Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

And many more!

This is a holiday greeting sent to me by the Grateful Dead in 1986.

The painting is by the great psychedelic illustrator Rick Griffin. Can you identify each band member? (Hint: Look at the instruments.)

This is the other side of the card showing the holiday message.

I'm looking forward to the year 2009 - I predict it's gonna be a doozy! We can never be sure about the future. For example, historian Robert Young sent me this 1909 postcard imagining what Northampton would look like in the then dawning 20th century. They were right about people floating around, but not physically in balloons. (click to enlarge)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Out of Print

It's gone, but I saved it.

Over the years I've been involved with a number of small print publications, most of them shortlived. One of them was a Chicopee based paper called The Northern Sun Magazette, for which I wrote a column until the day, about a year after it started, when the Northern Sun headed towards the setting sun. What the hell was a magazette anyhow? Here's a good example of my column.

One of the low points of my otherwise wonderfully misspent youth was the time I got busted on charges of attempting to smuggle drugs across international borders. I was a freshly minted graduate of the High School of Commerce and spending the summer living in a gorgeous little town in northern Vermont called Jeffersonville.

On weekend a buddy and I scooted across the Canadian border and spent some time Montreal, a vibrant but divided city whose problems provide as good an argument against a bilingual society as you'll ever experience in real life. We Americans too often take for granted just how lucky we are to have (for the moment at least) a nation united by one language.

But that's neither here nor there as far as this story goes. What was really intriguing about the Canadians was their incredibly tolerant attitude towards illegal drug use. Marijuana, which is so common here in the USA, is hard to get in Canada, where the lousy climate impedes the homegrown market and the best imported herb usually has to cross two borders to reach that far north.

Therefore most Canadian cannabis based drugs come from Europe, where it arrives condensed and compacted into the form of slightly sticky bricks of hashish. What was amazing was that people in the bars and nightclubs of Montreal were smoking hashish openly without anyone seeming the least bit perturbed. Hashish was technically illegal in Canada, but desptie the unmistakeable aroma of hashish in the air, no one was running to the phone to call the cops, such as you might expect to happen in the good ol' USA. Suffice it to say that my friend and I adopted the old travelers adage about doing what the Romans do, and even went a bit further and tried to bring a chunk of that hashish (called "Brown Gold" as I recall) backe to the USA as a sort of temporary souvenir, if you will, of our Canadian sojourn.

It should have been easy to do, but sometimes things are not as easy as it seems they ought to be. To make a long story short, thruogh a maddening combination of bad luck and cruel fate, the hashish was discovered by the border police, setting in motion a very unpleasant series of events, much of which I would prefer to forget, if I could. Without getting into the details, let me assure you that whatever the carefree attitude of the Canadian people regarding cannibis, the border police have no sense of humor on that subject whatsoever.

Yet despite some tense moments when it appeared that I might be facing a fate that would have required me to write this column from a jail cell, nothing much came of the incident. Apparently I was hardly the first American kid to think of bringing some of that Brown Gold back home, and so the Canadian justice system essentially just scared the heck out of me by threatening but then not following through on prison time, and basically told me to just be on my way back home with the stern admonishment to never darken the door to their fair country ever again!

I'm pretty sure that had this happened to me in today's far more paranoid drug environment, that I could've gotten off so easy. The only lasting consequence is that I cannot legally own firearms in Massachusetts, something of a disappointment since, like all true red-blooded Americans, I have an almost erotic fascination with weapons of all kinds.

Now flash forward some fifteen years to a sunny afternoon in Westfield where I was hosting the late, great Tommy Devine Show on WNNZ radio. It was a beautiful summer day when only a fool would be indoors listening to the radio, and consequently the phone lines were dead. Forced to fill the airwaves with nothing but my own improvisational patter, I lapsed into a kind of stream of conciousness rap about what I would do if I were the Mayor of Springfield. I soon got a little carried away and actually announced that I was actually going to run for mayor against then incumbent Robert Markel. I would have thought no one could have taken my announcement seriously, since I was promoting such notions as erecting a geodesic dome over downtown and putting a memorial on Court Square to the victims of the Springfield Newspapers.

Yet apparently there was someone out there who was listening and taking my radio skit quite seriously, because within a week I received something very strange and ominous in the mail. It came in an envelope postmarked in Springfield, but with no return address. Inside was a single sheet of paper, typed in the old dot-matrix style, which appeared to be a print-out from some law enforcement database. It was about my Canadian drug bust. That and nothing more, no writing no commentary, no clue of any kind as to its point of origin.

