Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Springsteen Song Hall of Fame

By Joe Posnanski
June 23, 2014
Well, you might remember — and “might” is the key word since I did this a long time ago — I put up a survey asking people to vote for their favorite Bruce Springsteen songs so that we could start the Bruce Song Hall of Fame. This was a two step process. In the first step, I asked people to nominate songs which led to all sorts of mayhem where songs like “I Hate Bruce Springsteen” and “Jack Morris” were nominated. But about a thousand people participated and I put together a list of the 30 most mentioned Springsteen songs.
The second part involved people voting for their 10 favorite songs on the list, in order. More than 2,000 people voted. I have calculated the results using the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers or, anyway, my own meager math skills — 10 points for every first place vote, nine points for every second-place vote, eight points for every third place vote and so on.
And so… without further delay … here in the first class of songs to be inducted into the Bruce Springsteen Hall of Fame. Induction day date and ceremonies will be announced in the future.
Released: August 1978
Album: Darkness on the Edge of Town
Inspiration: The Animals “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
If you listen to the opening of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” you will note that the song more than inspired “Badlands” — it practically gave birth to Badlands. Springsteen himself has called “Badlands” grand theft.
I’ve often thought that “Badlands” is Springsteen’s best concert song, which might make it his best song. Darkness is such an enthralling album because so many conflicting emotions were running through Springsteen when he recorded it. It came out three years after Born to Run — three turbulent years that entirely changed Springsteen’s life. Before recording the Born to Run album, Springsteen wanted. What did he want? Everything. Success. Love. Passion. Fun. Escape. Born to Run is all about yearning, about getting out, about that meeting across the river, about loving Wendy with all the madness in his soul.
Darkness, though, is about the disappointments that come after, the petty fights of adulthood, the anticlimax of achieving fame and, well, yeah, the darkness on the edge of town.
The power of “Badlands,” I think, is in the lyrics. Man, Springsteen could really write songs then. Every word of “Badlands” is frustration, impotence, anger, every word shouts out this strong but rapidly fading prayer for love and hope to overcome the dreariness and pain. If you listen to the words you find that the narrator is not really hopeful. He’s almost at the end of hope.
“Badlands” has one of Springsteen’s most famous verses:
For the ones who had a notion
A notion deep inside
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive
But what many miss is that’s not where the verse ends. The narrator is saying to those who HAD a notion that it ain’t no sin to be alive, well, he has a message for them:
I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me
I wanna find one place
I wanna spit in the face of these badlands.
That doesn’t sound like the narrator is approving the message of hope. It sounds like he’s still looking for that notion, and he’s losing faith that he will ever find that notion that it’s no sin to be a alive, become more and more convinced that the notion might be false.
I think, like all great songs, Badlands has grown over the years. If you listen to album version of it, I think it’s pretty clear that Springsteen was saying that life’s a losing fight, that in the end you can keep pushing the but badlands will never treat anyone good. But if you listen to Springsteen perform the song now — and the way the crowd sings along — you get the sense that he has found the faces not looking through him, the places that can raise all of us above the badlands.
Released: August 1975
Album: Born to Run
Inspiration: Perhaps Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”
I would say the biggest surprise of this Springsteen Hall of Fame first class is that Jungleland beat out many songs that I think are significantly more famous. But I’m thrilled about it. Jungleland, probably more than any other single song, is why I became a Springsteen fan.
I came to Springsteen late — Born in the USA came out when I was in high school, and I bought the album because everyone bought the album. I liked it well enough, but at that point I saw Springsteen as a pop singer/songwriter, not unlike Elton John or Billy Joel or, Lord help me, Phil Collins. I was almost entirely unaware of his history. He was the guy who pulled the super cute Courtney Cox on stage for Dancing in the Dark. And the guy who looked kind of goofy pitching in “Glory Days.”
I probably can’t recount the exact order of my Springsteen awakening, but I fear it had something to do with the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers.” That movie was on cable more or less 24 hours a day just when we got cable. That really was a pretty terrible movie, but it had something magnetic about it, and I probably saw it 20 times. I remember a friend telling me that it was really kind of a Springsteen ripoff. I’m pretty sure that inspired me to go back and buy “Born to Run,” which I loved immediately.
And the most extraordinary part of Born to Run for me was listening to “Jungleland” while reading along the lyrics that were included. I don’t think I’d ever done that before — listen to music and follow the lyrics. Everything about Jungleland felt like a new experience, even though the song was already 10 years old. The imagery was absurdly alive right from the first word (“The rangers had a homecoming/in Harlem late last night”). I still feel all of it. The city lit up by the giant Exxon sign. Kids flashing guitars like switchblades. The local cops as Cherry Tops.
Then you throw in Clarence’s gorgeous solo. You throw in Suki Lahav’s piercing violin. You throw in the way the song’s pace picks up and slows down, comes to a stop, begins again …
The city
Two hearts beat.
Soul engines running through a night so tender
I think I listened to Jungleland a hundred times those first few weeks in trying to unlock how it made me feel. I guess, based on the voting, a lot of people had that reaction.
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Released: September 1973
Album: The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle
Inspiration: Springsteen’s Life
I’m not sure what anyone can write about Rosalita that captures the song’s joy, its hunger, its optimism and its mischief. I sometimes think of the quirky fun of opening up Russian nesting dolls. You keep opening them thinking, “OK, this is the last one, there’s no way they could fit a doll inside this one. And when there is one inside, there’s this sweet feeling of surprise and happiness. That’s Rosalita. Every time you think the song can’t soar any higher, can’t be any happier, can’t push to 11 … it blasts off again.
Lately, my kids have been forcing me to watch the X-Men movies; I shouldn’t say “forced” because I actually like them a bit. The thing I like most, I think, is seeing these people with super-powers they can’t really control. They’re indiscriminately shooting lasers all over the place, and they’re mistakenly sending people into comas and they’re turning stuff into ice by mistake (or is that “Frozen?”). There’s some of this in the early Harry Potter too. I’m fascinated by efforts to harness great power.
This is how I’ve come to think of Springsteen’s younger years. I imagine him having imagery and rhymes and thoughts and dreams and music rushing at him nonstop in bold and blue lightning bolts. And he’s so young he has absolutely no way to control it or organize it or modify it. “Blinded by the Light” is one of my favorite songs off Bruce’s first album for just this reason: It’s a mad attack of rhymes and weirdness and desperate ambition and tiny bits of genius.
Rosalita is like that too — only with more genius. What can you make of this:
My tires were slashed
And I almost crashed
But the Lord had mercy
My machine she’s a dud
And I’m stuck in the mud
Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey
Hold on tight
Stay up all night
Cause Rosie I’m coming on strong
By the time we meet
The morning light
I will hold you in my arms

