Saturday, January 24, 2009
By MARK STEYN
Orange County Register
January 23, 2009
How dazzling is President Obama? So dazzling that he didn't merely give a dazzling inaugural speech. Any old timeserving hack could do that. Instead, he had the sheer genius to give a flat dull speech full of the usual shopworn boilerplate. Brilliant! At a stroke, he not only gently lowered the expectations of those millions of Americans and billions around the world for whom his triumphant ascendancy is the only thing that gives their drab little lives any meaning, but he also emphasized continuity by placing his own unprecedented incandescent megastar cool squarely within the tradition of squaresville yawneroo white middle-aged plonking mediocrities who came before him.
At a stroke – OK, that's two strokes, like an Italian moped, but that just shows how cosmopolitan he is – anyway, Obama artfully charted a middle course between the Scylla of unmeetable expectations and the Charybdis of his own charisma and chugged instead in the placid rhetorical shallows of "gathering clouds," "raging storms," "icy currents"… In a speech on climate change, this would send the crowd fleeing in terror to hole up in the hills and forage for berries. But, in an inaugural address, this was Obama's most inspired gambit yet. Only a truly great leader would have the courage to reach for the skies in such leaden and earthbound prose.
Oh, well. So much for the consensus of the expert analysts. Meanwhile, The New Yorker put him on the cover dressed as George Washington – a Founding Father for a new America! Disdaining such insulting and belittling comparisons to discredited old slaveowners with bad teeth and wigs even more obvious than that Illinois governor's, the actress-activist Susan Sarandon compared him with Jesus. "He is a community organizer like Jesus was," she said, "and now we're a community and he can organize us." What sort of community should we be? Surveying the "rapt eyes" of the congregation, Ethan Baron, writing in the Vancouver Province, said he hadn't seen anything like it "since a guy I used to work with brought me to visit his weird sex cult in California." And he meant it as a compliment.
But don't worry, the sex isn't gonna be weird or anything. "Oh, yes, yes, yessssssss, we can!" I whimpered, as his smoldering eyes bored deep into the very core of my being and our souls met and I knew he was the only man who would ever win my heart, a heart beating so fast and loud I could barely hear what he was saying – something about executive orders, I think. "Oh, yes, give me one right now!" I cried, as my palpitating bosom burst the ties of my bodice causing my leg to vibrate so much my bustle fell off.
"Aye, you're a comely lass," said Squire Barack, as my tresses tumbled over my stays and his riding crop fluttered teasingly up my thigh. "But I don't need to go a-wenchin' in the White House Press Room…"
"No, please, good sir," I begged, as he glided past me and gave a saucy wink to the chamber maid from The Washington Post…
Sorry, my mind wandered for a minute. Where was I?
Ah, yes. Government. Kind of boring, isn't it? Who's the Defense Secretary? Yawn. Who cares as long as it isn't Bush's guy? What's that? It is Bush's guy? Obama's kept him on?
Heigh-ho. Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter that the new CIA honcho is open-minded on the virtues of waterboarding. Doesn't matter that the new Treasury Secretary who's gonna stick it to those greedy fat cats who don't pay their fair share of taxes is a greedy fat cat who didn't pay his fair share of taxes. If one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble, one night in D.C. makes a cool man boring. But it doesn't matter because Obama's so cool even his boringness is hot.
To mark the inauguration, Ashton Kutcher released a video pledge-a-thon in which various bigtime celebrities, two or three of whom you might even recognize, "pledge to be a servant to our President and to all mankind because together we can, together we are, and together we will be the change that we seek." No doubt it sounds better when Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston are bellowing it as an all-star power ballad. It was when the celebrity O-bots started fleshing out the program that it all got more problematic: One celeb pledges to buy a hybrid. Another pledges to only flush the toilet after a, er …well, let's not get into that. And most of the rest just pledge to support programs to "emphasize the importance of raising the awareness of finding mentors to promote voices to speak out for arts education mentoring in our schools" (as the blogger Iowahawk paraphrased it). It was all very back-to-the-Nineties, a time when Bill Clinton declared that the era of Big Government was over and we seemed on the brink of a golden era of a billion gazillion bits of tiny itsy-bitsy micro-government that cumulatively add up to the biggest government you've ever seen.
And if this were 1993 again that just might do. But it's not, and perhaps the silliest part of the new president's speech was this: "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things."
Sounds nice, doesn't it? Put aside the bitter partisanship, so "childish" and "petty," and we can all be grown up about this and do the things that need to be done. The idea of a politics conducted within less ideological and more technocratic bounds is seductive. It's how things work in much of Europe: You have a choice between a left-of-center candidate and an ever so slightly right-of-left-of-center candidate, and, regardless of which one you plump for, you wind up with the same old smidgeonette right-of-left-of-right-of-left-of-center government. The result has been to deliver a society of permanent high unemployment, unaffordable entitlements and deathbed demographics – even before the economic downturn put more immediate question marks over the future. As Obama was inaugurated, rioters were besieging their parliaments in Iceland, Latvia and Bulgaria, the beginnings of a civil unrest that will spread inward from the fringes of the European map. Unlike Ashton Kutcher, these people are not worried about arts education mentoring.
Ideas are the energy in politics, and on health care, Social Security, war, immigration and much else this country could use more. Instead, the moribund U.S. media – a very good example of what happens when stultifying conformity becomes your be all and end all – are urging us to fall in line: "Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of 'petty grievances,'" reported The Washington Post, "President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support."
Ah, yes. How "petty" these losers are to have concerns about a trillion bucks in spending. Fortunately, Obama will stay cool, though hopefully not in the Icelandic sense.
(Posted: Jan 21, 2009)
Working On A Dream
RS: 5 of 5 Stars
To understand the romantic sweep and swaggering musical ambition that define Bruce Springsteen's first album of the Obama era, you have to go all the way back to an artifact of the Ford administration: 1975's Born to Run. In those days, Springsteen was driving the E Street Band without a seat belt, staying up all night piling on overdubs: glockenspiel, surf guitar, violins, motorcycle noises. With a few exceptions, he's been paring down ever since. But on much of Working on a Dream, Springsteen finally reignites his early infatuation with the pop symphonies of Roy Orbison and Phil Spector. It's all there from the first track, an eight-minute-long, tragicomic Old West fable called "Outlaw Pete," where he does everything short of dragging an actual horse into the studio: There are tempo changes, chugging cellos, Once Upon a Time in the West harmonica wails, massed strings, crescendo after crescendo — and a lyrical closing guitar solo worthy of "Jungleland."
Working on a Dream is the richest of the three great rock albums Springsteen has made this decade with the E Street Band — and moment for moment, song for song, there are more musical surprises than on any Bruce album you could name, from the Chess Records vocal distortion on the bluesy "Good Eye" to the joyous British Invasion pep of "Surprise, Surprise." Producer Brendan O'Brien seems to have shaken something loose in Springsteen, who by the Nineties was so focused on his ever-more-novelistic lyrics that melodies and chord changes could feel like an afterthought. On their last collaboration, 2007's Magic, Springsteen suddenly started writing lush, retro-pop tunes with inventive arrangements ("Girls in Their Summer Clothes" and "Your Own Worst Enemy") — and singing out in an unexpectedly rich, open voice, one that for the first time in decades owed more to Orbison than latter-day influences Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie.
Working picks up where those Magic tunes left off, and then goes further. As much as anyone, Springsteen has mastered the key sounds of rock's golden age, and he deploys them at will on this album, diving deep into influences that he's only hinted at before on record. At least two tracks lean hard on the Byrds — the jagged, sitarlike guitars on "Life Itself" are pure "Eight Miles High," as are the close vocal harmonies on the tough little rocker "What Love Can Do." The twisted pop fantasia "Queen of the Supermarket" — the lonely narrator has an overblown obsession with a checkout girl — has a Sixties AM-radio vibe reminiscent of Manfred Mann's "Pretty Flamingo." And the dreamy, stacked backing vocals on the celestial love tune "This Life" owe as much to the Turtles as they do to Spector.
For all the overdubs on this album, the uptempo songs have a bracing, first-take feel, capturing the E Street Band's elusive live essence — Springsteen's freewheeling Seeger Sessions album may have helped bring that out. Roy Bittan's deliberately sloppy roadhouse piano and Max Weinberg's splattering cymbals make the standout "My Lucky Day" sound like Exile on E Street, with Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt sharing the chorus Mick-and-Keith-style. Springsteen has had trouble writing happy-relationship songs that rock (see Human Touch and Lucky Town), but he nails it on "My Lucky Day," which is as much fun as his best Eighties hits.
