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Mental Cruelty!?!

I’ve not been ’round these parts lately—been working at—come by and check us out, would you?—but reading a the President’s  response to the Sutherland Springs tragedy and need to comment.
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So Il Douché—who, of course, doesn’t want to politicize the issue—thinks the issue in Sutherland Springs was one of mental health? Given that his mental health is not exactly top-notch, not sure he should be making those judgements, but even if he’s right, that’s not the problem. The question is: should someone whose mental health was so suspect (I’d say crushing your infant son’s skull should raise warning flags), should he have been legally allowed to own guns? The NRA doesn’t seem to have a problem with it….does he?


On Sutherland Springs Texas

I wrote an editorial on the most recent mass shooting—this time in Sutherland Springs Texas, with more than 20 dead, including infants—for

Think You’re Having A Bad Day? It’s Still Better Than Todd Rundgren’s

Not only was the singer/songwriter/producer busted coming at the Canadian border, bringing marijuana into Jeff Sessions’ America (a land where Reefer Madness is considered a documentary) he was Farrah Fawcett-ed by Melissa Etheridge, who happened to be caught holding on the same day, and took the mellowest. most chill mugshot in the history of celebrity mugshots. Which meant he was greeted with this headline from TMZ:

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Nothing against Melissa Etheridge, but I’d take Something/Anything over any of her records…



Someone Else’s Nostalgia—X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles

I was slow to appreciate the music coming out of LA in the late 70s/early 80s. There was too much good stuff in New York, or a cheap Laker Air ticket away in London. If London met the end of the postwar boom with a political howl and New York with a cynic’s shrug, early singles by Germs and others sounded, to my ears, like a nihilist tantrum. It made it easy to write them off, joking “our junkies are better than your junkies.”

I’ve since changed my mind. Los Angeles is now my home, and the city’s history is a fascinating subject.  Dropping by the preview of “X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles,” opening today and up until February 25th at the Grammy Museum in Downtown LA, at times felt like being a guest in someone else’s nostalgia. I didn’t have the direct connection others felt (and it was interesting to read the opening of Chris Morris’ 1980 Rolling Stone story on the scene…which is, sadly, not available online), but I came away feeling the excitement and creativity of the era. (X also plays a part in my personal history of Los Angeles, as they were the first band I ever saw in LA, at the Roxy in November 1982.)


I love this photo. It looks like a still from a French New Wave movie. Photo credit: Anna Summa

Located on the museum’s second floor, there are hand bills and posters along one wall—a riot of clip art, press-on type, and rough-hewn design—and photos along the other; in the center, each band member has their own tall vitrine filled with mementos, a short bio on printed on the side. The polka-dot dress that was almost Exene’s trademark hangs in her display, alongside collages she made for her lyrics. DJ Bonebrake was a collector of t-shirts, and Billy Zoom has one of his guitars and two receipts from for rehearsal space rental, signed by Masque founder Brendan Mullen. 

For John Doe, the band’s bassist and co-writer, the exhibit was nothing short of “surreal.” It’s “very strange” to be confronted with the remnants of the band’s past, he said, especially seeing how X is still a working, gigging band, playing over 100 dates a year. But he laughed at the sight of a black mesh shirt, looking almost brand new next to a ragged denim jacket. “This proves the superiority of nylon,” he joked, adding that while he doubt he’d ever wear it again, he did save it. But his two favorite items are the notebook where he first wrote the lyrics for “Los Angeles,” and the first bass he ever owned. “You can see where I spilled beer or something on it, where the ink ran through,” he pointed out, and noted the sweat stains on his bass. “That’s life.”

Scott Goldman, the Museum’s Executive Director, took pride in the exhibit, pointing out his favorite item, an Olympia manual typewriter that John and Exene used to type out their lyrics. What made it so interesting, he said, was they couldn’t agree who it belonged to. When asked about it, Doe took the diplomatic way out: “we got it from a thrift shop on Santa Monica by Fairfax.”

While he was taking it all in, he brushed off the suggestion that something like the late 70s could happen again. “That’s the beauty of the a scene: it’s there for a moment and gone forever.” But X, even after 40 years and becoming literal museum pieces, plays on.




Donald Trump, Empath of Genius

“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here and what is your death count? Sixteen people, versus in the thousands…You can be very proud. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.”—Donald Trump, comforting the people of Puerto Rico, October 3, 2017

“I will tell you that, in my conversations with the President and in my experience with the president — that his passion and his love for the American people and concern about their welfare is unending. And what he has seen in this is what all of us have seen when you watch the television and you see the situation — the tragic situation that many individuals are in. And his heart goes out to them, as does everybody’s heart.”—Then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, quoted in the Washington Post, August 30, 2017

“(F)or the next four years at least, we have a president who is anything but empathetic. We call this a bad thing and even hold protests to claim Trump’s lack of empathy is terrible for the nation. But is it?—Suzanne Venker, Washington Examiner, January 27, 2017

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The past few weeks have certainly put Ms. Venker’s question to the test. The President has thanked battered Texans for their turnout when he visited the state after Hurricane Harvey, tweeted that ungrateful Puerto Ricans wanted everything done for them, and today, both congratulated/dissed the U.S. Territory for not dying in the numbers racked up by Hurricane Katrina in 2006. Which makes you wonder, what kind of speeches can we expect if we do if, for at least the next four years, have a president who is lacking in empathy….