This is just Bruce full of energy, full of lust, full of life, full of himself, full of love, full of fun, full of ambition just unloading everything inside into a song. It’s a messy, sweet, funny, powerful song that just crashes over you like a giant wave. You know listen to Rosalita; you are knocked down by it. Bruce has called it the greatest love song he ever wrote. I don’t actually agree. He wrote some other amazing love songs — including the amazing stuff on Tunnel of Love and a couple of songs that will be inducted into the Hall with Rosalita — but I do think this: He never got closer in a song to what it feels like to be YOUNG and in LOVE. Few have. The Beatles with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” REM’s “Nightswimming.” I actually put John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” on the list, along with Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” Ray Charles’ “Mess Around,” maybe Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and Icicle Works “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream”). A lot more but those are a few that come to mind.
Just glad the the record company gave Bruce that big advance.
Thunder Road
Released: August 1975
Album: Born to Run
Inspiration: Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely.”
Everything about Thunder Road is perfect. Absolutely everything. The beginning — “The screen door slams/Mary’s dress waves.” The ending — “I’m pulling out of here to win.” The piano. The slow opening. The way the pace picks up. And those beautiful lines.
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely.
Hey that’s me and I want you only.
You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain.
Waste your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.
There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away.
They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets.
Ghosts in the eyes. Perfect. This is Springsteen’s most perfect song, I think. Badlands is the best concert song. Rosalita is the most fun song. The Promise is my favorite. And Thunder Road is the most perfect song.
Born to Run
Released: August 1975
Album: Born to Run
Inspiration: Rock ’n roll
Born to Run edged out Thunder Road with the most points in our poll, which is no surprise. It is Springsteen’s most famous song, his most popular song and, frankly, his anthem.
I’ve written about Born to Run countless ties and can only think of one more thing to add here. Among the countless things I love about BTR, perhaps the biggest is that Springsteen was unabashedly trying to write the greatest rock song ever. No false modesty. No hidden agendas. He wanted to write the best rock song ever.
I love that. Once when I was in Augusta, Ga., I wrote a column about an inner-city quarterback who had the most fantastic arm you ever saw. He wasn’t a great prospect, I guess, and I’m not sure what his grade situation was, and as far I know he never went on to college football. Maybe he did — I lost track of him. But his coach called me up one day and said, ‘Listen, you have to come out here and see this kid throw.”
So I went out to the practice and … it really was staggering. It looked almost like an optical illusion. Every time he threw, it looked like the ball was pulled out his hand by some invisible rope attached to a rocket. I mean: it was stunning. I watched him throw blistering 30- and 40-yard outs with flicks of the wrist, He threw so hard nobody on the team could catch the ball. I saw him throw passes with the ball 70 or 80 yards in air like he was playing catch in the backyard.
He was a nice kid, from what I remember, and I talked to him for a while. I asked how far he could throw the ball. He shrugged and said he didn’t know, he never tried to throw it as far as he could. I asked him why not, and he shrugged. “Maybe I’ll try sometime,” he said. It was strange, and it was something I’ve thought about a lot since then. I keep thinking that there is something that holds a lot of us back, something that keeps us from ever giving that last ounce of effort, the ounce that we would rather keep for ourselves. I’ve seen that a lot, I’ve felt that a lot too — it’s almost like we would rather not know where our limits reach, would rather live with the possibility of missed success than the certainty of intensive failure.
Maybe that doesn’t make much sense. The great Richard Ben Cramer, on Ted Williams, wrote: “Few men try for best ever.” I think that’s right. Springsteen wanted to try. He unleashed every single thing he had inside an effort to write the best rock ’n roll song ever. The result was Born to Run. Rolling Stone, in their Top 500 songs, ranked it the 21st best song ever recorded. Others have it higher. Others have it lower. Whatever the ranking, it was one hell of an effort.