The youthful energy of the album's music collides neatly with the all-too-adult truths of the lyrics, which — at least on the surface — return to the personal and domestic, after the global sweep of his last few records. The sunny title track is a rare and timely moment of unabashed optimism, and there are some of Springsteen's least conflicted, most devotional love songs here. But even the title character of "Outlaw Pete" can achieve no more than temporary redemption, and Springsteen wonders on several songs how we can hold on to our attachments — and the best parts of ourselves — in the face of "the burdens of the day . . . the weary hands of time." Some of those tunes recount rough patches in a relationship that could stand in for larger, national issues: "Why do the things we treasure most slip away in time/Till to the music we grow deaf and to God's beauty blind," Springsteen sings on the disquieting "Life Itself," which builds tension with claustrophobic rhythms anchored by Garry Tallent's droning bass. "Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?"
If you don't count the soundtrack tune "The Wrestler," tacked on as a bonus cut, the album ends with "The Last Carnival," a plain-spoken, heart-rending elegy for E Street Band organ player Danny Federici, who died of cancer last year. The tune doubles as a sequel to Springsteen's beloved 1973 song "Wild Billy's Circus Story," in which the romance of the circus stood for life on the road — here, the circus is moving on without Billy. "Sundown, sundown/They're taking all the tents down," Springsteen sings in a choked hush, at the bottom of his range. "Where have you gone, my handsome Billy?" The song ends with a choir of what sounds like Springsteen's and Patti Scialfa's layered voices, vaulting up to infinity: For a fallen comrade, it's one last opera out on the turnpike.
Posted Jan 21, 2009 1:15 PM
The E Street Band are the people who know Bruce Springsteen best, and in his own words, "They are my greatest friendships, my deepest friendships — irreplaceable things." Springsteen started the band in 1972, gave it its official name two years later and recorded some of his most iconic albums — Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Born in the U.S.A. — with them in the 1970s and '80s. In 1989 he decided to venture on alone as a solo artist, breaking up the family for 10 years he refers to now as "a lost period." In 1999 Springsteen reunited the group, and he says the second half of last year's acclaimed, energetic Magic tour was the band "at its best."
David Fricke got close to Bruce Springsteen for his cover story in the new issue (on newsstands now). Here's an intimate look at the musicians who have played by his side for decades — The E Street band — in their own words. Guitarist Steven Van Zandt discusses how Springsteen's songwriting process has changed since the Darkness on the Edge of Town days. Drummer Max Weinberg opens up about taking the stage for his debut show with the E Street Band in 1974. Guitarist Nils Lofgren recalls the nervous moments before Springsteen's first big set at Neil Young's 1986 Bridge School Benefit. And pianist Roy Bittan shares stories about Springsteen's special relationship with Danny Federici, and how the band reads Bruce's body language onstage.
Steven Van Zandt
When I first heard Working on a Dream it made me think of The River crossed with Exile on Main Street, with all of those guitars and the vocal harmonies shooting up in the mix. But on headphones, I could hear all of the little details too, in those guitars, the harmonies and the strings.
I see these records [The Rising, Magic and Working on a Dream] as a trilogy. They make sense together in terms of sound, concept and writing style. The three records have been a projection more toward the pop-rock form — this one more than the other two.
Is Bruce loosening up? It's like he's going back to something he did a long time ago.
Very much so, I think. Every song on Tracks [Springsteen's 1998 box set of outtakes] was a lost argument — I'm not kidding. That is my own personal favorite style of writing. It was extremely frustrating for me to see him suppressing that side of his talent, which he is ridiculously gifted at. He was consciously squashing that.
I'm a pop-rock-band guy. That's all I am. Intellectually, I understood what he was doing. I respected and supported it. But you're throwing away "Restless Nights?" [Laughs] "Loose Ends"? What's wrong with that? I think if you asked him about it now, he could see what I meant. But he wasn't wrong. He was doing it for a specific reason. He had his eye on history. He knew that in order to have a place in history, to be relevant in the truest sense of the word, you must find your own place.
When did you first hear the songs on the new record, before you played on them? Bruce cut the rhythm tracks with that core four: him, Max, Garry and Roy. When do you come in?
It's a different world now, a different process. [Producer] Brendan O'Brien has become his partner, and by the time I get involved now, it's no longer in the early stages of arrangement and discussion. It's been arranged; the stuff is there. You play whatever they have in mind for you, and you add whatever you have as an idea. I think it's probably the way most normal bands record.
Does it still feel organic — like a band?
Yeah, it does. Because now he's self-editing. He's self-arranging with us in mind. It's like writers on a TV show. By the third or fourth year, you know the actors so well that you're writing for them. It's very seamless, effortless. and occasionally we cut something all together. We did that a couple of times for this album.
How different was it on Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River?
It was, "I wrote a song last night. This is how it goes." I got an arranging credit on Darkness, because at that point, he wanted to start tightening things up from the epic nature of Born to Run. And that's up my alley. I'm Mr. Two-and-a-Half Minutes.
How much of that tightening up was a running away from the sudden pop success of Born to Run, from the Time and Newsweek covers in 1975?
That was part of it. I'm not going to psychoanalyze it, but it was the easiest way to gain control of one's own destiny, one's own career, in a funny way — to not be too successful. He knew that we had an advantage over almost everybody live, because we came from that old school: Our job was to make people dance. And if we didn't make people dance, you were fired. You didn't pay the rent. In the early days, we had an apartment together down in Asbury Park. There was no mommy and daddy paying the rent. We had to do the right thing — and that meant making people dance, just like the Stones did, just like the Beatles. That creates an energy — there is no substitute for it. By the time we broke through, forget it — that energy was unstoppable.
I think perhaps Bruce felt, there's always that: "You can do whatever you want, Mr. Music Industry, Mr. Journalist, Mr. Cover-of-Time. We've got something that's mine. We can play live. The records — whatever, we'll get around to it."
There is a sense in the new, rapid turnaround ¬— two E Street albums in just over a year, all of the touring — of time running out, especially with Danny's passing.
That keeps the energy going until it does run out, rather than waiting 'til it does. What you're getting at, though, is something we will have to face: Which is, at what point is it still the band? How many people can be replaced? That remains to be seen. And we'll see what that means, in terms of the communication. Because the communication, the friendship, is where it all begins. That's what makes a band. That's why bands are different than individuals. They communicate something different, by their nature. You are not just communicating music. You are communicating friendship, brotherhood, sisterhood and ultimately your community. It doesn't matter if there's one guy who's a leader. It's a band. You are communicating community, and an individual cannot do that. The way to do is to be. And as long as you are there being, then nothing needs to be said.
How much rehearsal time do you need for a tour now?
There is no getting ready, no advance preparation. We are ready at any moment to do anything. We rehearsed three days for the last tour. [Laughs] I mean, that stuff's all done. It's just "Let's go."
This time, we'll rehearse to learn some of the new songs. We don't even learn the old songs we haven't played for awhile. There are at least four or five guys in the band that know them. And the rest of us pick it up.
Producer Brendan O'Brien said that for The Rising, Magic and the new album, most of the rhythm tracks were cut live by a core four — yourself, Bruce, Garry Tallent and Roy Bittan. That's like a band inside a band.
Rhythm sections typically are. The basic tracks for Born to Run were bass, drums, piano and vocal. But because we've played together for so long, the four of us play like a four-piece power group. Any of those basic tracks on the [new] record — they sound like a record, like you could release them just like that. My son, Jay, who is a drummer, came to the session in New York where we did "Kingdom of Days." He was in the control room. He was amazed at how it sounded like a record as we were playing it. The thousands and thousands of hours we played in live concerts and studio work — it all comes out now. We get a lot of results very quickly.
How much did you see Bruce live before you joined the band?
I never saw Bruce and the E Street Band before I joined them. I went to Seton Hall University, played in a pickup band there — the singer wrote all the songs. He was from the Jersey Shore. He somehow he got a job to open for Bruce and the E Sreet Band at Seton Hall in April of '74. So I played the opening set. But before that, I felt myself getting sick, so I left immediately after. I never saw Bruce.
The only thing I knew about Bruce when I saw the [musicians wanted] ad in the Village Voice was it said he was on Columbia Records. That indicated he was doing better than me. I remember at my audition Bruce asked me if I knew any of his songs. I knew "Sandy" ["4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"]. My guy covered that song. I knew it the way he played it. I'd never heard the record. But I'm a good mimic. I'm good at following people and improvising.
The first time I played with the E Street Band, it was me, Bruce, Clarence [Clemons], Danny [Federici] and Garry. I had never played with a group where everybody was focused on one individual. Every group I'd ever played in was fairly chaotic. Here, there was no doubt where the inspiration is coming from. I'll never forget it. It was the third week of August, 1974. And there was no piano player at that point. It was on a Monday. I came back a week later, and Roy was in the band.
Does playing with the band feel different to you now? There have been changes, additions and losses — Danny's gone now — and there was that long break in the Nineties.
