Monday, March 30, 2009

About Neal

Kesey on Cassady

Of all the figures of the so-called Beat literary movement, few are more of an enigma than Neal Cassady. That's pretty strange, because no Beat figure was more written about, since it seems nearly every writer who ever met Cassady in person felt compelled to write something about him. The one who wrote the most about him was his sometimes best friend Jack Kerouac, who fictionalized Cassady slightly as the hero of his classic novel On the Road and in a lesser known stream of consciousness novel called Visions of Cody. The other best known work about Cassady is Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a biography of author Ken Kesey which shows Cassady twenty years after On the Road in the wild years of his final decline, when he was a leading figure of the American psychedelic movement.

The Beats revered Cassady in part because they saw him as the embodiment of their bohemian philosophy. Many of the Beats were grad school drop-outs and cafe intellectuals who had great theories of what constituted the liberated life, but who themselves led a bookish, alcoholic existence. In Cassady they felt they had the real-life example of what the truly liberated person should be like. When asked to demonstrate what their theories of life meant, the Beats could point to Cassady and say, "We mean someone like him!"

Not everyone was impressed with what they saw. By the end of his life Cassady was a full blown speed-freak whose amphetamine fueled monologues were considered to have mystical significance by his fans but which others have dismissed as gibberish. He neglected his devoted wife Carolyn and his kids, and for someone whom everyone else wanted to write about, he wrote very little himself. William S. Burroughs called Cassady "a con-man" who was redeemed only by the fact that what he most wanted to con you into doing (besides supplying him with money, drugs and sex) was showing him your best self. His great gift appeared to have been his ability to get people to let down their walls of defensiveness and inhibition and become the person they really wanted to be. Therefore many people who interacted with Cassady described the encounter as liberating and even permanently life-changing. "Neal had a fantastic power over people," Jerry Garcia once said, "and it was all benign."

Ken Kesey's first novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was an instant classic of American literature and the movie version was showered with Academy Awards. A second novel Sometimes a Great Notion was praised for its extremely original and creative style, but the complicated plot and murky theme made the book much less successful commercially than its predecessor. Kesey was unfazed by the inability to match his previous success, since by that time he had declared that he was abandoning writing as an outdated artistic form. He announced that he intended to create a revolutionary new art form called "happenings" that were designed to help transform society into a culture of liberated individuals - people who would be like Neal Cassady.

The main tool for this liberation was to be the powerfully mind-altering drug LSD. Kesey believed that if large numbers of people had the psychedelic experience, then revolutionary changes would begin to occur in society as a whole. The way Kesey and his followers (who called themselves The Merry Pranksters) intended to get the then legal drug into wide usage was to pass it out to people freely, sometimes whether they knew what they were taking or not. The first of these experiments was to take a bus on a cross-country trip with Kesey, his friends and a heavy dose of LSD onboard, and see what kinds of encounters they could have. It was all filmed, and the driver on this often outrageous bus ride was Neal Cassady.

After the bus trip, further LSD spreading experiments were conducted at public events disguised as common dance parties (and featuring a band that would become the Grateful Dead) but where the non-alcoholic refreshments (usually the powdered soft-drink Kool-Aid) would be spiked with LSD. The authorities at first thought these "Acid Tests" were simple, booze free dances, but it didn't take them long to figure out what was really going on.

Not surprisingly, the authorities frowned on Kesey's new role as a psychedelic pied piper. Emergency legislation was enacted making LSD illegal, and soon after Kesey himself was arrested on drug charges. He fled the country, but returned and was captured and sent to prison. Alarmed by Kesey's imprisonment and fearful for his own safety, Cassady fled to Mexico, where fellow Beat William Burroughs was living in exile to escape charges of killing his wife. There Cassady died in 1968 of an accidental drug overdose; he was cremated and his ashes were later sprinkled from an airplane flying over the San Francisco Bay.

Fast forward to 1980. By that time the American psychedelic movement had pretty much collapsed under government repression and the movement's own excesses. Ken Kesey was out of jail and he and his followers had abandoned San Francisco, previously the capitol of psychedelia, and relocated to Oregon, where Kesey's family had for generations been prominent in the dairy business. There Kesey spent most of his time farming, but slowly he began reconsidering his decision to abandon writing. The result was the occasional release of largely unpublicized self-published books called Spit in The Ocean, each of which had a different theme. For example book number three featured Kesey's fellow psychedelic pioneer Dr. Timothy Leary. All of the Spit in the Ocean books are out of print except the last one, which was about Ken Kesey himself and published after his death in 2001.