Barney Fife Meets Delta Force

Hypermilitarized police departments are more dangerous than whatever they fight. 

Nestled awkwardly among the usual guff, the outrage website Salon this week took a welcome flyer and accorded space to something genuinely alarming. “A SWAT team,” the headline screamed, “blew a hole in my 2-year-old son.” For once, this wasn’t hyperbole.

The piece’s author, Alecia Phonesavanh, described what it felt like to be on the business end of an attack that was launched in error by police who believed a drug dealer to be living and operating in her house. They “threw a flashbang grenade inside,” she reported. It “landed in my son’s crib.” Now, her son is “covered in burns” and has “a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs.” So badly injured was he by the raid that he was “placed into a medically induced coma.” “They searched for drugs,” Phonesavanh confirmed, but they “never found any.” Nor, for that matter, did they find the person they were looking for. He doesn’t live there. “All of this,” she asks, “to find a small amount of drugs?”

Historians looking back at this period in America’s development will consider it to be profoundly odd that at the exact moment when violent crime hit a 50-year low, the nation’s police departments began to gear up as if the country were expecting invasion — and, on occasion, to behave as if one were underway. The ACLU reported recently that SWAT teams in the United States conduct around 45,000 raids each year, only 7 percent of which have anything whatsoever to do with the hostage situations with which those teams were assembled to contend. Paramilitary operations, the ACLU concluded, are “happening in about 124 homes every day — or more likely every night” — and four in five of those are performed in order that authorities might “search homes, usually for drugs.” Such raids routinely involve “armored personnel carriers,” “military equipment like battering rams,” and “flashbang grenades.”

Were the military being used in such a manner, we would be rightly outraged. Why not here? Certainly this is not a legal matter. The principle of posse comitatus draws a valuable distinction between the national armed forces and parochial law enforcement, and one that all free people should greatly cherish. Still, it seems plain that the potential threat posed by a domestic standing army is not entirely blunted just because its units are controlled locally. To add the prefix “para” to a problem is not to make it go away, nor do legal distinctions change the nature of power. Over the past two decades, the federal government has happily sent weapons of war to local law enforcement, with nary a squeak from anyone involved with either political party. Are we comfortable with this?