I'm sure it was different when Roy and I joined. It was the E Street Band before me, with [Ernest] "Boom" Carter and Vini Lopez [on drums]. But when a band has been together this long, you expect to see the same people. It takes on an iconic visage. This is the core of the people who have been with Bruce all of these years.
We learned basically through listening. There was a lot of that in the early days. We had this bus — literally a school bus — and we would sit around and listen to the music that we liked, and what Bruce liked. And we talked about what was good about it and what he didn't like about it.
It could be a little thing. In the middle of "The Wanderer" by Dion, there is a drum part by Panama Francis, a brilliant drum part, one of the classics. He plays it on the snare drum. Then in the sax solo, he goes to the cymbal. Bruce got such a kick out of it. Then when Dion goes back to the vocal, you hear the cymbals just shut down [makes a "zip" sound], and Francis goes back to the snare beat. It was those little details that Bruce would point out to me, what he thought was brilliance in drumming.
There was another thing, in another Dion song, "Love Came to Me" . At one moment, one of the background singers goes "Hey, hey!" It's real quiet — you can barely hear it. But to Bruce, that was a perfect moment. In the early days, we always used to talk about these perfect little moments.
You joined the E Street Band in 1984, after it had been going for a decade. How often did you see Bruce and the band before you became a member?
I'm a big fan. I used to buy a ticket and see the band in the '70s and early '80s. When I hit the road in 1968 with my band Grin, we were on kind of the same circuit. Actually, we both did an audition night at Bill Graham's Fillmore West in 1970. He was with Steel Mill. We happened to get the same night. The first time I saw the E Street Band was in 1975. My first solo album came out, and I was playing my first show at the Bottom Line [in New York] as a solo artist. I got into New York a night early to see the last night of the famous stand at the club by Bruce and the E Street Band. Obviously, between 1970 and Steel Mill and 1975 and the E Street Band, it was a huge growth. I was really inspired by it.
What impressed you the most?
You take the material and the intensity of the leader, then you mix it with everyone on board. You get everyone as focused as you, on the intent of the music, the rest is how you navigate it. Bruce is a master at that. It goes beyond doing it well. It becomes a calling. When you mix the love of performing and leading a band with a catalog of songs you can call on, if you keep everyone around you focused with the same commitment for three hours, it's a formidable thing. He had that early on.
Take this last tour, which I think was our best. It went from our normal audible signals to him grabbing 20 or 30 request signs from the audience. The last three months, the set list was useless. It surprised all of us — even Bruce, because I don't think it was that premeditated. It grew into a completely improvised show, but still with the intent of having it grow and explode into this finality of emotion, something Bruce insists on.
When you joined in '84, did Bruce give you an idea of what he was looking for? How verbal was he in what he wanted from you?
Bruce knew I was a bandleader. He'd seen me play. We had a very open dialogue about his specific needs. The one problem was, I got the job four weeks before opening night [of the Born in the U.S.A. tour]. He was a bachelor at the time, and I moved into his house in Rumson [New Jersey]. We'd get up, have a light breakfast, then we'd jog five miles, real easy, through Rumson. Then I'd go up to this little rehearsal room and isolate myself. He gave me a big list of songs to start with, in addition to the new Born in the U.S.A. album, and I had a giant notebook with these different sections: music, instruments, harmony singing, where do I stand. He was always available if I had questions. He'd walk in every once in awhile, give me pointers.
"Here's a harmony you're singing on this song. But you know what? At these two or three points, why don't you come over to my mike and sing them with me center stage?" Or "Here's a song I was thinking of playing guitar on, but I don't want to play guitar. Forget that part you were learning, play mine, and bleed in some of that second part."
Bruce played this great rhythm guitar in "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" on most of the last tour. Then out of the blue, for the last two months, he says, "I don't want to play guitar on this anymore." So I stopped playing my pedal steel part from the record. Bruce said, "Leave that alone and take over my guitar part." He wanted to prowl the front of the stage. He's not only an instrumentalist and the singer. He's gotta navigate the harmony singing and the stage presence.
My impression is he thinks as big as possible. Then when he get there, he goes, "Can I top that?" I remember when me and Danny [Federici] and Bruce did the Bridge School benefit for Neil [Young] in 1986. It was Bruce's first, big acoustic show. We rehearsed in New York — he was feeling a bit nervous, to do something on such a large scale. We had a little show planned, and sure enough, at the last minute, just before we started with our three-piece acoustic set, Bruce said, "I'm gonna just go out and do something by myself. Then you guys come out." That was the wheels turning. As nervous as he might have been, instead of starting with one of the numbers we had down, he goes out and does "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" [from The River] a cappella, snapping his fingers on the mike. Despite his apprehension of the unknown, he challenged himself, and found a way to completely put himself on the spot, in the hardest way possible.
Bruce now records basic tracks for the E Street albums with a core four — himself, you, Max Weinberg and Garry Talent. How does the music feel when you record that way, compared to E Street sessions in the Seventies and Eighties?
Some history first: when we recorded Born to Run, we cut the basic tracks with piano, bass, drums and Bruce. So this is not the first time we have relied on that process, of cutting a basic track and then overdubbing. We strayed from that as we progressed. Darkness on the Edge of Town was cut pretty much with everybody playing.
Today, Bruce has a more specific idea of in his head of what he wants the songs to sound like. It works very efficiently for us to cut a basic track. That gives him all the freedom in the world to add guitar, more guitars, background vocals, strings and anything else that behooves him.
His first allegiance, at this point, is to his songwriting. We do whatever we want to interpret the song when we cut the basics. He does rely on us for that. But as far as sweetening the tracks, he's interested in trying to eke out the song's potential that he hears in his head. Which is evident on this new record. It's almost a little shocking to hear the songs at first, because the album is different than our classic E Street records, which were recorded mostly live.
Are there examples of things you played on the basic tracks of the new album, a little improvisation, that stayed in the arrangements?
"Working on a Dream" — there's a spot in the chorus when he sings "Working on a dream," a little space immediately after that where I go down to the bottom of the piano and do a double hit on the real low end. It seemed to work itself into the final arrangement, almost as a tiny hook.
What do you look for when Bruce is improvising on stage? Are there signals or gestures he makes when he's about to change gears in a song?
The connective architecture of my parts means I often have to play a phrase going into a new section, a phrase that musically pulls us to the next bridge or the chorus. I have to watch and make sure he's going there [laughs]. It can be extremely subtle. You have to read the river. If he's down at the end of the stage, not near the microphone, and you know a new verse is coming up, he may need a couple of measures to get back. Or he may want to go around one more time before he gets back there.
I watch everything. I listen to him. I watch his body English — and certainly watch his arms. He may point to something, and that means we're changing.
As the other keyboard player in the group, how would you describe Danny Federici's role in the E Street Band? What kind of hole did he leave in the music when he died last year? Steven Van Zandt said Danny couldn't tell you the chords to "Born to Run" but always played the right notes.
What Steven said was an exaggeration but not far from the truth [laughs]. Danny would play what he felt. If you asked him in the studio, "Could you play that part again?", I don't know if it would come out exactly the same. If you asked him to replicate something, he would shrug and say, "I'll play it again. I don't know if I can do it the same way." That was the beauty of Danny for me, as the other keyboard player in the group.
Often there is only room for one keyboard player in a group. One of the things that made it work was that Danny was an extremely different player than me. I was more architectural, more about the song form. Danny would just play around — play around me and everybody else. He was like the wind. He would blow in and around everybody else. He was glue, he was excitement. Unfortunately, you don't truly appreciate things until they're gone. We appreciated him, but I think a lot of people didn't realize exactly what he did in the band until it wasn't there. We were always more than the sum of our parts. But when you take one of those parts out, the machine is not working in quite the same way.
Bruce always nicknames band members with a purpose. Danny was Dangerous Dan. Clarence Clemons is the Big Man. How did you become the Professor?
I think it was because I seemed to have a plausible answer for any question that came up, whether it was true or not. [Laughs] I was the answer man.
Not just musically?
Bruce once called me to the back of the bus and said, "Professor, what exactly is E=MC2?" I said. "Well, it's energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, which is 186,000 miles per second." And he said, "Uh, okay."
Behind the Springsteen Cover Shoot: On-the-Set Stories From Photographer Albert Watson
More Bruce Springsteen:
Bruce on the Cover of Rolling Stone: All 13 Photos and Stories
Bruce Springsteen: The Vintage Photographs
Bruce Springsteen Bio, Photos, News Stories, Interviews and More
Friday, January 23, 2009
Michelle Malkin Archive
January 22, 2009
Get this: King of Pork John Murtha, the 19-term Democratic congressman from western Pennsylvania, now wants to welcome a flood of Guantanamo Bay jihadists into his district. I don't want to hear a single word of protestation from the constituents who put this money-grubbing, security-undermining fool back into office. As you vote, so shall you reap.
