Roy Moore, Hollywood and the elephant in the room

Moore

Judge Roy Moore of Alabama.

 

The groundswell of disclosure, outrage and accountability that began with the fall of Harvey Weinstein has quickly become a dominant cultural force that shows no sign of abating. As we move forward we see former president Bill Clinton being criticized anew by a group that includes one-time allies for his sexual behavior while in office. The elderly actor and LGBT activist George Takei is accused of a decades-old transgression he claims he doesn’t remember one evening in Southern California, and he finds himself regretting a remark he made on the Howard Stern Show that is being re-considered in light of that accusation. Alabama Republican Roy Moore, a former judge and candidate for the US Senate, is under attack from all sides for allegations of predatory behavior and outright molestation when he was a younger man. And we have a predictably clumsy GOP plot to pull-in Minnesota senator Al Franken, a Democrat, for something that occurred several years before his election. Franken, by the way, stepped up admirably in his response.

Apologists may look for wiggle room in the time that has elapsed since some of these offenses, but the facts remain that men of power are being accused of misusing their positions in order to sexually exploit and abuse others.

While there may be a criminal statute of limitations for some of the allegations, we’re finding that the court of public opinion feels differently. Hollywood seems to be quickly punishing its offenders – that is, once bad publicity exposes scandals that many entertainment types knew about for years. We seem to understand instinctively that Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. are just the tip of an iceberg that runs deep. One of the stories emerging recently is that old-time studio boss Louis B. Mayer regularly groped and harassed Judy Garland from the time she was 16, as did other executives, according to reported accounts from Garland. The execs apparently believed they were justified in doing what they wished with “the help.”

Some of what we’re witnessing is perhaps an inevitable point of evolution in a world where men and women operate in closer proximity than ever before; a world where, it must be said, nature still looms large, driving people–mainly men–to periodically misbehave and/or commit criminal offenses. As Senator Franken said in his comments, “All of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.”

One thing seems clear – many men have behaved in ways that might bring them shame, if not jail time, in this current climate of disclosure. This appears to be a genuine movement that, with its hashtags of #WeSaidEnough and #MeToo, is bringing us closer to the place we always should have been, albeit with an understanding that the basic rule of attraction and at-times deplorable misuse of it won’t be going away any time soon.

The keys to actual change are correctly interpreting the signals that are sent and, most importantly, respecting them, not to mention general decency standards as well as the law. In other words, nature may be powerful, but it’s not an excuse, and it never was. And holding a position of power is an execrable reason to disregard all that and come on like an animal.

And that leads us to the elephant in the room, the infantile Donald J. Trump, who has been caught on tape enthusiastically endorsing sexual assault.  The calls for Franken and Moore to step down ring hollow as long as the sitting president remains. Had Trump spent time with Franken’s accuser, Leeann Tweeden, he may well have, in Trump’s own words, “Moved on her like a bitch.”

It’s commendable that we as a society are demanding higher standards for behavior, but let’s do the right thing and make them cut across all stations of life, from the Waffle House to the White House.

Back pages and deep cuts – the Beatles 60 years on

beatles2

This post began as a proposal for a regular Beatles column in a journal edited by a friend. He was warm to the idea at first but perhaps was simply being kind (he’s a very nice guy). The idea went nowhere.

In considering the material again I thought I might try to line it up with an auspicious Beatles anniversary. This month, however, it seems the pickings are slim, although I did come across one nugget 60 years ago this week, when the boys were teenagers known as the Quarrymen:

“A somewhat bizarre booking for the nascent Quarrymen: they performed two raucous sets for the social club of Liverpool’s Stanley Abattoir.

“The event was a dance held for the members of the social club, which included employees of the huge slaughter house, meat porters, and their families.

“This was a one-off booking for Quarrymen; they never subsequently performed at the social club. It’s unlikely they minded too much.”

The meat house gig was roughly a month after 15-year old Paul McCartney joined the band and set into motion what would become an undeniable trajectory.  It took another five years, but the Quarrymen; later Johnny and the Moondogs, the Silver Beetles, and finally the Beatles, worked their way to stardom in England, and then, more than a year following that, they reached an astonishing level of worldwide fame.

A casual music fan has undoubtedly heard 15-20 Beatles songs, even if they don’t know them by name. If you’re of a certain age and maintain some passion for rock music, you probably know quite a bit more. The very first Beatles greatest hits package, the twin albums 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (the Red and Blue albums), contains a total of 54 songs, and all of them have likely made a large number of appearances on Classic Rock, Oldies and Sirius radio stations.