Recently a copy of Number Six of Kesey's Spit in the Ocean series "The Cassady Issue" became available to me. I was delighted to read it, since it has become almost completely unavailable, and it is full of little gems of insight into the mysterious Neal Cassady.

Most of the book consists of short memoirs written by people who knew Cassady in various capacities. The collection is edited by Ken Babbs, a close friend of both Cassady and Kesey. Among those remembrances:

Best selling novelist Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) writes that he was never overly impressed by Cassady:

To me he seemed like a rather common Western type: The cowboy, roughneck, dozer-driver or whatever who is enormously capable physically and has added to that capability random scraps of ill-absorbed education.

There are hundreds of such people about the west, boomers mostly. They're all a little crazy. They can do anything with a machine or an animal. They accumulate two or three wives and passels of kids and girlfriends. They run all over the place, drinking, fucking, fighting, talking interestingly at times and boringly at other times.

Most of them don't fall in with a literary crowd at Columbia, of course. It's no wonder that someone like Neal would have affected Ginsberg and Kerouac - particularly if you recall the literary climate in the universities in the late Forties.

One of Cassady's longtime mistresses Anne Murphy writes quite frankly about her sexual adventures with him:

When we came home to Palo Alto, Neal, the angel, traded his halo for horns and made expert use of that main muscle to drive me through undreamed of orgasms. He was a gifted cocksman, though Carolyn doesn't agree. She's more the candlelight-and-wine type, rather than the back seat or filling station type, where for me, many "quickie" fill-ups occurred. Nevertheless, his meat was sweet and such a treat that he became famous for it, at least in underground circles.

He really was a holy man, even as a lover. Sometimes he would expound upon the philosophy of Edgar Cayce during intercourse, or quote from the Bible. Other times he would vent his jealousy and spite at the devil he took me for. "You slut, you! I saw you get into that car with all those men!"

Most of the time, though, sex with him was fun. It often originated from his jealous fantasies, which he used to spice up a performance, but sometimes, too, he went "over the line" and fantasy became reality and he would punish me for imaginary infidelities. Later, these fantasies of his became realities to many of his women; we found ourselves doing exactly what he had accused us of at an earlier time. For instance, I was joyously "gang-banged" by the Hell's Angels right before his eyes. Afterward they handed me a card that read, "You have just been assisted by a member of the Hell's Angels, Oakland Chapter."

John Clellon Holmes, whose book Go marked the literary debut of the Cassady literary personna, offers an account of some parties from Cassady's first visit to New York City, but ends the piece by ruminating on Cassady's death:

And so this mad internal combustion machine, fueled by a manic hunger that was finally mysterious - this cocksman, hipster, conner-of-cars, horizon-chaser left nothing behind, except patient Carolyn and the kids, and -yes! - some of us who loved him because of, and some of us who like him despite, that remorseless hunger, having (as the world does) an ambiguous feeling for those who continually light out for the territory ahead, reminding us uncomfortably that we are self-imprisoned by work and days, trapped in time and its demands, the body finally inadequate to the crazy hopes it houses. I like to think he drifted into rest, lying on his back, looking up. I want to think of it like that.

Also included is a never before published excerpt from Neal's only published work, the never completed autobiography The First Third, but there is little in it that is new or insightful. Counterculture editor Stewart Brand recounts how Cassady helped him decide to get married. Ken Babbs interviews a drunken, joint puffing Jerry Garcia, who says that Cassady inspired him to give up his painting career in favor of music. Cassady's widow writes about how disappointed she is in the many attempts of Hollywood to try to re-create Cassady and herself onscreen, and one of Kesey's best short stories, The Day Superman Died, a reflection on Cassady's death, is also included. Unfortunately another Kesey piece, written in the voice of someone called Grandma Whittier, is hopelessly spacy, which was a recurring flaw of Kesey's later work.

This book is a valuable collection of interesting and insightful sketches of one of American literature's most intriguing and inscrutable characters. No doubt Neal Cassady will be a figure of controversy, debate and inspiration for many years to come.

The Scam

"One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary."

—Ayn Rand, 1975

Do It

I identify with the exasperation expressed by this Northampton bumpersticker.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Season of Demonstrations

Well the first plants are coming up, the birds are returning from the south and protesters are taking it to the streets. It must be spring in the Pioneer Valley! Here's a couple of big rallies scheduled for this week that you might want to attend:

There's been a lot of fuss in Northampton lately about a proposed (now passed) Business Improvement District. It sounds like a boring issue, I mean who really cares if businesses get together, pool some money and fix up downtown? Better than making the taxpayer's pay for the improvements, right?

