A Tale of Two Concerts…

If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for music. It really doesn’t matter what the genre is…rap, rock, country, metal, punk, you name it, I probably have an inkling about it. About the only thing that I might be a bit deficient on would be classical music, but I can listen to it an appreciate it. Thus, a couple of shows that I saw within the past month demonstrate both sides of the musical spectrum.

On June 22, my lovely wife and I headed to Amalie Arena to see the rapper Pitbull and the balladeer Enrique Iglesias entertain a packed house. When you can fill a 20,000-seat arena with no problems, you know you’ve made it. And the crowd was as diverse as you might expect for such a multi-cultural show: whites, blacks, Latinos/Latinas, young and old…everyone was there for the party. And, for their part overall, the two entertainers for the night held up their end of the deal.

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Iglesias was, for me, the surprise of the night. Considering that he had his first success back in the 1990s as a younger man, the 42-year old Iglesias was energetic and put on a great show (something that those who have been around the business for a lengthy time don’t sometimes do – that’s what they mean by “mailing it in”). There are those of you reading that might recognize the song “Hero,” which was a massive hit in 2001, but I was a bit surprised by how many of the other songs that I recognized by him. “I Like It (which also featured Pitbull prior to his massive success),” a song that was made popular on the reality show Jersey Shore, and other tunes had the crowd going over the span of his 45-minute set.

There was one moment that was extremely special, however. Bringing the mood down into a very intimate setting, Iglesias and his band slowly trod a path through the crowd to the back of the arena, where stools were arranged for the performers to sit on. From that locale, Iglesias and his band performed a couple of tunes for the entirety of the crowd, but made it special for those in the back who are often ignored during a show. It was a nice touch, especially the “troubadour” walk from the stage to the alternate stage and back.

Between shows, there was a DJ (my wife informed me that he was supposedly Pitbull’s uncle, although I am not sure on that) who performed as the roadies broke the stage. I’m not the biggest fan of watching someone work the turntables – it takes a special talent to do it, don’t get me wrong – and as such I was less than thrilled with this part of the program. It was a good time to go get refreshments, however, and it seemed that many were following my lead.

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As far as Pitbull’s performance, it wasn’t the first time I had seen him. My wife and I had attended the 2016 93.3 FLZ Jingle Ball prior to Christmas, which was headlined by Pitbull. Instead of getting a reduced show (the Jingle Ball lineup also featured Martin Garrix, Fifth Harmony, Walk the Moon, and a few others), this would be the first time seeing the Cuban-American superstar doing a whole show. Let’s just say that I wasn’t disappointed either time.

Pitbull’s music – a goulash of Cuban rhythms with pop, rap and dance stylings tossed in and usually featuring Pitbull rapping while a vocalist fills in the chorus – isn’t for everyone but, if you are someone who does enjoy this genre, then you know how good he is. He was backed by a full band and a cadre of female dancers who changed costumes at least four times by my count. But it wasn’t the accoutrements that made the show great, it was the skills of Pitbull to work the crowd.

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Whether he was using his music – and there’s a lengthy resume of hits he rolled out, including “Timber,” “Hotel Room Service,” and many others – or simply speaking to the gathering, Pitbull maintained control of the show entirely. With this said, it didn’t seem as if it were that much longer than the abbreviated show he delivered when he was performing at the Jingle Ball. It was a fun show and would do it again, to be honest, but it was kind of like cotton candy – sweet to eat but with little substance.

Less than a week later (June 28), I went to a show that was completely the other end of the spectrum. The venue was Skipper’s Smokehouse, a nice little dive with great food and an even greater repertoire of music. Imagine if you will an old tobacco shack with a stage, a restaurant that doesn’t have any air conditioning and an outdoor area looking at a bare bones stage that has a few seats but, for the most part, has its patrons standing up for a show.

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This was the venue for one of the true treasures of the music world. Alejandro Escovedo may not be a household name of the level of Pitbull or Iglesias, but he’s is one of the most respected musicians in the industry, cited by Bruce Springsteen and “Little Steven” Van Zandt as an influence. Escovedo has also been through the travails of the music industry, starting off with the punk rock band The Nuns before joining Rank & File in the early 1980s (whom Escovedo said sounded like “punk rock done by George Jones”). He went solo after leaving Rank & File and, for the past 30 years or so, has been grinding the small venues of Texas and, on this night, Florida, plying his trade.

Pat Puckett, an old friend who backed Escovedo during the 1980s, opened the night with a very bluesy set that was perfect for the surroundings and for opening for Escovedo. Puckett’s guitar work was quite good and it really seemed as if his set was too short. He is a popular performer in the Tallahassee area so, if you’re in the mood for some excellent guitar work and a solid rock & roll show, you should check out Puckett.

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Escovedo came out as a thunderstorm broke out, but you couldn’t have moved any of the roughly 600 people who were massed there from their spots. Escovedo ripped through some songs from his current CD, Burn Something Beautiful, highlighted by his performance of “Heartbeat Smile.” By the time he closed the night’s proceedings with his best-known song “Castanets” (notable as it was seen on former President George W. Bush’s iPod), the entirety of the crowd was on its feet, rocking the shack around them as the skies cleared around midnight.

One of the nicer things about these smaller shows is that the performer will more often than not come out and sign CDs and talk to those who attended the show. Escovedo did that, spending some time with my wife and talking about the Austin, TX, music scene before getting a photo with both of us. It was a great way to end the evening.

