credited actor nominated for an award.    

The film was a huge hit; controversy is always good publicity.  In fact, the sheriff in Chattanooga, Tennessee, confiscated the film and arrested the local theater owner because of the immorality of the film. Another reason for its success was the public’s fascination with the Burtons, who like George and Martha, were heavy drinkers, passionate, and up for big rows.  Trying to decide whether they were acting or not was a favorite game of moviegoers. Taylor won the Oscar for best actress, and Dennis won for best supporting actress.  It also won a BAFTA for Best Film; Taylor and Burton both won BAFTAs as well.  The American Film Institute has ranked it at #67 out of 100 of the best American films of all time.  

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? stands the test of time.  While the profanity is no longer shocking, the film still is.  Many find it difficult to watch; it is emotionally draining, but once ensnared, it’s hard to escape its web.  Of its rating, Stanley Kauffmann of The New York Times wrote, “This may safeguard the children; the parents must take their chances.”  The tagline for the film on movie posters was, “You are cordially invited to George and Martha’s for an evening of fun and games.”  If you have never accepted the invitation, you should.  

Below are the  original trailer for the film as well as a couple of scenes.

 

Lost Artist: Sibylle Baier

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  I, like most Americans, have been brutalized by the presidential election.  My posts earlier this year about it (and how Trump would never be the GOP nominee) seem quaint.  In my defense, none in the political class and none of the pundits got it right.  Still, small consolation in the end.  

agatha-catI’ve also been preoccupied with another project: designing shirts, mugs, and totes. I’ve sold a fair amount. The biggest sellers are the snarky designs, surprisingly, but then who can resist a little snark?  I do have a line of literary and grammar items, apropos of this blog.  You can check them all out at Agatha Cat Apparel if you’re of a mind to.

As to the subject of this post, singer Sibylle Baier, I can’t remember how I discovered her.  She is a German singer/songwriter and actress of the late 60’s/early 70’s who, just as her career began, gave it all up to move to America and raise her family.  Some 30+ years later, her son, as a gift to her and to the family, took the reel-to-reel recordings of music she had made from 1970-1973 that had never been released, and made a copies of them.  He also gave a copy to a musician who in turn gave it to his record label.  They released it in 2006. It was critically acclaimed. Music critic James Christopher Monger reviewed it favorably at AllMusic:

Colour Green, the one and only release from German underground folk denizen Sibylle Baier, has been around since the early ’70s, albeit in her closet. Recorded on reel-to-reel in her home between 1970-1973, the budding actress, seamstress, writer, mother, and singer/songwriter chose family over fame, and it wasn’t until the tapes landed in the hands of Dinosaur Jr.‘s J. Mascis that they began their ascent into the world that they so eloquently describe. A wistful rendering of Vashti Bunyan, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell, Baier‘s conversational voice can be both tragic and comforting, turning the simplest task (“Driving”) into a sepia-toned snapshot of longing. Each track is like a field recording of the highest quality, with every whisper of the locale present, yet unintelligible. Like Anne Briggs with a guitar or Nico without all of the junkie baggage, Baier, who would silently haul out the tape machine and press record late at night when her family was asleep, conveys the purest of intimacies with the kind of confidence only secrecy can afford. From the opening cut, when she sings “tonight when I came home from work/there he, unforeseen sat in my kitchen,” the listener can’t help but be transported behind the soft closed eyes that grace Colour Green‘s basement-scavenged, yellowing cover.

Jimi Kritzler’s article about her is worth reading.  He writes for Double J, an Australian digital radio station and magazine.  A portion:

The album is a remarkably intimate portrait of the songwriter. Although now recognized as an accidental classic, Colour Green remained critically unheralded – or more accurately, unheard – for its first 35 years of existence. It is only now finding an audience and, with the benefit of hindsight, is being acclaimed as one of the vital records of the 1970s folk underground.

