Saturday, December 10, 2005

More "Imperial Hubris"

As noted in this article from today's Philadelphia Inquirer (registration required), Dubya recently appeared at a Repug fundraiser in Minnesota that netted a cool mil for the party and Rep. Mark Kennedy, the presumptive party nominee for a Senate seat in an upcoming election (I wonder if that's the race that Al Franken was thinking about entering?).

Anyway, at this bash, Dubya uttered this line given to him by his handlers:

"This is a Senator Kennedy I can work with."
Oh, OK. Would you "work" with him in the same manner that you "worked" with Ted Kennedy on the sham "No Child Left Behind" legislation?

According to this Buzzflash commentary:

The president's key education initiative is a well-intentioned attempt to change education in the United States. It could lead to real changes, if Bush had actually funded the plan rather than treat it as a nice photo op to show he really cared.

According to Senator Edward Kennedy, the author of the legislation and Bush's main prop in 2001, "in the two years since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, the Bush Administration has cut its funding, reneged on promised resources for better teachers and smaller classes, and worked to divert millions of dollars to private school vouchers... President Bush's new budget for 2005 will leave over 4.6 million children behind. Still pending before Congress is President Bush's 2004 budget which provides schools with over $7.5 billion less than promised in the No Child Left Behind Act. And there is every expectation that the President will propose again not only to cut resources for public school reform, but to divert scarce public education dollars to private schools."

Enough said.
By the way, I continue to look for data on this that shows increased funding on either the federal or state level, but I'm not having any luck at the moment. If I do, I'll update this post accordingly.

I find myself just about running out of words anymore to truly communicate my loathing for Dubya's contemptible gall and arrogance. And isn't it a sight to see that he popularity has rebounded so dramatically from a dismal 37 or so percent to a slightly-less-than-mediocre 42 percent? Fa la la...

At least Dubya's predecessor called him on one of his "big lies" recently.

Friday, December 09, 2005

When Your Wishing Goes Too Far

So the company symbolized by the omnipresent, black, big round-eared rodent is back to try and rewrite a timeless work of Western literature once more to suit its scandalous, money-making agenda, I see.

I guess what gets me the most about this story (hat tip to HuffPo) is the fact that Disney's people show no scruple whatsoever about the fact that, by changing the human character of A. A. Milne's wonderful books from a little boy to a little girl for a production they're filming to commemorate Pooh's 80th anniversary, they're acting in a way that I'm sure would be contrary to the author's original wishes. Also, by removing Christopher Robin, they're trying to imagine interaction between an inanimate character and a human child in a way that Milne never envisioned.

(I thought it was interesting to read about the Pooh legacy that Christopher Robin Milne had to overcome in his life, by the way.)

Basically, Disney is taking the wonderful, creative aspects of the story and trampling all over them in a sea of corporate-marketing "speak" that is an unbelievable perversion (and of course, those responsible are totally oblivious to that fact).

By our estimation, the grossest example of this by Disney to date has been their decision to take "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," a tortured story filled of adult elements such as violence, abuse of power and unrequited pride and lust, and turn it into some kind of feel-good kiddie story that ends in a nice, clean manner, happily tying together worthy themes and lessons as if Pixie dust had been sprinkled all over it (not once, but twice, mind you).

What could be next from Disney? Who can say? But my guess would be...

Pinocchio 2010 - A half-human, half-animatronic little boy attempts to live a normal life but is instead wooed to Redmond, Washington by two ruthless corporate recruiters, Foulfellow and Gideon. His puppeteer father Geppetto, upon hearing the news, purses him and, following a phony lead, ends up on the space shuttle. Pinocchio then has to journey to another galaxy to save him, with both becoming trapped inside the HAL 9000 master computer.

Dumbyabo - The son of an elephant that merrily stamps from circus to circus, ignoring all of the blight and misery along its path, is treated as a carnival freak until it comes under the tutelage of Rove The Mouse, who helps teach him to fly and maintain a happy denial of the consequences of his actions.