Yet there was a very clear, if unstated message just the same, one which if paraphrased might read something like this:

Hey Mr. Wouldbe Mayor!
In case you ever get serious about elective office, be aware that I, Mr. Mysterious Somebody, have access to this little piece of information. So before you go announcing yourself running for any offices, bear in mind the places I could sent this document to.

At first I laughed at this clumsily implied threat, but once I got to thinking about it, that letter gave me the creeps. Who had access to this information? Were some kind of privacy laws violated in obtaining it? Wasn't there something immoral, if not illegal, in blackmailing me this way?

Actually, if I had been serious about runnning for mayor, that particular skeleton falling out of the closet wouldn't have discouraged me. I would have simply held a press conference and dismissed the entire episode as youthful folly. Then I would have argued that even if I were on heroin, I could still think more clearly on municipal matters than anybody in the Markel Administration could do stone cold sober. But since I never intended to run for office in the first place, I simply dismissed the whole thing as just sleazery as usual in Springfield. But I haven't forgotten about it.

I suspect there were probably a number of incidents in Valley politics over the years where so-called confidential records, criminal and otherwise, have found their way into the hands of those who had no business obtaining them. In fact, I'll bet it happens all the time. But that doesn't make it right.

Another failed but fun publication, for which I did not write, was the Northampton based V-Mag. Still, I knew a few of the people involved and got a mention or two in it for various things. To the extent that V-Mag had any focus at all, it was on cartoons, for which it was a pioneering crusader against censorship of any kind:

One time Northampton Mayor M. Clare Higgins denounced V-Mag as "a scummy little magazine" and when you're getting reviews like that from the powers-that-be then you know you're on the right track. An equal opportunity offender, many residents of Holyoke were offended by this issue, although V-Mag was hardly the first to declare Holyoke a horror story. (click to enlarge)

While we're on the subject of cartoons, the old artist from Martian Highway days Steve Lafleur was interviewed recently, and admitted he used marijuana for inspiration. What a shock!

When you connect with the muse, you're at the center of life, there is nothing like it. It frankly can't be put into words right here, with luck it comes through in my comics.
I freely admit I'm part goddamn hippy and I love reefer. Sometimes I take a couple hits and start drawing. You can get some cool surprises. You bounce in this matrix of story and idea. If you overuse weed as a tool, it flattens your stuff, and I suffered from this sometimes with Dog Boy.

To read the whole interview, click here.

Speaking of Martian Higway over 15 years ago I got this letter in the mail.

The envelope had scrawled on the back of it these words to live by:

I knew at once that it could only be from Karl Mayfield, the former lead guitarist for Martian Highway, a popular local psychedelic combo that billed itself as "The Valley's Only Space Band."

And how!

This letter reached me after a long period of having had no contact with him, so it was sort of a catching up letter sent to me after Karl discovered a copy of the Baystate Objectivist in the Pine Point Cafe during a brief visit to Springfield. After all these years it is still an interesting and amusing enough missive to be worth sharing. I'll type it for you so that you don't have to try to decipher the unique handwriting of the original:

April 3, 93 2:30 AM

Last night I filled my belly with the flesh of dead animals as I sat at a banquet to honor my induction into Who's Who among students of American colleges. I thin proceeded to my local pub to suck down pints of ale, while listening to young people that don't do drugs play music that has about as much to do wih transcendance as Mr. Murphy's cough echoing through the halls of Balliet.

The beer is stale, the band is lame, the lights come on, I return to my room cluttered with the debris of my journeys . . . . My never ending quest for the Tao. I need to listen to some of that good ole Grateful Dead. One jam in particular is needed to retune my nervous system . . . Dark Star . . . Copenhagen . . . 1972 . . . I've been to Amsterdam . . . Drugs are legal . . . Minds are free. Where the fuck is that tape? Oh yeah . . . My backpack . . ZIIPP Clack Clack.

What is this a band poster from Germany? A menue from the south of France? Some sort of newspaper. Must be something radical. Typical Left/Right/Center/3D wing paranoia? - The Baystate Objectivist - Must have got this in New England but where? Do they actually read this kind of stuff in the Pine Point Cafe . . . St. Paddy's Day . . . Drunk . . . On the phone . . . Stuffed into my pocket. This is weird, I see people in here that are the younger brothers and sisters of people I knew years ago. I turn the page - Tom Devine! . . . Not The Tom Devine? Good work, I enjoyed reading it.