Murtha audaciously expressed his hope to house Gitmo detainees after President Barack Obama circulated his draft executive order to shut the facility down by the end of the year. "Sure, I'd take 'em," Murtha glibly retorted. "They're no more dangerous in my district than in Guantanamo." Murtha blustered that there was "no reason not to put 'em in prisons in the United States and handle them the way they would handle any other prisoners." [Murtha Says He'd Take Guantanamo Prisoners in His District, By Chad Pergram, FOXNews.com, January 22, 2009]
Before we unpack all that ignorant nonsense, let us pause to illuminate Murtha's motives. He is driven neither by a warped sense of patriotic duty nor by misguided human rights compassion for al-Qaida foot soldiers. No, what fuels him is unabashed greed and a lifelong edifice complex. The money-grubbing Murtha, you see, just can't wait to snatch up federal tax dollars to build a new maximum security prison for the Gitmo gang—no doubt with his name and face plastered all over it. Welcome to the John Murtha Jihadist Correctional Facility.
Forget about the increased risk Murtha would subject his district to by volunteering it as a highly visible terror target. Forget about the disgusting affront this pork grab poses to the families of those who died on United Flight 93—which 9/11 terrorists crashed in Shanksville, Pa., represented by none other than Murtha at the time. There's a shining prison on a hill to be built, and Murtha will sell out his neighbors' safety to make sure it's built on his hill.
Murtha's got logs to roll and wheels to grease. National security is an impediment, not an imperative. Would you expect anything less from the shameless politician caught on tape in the 1980s Abscam congressional bribery scandal mulling payoffs from FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks? ("How much money we talking about," Murtha asked one of the bagmen. "You know, we do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested, maybe I won't.")
Murtha's contempt for the people he serves should surprise no one. This is the man who called his own voters "rednecks" and who has refused to back down from his smears of the exonerated Marines who served in Haditha, Iraq, as "cold-blooded" murderers. This is the man who denies that we are combating al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq. This is the man who lives in a fantasy world where re-deploying American soldiers to Okinawa is a viable defense plan.
Murtha can't see any reason for keeping Gitmo detainees from flooding our regular prisons and preventing them from exploiting our civilian court system, because he is willfully blind and stone stupid.
John Murtha, meet Lynne Stewart. She's the disgraced lawyer convicted last year of abetting her terrorist client—1993 World Trade Center bombing/NY landmark bombing mastermind Omar Abdel-Rahman. Stewart helped smuggle coded messages of Islamic violence from the imprisoned sheik to outside followers in violation of an explicit pledge to abide by her client's court-ordered isolation.
While Rahman's court-appointed translator conveyed the message during prison visits, Stewart made "covering noises," including shaking a water jar and tapping on the table. A draft fatwa was discovered in Stewart's office; she also signaled Rahman's wishes to his jihadist organization in an interview with Reuters news service. The publication of those comments ushered in a new wave of bombing attacks by Rahman's previously dormant terrorist outfit. The left-wing radical Stewart remains unrepentant and clings to her belief that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an "armed struggle."
Now, imagine a traitorous bleeding-heart Stewart assigned to each and every one of the 250-odd Gitmo detainees. Imagine the risk of similar jailhouse collaborations to innocent men, women and children at home and abroad. Imagine the three-ring, O.J.-like circuses these trials will bring to your backyards. It's easy if you try.
Prosecuting suspected terrorists like petty thieves or drug dealers is fraught with peril. The Democrats have learned nothing from the failed law enforcement strategies of the feckless Clinton era. Confiscated al-Qaida training manuals have revealed that recruits are instructed in how to manipulate the Western legal system if they are captured.
Affording accused al-Qaida operatives the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial threatens to compromise classified information necessary to prosecute future terrorist trials. Other rights guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment—the right to subpoena witnesses and compel them to testify, the right to an attorney—can interfere with interrogations of captured suspected al-Qaida agents. And while the lives of those directly involved in, say, a mob trial might be endangered, the entire nation may be at risk if we allow suspected members of a terrorist network to engage in the discovery process and in privileged communications with attorney-abettors.
Who will be accountable when these prosecutions run amok? When convicted jihadists wreak bloody havoc from behind bars? And when Gitmo recidivists wage war anew once released?
John Murtha doesn't give a damn. Do you?
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
Michelle Malkin [email her] is author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s review. Click here for Michelle Malkin's website. Michelle Malkin's latest book is Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Hollywood is kicking off 2009 with a monumental deception: Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour Spanish-language epic Che, rendering a sadistic Marxist killer as, according to the New York Times, a “true revolutionary through the stations of his martyrdom.” The word “stations” suggests the adoration of Christ in the Stations of the Cross. The movie’s protagonist, Benicio del Toro, does indeed compare “the Cuban Revolution hero Ernesto Guevara” with Jesus Christ.
Soderbergh’s Che is a fiction once created by the KGB community, including my Romanian espionage service, the DIE, and at that time that placed me squarely in the picture. The real Che was an assassin who presided over communist firing squads and founded Cuba’s ghastly gulag system. He was also a coward who called upon others to fight to the death for the communist cause and sent to the scaffold hundreds who did not do that, yet he surrendered himself to the Bolivian army without a fight even though he was armed to the teeth. “Don’t kill me,” Che begged his captors. “I am worth more to you alive than dead.” Soderbergh’s movie omitted this part—it would have demolished his Che.
I could write a book on how the terrorist Che was built into an inspiring leftist idol—like a beautiful monarch butterfly emerging from a disgusting caterpillar—and someday I may well do so. For now, here is a summary of how the KGB community created its fictional Che.
In the 1960s, the Soviet bloc’s popularity stood at an all-time low. The Soviets’ brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and their instigation of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis disgusted the world, and every bloc ruler tried to save face in his own way. Khrushchev replaced the “immutable” Marxist-Leninist theory of the world proletarian revolution with a policy of peaceful coexistence, and pretended to be an advocate for peace. Dubcek gambled on a “socialism with a human face” and Gomulka on “Let Poland be Poland.” Ceausescu announced his “independence” from Moscow and portrayed himself as a “maverick” among communist leaders.
The Castro brothers, who feared any liberalization, decided to just plaster a romantic revolutionary façade over their disastrous communism, which was starving the country. They chose Che as poster-boy, because he had been executed in Bolivia, at that time a U.S. ally, and could be portrayed as a martyr of American imperialism.
“Operation Che” was launched to the world by the book Revolution in the Revolution, a primer for communist guerrilla insurrection written by French terrorist Régis Debray, which praised Che to the skies. Debray dedicated his life to exporting Cuban-style revolution throughout Latin America, but in 1967 a Bolivian special forces unit trained by the U.S. captured him, along with Che’s entire guerrilla band.
Che was sentenced to death and executed for terrorism and mass murder. Debray was sentenced to 30 years in jail, but he was released after three years following the intervention of French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, a communist romantically involved with the KGB, who was also the ideologue of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist band. Sartre proclaimed Guevara “the most complete human being of our times.” In 1972 Debray returned to France, where he served as adviser for Latin America to French president François Mitterrand, and he dedicated the rest of his life to spreading hatred against the United States.
In 1970, the Castro brothers shifted Che’s sanctification into high gear. Alberto Korda, a Cuban intelligence officer working undercover as a photographer for the Cuban newspaper Revolución, produced a romanticized picture of Che. That now-famous Che, wearing long, curly locks of hair and a revolutionary beret with a star on it, and looking straight into the viewer’s eyes, is the logo advertising Soderbergh’s movie.
It is noteworthy that this picture of Che was introduced to the world by a KGB operative working undercover as a writer—I. Lavretsky, in a book entitled Ernesto Che Guevara, which was edited by the KGB. The KGB entitled the picture “Guerrillero Heroico” and disseminated it throughout South America—Cuba’s area of influence. Italian millionaire publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, another communist romantically involved with the KGB, flooded the rest of world with Che’s picture printed on posters and T-shirts. Feltrinelli became a terrorist himself, and he was killed in 1972 while planting a bomb outside Milan.
I first heard Che’s name in 1959 from General Aleksandr Sakharovsky, the former chief Soviet intelligence adviser to Romania, who afterwards directed Castro’s “revolution” and was rewarded by being promoted to head the almighty Soviet foreign intelligence organization, a position he held for fifteen years. He landed in Bucharest with his boss, Nikita Khrushchev, for consultations on West Berlin and “our Cuban Gayane.” Gayane was the overall code name of the operation for Sovietizing Eastern Europe.
At that time, the Soviet party bureaucracy believed that Fidel Castro was just an adventurer, and it was reluctant to endorse him. But Sakharovsky had been impressed by the devotion to communism of Fidel’s brother Raúl and of his lieutenant, Ernesto Guevara, and he made them the main protagonists in “our Cuban Gayane.” The two were brought black to Moscow to be indoctrinated and trained, and were given a KGB adviser.