Snow White And The Seven Republicans - The smiling, totally domesticated and obsequious Caucasian princess performs the wishes of her diminutive housemates, who spend their days engaged in the labor of mining for coal to put in the Christmas-day stockings of anyone who dares to utter "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" to anyone who isn't exactly like them.
And as we know when it comes to politics, Disney is so receptive to hearing points of view that conflict with their own, aren't they? And they're so "pro-union" also, as we know (hmmm....)

In the fairy-tale world I imagine where there is no place for Disney, I envision people of all races, ethnicities, and personal preferences of other types particular to themselves being able to express themselves freely in the absence of any "brand" or corporate presence whatsoever. That is my dream for the future.

Besides, Disney still have to atone for "Home On The Range."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

You Wanna Bet?

She actually has a point about Ross Perot influencing the 1992 election in Clinton's favor, but of course she'll never give him credit for anything (being the "serial rapist" that he's supposed to be in her eyes, referring to Clinton of course).

As for everything else in this story, it's just more of the same.

(Oops, forgot this one also - my bad.)

Let Me Take You Down

Our TV was broken and I was listening to Monday Night Football on the radio, broadcast by announcer Jack Buck and analyst Hank Stram (I’m pretty sure the game was between New England and Miami), when CBS broke in with the announcement that John Lennon had been shot in New York City. I first thought, wow, how awful. Maybe it was a mugging or something and somebody winged him.

A few minutes later, CBS broke in again with the news that he had been shot four times. That’s when I started to get the sinking feeling. By the time a third broadcast came soon after that announcing that he had died, I was numb and it barely registered at first.

The days that followed would be filled with a mourning that I didn’t know I could feel for a non-family member. The loss of any human life is terrible, but this was shocking and a violation of a sort that was inconceivable.

I had all kinds of reactions and I did a few different things in response to Lennon’s murder; some good and some bad. One of the better things I did, I believe, was to become active in Handgun Control, Inc. The organization would become more visible months later after James Brady, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, was severely wounded in an assassination attempt on the President some months after Lennon’s murder. Brady, along with his wife Sarah, would join Handgun Control, Inc. and take the lead in the effort to try and stem the violence caused by handguns in this country.

Despite my idealism at that time, I came to realize later that no gun legislation would have prevented Chapman from killing Lennon. Chapman bought the .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver in Hawaii under an assumed name (“John Lennon,” I believe) and transported it illegally to New York where he performed his almost unspeakable act.

Chapman's murder of Lennon ushered in a mini-wave of assassination attempts of prominent people. As I noted, John Hinckley, Jr. would shoot Reagan in March of 1981, and Mehmet Ali Agca would shoot Pope John Paul II two months after that. I would argue that Hinckley and Agca saw that the assassination of a prominent person could be used as a powerful tool to mold public opinion based on Chapman's cowardly act of barbarism and had that in mind when they did their deeds. I realize, though, that that's only my theory that probably will never be substantiated. At any rate, these are all grim milestones in the almost-never-ending quest to cheapen human life.

In a related note, I stated earlier in my post about the 1,000th person executed in this country since the reinstatement of capital punishment that, in accordance with my faith, I should oppose the death penalty. However, the fact that Chapman, Hinckley, and Agca remain alive while all of their victims have since died makes that position difficult for me.

Years after Lennon's murder, I watched Andrew Solt’s excellent documentary “Imagine,” which has just been re-released on DVD (Yoko Ono, ever the businesswoman of sorts, having timed the release to coincide with the 25th anniversary of this dark act - her opportunism aggravates me a bit, though). In a way, I found it humorous that Lennon and Ono would decide to film just about every waking moment of their lives in a fit of true artistic egotism, but I am also glad that they did because I believe that, at times, it inadvertently showed their vulnerability.

Two of the moments that stood out for me are as follows:

1) A drifter manages to show up at Lennon and Ono’s New York estate (around the time that “Imagine” the album is being recorded in 1972), and Lennon, disheveled, greets him at the front door with his entourage. The kid tells Lennon how much his music meant to him, and Lennon thanks him but tells him that it’s all subject to his own interpretation, basically. Lennon then invites the kid in for a bite to eat, which of course is filmed also.

2) Lennon and Ono read fan letters and laugh nervously when someone claiming to be a psychic tells him that he will be assassinated.