We went through many good times, many weird and twisted times. I was really glad to see your name. Since I last saw you I've traveled all over the planet. I've lived in the forest, did peyote in the desert witht he Indians, fucked Englishwoman, I went in the Army for three years, I'm now a pre-med student in college.

One of the biggest influences on my life was our years of interstellar inquiry . . . Tattered Hot Tuna/Grunt shirt on the body of a wide-eyed youth in search of the next buzz . . . A lot of who I am was initiated by you.

But enough of this babbling spew!

Let's see what else . . . Oh yeah, I've been friends with Paul Kantner for the last few years, his manager is a buddy of mine. I've met Jack Cassady a bunch of times also over the years. He's cool. Jorma is still a friend, I see him all the time down here at this good club that has a lot of the ole good folks. In London I met Roger Waters backstage at Radio Kaos.

I think the best coup was meeting Neel Jung. A friend of mine raises horses in California. I was out west in LA just after the riots. I was invited to my friend's ranch to go riding. He said we should wait before we go because his bud was coming to ride with us. I lost it when it turned out to be Mr. Young himself. The guy was great, he even let me do a little jamming with him.

Oh well, I'm getting tired. I will always love thinking about the past - we were kids then but I tell ya we had some great times.

See ya,


Monday, December 29, 2008

Radical Roots

The 60's revolution in Springfield.

I've been away for the weekend, but I'm back with another intriguing artifact from the vault. The following are excerpts from a piece originally published in 1969, discussing how the activists of that era resisted the takeover of Springfield by special interests. This is a fascinating document revealing how Springfield began going astray in a big way. It originally existed as part of the archives of Atty. J. Wesley Miller, which is now lost, but he printed this copy for me prior to his death. - TD

As an organization, Springfield Area Movement for a Democratic Society is more than a year old now. We've grown from a small handful of people interested in peace and social justice to a city-wide organization immersed in an effort to uncover what makes our city - and our nation - function as it does, and to involve the people of Springfield in an active effort to change the priorities and decision making structures of our city.

We don't think it's a accident that radicalism is alive and well here in Springfield. A large part of the American population lives in and around cities like Springfield: cities large enough to house international corporations and government agencies and to reflect the whole spectrum of problems faced by our nation; but small enough so that we can find out where the power lies and who makes the decisions and why; and livable enough so that people still have hopes for the possibilities of the future.

Cities like Springfield are the important and logical places for the development of strong political movements, despite the fact that until recently most movement attention has been focused toward the bigger cities. We thank that our movement can demonstrate that that the major decisions of our cities are made by a small handful of men representing powerful economic interests, and that because of the nature of those interests the real needs of the people aren't being met, and our energies and resources are being manipulated and wasted. Our experiences as a movement in Springfield encourage us in that belief.

Our contact with other movement people in middle-sized cities indicates that our experiences here are useful to people in many other places. Movements similar in their city-wide perspective to ours are now underway in places like Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Pittsfield, and it looks like we'll be able to work together and support each other very well.

Springfield, like many other cities, is attempting to solve its social and economic problems with urban renewal and redevelopment projects. As a result, we have seen the levelling of the North End of the city - a large black and poor white district - to make way for a huge complex of highways, motels, shopping centers and other large businesses. There are now underway massive development plans for the downtown area. We discovered when we examined these projects that a relatively small handful of men, representatives from the major economic interests in the city, have been involved in deciding Springfield's future.

Most amazing of these projects is Baystate West, a complex of an office tower, luxury hotel, parking garage and shopping mall, presently under construction in the downtown area. Our corporate target is the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. This corporation has pushed through the city government - which it controls - a "Baystate West" project which will permit it to rebuild the downtown area without paying real estate or property taxes. The project is entirely owned by Mass Mutual Life Insurance Company, and was granted a substantial tax break through state legislation and a special contract with the city. This deal represents a tax loss of some $2,390,000 per year for the next forty years.

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (one of the 50 richest corporations in the country) is practically synonymous with the Springfield ruling elite. The directors of Massachusetts Mutual interlock with every important employer or financial institution in the area and are trustees of the area colleges. Most of the business occupying space in Baystate West will be relocating from other locations in the downtown area where they are presently supporting taxable property.

In addition, Mass Mutual did not sign the contract until the city agreed to build a "Civic Center" (essentially a convention hall) tow blocks away to give Baystate West added business. The Civic Center will cost the taxpayers another $800,000 a year for thirty years. That's over three million dollars per year that taxpayers will have to make up for. And the point of all this paying is that none of the real problems of the people of Springfield are being mentioned.