Opponents claim it's more complicated than that, arguing that the BID is really a backdoor way of implementing repressive measures like the virtual ban on panhandling that died in the City Council earlier this year. They also accuse BID leaders of trying to privatize downtown areas that should be regarded as public space.

Things came to head a few weeks ago when an anti-BID rally got a little raucus and two arrests were made. Police claimed that the protesters were disrupting traffic and creating a public disturbance. Protesters claim the police over-reacted. The Valley Advocate gave a wonderfully sarcastic account of the incident that you can read here.

Unfortunately I wasn't there, so I can't be sure what went down, but Caty Simon, founding mother of the radical group Poverty is Not a Crime, sent me this eyewitness account by participant Beatriz Bianco (alias B.B. Sunshine) and while obviously her account is biased, it includes details that have not been made public previously.

B.B. Sunshine

Many of you heard about/attended the rally I spearheaded that took place on Friday, March 13th. The objective of the protest was to raise awareness about the Business Improvement District, which passed both its votes in City Council 8 to 1. The second deciding vote took place on March 19th, over spring break.

We intended to showcase the joyful beauty of the diverse street folk of Northampton. We gave out free food, we played music, we sang, we danced, and as we began to march, some of us took the streets. Three police officers followed us, yelling at us and threatening us for peacefully protesting. One activist, Arturo, was arrested inches from me. While he gave no provocation and no resistance, three officers violently tackled him to the ground, repeatedly shoving his face into the asphalt. Our cry of, "Food shelter freedom, No new station, No more cops!" became, "Who do you serve? Who do you protect?"

We continued down Main Street, pausing on the corner and crossing to the raised sidewalk under the bridge. The raised sidewalk is only accessible in one spot,and so my friend and fellow protestor David who was pushing my wheelchair, continued to march in the street as close to the side as possible (completely out of traffic). The police parked their cars in the middle of the road under the bridge, and tried to corner us against the wall, all the while yelling at us to get onto the sidewalk and ignoring me when I addressed them. The officers wrenched David off of the back of my wheelchair, arresting him as coldly as if they were separating him from a shopping cart.

Child prodigy David Beyer, a student at Hampshire College despite being only fifteen, was among those arrested.

And even after this arrest we kept fighting, marching up Pleasant Street and dancing and chanting, "Poverty is not a crime, Stop the BID!" in front of Hotel Northampton and A-Z Science and Learning, both businesses on the BID Steering Committee. By the time we marched back to City Hall, fifteen cops had surrounded us. They had called for reinforcement from Easthampton as well as the state police. The cops called in multiple vans for mass arrest, and were heard saying "park it where they can't see it, it's crowd control." These kinds of violations of human rights are indicative of a systemic sickness and cannot be tolerated in our community.

A component of the BID allots 17-19 million dollars, plus millions of dollars in interest payments, to creating another police station downtown. More cops? More arrests? As a solution to poverty and homelessness? I don't think so. They want to make the city cleaner, more profitable, more beautiful? We are not garbage. We want that money invested in accessible food, job training, low-income housing, a community center, the arts! On April 2nd, the next City Council meeting, we are mobilizing once again. However this will be a silent protest. Come dressed in all costumery and regalia, face paint, body paint, bring flowers, signs stating your opposition. Carry your hearts and souls with fervor and pride.


In Solidarity,

BB Sunshine

Of course I will attend this demonstration and give you a full report.

Redeeming UMass

The day before the big Northampton demonstration there will hopefully be an even larger one at UMass in favor of free speech. Earlier this month, conservative writer Don Feder was unable to give a speech on campus when hecklers made it impossible for him to speak. The incident resulted in terrible publicity for UMass, especially in the blogoshere, where even a former radical condemned the incident and Michelle Malken, author of a huge conservative website, called for a parent boycott of UMass.

The UMass Republican Club, which sponsored the Feder fiasco, has united with their arch rivals the University Democrats, as well as the Student Alliance for Israel and a group that calls itself "The Silent Majority" to put on a non-ideological event embracing all political perspectives united in a celebration of the First Amendment.

UMass desperately needs good publicity to counteract some of the negative press it has received recently around free speech issues, so this rally really needs to be a big success. Let's show the world that UMass truly is a place where ideas are freely exchanged and the First Amendment is honored. Non-students and the general public are invited.