There was also the argument with Al Capp during one of the “bed-ins,” with Capp being genuinely obnoxious as far as I’m concerned, and Lennon flipping out at a New York Times critic.

I think the best thing for me to do right now is provide this link to a feature article in The Philadelphia Inquirer for more background (registration required), and I’m also going to present this column from longtime Philadelphia TV news anchorman and writer Larry Kane which appeared in the paper today also (his point about our “idols” being the product of our own perceptions is excellent):

25 years later, John Lennon still lives

By Larry Kane

Too many modern celebrities - many of them with only marginal talent - revel as they walk the red carpet, glamour and self-indulgence written in their superficial and forced smiles.

It is really our fault. We idolize and live vicariously through the famous faces we watch. And today, on the 25th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon, I think about how different he was - how relevant he made himself to a generation of admirers, not by wanting to be adored, but by hoping he would be respected.

He is what I call the poster boy for imperfection. In life, and in his amazing afterlife (he's still all over the radio), we see him as a person whose personal decisions we would want to avoid, but whose personal convictions and search for the truth are things to admire.

Adoration never came easily to Lennon. His father abandoned him; his mother was rarely around. He grew up angry and determined to make the establishment aware of his presence by acting out in school. When that phase ended, be began burying himself in sketching, and thankfully for us, music. His band, the Quarrymen, became the Beatles. Lennon sensed early that his talent alone was not enough. His decision to invite Paul McCartney to join the band was courageous and, as it turns out, historic.

The irony of his life is that the more successful he was as an artist, the more traps he fell into as a person. Pill-popping turned to alcohol and drug abuse, which plagued him until the mid-1970s. But unlike the stars who lived in a bubble, Lennon was not afraid to share his private side in public. Almost every song he wrote was about how he was feeling at the time. "I'm a loser," he wrote at the age of 25, "and I'm not what I appear to be." When he was 30 and in love with Yoko Ono, he penned the beautiful "Imagine," a song that did not become one of the bestselling recorded hits of all time until Lennon was dead. Why? Because he dared to say, "Nothing to kill or die for/ No religion, too."

His angriest music was written in 1973, when he was fully invested in drugs. Yet, in 1980, he wrote "(Just Like) Starting Over," an affirmation that after five years as America's most famous stay-at-home dad, he was back and ready to entertain again.

His life was filled with mistakes and redemption. He was a womanizer who loved only three women - wives Cynthia Lennon and Yoko, and May Pang, the alluring and insightful secretary with whom Yoko fixed him up. He was a womanizer who became an ardent feminist in the late '70s, a pacifist who became one of the most public supporters of police and firefighters, a domestic abuser who transformed himself into a student of the frustrating social history of women.

Lennon, who could display daunting selfishness, was unselfish in his pursuits, giving his music away to other artists, to the detriment of his own career. He was also, delightfully and dangerously, one of the few people I've ever known who said in public what he thought in private, a man who spent much of his adult life thinking about other people, whether it was victims of bigotry in his native Britain or migrant laborers in California, those who had little, those of abundance who gave little.

My travels with him (and the other Beatles) were electric. My arguments with him about war and peace and his public righteousness made us both red in the face and dry in the mouth. He was especially vitriolic and profane when he told me I was an (expletive deleted) fool to leave New York to come back to broadcast in Philadelphia.

Even now, you hear the question: "Where were you on the night of Dec. 8, 1980?", just as others once asked, "Where were you the day John Kennedy was shot?"

I can still remember the words of Frank Rizzo, then Philadelphia's mayor, who had warned me during a 1975 Lennon visit to Philadelphia that Lennon should have more protection. I picked him up at 30th Street Station, where he came alone on an Amtrak train. When he met the thousands of people behind the Channel 6 studios, he stood fearless, enjoying the moment. He had come to Philadelphia to host a weekend charity broadcast. Weeks before he died, he told me he'd met more people in the flesh on that Philadelphia weekend than at any other single time in his life.

Ultimately - again, despite his frequent self-absorption - Lennon was in love with people more than with his daunting celebrity persona. Today we remember him as a man who made beautiful music. We also should remember him as a continuing challenge: to overcome our worst aspects, to learn to think less about ourselves, and more about the world and the people around us.
For more on John Lennon, click here.