We think it's important to make a big deal out of these facts, because the connect up for all of us the quality of our lives at home and the questions of national importance like the war in Vietnam. A project like Baystate West helps to explain why we have so little control over the direction of our society, and why we seem to be so unable to deal with the poverty and racism and alienation around us.

We've had a lot of success in raising this issue in Springfield so far. We have written what we think is an excellent research pamphlet on the project, called "Welcome to Springfield, a Mass Mutual Property." The pamphlet is getting wide circulation in the area. Also, we are just winding up a boycott of the four major business interests that are involved in the Baystate West project. We hope to be able to force the city to stop plans for construction of the so-called Civic Center and to force Mass Mutual to pay full taxes on Baystate West. But beyond that, we hope to demonstrate to people that when we join together we have the power to control what is going on in our lives and in our country.

Recent racial violence in the Springfield high schools painfully demonstrated to us the lack of a strong student union. A large group of High School students mobilized last fall around hair and dress regulations. The issue was won; the regulations were removed in all the city high schools. The racial problems in the high schools are far from over. The city's response of putting police in the schools will only make the situation worse. It is clear that high school students have plenty of things to feel angry and frustrated about.

We are attempting in the Springfield area to build a radical organization which cuts through the superficial differences which normally divide American working people. Springfield has had no significant movement activity in the recent past and so our work is free from the usual left factionalism or organizational jealousies. On the other hand, we are starting from scratch, and the usual myths that divide our people are quite strong in the city as a whole. People still act as though they believe that prestige has some real value as defined by the society's present standards.

In Springfield, as elsewhere, we are up against a deep, often unadmitted sense of powerlessness when confronted with the real issues which face us as American working people. Most people at least know that the rich have a lot of power, but they don't want to think about it too much because "that's just the way things are" or "you can't fight City Hall" or "don't rock the boat." The feeling, it seems, is that we will just make trouble for everybody by trying to change things.

Our strategy is to demonstrate to people that a small elite in fact runs Springfield, that they are not the elected officials (although these officials certainly help them) and that they use power to serve their own interests at the expense of the population as a whole. Simultaneously we must show that by working together the people of the area can get specific changes which are to our benefit.

We opened a Movement Workshop in the downtown area intended for printing, draft counseling and small meetings. Our Movement Workshop was busted up. On two successive days the windows in our storefront were broken with the damage totalling $300. In neither case did the police report the incident to the landlord or investigate. In the second instance, the two large plate-glass windows in the front were shattered all over the sidewalk and street for over 24 hours on Sunday until one of the people working in the building reported it to the landlord on Monday morning.

Our building is on a main street and must have been seen by the police who patrol the street constantly. In addition, the landlord was contacted by the "authorities" whom he would not identify. As a result he evicted us. It is clear that we have no police protection and probably will face more police harassment.

So we very much need your help, both to continue our present projects and to start new ones. We are pretty sure that everyone in this country has good reason to join with a radical movement. It's just that it takes a lot of convincing, because so many people have given up on - or maybe never even thought about - the possibilities of a popular revolutionary uprising in America. We need your help in continuing to build the movement in Springfield.

Tom Bell
June 1969
Springfield Area Movement
for a Democratic Society
Box 1608
Springfield Mass. 01101

Retired Springfield cartoonist Paul Flannery used to do a nationally syndicated strip called The Pennys. It was generally more cute than funny.

Flannery also did a lot poltical cartooning. Here is a flyer he did for a 1998 Republican Party picnic featuring Dan Yorke. (click to enlarge)

My lost brother gave me the Grateful Dead in Egypt CD for Christmas. It opens up to create 3D images.

The Grateful Dead, themselves epitomizing Duke Ellington's definition of the excellent as being "beyond category," have sought access to sources of the imagination which transcend "Western" or "Eastern" categories of history and culture. Their music asserts that we are liberated, not enslaved, by such an acceptance of total awareness, and their pilgrimage to the Great Pyramids of the Nile, the cradle of revealed culture, is made with the understanding that men and women, many thousands of years ago, also aspired to voyage to the stars in their search for a pure and universal humanity.

- Hamilton Eddy

Jordan Williams and his faithful traveling companion Michline were in town for the holidays. We went out to eat Friday at Mama Iguana's in Northampton.

We also went to hear the Hamp singing sensation Luke Arivel at Sam's, the new hot spot for Hamp hipsters with money. Here's a video of Luke and his piano player Brian which also shows some of the pictures on the wall for sale by Greg Stone for over a grand apiece.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Beggars and Choosers

A psychedelic Christmas story.

Kesey and grandson.

