Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tell Them The Promised Land's Calling

As Gary Baker and I looked for Levon Helm's mailbox (#160) this afternoon along a country road near Woodstock, New York, I decided that pilgrimage was the right word for our weekend's work. Holy Land pilgrims, such as we 20 from St. John's last summer, walk in Jesus's footsteps along desert paths. Musical pilgrims strain to hear echos in the woods. The roots of the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane remember the agony of Jesus's lonely final night of freedom. The trees in this neighborhood had the best seats in the house as amazing popular music was conceived, recorded, and performed.

The purpose of today's mailbox reconnaissance was to make it easier to find our way to the Midnight Ramble tonight on Levon's farm. Once there, of course, we had to stop and take a picture. It's a pilgrimage, right? Just then a young couple from New Jersey came along and told us how to find Big Pink, the nearby houses where the late Rick Danko and Richard Manuel once lived, and the road where the photo was taken for the Band's second album. On second thought, maybe we're putting on airs by calling it a pilgrimage. The young man was only a little nuttier than we, because he'd looked all this stuff up before hitting the road for Woodstock.

But did we follow his directions to Big Pink? You knew that we would. Because here (it's now Big Orange-Yellow) the Band and Bob Dylan recorded "The Basement Tapes" and the Band its masterful first two albums, with songs such as "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The germ of the idea for a music festival at Woodstock in 1969 was organizers' optimism that the Band would agree to perform and the then-reclusive Dylan, also a Woodstock resident, would show up at the last minute. They did, he didn't, and because of local politics, Woodstock ended up in Bethel, 90 minutes away. As you know, Joni Mitchell didn't write a song called "Bethel." Yet Woodstock gets almost all the tourism, which isn't inappropriate given that original germ of an idea. Helm, after all, is still here, as is Band mate Garth Hudson.

Gary and I made plans for our pilgrimage a few months ago. We've been music buddies since 1993. Before deciding to be buried on the grounds of the Nixon Library, President and Mrs. Nixon sent me to Rose Hills in Whittier, California, where many Milhouses and Nixons are buried, to investigate possible sites. There I met Gary, who helped us with arrangements for both Nixons' Yorba Linda funerals (when he wasn't programming alt.-country playlists for the Rose Hills employee cafeteria and designing the $1 million pipe organ for the Sky Rose Chapel and playing Van Morrison songs for the installers through the state-of-the-art PA system he'd also designed).

One day Gary was driving me back from a planning lunch for Mrs. Nixon's funeral when I asked if he'd ever heard of a Texas singer-songwriter named Joe Ely. He smiled and pushed a button on his CD changer and loaded Ely's album "Love and Danger." Gary and I now have our music loaded onto iPods. Meeting up Thursday evening at JFK, we rented a car, dropped Kathy at her sister's in Tuckahoe, and headed for the promised land. On the way he introduced me to the Kings of Leon and Terry Evans, which I liked. I played him Pat Donahue (which he liked) and Conor Oberst (less so).

Yesterday we visited a magnificent interactive Woodstock museum near Bethel. It's odd to see albums from your collection presented as museum pieces. Standout interviewees in the many video kiosks included former Attorney General Ed Meese, who had nothing good to say about Woodstock, and former Sen. Norm Coleman, who was there and dug it. Perhaps the wisest comment about the performers during those three fairy tale days came from one of their successors, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid. "They were up there saying, 'This is what we do with our lives'," he said, "challenging everyone else with the question, 'What are you going to do with yours?'"

We then caught a show at the Bearsville Theater, built on the site of Dylan manager Albert Grossman's legendary studio, where everyone from the Rolling Stones and Bonnie Raitt to R.E.M. and They Might Be Giants have recorded. It was an interesting if cerebral fusion set by Grateful Dead-connected guitarist Steve Kimock which was driven by Kimock's miraculous 18-year-old drummer son, John Morgan Kimock, and which really caught fire when Kimock traded solos with Band-connected guest guitarist Jim Weider, whom we hope to hear tonight at the Midnight Ramble.

That's right. We're going to hang out with Levon. We've already been to his house once.

Photo of Bob Dylan on someone else's body; and the Band

Obama Beats Palin In New York

This New York Times wrap-up makes it perfectly clear. By naming the incumbent to an administration post, the White House signaled its plan to win the 23rd congressional district for the Democrats. Local Republicans responded deftly, choosing a moderate Republican to run against Democrat Bill Owens. By driving her from the race and backing a Conservative Party carpetbagger, Sarah Palin and other rogue Republicans ensured Owens' election and played right into Barack Obama's hands.

Music From Big Yellow

Woodstock, New York

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The View From Miss Lucy's

Southern hospitality in Saugerties, New York

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Neversink Sky

4:30 p.m.

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40 Years After

Max Yasger's farm. Pickett's Charge formed on the right. This is in Bethel, New York, 90 minutes from Woodstock. Who knows why?

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Perfect Songs: "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (1969)



The Band, from their 1978 farewell film "The Last Waltz." Levon Helm on drums and vocals. Song by Robbie Robertson.

When He Locks Into That Backbeat



Along with buddy and blues hound Gary Baker, who helped us lay President and Mrs. Nixon to rest at the Nixon Library lo! these many years ago, your correspondent is heading to Woodstock (40 years after the great event; better late than never) to see the Levon Helm Band's Midnight Ramble on Saturday night, in the legendary Band vocalist and drummer's barn. They say you never know who'll drop by. Texas songwriter Robert Earl Keen did and wrote a song about it, "The Man Behind the Drums," on his new album, "The Rose Hotel." This account of the Oct. 10 Ramble gives you the flavor:
Intimate? It really was like standing around in somebody’s living room and watching a world-class band crank out some of their favorite songs. For more than two hours, I stood no more than 15 feet away from Levon Helm as he churned through some of the funkiest backbeats I’ve ever heard. I was begoggled.
Helm wasn’t singing. He’s still on doctor-ordered vocal rest after a successful throat operation in August, but that certainly hasn’t slowed him down any behind the drum kit.
Larry Campbell – Dylan’s longtime guitarist – led the band, and what a band it was. A fabulous four-piece horn section, including the great Howard Johnson on baritone sax and tuba. Gruff-voiced Brian Mitchell behind the grand piano. Teresa Williams and Amy Helm adding not only plenty of angelic harmonies, but also some serious sass and sizzle at the microphone. And, oh yeah, there was Jim Weider – the guitarist in the Band’s post-Robbie Robertson days – firing up guitar licks that seemed to come flying in from some fifth dimension.
The songlist was sublime. There were plenty of Band classics – from the opening “The Shape I’m In” to the show-closing “The Weight,” with stops along the way at “Long Black Veil,” “Chest Fever” (with a crazy-good Campbell-Weider guitar duel) and a towering rendition of “It Makes No Difference” with Williams and Amy Helm pouring their hearts out.
And if you never paid serious attention to the latter-day incarnation of the Band, the fiery Campbell-Weider duet on “Remedy,” would definitely find you re-thinking your position.
There was a nod to the Dead with “Tennessee Jed” (also on Helm’s great new album, “Electric Dirt”) and a sweet, folksy version of “Attics of My Life.” There were blues, honky tonkers, a country waltz, soul (Amy Helm’s reading of “Everybody Loves a Winner” was one of the highlights of the night) and a heaping helping of strutting New Orleans funk, including “Deep Ellum Blues” (with Helm on mandolin and some wild hoochie coochie dancing) and “All On a Mardi Gras Day" (with the horn section parading through the audience).

Palin's Fault?!

ABC News:
"If you don't live in the district, you don't vote there, your opinion doesn't matter very much," [RNC chairman Michael] Steele said while assessing the intra-party strife that resulted in a Democratic pick up of a seat held by Republicans since the Civil War.
Hat tip to Mike Cheever

It's Scozzafava's Fault!

Thanks, Gov. Huckabee! That rounds out my four GOP talking points for why everyone except Sarah Palin is responsible for losing the New York 23rd to the Democrats for the first time in a century.