Hamp Decor

The skull imagery of The Grateful Dead is beloved for its positive vibes, but the skull symbolizing the band The Misfits is coming from a different place. According to the Wikipedia:

The Misfits are an American rock band often recognized as the progenitors of the horror punk subgenre, blending punk rock and other musical influences with horror film themes and imagery. Founded in 1977 in Lodi, New Jersey by singer and songwriter Glenn Danzig, the group had a fluctuating lineup during its first six years with Danzig and bassist Jerry Only as the only consistent members. During this time they released several EPs and singles and, with Only's brother Doyle as guitarist, the albums Walk Among Us (1982) and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (1983), both considered touchstones of the early-1980s hardcore punk movement. The Misfits disbanded in 1983 and Danzig went on to form Samhain and then Danzig. Several albums of reissued and previously unreleased material were issued after the group's dissolution, and their music became influential to punk rock, heavy metal, and alternative rock music of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Anyway, there's a house on State Street in Northampton where somebody is really, really into them.

Dig the checkered mailbox.

I think the Girl Scout's cookie selling campaign might skip that house.

Today's Video

Our ol' friend Jay Brannan is having huge success in Europe where they don't have such hang-ups over whether the person singing a love song is gay. As always, Jay sounds like an angel in this fan video from Paris.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rock Star Encounter

The Reluctant Paparazzi

Keith Sikes

This morning I was truckin' through downtown Northampton when whom should I come upon in front of The Green Bean but none other than the internationally famous guitar god J. Mascis of Amherst's Dinosaur Jr! Wearing the dorky glasses he always wears when trying to hide in public, at the very non-rockstar hour of nine o'clock Mascis was engaged in the very non-rockstar act of walking his kid in a stroller.

Of course my first instinct was to whip out my camera and take a pic, but I hesitated because of the child. It is one thing to take a picture of a celebrity who has their picture taken all the time, but taking a shot of somebody's kid feels to me like an invasion of privacy. On the other hand, the true paparazzi has no morals when on the hunt. Prominent Valley photographer Keith Sikes, who used to work as a paparazzi in L.A. told me once that he quit the field because he became disgusted by scenes such as paparazzi "knocking aside old ladies to get a picture of Robin Williams eating an ice cream cone."

Well, I guess I'm just too nice to be a true paparazzi, because instead of ruthlessly stealing a shot of father and baby to sell to the rock press I said, "Hey Jay, let me take your picture - just you - not the kid." He looked relieved and smiled very nicely for me - or at least as much as he ever smiles.

Then he and I went our separate ways.

Mountains Majesty

Earlier today I was at Amherst College looking down from Memorial Hill on a baseball game. The view of the Holyoke range from that location is among the finest in the Valley.

Here I am with Yolanda, woman of mystery.

Today's Video

What else?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Doctor's Prescription

Read This Book.

Our years of living beyond our means, of buying everything on credit and on money printed out of thin air, are over. Sure, our government will carry on with its nonsensical policy of curing indebtedness with more indebtedness, inflation with more inflation, but the game is up. It's not going to work. The resources aren't there. The more we intervene and the more we prop up economic zombies, the worse off we'll be. But the sooner we understand what has happened, assess our economic situation honestly, and rebuild our economy on a sound foundation, the sooner our fortunes will be restored.

Ideas still matter, and sound economic education has rarely been as urgently necessary as it is today. There is no better book to read on the present crisis than this one, and that is why I am delighted to endorse it.


U.S. Representative Dr. Ron Paul

At Last

Over the years I've been asked by people whether there is any other area besides politics where I feel the local media coverage is inadequate. I always reply that I think someone should start a hyper-local sports publication whose specialty would be to cover indepth the Valley sports activities that usually don't rate mainstream coverage. In fact the first time I suggested that was on the Dan Yorke Show in 1997. Yet no one ever followed my suggestion, and myself I never had any interest in starting such a thing, so I just shrugged it off as one of the many good ideas I give away for free that everyone ignores.

Until now. I had absolutely nothing to do with these wise Springfield entrepreneurs stepping into this wide open media niche, but I'm glad to finally see Western Mass Sports Journal on the free paper stands these days, where its arrival is long overdue.

I predict it will be a success.

Sweet Sunshine

It was so nice today that a lot of people at the community lunch at the Amherst Survival Center ate outdoors, like Abby, Noel and Rhythom.

Today's Video

Somebody emailed me complaining that I play all this Northampton music yet ignore the Sonic Youth. Actually Sonic Youth is a transplanted to Hamp band, but we'll claim them with pride any day. That said, I'm not a huge fan, as I like a little more structure and melody than they're interested in. But I do appreciate the coolness of the weird thing they're trying to achieve.