The Right’s silence on the issue is vexing indeed, the admirable attempts of a few libertarians notwithstanding. Here, conservatives seem to be conflicted between their rightful predilection for law and order — an instinct that is based upon an accurate comprehension of human nature and an acknowledgment of the existence of evil — and a well-developed and wholly sensible fear of state power, predicated upon precisely the same thing. As of now, the former is rather dramatically winning out, leading conservatives to indulge — or at least tacitly to permit — excuses that they typically reject elsewhere. Much as the teachers’ unions invariably attempt to justify their “anything goes” contracts by pointing to the ends that they ostensibly serve (“Well you do want schools for the children or don’t you? Sign here”), the increasingly muscular behavior of local police departments is often shrugged off as a by-product of the need to fight crime. This, if left unchecked, is a recipe for precisely the sort of carte blanche that conservatives claim to fear.

Leaving aside the central moral question of the War on Drugs — which is whether the state should be responding to peaceful transactions and consensual behavior with violence — there is, it seems, considerable room between law enforcement’s turning a blind eye to the law and its aping the military in its attempt to uphold it. The cartels of Mexico and drug lords of America’s larger cities are one thing; but two-bit dealers and consumers of illicit substances are quite another. In the instance that Salon recorded, the person that authorities “were looking for, wasn’t there.” “He doesn’t even live in that house,” Phonesavanh confirmed. But suppose that he had, and that he’d been dealing drugs as charged? Does this alone make the case for the tactics? I suspect not. Instead, attempting to catch a violator in the act by releasing military vehicles full of machine-gun-wielding men, storming a home in the dead of night, and performing a no-knock raid that results in a two-year-old’s being pushed into a coma might, one suspects, be overkill — in many similar cases, literally so. The question for conservatives should be this: If cowboy poetry is no justification for federal intrusion, can drug dealing be said to serve as an open invitation for the deployment of the ersatz 101st?

In the more febrile of the Right’s quarters, the sight of MRAPs being delivered to the chief of police in Westington, Mont., has given rise to all forms of regrettable silliness — to visions of black helicopters and reeducation camps and an America on the verge of being taken by force by the gun-toting rangers of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Nevertheless, a small amount of latent paranoia has served America well, and Chekhov’s advice that “one must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it” should be applied to governments as rigorously as to aspiring playwrights. Once the holders of the monopoly on violence are accorded the latest weaponry, there will always be the temptation to use it. Likewise, once one has taken the mental and linguistic leap of ascribing to domestic law enforcement the imprimatur of “war,” one may be inclined to reach for the trigger that little bit more quickly. The disaster at Waco, Texas, was, it seems, more cock-up than conspiracy. But the recognition in the aftermath that the whole bloody mess could have been avoided if local officers had taken the time to chat with the victims should haunt us to this day. Rushing in at 100 miles per hour rarely works out, whatever the ill that one is attempting to resolve.

The Left’s current inclination is to spin offenses out of straw — having no major battles left to fight, it seeks to detect microaggressions; with overt bigotry so thin on the ground, the dog whistles have come out; and with the barriers to the Declaration’s maxim having been largely removed, the focus has shifted to the structural and the invisible. But first-degree burns and holes in the chest are different things altogether — not to be dismissed or downplayed — and that the issue is being raised by an outlet known for its absurdity should not dull its impact. Will the Right wake up to the threat, applying its usual mistrust of power to a favored group, or will its usually alert advocates leave themselves willfully in the dark until, one day, a flashbang with their name on it is tossed through the window to wake them up with a start?

– Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Beane sees Jeter as forever young

As the captain turns 40, Billy Beane knows the SS is more valuable than stats show