Returned to the Sierra Maestra, Che proved to be a real, cold-blooded assassin in the mold of the KGB—which killed over 20 million people in the Soviet Union alone. “I fired a .32 caliber bullet into the right hemisphere of his brain that came out through his temple,” Che wrote in his diary, describing the execution of Eutimio Guerra, a “traitor of the Revolution” whom he shot in February 1957. Guerra was the seventh person Che had killed. “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is not necessary,” he explained. “These procedures are archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolution must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.”
On January 1st, 1959, the “Cuban Gayane” succeeded, and the KGB charged Che to cleanse the whole Cuba of “anti-revolutionaries.” Thousands were sent to “el paredón” (the wall) and shot. Javier Arzuaga, who was chaplain at La Cabaña prison in early 1959, wrote in his book, Cuba 1959: La Galeria de la Muerte, that he had witnessed “the criminal Che” ordering the execution of some two hundred innocent Cubans. “I pleaded many times with Che on behalf of prisoners. I remember especially the case of Ariel Lima, a young boy who was only 16 years old. Che did not budge. I became so traumatized that at the end of May 1959 I was ordered to leave the parish Casa Blanca, where La Cabaña was located. … I went to Mexico for treatment.”
According to Arzuaga, Che last words to him were: “When we take our masks off, we will be enemies.” It is now time to take off Che’s smiling mask and reveal his true face. The Cuban Memorial displayed at Tamiami Park in Miami, Florida contains hundreds of crosses, each bearing the name of an identified victim of Raúl’s and Che’s communist terror.
It is also time to stop the fifty-year-long lie, reinforced by Soderbergh’s movie, that the Castro brothers and their hangman Che were independent nationalists. In 1972 I attended a six-hour public speech in which Fidel preached the same lie. The next day I went ocean fishing with Raúl. The other guest on the fishing boat was a Soviet who introduced himself as Nikolay Sergeyevich. “That's Colonel Leonov,” Sergio del Valle, my Cuban counterpart, whispered into my ear. Earlier he had identified Leonov to me as Raúl’s and Che’s KGB adviser in the 1950s and 1960s. There, on that boat, it hit me more clearly than ever before or since that the KGB was holding the reins of the Castros’ revolutionary wagon. Ten years later, Nikolay Leonov was rewarded for his handling of Raúl and Che by being promoted general and deputy chairman of the whole KGB.
In the 1970s, the KGB was a state within the state. Today the KGB, rebaptized FSB, is the state in Russia, and Soderbergh’s Che is manna from heaven for its Latin American surrogates. A couple of months ago two Kremlin’s puppets, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, expelled on the same day the U.S. ambassadors to their countries. Thousands of people carrying the portrait of Soderbergh’s Che took to the streets calling for Russian military protection. Russian military ships are now back in Cuba—and newly in Venezuela—for the first time since the Cuban missile crisis.
“Deception works like cocaine,” Yury Andropov, the father of contemporary Russia’s era of deception, used to tell me when he was KGB chairman. Then he would explain. “If you sniff it once or twice, it may not change your life. If you use it day after day, though, it will make you into an addict, a different man.” Mao put it his own way: “A lie repeated a hundred times becomes the truth.” Soderbergh’s movie on Che is proving both correct.
 A. O. Scott, “Saluting the Rebel Underneath the T-Shirt,” The New York Times, December 12, 2008.
 Guillermo I. Martínez, “Guevara biopic belies his ruthlessness,” The Sun Sentinel, January 1, 2009, p. 13A.
 I. Lavretsky, “Ernesto Che Guevara, “Progress Publishers, 1976, ASIN B000B9V7AW, p. 5. Initially published in Russian in 1973.
 Matthew Campbell, “Behind Che Guevara mask, the cold executioner,”The Sunday Times, September 16, 2007.
 Mark Goldblath, “Revenge of Che: no amount of Hollywood puferry will change the fact that commies aen’t cool,” The Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2008.
- Lt. Gen. Pacepa is the highest-ranking intelligence official ever to have defected from the Soviet bloc. His newest book is Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
The American Spectator
A few days ago, I went to see Defiance, a fine movie about Jewish resistance fighters in the forests of Eastern Europe under Nazi occupation during World War II. To put it mildly, the movie was mind-bogglingly depressing and upsetting. The suffering, misery, and terror of these people, my blood, was almost beyond belief.
But the movie served a purpose. As I left the theater, I knelt on the pavement of the parking lot to thank God for letting me be in 2009 America instead of 1941 Byelorussia.
Yes, I know we are having a serious recession. I am still grateful to the point of dizziness to be in America. Yes, I know I have been through a harrowing year with the stock market in 2008. It is nothing, not even a pimple, compared with what those people suffered. Not even to be mentioned.
The day to day glory of living in a free society under law, the truth that in this country the law protects my life instead of taking my life -- these are dazzling despite the daily cascade of grim economic tidings.
When I got home after watching Defiance, I bowed my head and thanked God for every man and woman in the United States, British, and Russian and Australian and Canadian and New Zealand armed forces who fought the Nazis. For their families and their communities.
Nothing, nothing, nothing on this planet compares with living in a free country.
Yes, it's great that we have our first African-American President. Yes, the media treats him like a movie star. But the real stars fought the SS in the Huertgen Forest, the Japanese at Midway, and are now fighting the terrorists in places that are not even on maps. They will never get serenaded on national TV and no one will care where their kids went to school and there won't be any commemorative dinner plates about them sold on TV. But they are the real stars, not the politicians.
Good luck to President Obama. I hope we get the economy straightened out soon and decent people get back to work. But however long it takes, I am going to be very, very grateful for a good long while. My ancestors made many wrong decisions, but they made one perfect one: to come to America. We are so lucky to be here it's insane.
Film fudges several facts
By Cathy Schultz
The Joliet Herald News
January 22, 2009
Jamie Bell (left) portrays Assael Bielski and Daniel Craig portrays Tuvia Bielski in a scene from the film "Defiance."
The theme of Defiance, the new World War II-era film starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, is crystallized in an exchange early in the film, when a Russian scoffs, "Jews do not fight." The response: "These Jews do."
Defiance is not your typical Holocaust film. While there are fleeting scenes of Nazi atrocities, the story focuses squarely on those Jews who escaped the German dragnet and fought back. It is based on the true story of the Bielski brothers, who led hundreds of Jews into hiding in the forests of Nazi-occupied Belarus and managed to keep them alive there for years.
But, like most historical films, Defiance, while sticking to the broad historical outline, tends to fudge some of the details. Here's a guide to separate the fact from the fiction.
Q. Tuvia and Zus Bielski are heroic figures in the film, though they don't always get along. Is this accurate?
A. Yes, mostly. Both Tuvia (Craig) and Zus (Schreiber) were imposing men, who even before the war had reputations for meeting any slight with an aggressive response. They commanded respect from the Jews who followed them, as well as the Soviet partisans who often fought alongside them. And it is largely true that Tuvia focused more on saving Jewish lives, while Zus yearned to exact revenge on the Nazis.
But the film takes some liberty with their relationship. The sibling rivalry is exaggerated, and most accounts say that both Zus and Asael (played by Jamie Bell) unquestioningly deferred to their older brother, Tuvia, remembered as the most impressive leader of the three. And though the film suggests Asael was much younger than the other two, he was actually only two years younger than Tuvia, while Zus was four years younger.
Q. Why didn't more Jews escape like the Bielskis did?
A. The Bielski brothers grew up in an isolated rural area in Belarus, near huge forests where they spent many days of their childhood. They were uniquely suited not only to surviving in the forest for years but, more significantly, sheltering hundreds of others there as well.
But most European Jews had nowhere similar to hide, and as the Nazi noose tightened around them in the early years of the war, heartbreakingly few were able to find escape to such a deserted place, or to find friendly Christians willing to risk their lives to aid them.
Q. In the film, Tuvia kills a policeman responsible for his parents' arrest, but is emotionally conflicted about it. True?
A. The killing is true. The emotional distress? Not so much. Tuvia and his brothers were fearsome fighters and targeted a number of Nazi collaborators, often executing their entire families. The Bielskis wanted to send a message loud and clear: targeting Jews would bring gruesome reprisals.
Q. Did the Bielskis really sneak into the heavily guarded Jewish ghettos to rescue people?
A. They did. In Eastern Europe, the Nazis didn't immediately send Jews to concentration camps. Instead, they created walled-off ghettos in each city, where Jews were forced to work as slave laborers and kept in terror by frequent executions. Until the ghettos were liquidated, the Bielskis organized numerous forays inside to rescue people and guide them to their camp in the forest. It was a particularly daring act since the Bielski brothers each had a heavy price on his head.