Update 12/9: Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Grogan's latest on this is absolutely too well done to ignore. That being said, though, one news source did manage to "blow off" everything I've mentioned in this post; the Bucks County Courier Times had absolutely nothing on any of this yesterday.

Food For The Holidays

I apologize because it took me way, WAY too long to get around to this, but Preston and Steve's Camp Out for Hunger has one more day to go, and that’s tomorrow (and as luck would have it, it sounds like a “noreaster” is going to hit tomorrow also). I think their goal is at least 76 tons of food, but hopefully they can surpass that.

Here, here, and here are other places to go if you want to help in your own way, and here is a shining example of someone who did just that.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Dubya vs. Dean

Regarding this story…do I wish Howard Dean would keep his mouth shut? Of course (and I support the guy). I particularly feel that way because the sentiments he expressed were already communicated in a moving and articulate way by Rep. John Murtha. But before anyone starts dumping on Dean, I would ask that you consider this:

- He said when the Iraq War started that it would increase the risk of terrorism to this country (can't find a current link - sorry...). He was predictably hooted down by the right wing echo chamber. However, Dean turned out to be right.

- He made
that unfortunate remark about Tom DeLay returning to Texas “to begin serving his sentence.” Again, he was hooted down (and I cringed when I heard what Dean said). However, I think recent developments have caught up with Dean’s original remark (and as Atrios noted today, even the high and mighty Wall Street Journal is sending a signal to DeLay that he’s on his own at this point).
I checked CNN to read more about Iraq today, but I noticed something else that was interesting. I was going to note that their “Quick Vote” question was “Do you think we’ll win the war in Iraq?” or something like that, and the choices were “Yes, in the short term,” “Yes, though it will be a long haul,” or “No,” (I’m paraphrasing all over the place here), and “No” was selected overwhelmingly. I was going to note that Dean was a lot more correct on this than Bush will ever be.

However, the Quick Vote question was just pulled, and it is now, “Can Iraq be rebuilt even as the insurgency continues?,” with Yes and No as the choices (a lot less provocative of a question, I must say), and again, the “No” choice was picked overwhelmingly.

Am I pointing all of this out to gloat about how great the Dems are and how arrogant and clueless the Repugs are? A bit, yes – I won’t lie to you (though the Dems, as a party, have to mirror the "John Edwards" model of this issue, namely stating that they were wrong but our service people were correct and heroic all along regardless, though many of the Dems are reluctant to do that, to their eternal folly).

But I am mainly continuing to “beat this drum” to call attention to the fact that our service people have been betrayed and they need to be redeployed out of Iraq ASAP. Everybody who knows what he or she is talking about on this says the same thing; that our continued military presence is fueling the terrorist insurgency.

Our people should NOT be over there serving as targets. They’ve done the best they can.

And regarding this story…well, let’s just say that “I’m from Missouri,” Mr. President (or could this speech have been a distraction from this?).

- Show me pictures of these accomplishments.

- Give me testimonials from Iraqis who are willing to go on the record.

- Establish milestones like
Jack Reed and John Murtha have said and show me something like a project flowchart to measure our progress.
Do it, or get our service people the hell out of there!

Then And Now

I thought the story from this link was interesting, though I didn’t understand the context of the very last quote from Yale professor Gaddis Smith.

As you can see, the story provides some background to the attack on Pearl Harbor which took place 64 years ago today and the commissions that investigated the attack versus the 9/11 commission and the publication of its findings, which turned out to be a best seller.

I’ve heard people say for awhile now that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that the attack on Pearl Harbor was coming, but did nothing to stop it to deliberately facilitate our entry into the war (Roosevelt, being dead by the time the commissions were holding their hearings, was unable to defend himself). Based on what I’ve read, I’m moving a little in that direction, but I will only say that I think he knew SOMETHING was coming (maybe an attack on Wake Island only?) and he wanted to use that to get us into the war to help England (after all, the entire Japanese fleet was moving towards this country…how could he not know that?). Again, based on what I’ve read to date, I’ll never believe that he deliberately let the attack on Pearl Harbor take place knowing how terrible it would be. In the same way (again, based on what I’ve read to date), I’ll never believe that Dubya knew that 9/11 would happen. Like Roosevelt, I think he knew something was coming, but he didn’t expect it to be as catastrophic as it was.

