Friday, October 15, 2004

Not a Democracy

Many of you will be surprised to find that the good ol' US of A is not a democracy. It's a representative republic and it's right in the constitution. Like the misunderstood Electoral College and the maligned right to bear arms, our founding fathers did this for a reason.

The people without the filter of a representative would be able to use their numbers to abuse the rights of the minority. In fact, this happens to a degree now whenever someone cries "tax the rich," never mind that the truly rich have a myriad of ways of avoiding the tax man.

The founding fathers were big believers in minority rights. The right to bear arms gives the populace at least a theoretical chance against oppression by the government. The Electoral College keep New York and California from dominating the other 48.

So I always get a little concerned when there's talk of spreading democracy around the globe. A constitutional republic is a better ticket, IMO.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

How a black Greater Clevelander became an arch-conservative.

First, let me say straight off that I am not going to tell you how to vote. My only advice on voting I ever give is what I said to my usually conservative friend Mark B. who was contemplating voting for H. Ross Perot back in 1992. Make sure you know well the person you're voting for, but if you do, then vote not for the person who's going to win, not for the person who can win, but for the person who believes and thinks the most like you. Do that, and you have never cast a wasted vote.

So how does a young black man from a 90% Democrat pro-union household end up "slightly to the left of Pat Buchanan" as my friend Mark M. put it once (before, IMO, Pat flew off into space?) (By the way, that's not a typo. I have a conservative friend Mark B. and a moderate friend Mark M. who are among the privileged few with whom I actually discuss politics.)

It starts with Ronald Reagan. I am probably the only conservative my age who never voted for Reagan. I was voting age right around the time Reagan ran against Carter. Always a tad rebellious, I registered as an independent, not because I disagreed with Democratic policy, but simply because I prided myself on being a free thinker. (The fact that now that I am a conservative, I get called "mindless robot" continually is extremely ironically amusing.) My family predicted dire things if Ronald Reagan became president, including the rollback of civil rights gains made over the previous decades. Well, despite my vote for President Carter, Reagan became president. Midway into his first term, I worked at my first radio station. One of the guys on payday was marveling how Reagan said he'd lower his taxes and by gum, his taxes were lower.

This was a revelation to me; a politician keeping a promise, especially since the house was Democrat at the time. Reaganomics was widely ridiculed, but a funny thing happened on the way to Reagan's second term; the economy improved. This was still not enough to move me, and I voted, without enthusiasm, for Walter Mondale and his nuclear freeze. For some reason, that never sat right with me as the way to deal with the Soviet Union. Probably because I knew too many kids who would say "I'll stop punching you if you stop punching me," only to find that once you stopped, they clobbered you. But I digress. In Reagan's second term, Reaganomics caught fire. On the broad strokes of what he said would happen and what he wanted to do, it worked. And I am too much the rational thinker to dismiss it all as pure coincidence. So when George H.W. Bush said he'd "stay the course," he became the first Republican I voted for. (Strange fact: the only presidents I have ever helped elect were named George Bush.)

Rush Limbaugh burst upon the scene right then and while he was (and is) primarily an entertainer, some of the ideas expressed on his program just made sense, including a rather bizarre one (on the surface of it) that affirmative action was counter to what Martin Luther King was striving for. If you listen to the meaning of the "I have a dream" speech, Dr. King wanted his children judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, by who they were and what they did as individuals. My first hiring in radio was tainted by the fact that it was at an "all white" station that was coming up on license renewal. I hated the fact that no matter how much talent I had and how well I did, someone could comfort themselves with the story that I got the job not on my merit, but to fill a quota.

I decided that I wanted to be in the party where if I had a seat at the table I earned it and would be taken seriously, rather than being given a seat and ignored. And so I became a Republican. It was only after I had done so that I found out that my grandfather was one (as many blacks of his generation were) and that my family converted after a nasty event that supposedly occurred during a Republican National Convention. While my mother was alive, I tried a couple of times to confirm the story or prove that it was a malicious rumor, but no one outside of my immediate family had ever heard the story. Now that my mother is dead, it doesn't matter and I won't repeat it here, because even if it were true, it is no longer relevant.

My story is a journey that I am not sure means anything to anyone but me, but I just felt like telling the tale. Back to our normal insanity next post.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Brian Wilson presents Smile Part IV: Smile


And finally, after all these years, Brian Wilson decided that he was going to finish Smile.

So he, Van Dyke Parks, and Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints did a Mike Love-ectomy of the existing Smile pieces, finished or rewrote a few other pieces, tacked on a few bridges to accomodate key changes (as Brian can't hit the high notes as he used to) and figured out a road version of the album.

Brian had to take it on the road first to know for sure that someone wanted to hear this music. And they did.

Now finally, his dad just one of the faint voices in his head, Mike Love an oldies circuit relic with no power over him anymore, Brian went into a studio and in a phenomenally short time made the album he wanted to make almost 40 years ago.