Q. The Soviet partisan fighters are unfriendly and unhelpful to the Jews in the film. Was that true?
A. Yes and no. The Bielski group actually worked fairly closely with the Soviet partisans, though the film implies otherwise. While initially met with some suspicion by the Soviet guerrilla fighters (who displayed a fair bit of anti-Semitism themselves), Tuvia was masterful in dealing with Soviet partisan leaders, downplaying his group's all-Jewish identity and exaggerating their pro-Communist sentiments. He also proved his group's worth with frequent acts of sabotage against the Nazis.
Q. Did Zus leave his brothers to join the partisans?
A. It makes for good dramatic tension, but it didn't happen. The Bielski brothers stayed together until the last few months of Nazi occupation, at which time Moscow took direct control of the partisan fighters and ordered Zus and Asael into separate partisan units.
Q. So how did the group get all the food they needed?
A. The film's a bit vague on this, but it primarily came from farms and homes bordering the forest. Sometimes it was given freely by friendly neighbors. At other times, the Bielskis traded valuables for food and weapons. But the typical Bielski method (shared by all the Soviet partisan fighters) was to simply demand food from peasants at gunpoint.
Q. The film shows some pretty dramatic battles between the Bielski group and Nazi soldiers. Did those occur?
A. Those scenes are emotionally satisfying, but somewhat exaggerated. The Bielskis had guns, of course, and used them. But dramatic shoot-outs between the Nazis and the Jewish partisans were rare.
The real heroism of the Bielskis lies not primarily in their willingness to wreak revenge on the Nazis (other Jewish and Russian partisan groups did that as well). The Bielskis stand out more for their unique work in rescuing and protecting other Jews -- including those too old or weak to fight -- from an almost certain death. "It is better to save one Jew than to kill 10 Nazis," says Daniel Craig's Tuvia, echoing the real-life Tuvia.
This attitude resulted in the rescue and survival of more than 1,000 Jews under their watch. Today the descendants of those survivors number in the tens of thousands. The Bielskis' heroism is a significant story, and worthy of an exciting film. And if a little creative license was used to tell the tale, well, this historian, for one, doesn't mind.
Cathy Schultz is a history professor at the University of St. Francis and writes a syndicated column on historical films. You can reach her at email@example.com.
January 21, 2009
The body of controversial filmmaker and newspaper columnist Theo van Gogh lies under a white sheet after being shot and stabbed to death in Amsterdam in this November 2, 2004 file photo.(Reuters)
Last year, The New York Times ran a story (front page, above the fold, gosh) on my troubles with the Canadian "thought police", at the end of which I'm quoted as follows:
Western governments are becoming increasingly comfortable with the regulation of opinion. The First Amendment really does distinguish the U.S., not just from Canada but from the rest of the Western world.
The latest jurisdiction to get way too "comfortable with the regulation of opinion" is the Netherlands. As Andrew noted below, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal has ordered prosecutors to put the politician and film-maker Geert Wilders on trial for "making anti-Islamic statements".
The Dutch, like the Canadians, think they can maintain social peace by shriveling the bounds of public discourse and bringing what little remains under state regulation. But one notices that the coercive urge, which comes so naturally to Euro-progressives, only goes in one direction. The Swedish Chancellor of Justice shuts down the investigation into the Grand Mosque of Stockholm for selling tapes urging believers to kill "the brothers of pigs and apes" (ie, Jews) because that's simply "the everyday climate in the rhetoric". The masked men marching through the streets of London with placards threatening to rain down another 9/11 on the infidels are protected by a phalanx of Metropolitan Police officers. The PC nellies of the Canadian "Human Rights" Commission, happy to hound the last neo-Nazi in Saskatchewan posting to the Internet from his mum's basement, won't go anywhere near Abou Hammaad Sulaiman Dameus al-Hayitia, the big-time Montreal imam whose book says infidels are "evil people", Jews "spread corruption and chaos", and homosexuals should be "exterminated".
Instead, the state's response to explicit Islamic intimidation is to punish those foolish enough to point out that intimidation. You don't have to be as intemperate as Minheer Wilders can sometimes be: In the Netherlands even the most innocuous statement can get you into trouble. To express his disgust at Theo van Gogh's murder, the artist Chris Ripke put up a mural outside his studio showing an angel and the words "Thou shalt not kill". But the cops thought this was somehow a dig at the local mosque and so came round, destroyed the mural, arrested the TV news crew filming it, and wiped their tape. The Dutch have determined to commit societal euthanasia, and dislike fellows pointing out it might not be as painless as they've assumed.
01/21 09:54 PM
January 21, 2009
U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle attend the Southern Regional Inaugural Ball in Washington, January 20, 2009. Obama took power as the first black U.S. president on Tuesday and quickly turned the page on the Bush years, urging Americans to rally to end the worst economic crisis in generations and repair the U.S. image abroad.(Reuters)
It will not be easy for President B. Hussein Obama. More than half the country voted for him, and yet our newspapers are brimming with snippy remarks at every little aspect of his inauguration.
Here's a small sampling of the churlishness in just The New York Times:
-- The American public is bemused by the tasteless show-biz extravaganza surrounding Barack Obama's inauguration today.
-- There is something to be said for some showiness in an inauguration. But one felt discomfited all the same.
-- This is an inauguration, not a coronation.
-- Is there a parallel between Mrs. Obama's jewel-toned outfit and somebody else's glass slippers? Why limousines and not shank's mare?
It is still unclear whether we are supposed to shout "Whoopee!" or "Shame!" about the new elegance the Obamas are bringing to Washington.
Boy, talk about raining on somebody's parade! These were not, of course, comments about the inauguration of the angel Obama; they are (slightly edited) comments about the inauguration of another historic president, Ronald Reagan, in January 1981.
Obama's inaugural address tracked much of Reagan's first inaugural address -- minus the substance -- the main difference being that Obama did not invoke God as stoutly or frequently, restricting his heavenly references to a few liberal focus-grouped phrases, such as "God-given" and "God's grace."
Obama was also not as fulsome in his praise of his predecessor as Reagan was. To appreciate how remarkable this is, recall that Reagan's predecessor was Jimmy Carter.
Under Carter, more than 50 Americans were held hostage by a two-bit terrorist Iranian regime for 444 days -- released the day of Reagan's inauguration. Under Bush, there has not been another terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001.
But I gather that if Obama had uttered anything more than the briefest allusion to Bush, that would have provoked yet more booing from the Hope-and-Change crowd, which moments earlier had showered Bush with boos when he walked onto the stage. That must be the new tone we've been hearing so much about.
So maybe liberals can stop acting as if the entire nation could at last come together in a "unity of purpose" if only conservatives would stop fomenting "conflict and discord" -- as Obama suggested in his inaugural address. We're not the ones who booed a departing president.
It is a liberal trope to insult conservatives by asking them meaningless questions, such as the one repeatedly asked of Bush throughout his presidency about whether he had made any mistakes. All humans make mistakes -- what is the point of that question other than to give insult?
When will the first reporter ask President Obama to admit that he has made mistakes? Try: Never.
No, that question will disappear for the next four years. It will be replaced by the new question for conservatives on every liberal's lips these days: Do you want Obama to succeed as president?
Answer: Of course we do. We live here, too.
But merely to ask the question is to imply that the 60 million Americans who did not vote for Obama are being unpatriotic if they do not wholeheartedly endorse his liberal agenda.
I guess it depends on the meaning of "succeed." If Obama "succeeds" in pushing through big-government, terrorist-appeasing policies, he will not have "succeeded" at being a good president. If we didn't think conservative principles of small government and strong national defense weren't better for the country, we wouldn't be conservatives.
And why was that question never asked of liberals producing assassination books and movies about President Bush for the last eight years?
Say, did liberals want Pastor Rick Warren to succeed delivering a meaningful invocation at the inaugural?
The way I remember it, the Hope-and-Change crowd viciously denounced the Christian pastor, stamped their feet and demanded that Obama withdraw the invitation -- all because Rick Warren agrees with Obama's stated position on gay marriage, which also happens to be the position of a vast majority of Americans every time they have been allowed to vote on the matter.
Liberals always have to play the victim, acting as if they merely want to bring the nation together in hope and unity in the face of petulant, stick-in-the-mud conservatives. Meanwhile, they are the ones booing, heckling and publicly fantasizing about the assassination of those who disagree with them on policy matters.
Hope and unity, apparently, can only be achieved if conservatives would just go away -- and perhaps have the decency to kill themselves.
Republicans are not the ones who need to be told that "the time has come to set aside childish things" -- as Obama said of his own assumption of the presidency. Remember? We're the ones who managed to gaze upon Carter at the conclusion of his abomination of a presidency without booing.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Jeff Spevak • Staff music critic • January 20, 2009
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Working on a Dream by Bruce Springsteen won't be out for another week, yet few musicians have ever found themselves in the right place, in the right time, so often.