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So, which was better?

I lean more to the rock side of things, so Escovedo would get my vote. But what was remarkable about the shows was the complete 180 that each presented. From the stylish, staged, and choreographed show from Pitbull and Iglesias to the rugged, rough and ready rock & roll show presented by Puckett and Escovedo, there wasn’t a thing that they had in common except for one thing…the love of music.

If you haven’t done it in a while, I suggest you get back in the ring and give it a try. Go to a concert at your local stadium – doesn’t matter if it’s a rock show or a pop concert – and go to one of your local venues that has performers sometimes just playing for the drinks they’re quaffing. They are both the heart of the music world and, with hope, you can get something out of both experiences.

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“TrumpCare” Is Dead – But We Should Fear What’s Next

Long ago in the States of America, Congress was a body that actually got some things done. They would battle it out on the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate and, after discussing an issue thoroughly, would usually find some way to make it work for not only each party to save some face but for the people of the country to benefit from the decision. Unfortunately, with the polarization of the political process since the mid-1990s, that has become almost as unlikely as the sighting of Yeti on the Las Vegas Strip. Thus, the information rolling out of Washington D. C. on Monday night wasn’t surprising in the least.

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Late on Monday night, the Senate, and particularly Yertle the Turtle (AKA Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), finally came to the realization that what they had fought against for almost a decade was all for naught. For all their complaining about the Affordable Care Act (or “ObamaCare” for simpletons), for all their protestations, for all the literal ink and digital bits spilled on the subject, they had nothing to provide – not one iota of an idea – that would solve the issue regarding health insurance in this country. They weren’t the only ones, however.

Earlier this year, the House tackled the issue as one that they could bamboozle the people of the States of America out of benefits while handing a huge chunk of cash to the wealthy in the nation. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, in his infinite wisdom and budget-wonkery, came up with a plan that “only” eliminated insurance from nearly 24 million people – the original “TrumpCare” or American Health Care Act (when the best you can come up with is only inserting one letter in the acronym, that probably should tell you that you’re going to have issues). It was only after pulling the bill off the table and rejiggering it (so that it only eliminated insurance for 23 million people) that the Freedom Caucus – those Tea Party bastards who didn’t think that the cuts hurt people enough nor go far enough to eliminate the ACA – came around and barely passed the bill through the House.

But McConnell would have none of that House BS. He decided he wanted to be the one to take responsibility for the AHCA with his own creation, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act. As such, he and a group of men – that’s right, despite health insurance having to cover women, not one woman was asked to be on the panel – wrote up a new bill that even other members of the GOP couldn’t see. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul even went on a hunt through DC attempting to find the group penning the piece of garbage that McConnell wanted to spin off, finally stopping when he couldn’t even find where they were writing it.

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McConnell proved to be about as flaccid on the issue as Ryan had been, unable to even draw in enough of his OWN PARTY to get the bill to the point of discussion on the floor of the Senate. Maine Senator Susan Collins protested over the cuts to Medicaid and the removal of protections for women (especially through Planned Parenthood); Paul stood against it because it was “ObamaCare-lite.” Then came the stunner:  Nevada Senator Dean Heller, facing reelection this fall and an angry electorate, said he wouldn’t vote for the bill due to the Medicaid cuts. After Utah Senator Mike Lee (like Paul, concerned that the new bill didn’t do enough to kill people) and Kansas Senator Jerry Moran (ditto) got on the “no” side – and with Arizona Senator John “Sorry I started this crap with nominating Palin” McCain out of action following a serious blood clot surgery – McConnell’s efforts to eliminate health insurance for millions went out the window.

With the failure of the Senate to even bring something to the table for discussion, we can honestly say that “TrumpCare” is done and that “ObamaCare” is still the law of the land. The Democrats shouldn’t be celebrating, however, as what comes next may be much worse than what they thought a “repeal and replace” would look like.

Orange Foolius himself, who during the Presidential campaign said that “repeal and replace” was a mandatory action to take, is now so desperate for something to hang his sorry excuse for election on that he wants to see the Congress simply repeal the ACA. This is an impossibility. Such a repeal has absolutely no chance in either body of Congress because they have constituents that they somewhat must listen to, and “starting from scratch” will have absolutely no support from the Democrats. The scary part of the possibilities is that the GOP and the conservatives – who claim to be “Christians” even though they go against every tenet that the Bible set out – now will gut the ACA further, leading to more misery for the people.

Believe it or not, conservatives, but the ACA is neither collapsing, imploding, or failing. In April, Gallup found that most of the citizens of this country – 55% – were supportive of the ACA. Since 2014, there had been a slow and steady improvement in the ACA, according to such “pinko” organizations as the Kaiser Family Foundation, Standard & Poor’s and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. So why do there appear to be problems now? Because the conservative SOBs have cut off funding for the ACA.

Republicans weakened the market because they repealed provisions that were supposed to aid in supporting the market, such as the fine for those who didn’t have coverage or the taxes on medical devices and “Cadillac” insurance programs that would have kept them stable (not very good ideas, but we’ll get to that in a minute). In not fully funding the program, the GOP has tried to guarantee that the ACA will fail.

Now what do we look forward to?

The good side would be the realization by everyone in the GOP – from the dogcatcher in Podunk, AK to the cretin who sits in the most powerful seat in the world using his dinky digits to plunk out missives to a mass of followers that cannot comprehend anything beyond 140 characters – that it is time to work with their loyal opposition on a deal that BOTH can live with. The ACA was entirely based on the plan that former Massachusetts Governor and Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney used (well) in that state. It was only after Barack Obama latched onto the idea that many in the GOP went against something they had been working on since the Nixon administration, something that was a theme throughout the eight years Obama was President.