June 25, 2014

Photo: AP
Around the time Derek Jeter passed his 35th birthday and made the hard turn towards 40, Billy Beane saw him as a cross between Benjamin Button and Peter Pan. You can understand why the general manager of the Oakland A's would come to view Jeter as a man who refused to grow old and as a ballplayer who would never surrender to his own mortality.
Long criticized by sabermetricians for flunking their exams on defense, Jeter, the glamorous shortstop of the gluttonous New York Yankees, was the ironic conqueror of the Moneyball A's at their very best. The flip play in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series and the catch and crash landing in the photographer's pit in Game 5 enhanced the Jeter legend while helping topple a 102-win Oakland team that was plenty good enough to win it all.
[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter, Jeremy Giambi, Jorge Posada, The Flip
AP Photo/Eric RisbergThe famous flip play from Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS enhanced Derek Jeter's legend.
"I still hate to see him go," Beane said by phone Wednesday, "even though he was party to some of my greatest heartbreak as a GM."
Jeter isn't gone just yet. But he does celebrate his 40th birthday Thursday, and with three regular-season months left in his career, the time was right to ask one of the driving forces behind the metric movement if the Yankees captain did indeed rise high above his limitations at short, or if his greatness was overstated in a market known to get a little carried away.
Beane pointed out that his career as an executive almost ran parallel to Jeter's as a player. He was Oakland's assistant GM in the mid-'90s and was promoted to the big job in October of '97 after Jeter's Yankees were knocked out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Indians and denied a repeat in his second full year. And in some ways, Beane became as much of a star as the shortstop did, inspiring Michael Lewis' runaway bestseller, "Moneyball," and an Academy Award-nominated film of the same name.
Of all the honors Jeter has collected over the years, he's never had Brad Pitt play him in a movie.
Only the shortstop has five championship rings, or five more than Beane has won in Oakland. In fact, as remarkable as the A's have been on payrolls that wouldn't ordinarily cover three-quarters of a Yankees infield, they've prevailed in only one out of eight playoff series under Beane.
He doesn't need to be reminded, either, now that Oakland has baseball's best record and the inside track on another postseason berth. But lately, Jeter has been on his mind some; he's been on everyone's mind in the game. "I was just telling one of my younger players that Derek reminds me of my teammate in Minnesota, Kirby Puckett," Beane said. "Do you know what it's like when your best player, a Hall of Famer, is also the most respected and best-liked guy in the clubhouse? It creates a unique dynamic for a team. From an outsider's perspective, Derek has been that guy. In 20 years, I've never heard a bad word about him."
Actually, he's heard a few from fellow sabermetricians who have documented Jeter's middling range and the runs he's said to have cost his team. In the Fielding Bible, Bill James once wrote the following: "In one way of looking at it, it makes intuitive sense that Derek Jeter could be the worst defensive shortstop of all time." James would concede that Jeter more than compensated for his weaknesses and that he was "a tremendous player" whom James would absolutely want on his team.
As for a metric that had Jeter giving up more runs than any position player in history, Beane said, "It's like saying a GM had the most bad trades in history; that GM had the job long enough to make those mistakes for a reason. I joke with [Yankees GM Brian Cashman] about that. Brian's been very good at what he does, but when you last that long, people only list all of your bad moves. For Jeter, it only means he's been playing at the top of his position longer than anyone in history."
That run has seemed longer to Beane than most. He once said, "I've spent my whole front-office career waiting for Jeter to slow down."
For good reason. A year after the 2000 Yankees knocked them out in an ALDS Game 5, the A's had everything going for them. They had three young pitchers in Barry ZitoTim Hudson, and Mark Mulder who had combined for 56 victories and three infielders in reigning MVPJason GiambiMiguel Tejada, and Eric Chavez who had combined for 101 homers and 347 RBI. They had a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five ALDS (they won those two games in the Bronx, no less), and they held a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 3. More than anything, they held an opportunity to bury the team that had won four World Series titles in five years.
And then, the flip happened. Shane Spencer overthrew two cutoff men from right field, Jeter raced toward the first-base line to retrieve the errant ball and made an option pitch on the run to Jorge Posada, who applied the tag to Giambi's brother, Jeremy, who was so sure he'd be safe that he didn't bother to slide.
"I still watch it now," Beane said of the replays. "And every time I watch it, I think the result is going to change, if that makes sense. I see the angle Jeter had, and I see how close Giambi is to the plate, and it's just hard to believe Jeter is going to make that play. I still think Giambi's going to be safe."
Back in the Bronx for Game 5, Beane couldn't bear to watch. He left the Stadium with his team holding an early 2-0 lead, hopped on a train to Manhattan and hoped his absence would somehow alter the momentum of the series and make the pinstriped bogeymen go away. Beane returned to his seat in the late innings and watched the inevitable unfold. Jeter batted .444 for that ALDS but got so banged up on his fall into the photographer's pit that he wasn't the same player in the victory over the Seattle Mariners in the next round or in the epic World Series loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
All these years later, Jeter's body has finally had enough. As the captain prepared to turn 40, prepared to head for home, Beane was asked if Jeter had done enough in his career to make all those unforgiving metric assessments of his defense moot. "It's a hard question for me to answer from my distance, and at some point, the numbers always mean something," Beane said. "I'm as ruthlessly quantitative as anybody. But in the media capital of the world, playing for the most storied franchise, Jeter has always taken so much pressure off the other 24 guys, and you can't measure how valuable that is.
"You have to take the player in total, not just one part of him. Jeter is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who did so many other things so much better than everyone else. I doubt I'll ever see a professional athlete in my lifetime who handles himself as perfectly as he has."
Beane caught his final glimpse of Jeter in Oakland a couple of weeks ago, and he knows what everyone else in baseball knows: The shortstop isn't what he used to be, nor is his team.
But that doesn't mean it's time to rule out the possibility of a 40-year-old captain helping -- if not leading -- the Yankees back to the postseason.
"A guy like that?" Beane said. "No question he can do that. He still has that swing, that ability to hit the ball to right field and hit it hard.
"And when all is said and done, hey, he's still Derek Jeter."

The Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon channels Bob Dylan in new americana project

June 4, 2014

The Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon, second from left, with his new project Molly and the Zombies. Left to right: Guitarist Brian McGee, Fallon, bassist Catherine Popper and drummer Randy Schrager. (Drew Gurian )

In his songwriting, Brian Fallon sometimes encounters a perfect phrase — a group of words that unequivocally paint his song’s complexion in a way that other terms cannot.
Even if the impeccable line doesn’t quite flow into his tune’s melodic structure, whether it’s too many syllables or too few, Fallon shoehorns it into the lyric, as he feels it’s just too good to discard onto the cutting room floor.
Such is the case in the chorus of "Red Lights," a wistful ballad written by the Gaslight Anthem frontman and performed with his new, Americana/folk project Molly and the Zombies.
"There’s this one line that goes ‘I’ll end up on one of my accusers knives,’ but I wrote the words before the music," Fallon says. "I was jamming it in there, and was thinking ‘this doesn’t fit’ and ‘it’s rushed,’ but then I thought ‘Bob Dylan wouldn’t care.’ "
With that — an imagined nod from a legend — Fallon wedges his words and delivers them with deliberate grit that’s Dylan-esque in its own right. He sings unworried by the slight chop in rhythm, and simply expresses what he thinks needs to be said.
Such an ease fuels Fallon’s latest endeavor, a versatile fivesome of tracks that confidently blends both the Jersey singer’s driving, rock background and the folkier sum of parts he’s assembled over the last year.
The group includes guitarist and Plow United frontman Brian McGee, drummer Randy Schrager and Ryan Adams & the Cardinals’ former bassist Catherine Popper, whose voice add some breadth to the new songs. The soft, female tone is a welcome complement to Fallon’s scratching vocals — particularly on "Red Lights" and "Sketchy" — and adds a vulnerable dynamic not so present on Gaslight Anthem albums.
But the Molly songs were never written to sound like Gaslight, anyway. For some time, Fallon had desired to take a short break from his rock roots and weave together some Americana music, a style he defines as "what came out of the really old country music, came out of Grand Ole Opry and that kind of thing. But it’s not really folk, it’s not country, it’s this progressive thing."
So he wrote a few songs, and last year began building his group. Fallon and McGee had palled around in Asbury Park before, where McGee works as a guitar tech at the Russo music store. Popper and Schrager were pulled in after a Joe Strummer tribute show in New York.
"We were talking about Americana music and we thought, maybe we should see what happens if we try to get together, and I had a couple of songs that weren’t going to be used for Gaslight, and said, ‘Hey, let’s try these.’ "
The new, fairly tranquil tunes can be heard two ways, Fallon says: online here, or in-person. There is no record deal, and there will be no record, on CD or vinyl.
Shows are booked as opportunities present themselves, Fallon says. For now, the only planned live performance for Molly and the Zombies is set for the Bell House in Brooklyn Thursday, as part of the Red Bull Sound Select concert series. The group played its first show in December, opening for the Bouncing Souls at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
Fallon’s approach to putting all the music online — for free — is pretty new school, considering the classic rock ’n’ roll technique used to record these tunes.
The Red Bull folks acted as benefactors and set Molly up in their New York studio, a space large enough for the band to record all at once, and not in cordoned-off sound rooms. The open-air recording was new to Fallon, and conducive to the live-show vibe he and his bandmates were trying to achieve as they laid down the tracks.
"Our goal was to do it like Bob Dylan did ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ where you just kind of do it until you get the right takes," Fallon says. "These guys have something that I don’t have, where they can play on cue and each time it’s a little different."
And for Molly and the Zombies, a name born from a Roky Erickson song further born from a 1943 horror movie, "a little different" each time was just fine.
"This was about playing in a band and having fun," Fallon says.
On the Gaslight front, the New Brunswick-based band finished recording its fifth LP in April and a new album is due out in the coming months, but Fallon is tight-lipped for the moment on hard-and-fast details.
"You just have to hear it," he says. "You’ve got to check it out because it’s something else, but it’s awesome."