Skid Row Santa
by Ken Kesey

At the finale of the Christmas show last year in Eugene, Oregon, I came out as a skid-row Santa, complete with rubber nose, plastic sack full of beer cans, and a pint of peppermint schnapps to fortify the holiday spirit. I also borrowed my wife Faye's blue egg bucket and labelled it "Homeless." I'd jangle the cans like a bagful of aluminum sleigh bells while I worked the main-floor aisle seats: "Hey, come on, buddy. Put something in the bucket, for Chrissakes. Don't you know it's Christmastime? Hey, that's better. God bless you. You're beautiful."

I ended up with only about seventy-five bucks. Not much of a take for a full house at a Christmas show. But even seventy-five bucks was a wad too big to pocket.

So after I got out of my red suit and rubber snoot I drove off to seek a worthy recipient. I spotted a likely assortment of candidates in the 7-Eleven parking lot, corner of Sixth and Blair. I swung in and held the bucket out the window.

"All right. Who's the hardest-luck case in this lot?"

The candidates looked me over and edged away - all but one guy, ponytailed and slope-shouldered, his chin tucked down in the collar of a canvas camouflage jacket. "I got a streak of hard luck runs all the way back to New Jersey," he said. "What about it?"

"I'm on a mission from St. Nicholas," I told him. "And if you are, in fact, the least fortunate of the lot"--in the spirit of the season, I refrained from saying "biggest loser"--"then this could be your lucky night."

"Right," he said. "You're some kind of Holy Roller? Where's the string? What's the hustle?"

"No string, no catch, no hustle. I'm giving. You're getting. Get it?"

He did. He took the money and ran, taking Faye's egg bucket into the bargain. The last I saw of him, he was scurrying away, looking for a hole.

Since then, I've wondered about him. Did that little windfall make a difference? Did he rent a cheap room? Get a bath? A companion? Every time I found myself passing through one of Eugene's hard-luck harbors, I kept half an eye peeled for the sight of a long tail of black hair draggling down the back of a camouflage jacket. Last week, a year later to the day, I made a sighting.

I was in town with Faye and our daughter, getting in some Christmas shopping before we rendezvoused with my mom for supper. We'd done a couple of hours in the malls, and I was shopped out. I announced that I wanted to make some private purchases, and slipped off into the rainy cold - alone. I was headed for the liquor store on Eighth, thinking the spirit could use a little fortification.

But the trusty peppermint wasn't powerful enough. These home-town streets are just too strange, too vacant, too sad. Corner of Sixth at Olive: empty. The great Darigold Creamery that my dad built up from a little Eugene farmer's cooperative: bulldozed down. I ducked my head and kept walking in the rain.

When I reached the city center, I noticed that the thing people had finally given up trying to call a fountain was newly disguised with pine boughs and potted plants. But to no avail. It still looked like the remnants of a bombed-out French cathedral. Then, when the rain eased up, I was surprised to discover that the ruins were not quite deserted: I saw a loose black braid hanging down the back of a camouflage jacket. That seemed right. He was in the old fountain's basin, bent in a concealing crouch at one of the potted pines.

I came up from behind and clapped my hand on his shoulder. "Whatcha doin', Hard Luck? Counting another bucket of money?"

He wheeled around and had my wrist clamped in a bone-breaking grasp before I could finish the word. I saw then that this wasn't a chinless street rat standing down in the basin after all. This was a block-jawed American Indian built like two fireplugs, sitting in a wheelchair.

"Ouch! Man! Let go! I thought you were somebody else!"

He eased the hold, but kept the wrist. I told him about last year's longhair and the matching jacket. He listened, studying my eyes. "O.K. Sorry about the twist. I was taking a leak. You surprised me. Let's get out of the rain and see what kind of medicine you've got sticking out of your pocket."

We retired under some scaffolding. He was less than enthusiastic about my choice of pocket medicine.

"I'd rather drink something like Southern Comfort if I have to choose a sugar drink," he said. But we passed the pint back and forth and watched the rain.

He leaned to spit and a folded Army blanket slipped out of his lap. His legs were as gone as the main gut of my poor home town. He was a part-time fillet man from the Pike Place Market, up in Seattle, on his way to spend Christmas with family on "the res," outside of Albuquerque. His bus was laid up for a couple of hours: "I think they're getting the Greyhound spayed before she gets to California."

When the pint was about three-quarters gone, I screwed on the lid and held it out. "I gotta meet the women. Go ahead and keep it."

"Ah, I guess not," he said.