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The Dems got to give up some of the taxation on the “Cadillac” plans, for example. These plans, which in some cases give the wealthy the opportunity to have a doctor on call 24/7, were hard earned through their labors and shouldn’t be punished in the slightest. The GOP would have to give up the notion that health insurance is a business that the “free market” should determine all aspects of medical issues; in this case, it should be determined by the government so that it is fair for all. There are many other areas, but the essential point in this scenario is that the buffoons who occupy the halls of power in this country should work together instead of continually damaging the country with their polarization.

The bad side? Orange Foolius gets his entire repeal (which isn’t going to happen due to the fact that 1) it would take 60 votes to push any legislation through the Senate, and 2) that the GOP doesn’t want to be responsible for killing Granny) and everything goes to Hell. The repeal of the ACA would cast the entirety of the health insurance system into chaos, send shockwaves through Wall Street and send medical costs skyrocketing. Most importantly, however, it would devastate families who would have coverage ripped away, families that for the first time were able to visit a doctor for care rather than the Emergency Room.

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The people of this country must get used to the idea that they look after their fellow man also. For those who grouse about the “increase in taxes” for the ACA, well…there’s always the increase in your own insurance costs for paying for those Emergency Room visits for a cold. Then there’s the factor that it is inherent in the human condition to help those less fortunate than you, not “I got mine…screw you.”

There’s plenty of growing up that needs to be done across the board. The two ruling parties need to fix something rather than destroy it. The people of the States of America better back up their talk about being a “Christian” nation, otherwise the hypocrisy is ripe. But the problem that we face is, now that “TrumpCare” is dead and the ACA is not being funded by the GOP, what is going to happen in the future, working together or trashing the country?

Volbeat Deserving Of “Next Big Thing” Status; Amaranthe Presents Unique Sound

One of the things I enjoy in my well-rounded life is some great music. There are things that I come across that I simply cannot stand (such as Taylor Swift’s caterwauling…seriously, can someone give the girl a gift certificate to buy a voice?), but when I come across something I find great, I like to tell people about it. As my general preference is for harder edged rock, it will often go in that direction (but not always…).

Of late, there are several bands that I am very high on. Previously I told you about Halestorm and, if you want to get on that train, they should have a new album out towards the end of the year (meanwhile, jump on their ReAniMate 3.0 covers album). Here’s two more that you should be considering: one is a major opener for one of the biggest tours of the summer and the other presenting a different sound, if you will, in the hard rock genre. As always, I don’t claim to be on the band first, but I do think they’ve got some legs to them for the future!

Volbeat

Volbeat is a band out of Denmark that has been a 16-year “overnight success.” Despite having great success in Europe with their mixture of rockabilly, hard rock, and punk – surprisingly, the band rarely embraces a hard-core metal or thrash sound – Volbeat was unable to penetrate the U. S. market to any great extent. That changed with their latest release, Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie, which debuted in the Billboard Magazine‘s Top Five Albums the week of its release last year. As we speak, Volbeat is joined by Avenged Sevenfold (on some stops) as the warmup acts for the massive Metallica “WorldWired” tour that is hitting stadiums in the U. S. and worldwide.

That they all are considered hard rock acts (Metallica delves into thrash metal and A7X crushes their more metalcore sound) demonstrates the diversity of the hard rock arena. Volbeat, as stated before, aren’t your typical metalheads, incorporating sounds from across the spectrum into their particular brew. On earlier efforts, Volbeat’s sound was more inspired by country music such as Johnny Cash (their effort previous to this, Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, had a theme to it that gave you impressions of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western). With Seal the Deal, however, Volbeat has a sound more reminiscent of The Offspring than anything else.

The first song on the album, “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown,” was a very strong effort that just didn’t seem to click with U. S. audiences when it was released as a single. It wasn’t until the eponymous title track was released that some success occurred for singer Michael Poulsen, guitarist Rob Caggiano and bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen. “Seal the Deal” was a powerful piece of music that rumbled from the speakers, with the guitars provided by Caggiano being particularly notable. Since then, hard rock radio has been all over “Black Rose,” which may outdo “Seal the Deal” in popularity.

Surprisingly, Volbeat can sound almost melodic with the music they create. Do not be fooled, however, they do have an edginess to their lyrics that can be surprising and, in some songs, imagery of Hell and the Devil are implied. There are tunes about darkness, redemption and “selling the soul” that some might not like. That would be their misfortune, because most of the songs have a finish where, if the protagonist doesn’t emerge on top, they are at least fighting towards the future.

Along with the songs mentioned above, there are a couple other efforts that are noteworthy on Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie. “The Gates of Babylon” is a very good track from the album, but it is a cover song on the album that is even more surprising because of its quality. Taken from the Georgia Satellites (an 80s outfit that is highly underrated), “Battleship Chains” demonstrates that Volbeat takes their inspiration from a wide assortment of musical genres. The future is going to be fantastic for this band and, with the next couple of years, I can easily see them becoming a huge part of the music scene in the U. S.