I think Roosevelt’s actions showed a bit of guile and deception for what he believed to be a just cause; Dubya’s actions (ignoring the al Qaeda threat even though Richard Clarke and others were warning him not to do so as forcefully as they could) only showed willful arrogance and incompetence.

I pondered all of this a few months ago as I watched “Victory At Sea” on my Mitsubishi VHS player, getting a bit depressed over the irony.

Speaking of the 9/11 commission and its most recent findings, here is a link to a recent story in the Inquirer (registration required) which is truly scary (and remember…it was a bipartisan commission).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Seasons Greetings, Stupid

You can just about take for granted any more that a story such as this one will appear at about this time every year from now on.

I think part of the problem is that those who feel Christmas is being slighted by wishing someone "Happy Holidays" don’t understand the flexibility that our founders built into the U.S. Constitution regarding religion when they wrote the so-called “Establishment Clause” in the First Amendment. The amendment states that there can be no federally sponsored religion, but it also allows for the states to do pretty much whatever they want, including celebrating whatever holiday is applicable for people of other faiths. Another part of the problem is that the people stirring this up (Falwell, O’Reilly and the other “usual suspects”) are trying to create controversies wherever they can in a continual effort at distracting us from taking a good, hard look around and realizing what a mess the politicians they support have truly made of this country (such as that Texas congressman who wants to look into the college bowl “scandal”).

Also, as far as the “Christmas Only” crowd is concerned, anyone celebrating Hanukkah or Kwanzaa is out of luck, right? What a great attitude – so in keeping with the teachings of the individual whose birth we’re celebrating.

In a partly related vein, I should note that I came across a CNN/Money story of what the “hoi poloi” are going to buy for themselves this year (Dubya’s “haves” and “have mores”). In the story, they mentioned something called an “Oculas”. Here is a description from the story:

So when I saw the Oculas, I knew it was the perfect gift for him. This egg-like multimedia shell not only lets you shut yourself off from the rest of the world, it offers 5.1 surround sound and the built-in leather chair will even give you a massage as you blast away the Covenant Elite (note: I think the "Covenant Elite" reference pertains to a video game or entertainment system they mentioned earlier - have to check, even though it's beside the point). Everything from lighting to the whisper quiet door is controlled by a touchscreen within the Oculas. The price? Just $43,166.
Now, click here and tell me what you think this thing looks like. Go on – don’t be shy (ho, ho, ho).

Rummy, Take A Powder

And he dares to compare this fiasco in Iraq to the battle for Iwo Jima in World War II (link here)…

So you don’t believe the stories from the reporters provide “context,” Mr. Secretary? Maybe it’s because you’ve ordered our fine service people to provide nothing to them except boilerplate about how well everything is supposed to be going. Please forgive the poor reporters who are getting killed all over the place for trying to do their jobs (which you hypocritically note “must be difficult” a sentence or two after your original slam at them).

Better bloggers than I have made a convincing case for the proposition that Rumsfeld should no longer have a job because of how he has managed this war (“managed” is a charitable way to put it for him as far as I’m concerned). I think that’s why, periodically, Bushco starts some media buzz along the lines of replacing him every now and then just to see how people react (I was hooked in myself a little while back). A day or so ago, Think Progress (via Atrios) noted that that solid Democrat (ugh) Joe Lieberman could be tabbed to take over for Rummy, since he’s as zombified on the outcome of Iraq as anyone else in this clueless administration.

When will Rumsfeld be replaced? Tomorrow? Next Week? Never? I have no idea. I will only say this; practically all politicians make decisions on the basis of whether or not they’ll win popular support over them versus how much they’ll lose, as we know (the whole “risk/reward” thing). I say “most” because the people in Bushco aren’t completely acting like typical politicians; since they’re so beholden to “the base,” they won’t do ANYTHING that offends that constituency. I believe Bushco’s die-hard supporters would see terminating Rummy as a betrayal more than anything else, and that is why he won’t go anywhere (now, watch me get proven wrong tomorrow…).