"You're pretty choosy for a thirsty man, aren't you? What would be your best druthers?"

"To have the money and make my own choice."

I reached for my wallet. "I think I got a couple of bucks."

"And a quarter? If I had two bucks and a quarter, I could get a pint of Ten High. With four and change I'd go on to a fair-to-middlin' fifth. Cream of Kentucky."

I hesitated. Was I being hustled? "O.K. Let's see what we've got." I emptied the wallet and pockets onto his blanket. He added a few coins and counted the collection.

"Nine seventy-five. If I come up with another two dollars, I can get a bottle of Bushmill's Irish. Think I can panhandle two dollars between here and the liquor store?"

"Without a doubt," I assured him. "With both panhandles tied behind your back."

We shook hands goodbye and headed off in our separate directions, strolling and rolling through the rain. At the restaurant, my mother wanted to know what I was thinking about that gave me such a goofy grin.

"I was just thinking, if beggars can't be choosers, then it must follow that choosers, by definition, are not beggars."

This is a flyer from 1980 advertising what was new at the time with the Grateful Dead - a new tour, a new album and a new book. (click to enlarge)

Here's a picture of me taken in the 80's.

Back then the old queers used to whimper with lust when I walked by. Of course I was as cold as ice towards them. As karma demands, now I'm getting old and if it wasn't for college boys with daddy-complexes I wouldn't see any action at all with guys under thirty. What goes around comes around indeed. The gay community is very tolerant, and has but one unforgivable sin.

To grow old.

The children of Amherst are taking full advantage of the recent snowfall by sledding on Memorial Hill at Amherst College.

After the terrible ice storm earlier this month the video camera that constantly broadcasts online from Amherst College captured this stunning image of the Holyoke Mountain Range buried in glistening ice.

You can monitor the mindblowing beauty of the view from Memorial Hill all year long from the Amh-cam by clicking here.

Oh my, these UMass girls have had way too much to drink! Filmed in Cashin, the dorm I used to live in.

This kid puts them to shame!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gifts to the Valley

From the vaults.

In the spirit of the season, let me give you a few jewels from deep within the catacombs of my legendary archives.

First let's unwrap this program from an appearance by the Grateful Dead at the Springfield Civic Center on June 30, 1974. This is the front cover. (click to enlarge)

Here is the first inside pages. The capsule review of the Dead's career to that point is quite good. (click to enlarge)

Notice in the top left corner advertisement there is a Loggins and Messina concert coming up with a little known band opening for them called The Doobie Brothers. Loggins and Messina would soon break-up and fade away but the Doobies would become enduring superstars. (click to enlarge)

Notice the price of the albums. (click to enlarge)

This is the back of the program.

Here is a 1993 program guide for WNNZ when I had a Sunday radio show. (click to enlarge)

At one point this was a promotional contest WNNZ ran. (click to enlarge)

Before he actually announced he was running for mayor of Springfield, Mike Albano told this first of many lies.

When former City Councilor Tony Ravosa ran against Richard Neal for Congress in 1992 he had the following cartoon as part of his promotional material. Shown sitting atop the Springfield Newspapers building is publisher David Starr, manipulating his puppet Richie Neal while his editors look on. The paper was called the Union-News in those days. (click to enlarge)

Once upon a time, in a kingdom long ago and far away (yet still quite familiar) there lived a brave young knight the people called SIR ANTHONY THE MAVERICK. He resided in the "Fiefdom of Homes" called ARSONVILLE where the Knights of the Roundtable, all except SIR ANTHONY, lived by the motto, "Go Along to Get Along." But SIR ANTHONY lived by a different motto: "Time for a Change!"

The other Knights of the Roundtable took orders from the COURT PUPPETEER and the evil town crier, THE STORYTELLER. But the COURT PUPPETEER and THE STORYTELLER and their band of MERRY MONEY MAKERS preferred to work in the shadows, away from the public's view, and so they had KING RICHARD THE FIRST serve as their pawn and to shield ther evil deeds from view. If anyone tried to challenge KING RICHARD, or expose THE PUPPETEER and his band of MERRY MONEY MAKERS, THE STORYTELLER would weave a web of lies to turn the people against KING RICHARD's enemies.

So it was, that when SIR ANTHONY discovered that the wicked TAX COLLECTOR was burning down the peasant's shacks, in order to collect the insurance, the brave young knight called upon THE STORYTELLER to alert the people of the evil deeds. Instead, THE STORYTELLER, afraid that the scandal would tarnish the glory of KING RICHARD and upset the MERRY MONEY MAKERS, told the people that SIR ANTHONY was a villain and a maverick who was disloyal to the sacred code of "Go Along to Get Along."