Another great foreign act that has been chipping away at the walls in the U. S. (the metaphorical ones, not the ones some idiot wants to put up) is Sweden’s Amaranthe. Another one of those multi-year “overnight sensations,” the band actually started in 2008 and has been pretty much non-stop touring and recording since then. They had a bit of success in 2013 with the song “Drop Dead Cynical” from their Massive Addictive album, but they have found their stride with their latest release, Maximalism.

Pinning Amaranthe down to a “sound” is roughly like trying to give a cougar a bubble bath in a thimble. First off, the band encompasses some elements of EDM but loves to roll out a metal guitar assault to go over the hypnotic background. They can sometimes veer into the realm of “pop” music, which may offend some of those who are more hardcore, but they always seem to be able to bring it back to a more “hard rock” sound when necessary. That may be because of the triumvirate of vocalists that Amaranthe employs.

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That’s right…three vocalists. First there is Elize Ryd, who gives an ethereal quality to some songs when she’s not rocking out with an unbelievable voice. Ryd gives credibility to the Amaranthe sound whether they are in their more experimental modes or they are driving the guitars down your throat. A nice meshing with Ryd WAS Joacim “Jake E.” Lundberg, who had a voice that harmonized nicely with Ryd as they performed the “clean” vocals (Lundberg, after the release of Maximalism, left the band and was replaced by Nils Molin).

There’s a reason I say “clean” vocals. The third vocal effort on the album is Henrik Englund, who provides the “death growl (a guttural vocal styling where it sounds like the beasts from Hell are emerging from your speakers)” or the “unclean” vocals on the record. While it may sound like it is a complete mess, Amaranthe has been able to put together songs that perfectly accentuate the stylings of each of their singers and, likewise, the other members of the band (Olof Morck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Lowe on drums).

Of particular excellence is “Boomerang,” an effort that would have been perfect on pop radio had it not been for the crushing guitars and Englund’s growling of his lyrics. A song about how someone tries to put another person down – but the person keeps coming back “like a boomerang” – it is an outstanding tune that epitomizes Amaranthe very well. Two other songs, “That Song” and “21” are also excellent, but most surprising is a ballad that demonstrates the abilities of the band quite well.

Supersonic” is a tune that Englund takes a break from and let’s Ryd and Lundberg exercise their vocal abilities on. Yes, it is a ballad – and everyone usually HATES a metal ballad – but it works for Amaranthe because of the dual vocals (not a duet – each vocalist has a lyrical segment written for them). Using some orchestral instrumentation along with the band’s musicians, it may give some a comparison to Amy Lee and Evanescence, but “Supersonic” soars in its own right and serves as an excellent “palate cleanser” for an outstanding record.

You may not have heard of them yet, but they’ve got the potential – especially with Ryd’s photogenic qualities and the power of the band – to be a breakout act, possibly even on the pop charts (bands always appreciate crossover success, not to mention their record companies). They’ll have to get control of some of their personnel issues – not only from Lundberg’s departure last year, but Englund replaced original “unclean” vocalist Andreas Solveström in 2013 – to fully realize their potential, but if they can record more albums like Maximalism, it will push Amaranthe into the stratosphere of the hard rock/metal world.

Rather Than Destroy Obama’s Signature Legislation, Fix It

While much of the world has been casting their eyes towards Orange Foolius and the latest adventures of his Confederacy of Dunces, the Congress has tried to inch forward quietly with legislation that would hammer virtually everyone in the States of America who earns less than $1 million a year. You don’t believe me? Let’s look at the ledger, shall we?

When looking at the current Administration or the GOP-led majorities in Congress, we’ve seen desperate attempts to either destroy the legacy of Orange’s predecessor, Barack Obama, or simply the cruelty of the GOP looking to enact their draconian ideas. Of most importance has been what many call the signature legislation of the Obama Administration, the Affordable Care Act (or “ObamaCare” to simpletons), which allowed for millions to have insurance they previously didn’t have before and others to have arguably better insurance. This has been one comedy of errors after another since the GOP has tried to run the ball.

First were the attempts by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to gather his cats (fellow GOP members of the House of Representatives) and push a bill that, instead of helping people, would have cast 24 million people out of health insurance (and let’s make a BIG distinction here…we are talking health insurance, not health care…they are two different things, one paying for a product and the other the product provided, which is pretty good because of the quality doctors we have in this country). In their infinite wisdom, Ryan and his gaggle of GOP gangsters would have made sure that any money saved from the changes (approximately $337 billion over 10 years) went to those who needed it most: wealthy millionaires who didn’t need the extra money.

That attempt initially failed – and rather spectacularly – because there was a faction of the GOP, the House Freedom Caucus (about the most oxymoronic three words other than “little big man”), that felt the new legislation, known as the American Health Care Act, didn’t go far enough in eradicating the ACA. After getting over the embarrassment of not even being able to bring the legislation to the floor, Ryan twisted some arms and rejiggered some numbers a couple months later (“HEY! LOOK! We brought the uninsured down to 23 million!”) and was able to cajole enough people to pass the House version of the AHCA, to much fanfare at the White House and the public blessing of Orange Foolius.

That House bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, was DOA when it reached his chamber. The GOP Senators were going to “begin from nothing” and come up with their own piece of legislation, Yertle said, and it would look far different than what had been proposed by the House GOP. Even the Orange One seemed to be on board with McConnell’s efforts, remarking how the House version was “mean” and for the Senate to come up with “more money” to make it kinder. Instead, McConnell – ensconced in a secret location that even members of the GOP not working on the health insurance plan had no access to, let alone Democratic members of the Senate – looked into his cauldron and pulled out of the ooze…virtually the same plan that the House had put up, but with NEW rejiggered numbers that brought the uninsured count down to “only” 22 million people.