However, in the event that somehow Rummy does get shown the door, here is my candidate to replace him (I tried to set up John McCain for it earlier as mentioned in the prior post I linked to above, and color me embarrassed on a couple of different levels for that).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Rock's First All-Star Benefit Concert

It has been my great pleasure over the last few days to view and listen to the brand new DVD production of The Concert For Bangladesh, the benefit concert produced, arranged, and made to happen on just about every level by George Harrison in 1971 (the non-limited deluxe edition with Harrison on the cover).

This link takes you to the concert website which provides historical background on the conflict between East and West Pakistan at that time that ultimately led to the trail of suffering for the Pakistani refugees attempting to settle in Bangladesh, only to be thwarted by famine, poverty, and disease. There are some obvious parallels, I believe, to the crisis for which Harrison provided aid and the human misery currently holding sway in Northern Uganda and the Darfur region of the Sudan.

On August 1, 1971, there were actually two sets performed by the musicians, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. I purchased the three-LP vinyl set many years ago, and even since then, I have never been able to determine whether the afternoon or evening sets were recorded for the three-LP collection and film, or if it was some combination of the two. It’s a small matter, actually, because the terrific quality of the performances makes it a moot point. As is pointed out in a recently-filmed interview segment with some of the remaining performers, the “buzz” generated by the audience from the afternoon show added to the excitement of the evening show.

The DVD begins with an excerpt of a news conference George Harrison and Ravi Shankar gave announcing and promoting the concert, and then leads into the show with Harrison’s stage introduction to the Indian musicians and their performance. At first, I couldn’t understand why Ravi Shankar asked everyone not to smoke, until I realized as the show progressed that the non-Indian musicians smoked like chimneys, so to speak.

Harrison, in the introduction, asked people to realize that the Indian music (“Bangla Dhun”) was more “serious,” but the musicians certainly seemed to enjoy themselves as they played, particularly Shankar on the sitar and Usted Ali Akbar Khan on the sarod during the “Gat,” or quicker-paced part (the “jam,” if you will). Shankar and Khan seemed to play their mini-solos off each other like seasoned session players.

When the Indian musicians left, Harrison returned with the “all-star” band and led off with three numbers from “All Things Must Pass” (for my money, the best of the Beatle solo albums). “Wah Wah,” provided a rousing start, with the more contemplative “My Sweet Lord,” and a by-the-numbers-but-satisfying version of “Awaiting On You All.” The first band performer to be showcased was Billy Preston, which was appropriate partly because of his contribution to the Beatles, and his soulful reading of “That’s The Way God Planned It,” included a spirited, unrehearsed dance that whipped up the crowd (which caused Phil Spector, who engineered the sound, to ask repeatedly in a panic, “Where is he? Where is he?” when he couldn’t hear Preston at the mike, something noted on one of the four documentaries on the Special Features Disk #2).

Ringo Starr then performed “It Don’t Come Easy” (his synchronization with fellow drummer Jim Keltner throughout the performance was very nearly perfect), and Harrison performed “Beware of Darkness” with an unexpected twist of letting Leon Russell sing one of the verses. After the band introduction (where Harrison notes humorously that he “forgot Billy Preston”), Harrison performed “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” trading off with Eric Clapton on a couple of solos (I thought it was interesting, given that I am basically a non-musician, to watch Clapton cue Harrison, who subsequently cued the rest of the band, when it was time for Clapton to finish his solo and end the song).

It probably goes without saying that there are a whole bunch of stories behind this production, but probably the most visible one was that of Clapton. In one of the special features documentaries, Harrison noted that, after Clapton agreed to perform, telexes were sent back and forth to London to get a confirmation that Clapton would fly over for the performance, but nothing could be confirmed. Harrison contacted Jesse Ed Davis to play lead guitar in case Clapton couldn’t make it, though Clapton eventually showed up after missing the “sound check.” Of course, Clapton being who he is, he stepped onstage just about without the benefit of a rehearsal and played very well. I though it was also interesting to hear Clapton mention that he was playing his great solos on “the wrong guitar,” having left his Fender Stratocaster in London.

