Saturday, January 16, 2016

The breathtaking stupidity of #BernieOrBust

I love Bernie Sanders. Through three decades of political junkiedom, he is my favorite public official other than former Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone. Few politicians exhibit the authenticity and empathy that oozes out of Bernie’s every pore. No elected official speaks as passionately about the economic struggles of everyday Americans and the corrosive impact of corporate money on our ailing democracy. Bernie has my vote in the Democratic primary and I will enthusiastically volunteer for him if he becomes the Democratic candidate this fall.

Yet I find the #BernieOrBust crusade to be one of the most breathtakingly stupid political movements ever conceived.

Though many BernieOrBusters are not old enough to realize it, we have been here before. During the 2000 presidential race, Ralph Nader and his most ardent supporters repeatedly claimed that Al Gore and George W. Bush were so similar that it wouldn't make much of a difference who won. This assertion was accompanied by talking points that reduced an election with enormous human stakes down to bumper sticker slogans which were childlike in their simplicity. Gore and Bush were "two heads of the same beast" or "Tweedledee and Tweedledum." Rather than vote for "the lesser of two evils," Naderistas counselled that one should "vote your hopes, not your fears," though there was never a remote chance that Nader would become president and the fears of a Bush Administration were more than justified.

Based on Bush's record as governor of Texas, astute observers knew that the Nader talking points were nonsense and that a Bush presidency would be a nightmare for progressive
values. They were also acutely aware, through the application of basic math, that Nader's candidacy could siphon enough votes from Al Gore to put George W. Bush in office, which is exactly what happened thanks to Nader's vote totals in Florida and New Hampshire.

The results? The appointment of ultra-right officials who were determined to undermine their agencies' historic missions. A systematic reversal of liberal-learning Clinton-Gore policies. The worst environmental record in ages. Clinton's hard-earned surplus pissed away
on tax cuts for the rich that increased inequality and failed to grow the economy. The erosion of the wall between church and state. A slew of right-wing judges who genuflected before the corporate interests that Nader routinely flogged during his presidential run. The abandonment of international treaties, a unilateral invasion based on lies, and alienation from the international community. And staggering incompetence, from the lack of action taken before 9/11 (despite numerous warnings of potential attacks) to the failure to adequately plan for the occupation of Iraq to the gutting and privatization of FEMA, which failed New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, to Bush's failure to pre-empt the economic crash of September, 2008 despite clear warnings in 2007 that the housing bubble could burst. By any objective measure, Bush's presidency was a colossal disaster not only for America but for the progressive movement Nader claimed to champion.

Anyone who lives in a contested state who refuses to vote for Hillary Clinton in November of 2016 threatens to make the same stupid and reckless mistake that Nader's Florida supporters made in 2000.

No, Hillary hasn't won the Democratic nomination yet, and she was heavily favored in 2008 too, but the Bernie Sanders of 2016 is not the Barack Obama of 2008. His quest to become the Democratic standard bearer is a long shot, whether you look at polls, endorsements, betting markets, or the prognostications of data god Nate Silver, who gives Bernie a 5-10% chance of winning.

To justify not voting for the likely Democratic candidate this fall, BernieOrBusters peddle the notion that there is a major policy chasm between Bernie and Hillary, that Hillary is essentially "Republican light," but it just isn't so. During their time in the Senate, Hillary and Bernie voted together 93% of the time; far from being "Republican light," Hillary was the 11th most liberal senator, placing her to the left of 75-80% of the Democratic caucus and all of the Republicans. Over the past several months Clinton has released a long list of progressive proposals that offer a stark contrast to her Republican rivals, including policies dealing with the reform of Wall Street and drug laws, childcare, assistance to caregivers for the elderly and disabled, voting rights, prescription drug imports from Canada, LGBT rights, universal Pre-K and college debt, progressive taxation, autism, drug and alcohol addiction, Alzheimer's disease, gun control, and healthcare for veterans

Hillary would also appoint radically different judges to the Supreme Court than any of the GOP candidates, which is an especially crucial issue now that four SCOTUS justices are 80 and older, including cancer survivor Ruth Ginsburg. Among many other toxic decisions, the current 5-4 Republican majority has given us Citizens United, unraveled the Voting Rights Act, kept millions of poor Americans from receiving healthcare coverage, and now threatens to deliver a death blow to unions. If the replacement for any of the four liberal judges is chosen by a Republican president, expect more of the same and worse, including the end of Roe v. Wade and a return to the glory days of back alley abortions.    

In addition, while a Republican administration would do everything in its power to dismantle the progress of the last seven years, President Clinton would protect and expand upon the Affordable Care Act and the rest of the Obama legacy.  

For these reasons, and many, many others—including Clinton's unique qualifications for the office due to her intelligence, work ethic, experience, and public policy knowledge—Bernie recently said that she "will be an infinitely better candidate and president on her worst day than the Republican candidate on his best day." Swing state lefties who plan to stay home this November if Bernie doesn't win the primary, or waste their vote on a write-in candidate, need to remember that social progress is made by coalitions, not noble gestures.