A week ago, he won a Golden Globe for one song on the record, "The Wrestler," which plays over the closing credits of the acclaimed Mickey Rourke film. When the album debuts next Tuesday, "My Lucky Day" will be released to radio as a single and will be on a new version of the video game Guitar Hero World Tour, alongside Springsteen's classic guitar-rebel anthem "Born to Run." The following week, he plays halftime at the Super Bowl; then the week after that, he has two nominations for consideration at the Grammy Awards.
But in what he may consider the biggest win of his artistic career, considering how hard he's fought for change in the past two presidential elections, Springsteen is a vital piece in the soundtrack for the history that's happening today in Washington, D.C., with several appearances — including Sunday's "We Are One" all-star concert at the Lincoln Memorial — at the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Springsteen's political involvement is often subtle. On tour, he generally names local humanitarian charities to benefit from the show. When Springsteen was at the Blue Cross Arena in March, he picked Foodlink and Rochester Roots, a group that promotes urban gardens. On the national stage, Springsteen campaigned for John Kerry in 2004. Kerry lost, but Springsteen came out of the experience with one superb song. "Last to Die" evoked Kerry's testimony as a Vietnam soldier before Congress, and applied it to Iraq: "Who'll be the last to die for a mistake?" He campaigned just as diligently for Obama last year, and came out of the experience with an album's worth of attitude.
That attitude, as reflected throughout Working on a Dream, is hope. Sometimes wistful, sometimes hidden, sometimes confident, but always irrepressible. Exuberant, even in the dark. "I'm working on a dream, though it can feel so far away," he sings. Yet amid the painterly detail, worldly observation, gruffness of voice, raw blues, lush strings and chiming guitar beauty that is Working on a Dream, one sound may come to define Bruce Springsteen's new album: the happy-go-lucky whistle on the title track. Like a man hard at work at a task that he knows he will successfully accomplish.
This upbeat frame of mind was evident last year as Springsteen toured in support of his previous album, Magic. At his Blue Cross Arena show, sadness and cynicism heard on songs like "Last to Die" and "Magic" — which Springsteen dedicated to an end to seven years of illusion by the Bush administration — was eclipsed by the shining, upbeat qualities of "The Promised Land," "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" and "Livin' in the Future," introducing that final one with a subtle nod to Obama: "I feel a new wind out there!"
True, it's been a long campaign. So thankfully, there's not one political comment to be heard on Working on a Dream, unless you're willing to spin a line from the opening track, the hallucinogenic eight-minute-western epic "Outlaw Pete," in which a dying man whispers in Pete's ear, "We cannot undo these things we've done."
Each piece cries out for its own detail. To that end, there are songs here unlike any other Springsteen song. "Outlaw Pete," for sure. Its lush strings, chiming guitar and what sounds like a sanctuary-filling pump organ contrast with the rough-hewn Western tale, harmonica wail and Springsteen's gruff voice, sometimes soaring imploringly, "Can you hear me?"
Bruce Springsteen (R) holds his Golden Globe award for Best Song 'The Wrestler' in the film 'The Wrestler' with Mickey Rourke, holding his award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama for 'The Wrestler', at the 66th annual Golden Globe awards in Beverly Hills, California January 11, 2009.
Working on a Dream is both the hugeness of rock and roll, and the intimacy. Lines like "My jacket around your shoulders, the falling leaves," from "Kingdom of Days." Accompanied only by acoustic guitar, the bonus track "The Wrestler" is less a nod to the movie than the tragic-comedy of a man sensing his own decline. "Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nuthin' but dust and weeds? If you've ever seen that scarecrow, then you've seen me."
So many elements Springsteen taps into are the same qualities I admire in other artists. Springsteen explores the roots of rock, but not Woody Guthrie's roots. This is newer growth. Songs like "This Life," "Kingdom of Days" and "Surprise Surprise" share the soaring, Left Banke quality of Magic's finest moment, "Girls in Their Summer Clothes." The raw, distorted electric blues, with clattering banjo, whoops and harmonica of "Good Eye" will feel familiar to fans of the late R.L. Burnside and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Poetic philosophy distilled to brilliant lasers on "Life Itself" — "Why do the things that we treasure most, slip away in time, till to the music we grow deaf, to God's beauty blind" — seems like something from Bruce Cockburn.
Yet Springsteen's largest talent as a songwriter remains his Everyman's eye. "There's a wonderful world where all you desire, and everything you've longed for is at your fingertips," he sings. Springsteen is referring to, of course, the grocery store. "Though a company cap covers her hair, nothing can hide the beauty waiting there," he says of "The Queen of the Supermarket."
A fantasy glance of romance exchanged with the mystery woman who scans his vegetables at the check-out counter. Who knew the end of the line at Wegmans holds such potential? How sad it is that Barack Obama, who will likely not be buying any of his groceries for at least the next four years, will not experience this kind of fleeting, yet cloaked euphoria that brings Springsteen — pushing his shopping cart — to unload an f-bomb of exuberance in the parking lot.
Springsteen's ‘Dream’ world
By Jeff Miers
THE BUFFALO NEWS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Updated: 01/20/09 03:08 PM
Once again working with producer Brendan O’Brien (“Magic,” “Devils & Dust” and “The Rising”), Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band craft gorgeous pop arrangements on “Working on a Dream.”
Bill Wippert / Buffalo News file photo
With 2007’s “Magic,” Bruce Springsteen offered his darkest album this side of the folk-noir 1982 masterpiece “Nebraska.”
That earlier record took as its thematic material the dissolution of community and the gap between the haves and the have-nots, one which was rapidly turning into a canyon during Ronald Reagan’s watch. “Nebraska” was disturbingly intimate, and its characters spoke in the language of ghosts.
“Magic” traded “Nebraska’s” tremor of alienation for a howl of righteous anger. The record offered a final word on the Bush administration, feeling no need to wait for history to determine the legacy of the 43rd president. The acoustic “Nebraska” sketched in blood a portrait of one American man come untethered from all that might redeem him; “Magic” engaged the broad, bold E Street Band sound in order to suggest that the entire country had lost its moral and spiritual epicenter.
Together, “Nebraska” and “Magic” ably bookend the birth and growth of Springsteen’s political and social songwriting conscience, and reveal his own conception of American literature and song.
“Working on a Dream,” out next Tuesday, is not as existentially bleak as “Nebraska,” nor as viscerally disgusted as “Magic.” It is a far more subtle work of art than both, on the lyrical front. It’s also the most intricate, musical and lushly arranged album of Springsteen’s career. For perhaps the first time in the 36 years Springsteen has been releasing albums, the melodies are more important than the lyrics.
That’s not to suggest that “Dream” is light on the text. Far from it, in fact; these lyrics are at once familiar in their imagery, and surprising in their ability to breathe new life into the notion of what constitutes a “love song.”
“Working on a Dream” is a celebration of Springsteen’s love for the sort of pop melodies that informed Roy Orbison’s finest work, rode the highest waves throughout Brian Wilson’s mini-symphonies, and lent a romantic grandeur and sense of mystery to the most magical of Elvis Presley’s recordings.
A tall order indeed, particularly when one considers that Springsteen is making pop music that refuses to assume the listener is a moron. That’s as rare and beautiful a thing these days as crisp, clean air. “Dream” is a pop pleasure delivered sans guilt.
If R. E. M. hadn’t already used it, “Reckoning” would have been an apt title for “Dream.” It is an album of songs about dealing with the past, which in Springsteen lore, is never actually the past at all, but an ever-present challenge to be surmounted daily. This is not a new theme for him, but the manner in which he deals with it here — sparsely, economically, with a simple poetry — feels new. As has been the case with all of Springsteen’s greatest work, personal and individual concerns mirror events of a universal nature throughout “Dream.”
A smooth ride
The record begins with its biggest challenge, the epic rock-Western “Outlaw Pete,” an eight-plus minute mini-novel that echoes John Ford, Cormac McCarthy and Ennio Morricone in equal measure.
“Pete” is as far as “Dream” will venture from transcendent pop music. It’s knotty and grandiose, part American tall tale, part dark fable. Musically, its forbears are found in pre-“Born to Run” Bruce pieces, a la “Mary Queen of Arkansas” or “Incident on 57th Street,” although its closest relative is the noir-Western “Gypsy Biker,” one of “Magic’s” most intense songs. Here, the characters wrestle with who they are, try to outrun their pasts, and predictably, are unable to do so. Their fatal flaw? A failure to take reckoning of their own pasts. You see where this is going: Springsteen is suggesting that, even as it faces a new dawn, America needs to come clean with itself about who and what it is if it wants to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Part of “Outlaw Pete’s” magic can be attributed to its multiple levels of suggestion. One can ignore the deeper implications if one wishes, and the song still works. That is a tough gig for a songwriter.