While critics have sought to draw parallels between Baier and outsider folk artists of the era like Vashti Bunyan, there is something in her songcraft and story which suggests she is without contemporary. Baier was a songwriter who sought only to write and record songs to satisfy her own creative wont. Devoid of ego and thirst for recognition, Baier wrote and recorded an album on par with Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter or Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate and then filed it away in her attic after giving a copy only to a few close friends (including filmmaker Wim Wenders).

There is a purity and innocence to Colour Green which, over the course of the album, is slowly eroded as one gets an insight into Baier’s mindset. She, perhaps for the sake of song, clings to a very brittle version of happiness.

sibyllecat_webThere’s very little information about her, so it’s easy to romanticize Baier in hopes of understanding her. Why did she give up fame for family? That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with that, but I wonder why she did it.  She recorded these songs in her home late at night when the house was quiet.  She cared enough to record them, but she never tried to release them. Maybe she thought she couldn’t concomitantly pursue her singing and acting and raise a family.  Maybe she didn’t think she was talented enough.  If she did think the latter, she was wrong.  It is known that she had suffered from depression. Maybe that had something to do with it.  Maybe she just didn’t give a damn.  Maybe she doesn’t look at this as talent squandered, although she may be the only one to think so.  

If you’re interested in her album, you can buy it at itunes or on Amazon, where you can get it in multiple formats including vinyl.  Below is my favorite song:

Circus Elephants Are Free

Yesterday, after 145 years, was the last elephant act for Ringling Bros. circus.  Good.  It’s about time. How we have abused these majestic creatures for our own profit and amusement is unconscionable. I wrote about it here.  However, there are still plenty of circuses that force elephants to perform under the most cruel and deplorable conditions.  Performing at all, never mind the conditions, is cruel in and of itself.  

elemugIf you want to help, please consider giving to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.  It rescues circus and zoo elephants who are too old to turn a profit for their masters.  It’s a wonderful cause.  Also, in a bit of shameless promotion, I’ve created a design that makes the point that elephants don’t belong in circuses. The design is available on mugs, shirts, and tote bags.  You can get yours here.  

 

Hell Freezes Over: Frost’s “Fire and Ice”

robert frost

via Wikimedia Commons

In 1920, Robert Frost wrote what became one of his most anthologized poems, “Fire and Ice.”  It is a particular favorite of mine, and having committed it to memory, I recite it to myself often.  One of the reasons I like poetry is the ability to internalize it so it becomes a part of one’s self, a thing that is there to use at will to evoke a feeling, a thought, a memory, a description, a lesson.  It is an art form that is immediately accessible because of its portability.  I can conjure up a painting in my mind or reminisce on a novel or short story or remember music, but there’s still a disconnect with the art itself; I’m not actually seeing it or reading it or hearing it or playing it.  But with a poem, it is entire and complete the moment I say it to myself, and, like prayer, I can do it whenever and wherever I desire, and no one knows I’m doing it.  It is mine alone, a private gift from the poet. Dickinson, Tennyson, Shirley, Millay, Rossetti, Whitman, and Wilde have all bestowed such gifts, but it’s Frost’s “Fire and Ice” I’ve been accepting lately.

Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Like any great poet, Frost has the ability to compress much meaning and profundity into just a few lines, nine here to be precise.  And what does he mean?  Per critic Tom Hansen, American astronomer Harlow Shapely read the poem quite literally.  Shapely recalled that Frost had asked him once how the world would end:

I told him that either the earth would be incinerated, or a permanent ice age would gradually annihilate all life on earth.

He read the “some say” of the poem as a reference to him.  Most don’t agree with this interpretation, but I think it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.  Certainly, this story, if true, could have been the impetus for the poem, and a literal interpretation is a valid one of many, all of which can claim to be the true meaning. However, most read the poem symbolically. 

Some say the poem reflects an inner struggle between Frost’s desires, i.e. his passions and emotions, and his own self-hatred.   Others read it more broadly as an indictment of man’s ability, generally, to destroy with both his passions (selfishness, vanity, jealousy, misbegotten love) and his hatred. One could read it even more broadly as a reference to the apocalypse of war (World War I had just ended in 1920) where passions could be xenophobia, racism, and nationalism and where hate could be man’s hatred of men different from themselves.  