A Settled Issue

Secretary of State Clinton voices the unpopular new position of the Obama administration -- that Palestinians should come back to the table before Israel stops West Bank settlement expansion -- in the heart of the Arab world. I don't see how Palestinians can resist a united U.S.-Israeli front much longer if they want to accomplish anything during the Obama administration.

When It Was Good With Sexy Sadie

Wonderful photos of the Beatles in India.

Felt Tip

Washington sleuth Max Holland has published the first of two articles describing his investigation into how the Nixon White House learned by October 1972 that the principal government source for the Washington Post's Watergate reporting was FBI official Mark Felt, whom President Nixon had spurned for the post of the bureau's director. So far, Holland has ruled out several attorneys who represented the Post or its sister publication "Newsweek." We'll have to tune into the next excerpt to see whom he rules in.

Big Win For Palin!

Losing a safe Republican seat to Democrats? Erick Erickson:
This is a huge win for conservatives.

Hoffman's Fault!

Glenn Beck:
And you win by three points? That's a victory? You've double‑teamed an accountant and you only won by three points. Boy, you guys are good... That's like the Yankees playing a high school team and winning by three runs. Oh, wow!

Palin's Fault?

Andrea Tantaros writing on the New York 23rd at, to be fair, Fox's website:
The real question: is this a trend...for her? If Sarah Palin has any hopes of winning a national office she can't run around endorsing unwinnable candidates. She'll lose her political mojo and be labeled a spoiler.

Hoffman's Fault!

One of Ann Althouse's correspondents blames Sarah Palin, the great hope of the Reaganites weird-looking Doug Hoffman and all his annoying references to Reagan:
On TV, Hoffman comes across as exceedingly weird, skinny and overeager with googly eyes, bright yellow teeth, and an odd, halting way of speaking. He kept repeating a slogan that he was a common-sense Reagan conservative and common sense isn't so common any more. It got annoying. Owens, by contrast, is big and rugged-looking. He's an Air Force veteran and he has that military solidity, calm and self-possession.
Hat tip to Mike Cheever

Liberal Media's Fault!

Last night I speculated about the pro-Palin spin that would follow her disastrous meddling in New York's 23rd congressional district, which resulted in an historically Republican district going Democratic:
-- Big win for Palin! She puts principle ahead of politics.

-- Scozzafava's fault! How dare she pry the GOP's knife out of her back and plunge it into Hoffman?

-- Hoffman's fault! We all knew he was a milquetoast carpetbagger who didn't have a chance. And yet look how close he came to winning.

-- Liberal media's fault. Why? Just because.
I actually wasn't sure about the last one. Who would dare? But here you go.

"Come Home, America" Watch, Day 47

Chuck Colson:
What the President must examine is this: whether our cause and goals [in Afghanistan] are just. And the answer no longer seems crystal clear.

Club For Moderates

John Judis on yesterday's results, beginning with Sarah Palin's historic move to hand New York 23 to the Democrats by second-guessing the decisions of the local Republicans who really knew the type of candidate who could hold the seat:
[Doug] Hoffman and his [national] supporters misjudged the district. When Scozzafava endorsed Owens, many of those who would have voted for her backed Owens, and he won the race. Upstate New York, which used to be solidly Republican, now boasts a single conservative congressman. New York, like New England, has become solidly Democratic.
If the results of New York’s 23rd are placed alongside those of New Jersey and Virginia, there is a clear lesson for the Republicans. In New Jersey and Virginia, the gubernatorial candidates ran to the center. Christie is a moderate, and McDonnell at least pretended to be. And as a result, they got the swing vote of independents and moderates. In New York-23, a diehard conservative backed by rightwing groups repudiated the center and lost to a neophyte Democratic candidate who probably could not have beaten Scozzafava in a one-to-one contest.

Sarah Flushed

In an oddly triumphant-sounding election postmortem, Michelle Malkin, a conservative columnist and blogger, tags Dede Scozzafava for her liberal views without explaining the meaning for Republicans of Democrat Bill Owens' stunning win. About party bosses' decision to back the GOP's nominee for the New York 23rd congressional district, Malkin writes:
The Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee threw upward of $900,000 down the toilet for a candidate whose core views and political alliances undermined conservatism's fundamental beliefs in limited government from Day One. It was a reckless expenditure of the GOP base's hard-earned money and a bitter tuition bill for a teachable moment on the perils of political expediency.
Undermining the GOP's core beliefs even more will be the presence of a Democrat in a House seat that had been been safely Republican for years. For that, we have no one to thank but Sarah Palin and other national figures who first interfered in the race by second-guessing the decision of local party leaders to nominate Scozzafava.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hoffman Songs: "Going Down" (2002)



Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne

Win? That's Just What They EXPECT Us To Do

According to "Politico," in a story filed early Tuesday morning, GOP conservatives like Sarah Palin have  chosen an additional ten moderate or liberal Republican candidates to target in 2010 primaries -- all thanks to Doug Hoffman's impending victory in the New York 23rd. So will that be ten more general election victories for Democrats like Bill Owens, who defeated Hoffman tonight? At this rate, with Sarah's help, by 2020 all Republicans will be just like she: Out of office.

Well Done, Sarah! One Less House Republican

Fox News just halfheartedly called New York's 23nd congressional district for the Democrat, Bill Owens. It's been a safe GOP seat for years. Then Sarah Palin decided that local party officials had erred in nominating a liberal Republican, Dede Scozzafava, and threw her support beyond the Conservative Party's candidate for the seat, carpetbagger Doug Hoffman. Scozzafava returned the favor by dropping out and endorsing Owens.

His victory is a stunning defeat for Palin. Yet watch conservatives spin it as a win for their true-blue principles -- although the talking points have evidently not yet been delivered to the GOP's most reliable media friends. Before this evening, Fox had devoted considerable attention to New York 23 as a bellwether race, dramatic evidence that angry conservatives had a better sense of the electorate than the out-of-touch GOP bosses who'd nominated Scozzafava. Now that Owens has won -- demonstrating that local Republicans, unlike Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity, knew exactly what the district was looking for --  Fox's anchorpeople have suddenly lost interest.

Diemesque

The Kennedy Library's opening of tapes showing JFK's displeasure with South Vietnam's President Diem helps us appreciate pregnant correlations with President Obama's Afghanistan dilemma.

Looking For Liu



Can you spot the artist and photographer? More here.

Dede And Doug

Mark Halperin on New York's 23rd congressional district race:
While it is true that there is a tactical split in the Republican Party, the circumstances in this contest are unusual — and unlikely to be representative of a broader pattern. [Dede] Scozzafava is an exceedingly liberal Republican and [Doug] Hoffman is not as conservative as some are making him out to be. Still, there will be cases next year in which right-wing forces may be emboldened to support primary challenges to more moderate candidates, potentially dividing the GOP.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blue-Eyed Soul Songs: "I Played The Fool" (1978)



Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, performing in Germany in 1982. Steven van Zandt, who played Silvio Dante on "The Sopranos," wrote the song for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' seminal 1978 album "Hearts of Stone." Bruce Springsteen also wrote or co-wrote three songs on the album (bandleader Johnny Lyon, like van Zandt, is an old friend from Asbury Park days). Disciples of Soul trombone player Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg, shown here, also played in in the Jukes horn section. He's now a member of Max Weinberg's "Tonight Show" band.

23 Scardoo

Joe Scarborough says NY 23 isn't about social issues:
The press will continue to make this race about abortion, gay marriage and Sarah Palin, but the fact is that Doug Hoffman has focused on his opponents' positions on the stimulus package, card check and higher taxes.
If you're a progressive, don't blame this race's outcome on Focus on the Family. Responsibility rests instead on Club for Growth. Tomorrow, the races in upstate New York as well as Virginia and New Jersey will be decided on one issue. The economy.



Stalinism Is Evidently Still A Ways Off


Barack: Checkers; Bibi: Chess?

Spencer Ackerman argues that President Obama and his Secretary of State, by withdrawing their demand that Israel suspend expansion of West Bank settlements as a precondition for restarting the peace talks, undermine moderate Palestinians and (perhaps unthinkingly) play into the hands of an Israeli prime minister who really doesn't want to negotiate at all.

President Hammered For Flu Shot Delays

In 2004, that is.