From there on out, “Dream” is a smooth ride, at least on the surface. Once again working with producer Brendan O’Brien, who helmed “Magic,” “Devils & Dust” and “The Rising,” Springsteen and the E Street Band craft gorgeous, billowing, orchestral pop arrangements, ones that reward repeated close listenings. The music breathes easily and moves gracefully, without a wasted note, yearning vocal harmonies echoing Byrds, Beach Boys and Turtles alike, but Orbison’s heartbreaking pop-opera most of all.
It rocks, too, particularly “My Lucky Day,” a “River”-style throwdown that is pure grandiose garage rock. Later, the swampy blues strut “Good Eye” echoes John Lee Hooker, and was most likely born from the radically rearranged take on “Reason to Believe” Springsteen and the band performed throughout the “Magic” tour. These songs are smartly placed in the running order, providing stirring contrast to the harmony-laden brilliance of their housemates.
The other siblings are the ones that deserve most of our attention, however, and they’re quite the little family. “Queen of the Supermarket” is constructed around a lilting Roy Bittan piano figure, but builds and builds toward symphonic bliss, with Springsteen’s lead vocal gaining intensity as guitars, keyboards, percussion, harmony vocals and a stirring string arrangement swirl around it. All of this leads to an operatic crescendo, Springsteen nailing high notes that might surprise some who’ve pegged him as merely a gruff growler or mush-mouthed folkie. The song then drifts away in a cloud of strings and backward sound effects in waltz time, like the tail of a “White Album”-era Beatles song.
The big payoff
“This Life” begins as a straight-up “Pet Sounds” tribute, but soon presents one of the most killer melodies in the Springsteen canon. Again, the arrangement is richly detailed. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a country-folk shuffle with poignant lyrics on life and loss, and is probably the most “traditionally Springsteen” bit on the album — although again, the arrangement is incredibly detailed and the instrumentation delightfully unexpected.
“Kingdom of Days” is the one, though, the big payoff. It’s the most compelling love song Springsteen has written, and man, he’s written a few beauties. This one, though, floats atop a transcendent melody, and takes as its subject a love that endures, even as the physical beings that are vehicles for that love begin to wither and fade. It’s lump-in-your-throat sublime.
It would have been unfair to expect an album as stunning as “Working on a Dream” to come so quickly on the heels of the equally wonderful “Magic.” Springsteen, after all, has never worked particularly quickly, at least from the outsider’s perspective, and he made “Dream” in between dates on the two-year “Magic” tour. By rights, this thing should sound rushed and thrown together.
And yet, here it is, another true gem. Surprise, surprise.
Working on a Dream
(Out of four)
Springsteen's 'Dream' awakens a happier Boss
By Danny Clinch
Bruce Springsteen's latest album, Working on a Dream, arrives in stores on Tuesday.
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
January 21, 2009
Forget about chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected joy rides on Highway 9. "Queen of the Supermarket" finds Bruce Springsteen steering a grocery cart down aisle No. 2 as he plaintively confesses his secret crush on the checkout girl.
The song conveys the wistful and uplifting tones that permeate Working on a Dream, on sale Tuesday and streaming this week at NPR.org/music.
Whereas 2007's Magic bore notes of fear, frustration and political disenchantment, the Springsteen on Working (* * * out of four) is more personal, romantic and relaxed. Given his increasingly visible campaign involvement and social activism, Springsteen's retreat from the soapbox at this pivotal moment in history may strike many as curious. And yet, what better time to express hope and a renewed fervor for long-cherished values?
The whistling in the rocking title track, which could be an anthem for President Obama's stimulus package, conveys cheery optimism at the prospect of honest hard labor, even as the lyrics recognize hardships ahead.
Produced and mixed by Brendan O'Brien, Working was hatched before Magic was launched. While mixing the latter, Springsteen recorded "What Love Can Do", which he deemed more appropriate for a new path than a last-minute Magic addition. It sparked an atypical songwriting frenzy that yielded five Working tracks in a week. The E Street Band did much of the recording during tour breaks. The album contains the last studio contributions by keyboardist Danny Federici, who died of melanoma last April.
Working's luminous melodies, bold strokes and lush textures owe a debt to early pop and '60s rock 'n' roll, particularly The Byrds and Roy Orbison. Unfortunately, Springsteen's street poetry falls short of earlier majestic peaks, robbing splendor from sonic gem "Surprise, Surprise" and depriving "Queen" of authority.
The voice is pure Springsteen: robust, heartfelt, ripe with wisdom, experience and humility. Whether he's celebrating love's blessing in "My Lucky Day:, plumbing its darker depths in "Life Itself" or spinning the seriocomic folk tale of "Outlaw Pete", Springsteen makes Working a pleasure.
>Download: The Last Carnival, Working on a Dream, Life Itself, The Wrestler, Outlaw Pete
>Consider: My Lucky Day
>Skip: Kingdom of Days, Surprise, Surprise
Thursday, 22nd January 2009
So the inevitable has now come about in the teetering civilisation of Europe, and it has happened first in the Netherlands. One of the supposedly most liberal societies on the planet wants to criminalise someone for telling the truth. The BBC reports that Dutch Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders is to be put on trial
‘...for for inciting hatred and discrimination, based on comments by him in various media on Muslims and their beliefs’...In March 2008, Mr Wilders posted a film about the Koran on the internet, prompting angry protests across the Muslim World. The opening scenes of Fitna - a Koranic term sometimes translated as ‘strife’ - show a copy of the holy book followed by footage of the bomb attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, London in July 2005 and Madrid in March 2004.
Pictures appearing to show Muslim demonstrators holding up placards saying ‘God bless Hitler’ and ‘Freedom go to hell’ also feature. The film ends with the statement: ‘Stop Islamisation. Defend our freedom.’
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said at the time that the film wrongly equated Islam with violence and served ‘no purpose other than to offend’. A year earlier, Mr Wilders described the Koran as a ‘fascist book’ and called for it to be banned in ‘the same way we ban Mein Kampf’, in a letter published in the De Volkskrant newspaper.
This is what I wrote about Fitna last March:
It shows very clearly the precise nature of what the civilised world is up against, a war of religion with striking similarities to Nazi ideology and murderous mass hysteria.
It was, however, very careful not to call for the Koran or Islam to be banned. Instead it confined itself to calling for Muslims to reform their faith by removing the bad bits of the Koran, and for an end to the Islamising of Europe. To that extent it was not extreme at all, and indeed reformist Muslims themselves say much the same thing.
On the other hand, it did not make any acknowledgement of those Muslims around the world who do not subscribe to the application of their religion as represented in the film, and who live pacific and unthreatening lives in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries. It was nevertheless accurate in its depiction of the religion and therefore could not be considered insulting. As a result, reaction from the Muslim world has so far been muted (although that may change). As the Financial Times reported:
Omar Bakri, the Libyan-based radical Muslim cleric who is barred from Britain, did not think the film was very offensive. ‘On the contrary, if we leave out the first images and the sound of the page being torn, it could be a film by the [Islamist] Mujahideen,’ he said.
Ever since Fitna appeared, Wilders has had to live under police protection. But far from defending him and western civilisation from the totalitarian threat to life and liberty arising from the attempt to suppress discussion of radical Islamism and the religion upon which it draws, the Dutch have now decided to suppress it themselves.
As has been pointed out elsewhere, in The River War published in 1899, Winston Churchill wrote this:
How dreadful are the curses which Islam lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.
A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property‹either as a child, a wife, or a concubine must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.
No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Islam is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science -the science against which it had vainly struggled - the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.
Amin Al Husseini the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Adolf Hitler meet in 1941
During the 1930s and World War Two, the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine – from whom, incidentally, Hamas are directly descended – were the allies of Hitler. Heinrich Himmler observed:
Muslims responded to the call of Muslim leaders and joined our side because of their hatred of our joint Jewish-English-Bolshevik enemies, and because of their belief and respect for, above all -- our Fuehrer.
And Churchill wrote in turn:
In truth though, just as the British stoicism recalls the same from 65 years ago, so too, there is a deep and instructive similarity between the Nazis and the Islamic-fascist forces that attacked then and attack today. The fact of the matter is that even more important than invoking the famous British ‘stiff upper lip,’ to fight this current war to victory requires understanding and accepting the similarities between the Nazis and the Arab-Islamic terrorist armies.
If Churchill were to have said these things today, he too would surely have been prosecuted, at least in the Netherlands, for inciting hatred and discrimination just for fighting for freedom against enslavement -- on behalf of life and liberty-loving Muslims as well as everyone else.
This is a defining moment for Europe. It is when people have to decide what side they are on. All those ‘human rights’ supporters who tell us endlessly that we can only defend our society against terror if we remain true to its values now must decide whether they are going to defend Geert Wilders against the attempt to criminalise him for exercising his freedom to speak in defence of life, liberty and western liberalism -- or whether they are going to run up the white flag in the face of Islamist totalitarianism enforced by its already enslaved western dupes.
Click on link below to view Fitna: