The Highwomen Deliver Emotional Effort, Sheryl Crow Going Out with a Bang

One of the things that the world of music has gotten hammered on over the past few years is the paucity of female performers, both on the radios and satellites of listeners and in the awards process (Grammys, CMAs, etc.). It is a fair argument too; in country music currently, you have to go down to #11 on the Billboard Country Singles chart to find the first female entry (Carrie Underwood) and, on the Billboard Hot 100, although the first three slots are occupied by women or male/female combos (Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” Shawn Mendes & Camilla Caballo with “Senorita” and Billie Eilish’s mopey “Bad Guy”), there are only two other female contributors in the Top 20 (the Ariana Grande/Miley Cyrus/Lana Del Rey collaboration for the reboot of Charlie’s Angels entitled “Don’t Call Me Angel” and Ariana Grande with Social House). With two new releases out from top female artists, you might think that this situation would change, but you’d be surprised.

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First up is the rather ostentatiously named The Highwomen, who have come out with their eponymous CD Highwomen. The quartet, consisting of Grammy winners Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires along with Grammy nominated songwriter Natalie Hemby, are all very accomplished performers and songwriters in their own rights. Coming together for this record, however, they put their egos at the door and come up with an emotional effort that delivers across the board for their purposes as a female country supergroup.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, however: they probably should have called themselves something other than “The Highwomen.” That name harkens back to the 80s when four of the titans of country music – the late Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson – joined forces as “The Highwaymen,” a country supergroup that brought each man commercial and critical success. By branding themselves as “The Highwomen,” it seems that Morris, Carlile and Company are equivocating themselves as equal to the legendary male artists who made the name famous (plus they’re putting a HUGE target on themselves). Even Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt – the closest thing there was to a female “Highwaymen” previously – didn’t have the audacity to call themselves “The Highwomen.”

If you can get by the quartet calling themselves “The Highwomen,” you’re going to find a very solid outing from the artists involved. Of course, they have to start off the album with their version of The Highwaymen’s “Highwayman,” and it is naturally called “Highwomen.” It follows the pattern that was set by Cash, Nelson, et. al., with a call-and-response song about repressed women in history. A woman subjected to and executed during the Salem Witch Trials; a Freedom Rider murdered in the South; and (poignantly starting the song) a refugee from Honduras who took the long walk to try to seek asylum with her family in the U. S before dying on the trek. It is an excellent update from the male oriented original and starts a very emotional trek that runs through the album.

“We are the Highwomen,
Singing stories still untold.
We carry the sons you can only hold.
We are the daughters of the silent generation,
You send our hearts to die alone in foreign nations,
And they return to us as tiny drops of rain
But we will still remain…”

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Going deeper in the album there are some jewels for the listeners. Perhaps for the first time ever, there is a lesbian “kiss off” song called “If She Ever Leaves Me” that tries to subtly tell a cowboy that the woman he’s looking at picking up – Carlile’s secret lesbian lover – “thinks your cologne’s too strong, she’s into perfume” and that he has absolutely no shot. Another song that is noteworthy is “My Only Child,” a song from a mother to her child about why she didn’t have any more children for her child to play with.

The songs aren’t long on Highwomen, roughly three minutes in length for the 12 songs on the record, but each one packs an emotional punch that doesn’t get displayed often in music. If you’re a fan of the women in the group – or you just want to hear some damn good country (or maybe “Americana”) music – you’d be well advised to pick up the record.

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In her over 30-year career, Sheryl Crow has pretty much done it all. Originally a music teacher, Crow would in 1987 become a backup singer for Michael Jackson on his Bad tour. She would eventually find success as a solo artist through her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club in 1994. Now, more than 25 years later (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, are you listening?), it looks as though Crow is calling it a close for her album recording career with her CD Threads.

Why does it seem like the Missouri songbird is ending her recording career? Because it seems that she brought everyone and their brother out to play with her on the album! Both Morris and Carlile from The Highwomen make appearances with Crow and they rank as the MINOR players on the record. Artists such as Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Eric Clapton, Gary Clark, Jr., Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Joe Walsh, St. Vincent, James Taylor and Emmylou Harris all add their prodigious talents to the record, making it for a stellar outing. Let’s put it this way: if this is the way that Crow wants to bid adieu to her recording career, she’s done a hell of a job.

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There are several highlights on the record. “Prove You Wrong” with Crow harmonizing with Nicks and Morris, starts the record with a bang that sets the ever-increasing standard for the rest of the record. “Beware of Darkness” is an ode about falling too far down “the rabbit hole” and letting everyday news bring us down, brought to life by the guitar work of Clapton and the vocals of Sting and Carlile.

It is a couple of collaborations you don’t expect that seem to steal the record, though. First is a stunning “Redemption Day,” a duet with the late Johnny Cash. The collaboration took a version of her song that Cash recorded before he passed away and mixed it with her voice, delivering a performance for the ages. From Crow’s lilting voice to the gravely rumble of “The Man in Black,” the song that Crow wrote about the U. S. involvement in Bosnia gains new life in these times. Crow comments in the liner notes that “online trolls say ‘shut up and sing…’ I’d think no one would have the gall to tell Johnny Cash to shut up and sing…he’d probably respond with the famous photo Jim Marshall took of him at San Quentin, the shot taken ‘just for the warden.’”

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The other collaboration is surprising in the mixing of genres that comes together. Crow teams up with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, soul singer Andra Day and guitar wizard Clark on “The Story of Everything,” a song that, according to Crow, “was born out of the feeling of frustration with the state of affairs in America…so much hope accompanied our first black President into office, but that hope turned into fear and division.” The foursome power through the song, calling out those who continue to push the divisiveness in the nation today, and they aren’t shy about laying it at a certain politician’s door. Musically the song is evocative, lyrically it is a protest from the people…and a warning that the people better pull their heads out of their asses.

The record could have been called “Sheryl Crow and Friends” because, without the ample assistance from Crow’s pals, the record wouldn’t have been as impactful as it is. Crow’s steady, beautiful mezzo-soprano is accented by each and every performer and she’s smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let her guests do their thing. If it is goodbye to recording for Crow, this is one hell of a way to exit the stage.

Alas, it appears nobody is listening to these artists. The Highwomen are currently ranked #53 on the Billboard Album charts after peaking at #10 two weeks ago, while Crow’s record reached #30 on the Albums chart and #2 on the Country Albums chart before plunging off in a mere two weeks. This is a sad statement on the music industry today, but it is something that REAL music fans will appreciate by supporting these women.

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The Aftermath of 9/11 – Has it Been Worth It?

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Today marks 18 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center changed the world forever, and not for just the States of America. 19 terrorist hijackers primarily from Saudi Arabia – 15 of them held Saudi citizenship, two were from United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon and one from Egypt – seized control of four aircraft flying cross-country routes from Boston, Newark, NJ and Washington, D. C., to California (Los Angeles and San Francisco). Loaded with jet fuel, the terrorists utilized the planes as weapons, employing training that they had received at flight schools in the U. S. to pilot one plane each into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Washington and, after an uprising of the passengers on the flight, a forced crash landing in a field in Pennsylvania instead of its intended destination of the White House or Capitol Hill, home of the U. S. Congress.

The results of the 19 terrorists’ actions were immediate and numbing. 2977 people – and not all of them ever had any physical evidence of their existence ever recovered from the wreckage – were killed in the four instances, the worst terrorist attack on U. S. soil in the country’s history (the 1941 attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor technically did not occur on U. S. soil as Hawaii was a territory of the U. S. at the time, not a state). And, much like when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the response from the country was swift and powerful. But the question has to be asked – 18 years later in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, has it been worth it?

In the days following 9/11, first responders sifted through the rubble of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania, trying to find any survivors and, when it became apparent that there were no survivors, recover the bodies of those who were killed in the attacks. Meanwhile, the presidency of George W. Bush aggressively moved to act against an unknown opponent. In an address to Congress mere days after the attacks, Bush announced that a “war on terrorism” needed to be conducted and, with the blessing of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, received virtually everything that was asked, including wide-sweeping mass surveillance of citizens of the U. S. (the Patriot Act of 2001) and broad ability to conduct military actions anywhere in the world.

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That thoroughly expected military action is still ongoing. As a part of the actions given to the Bush administration, on September 14, 2001 a broad Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) was granted by Congress. This allowed the Bush administration to immediately attack – without the consent of Congress, who is the body that has the right to declare war against another country – anyone viewed as “responsible for the attacks of September 11” and any “associated forces.” The AUMF has since been used by subsequent administrations.

There has rarely, in the history of the U. S., been two documents that affected the future as much as the Patriot Act and the AUMF. With the Patriot Act, it became possible for the government itself to spy on its own people, something that would have been abhorrent to the founders of the country or, even more recent, those that fought against oppressive governments in Germany, Japan and Italy in World War II. With the AUMF, it basically allowed the government to wage war virtually anywhere in the world in the name of the “war on terrorism;” it has been used to justify military actions by not only the Bush administration but those of President Barack Obama and the current occupant of the White House in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Yemen, Georgia, Syria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Iraq and Somalia, among others.

But other, uglier actions arose from 9/11. Now called “hate crimes,” attacks against Muslims, Middle Eastern “looking” people, people of Asian descent (Sikhs in particular, who wear turbans that are erroneously confused with being associated with the Islamic faith) and others precipitously rose, blaming them for the actions of the 19 terrorists. This included taunting people in public and burning mosques all the way to killing people, when white supremacists took lives of those that “looked like terrorists” or were “towel heads” in a murderous rampage. It is arguable that these actions go on to this day.

Citizens themselves are not absolved of any responsibilities or blame for the devolvement of society since 9/11, either. If Watergate damaged the image of the country in peoples’ minds, the 2000 election controversy between Bush and former Vice President Al Gore and the actions of 9/11 totally destroyed any belief in a “just” government. These shattered thoughts and beliefs have tumbled over the past two decades into a massive snowball that ravages the psyche of the country in an avalanche of unsubstantiated thoughts and “alternative facts,” weaponized by extremists and employed by those to justify their philosophies.

Beliefs that the U. S. were a part of a “New World Order” (a phrase, ironically, uttered by Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush) brought about the idiotic conspiracy theories that 9/11 was an act by the Central Intelligence Agency and other nefarious operators, both domestic and international, to take freedoms from the citizens of the U. S. The use of fraudulent intelligence by the Bush administration that led to the Second Gulf War and the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein further ripped the fabric of the country. And the virulent rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle – that if you didn’t fully support “American” action, then you weren’t a “true American patriot” – contributes even today to the massive schism that exists in our political process.

The costs of the “war on terror” brought by the 9/11 attacks also have to be questioned. The human toll is striking and depressing simultaneously – the U. S. military has seen roughly 7000 deaths and tens if not hundreds of thousands of injuries from operations contributable to the “war or terror.” The civilian cost is estimated to be conservatively 1.3 million deaths, although some estimates set the total closer to four million. And the costs to cultural, religious and historic areas – ISIS has destroyed many sites of antiquity in their version of the “war on terror” – are too numerous to mention.

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The human costs are arguably the most important thing, but the financial costs of continuing the “war on terrorism” are approaching astronomical figures. Since 2001, it is estimated that the three U. S. presidential administrations that have conducted the “war on terrorism” have spent $7.6 TRILLION pursuing terrorist targets around the world and added $2.4 TRILLION to the U. S. budget deficit. This isn’t counting what other nations, including our NATO allies, have spent in their support of the actions following 9/11.

What has all of this brought to the U. S. and the world? “Terrorism” is something that can never truly be snuffed out. It is an action that dates back to biblical times (a Jewish group called the Sicarii would use concealed daggers to execute their targets in large crowds before slipping away and the Hashhashin, an Islamic sect, were a terrorist group in the 11th century that employed terrorist killings – the group’s name is where the word “assassin” comes from) but, in recent history, has moved from a “nation-state” action to a tool used by an individual political, religious or social group that has no traditional physical base of activity. It is one of the reasons that al-Qaeda (the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11), despite the protestations of the current administration, continues to thrive around the world.

And what has been the collateral damage from the aftermath of 9/11? In the U. S., we have raised a generation of children that know nothing but “war” and a misguided view of “patriotism” that is foisted by some who use that “war” as a political tool. In the world, there are people who have seen their families affected by the bombs of some far-flung U. S. drone attack, the bullets from a U. S.-made weapon or the ravages of imprisonment for “being (insert your religion or nationality here)” that has permanently implanted anti-U. S. sentiments in their minds. And the money that has been spent on the pursuit of “war” hasn’t been spent on areas to improve life for EVERYONE, significantly impacting all facets of life around the world.

On this 18th anniversary of 9/11 and in the future, as the costs both human and financial continue to rack up, we all must ask ourselves – “Was (Is) it worth it?” The nationalism that is becoming prevalent in the world nowadays can be directly traced back to 9/11 and it is something that has to be combated because it will only acerbate terrorism throughout the world. When it comes to the aftermath of 9/11, everyone has to have the ability to examine this question and plenty of other ones truthfully and come up with their own answers because this current situation cannot be continued in perpetuity. The current situation also cannot be allowed to flourish, lest it destroy civil society and plunge the world into an anarchistic state or theocratic or fascist rule. There is no such thing as “total security” and these thoughts present not only the people and leaders of the U. S. with a complex challenge but the world as well.

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If You’re Going to “Show Support” for the Military, Show it FOR ALL

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When it comes to my service in the military, I am proud of it, but I don’t make a big deal out of it. My Honorable Discharge hangs proudly on my wall (thanks to my Mom, may she rest in peace, for keeping it all these years) and I have several photos that show me at different stages during my four years of service. I do fly the United States Marine Corps flag on military and some national holidays but, as previously stated, I usually don’t make a big deal of my veteran status. A situation recently has made me rethink this situation, however, because it seems that veterans still get short shrift in most arenas.

Recently I was flying back from a fantastic family trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina (something that I would encourage people to do at least once – it is a historic, beautiful, exciting and fun area to visit) and doing what is the worst part about flying – waiting for the call to board the plane. If you’re one of the few people on Planet Earth that haven’t flown, let me set the stage for you: imagine a herd of cattle in a pen waiting for the train to open up and then, in an orderly procession, slowly meander onto the transport. That’s what loading a plane is like, only in a human form.

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Anyway, back to the point. The gate attendant (the airline was unimportant, but they recently bought the naming rights to the Las Vegas Raiders new stadium) was doing a fine job, actually moving the cattle forward with some rapidity, when I heard her make this call. “At this time, we’d like to allow all active duty, reserve and retired military to board the aircraft first and thank you for your service.”

I’ve heard this on many an occasion but, for the first time, this set me off.