At this moment, the Senate health insurance plan is about as popular as a herpes-infested whorehouse. After the full CBO breakdown was revealed, GOP Senators like Dean Heller of Nevada, Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky have said they cannot accept this bill (for differing reasons; Paul has said he doesn’t want “ObamaCare Light,” which is a fair argument at the minimum). This is critical because, in losing even three votes from his own GOP caucus, McConnell cannot move any legislation forward in a Senate broken down by a 52-48 margin.
While McConnell retreats into his shell to protect himself, here’s a suggestion: rather than destroy Obama’s signature legislation, how about looking for ways to fix it?

When it was enacted seven years ago (and seriously GOP…you couldn’t come up with anything over the term of the Obama Administration as a counter?), the ACA was an audacious stab at solving a complex problem that, in reality, is one that cannot fully be solved. Health insurance isn’t a requirement, like car insurance (which is also flouted by many, but I digress), and when people are initially forced into buying something – even if it helps them – there’s a great deal of reluctance. As time has passed, however, there are several areas of the ACA that have been tremendously good for people, such as the ability of those with pre-existing conditions to obtain affordable insurance and covering young people on a family’s plan up to the age of 26. Even with these good parts, however, it is obvious that there needed to be some tinkering with the ACA (such as having 80-year olds paying for pre-natal care – yes, I KNOW how insurance works…spreading the costs amongst a larger pool…but not everyone is that knowledgeable).

First off, instead of cutting funding off to the ACA and falsely saying “it’s collapsing” (as Orange Foolius is using his dinky digits to type out over Twitter), FUND THE DAMN THING. Let’s see what works and what doesn’t, what needs to be changed and what needs to be eliminated. It is only through complete funding (and, to be honest, the insurance companies need the stability to be able to set their costs) that the ACA can be fully and fairly judged.

Second, look at other options. I personally think – and have stated on many occasions – that it is time to enact “Medicaid for All.” Under this plan, the Medicaid program on the federal level would be expanded so EVERYONE has a base of insurance. Want to have a yearly checkup? You got it. How about a basic test for disease? No problem. Such a base of simple medical should NEVER be denied anyone simply because they can’t pay for it (and really – if you listen to the doctors – more serious conditions could be prevented if caught in basic medical care).

So, what about the insurance industry? Before you go weeping for them, we’ve got them covered. If people want to have “more” medical insurance – perhaps to cover Tiffany’s rhinoplasty or pay for Daddy’s Viagra so he can chase the secretary around the desk – then they can buy plans conceived by the insurance industry to cover a multitude of things. Businesses could use these expanded plans as a recruitment tool for bringing in prospective employees – people could factor those expanded insurance plans into their decisions as to where to work.

This solves many of the aspects of health insurance (remember, health care is already there and very good) that are under debate. People can take their base insurance Medicaid wherever they go, thus eliminating the issue of going across state borders and losing one’s insurance. If a person or a business wants or needs more coverage (for whatever reason), the insurance companies are there to give it. Costs? Without the crippling competition, medical costs would come down, although there would still have to be some work done on the pharmaceutical end of the spectrum (when you pay $2 for a pill in India and $800 for the same pill in the States, you’ve got a problem)…perhaps allow for LIMITED class act negotiation to get the best deals from pharmaceutical companies, either through the local Walgreens, an employer, or the government itself?

The Affordable Care Act does have its issues. But those issues need to be worked on, not discarded like a candy wrapper. Putting a new name on it doesn’t serve any purpose except to grandstand that “you repealed it” (hear that, GOP?). Fund the operation and see what needs to be fixed, don’t starve it and then claim it didn’t work. It’s time for some people to be adults about the issue and, since the toddler in the White House is unable to get about without messing his nappy, it’s high time Congress took the reins.

A Fine Line Between Disliking and Dismembering: Kathy Griffin Was Wrong

Recently it has become nearly impossible to pool the regurgitation that has emerged from The Resident’s efforts in Washington D. C. The constant cesspool of filth that is spewed by him and his Confederacy of Dunces leaves many breathless in trying to keep up. Just as soon as one fuckup seems to be reaching its apex – let alone its conclusion – they seem to fire off another shit storm just to make sure that their idiocy stays in the public eye.

What can be even more of an embarrassment is the actions of those that support The Resident. The recent murder of two Good Samaritans in Portland by a white supremacist who seemed to be reciting The Resident’s campaign platform while being arraigned for the murders is simply the latest in what is a vitriolic campaign of hate from the GOP. The Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado in 2015…a figure looking like President Barack Obama hanging from an interstate overpass in 2014…multiple instances of Obama being burned in effigy…calling former First Lady Michelle Obama an “ape” or that she is transgender…these are but a few of the examples of the vile lengths that the GOP has gone in depicting the 44th President of the States of America and his family.

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For the most part, progressives have stayed away from some of these statements…that was until yesterday and “comedian” (my emphasis…I’ve personally never liked her work) Kathy Griffin’s desire to make her voice heard.