THE STORYTELLER (who like all bullies was a coward at heart) finding no lies suitable to discredit SIR ANTHONY, chose instead to attack SIR ANTHONY's family. THE STORYTELLER harrassed SIR ANTHONY's father, the owner of a humble tavern, with unsubstantiated tales of petty infractions of Arsonville's business codes (while turning a blind eye to much more serious transgressions by THE MERRY MONEY MAKERS).

But the people were not fooled. They had seen brave SIR ANTHONY stand tough against THE STORYTELLERS relentless attacks, and they recognised at last that SIR ANTHONY was their true champion. One fair day in November, the people took to the streets, waving their brooms and exclaiming, "More than the streets need cleaning!" as the multitudes descended on their polling places and swept KING RICHARD from his throne. From that day forward, with SIR ANTHONY to defend them, the people of Arsonville lived happily ever after.

(of the King and his Court)

Pine Point's Doyle the Twig Painter did this portrait of me in 1992.

For a long time activist Eamon O'Sullivan had a nasty feud going with Springfield Newspapers editor Larry McDermott. I never knew fully what it was all about, but it got quite personal at times, as the letters below show. Eamon apparently accused the paper of not being able to cover Springfield adequately because so many of their top personnel lived in Longmeadow. McDermott responds by calling Eamon "a deeply bitter and beaten man." (click to enlarge)

Eamon in turn responds with an intimidating attack of latin phrases. (click to enlarge)

Someday, somebody (me?) will write the modern history of our Valley, and it will be better than any soap opera there ever was.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Saving Democracy

Ending one party rule.

Sal DiMasi and Deval Patrick (as Dianne Wilkerson looks on)

When Bill Clinton came to Springfield in 1996, reporters from the eastern part of the state gasped when they saw that former House Speaker Charles Flaherty, who had just been forced out in disgrace, had actually been invited to speak prior to the President's arrival. However, while most decent people were shocked to see a convicted pol given such an undeserved honor, our local politicians saw in "Good Time Charlie" Flaherty a kindred soul. For them, Flaherty's only sin was to have gotten caught.

Flaherty's successor, Tom Finneran, also left under a cloud and now the current speaker is sinking in an ethics scandal. What's wrong? From an editorial in the SouthCoast Newspaper:

So the last two Democratic speakers of the House in Massachusetts have been indicted.

Tommy Finneran for perjury and Charlie Flaherty for income tax evasion.

We're evidently going for a trifecta, as a federal grand jury now is investigating the activities of current Speaker Sal DiMasi. Last Thursday, Attorney General Martha Coakley indicted Mr. DiMasi's personal accountant, Richard Vitale, for allegedly lobbying "the speakah" illegally.

Now why, you might ask, have three Massachusetts speakers in a row skated so close to the ethical line between right and wrong?

Well, one good reason is because there's no one in an opposition party to watch them.

With only 11.6 percent of state residents registered as Republicans, and only 19 of 160 state legislators members of the GOP, there's no one with enough political juice to check the power of an ethically challenged Democratic leader.

Are all Massachusetts Democrats ethically challenged? Certainly not. Although you could make a good case that you have to be in order to rise to the position of speaker, given the history of the last three guys to hold the job.

I don't blame people for not yearning to vote for the GOP, there are few species of politician more pathetic than a Massachusetts Republican. However, the Democrats are mostly corrupt in this state, and without Republicans to keep an eye on them, they will continue to run hogwild. As a civic duty, every Massachusetts Democrat should make a solemn vow that they will find a Republican on the ballot this year that they will vote for, even if they have to hold their nose while doing so. It is their duty in the cause of good government to revive a fully functioning two party democracy in Massachusetts.

Here is something that appeared in the Valley Advocate about me way back in 1996. (click to enlarge)

Well the snow has finally stopped, but only to be followed by an arctic blast of bitter cold wind. Those of you in nicer climes can observe from this video I made this afternoon through the window of the UMass Library to see for yourselves how we are suffering.

Vegetarian - Indian word meaning "lousy hunter."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mushrooms Banned

The Dutch devolve.

We here in Massachusetts smugly think we're so enlightened because we recently reduced the penalty for small amounts of marijuana to a hundred dollar fine, even though it really didn't go far enough. But at least we're going in the right direction. The Dutch were once so hip to the stupidity of trying to control drugs by passing laws against them that even psychedelic mushrooms were legal. Or at least that was true until this month, when a ban promised in October took effect. According to the BBC:

The Dutch government is banning the sale of all magic mushrooms after a series of high-profile incidents involving tourists who had taken them.
The decision will take effect within several months, said a spokesman for the Dutch justice ministry.