Airlines aren’t the only ones who have fallen victim to this mindset. Many restaurants and other businesses, when looking to “Salute the Troops,” will often use those three designations – active duty, reserve service and retired – often negating those who aren’t actively in service and didn’t retire from the Armed Forces but did actually served for a substantial amount of time in some cases. According to estimates from the National Conference of State Legislators, there are 18.8 million veterans in the United States. Of that total, there are roughly 2.1 million retired military persons and 2.3 currently active or reserve members of the Armed Forces. That means there are over 14 MILLION people in the States of America whose service to the country is being disrespected.

I am sure there are plenty of instances of this, but I don’t have to go any further than my family for examples. My service in the USMC was honorable but, after four years of active duty (and two more in the Reserves), I decided that the military lifestyle wasn’t for me and walked away. Service in the military isn’t for everyone and, although I credit the military lifestyle for being an important building block in the creation of me, I recognized that it wasn’t something that I wanted to make a career of philosophically, politically or otherwise. In short, I was proud of my service, but I wasn’t looking to do it permanently.

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For an example on the longer end my brother, from the time he entered the USMC, wanted to make a career of it. The little idiot actually signed up to JOIN THE INFANTRY, for fuck’s sake. And he served admirably in the first Gulf War, where he was injured by a shattered windshield on his troop carrier (the glass from the windshield nearly took one of his eyes out) as his unit rumbled into Kuwait City, but he refused the Purple Heart.

As the years went on, however, the wear and tear of the military and, in particular, the infantry requirements began to debilitate him. Four years short of making his lifetime goal – to serve for 20 years in the military – the USMC had to medically discharge him because his body was so broken down he couldn’t go on (a prime example of “the mind wanting to but the body unable”). So, for statistical purposes, my brother – who gave his body in service to the country – is NOT a “retired” veteran…just a “veteran” but not worthy of recognition. Nowadays he makes do, but without the retired military veteran’s pension that he had worked so long for.

This type of story can go further, even to today’s veterans. How many of the young men and women have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, after four or eight years of service (or shorter, in some cases) with debilitating or life-altering injuries, and face this same type of thought? That you are “not worth honoring” because you aren’t currently serving or retired? And what about those 14 million plus veterans who did their jobs – and did them honorably, from Berlin to Okinawa, from Vietnam to Korea, from Grenada to Beirut, from Baghdad to Kabul, in “peacetime” (an oxymoronic statement about the States of America) and in times of war – but yet are neglected when it comes to recognition or treatment?

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Recognition of veterans has always been a bit shitty in the States of America, to be honest. We talk a good game about “supporting the troops” but, when it comes down to actually taking care of that Afghanistan veteran, now a quadriplegic, who is trying to get by on a Social Security check or getting the right mental health care for that Vietnam veteran who saw a village on the Mekong wiped out by napalm and still wakes up at night screaming, this country hasn’t come up for them. We have an amazing capability to create veterans, we also have a tremendous ability to tell them to fuck off when they need help the most.

In the grand scheme of things, whether ALL veterans are honored with special treatment isn’t that big a deal. But instead of segmenting some for “special recognition,” it perhaps would make more sense to either recognize ALL of those who served – regardless of whether they are active, retired or “just a veteran” – or just don’t bother with the platitudes. If you want to show “support for the troops,” how about taking care of them once their service is complete rather than a couple of bucks off a meal at Golden Corral?

“Conservatives,” It’s Time to Get Off Your Ass and Reclaim The GOP

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Even though we’re in the infancy of the 2020 Presidential Campaign, we’ve already been hearing plenty about the candidate that the Democratic Party should choose. Some on the left have advocated for extreme left wing, progressive philosophies that harken to a socialist democrat state in Scandinavia. Then there’s those in the moderate/center left branch – and even some moderate “Republicans” – that are advocating for a more mainstream, middle of the road candidate. Instead of doing these things – because with 24 candidates to choose from, there’s going to be a process until it is decided who are the serious contenders – how about “conservatives” actually get off their ass and reclaim the “GOP” from the POT?

Currently the most divisive president in the history of this country is sitting in the WH, and don’t even open your yaps about “but Obama…” Obama was NOT a racist son of a bitch. He was NOT a xenophobic asshole. He was NOT a misogynistic, narcissistic bastard. He didn’t constantly feed red meat to other racist motherfuckers with his verbiage, his actions or his policies. This IS ON THE “CONSERVATIVES,” on them – if they believe that they have a future – to reclaim the party they sacrificed in 2016 when they nominated this asshole to the Republican Party.

So, you say he’s not a racist? THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT sued and won a case regarding his discrimination against blacks in housing. He tells FOUR AMERICAN CITIZENS – three of whom are BORN IN THIS COUNTRY – to “return to the country they came from,” a racist dog whistle that blows loud from every racist motherfucker knuckle-dragging their way to the redneck bar. He says white supremacists are “fine people.” He sidles up and has warm, wet kisses with fascists, despots and dictators. You NEED MORE to demonstrate his racism? Try this…and this…and this. You don’t get the NAACP Man of the Year award if you’ve got this many issues. In fact, he’s NEVER won an “award” from the NAACP. (And before anyone pipes up about the Ellis Island Award, he got that the old fashioned way, the same way he got his star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame – he bought the fucker.)