Meriam Ibrahim and the Persecution of Christians

Sentenced to death because of her faith—it's a modern story with ancient echoes.

By Charlotte Allen
June 26, 2014
A 27-year-old Sudanese woman named Meriam Ibrahim seemed likely to become a 21st-century Christian martyr in May when she was sentenced to death by hanging because of her faith. Then this week Ms. Ibrahim was saved when a court overturned her conviction for apostasy from Islam—her father was a Muslim, and under Islamic law she is automatically a Muslim too. (She had also been sentenced to public flogging for adultery because her husband, Daniel Wani, is also a Christian, and Islamic law doesn't recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men.) But the day after her release on Monday, Ms. Ibrahim was arrested again. While the Associated Press reported Thursday that she had again been released Thursday, her future remained uncertain.
Her story is harrowing. Ms. Ibrahim was eight months pregnant with her second child when she was convicted in a Khartoum court on April 30 under the Islamic Shariah law that has governed Sudan since 1989. On May 27, while in prison awaiting execution, Ms. Ibrahim gave birth to her daughter, Maya. Mr. Wani reported that his wife was shackled to the floor during labor. Their year-and-a-half-old son, Martin, had been jailed along with her.
Ms. Ibrahim was re-arrested on Tuesday by a government security force as she, Mr. Wani and their two young children tried to leave Sudan for the U.S. The Sudanese-born Mr. Wani has been an American citizen since 2005. The new charges against Ms. Ibrahim—which are reported to carry penalties of up to seven years in prison—consist of falsifying the family's travel documents, which were issued by the embassy of South Sudan, the largely Christian territory that seceded from overwhelmingly Muslim Sudan in 2011 after a decades-long civil war. Mr. Wani hails from what is now South Sudan.
Meriam Ibrahim in May AFP/Getty Images
Ms. Ibrahim's story bears uncanny parallels to another Christian story involving young African mothers who did become Christian martyrs, during the early third century: the story of Felicitas and Perpetua, executed for their faith in the Roman port city of Carthage in today's Tunisia. Vibia Perpetua was a well-educated young woman, not unlike Ms. Ibrahim, who is trained as a doctor. Felicitas was a slave in an advanced state of pregnancy when she was thrown into prison along with Perpetua and other Christians to await their deaths by wild animals in the Carthage arena. Perpetua, like Ms. Ibrahim, went to prison along with a baby son. Felicitas, like Ms. Ibrahim, bore a baby daughter before her execution date.
The most dramatic parallel is the simple affirmation that Ms. Ibrahim gave in court that led to her death sentence: "I am a Christian." Those also were Perpetua's words, as they were of many martyrs in Roman times. Like Perpetua, Ms. Ibrahim, who was brought up in the Ethiopian Orthodox faith of her mother, also refused to recant.
This isn't just a matter of ancient and modern coincidences. More significantly, the Roman world of the third century was strikingly like today's secularized West in its contempt for Christians and indifference to their persecution.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has found that Christians are persecuted in more places today than any other religious group, suffering formal or informal harassment in three-quarters of the world's countries. The persecution of Christians,Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom wrote in the June 23 Weekly Standard, "is occurring on a massive scale, it is underreported, and in many parts of the world it is rapidly growing."
Yet this persecution is mostly ignored. The Sudanese civil war included waves of genocidal mass killings of southern Sudanese Christians by the Khartoum government during the 1990s, but the media looked the other way until the Sudanese started slaughtering Muslim rebels in Darfur in 2003. The recent kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by the Islamic-fanatic group Boko Haram has been portrayed as a war on women's education. You seldom hear that most of the girls are Christians and one of the aims of the abduction was their forced conversion to Islam.
Amnesty International has admirably agitated for Meriam Ibrahim's release, but partly on grounds of Amnesty's opposition to the death penalty. Even many Christian churches in the West seem to be too constrained by ethnic sensitivities to assert themselves on behalf of their persecuted brethren. They haven't paid much attention to the near-extermination of the ancient Christian communities in Iraq during the past decade of turmoil, or to the systematic destruction of Coptic churches in Egypt by Islamic radicals in 2013.
Meriam Ibrahim did manage to gain the attention and sympathy of the West by reason of her courage, her beauty, her status as a mother of two young children and the extreme circumstances of her case. If there are parallels between her experience and a story of ancient martyrdom, the lesson might be that the West's cultured classes' hostility to Christianity, like that of their of Roman forbears, results in a passivity that tolerates attacks on people whose only crime is their faith.
Ms. Allen is the author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus" (Free Press, 1998).