You never want to hear that someone died from any disease, but you didn’t have anywhere near as may deaths as a real health crisis like the Smallpox Epidemic of 1918 Hundreds of thousands of people—worldwide! hundreds of thousands—were killed. That was some bad hombre of a virus! But you should be proud, very proud, that, in 1976, only 34 people died of Legionnaire’s Disease. That’s 34, against thousands.—speaking at a Philadelphia American Legion Convention

 Nine lives….nine. Like a cat. And every one a tragedy. But you should be proud that your casualties were less than a real mass killer like Charles Whitman in Austin.—At a rally in Charleston, South Carolina

Yes, your beautiful city lost many man thousands of people when Harry Truman—who was, and not many people know this, he was a Democrat—dropped the second A-Bomb here. And you should be proud. But you didn’t have as much destruction like that real atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima—speaking at a memorial service in Nagasaki, Japan

The plane crash that took Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper (the biggest! Thank you…Thank you) and that young Mexican singer was a tragedy, but not like that real plane crash that nearly ended the career of Lynyrd Skynyrd.—dedicating the Buddy Holly Memorial.



Into the Great Wide Open—Tom Petty, RIP

It was only a week ago that I was at the Hollywood Bowl, enjoying Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As they reeled off hit after hit, the crowd singing along, even if you weren’t a fan, it was hard not to feel the weight of the moment. Petty had told Rolling Stone that this tour—celebrating the band’s fortieth anniversary—would be his final big go round, and there was a valedictory sense to his introductions: mentioning old friends, retelling the stories of how he met each of musicians.  I turned to Scott Timberg, who invited me to the show, and said, “this is probably the last time you’ll see this music played by this band.”

Photo courtesy of Live Nation

Of course, I meant the Heartbreakers would stop being a working band. On the basis of his performance, I figured Tom would be hitting the boards for at least another decade. And Sixty-six is way too young for anyone to go. Chris Morris has done a nice job on his obit for Variety. My condolences to his family, the Heartbreakers, and his fans.

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau/CAP UCLA

They don’t look like they should be on the same stage together. Chris Thile, a mandolin player of almost supernatural gifts, now firmly ensconced in “A Prairie Home Companion,” boyish and tousled, in jeans and a striped sweater; Brad Mehldau, an equally talented jazz pianist, his cropped hair grey, dressed in black jeans, jacket t-shirt and boots. As they start playing, you could believe they’re from different worlds—Thile all smiles and ease, rocking on the balls of his feet, unfazed by a problem with his in-ear monitors (his eyes light up when, a few songs later, he tries them again, and they work); Mehldau serious and composed. What they share an endless curiosity and collaborative nature; they travel in wide orbits.

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Photo by Kathleen Schenck/CAP UCLA

While Friday night’s performance at The Theatre at Ace Hotel kicked off this year’s CAP UCLA season, its spiritual home was a few miles northwest at  Largo.  Both Mehldau and Thile are veterans of both Largos—the original club on Fairfax Avenue and the sit-down Largo at the Coronet on La Cienega, where the kind of expansive cross-genre music they play is not just accepted but encouraged.

“That Old Shade Tree,” which opened their show and their Nonesuch album, touches on jazz, folk, soul, and rock, but arrives at something that sounds like nothing but itself. Thile starts out strumming damped strings, his angelic falsetto dropping into his tenor with the speed and force of a felled tree,  Mehldau’s piano laying down down an inquisitive line which turns full-throated and assured, a flower opening up at the first sign of sun. As a statement of intent and introduction, it’s damn near perfect.

That level in invention and surprise was sustained throughout the 90-minute performance. It’s music made with a light touch but serious ambition.  They even manage a Largo trifecta with a wonderfully refracted version of Fiona Apple’s “Fast As You Can.” “I Cover The Waterfront” was brooding and noirish, their playing as enveloping and cool as a slow-moving fog. Joni Mitchell’s “Marcie” retains the song’s lovely rock-skipping melody, but strips away the original recording’s mannered production. Thile’s tender vocal emphasizes the song’s melancholy: the letter undelivered, her unexplained exit, the rumors take on darker, more complex shadings. And his “Noise Machine” is a stunner. A lullaby to an colicky child, the singer tired but loving, both amazed and frightened, the refrain “your mother is a hero,” comforting them both.  But he just seems too nice a guy to pull off “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” one of Dylan’s nastiest kiss-offs. He knows it, too, and makes a joke of the final “you just wasted my precious time.” Musically, it’s another story, as their arrangement touches on Irving Berlin, bluegrass, Monk, and Tatum. It’s a joyous expression of freedom, the the instruments taking down the road with a light step and full of optimism.




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