Anyway, back to the gist. For all the “conservatives” trying to advise the Democrats on who they should nominate, they should perhaps look in the mirror and into their own souls. You continually say that this isn’t “indicative of the party” or “indicative of what we believe.” Yet you continually support the policies promoted by this fascist bastard and DON’T STOP HIM AT ALL.

But the stock market’s doing SO GOOD!

But my 401k looks GREAT!

The unemployment rate is down!

All bullshit statements.

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If you are willing to sell your souls for a few extra dollars in a retirement account that will sit there until you too goddamn old to be able to use it for anything fun, then what would it take for you to actually throw the switch on a gas chamber and kill some “illegal” immigrants? Two percentage points growth in the GDP? A few more hundred points on the stock market? If this is your rationale for accepting the idiocy that you see, then that says a great deal about your character and your soul.

If you are REALLY against what Orange Foolius is doing, then actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. 2020 is around the corner. VOTE AGAINST HIM and get him out of the office. If you are as concerned as you say you are about “the United States of America,” then this embarrassment in the history books must be corrected. And you CAN vote against him, you don’t have to support every iota of inanity that he does. Because when you do, you become COMPLICIT in what he is doing. Do not ever let me hear a “Republican” or a “conservative” EVER talk about morality, upholding the law or “religious freedom” ever again, because you have sacrificed any position or moral stance with your support for your “Dear Leader.”

It is up to you, “conservatives.” If you say this person isn’t representative of you, that the racist fucks that exist in this country aren’t reflective of your “base,” it is time to goddamn prove it. Vote against him – and yes, I know you love stealing Supreme Court seats and gerrymandering voting districts, but this isn’t a coffee klatch we’re talking about…this is the future of this country. Sometimes you must admit you were wrong, “conservatives,” and this was a big one. You want to reclaim the GOP and have a future…exorcise this past. Otherwise you will wander the deserts as the POT (the “Party of T***p) dies a cruel death.

Turning Back the Clock with New Releases from Bruce Springsteen, Prince

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If it seems like you’ve stepped into the DeLorean from the movie Back to the Future when you look at the Billboard Album charts, you would be correct. Later this week, Madonna’s new record Madame X will ascend to the top of the charts. Likewise, veteran rocker Bruce Springsteen will be there in the second slot with a collection of western swing and acoustic tunes on his album Western Stars. Finally, the late Prince will make his own appearance as his estate releases his Originals CD, a collection of demos that the Purple One performed and gave to other artists for their own success.

All three of these artists were highly influential on the development of MTV – you know, that channel that used to show music videos before it devolved into a reality show hub of hedonistic and oversexed muscle heads from New Jersey and knocked up teenagers before they head to porn to make a living. And Madge and “The Boss” have been in this position before – in 1985, with her Like a Virgin album taking down his Born in the U.S.A. in February of that year. Since I’ve never had a great affection for Madge, however, we’re going to focus on the two men in this look back in time, Prince and Springsteen, and what they bring to the table.

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For better or worse, the late Prince’s estate is continuing to release materials from “The Vault,” which supposedly contained thousands of Prince’s outtakes from studio sessions that either he never felt should be released, that he didn’t consider good enough for release or that he felt he could still work on and improve. Last year, The Prince Estate released Piano and a Microphone 1983, a stark piece of work that showed Prince’s creative process but also highly early drafts of songs he could have made better. Reviews for that were mixed because of these facts and those arguments will be revived for his new CD.

On Originals, The Prince Estate has cobbled together 15 songs that Prince originally wrote and put down on tape, but then did the unexpected. Whether he planned on it (and, with some of the songs, it was planned) or whether it was out of the blue, Prince gave the songs and, perhaps most importantly, the credit for creation to other artists. This is unheard of in the industry; the most valuable right that an artist can have is the songwriting credit, which gives a lifetime of royalties for performance and playback.

The CD begins with two songs that were readily recognizable as Prince songs but were made famous by others. “Sex Shooter” (done in the move Purple Rain by Apollonia 6) and “Jungle Love” (performed OUTSTANDINGLY by Morris Day and the Time in the same film) sound as if they could have come off the movie soundtrack. While “Sex Shooter” sounds more come hither with Apollonia and her backing singers, Prince does give the structure of the song. The same can be said for “Jungle Love,” but it is arguable that Day and Jesse Johnson, the guitarist on the song, provided the swagger that it would eventually earn.

The third song on the CD is arguably the most noteworthy of the songs on the collection and shows how artists collaborate well. “Manic Monday,” which an infatuated Prince gave to Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles, is a powerful piece of pop craftsmanship in the hands of the Purple One. All Hoffs and the Bangles had to do was fill in some blanks, changing some of the piano tracks and adding in the four-part harmonies that they were famous for.

What are the jewels of Originals, however, are the lesser-known tracks. Tunes that were recorded by Vanity 6 (“Make-Up”), Mazarati (“100MPH”) and – believe it or not – Kenny Rogers (“You’re My Love”) could have used a little support from their Creator, but he was happy to just be able to try to help his proteges/friends. And, to finish off the record, the simply amazing recording of his version of the song he would give not only to Sinead O’Connor (and would make her an international superstar) but also to The Family, “Nothing Compares 2 U” closes the album with a smash.

Even though I am an unabashed Prince fan, I STILL feel a sense that we aren’t supposed to be hearing these pieces, however. Much like when Microphone came out last year, it almost seems as if you’re infringing on the private thoughts and noodling of an artist in a creative process, not someone who was laying down a track for the public to hear. On these songs, Prince was giving the framework to the performers who would later make them smashes. He WASN’T doing it for himself and he probably never intended for them to be heard, content in staying in the shadows and allowing his friends to shine on their own.

Does this mean I am going to stop purchasing the new releases when The Prince Estate puts them out? HELL NO! Originals is an outstanding piece of musical history and, arguably, should have been released last year instead of Microphone. It shows that Prince was quite altruistic with his creative output (for whatever reason that may be) and it did help some artists become big and big artists become huge because of his involvement. It also shows that he could have made these songs hits on his own, but he decided they were better in the hands of others – truly a man who knew his boundaries.

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Another performer also known for letting other artists make hits out of his songs is Bruce Springsteen. Such artists as Patti Smith and 10,000 Maniacs (“Because the Night”), Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (“Blinded By the Light”), the Pointer Sisters (“Fire”) and even the late Natalie Cole (“Pink Cadillac”) have recorded his songs, entrenching him as one of the great songwriters of our time. But artists are going to have a hard time remaking anything from “The Boss’” most recent work.

Western Stars is a love letter from Springsteen to the “California sound” of music from the 70s that fused country and rock into a softer sound. To be honest, though, it misses the mark in that area. It isn’t an ode to the sounds of Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt; in fact, it’s difficult to determine just WHAT sound Springsteen is going for on the CD.

Springsteen uses way too much orchestration for it to be a “country rock” album in the vein of those 70s artists. But it doesn’t quite reach all the way to country music nor western swing music. There seems to be but one reason for the CD to be in existence…Springsteen’s gravitas as an artist.

It isn’t like Springsteen hasn’t done some off the beaten path material in the past. After the success of The River, people were expecting a massive smash from “The Boss.” Instead, Springsteen gave them a stark, four-track album of acoustic material that was artistically outstanding in Nebraska. He would repeat this style of acoustic music a little more than a decade later on The Ghost of Tom Joad (the title an homage to John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath about the western dust bowls of the 1930s).

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But this effort from Springsteen lacks something. On both Nebraska and Tom Joad, there was a heart and a passion to the music that made it sound like Springsteen was invested in the work. With Western Stars, it sounds like Springsteen is going through the motions, not really putting his all into the music and content to tread the same musical boards he’s walked before.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some good pieces among the 13 tracks on the CD. “The Wayfarer,” “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)” and “Chasin’ Wild Horses” evoke some of what Springsteen might have been attempting to do with the album. The rest, though, have an overdone quality, especially with the sweeping orchestral arrangements that you never heard on a Jackson Browne or Warren Zevon (another troubadour responsible for the “California sound”) song.

At 69, Springsteen has earned the right to do whatever the fuck he wants to do when it comes to his music. And, if you’re like me, you’ll be there to pick it up when he puts it out for the public. But for those who were looking at Western Stars as an album in the strain of the Eagles or some other stalwart of the “California sound,” you’ll be a bit disappointed.

The Clown Car Loads for a Second Run

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2016 was the year that a megaton of TNT was tossed into the political process. Not only were there the rumors of the “rigging” of the process in the Democratic Party (unfounded since one candidate racked up FOUR MILLION VOTES more than the runner-up) but there was the shitshow that was the GOP primary. At one point during the primaries, 17 people were running from the Republican Party for the nomination. Only a scant two years later, it seems that we’ve learned nothing from the past as the clown car loads up for a second run, this time on the Democratic side.

The 2020 race began literally on Inauguration Day 2017. In arguably one of the earliest ever announcements of intent to run, Orange Foolius opened his 2020 reelection campaign THE DAY HE SAT DOWN IN THE WHITE HOUSE. No previous president had EVER taken this unfathomable step, simply because it is a ludicrous idea from the start (what is did was allow Orange Foolius and his sycophants in the “conservative” GOP the ability to worship their god – money and donations from billionaires). The Democrats haven’t done much better, however, they just simply waited until after the 2018 midterms – and the drubbing the Democrats handed to the “conservatives” of the GOP – before they put the makeup, clown shoes and squeaky horns into practice.

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More than 18 months prior to Election Day 2020, the Democratic Clown Car is loading up with buffoons, pretenders and a few contenders. As of today, 20 potential contenders from the Democratic Party have said they are tossing their hat in the ring, with Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton becoming the latest candidate. This isn’t counting former Vice President Joe Biden, who is supposed to announce some time this week his intentions, or the ghastly specter of Hillary Clinton that keeps hovering in the background waiting for attention. By Memorial Day, it is possible that there could be maybe 25 candidates that have announced for the Democrats.

It has literally become comical watching the Democrats scramble to find footing in the race. What isn’t comical, however, is the pressure it puts on the voters to find a viable candidate. On CNN on Monday, FIVE of these candidates – Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris and South Bend, IN, mayor Pete Buttigieg – will have hour-long “Town Hall” meetings that will “break them out of the crowd.” The reason that is in parenthesis is that the only reason they’re doing it is for 1) filling programming time on CNN, and 2) trying to get people to like them.

One of the things about politics is that there are USUALLY protocols that are set in place and for a good reason. Newcomers to any political faction – be it a political party or an elected body on a local, state or national level – usually start out in a what was derogatorily called the “back bench,” waiting their time and learning as they help to advance the party and their platform and positions. But, in the 21st century, that has been thrown out the window, first by the GOP and now by the Dems.

It is a complete waste of time to have anything beyond 10 candidates FOR ANYTHING, let alone leadership of the free world and one of the most prosperous countries on the planet. It is arguable that the GOP process in 2016, which didn’t allow people to coalesce around a candidate that was, you know, a functioning adult with an education beyond a five-year-old, contributed to who they eventually nominated. The 16-person GOP Clown Car allowed for the party to be usurped by a fascist fuck with massive personality disorders and a Twitter fix that constantly must be fed along with his bloated ego.

The same thing could very well happen to the Democrats come 2020. Without the ability to actually focus on a small group – let’s say five to six candidates – there may be either a candidate that isn’t qualified or an extremist to sneak through the cracks and earn the nomination. Then the Dems would become no better than the current “conservatives” who suckle at the teat of Orange Foolius – afraid to offend the person lest they lose their support and unable to operate because of the outlandishness of what the person wants to do.

At this point – and there is a LONG fucking way to go, people – these are the top three candidates that are the MOST VIABLE from the Democratic Party:

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Joe Biden – Has the gravitas of a statesman, can cooperate with the middle and some “conservatives” and regain the respect the country once had before the jackass that’s sitting in the chair now (and I’ll say this now…when he leaves, I can guaran-fucking-tee there’s not going to be the traditional letter than the preceding President leaves for his successor). Cons: his age, some of his past stances on subjects like prison reform, the Anita Hill case and corporate involvement in elections.

BernieSanders

Bernie Sanders – Although I don’t personally like him, he has been able to build a strong coalition that sometimes outthinks themselves. Really, folks…do you think you’re going to get any action on what you want with a “conservative” in the office (then VOTE BLUE, you stupid fucks!)? Cons: not very convincing in how he’s going to pay for all the progressive programs he wants to enact, his past socialist stance (only recently has he moved to “democratic socialist”), his non-Democrat status (you want to run for the leadership of the party but you discard them when they aren’t useful to you?), his age, his professorial tone…do I need to keep going?

Beto O' Rourke

Beto O’Rourke – Beto’s been losing some steam of late – that’s going to happen in a 25-person race. But he’s captured people much like Barack Obama did. That’s also part of his cons: he is inexperienced, he hasn’t provided any substance to what he stands for and it isn’t known how well he works outside of TX.

Going beyond these three and it gets a bit murky. Harris is a solid, middle of the road Democrat that could be a viable contender but would probably make a much better VP or Attorney General. Buttigieg is the “wild card” in the field, gaining ground right now but with little known about him (and seriously, his best elected office is mayor of a small Midwestern town? The biggest things South Bend is known for is being home to the University of Notre Dame, not exactly giving you foreign policy gravitas despite his ability to learn foreign languages). And, if I had to pick a sixth, I’d go with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who has just enough experience to be viable and to make him dangerous if he were to win.

The rest? They will be fortunate to have “former 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate” on their resumes when their obituaries are written, because that’s about the only impact they are going to have on the campaign. Klobuchar? Nobody wants Meryl Streep’s character from The Devil Wears Prada in the White House. Gabbard? Would be a Republican if she knew she’d get elected in Hawaii. Gillibrand? Three words…railroaded Al Franken. Warren? We tried Hillary Clinton in 2016…do we want Hillary 2.0? Hickenlooper? Castro? Messam? Inslee? Swalwell? WHO???

I know the purpose of the primary is to winnow the field to the best possible candidate. But the purpose of the primary is also to choose from a VIABLE field of candidates. Two-thirds of the 2020 Democratic field doesn’t have a chance in hell of earning the nomination or, better yet, defeating the embarrassment currently playing more golf than Tiger Woods. To be able to choose, you must be able to focus on who is actually worthy of the office.

There’s a long time to go in this race, however. Perhaps before the first debates begin in June, the pretenders will realize the futility of their efforts and back out of the race (but I’m not holding my breath on it). But it can be said that the Democratic Clown Car for 2020 is rapidly filling up and it doesn’t bode well for their overall program.

 

Why Record Store Day Means Nothing to Me

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For the twelfth year in a row, Record Store Day has come and gone. Since 2007, there has been one day in April, usually a Saturday, when the nation’s independent record stores – you know, those dying outlets that sell CDs, DVDs and, shock of all shocks, VINYL!! – throw a big party to celebrate their industry. Normally during these special days there are special releases, discounted materials, giveaways and other fun had by all that make it one of the most special days of the year for those who frequent independent record stores.

There’s only one problem…I’ve never been to one of them.

It isn’t because I don’t like music. Quite the contrary…I LOVE MUSIC! Looking back to my youth, my best high school friend DJ and I would cut out from field trips to Champaign, IL, to peruse the stacks at the local “mom & pop” outlet. Often we would walk out of those trips with bags brimming with new LPs – vinyl albums – that were ahead of what was on the radio in those days, much to the consternation of our chaperones on the field trips and, then, our mothers.
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After high school, that collection of albums kept growing. After I entered the Marine Corps, my late mom was more than willing to get the crates of albums out of her house and they traveled with me. At one point, I owned more than 1500 albums, across all genres, and played them frequently. When the advent of CDs dawned in the mid-1980s, I was on it and gradually began seeing my CD collection grow alongside my LPs.

We will avoid the story of where all these priceless treasures went – except to say I hope the bitch choked on them or whatever she bought with the money for selling them – and fast forward to today. I have been able to recreate my former stacks and keep up with the music of today. I am always on the hunt for new material and probably will always be looking for the latest from music, of any genre or generation.

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There is one thing that I won’t do, however. I cannot embrace the vinyl movement again.

It isn’t because of some deep-seated hatred of vinyl that I make this statement. It isn’t the same listening to Miles Davis on a pristine CD or hearing an old Muddy Waters or B. B. King track on MP3. The experience you would get hearing those jewels on a crackly old vinyl album is beyond reproach. The problem lies in the fact that the latest move back to vinyl is a simple money grab by the record industry, not some nostalgic journey back for those today who are too young to remember those days.

I came up through virtually every evolution of the recorded music industry. In the 1960s, it was vinyl albums and singles (called “45s” for those of you who aren’t aware). In the 1970s, the eight-track tape began to take hold, most likely because people couldn’t take a turntable into their vehicles with them and they wanted a way to play music…hence, the eight-track cartridge. The heyday of the eight-track morphed quickly into cassettes, loved because they were smaller than the eight tracks carts and you could bring more with you.

The 80s brought the big switch, one which basically killed vinyl. The compact disc, or CD, became the norm as people ditched their bulky turntables for sleek CD players. The CDs lasted for nearly 20 years before the digital format – MP3s – began to take over. Now, music is pretty much consumed in singular song tracks, either through download or streams. When it came to full-length album purchases, the CDs had to battle it out with…hey, look at that! VINYL ALBUMS!… which made their comeback to challenge CDs for dominance with full-length album purchasers.

Therein lies my problems with vinyl nowadays. Remember those 1500 albums that I used to have? In many cases when I purchased those records, the cost was as low as $3.98 for NEW records. For a 45, it could be as low as $.99. Fast forward to today’s record stores and those very same albums that I once owned are being sold for upwards of $17.99 or more. Likewise, the “turntables” that are offered are nowhere near the technical grade we had back in the 70s and 80s – seriously, your little sister normally had a shitty turntable to play her Leif Garrett 45s on that is about par for what is available today.

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Now you can tell me, “Well, the costs to produce a vinyl record have gone up,” or “Well, there aren’t as many vinyl producers today, so they have to charge more for the product.” In both cases you’d be mistaken. The costs are no higher today to produce a vinyl record and, while there may be fewer production outlets, to produce the minimal content that comes out is a mere pittance compared to vinyl’s heyday.

The reasons that vinyl is done today are many and diverse. There is an air of nostalgia about having a “vinyl” copy of one of the legendary albums in musical history (arguable…wouldn’t it be better to actually have the ORIGINAL legendary album on LP?). Some would say there is a purism to playing some musical formats from the vinyl format (and that would be a fair argument). But the vinyl record resurgence is simply another way for the record companies to scrape more money out of the customers, the listeners, and it is possibly a way for “hipsters” to show they are “legit”…by spinning their music on vinyl rather than CDs or MP3s.

Which brings us back to Record Store Day. I looked at the list of special releases and reissues that were set to come out today and I really wanted some of the pieces on the list. That was until I saw that they were on vinyl or, for fuck’s sake, COLORED vinyl (like I am going to get high and watch the COLORED vinyl spin on the turntable for hours on end). And it immediately turned me off from even being interested in Record Store Day for another year.

I know the logic of Record Store Day is to support the local, independent operators who have, against all odds, stuck it out with formats for music that may seem archaic. These stores do need support and, with the box stores like Best Buy, Target, and FYE all but ending the sale of CDs in their stores, the independent record stores become an even more important part of an audiophile’s life. But don’t continue to do a disservice to your customers by demonstrating a bias to one format over another one simply in a chase for the almighty dollar.

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Here’s a novel thought for 2020, independent record store owners. How about evening out the product between CDs, LPs and whatever else you might desire (hell, if you want to do reel-to-reel, knock yourself out)? Not everyone wants to go “back in time” to the days of vinyl and you alienate much of the customer base when you prize those vinyl purchasers over those who purchase CDs. Besides, you and the record companies took away vinyl once…what stops you from doing it again?