And strangely, while no longer innovative, no longer germane to the music scene, it is good. And it gives me hope. Brian Wilson is an inspiration for me, that potential creative genius can still come back, after all these years, after all the sorrow and tragedy. Every time I look back on the missed opportunities, the unreached potentials of my life, I take comfort that as long as I am still around, I still have a chance.

Listen to Smile if you get a chance. You may not like it. You may think it's corny and dated. But for Brian Wilson and for me, it's one of the best things we've ever heard.

Brian Wilson presents Smile Part III: Getcha Back

The comeback. Brian Wilson was saved from total personal destruction at first by the Svengali like sway of Eugene Landy, but ultimately by love. Brian met his current wife at a car dealership and somehow through the drugs and the depression, Brian found enough of himself to assert his own independence. He began recording new music and got married. His new wife was the island of safety he needed to start a long arduous comeback, long after anyone cared if he ever truly came back.

Brian released the album Imagination, which was a good album, but still more like the sun and fun formula that cousin Mike battered him into back in 1967. But he was touring. And a funny thing happened: he found out that people knew who he was, found that as much as there were fans of the Beach Boys, there were fans of him. Some of those fans were the group the Wondermints, who became, in essence, Brian's touring band, Brian's new Beach Boys, as it were. Only this time, they were devoted to their source.

Brian decided to try playing the entire album Pet Sounds on tour. This was done to rousing success. As part of these performances, the band would do little things that surprised him, sneaking in parts of the various snippets of Smile that had leaked out over the years. The crowd ate it up. Brian himself did some of the sneaking, singing "I Know There's An Answer" with the original lyrics Mike rejected "Hold On To Your Ego." Beach Boy enthusiasts knew what that meant and roared. Now in his sixties, Brian was finally, subtly, standing up to Mike Love.

And finally, after all these years, long after it meant anything to anyone other than himself, Brian Wilson decided that he was going to finish Smile.

Brian Wilson presents Smile Part II: I Guess I Just Wasn't Made For These Times

The time: 1967. On the heels of the Beach Boys's Pet Sounds and the Beatles Rubber Soul, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys set out to create a concept album called Smile, the whole thing constructed the way one might construct a symphony. And he did. And then the world ended.

Not literally of course, but for Brian. Chronic depression, stage fright, and LSD use made Brian's mental state fragile. Coincidental fires made Brian think rehearsals of his Fire Suite "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" was causing them. As he prepared the music for Smile, there was a mutiny. Mike Love hated Van Dyke Parks's lyrics. And Mike Love was enamored of the cars / sun / chicks motif, to the exclusion of just about anything else. (I always think of Mike when I hear the Pet Sounds lyric "No one wants to help me look for places where new things might be found.") And so, with Brian feeling like he was the only one who truly cared about this new music and doubt creeping in about its viability, he quit: Smile, the Beach Boys (in essence,) and life. Extreme weight gain, bizarre behavior, and a steady, inexorable decline of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson that slowed, lurched upward (Come and Go With Me, Getcha Back, Kokomo) but never fully ascended.

Brian was saved from total personal destruction only to fall under the Svengali like sway of Eugene Landy. But he was rescued ultimately by love. Not Mike. The marrying kind.

Brian Wilson presents Smile, an essay in four parts. Part I: Imagine

Imagine... that John Lennon created the Beatles not with Paul McCartney and George Harrison, but with his little brother Winston and his cousin Mycroft Needham, both of which could sing well but not write a song to save them. Then imagine that George Martin, rather than encouraging the Beatles musical development, was jealous of John and kept pressuring him to retain the Mersey sound. Imagine now in this setting that John wrote Sergeant Pepper by himself, presented the songs to the band and they said they wanted to do more Mersey songs instead. Meet Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the legendary album Smile.

The Beach Boys for a long time were the only act that could touch the Beatles for sales and fan appeal. But unlike the Beatles, Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys founder, was the only songwriter with "the touch." (In fairness, all of the other original Beach Boys have written songs, but few became hits, and even fewer touched Brian Wilson's second rate stuff.) Moreover, while Brian was the actual producer of the music, in addition to writing it, for many years the "producer" of the Beach Boys was Brian's father Murray Wilson, a hard case who proved to be jealous of his sons and tried to rip Brian's "sound" off with his knockoff band The Sunrays.

And there is one other difference between Brian and his friend and rival Paul McCartney: Brian's talent for lyrics is just not in the same league, so he tended to work with lyricists.

So on the heels of the daring (for the Beach Boys) Pet Sounds and the Beatles Rubber Soul, Brian set out to create a concept album, the whole thing constructed the way one might construct a symphony. And he did. And then the world ended.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Child Is the Father of the Man. The Flu Is Father of Fever Dreams

Coming this week, a multi-part essay on the release by Brian Wilson of the album Smile. Just as soon as I am well enough to write.

Friday, October 01, 2004