Many read the poem as a reference to Dante’s Inferno.  Critic John Serio asserts that the nine lines represent the nine circles of hell. He further points to Frost’s use of an unusual terza rima, the aba/abc/bcb rhyme scheme Dante invented.  Serio also believes that Frost has adopted Dante’s Aristotelian ethics that sins of passion and desire are not as bad as sins of reason like deceit, treachery, and hate.  

Frost associates fire with the senses and places it first or, so to speak, near the top of his poem as the lesser of the two types of sin: “From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire.” The verbs are sensuous and although not direct allusions, they recall characters in Dante’s upper hell such as the glutton Ciacco the Hog (“tasted”), the adulterous lovers Paolo and Francesca (“hold”), and the hoarders (“favor”). In addition, by aligning the poem’s speaker with a group of others (“I hold with those who favor fire”), Frost implies this is a more common and less serious sin.

When Frost speaks of hatred, however, instead of seeing it as an emotion or feeling, like anger, he presents it as a consequence of thought, of conscious choice: “I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction ice / Is also great / And would suffice.” The emphasis here, as in Dante, is on reason, or better, on the perversion or misuse of reason, because it is employed not for Christian love but for hatred. The intellectual distancing contained in the repetition “I think I know” the change from the present perfect tense, implying a past action (“I’ve tasted”), to the present tense (“I think I know”), and the utter isolation of the repeated ‘T’ without any reference to others mark hatred as worse than desire. Frost underscores this by making it the cause of a second death (“But if it had to perish twice”) far more terrible by implication than the first. The pun on the word “ice” in “twice” and “suffice” accentuates the bitter coldness of hatred, and the triple repetition of “ice” at the end of the poem recalls Satan’s futile efforts to escape – it is the very beating of his wings that causes the river Cocytus in the ninth circle to freeze.

 

I believe that all the interpretations are true on some level or another, and this depth of meaning is just one reason I like it. Another reason is the juxtaposition of the apocalyptic with a casual syntax and sentence structure as if Frost were talking about some mundane subject and not the end of the world.  “Fire and Ice” is both provocative and banal, which is as good a description of my view of the world, mood depending, as any. 

So, for over twenty years now I’ve had this thing, this gift, this poem with me and for me.  It is mine.  And it makes me richer for it.

 

Democracy Is A Popularity Contest

flickr photo by Disney | ABC Television Group https://flickr.com/photos/disneyabc/23776517421 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

flickr photo by Disney | ABC Television Group https://flickr.com/photos/disneyabc/23776517421 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

This is why Sanders won’t and should not be the Democrats’s presidential nominee: he’s gotten over 2.3 million fewer votes than Clinton, and he’s yet to show he can build the broad coalition of voters that propelled Obama to two victories. Winning the whitest states via caucuses whilst losing more diverse (and significantly larger) states via primaries doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his appeal to rank and file Democrats, those same Democrats that his supporters dismiss as conservative or not progressive. His plan to win the nomination is to walk into the convention with fewer votes by the people than Clinton and then flip superdelegates, which is neither progressive, nor democratic. I don’t endorse the superdelegate system; I endorse the will of the people.  So far, the will of people hasn’t endorsed Sanders.

You Say You Want A Revolution? (umm…not really)

Louis XVI's execution

Louis XVI’s execution

Sanders and his supporters are forever going on about a revolution.   Ditto Trump.   The French had a revolution; our forefathers did, too, and the English’s was glorious. But the Sanders and the Trump campaigns are rebellions maybe but not revolutions. The word is overused, bandied about by earnest millennials and angry white men and lazy journalists and commentators.  I get it’s a metaphor, but as David A. Bell recently wrote in Politico, it’s not a very good one:

[Sanders and Trump] are using “revolution” as a metaphor, hoping to conjure up an image of a mass movement so powerful it will allow them to break the power of special interests (the super-rich for Sanders, the “politically correct” establishment for Trump) and enact radical change. 