As a bit of a Beatles geek I would argue that a number of those tunes would be in the less-than-essential category (example – Ob La Di Ob La Da), and that there are many others worthy of consideration. I’d like to present 20 lesser-known but in my opinion essential Beatles cuts – none of them appears on the Red or Blue albums. Links are provided below if available.

Yoko

By the way, someone needs to tell Yoko or whoever controls the publishing rights these days (Yoko is always a good scapegoat), to back-off You Tube and allow the music to be widely shared.

1) I Saw Her Standing There – A song that helped start it all. The first cut on side one of Please Please Me, the Beatles’ debut album. Paul calls out, “One-two-three-faw!” and a rocker erupts that’s still fresh and crisp today.

2) Baby You’re A Rich Man – Lennon’s peak period began in 1967 with the much better-known Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day in the Life. However, this tune from ’67’s Magical Mystery Tour album is a gem. It features an early synthesizer called a clavioline that creates a unique sound, and it grabs you with its edgy opening line, “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” Knowing Lennon, he delivered it with a sneer.

3) I Want to Tell You – George contributed this one to the Revolver album and liked it so much he opened with it during a tour of Japan 25 years later.

4) Dear Prudence – Lennon with an impossibly infectious dirge about Mia Farrow’s sister during the Beatles’ folly with a guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in India. From the White Album.

5) Two of Us – Paul and John singing about the way they were, from Let it Be.

6) I Will – One of three ridiculously beautiful acoustic ballads from Paul on the White Album; the best known, of course, being…

7) Blackbird – Paul said in interviews years later that the song was about civil rights; that he was thinking of an African-American woman when writing it. He liked the cut so much he basically did it again on his Band on the Run album – the re-worked tune was Bluebird.

8) Long Long Long – also from the White Album. George gives us a glimpse into the mystical sound of his early solo career.

9) I’m So Tired – And yet another one from the White Album. Lennon sounds convincing when he sings that he hasn’t “slept in years.”

10) Dig a Pony – lyrical nonsense from Lennon in a stunning slice of Rock-and-Roll, from  Let it Be.

11) You Never Give Me Your Money – Paul as a lone voice in the wilderness attacking Beatles manager Allen Klein. Paul would eventually be vindicated, but the cost was steep. The song is aching at the beginning, then shifts gears several times and serves as a lead-in to the legendary Abbey Road medley.

12)  Happiness is a Warm Gun –  Is this one about drugs? Sex? Both? Something else entirely, like a gun?  It’s generally believed Lennon was writing about heroin (I need a fix ’cause I’m goin’ down), but then ‘Mother Superior’ (thought to be Yoko) jumped the gun, and John had his finger on her trigger, so who knows? From the White Album.

13) I’m a Loser – Beatles historians point to songs like this from Lennon as the transition period between the love-you mop tops and the more introspective, experimental band that was coming. As for John, he was delivering the same message as in ‘Help!’ a short time later – he wasn’t feeling worthy of the rarefied air the Beatles were inhabiting.

14) No Reply – A Lennon power ballad about unrequited infatuation. A sort-of companion piece to I’m a Loser.

15) Oh Darling! – A doo-wop soul masterpiece by Paul, from Abbey Road.

16) Got to Get You Into My Life – Paul’s sentimental love song to weed, packaged in one of the boldest, brassiest R&B tunes ever. Covered perfectly by Earth, Wind and Fire.

17) Julia – A tender ballad from Lennon on the White Album. It’s about his mom, who didn’t raise him (his Aunt Mimi did) and died when he was a teen. John came up with a pair of more primal tunes about his mum, Mother and My Mummy’s Dead, on his first solo album.

18) Mother Nature’s Son – The third stunning ballad from Paul on the White Album.

19) Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End – The epic sign-off at the end of the final Beatles album – Abbey Road. McCartney carries the vocals and joins Lennon and Harrison for a guitar solo mash-up, leading into one of the most famous lines in rock history: “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” And that’s it, or so it seems, until something pops up a few seconds later…

20) Her Majesty – Perhaps the first hidden bonus cut in rock. Paul with a guitar singing a folk ditty about taking liberties with Queen Elizabeth, for all of 23 seconds. And then Abbey Road actually concluded, and the Beatles were done for all time.

abback

Something was hiding at the end of side two.