                          Justice Delayed: "Kill the Messenger" vindicates Gary Webb

                                              21st Century Republicans, Part IV

                                "Inequality for All" and the Elephant in the Room

                                     Memorial Day in the United States of Amnesia

                                              Romney-Ryan's Road to Perdition

                      The Master of Low Expectations: 666 Reasons Sentient Citizens are 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The underappreciated ingenuity of Robby Krieger

Seventy years ago today, the universe yielded up Robby Krieger, later to become the lone introvert in the Doors. Sharing space and time with outsized personalities such as the Lizard King, one of the most captivating lead singers ever, the hyper-talented and ever-voluble Ray Manzarek (who spent the second half of his life proselytizing about the Doors’ sizable legacy in a non-stop hepcat patter), and John Densmorethe activist and stubborn conscience of the band who unilaterally blocked the sale of "Light My Fire" to Cadillac for a $15,000,000 payday—the soft-spoken guitarist tended to be overshadowed and undersung. But Krieger's contributions were essential to the Doors’ unique sound, what Manzarek referred to as a "four-sided diamond." 

When the Doors were gathering tracks for their debut album, they were short of original material, so the band members parted for a few days to write songs. Upon his return, Robbie offered up the arrangement that would become “Light My Fire,” the mega-hit which launched the band.

Teenyboppers heard the three-minute single, but album track listeners were treated to a seven-minute version with a heady instrumental jam which features two extended solos. Following Ray Manzarek’s mesmerizing solo was a tall order, but Krieger keeps things interesting when he comes in at 3:18. Unlike most of the rock players of his day, he didn’t follow the blues power template of Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, and forebears such as B.B. King; his solo is all clean channel finesse—colorful flamenco flutters and hammer-on pull-offs perfectly fitted to the huge pocket created by Densmore and Manzarek.

The last song on The Doors’ second album, “Strange Days,” is the epic “When the Music’s Over.” In one of the most powerful introductions committed to acetate, Ray Manzarek opens by vamping on the main theme, and is soon joined by Densmore, the two of them building tension that is released with Jim Morrison's blood-curdling shriek and Krieger’s big mystical wash of feedback. As Manzarek’s hypnotic organ and Morrison’s apocalyptic lyrics take center stage, Krieger stays in the background, doubling Manzarek or darting out quick little blues fills, until he plays what he later called his favorite solo, at 2:54.

Once, when asked what he was thinking about while he took solos in concert (with no expression on his face), Krieger said “my goldfish,” and it shows here. Unlike the muscular, virtuosic leads of contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page, Krieger’s solo is not a demonstration of chops or a climbing route to a crescendo but a mood reflecting his interest in the modal approach of Indian music. It is a perfect acid rock solo: oblique and multi-layered, a miasma of shapes and colors swimming around freely in your ears simultaneously in both the left and right channels.

One of the gems on the Doors’ third album, "Waiting for the Sun," is “Spanish Caravan.” Borrowing from the classical piece "Asturias," this song showcases yet another side of Robbie’s guitar voicings—fleet, nylon-stringed, flamenco finger picking.

The Doors’ final album, “L.A. Woman,” had several blues tracks. Manzarek, a Chicago native, had always had a foot in the blues. Years of cigarettes and heavy drinking had deepened Morrison’s voice, transforming his persona from that of a slinky and mystical shaman to a full-throated, whiskey-besotted bluesman. And the simplicity of blues arrangements appealed to the group after the departure of their long-time producer, Paul Rothchild, early in the sessions.

“Been Down So Long,” based on a '60s cult novel, is simple and stark. Driven by a pulsing bass line and bone-dry four-four drums, Manzarek's absence gives added emphasis to Krieger's tasty blues fills. While he didn’t possess the lightning-quick slide skills of Johnny Winter or the prowess of Duane Allman, Robbie was handy with the bottleneck, as evidenced by the eye-popping, Delta-influenced solos at 1:34 and 3:08. 

“Crawling King Snake” was an ancient standard previously recorded by blues giants John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf. The Doors’ version is appropriately gritty, stripped-down, and true to the original spirit of the song. Robbie’s solo at 1:48, a model in dirty blues, is filled with jagged flurries of notes that cut like shards of glass.

Just three months after “L.A. Woman” hit record store shelves, Jim Morrison was found dead in a Paris bathtub. The surviving Doors recorded two more albums with Ray Manzarek on vocals, but the magic was gone. In the decades since, Krieger has made guest appearances, collaborated with John Densmore and Ray Manzarek, and released solo albums, but ultimately, the recordings that shine brightest are his rich and versatile stylings for the original lineup of the Doors, the four-sided diamond.

Other Truth and Beauty guitar hero essays:

         Click here for "The Second Coming:  Stevie Ray Vaughan," 
a first-hand account of Vaughan's final concert

here for "The heaviest New Year's Eve guitar jam ever: Hendrix
does 'Machine Gun'"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #8: Freddie King's 'San-Ho-Zay'"
  here for "Link Wray's 'Rumble'"
here for "Great Guitar Solos, #1:  Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic)"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #2:  Frank Zappa"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #3:  Hiram Bullock" 

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #5:  Alvin Lee"

 here for "Great Guitar Solos, #6: Neil Young's 'Hey Hey, My My'"

and here for "Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar - The Six-String Wizardry of Frank Zappa, Part II"