Yet the metaphor is a deceptive one. Revolutions may be the great political myth of modern times, and that is because, today, they are the political equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme. They offer the beguiling but illusory promise that substantive change can be brought about by sheer willpower, by merely wanting the result strongly enough. They promise to shake up the entire system, but offer no clue as to how the system could be reconstructed, or worked with.

Bell’s assessment of the metaphor is particularly apropos of the Sanders campaign. As I wrote here, he makes a lot of (revolutionary) promises he cannot deliver.  Bernie proclaims at every turn about the revolution— “It’s happening!” “It’s coming!”—but it’s not.  The people are not rising up, embracing his ideas, and supporting him.  At least the majority of the voters in the Democratic primaries and caucuses aren’t. Ponder this number:  2.4 million.  That’s a lot, right?  That’s how many more votes Clinton has gotten than Sanders has, but to be precise it’s 2,403,691 as of the vote in Wisconsin.  Over two million people have chosen her over him.  Sanders has inspired younger voters in a way Clinton has not, but Obama was able to do the same, so I’m not sure what’s revolutionary about it.  Clinton has been able to inspire middle-aged and older voters and black voters and Hispanic voters in a way Sanders has not, but she doesn’t go around talking about revolutions.  

Revolutions are exciting.  They’re sexy.  They’re really, really rare.  And we are not in the midst of one.

Whence Baroque Rock?

J.S. Bach: godfather of baroque

J.S. Bach: Godfather of Baroque

After reading my recent post on the Mamas & the Papas, someone asked me which of their songs was my favorite. That’s a hard question to answer.  It’s akin to asking an English major to name her favorite book.   I began running through their catalog in my head.  The hits, the minor hits, the obscure—I finally said I’d have to get back to him.  I eventually landed on “Look Though My Window,” which hit #24 on the Billboard Top 100 chart in 1967.  John Phillips wrote it in 1964 when his wife, Michelle, left him for a brief period. He thought she had gone across the country to California when, in fact, she was still in Greenwich Village staying a few blocks from him.  The lyrics are interesting, but that’s not why I chose it.  The blend of their tenor, baritone, soprano, and contralto voices is particularly tight and effective on this song, perhaps one of the best examples of their ability to create overtones that sound like a fifth voice, which they nicknamed Harvey.  But still this is not the reason for the choice. It’s that they’re singing with a string section—that’s the reason why.  The cellos, violins, violas, and harp take their singing and harmonies to another more complex and ornamental level than most of their other songs.  Orchestration will do that, which made me ask the question, “How did strings and horns find their way into rock music, a place of electric guitars, bass guitars, and drums?”

Starting in the mid-60’s bands sought to add a new sophistication and depth to their music.  It was a natural progression, a culmination of the increasing complexity of rock music which had its beginnings in the 50’s.  Conjure in your mind the sound of the following artists and styles, chronologically, and you will hear what I mean: Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, doo-wop, Elvis, the crooners, girl groups, Motown, surf pop, Phil Spector’s “wall of sound,” the British Invasion, the Beatles, folk rock, psychedelic rock, and on into the 70’s and beyond.  But beginning with bands like the Zombies, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles, artists started adding elements of classical music to their arrangements. Because of their use of violins, cellos, harps, and harpsichords, among other instruments, this new sound was dubbed “baroque rock.”  Of course, at first no one called it that; the sobriquet came later.  Baroque rock can be defined as follows:

Baroque Pop emerged during the mid-’60s, a time when artists including the Left Banke, the Beach Boys, producer Phil Spector, and composer/arranger Burt Bacharach began infusing rock & roll with elements of classical music, achieving a majestic orchestral sound far removed from rock’s wild, primitive origins. Layered harmonies, strings, and horns are all hallmarks of baroque pop, as is the music’s dramatic intensity. At the time of its inception, it was rock’s most mature outgrowth to date, and its spirit lives on in everything from the Philly soul sound of the early ’70s to the like-minded chamber pop sound of the mid-’90s.

Most of the bands that incorporated classical music into their works did so on some of their albums, but not all.  Think Pet Sounds or Revolver by the Beach Boys and the Beatles, respectively.  An exception would be the Left Banke whose entire sound was the fusion of pop and classical, hence their being baroque artists and not artists with baroque influences.  