Griffin, who has been able to parlay her supposed “D-List” status into a moneymaking endeavor (she even had a show on cable television called My Life on the D-List that followed her every move), tries to come off as an “edgy” comic that is “pushing the boundaries,” something that is difficult to do when you host New Year’s Eve with Anderson Cooper on CNN (about the most “unedgy” thing you can do). Now, when I think of this type of comedy, I am more in the lines of the work of the late George Carlin or even Sam Kinison, two men who rode the edge in search of the joke (and always hit the mark with their efforts). So what Griffin did yesterday is not only “not funny,” it puts her in the same closet as those vermin who dip to the depths that some on the right do.

We won’t justify Griffin’s actions with a photo here, but I will attempt to explain it. In an unflinching shot, Griffin – with absolutely no inkling of “making a joke,” smiling or otherwise trying to show a comedic aspect of her action – holds up a mask that is intended to be the head of The Resident. The mask is smeared in red “blood” as Griffin holds the head by the hair in her hand, as if she has decapitated The Resident herself and is presenting the prize to the people.

Kathy Griffin arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles

In some circles, this would be promoted as a “performance art” or a “artistic statement,” but if Griffin meant it in this manner, she grotesquely missed the mark. Outrage from not only conservatives but also from those that Griffin thought she was representing – those left of center – came from all corners of the globe, sending a scurrying Griffin to Twitter to apologize for her actions. In a video Griffin stated, “I sincerely apologize. I am just now seeing the reaction of these images. I’m a comic. I crossed the line. I move the line, then I cross it. I went way too far. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people. It wasn’t funny. I get it.”

First – some people have made this argument and couldn’t be further from the truth – this in NO WAY represents the thoughts of many who disagree with The Resident. While you can have philosophical, political, and methodical differences with a person or politician, it should NEVER approach the realm of even advocating for the death of another person. I can dislike you with the intensity of 1000 suns, but that doesn’t give me the right to suggest that your death solves the situation.

Second, this reinforces in the minds of the right that they are being “persecuted,” something that energizes their stance. Griffin’s supposed “comedic statement” gives those on the right a hook to hang their “martyrdom” on, that they are the ones being disrespected or threatened with various methods of execution from an angry horde of progressives (besides the fact it is often the conservatives screaming to “bring the torches”). It fuels their fires of hatred…by having that same fuel used against them, a twisted bit of psychology if ever there were one.

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It is certainly a fine line between comedy and tragedy, such as the old woman who slips on a banana peel and falls. Many might find that funny, but wouldn’t find it as hilarious if that same old woman broke her neck and died after slipping on the same banana peel. You can attempt to do edgy, even controversial, comedy, but there’s a line between pointing out the absurdities of life and/or politics and moving into the arena of advocating for the physical intimidation or, even worse, death of someone you don’t agree with.

Many on the right often overstep this boundary. The left used to be able to keep their heads above the water on this instance and refuse the temptation of such absurdities, but the current administration seems to have brought the disease created by conservatives to the progressive side. It is something that cannot be allowed to continue.

You can disagree – loudly and vehemently. You can advocate for their imprisonment – including a special island where they can rot. You can question their humanity – because many of their works are from an evil demon rather than any person with a shred of concern for their fellow man. You CANNOT, however, incite physical violence or advocate for your opponent’s death. There are some lines we must maintain as an intelligent species, otherwise we are but animals who simply have advanced linguistics and tools.

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Griffin’s apology is hopefully heartfelt. She’s not going to escape the ramifications of what she’s done – say goodbye to that cushy New Year’s Eve spot on CNN with Cooper and probably a slew of stand-up gigs for the near future, not to mention sponsorship deals – and that is the way it should be. Free speech is a beautiful thing, but there are also consequences when that “beautiful thing” is exercised in a manner not acceptable to the common man.

LaVar Ball’s Mouth Writing Checks His Sons’ Bodies Can’t Cash

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The National Basketball Association Playoffs are currently ongoing and, to be honest, to say that they have been a bit dull would be the understatement of the year. The two best teams in each conference – the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers with “next evolution in human existence” LeBron James and the 2015 champion Golden State Warriors with smooth-as-silk shooter Steph Curry (among others) – have literally steamrolled past their opposition, with both sides only losing one game so far (did anyone see that decimation the Cavaliers laid on the Boston Celtics in Game 2? On their home floor? That the Celts came back for a squeaker win on Sunday in Cleveland was shocking). Sometime next week, these two teams will meet for the third year in a row (never done previously) to determine the NBA Finals championship.

But the collision course these teams are on hasn’t been the big story in the Association…not by a long shot.

The NBA Draft, like its cousin with the National Football League, has become almost as big a deal as its pro football brethren. Players from around the world and the best “one-and-doners (players who went to college to meet the NBA requirement that they be one year removed from high school)” vie for one of the 60 slots (the draft is two rounds, with the first-round picks guaranteed to be on an NBA roster) in the draft. With these stakes, players are trying to make their best impressions…except for one.

Lonzo Ball is, giving the player his due, one of the better prospects in this year’s NBA draft. If it weren’t for the idiotic “one year” rule that the NBA has implemented to prevent kids from going straight from high school, it is thought that Ball would have been one of the success stories to come straight from the high school ranks. After winning several high school Player of the Year awards across the country, Ball enrolled at UCLA, looking to improve his resume with the one year he plainly told everyone he would be there for.

In his one season with the Bruins, Ball’s statistics were nice but not mind blowing. He averaged 14.6 points per game, shot 55% from the field (and 41% from three-point territory), averaged six rebounds a game and almost eight assists as a guard/forward with UCLA. The 6’ 6” Ball was duly awarded many post-season honors, including the Wayman Tisdale Award for best college freshman and was first-team All-American (the team made the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament), as he held to his promise to only stick for one year on the campus of Westwood by declaring for the draft almost as soon as his Bruins team heard the final buzzer and was defeated in the NCAA Tournament.

