Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's

End of the Decade Edition

A new decade starts tomorrow? Gosh, that went by quick. When me sainted grandmother was 92 she told me that the passage of a year at her age felt to her like only a month had gone by. That's the cosmic joke - when we are young and have decades before us, time seems to crawl and we wish it would go faster. Then when we are older, and are anxious for time to pass slowly lest it rush us towards the grave, it speeds up! God may be great, but he also has a sick sense of humor.

What is not humorous is the flurry of fires in Northampton which have already resulted in two deaths. The news media is going hysterical over it.

The public however is staying cool. I mean what the hell else can you do?

I made this video today while walking through snow flurries to the Haymarket Cafe on the last morning of the decade.

Changes such as a new decade are often a time for a backward glance. Here are some odds and ends from my most reason expedition through my legendary vaults.

I found this Nixon for President button among my father's things after he died. My father was not a Nixon fan, but customers were always giving him campaign stuff at the bar, some of which he would save.

Nixon's campaign slogan was "Nixon's the One." The one for what was never explained. Anyway, what worked for Tricky Dick was good enough for Springfield Mayor Mary Hurley, who adapted the slogan to suit her 1989 campaign.

I also found among my father's things these old postal stamps from the days when they only cost five cents. I believe these date back to the 1960's.

Remember Camel Cash? Both Joe Camel and his cash were ultimately banned.

Jeff reading my Zine in 1992.

Me and Jay Libardi in 1981

The photo from my spare drivers license in 1991.

My 1988 W-2 receipt from when I worked at the Springfield Newspapers.

A button commemorating the 360th birthday of Springfield in 1996, given to me by Kateri Walsh.

My receipt for working at the polls in Springfield in 1998.

Promotional photo from an appearance by Hot Tuna with Paul Kantner at Pearl Street in Northampton in 1988.

Still Riding

The funniest publication in Massachusetts is Boston's Weekly Dig. It can be hard to find out here in the boonies, but they usually have it at Newbury's Comix in downtown Amherst. I like this blurb they had to promote this week's appearance of the New Riders of the Purple Sage:

"America's premiere psychedelic cowboy band" has long since outgrown their humble origins as a Grateful Dead side project, easing into their dusty, patchouli's-for-sissies niche. Whereas the Dead evoke images of that acid-casualty uncle that sheds hemp bracelets and takes an hour to make coffee, The New Riders are more like that grizzled old guy at the corner of every bar that has a beard like a scab and only trips on peyote, because that's what God intended us to trip on, dammit.

Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs on New Years Eve 1995.

Happy New Year Everybody!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rand TV Special

Stossel to Host

TV journalist John Stossel, formerly of ABC News and now with Fox, has announced that he is featuring the explosion in the popularity of Ayn Rand in a segment of his new show to air on January 7th at 8:00. Stossel explains in this interview with The Hill:

You’ve chosen Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged as the topic of one of your first episodes. Why?

Of the first three episodes, one will be on Atlas Shrugged, one will be on global warming and one will be on healthcare.
Rand’s book is a best-seller even though it’s 50 years old. It’s outselling [my book] Give Me a Break. People are touched by something in it. She predicted 53 years ago the explosive, repulsive vomit of government growth that we are experiencing under Obama and which began under Bush and the presidents before them.

Who are some of your dream guests?

Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Freidman, Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises. Unfortunately, they’re all dead.

You’ve been very open about your libertarian views. How did you form those views?

Four years of consumer reporting eventually taught me that government regulation failed.

FAT Chance

I laughed to come upon this cartoon about the Springfield band FAT in an old copy of the Springfield Technical Community College newspaper. It accompanied an unflattering review in which the band was criticized for abandoning its psychedelic roots and becoming more of a bluesy dance band. Note the slogan on the FAT beer can: The Beer that Made Springfield Throb and also dig the old fashioned tab opener.

And whatever musical changes they've been through, FAT still has Springfield throbbing to their music to this day. Every year FAT does a reunion show in downtown Springfield that is one of the main biker events in the Valley, as seen in this video:

Around Amherst

A newly opened restaurant.

This time of year Bart's has to downplay the ice cream and focus on burgers and hot drinks.

In Amherst they drive funny cars.

Today's Music Video

Crystalline Roses in Holyoke earlier this month.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Two Burroughs

Early and Late

I've just finished reading a couple of books by and about William S. Burroughs, the so-called "beat generation" writer. I say so-called because although Burroughs was a friend to such beat luminaries as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, he didn't actually write very much like them. While the works of the other beat writers were a mostly positive celebration of life, Burroughs writing was almost the complete reverse, focusing heavily on accounts of the dark side of existence.

That's a side of life he knew rather well, thanks to a lifelong on and off relationship with powerful narcotics such as heroin and morphine. Indeed his first book Junky published in 1953 is an autobiographical account of his own existence in the heroin underworld of New York City.

The version of Junky which I read is the 50th anniversary edition which is the most complete version ever printed. The original manuscript was heavily censored by Burroughs' publisher, not only to remove some of the more lurid aspects of drug addiction but also to disguise something considered even more scandalous - the author's homosexuality. By 1950's standards Junky in its original form was considered just too blunt and honest. Absurdly, the book was promoted commercially as a cautionary tale, meant to scare readers away from experimenting with drugs.

The irony of Junky is that to anyone who has any experience in the drug scene it is so obviously and subversively anything but an anti-drug novel. Indeed it openly attacks some of the most common myths about drug use, insisting for example that there is no connection between marijuana use and heroin, at a time when the common assumption was that smoking pot would eventually lead to shooting junk. Burroughs also dismisses common assumptions about the drug trade such as that drug pushers want to hook young people; arguing that no dealer likes to have kids for customers because they have no steady supply of money and usually squeal under pressure from the cops.

It is the cold-eyed realism that Burroughs brings to his subject that is the real value of Junky. In fact Burroughs personally considers his addiction experiences more educational than traumatic:

I have learned a great deal from using junk: I have seen life measured out in eyedroppers of morphine solution. I experienced the agonizing deprivation of junk sickness, and the pleasure and relief when junk-thirsty cells drank from the needle. Perhaps all pleasure is relief. I have learned the cellular stoicism that junk teaches the user. I have seen a cell full of sick junkies silent and immobile in separate misery. They knew the pointlessness of complaining or moving. They knew that basically no one can help anyone else. There is no key, no secret someone else has that he can give you. I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.

Incredibly, in Burrough's case it was a way of life that eventually led to him becoming an international celebrity. By the 1980's Burroughs had established himself in a windowless New York City apartment he called "The Bunker." Despite being located in the slummy Bowery part of town, a steady stream of celebrities made the pilgrimage to Burrough's sunless apartment to pay homage to the great literati. This period of his life is the topic of the other book about Burrough's I read recently With Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker by Victor Bockris.

It is not an altogether flattering portrayal. Burroughs by this time shows clear signs of drug burnout, claiming with a straight face that he has powers of telepathy and that women are invaders from outerspace. His celebrity filled parties featured heavy drinking and drug use, including by Burroughs himself, who was at the time approaching seventy years old. Whatever else he was, Burroughs was a medical miracle who somehow managed to live to the great age of 83 despite a lifestyle that would have put most people in their graves decades earlier.

Yet despite his period as a major pop celebrity, the literary reputation of Burroughs is fading with the passage of time. Only Junky was a book with a somewhat normal narrative and plot, while his other experimental novels, originally praised for their novelty, are today mostly dismissed as unreadable. His most famous book, Naked Lunch is considered important more for the role it played in breaking down obscenity laws than for anything particularly artistic in the book itself.

But if nothing else, Burroughs will always be considered to have led one of the more interesting literary lives, and ultimately he is likely to be remembered best for the way he lived, rather than for anything he wrote.

Wouldn't ya Know?

The long anticipated nudes of Sarah Palin's grandaughter's father Levi Johnston have been released, but it turns out you have to pay to see them!

How much? $19.95 for a month's online subscription. Although Levi is definitely hot, I'm not curious enough to pay.

Sad News

I'm sorry to hear of the death of Nancy Hoar, for whom I was once a teacher's assistant at Western New England College in Springfield. Co-teaching a course in communications with Nancy was the only time I've taught at the college level. She was a remarkably smart and hardworking person with a wry sense of humor. The time we worked together seems like a lifetime ago (it was 1990) but I will never forget her as one of my best academic friends.

Assorted Shots

Greg Stone paintings over the piano at Sam's in downtown Northampton.

Some would be happy to have any job.

Damn it's been cold lately! Ice everywhere.

This fancy gate leads to my neighbor's backyard.

An old bureau left on a treebelt in Amherst is festooned with the remnants of old Charlie's Angels bubble gum stickers.

Guess the kid who stuck those stickers grew up and moved away.

A Springfield sunrise by M.T. Alamed.

"There's a dragon with matches that's loose on the town...."

Monday, December 28, 2009


So This is Christmas

Traversing the woodland way home on Christmas morn.

You would think that at this time of year no one would be riding bicycles, but in the bike-crazed Pioneer Valley you would be wrong.

Cartoon character in the snow.

I like my neighbor's homemade paper holder.

Christmas afternoon we took a trip to ol' Pine Point to visit some dead people. Here's me in Saint Michael's.

My sister Donna leaving a coffee on my Mom's grave. She loved coffee.

Thornes all lit up.

Coopers Corner had the biggest Xmas card in Northampton.

Completing the holiday mood, here's Henning of many bands doing you a Christmas tune from Northampton.

This morning at UMass the absense of students made it a land of eerie silence.

Hurry back students!

A fun-filled Spring Semester awaits.

2010 = 1984

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Obama is Change.

Today's Music Video

Just remember I laughed twice as hard as I cried.