This spectacularly new (in 1965 that is) sound is one of the reason I love 60’s music. There is no other time period in rock that music evolved so quickly into something completely new in such a compressed amount of time.  In 1962 Elvis was singing “Return to Sender,” but by 1967 Jim Morrison of the Doors was singing “Light My Fire.”  In 1963 Leslie Gore was singing “It’s My Party,” but by 1968 Janis Joplin was belting “Piece of My Heart.”  It’s 2016.  Has music changed dramatically (or even at all) from 2011?  No, it has not.  The last big shift in rock came in the early 90’s when grunge supplanted hair bands of the late 80’s.  

Horns and violins in popular music is nothing extraordinary today.  But a harpsichord in 1966?  That was something.  So, it’s Michelle Phillips’s violin to Cass Elliot’s cello on the baroque rock influenced “Look Through My Window” that takes the honor of being my favorite.  Incidentally, it’s Michelle’s soprano accompanying the violin at the 1:25 to 1:32 mark below that is my favorite part of the favorite song.  “Pretty Ballerina” by the Left Banke follows.

 

 

Quotable Quotes: Coco Chanel

(public domain)

(public domain)

 

 

“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” 

― Coco Chanel

50 Years of The Mamas & the Papas (30+ Years for Me)

The Mamas & the Papas on Ed Sullivan 1967 (public domain)

The Mamas & the Papas on Ed Sullivan 1967 (public domain)

Anyone who knows me well knows I am obsessed with The Mamas & the Papas.  This cannot be overstated.  Obsessed is such an ugly word; however, words such as admire, appreciate, like, or even love are not strong enough, so I suppose obsessed will have to do.  

my uncle's record

my uncle’s record

I remember, vividly, how it began.  I was 10 years old and visiting my grandmother in Florida. One morning, I walked into the bedroom where my uncle was, undoubtedly, sleeping one off. I woke him up, and instead of yelling at me to go away, which would have been my response had I been him, he told me to play something on his stereo.  I asked what he wanted to hear, and he told me to choose, so I began flipping through his extensive record collection.  Some of them were familiar because my parents had the same albums (The Doors’s Soft Parade, The Beatles’s Abbey Road,  the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar), and I regularly played them, but I was looking for something new, at least to me.  His Alice Cooper and KISS albums looked scary as did Black Sabbath, so I passed them by. Eventually, I hit upon an album with two men and two women looking like hippies on the cover.  I liked the way they looked, and holding the album up to my uncle, who by then was sitting up in bed smoking a cigarette, I asked, “What about them?”  He said it was good enough hangover music.  I lifted the gray, smokey glass lid that covered the turntable, and put it on.  The Mamas & the Papas.  I’ve been hooked ever since.  

Like most people, it was the harmonies that moved me.  They were like none I’d heard before or since, for that matter.  Lots of bands are known for harmony such as The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, The Association, et al., but none of their harmonies was as intricate and layered as The Mamas & the Papas’s were. Fleetwood Mac comes closest (“The Chain” being a good example) to the vocal acrobatics of the M&Ps, but they still don’t measure up, which is not to say Fleetwood Mac isn’t good; they are brilliant vocally but in a different way.  

circa 1967 (public domain)

circa 1967 (public domain)

It was 50 years ago that The Mamas & Papas’s debut album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, was released.  Lou Adler, their producer, had a habit of closing his eyes when he was auditioning a band so as to concentrate without any distractions on the music as it would sound on the radio. The band sang what became the first album.  He couldn’t believe what he heard, and when he opened his eyes, he couldn’t believe what he saw:  John Phillips, the leader, looking like Ichabod Crane in a chinchilla hat; his wife, Michelle, looking like a model, which she had been; Denny Doherty looking like a scruffy Errol Flynn; and Cass Elliot, robust and rotund, looking like a hippie earth mother in a paisley muumuu and go-go boots. He signed them on the spot with the title of the first album already in mind.  This was late 1965.  

By the mid-60’s, America, which had invented rock and roll, was being inundated by the British Invasion. English acts dominated the airwaves and the charts.  The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Zombies, The Dave Clark 5, among others, had relatively little American competition.  The exceptions were Motown acts and surf rock acts like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean.  And then America struck back with folk rock, hippies, and counterculture.  The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Sonny and Cher, and The Mamas & the Papas began controlling the airwaves and influencing society. Not only did these bands sound different, they looked different, too. The Mamas & the Papas were the first sexually integrated group, and unlike the English bands of the early to mid 60’s, they did not wear uniforms, suits, or other matching garb.  They often looked like they had rolled out of bed, put on whatever was closest, (boots, hats, muumuus, vests) and sometimes maybe washed their hair or shaved.  Clean cut they were not.  When Dick Clark told his talent scout to book The Mamas & the Papas on American Bandstand, she asked if he had seen them.  She said she couldn’t put them on the air because they looked weird. He replied that everyone looked weird now.  Times were a changin’.  

MamasAndPapasIfYouCanIf You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears shot to the top of the charts in May 1966 propelled by “California Dreamin'” and “Monday, Monday.”  The album was banned in certain places, though, because of the indecent, vulgar cover:  the four of them slung up in the bathtub of a dirty bathroom next to a toilet. Dunhill Records had to pull all the albums from stores and reissue a new cover that hid the toilet. Collectors (me) will pay a few hundred dollars for an original exposed toilet cover.  The album has since become a classic.  Rolling Stone named it #127 of the top 500 albums of all time.  

Over the last 30 odd years since I discovered The Mamas & the Papas, I’ve not lost any of the wonder I felt upon hearing them for the first time whilst sitting on my uncle’s bedroom floor.  This is evidenced by the fact that I have every record and song they produced, five different books about them, including the Phillips’s dueling autobiographies, three documentaries, four dolls, one per band member (don’t ask how much those cost—it’s obscene), and autographs of them all, which is no small feat considering Cass died in 1974, and both papas are now dead.  I listen to and watch videos of them almost every day.  They enrich my life, so in this case, the obsession isn’t such a bad thing.  Maybe we can call it something else.  An eccentricity?  A peccadillo?  Nah, obsession is the only word for it.

 

I Support Sanders But Will Vote For Hillary

bernie_sanders_quixote

flickr photo by DonkeyHotey https://flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/19642727260 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I watched Sanders’s stump speech last night.  If you’ve ever heard any of his speeches, then you didn’t miss anything.  Wall Street has hijacked our democracy.  Agreed.  The minimum wage needs to be raised to $15/hr.  Agreed.  Billionaires have perverted our electoral process.  Agreed.  The middle class is shrinking and being left behind. Agreed.  I agreed with everything he said, but I’m still not voting for him.  He can’t deliver on any of his promises.  

I’ve gone to his website and looked at his issues and how he proposes to pay for them. Copied verbatim:

Plan Payment
Rebuild America Act: Sen. Sanders has proposed a$1 trillion plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructureand put 13 million Americans to work. Paid for by making corporations pay taxes on all of the“profits” they have shifted to the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens, which the Congressional Research Services estimates may currently create losses that approach $100 billion annually, and other loopholes.
College for All: Sen. Sanders has proposed making public colleges and universities tuition-free and substantially reducing student debt, in a plan that would cost about $75 billion a year. Paid for by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators that would generate about $300 billion in revenue.
Expand and Extend Social Security: Sen. Sanders has proposed expanding Social Security and extending the solvency of this program until 2065. Paid for by lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000 so that the wealthy pay the same percentage of their income into Social Security as working people.
Youth Jobs Program: Sen. Sanders has proposed a $5.5 billion youth jobs program to create 1 million jobs for disadvantaged young Americans. Paid for by ending the carried interest loophole that allows billionaire hedge fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than nurses and truck drivers.
Paid Family and Medical Leave: Sen. Sanders has proposed at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to all workers. Paid for by a payroll tax that would total $1.61 a week for the typical American worker. According to Sen. Gillibrand’s office, this would be “a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget.”
Protect Pensions: Sen. Sanders has introduced a plan to prevent cuts to the pensions of over 1.5 million Americans. Paid for by closing two tax loopholes that allow the wealthy to avoid taxes on money they inherit and expensive artwork they collect.
Renewable Energy and Clean Jobs Transition: Sen. Sanders has a plan to invest in clean, sustainable energy sources powered by the sun, wind and Earth’s heat. He also has a plan to provide comprehensive benefits to workers as they transition to making the solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries of tomorrow. Paid for by stopping taxpayer-funded giveaways to oil, gas and coal companies.
Sen. Sanders has introduced a plan to expand health care coverage to every American. Paid for by a 6.2 percent income-based health care premium paid by employers, a 2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households, progressive income tax rates, taxing capital gains and dividends the same as income from work, limiting tax deductions for the rich, adjusting the estate tax, and savings from health tax expenditures.