This is a clip from 2002 at Hamp's Calvin Theater. The t-shirt at the beginning is a reference to a local controversy where Max Karson, a student at Amherst Regional High School, was expelled for writing about a sex scandal at the school. The Denver News reports:

An Amherst, Massachusetts, native, Karson started writing horror stories as a youngster, and his tradition of provocative prose continued at Amherst Regional High School, where he created and personally distributed a newsletter he called The Crux. The publication, whose entire run can be accessed online here, hit its stride with a salvo inspired by the January 2002 resignation of principal Stephen Myers, who was alleged to have made sexually provocative comments to a male student.... Karson's take on the incident was predictably off-kilter. "My response to Mr. Myers' controversial hobby of molesting children?" he asked in print. "I'm going to break up with him, and had I known he was a child molester, I never would have gone out with him in the first place."

Thursday, March 26, 2009


A Few Quickies:

Yikes, I'm busy as hell and have no time to write, but here are some little things you should read, look at or laugh at. Or all three.

Local Buzz the Valley cyber-magazine, has a great follow-up article to the TV and magazine coverage I alerted you to the other day about Congressman Richard Neal (above with Hillary). It is also a fine example of internet journalism at it's best, as I noted after the article in the comments section:

Your article is exactly the kind of follow-up to the TV show that The Republican or the local TV stations should have done. In fact, I think it is superior to anything they would have done had they attempted to cover it. Of course I am a frequent critic of the way Neal is covered in the local media. For example, when people like Francis Keough and Ray Asselin went to prison, no mainstream coverage would have led anyone to understand that both were close longtime associates of Neal.

Anyway, this Local Buzz article is exactly the kind of coverage Neal (and all our local pols) should receive routinely, and we would have better local government if they did. It pleases me that first rate journalism such as you have done here puts the lie to the claim that the internet can't fill in for the fading traditional media, which in the case of politicians such as Richard Neal, never did a good job of covering him in the first place.

To read both article and comments in their entirety CLICK HERE.

The Other Richard Neal

By the way, did you know that there is a Richard Neal in England who is famous for making plaster casts of people's bodies?

Richard Neal is one of Britain’s leading life-casters and his work is internationally recognized within this unique art form.

It is held in various private collections in Great Britain, Europe, Canada and the USA and is also represented in the only two Lifecasting museums in America. It can be produced in bronze, gypsum, ceramics and molten pewter with its amazing finish. His work has been described as original, exclusive, stylish, and unique.

His alternative approach to lifecasting, opens up the opportunity to people, who in their eyes, may not be the perfect shape. Richard’s inventive methods, can if required, minutely, delicately, and of course, discreetly, enhance the piece to make them more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

In other words, he'll fudge it if need be to make things look better than they really are. Hey, maybe there is not as much difference in the two Richard Neals as you might think!

Of course England's Richard Neal is not the most famous plaster caster.

Cynthia Plaster Caster and her partner Diane, known collectively as the Plaster Casters of Chicago, were self-proclaimed groupies who made a career out of making plaster casts of famous rock stars’ dongs and fun bags. The Plaster Casters began their career in 1968 and continue molding today, casting the appendages of musicians like Keith Moon, Jello Biafra and Jimi Hendrix (the largest in the collection). A 2001 documentary entitled Plaster Caster has captured the service provided by these ladies for posterity and Kiss wrote a song about them called, cleverly, “Plaster Caster.”

Hey, a girl's gotta make a living somehow!

Bo Update

Massachusetts comedy sensation Bo Burnham has a new CD out, with a promotional video that tells you in eight simple steps how you too can be a YouTube star!

Death March

I kept hearing about this weird anti-war protest that took place in Northampton last week, with people walking in eerie white masks. Finally a video has surfaced of the solemn procession.

Luke Update

Late yesterday afternoon I stopped into Sam's in downtown Hamp where a newly clean-cut Luke Arivel was playing. I don't know who the piano player is.

Today's Video

And here's yet another funny video promoting Bay State homeboy Bo Burnham's new CD.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


What do we Want to Find?

Around the clock people are sitting at their computers using search engines. What on Earth are they looking for? Some search engines (Google for example) won't say exactly what people are asking them, lest competitors fine tune their own search engines with the information. However is a rare exception, and reveals on a weekly basis what their customers are asking for. Here's the general results for today, and my comments on the depressingly predictable results.

Top Searches

Facebook - What are you doing? What am I doing? Who cares but let's read all about it.

MySpace - Pushed aside by Facebook, this formerly most popular place to talk about yourself lost out because it isn't as interactive. Still, so many people invested creative energy into their MySpace pages before Facebook came along that they dare not abandon them. Its ranking is sure to keep dropping, but MySpace will always be a good place for unsigned musicians to generate their own free publicity.

How much should I weigh - Forget about the latest economic numbers, this is the figure we really want to know.

YouTube - The good news is that everyone can now make videos and distribute them to all mankind. The bad news is that everybody wants to film their cat.