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With such accolades and achievements, you would figure that Ball would be the talk of the draft. Unfortunately (for him), he has been overshadowed by his father, LaVar, who will tell anyone that will listen that his son(s) (that’s right, there’s two more following Lonzo) are going to change the basketball world. What the senior doesn’t realize is that he is writing checks that none of the Ball brothers will be able to cash.

Who is LaVar Ball? A quick look at his college life shows that he was a basketball player of no renown (averaged 2.2 points per game at Washington State over two seasons in the late 1980s) and found even less success when attempts were made to turn him into a football player. Ball would play in the World League of American Football (appropriate acronym of WLAF) as a tight end. In one season, he played with the London Monarchs and found time on the practice squads of both the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers. Other than this, there was absolutely nothing that would mark him as a “game changing” athlete, although even having the proverbial cup of coffee with a professional sports franchise is quite an achievement.

Apparently, this is about the time when Ball had his epiphany, even to the point of picking his wife for the express breeding purposes of creating basketball players. Don’t believe me? Ball himself said, “I see this tall girl, very attractive, walking down a hallway and I go, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re gonna be doing something!’ Once that was in her head, I had her. I picked a big girl who was beautiful. A big stallion.”

When’s the last time you called your significant other a “big stallion” – and you were SERIOUS about it?

This wasn’t the end of it for Ball. He’s has said that Lonzo is better than Curry, who was only the Most Valuable Player in the NBA for the past two seasons. Ball has trashed Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving for coming from a single parent home, ignoring the fact that Irving’s mother passed away when he was four. Ball has said that, in his heyday, he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one. Ball criticized Lonzo’s UCLA teammates, saying they were “too white” to win the championship (and, forgetting the fact that his wife is white, there’s a mixed heritage to Lonzo). He’s also created the family company “Big Baller Brand” and is currently marketing Lonzo’s signature shoe to the tune of $459 (you want them autographed by Lonzo? Make it $759…) – only after the three major shoe brands Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas, turned down his BILLION dollar demands for shoe deals with all three of his sons.

Having overbearing parents in sports is nothing new. You can see it pretty much every weekend when you go to a Little League baseball game or watch Friday Night Tykes (about PeeWee football) on television. It’s when those overbearing parents actually think they are doing their child(ren) a favor by pushing them hard does it usually blow up in their faces. One only should look at the career of former quarterback Todd Marinovich – basically engineered by his father to be an NFL quarterback, to the point that the senior Marinovich said that Todd had never eaten at a McDonald’s – or the up-and-down career of tennis player Jennifer Capriati (pushed by her mother) to see the down side of these types of actions.

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There has been at least one success story. The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, were driven by their father Richard to excel at tennis, while at the same time inciting similar vitriol from the public for comments that he made regarding taking his girls from South Central Los Angeles to the pinnacle of tennis greatness. It is arguable, however, that the Williams sisters didn’t really reach their peak form until after they removed themselves from Richard’s tutelage and began to think and act for themselves.

The elder Ball may think that he’s helping his children achieve their goals and wants to take the family along for the ride. And that is something that all mothers and fathers want to ensure for their kids. At a certain point, however, that assistance becomes an overbearing, maniacal obsession and needs to be ended. That is where the elder Ball finds himself right now.

While Lonzo may be a high draft pick in this year’s NBA draft (the Celtics have the first pick and the Los Angeles Lakers – whom LaVar Ball has said he wants all three of his kids to play for – have the second), there is still a very close-knit professional community of athletes that will not take kindly to LaVar’s statements. Lonzo, through no fault of his own, is going to be targeted by these professionals for retribution. You don’t think that LeBron James won’t light him up for some of the things that LaVar has said about him? You don’t think that Curry or his teammates, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant, won’t smoke Lonzo at every opportunity? The utter failure of Lonzo Ball – and the “Big Baller Brand” – is a very realistic possibility and it would be a warning to others coming down the road that they aren’t bigger than the game, something that LaVar seems to think his family is.

Elijah Stewart,Lonzo Ball

Where Lonzo Ball goes in the draft – publicly NBA general managers and scouts are saying that Ball’s father isn’t going to affect his draft status – is still up in the air, but even he recognizes that his father rubs people the wrong way. “My dad’s a funny guy,” Lonzo said to Bleacher Report in an interview. “People were coming up to me and saying, ‘Are you embarrassed? Your dad said you’re going to win the championship.’ No, I’m not embarrassed. I know how he’s going to act. I just go out there and play. Let him be him.” There will come a point, however, where the junior Ball – and, if not him, one of his two brothers (who haven’t done jack shit yet) – will have to tell the senior Ball when enough is enough and cut ties with him if they are to reach their true success in professional basketball, just like Serena and Venus did in their pursuit of greatness.

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time – AC/DC vs. Metallica, Part Two: Who’s the Winner?

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We have reached the penultimate battle of our tournament to determine who is the greatest hard rock/metal band of all time. Through the previous 62 contests, we’ve whittled down the competitors to the two veterans that we see here, Australia’s AC/DC versus the States of America’s Metallica. As they used to say on the series Highlander, however, there can be only one. Let’s get to it on that decision!