 

Every solution calls for a tax or the closure of a tax loophole none of which can a president do unilaterally. He will need a Republican controlled Congress to do all of these things for him.  Good luck with that.  How will he succeed where President Obama has not, especially with proposals as radical as his? The obstructionist party of “No” will become the party of “Hell, no!”  Even if the Dems take back the Senate, he’s not going to be able to get his agenda through the House. 

He’s been in Congress for 25 years and has sponsored (not co-sponsored or attached amendments to) 353 bills of which three became law.  Three. Think about that.  The forces that permitted him three laws enacted won’t be changing if he gets elected. Clinton only had three bills of 409 sponsored passed into law, but then again, she was in Congress for only eight years. Sanders knows he’s been accused of being ineffectual, and this is how he has responded:

At one recent campaign rally, he insisted that there is “nothing that I am telling you today that is pie-in-the-sky utopia.”

Speaking to NBC’s “Today” program” last week, he said he would do a better job than President Obama of breaking congressional gridlock and getting his agenda passed.

“I will do it differently [than Mr. Obama],” he said. “Because at the end of the day, what they are really upset about is that big money controls what goes on in Congress. And the only way that we change that is when millions of people come forward and demand the government represent all of us and not just the billionaire class.”

Sanders says he will do it differently than Obama.  Again, how?  He has said it will take a revolution.  He’s right, but the revolution can’t come from the top down.  A radical, and I don’t use the word pejoratively, president cannot unilaterally affect the change Sanders so passionately believes in and advocates for.  The only way real change and proposals like Sanders’s can happen is when the people elect revolutionary men and women to the Congress, and just because that person is a Democrat does not mean he or she is revolutionary, by the way.   This takes time, a generation probably, but someone has to light the fuse. Sanders has, and I am grateful for it.  

Our country needs him to shine the light on the darkness of greed and corruption that has infected our political system.  We need someone to advocate for the 99% in a meaningful way.  We need to rethink our values.  We need a person like him to run for president so that his ideas get discussed at the national level even if they don’t get enacted.  This is how change begins.  

But what happens if Sanders wins, and he proves to be an ineffectual, wild-haired socialist who’s just screaming into the void?  What does that do to the revolution? Will it take all the wind out of the revolutionary sails?  I don’t know. But for the country to get where Sanders wants to take us, the electorate must vote out Republicans who gerrymander districts so the most radically conservative of them will never lose an election, vote out Republicans who try to deny voting rights to the poor and to minorities, vote out Republicans who appoint judges who protect the oil, coal, gas, pharmaceutical, and big agra cartels and who permit dark money to infect our democracy.  Some of the Democrats would need to be voted out, too.  

Sanders is a quixotic figure, and I respect the hell out of him.  But, I am a pragmatist, so I will be voting for Clinton, all of her flaws notwithstanding.  I agree with her platform and think that she will be able to make good on some of it.  I agree that her platform is not revolutionary in the way Sanders’s is, but that doesn’t mean she won’t bring her own change for the better on some issues to the country.  In short, while I admire and support Bernie, I will be voting for Hillary.  It’s a start in the right direction.

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