What does my name mean - If only we knew what our names meant, maybe we could figure out who we are.

How to get pregnant - I'm no expert on this subject, but I have a lot of straight friends who are anxious to offer hands-on guidance.

Craigslist - No one source hurt the newspaper business quite like Craigslist, which wiped out the classified advertising business by offering ads for the price of free.

Dictionary - Once we finally figure out what our names mean, there are a lot of other words we want to know about.

Wikipedia - This knife in the heart of the Encyclopedia Britannica salesman is every lazy student's dream come true.

eBay - Capitalism for the masses.

In a more specific list, here's the subjects that users asked about current events, as well as my response to their queries.

Top News Searches

AIG - Well, we may as well keep track of where all our money is going.

Natasha Richardson - More famous dead than alive, she now enters the Sonny Bono hall of fame.

President Obama - For as long as they are in office, the name of a U.S. President never falls out of the top three.

Meghan McCain - If only her father was as popular, it would be John McCain who never falls out of the top three. What political issue is Megan McCain writing about that so captivates the public? None, her most recent post is about her weight problems.

NCAA tournament bracket - Whatever sport is reaching a climax is always in the top ten.

Chris Brown - Domestic violence arrest sends his career into the stratosphere.

Rihanna - The woman he slapped around is also cashing in nicely.

Ann Coulter - Conservatism's Queen of Mean is everyone's guilty pleasure.

Ron Silver - Intellectual actor was never considered a top draw, but premature death has made him a superstar.

Bernard Madoff - People keep searching his name hoping for reports that he's been raped in prison.

Surviving a Sex Scandal

I'm so open about my sex life that it's hard to imagine what could be dug up about me that would be considered scandalous. But maybe you have skeletons in your closet and live in fear of the day that a reporter or the paparazzi get you in their cross hairs. Happily Gawker recently had some tips on how to best survive a public sex scandal. Here's a brief summary:

Size up your enemies: Ask yourself: who would enjoy tearing me apart? This will be useful information.

Don't feed the machine: Every new statement can mean another day of life for a scandal. So don't talk too much.

Bide your time patiently: Do not raise your head from the bunker too soon, lest you catch a sniper's bullet; nay, you must wait quietly, calmly, silently, until bigger and more sensational events have pushed your small problems to the bottom of the list of interesting occurrences. Make yourself small and boring.

Exact your revenge: You should have had time to figure out who sold you out. If you are a wise person, you may choose to simply cut them out of your life, accepting the whole mess as a valuable life lesson. But if you are, at heart, a petty and vindictive person—you will search for some elaborate revenge designed to inflict twice as much pain upon the snitch as they inflicted upon you.

Always happy to alert you to news you can use.

Hard at Work

This week the students returned from spring break. Here they are hard at work today in the library.

Spring Break inadvertently reveals class differences. The students with money return with golden tans acquired in tropic climes. The unrich students have to work the break and come back to school pale-faced.

In the library I ran into the dreadlocked duo Zak (left) and Alan.

Zak sometimes helps at the Amherst Survival Center.

Today's Video

This child prodigy is just too good.

Hi, I'm Sungha Jung from South Korea. My dream is to become a professional acoustic fingerstyle guitarist.

I had been watching my dad play the guitar for awhile before I finally jumped on it myself three years ago. I turned twelve in September, 2008.

Currently, I am taking drum lessons and teaching myself fingerstyle guitar.

I'm very grateful to those prominent guitarists who have had a great influence on my guitar playing. I'll continue to study them and learn more about interpretation of music and various playing techniques.

My daily practice routine lasts for one to two hours when school is open, but I play up to three hours a day during the school breaks.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Neal's Conflict?

Congressman Neal and the Bailout Banks

Congressman Richard Neal

Pioneer Valley residents who tuned into MSNBC's Hardball last night got an unexpected surprise when a name came up not usually in the national spotlight: Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield! The discussion with Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff centered on members of Congress who received campaign contributions from banks that received bail-out money and the possible conflicts of interest such contributions pose. Make a contribution and get a bail-out? Turns out Representative Neal is the highest funds recipient from the bailed out banks of all the congressmen mentioned. Here's the part of the interview transcript where Neal and the possible ramifications of the money he and others received is discussed.

Chris Matthews and former Springfield City Councilor Mitch Ogulewicz

MATTHEWS: Coming up: As if the bonuses at AIG weren‘t outrageous enough, how about the banks that took that bail-out money turning around a chunk of it and giving it as campaign contributions to the Congress that approved this stuff? Your tax dollars at work in campaigns for Congress. We‘ll follow the money when we return. I guess this is public financing of campaigns.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. After a week of pitchforks and torches, for AIG, “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff has this whopper in the magazine‘s latest edition. Quote, “Another money trail could make voters just as angry, the campaign dollars to members of Congress from banks and firms that have received billions via the Troubled Asset Relief Program, TARP. While a few big firms such as Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase have curtailed their campaign giving, others are quietly doling out cash to select members of Congress, particularly those who serve on committees that oversee TARP.”

Looks like we‘re going to need more torches. With us now, “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff, who‘s also an MSNBC contributor, and “Mother Jones‘s” David McCorn—David McCorn or David Corn?


MATTHEWS: ... who are co-authors of a great book called “Hubris.”

Both you guys, thank you for that book, as well.

Let‘s take a look at the money that‘s being dolled out, thanks to your reporting, Mike. CitiGroup $29,620, Bank of America, $24,500, Huntington Bank $17,200, Goldman Sachs $10,000, KeyBank $4,000, for a total of $85,320.

Now, let‘s look at who was getting the money here. This is always interesting. Steny Hoyer got 1,500 bucks from Bank of America. Richard Neil of Massachusetts got $9,000 from Bank of America and CitiGroup. Jeff Merkley of Oregon—he‘s a Democrat—got $7,500 from Bank of America and CitiGroup, Jim DeMint—he‘s a senator from South Carolina—got $3,000 from BofA, Jim Clyburn, he got $1,000 from BofA. He‘s from South Carolina, as well. And Eric Cantor, who‘s the number two Republican in the House—he‘s whip—got (INAUDIBLE)

Now, these are, to put things in perspective, not a huge amount of money, given the fact that you can max out. An individual can give, what, $4,600 in two cycles, primary and general. Mike, what do you make of these things, these numbers you‘ve dug up?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I mean, it‘s interesting because, obviously, there‘s been a lot of nervousness about this whole issue ever since the TARP bail-outs came out. I mean, Wall Street—these Wall Street firms have been a traditional major source of cash for members of Congress for decades. I think it was $37 million in the last cycle alone from the big Wall Street investment banks and banking firms.

MATTHEWS: Thirty-seven million dollars...

ISIKOFF: I think it‘s $37 million from TARP recipients.

MATTHEWS: ... going to members of Congress who then voted on legislation for...


MATTHEWS: ... for giving them the bailout money.

ISIKOFF: That is sort of standard the way things have always operated on Capitol Hill.

But once you start putting the taxpayers‘ money in there, it kind of changes the equation a bit. So, I think a number of House and Senate leaders have recognized this is going to be a problem.

But perhaps not too much of a problem for Congressman Neal, since as usual the local media has yet to raise this issue about the local congressman, despite it receiving national television exposure.

Wise Words

“The first panacea for a mismanaged nation,” said Ernest Hemingway, “is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.”

Coming March 25th!

A new old Grateful Dead show from 1968 is being released, along with a 1986 performance by Jerry Garcia and his solo band. Wanna listen to some samples? Click here!

No Swimming

I stopped by Puffer's Pond in Amherst this afternoon.

It may be Spring according to the calender, but it looks like nobody told Mother Nature, as the pond remains frozen solid!

That's okay, in several weeks the pond will be filled with swimmers.

And one of them is likely to be me!

Today's Video

Here's some weirdness from the Sierra Grille in Northampton last week.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Music as Metaphor

In the late 1970's I lived at 35 Harrison Avenue in Northampton. Here's a picture of the house that I took this morning. Like most of the old Victorians in the area, the whole house was broken up into rented rooms. A red arrow points to where my crib was.

Today Harrison Avenue has been tranformed by gentrification into one of the most expensive streets in town, but when I lived there it was a student/hippie ghetto where the rents were so cheap you could actually panhandle for a few days and raise the rent. Personally I was above panhandling, being a good capitalist and paying the bills with my own marijuana dealing business.

Most of us living at 35 Harrison Avenue were former students who dropped out of college to pursue a life of getting high, getting laid and seeking adventure. However there was one person living with us who was a physics major minoring in mathmatics.

Ours was not a household conducive to serious study. On the contrary, there was loud music at all hours of the day and night and lots of drinking and bonging. Yet the physics major was always in his room with weird music playing. It didn't even really sound like music, it was electronic noises and seemingly aimless voices and sounds. One day I asked him about the music, and in doing so found out how he managed to concentrate on his studies. It was also how I discovered Seastones.

Seastones is a Grateful Dead record, sort of. It has Dead people on it, in particular Phil Lesh (above) but also Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart. David Crosby was also a participant, as well as Startrippers Grace Slick and David Freiberg. That sounds like a great musical line-up, except that if you didn't read the liner notes you would have a hard time recognizing any of the artists. The "vocals" often consist of a single spoken word that appears at random, and except for the fact that Slick has a female voice, it is impossible to tell who said what word.

It sounded to me like musical gibberish, but the physics major urged me to read the liner notes by the composer of the music, a man connected with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology named Ned Lagin. When I did so I realized that something very purposeful and intense was behind the sounds on that record:

sea stones
seas tones

Whenever I walk along the beach, at the magical boundary between land and sea, I find myself, like so many others, picking up stones and pebbles cast up or uncovered by the waves. With wide-eyed wonder, I feel each stone calling out and insisting on being picked up, to be held and experienced.

Each one different, with its own shape and color, and surface texture. And each charged with its own mystery and meaning, its own storied experience of the ever changing environmental conditions of the ocean and atmosphere, of rain and heat and cold and wind, of sunlight and darkness, of the passage of individual living beings and of species. Charged, too, with the wildness of billions of nights and days, an immense of "timescape" (time "landscape", time spatialized) under the ocean or buried in the sand (micro-stones) or amongst countless other stones and pebbles.

The stones and pebbles always seem to contain stories I need to read, parables to think about, meanings to absorb; a different story or parable or meaning radiating out of each and every individual stone.

It occurred to Lagin while contemplating these metaphors of nature created by the stones that it might be possible to recreate that kind of multiple time experience with sound arranged in layers, much the way the varying ages and experiences of the seastones are all lying together on the shore.

From the wild seastones I learned some things I thought (and still think) very important. That every moment, including the multiplicity of present moments, belongs to a greater multiplicity of integrally enclosed contexts. And that beauty could come from a collection of carefully selected (or crafted) moments perceived not as a linear sequence or progression alone, in which the present moment is the consequence of the previous one and the prelude to the coming one, but perceived all at once.

That of course is exactly what one sees when one looks at seastones in nature lying on the shore, each stone a representation of the vanished time and place when it was formed, lying among stones formed at other times, all combining to represent a mosaic of varying times and places that are united into one moment.

During the summer of 1970, I started the sketches that would eventually over the next four years become the formal musical score for the varied and alternative "moment-form" realizations of Seastones. Expressible musical materials (rhythms, pitches, notes, melodic fragments, harmonic clusters and chord patterns, sung and spoken words) were composed into a score of self-contained but musically connected "moment-forms" or timescapes, in many ways metaphorically like the wild sea stones on the sea shore.

My housemate explained that while he studied his physics and math he played Seastones and that the music helped him to focus on his difficult schoolwork. I went out and bought a copy of the record for myself and started listening to it. I found myself feeling as though it helped me to focus as well. At the time some of us in the house were into nude yoga. Actually I was into it more for the nudity than the yoga, but found I was able to get into the spiritual dimension of the exercise when Seastones was playing. Maybe I just imagined it, but my housemate was getting A's in all his courses, so it was hard to be completely skeptical.

Anyway, I recently got access to a copy of Seastones and intend to start listening to it again. I've no interest in yoga anymore, nude or otherwise, but I want to experiment and see if Seastones helps me in general with focusing my mind on the things I want to contemplate most seriously. I'll let you know what my verdict is when I've given it a long enough try.

In the meantime, if you're curious to get your own copy of Seastones click here.

Dump Dodd Rally

I regret that I wasn't aware in advance that a rally was being held in Connecticut this weekend to urge their dangerously incompetent U.S. Senator Chris Dodd to resign over his disgraceful role in creating and worsening the current economic crisis. If I'd known, I would have gladly used this blog to help promote the rally. Libertarian Republican has this report:

....300 rallied in the small town of Ridgefield. And they were not happy with their current US Senator.

From the

“Dump Dodd now!” and “We’re not Europe!” and “It’s not your money!” they chanted.

Passing drivers honked, waved or gave them the thumbs up sign.

“I want to dump Dodd and I want to dump Dodd and get rid of Obama as soon as it’s legally possible,” said Jamie Shafer of Wilton Road West. “I’m very worried about my country -- it’s an outrage a day.”

Others waved signs with messages even more hardcore anti-big government:

They came from Ridgefield, Fairfield, Bridgeport, Bethel, and other towns for what had been billed as a modern “tea party.” They carried signs: “Give me liberty, not Europe,” “Obama lies and America dies,” “Socialism is trickle-up poverty,” “Wanted: Loving families for released GITMO terrorists -- Call 1-800-I-Voted-For-Obama,” and “Support Our Troops.”

Today's Video

It's an American dream, includes Indians too....