 

Some very smelly coat tails

T

Pew

A year to the day after the infantile Donald J. Trump plunged the world into an epic funk with his election, there are signs that the tide is turning; that his coat tails have become nothing more than moldy pieces of fabric dragged carelessly through an unflushed toilet.

Congratulations to governor-elect Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat; victorious yesterday and not the guy endorsed by Trump. Congratulations to Roy Moore, who several weeks ago won the Republican nomination to fill attorney general Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat in Alabama and will face-off against the Democratic nominee next month. Moore was not the guy endorsed by Trump. Also, congratulations to the Democratic victor yesterday for governor of New Jersey. That wasn’t in much doubt, though – not with toxic Republican Chris Christie stepping away.

As usual, Trump embarrassed himself on Twitter in the Virginia and Alabama races, calling Northam “soft on crime” as Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was being sized-up for indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller. And Trump was so bitter about Moore’s win that he actually deleted Tweets backing his rival, Luther Strange.

We can only hope these are signals that the long march to Trump’s removal is underway. His approval rating is at yet another historic low, Mueller’s Russia investigation still looks like a genuine threat, and there will be a midterm election this time next year that–if the Democrats regain control of Congress–could make things very difficult indeed for Trump – that is, if Mueller doesn’t get there first or the 25th Amendment isn’t invoked by senior administration officials rumored to be nearing the end of their rope.

In the meantime Trump is stumbling about in Asia (next stop – “Jhina”), making moronic statements about mental health and gun control and demonstrating to another part of the world what is generally already known about him – he’s a dim bulb. In Japan he admitted that, at the time of his election, he was unaware there were so many countries on the planet. “Who knew?” he said. Answer – probably every other world leader. He probably still doesn’t know, and we can add it to the dozens if not thousands of more vital things he likely doesn’t know. Yep – he’s nothing more than a dull thug who inexplicably blundered into the White House; and his coat tails are now smelling like crap.

 

The glass is half-full

Los_Angeles_Dodgers_Logo

When it comes to my teams, optimism has never been a thing. I tell myself that if I expect them to lose it will hurt less when they do. But that didn’t seem to work very well this baseball season. The Dodgers took me on a roller coaster ride. Breathtaking winning streaks followed by a frustrating skid of historic proportions. A playoff juggernaut that came off the rails at times in the World Series and ultimately could not right itself.

The late A. Bartlett Giamatti, former MLB commissioner and father of the excellent actor Paul Giamatti, once said this about baseball:

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone.”

Stages

It’s worse when your team plays to the very end. Your heart breaks double. The team and the game disappear at once.

SI

From 2014

Congratulations to the Houston Astros and their city. The national sympathy was with hurricane-ravaged Houstonians and a World Series title will bring a much-needed morale boost. The Astros are an outstanding team. They deserve this. You might even say it was according to plan, if you take any stock in a Sports Illustrated cover story from 2014 predicting that the carefully assembled ballclub would win it all this year. So much for the jinx.

But the Dodgers are outstanding, too, and they figure to be around for awhile. From where I sit, nearly drunk on mourning, the glass is uncharacteristically half-full. In my opinion the Dodgers overachieved, reaching the World Series a year or two ahead of schedule, or at least earlier than I expected them to (nobody thought to ask SI).

This team has several question marks if not outright gaping holes. The Astros exposed them. I believe the Dodgers will attend to them and legitimately compete for a Series title for at least the next several years, the remainder of the Justin Turner-era. Here are the issues, in no particular order:

1) Base running – OMFG. Have you ever seen such atrocious base running in the World Series? The Dodgers lost at least one game on the base paths. This should be top priority in spring training.

2) Chase Utley – He’s a true warrior and has had a great career, but his skills are no longer Major League-caliber. Offer him a coaching position and bring Charlie Culberson up to stay.

3) Joc Pederson – The feel-good Dodger story of the World Series. Slumping and sent to Triple-A to make room for the epically bad Curtis Granderson, Joc rebounded with some terrific at bats against the Astros. Can he keep it up next season? I hope so. The Dodgers feed on his energy.

4) Cody Bellinger – Two things loom between him and the Hall of Fame; good health and good hitting. Right now he’s a long ball freak show with a huge hole in his swing. He had a couple of good moments in the Series, though, showing his potential as a Jedi master. Paging Yoda.