To his credit, Clapton was also very candid in one of the documentaries about his personal problems during that time, noting euphemistically that he had been in “semi-retirement” for about two and a half years, though also noting that hard drugs had become a big problem in music towards the end of the 60s, particularly heroin, implying his own use. He and others on the documentaries felt that part of the great appeal of the concert was that it was a revival of the music of the ‘60s without all of the excesses (I cannot recall who noted that multi-act concerts had gotten a black eye after Altamont, and that is why there had not been any for some time, but fortunately, the Concert for Bangladesh changed that).

The next featured performer was Leon Russell, who ripped through a medley of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” by the Rolling Stones and “Youngblood” by Lieber/Stoller and The Coasters. Others would note after the concert that the highlight of the show was the performance by Bob Dylan that would soon follow, and he was terrific, but for me, Russell’s set was positively electric. He was about to explode in popularity as a solo performer, and his revivalist sort of gospel-influenced rock with the shouts back and forth to the backup singers got the crowd back into the show once again, helped considerably by a couple of blazing guitar solos from Don Preston (with Harrison nearly missing his cue a couple of times on the chorus). Harrison then performed an acoustic version of “Here Comes The Sun,” with Pete Ham of Badfinger, one of the many supporting musicians and singers.

In one of the documentaries, Harrison noted that, when Dylan first saw the stage at Madison Square Garden and watched everyone setting up during the sound check, Dylan said, “Hey, this isn’t my thing,” and Harrison said, “It isn’t mine either, and I’ve never fronted a band or anything like that, but at least you have.” Because of Dylan’s hesitation, Harrison noted “Bob ?” on the song list after “Here Comes The Sun,” and very nearly towards the beginning of Dylan’s performance, it wasn’t known if he would even show up that afternoon. However, show up he did, fortunately. Ringo Starr noted later that, since no one knew exactly what he would be performing, everyone just “went with it, and we played a 4/4 time throughout for his afternoon set,” but when the evening came along and Dylan started, Starr’s reaction was, “Oh, now we’re playing a waltz.”

The first song Dylan performed was “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” followed by “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.” On the Dylan set, Harrison played a slide guitar accompanied by Ringo on tambourine, which I thought was interesting. You can’t tell that from the film, and in fact a lot of the camerawork was a constant source of irritation to me, until I watched the “Making Of The Movie” featurette and realized what an enormous technical challenge Saul Swimmer faced in making the film. Now, we take for granted the precise framing of shots when filming music performances, along with the sweeping camera movement and synchronized editing with the music, but in terms of technological innovation, this concert took place in the stone age. The fact that that is reflected somewhat in the camerawork, which seems to constantly be a step behind the performance, does not convey all of the hard work that went into filming this show (the only moment of note in that department was the split screen of Shankar and Khan finishing their performance of “Bangla Dhun,” which was actually typical for many films during that time).

Dylan then expertly brought “Blowin’ In The Wind,” and “Just Like A Woman” back once more before concluding. However, one mystery to me regarding his set is the absence of “Mr. Tambourine Man” on the DVD. I checked some message boards, and some people said that the film ran out during the song, and that is why it appears on the original vinyl LP and the CD but not the DVD. That makes sense – one of the problems Swimmer noted was that no one knew at the time to “stagger” the filming of the concert, so on occasion, the cameras ran out of film at the same time. However, I also read a post that said the performance shows up on a version of the DVD for European distribution. I may never know the answer conclusively, but I don’t think that detracts from the DVD. Besides, a previously unseen version of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” played during the evening set appears as a special feature, and it is truly a gem, more than making up for “Mr. Tambourine Man” as far as I’m concerned (other special features include “If Not For You,” with Harrison trying hard to provide on harmony vocal for Dylan on the duet, and a raw version of “Come On In My Kitchen,” a Robert Johnson blues standard brought to life in a rollicking fashion by Harrison, Clapton, and Russell).