Just to remind you, there are criteria that we can take into consideration after breaking down the various parts of the band. First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” – that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

Without further ado, let’s see who is going to take the crown!

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Band Breakdown

There are four basic parts here – the vocalist, the guitar section, the rhythm section and miscellaneous. With the first, we look at AC/DC’s front men – the late Bon Scott and Brian Johnson (we will not include Guns ‘N Roses singer W. Axl Rose as he has not officially been added to the band) – and contrast them with Metallica’s face James Hetfield.

It is arguable that there are not two bands with more identifiable or iconic leaders as these three men. Could you imagine an AC/DC song without the readily recognizable sounds of Scott or Johnson drawing you in? Likewise, Hetfield – and, as a result, Metallica – are also known quantities immediately upon hearing Hetfield’s growl. To be honest, none of them are what you’d call great singers but, for the bands they front, they are the perfect fit. Therefore, we’ll have to call this part of the competition a tie.

With the guitarists, Hetfield returns to the equation as rhythm guitarist. Along with first lead guitarist Dave Mustaine and then Kirk Hammett, the power behind Metallica’s sound is undeniable with these two men. AC/DC isn’t lacking for strength themselves with the brother combo of Angus (lead) and Malcolm Young, but they come up just short in this match. The “three bars and a cloud of dust” attack of the Young brothers doesn’t quite measure up to the complexity of the chord progressions of Mustaine and Hammett, nor do they have the ability to play at a virtuoso level (as Hammett does) and include the speed. Thus, we’ve got to give this segment to Metallica.

Finally, there’s the rhythm section, the bass and drums. Cliff Williams (bass) and Phil Rudd (drums) were the longtime base for AC/DC and they did their jobs masterfully but unspectacularly. In basically creating Metallica – and still being the vocal (as in speaking) member of the band – Lars Ulrich (drums) has done something that hasn’t been previously seen, the drummer as a band leader. Along with the late Cliff Burton, Jason Newstead and now Robert Trujillo, Ulrich has been the backbone of the band and created his own distinct style of drumming. This segment goes to Metallica also, giving them the overall win in the segment.

Winner: Metallica

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Longevity

This is one category that will split down the middle with no victor declared.

Since 1973, AC/DC has been pounding out their brand of music, with arguably the apex of their career coming in the late 1970 through the early 1990s. They still are playing today (and drawing arena sized crowds for their tours), although Malcolm Young, Johnson, Rudd, and Williams are no longer a part of the proceedings. Metallica has a slightly shorter career, having “only” been founded in 1981, but it isn’t sacrilege to say they may still be at the best of their game. Sure, the mid 1980s through the late 1990s may have been considered their heyday, but Metallica continues to pump out excellent music (Hardwired…to Self-Destruct is arguably their best album since their …And Justice for All/Metallica days) and they are currently on a stadium tour that is selling out across the States of America. With such performance as this, there’s no way that one is pulling out over the other.

Winner: Push

Influence on The Genre

This is one area where AC/DC could have the edge. Quite honestly, any hard rock/metal band that doesn’t say they were inspired by bands from the late 1960s/70s is being disingenuous. Such bands as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and others were the ones who laid the foundation for those who came later like Metallica. There is one issue where Metallica might outpip AC/DC is their location on the “Mount Rushmore” of thrash metal alongside Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. Still, we’ve got to give credit where credit is due: without AC/DC, there’s no Metallica.

Winner: AC/DC

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Popularity

Another borderline call between two of the most loved bands in the world. You don’t stick around for three or four decades without having a devoted following that will literally follow you to the gates of Hell for a concert. Both bands have monster record sales – AC/DC has sold over 200 million albums worldwide (and 71 million in the States of America, more than Madonna and Mariah Carey) and Metallica has 100 million worldwide – and both bands have been lauded by the critics. Metallica has a bit of an edge on the critical acclaim, which only serves to offset the lead in record sales for the boys from Australia. I certainly hate doing this, but we’re going to have to call this one equal.

Winner: Push

Accolades

AC/DC has been nominated for seven Grammys and won once, while Metallica thrashes them in this category. Metallica has been nominated 21 times for Grammys, walking away with nine. Where AC/DC holds the edge is in platinum albums; 20 of their albums has gone platinum (one million sales) and the legendary Back in Black is a double diamond holder (10 million sales, twice). Metallica can vouch for their own double diamond record (Metallica), but they’ve only had 10 platinum albums because that’s all they’ve released.

They are both in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but under highly different circumstances. Metallica was a first ballot entry when they were inducted in 2009 (an artist or band becomes eligible for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the 25th anniversary of their first official album release) with everyone but Mustaine named on the induction plaque (Metallica wanted Mustaine to perform with them during the induction ceremonies, but Mustaine was touring in Europe with Megadeth at the time). AC/DC took a bit longer to get into the Hall, with their induction in 2003 coming almost 30 years after their debut. It’s a close battle, but the edge here must go:

Winner: Metallica

So, Who Is the Champion?

By the slimmest of margins, Metallica captures the metal ring from AC/DC, earning the accolades of the greatest hard rock/metal band of all time. Individual tastes may vary on this decision, but overall there is a great deal of musicianship, innovation, and musical and lyrical substance to Metallica’s body of work. That isn’t saying that AC/DC’s brand of metal is something to deride; they have blazed their own trail in a very difficult industry and, as an international act from Australia, probably had some more issues to overcome in their early days. For this competition, however, it is the boys from San Francisco – Metallica – ruling supreme in the history of the genre.

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