5) Pitching – This is the toughest one of all. The bullpen was supposed to be in shape for this postseason; Kershaw was supposed to be rested and ready. It almost worked. The front office and field management need to have some brutally honest discussions in the off-season about why their approach failed when they needed it most. The rumor is that longtime pitching coach Rick Honeycutt will emerge as the scapegoat. That probably won’t be enough.

6) Catching – Austin Barnes unseated Yasmani Grandal in the playoffs but clearly struggled for respect from at least one member of the pitching staff. An exhausted Kenley Jansen looked downright irritated as he repeatedly shook-off Barnes in game-five before giving up a walkoff hit in the tenth inning. Grandal seems to be more accomplished behind the plate but had become Granderson-like in the batter’s box. How will the Dodgers address this?

7) Chris Taylor – Wonderful season, but is he for real? Taylor’s defensive versatility, like that of Kike’ Hernandez, is remarkable, but it’s the hitting that comes into question. He tapered off late in the regular season but had some crucial hits in the playoffs. We should know next season if he is merely a flash in the pan.

8) Andre Ethier – The most popular Dodger in modern history has likely reached the end of his career, at least in Los Angeles. Time to give that roster spot to a younger talent.

9) Who’s on second? Logan Forsythe was clutch in the playoffs after a disappointing regular season. If he continues in that vein he’s the Dodger second baseman, like he was supposed to be when he arrived, and that question will be put to rest.

Considering all that, it’s actually extraordinary that the Dodgers almost got there and in the process may earn Dave Roberts a second consecutive National League Manager of the Year award. That would be great – Doc is a huge managerial talent, an exceptional leader of men. But he still needs to lead the team to the promised land. After game six former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda was caught on-mike reminding Roberts of that, telling him, “You haven’t done shit until you win tomorrow (game seven).” There will be more game-sevens in Doc’s career. May he fulfill Tommy’s expectations next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heartbroken child

Sandy #2

The great Sandy Koufax.

I watched my first World Series game in 1966. I was seven years old – almost eight. My beloved Dodgers were swept by the pre-Earl Weaver Baltimore Orioles. It was an era when kids smuggled transistor radios to school and listened to games on single earphones with cords running up their shirts, and they somehow got away with it. If we were lucky a teacher commandeered a TV and we were permitted to watch a game in class.

I doubt any of that happened in Miss Shapiro’s class (Burnett School, Hawthorne, CA). It was third grade. Most of us were probably still a little young to form that kind of attachment. But I wasn’t – I fell in love with baseball that year and was already poring over the Los Angeles Times sports page first thing in the morning, waiting impatiently to report scores to my dad; and I remember quite clearly the mortal conflict in my heart in October. The Dodgers lost – even Sandy Koufax! He was beaten badly, 6-0 (the winning pitcher that day was 20-year old Jim Palmer). How could I go on? Baseball will do that to you if you let it, at any age. Every team but one will slowly deflate your dreams before shattering them outright, day-by-excruciating day over seven months each and every year.

The Dodgers earned three more trips to the World Series before I turned 21, losing them all before breaking through in 1981 against the Yankees. And they won again in ’88, thanks in large part to the legendary walkoff home run by Kirk Gibson.

As electrifying as that season was, it turned out to be a last hurrah, followed by 29 years of futility; until this year, when, as you likely know, the Dodgers finally battled their way back to the World Series. So here I am, on edge, fervently hoping with every ounce of my being that this time the Dodgers will be The One. Make no mistake – 51 years later the heartbroken child remains.

play_youtube_irl_720.0

From Koufax to Kershaw.

There’s no other explanation for actions like donning a Dodgers t-shirt last weekend on Fillmore St. in San Francisco, fiercely making eye contact with all passers-by; daring anyone to say something. Nobody did. I maintain a small collection of “Dodgers win” memes in my phone and am ready to break them out at a moment’s notice. You’ve probably noticed them. I even added a “Let’s Go Dodgers” frame to my Facebook profile photo for the duration of the Series.

My wife and son are supportive if a tad bemused. They occasionally ask me about my emotional attachment to a baseball team comprised of men young enough to be my children, and the only response I can offer is, “51 years.” They’re nice enough to act like they understand.

Will a Dodgers victory this year change any of that? Probably not – but I’m keenly interested in an opportunity to put it to the test.

 

Treasure Hunt

Junkpile2

In a more innocent time, the 1990s, a pair of thirtysomethings set out in the dead of night to scope out some trash. This was their (our) story:

We go out at night because it’s a little embarrassing. Carole and I patrol the streets near our bungalow in a compact four-door sedan, pointing our flashlights at piles of junk. Our objective: find the good stuff before the pros arrive in their vans and trucks.