A major Dutch producer of the psychedelic mushrooms said he stood to lose millions of euros as a result.

The Netherlands is famed for its liberal drugs policy, with marijuana openly sold in licensed cafes.

Magic mushrooms, more properly known as psilocybe, contain the psychedelic chemicals psilocybin and psilocin.

The ban is partly in result to some embarrassing incidents involving tourists who mixed the mushrooms with alcohol.

Calls for a re-evaluation of the drug grew after a 17-year-old French girl jumped from a building after eating magic mushrooms during a school trip to Amsterdam in March.

Other incidents involving the drug have included an Icelandic tourist jumping from a balcony and breaking both legs and a Danish tourist driving his car wildly through a camping ground, narrowly missing sleeping campers.

"It's a shame, the media really blew this up into a big issue," said Chloe Collette, owner of the FullMoon shop, which sells magic mushrooms in Amsterdam.

She said all the incidents had involved magic mushrooms in conjunction with other drugs.

A reader from the Netherlands took the following picture of some mushrooms he purchased in anticipation of the ban and now has stored in his refrigerator for future use.

Here's his review of the major brands.

These became illegal the next monday. A shame caused by freaked out cult members and stupid tourists.

The Hawaiians were very strong (i wasn't cheesing my balls off, though) and i forgot to stay hydrated. The Equadorians mostly fizzled due to taking them one day after the Colombians, and produced bad smelling gas. I'd stick to Colombians.

It's insane how horrible drugs like alcohol and nicotine remain freely available while much less harmful substances like magic mushrooms are outlawed.

Here is a card Springfield Police Chief Paula Meara once gave me.

More queer Batman.

At Mystery Train Records in Amherst the other night a guy named Tony who calls himself Crystalline Roses put on a spacey show.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bailout Perspective

What do all these taxpayer bailouts really add up to? Read it and weep, as reported in Politico:

As the holiday season commences, it’s worth taking stock of the last gift that President George W. Bush and the 110th Congress have left for U.S. taxpayers.

It’s a package of about $8.7 trillion dollars’ worth of potential taxpayer commitments for loans, guarantees and other bailout goodies for businesses and distressed homeowners.

Amid the tissue paper:

• More than $1.5 trillion in Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. loan guarantees, including a $139 billion assist to the lending arm of General Electric Corp.

• $1.8 trillion in cash, tax breaks and loan guarantees doled out from the Treasury Department to taxpayers, financial institutions and credit companies.

• $300 billion for homeowners from the Federal Housing Authority.

• $25 billion in assistance for auto companies from a program overseen by the Energy Department, which is separate from the bailout proposal that tanked last week in the Senate.

• And $5 trillion worth of new money, loan guarantees and loosened lending requirements from the Federal Reserve Bank.

According to Bianco Research President James Bianco, who crunched these numbers, that amounts to more government aid and assistance than nine other historic bailouts and big government outlays combined.

The New Deal, for instance, cost an estimated $32 billion in its day, which would be about $500 billion in today’s dollars. The Marshall Plan cost about $12.7 billion, which is the equivalent of a paltry $115.3 billion. The Louisiana Purchase? The French got $15 million, which would be worth about $217 billion today.

If you take those three items, add in the adjusted costs of the Race to the Moon, the savings and loan crisis, the Korean War, the Iraq war, the Vietnam War and assistance for NASA, you still get to just $3.92 trillion — not even half of the taxpayers’ exposure today, according to Bianco.

Maybe Washington is taking its cues from Springfield in the Albano era. Here is the front of the program from Albano's 1998 inaugural.

This is the full program. (click to enlarge)

A Rogue's Gallery on the back:

1998-1999 represented the peak of the Albano mayoralty. By 2000 it was all starting to unravel and would soon come tumbling down in a wave of scandal and mixed metaphors.

Here's some updates from the Stephen Geoffreys cult. Someone sent me a picture from the Fright Night reunion tour posing with Stephen Geoffreys.

Stephen is also appearing in a movie called "New Terminal Hotel" with fellow 80's has-been Corey Haim. This is Stephen in a still from the new film.

Here is Corey Haim in his adorable youth. Critics said he looked like a poodle.

Earlier this year Haim had to take out an ad in Variety begging Hollywood for a job.

I guess it worked.

Finally, here is a video about the gay life at UMass.