Harrison wrapped up the show with “Something,” messing up the words and having a bit of a laugh over it. This was in keeping with all of the good spirit throughout the show, which seemed to almost reverberate back and forth between the audience and the musicians. As a bit of trivia, I thought it was interesting to note that Harrison was ostensibly singing about Pattie Boyd, his wife at the time, while he played the tune with Clapton, who would begin a relationship with Boyd after she divorced from Harrison in 1977, marrying Clapton in 1979 until their divorce in 1989 (yielding the songs, “Layla,” and “Wonderful Tonight, by Clapton, as well as Clapton’s searing cover of Billy Myles’ “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” about her, making Boyd a true legend in rock music).

As an encore, all the musicians returned to perform “Bangla Desh.” As they furiously ripped through the rousing finale, it seemed as if Phil Spector’s attempt to recreate a live “wall of sound” with the almost ridiculously overcrowded stage had finally succeeded.

The main documentary on the Special Features disk #2 presents remembrances from Ringo Starr, bassist Klaus Voorman, Billy Preston, Jann Wenner of “Rolling Stone” magazine, Leon Russell, UN General Secretary Kofi Annan and many others interspersed with heaping doses of the great music (Harrison noted that John Lennon told him to use “the power of the Beatles” to get the musicians and otherwise make the concert happen). One documentary about the making of the film contains interviews from sound engineers Norm Kinney and Steve Mitchell where they describe “having to cram 44 audio tracks into 16,” and also with Swimmer who describes having to “blow up” the filmed shots of the performers frame by frame to 70 MM to accommodate the sound.

The film documentary also includes a brief interview for a local news station with concert goers camping out at MSG in advance to buy tickets; the news reporter conducting the interview is a newbie journo wearing a wide-lapelled powder blue polyester sports jacket named Geraldo Rivera (not yet looking inside Al Capone’s vault). The album documentary shows Harrison discussing some of the business problems related to the concert, primarily the fact that the distribution company of Capitol/EMI, the label upon which the concert was recorded, held up release of the record over money. That was resolved eventually, of course, and also included in the documentary is a film clip of Johnny Mathis presenting the 1972 Best Grammy award to Ringo Starr for the album, which beat out “American Pie,” by Don McLean and “Moods” by Neil Diamond.

Harrison noted that the concert raised about $250,000 which went to UNICEF primarily for oral re-hydration solution to treat the cholera from which the refugees were suffering. Others interviewed recently said that the concert helped people to feel “a renewed sense of activism,” with Clapton saying that this was a time “when we could be proud of being musicians…we weren’t just thinking of ourselves for five minutes.” Shankar, quite simply, called the concert “a miracle.”

I thought the quality of the video on the DVD was quite good given the primitive master from which it was copied, and I listened to the concert in either of the two Dolby options, and the clarity of the sound was wonderful. The DVD can also be viewed with English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese subtitles.

I am proud to give my most enthusiastic recommendation to this new DVD release. If you care about the music of this period to any degree whatsoever, buy this set.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Three Quick Ones

- This partial score: Dead Marines 10, Al Qaeda 1.

(Bushco and its minions sure have a knack for pushing bad news off the front pages in a hurry, don't they? - hat tip #1 to Atrios).

- The blogger Digby reports that Judge Alito has an interesting notion of how police should use deadly force (fortunately, his sadistic interpretation was overruled when the case got to the Supreme Court - hat tip #2 to Atrios).

- I haven't said much about the legal troubles of congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham in CA, who was convicted this week and resigned from the House, mainly because the story has been covered so well by other bloggers. Well, Itsez has more on Cunningham, particularly when he was much younger and remembered as a decorated war hero, and I doubt seriously that you will find information included in his post anywhere else. We know what Cunningham is now, but not too many of us remember what he used to be, and in this case, I think that's important.

Update 12/6: Brendan at Brandoland has a great post today on Cunningham's nonsense (call girls, luxury suites, Cunningham applying some "grease" to the tune of about $100 grand to get some starting-out contractor on a "preferred provider's" list for Dick Cheney - amazing that these guys continue to think that they can get away with this stuff).

Froma Harrop of the Providence (R.I.) Journal weighs in also (some of her stuff is awful from time to time, but she's nailed a few columns pretty well too, including this one).