In memory of the Midnight Rider

It sucks that Gregg Allman is dead, but his memory conjures so many amazing jams that it’s really hard to be depressed when I think of his passing.

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We need you

“You need me a lot more than I need you.”

Those were the stinging words of an unhappy newspaper subscriber who called me on a late work night at The West Side Journal, a small community newspaper where I work as the editor. Continue reading

Reviewing HST and the 2016 and 1972 campaign trails

Freak power, or something.
Freak power, or something.

For years Hunter S. Thompson fans have told me how great “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72” is. With the presidential campaign in full swing I figured it would be a great read, but after finally finishing it, I am totally disappointed.

I’ve never been “heavily” into politics, but I assumed by picking up the book maybe I’d get a better sense for the topic. Maybe I’d get a better sense of HST himself. Maybe I got both. But in any case, the book was a total snooze, which sucks because I love HST.

I actually bought the book in 2010 while in Iraq. When I wasn’t bumping down a dirt road in Salah al-Din province I was reading packages of books that I purchased on Amazon. Since then I had been pulling “Campaign Trail” off the shelf, reading the opening chapter’s description of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and thumbing through Ralph Steadman’s erratic illustrations, only to tuck the book back on the shelf again.

This is a frequent issue for books I’m told I need to read, but have no serious interest in. (It took me years before I had the guts to finish “Lord Jim.”)

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Permanent shadow

“[George McGovern] is still naïve enough to assume that anybody  who is honest and intelligent – with a good enough voting record on “the issues” – is a natural man for the White House. But this is stone bullshit. There are only two ways to make it in big-time politics today: One is to come on like a mean dinosaur, with a high-powered machine that scares the shit out of your entrenched opposition…. And the other is to tap the massive, frustrated enemies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to immediately choose between a Ford and a Chevy.”

I just picked up “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” It’s been on my shelf for five years and it’s about damn time I finished the thing.

I’ve never been able to totally immerse myself in politics the way so many hard-boiled reporters do. But it is somewhat of a personal goal, and if I’ll ever understand it, I may as well start here.

So much of Hunter S. Thompson’s writing resonates with today’s political landscape. Especially the above passage. It makes me wonder how much has really changed. On the surface, we have these great technological and social achievements, but beneath it’s business as usual.

Thompson was writing in the shadow of these incredible conflicts, like WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I like to believe that my generation has evolved from such things. But maybe I’m dead wrong. Maybe that shadow is permanent.

Funny, But Full of It

Bill Maher is not for everyone. I tried to explain this to my girlfriend’s parents, who are both conservative politically and spiritually. One identifying with the Mormon faith, and the other identifying with the Republican party.

“You either find him hilarious or repulsive,” I said to them from the back of the car as we drove to the Robinson Center Music Hall, in Little Rock, Ark., where Maher was performing for the night.

I didn’t know the guy did stand-up comedy. I thought he was just a professional smart-ass and political pundit with a TV show. I was curious to see what his stand-up routine would be like. I was also a little nervous to see what everyone’s reaction would be like once he started ripping into republicans and religion. Out of everyone in that car, I had the least to lose going to a Bill Maher show. I’m a twenties-something white male from a blue state.

Fortunately, it was too funny for me to even care. As the parents sat tensely in their seat, listening to Maher tear into Mormonism and Mitt Romney, I was barking out laughter. I am truly sorry that I did that, but I couldn’t contain myself. Me and my girlfriend had been visiting her parents for more than a week and Maher’s reckless and rude commentary was just what I needed to relax a little.

However…

Maher is a comedian. Don’t mistake the gray hair and smooth voice for someone truthful. Much of his material is based on misinterpretations of the truth. He frequently distorts, exaggerates and misleads to get his laughs. Maher is damn funny, but much of his humor comes from a liberal elite angle, whereas, if you don’t get his jokes you’re an idiot – or worse, a redneck. This pushes people into accepting his stories and commentary as truth.

For instance, he remarked that happily married Mormon couples get to rule over their own planet in the afterlife. This might be true to a degree, but lacks its context and is incredibly vague.

He also made several remarks about the Republican party “saying” or “doing” some profoundly stupid shit. We get it, Bill. Republicans are stupid. But the party can’t be defined by the words or actions of a few unlikable characters. But anytime a Republican opens their mouth, Maher has something to counter. In the end, it’s the whole party that’s wrong.

I will give him Kudos for dishing out some insults to the Democrats as well, specifically with the president. But it wasn’t enough. There is an obvious sympathy with Democratic Party. Just the way he changes the tone of his voice when talking about President Obama is enough to tell his audience who the good guys are.

I made these mental notes on my way back from the show. I wasn’t so critical while I was there. Ninety-nine percent of the audience really seemed to love his show. I, for one, would pay to see him again. The audience was a good mix of people too. No one seemed under or overrepresented in the theatre. Every mention of marijuana legalization, marriage equality, pro-choice, etc. got big cheers from the crowd. Clearly, a progressive crowd. In the Arkansas Times, Maher had this to say about his audience in red states:

“…there is an extra bit of enthusiasm in these states you’ve mentioned, what they call the red states, because I think it’s more unique for someone like me to be in a state like that and the progressive people who live in those states, I think they find it more of a special event that someone who thinks like them who they don’t usually see comes to their state.”

(Full story here.)

So maybe they were a bit overzealous. But it was also Maher’s first time in Little Rock.

Showing your support for a political idea is fine, even if the facts are a bit distorted. John Stewart and Stephen Colbert aren’t much better. I’d really like to see a comedian who can use accurate political commentary to get laughs. Or maybe that’s what we call good journalism.