The occasion is Neighborhood Clean-Up Day. It has returned to East Sacramento. It’s a city program providing yearly pick-up of most non-toxic debris. The trucks will be here in the morning. You’ve probably heard the cliche about trash and treasure. Well, the people who have faith in that are out here with us.

Darkness provides enough cover to make us believe we’re snatching things like stealthy cat burglars. But it’s a charade. Some residents place the stuff curbside and casually glance out their windows while pretending to watch TV. Others actually sit out front, hoping to catch a glimpse of the scavenger parade. We don’t disappoint – darting by and and leaping out paws-first when something catches our eye.

We know there might be some ethical questions here. This is refuse for city trucks to haul off to the great municipal dumpster. What business do we have pulling it off the streets? But the rationalizations roll out with startling ease as soon as we find a commercial-quality pool lounger, five director’s chairs, and a decades-old living room chair in good shape – all in front of the same house on Taylor Way. As fast as we can gasp, “They don’t want this?”, we’re trying to figure out a way to get it back to our place, and we guard our prizes like hyper-vigilant buzzards when a woman circles in a pick-up truck.

Fortunately, the director’s chairs fold up neatly in the trunk. But there are serious problems after that. Carole displays considerable logistical skill by balancing the lounger and the living room chair on the roof of the car and asking me to hold the lounger steady on my side. And then we drive off with windows down on a cold winter evening, heading for home.

Prizm

The ’94 Geo Prizm is a little short on payload.

But before we get there we come across some dilapidated but promising Adirondack chairs, and it’s up-top with them. But now we can’t close the car doors because the Adirons are leaning down from the roof. We are left with a precarious moving rummage sculpture atop a Geo Prizm.

We’re still four blocks from home and navigating in that direction very slowly, fervently hoping all the neighbors have gone out for dinner. We somehow make it, unload our “new” furniture as fast as we can, and run in the house, slightly exhilarated.

It looked like we were just a couple of amateurs out among the pros. A lot of old trucks and vans with experienced hands were belching smoke in methodical grids through the placid streets of East Sacramento. Serious junk collectors and second-hand dealers seem to track clean-up days and try to make sure they reach the trash heaps before the city trucks. For Carole and me, the experience was like a thrift store without a cash register; a garage sale minus the haggling. And our faces are still a little flushed.

 

 

A hundred

100

This is blog post #100. As such, it will not win fabulous prizes or thousands of readers. Why should it be different than any other post? It’s just that 100 seems like a bit of a milestone, even if it isn’t.

When the first post hit a year-and-a-half ago we had no clue where this was heading. At the time it seemed like it might have been the only post. We were holding on as fast as we could and might have quickly lost our grip. But the ideas kept coming, driven somewhat by the old saw that everything is copy, and also by an absurd presidential election and the victor’s subsequent time in office.

While there are no set rules for this, we do stand for some things here, including the adventures of middle-age; the Beatles; the ongoing struggle with relentless progress; quirkiness; the contradictions of humanity; sportswriting; the sanctity of family; In N Out Burger; an appreciation of history; the Dude; a sense of wonder; pho; the magic of music; Casablanca; and, of course, a commitment to the soonest possible departure of the infantile Donald J. Trump from the White House.

Trump has been a primary feature of this blog, and we continually wish it wasn’t so. But these are unprecedented times, alarming times, Trump’s time; the pieces sometimes write themselves. Also, he’s good for clicks, which may make us as guilty as CNN and other news media of pandering for ratings. And if this blog was a commercial venture and actually earned money, we’d cop to it.

In fact, the most widely read posts have been about In N Out and Van Morrison. However, a look at the top-10 shows six posts with Trump content, but none since the election, which indicates a certain amount of Trump fatigue, and that scares the hell out of us. How many times can this guy step on his own, um, “manhood” and get away with it? Why are we starting to treat him as normal when he’s the furthest thing from it? So we’re going to keep writing about Trump and maintain our hope that this national nightmare ends sooner rather than later.

Someone asked us recently how to start writing. The answer, of course, is simple – start writing. It doesn’t matter if anybody reads it; write for yourself. The act of putting ideas and concepts down into something coherent is reward enough. Having said that, we’re very grateful to those of you who have taken the time to read this blog. We hope to hold your interest for next hundred posts.