Government by Fiat

By Charles Krauthammer
June 26, 2014
The Supreme Court this week admonished the Environmental Protection Agency for overreaching in regulating greenhouse gases. The Clean Air Act covers polluters that emit 250 tons per year (or in some cases, 100 tons). This standard makes no sense if applied to greenhouse gases. Thousands of establishments from elementary schools to grocery stores would be, absurdly, covered. So the EPA arbitrarily chose 100,000 tons as the carbon dioxide threshold.
That’s not “tailoring,” ruled the Supreme Court. That’s rewriting. Under our Constitution, “an agency has no power to ‘tailor’ legislation to bureaucratic policy goals by rewriting unambiguous statutory terms.”
It was a welcome constitutional lesson in restraint, noted the Wall Street Journal. One would think — hope — that an administration so chastened might reconsider its determination to shift regulation of the nation’s power generation to Washington through new carbon dioxide rules under the Clean Air Act.
Fat chance. This administration does not learn constitutional lessons. It continues marching until it meets resistance. And it hasn’t met nearly enough.
The root problem is that the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, was never intended for greenhouse gases. You can see it in its regulatory thresholds which, if applied to carbon dioxide, are ridiculously low. Moreover, when the law was written, we hadn’t yet even had the global cooling agitation of the 1970s, let alone the global warming panic of today.
But with only two of nine justices prepared to overturn the court’s 2007 ruling that shoehorns greenhouse gases into the Clean Air Act, the remedy falls to Congress. It could easily put an end to all this judicial parsing and bureaucratic mischief with a one-line statute saying that the Clean Air Act does not apply to carbon dioxide emissions.
Congress can then set about regulating greenhouse gases as it wishes, rather than leaving it to the tender arbitrary mercies of judges and bureaucrats. Otherwise, we will soon have the EPA unilaterally creating a cap-and-trade regime that will make its administrator czar of all power regulation in every state.
Of course, a similar scheme failed to pass a Democratic Congress in 2010. Our president doesn’t let such niceties stand in his way, however. He has an agenda to enact, boldly enunciated in his Feb. 24, 2009, address to Congress promising to transform America in three areas: health care, education and energy. Education lags, but he’s now on the verge of centralizing energy regulation in Washington through naked executive action, having already succeeded in centralizing health care in Washington through the Affordable Care Act.
With energy, he’ll do it by executive order after failing to pass the desired legislation. With health care, he does it with a law that he then amends so wantonly after it passed that the ACA itself becomes a blank slate on which the administration unilaterally remakes American medicine.
Employer mandate? The ACA says it was to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. It didn’t. The administration decreed that there should be several classes of employers, each with different starting dates, contradicting its own law.
Private insurance? The law says that plans not conforming to ACA coverage mandates must be canceled. Responding to the outcry that ensued, Obama urged the states and insurers to reinstate the plans — which would violate the explicit mandate of his own law.
One bit of ACA lawlessness, however, may prove a bridge too far. The administration has been giving subsidies to those who sign up through the federal exchange. The ACA limits subsidies to plans on the state exchanges.
This case will reach the Supreme Court. It is hard to see how the court could do anything other than overturn the federal-exchange subsidies. The court might even have a word to say about the administration’s 22 (or is it 37?) other acts of post-facto rewriting of the ACA.
Perhaps. But until then, the imperial president rules.
Having been supine for years in the face of these encroachments, Congress is stirring. The Republican House is preparing a novel approach to acquiring legal standing before the courts to challenge these gross executive usurpations. Nancy Pelosi, reflecting the narrowness of both her partisanship and her vision, dismisses this as a “subterfuge.”
She won’t be saying that on the day Democrats lose the White House. Then, cheered on by a suddenly inflamed media, the Democrats will no doubt express horror at such constitutional overreach.
At which point, the temptation to stick it to the Democrats will be overwhelming.
At which point, Lord give us strength.