Dead-End Processions

Thomas G. Long on today's rash of Facebook funerals:
[O]ur death rituals have become downsized, inwardly directed, static and, as a result, spiritually and culturally impoverished. We tend now to recognize our dead only for their partial passions and whims. They were Mets fans, good for laughs at the office, pleasant companions on the links. At upbeat, open-mike “celebrations of life,” former coaches, neighbors and relatives amuse us with stories and na├»vely declare that the dead, who are usually nowhere to be seen and have nowhere to go, will nevertheless live always in our memories. Funerals, which once made confident public pilgrimage through town to the graveyard, now tread lightly across the tiny tableau of our psyches.
Hat tips to Gary Baker and the Rev. Robert J. Gaestel

Maximum Andy

In an Orange County Business Journal cover story about our St. John's brother Andy Guilford, a U.S. District Court judge in Orange County, we learn of his continuing campaign to have Maury Wills inducted at Cooperstown, his diligence about keeping his promise never to attend an Angels game again, and a comparison that I, at least, had not heard before, growing out of his presiding in the case of former sheriff Mike Carona:
As a judge, Guilford’s most high-profile case has been the Carona corruption trial. The case had led some to compare Guilford to former federal Judge John Sirica -- who ordered Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes -- because of the role recordings played in Carona's trial.
Hat tip to Mike Cheever

Sarah Laughed

If you're a moderate Republican like I am (given the size of my readership, you're probably not even reading this, which really does make it all about me), you probably had a wide range of reactions to Sarah Palin's successful effort to drive a liberal Republican, Dede Scozzafava, out of the race for the 23rd congressional district in New York.

We should be clear about her candidacy, first of all, which was wrought by party bosses, not voters. Is she more liberal on economic issues than one might prefer? Probably. And yet are the forces of social-issue purity -- pro-life, anti-gay rights -- expected to be the key to a win tomorrow by Palin's choice, Conservative Party carpetbagger Doug Hoffman? Unquestionably. Is there room in the Republican Party for someone with her views? Only if it wants to be a national factor again (short of a national or international disaster which, once laid at President Obama's feet, would be automatically advantageous for the GOP regardless of whether it was tilting to the right or the center).

So how does one voter register a protest against the rogue Alaskan and her minions and really make a difference?

I briefly considered reregistering as a Democrat or an independent, but I felt President Nixon's displeasure, so I swiftly gave up that notion.

I then considered contributing to Democrat Bill Owens' campaign in the New York 23rd. After all, if he wins the previoously safe Republican seat, it would discredit Palin and, one might think, hasten the party's agonized reappraisal of its purposes and aims. But I don't think there's any stopping her drive for the 2012 nomination. Indeed the moderate Republican's smart move would be to throw his support behind Hoffman, increasing her momentum toward the '12 precipice. Only when she or a candidate with her views is defeated by an historic margin will the GOP understand the futility of its seemingly endless quest for the new Reagan.

Anyway, I couldn't bring myself to send Owen the $100. Instead, I joined the Ripon Society, a centrist GOP think tank that promotes fiscal sanity and social tolerance -- you know, like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. That's showing 'em, huh?

If I'm Lucky

Pat Jordan, in "Men's Journal":
You get old, it’s not always about you. You no longer wait for an opening in a conversation to talk about yourself, your dreams, your accomplishments. It becomes second nature to draw other people into talking about their lives. You’re no longer the life of the party, making people laugh. You no longer have that neurotic compulsion to be known. Why should you? You get old, you know yourself.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sarah Smile

New York State GOP Chairman Ed Cox condemns the woman who's made a completely mess of Republicans' efforts to hold the 23rd congressional district, Sarah Palin Dede Scozzafava.

2012 GOP Debacle Watch

Via Andrew Sullivan, evidence that canny Democrats are rooting for Conservative Party carpetbagger Doug Hoffman in New York's 23rd congressional district. If Democrat Bill Owens wins, then the rogue Alaskan and her minions will be humbled, helping the GOP come to its senses. But if Hoffman wins, she'll be emboldened to target other moderates, hastening the marginalization of the Republican Party as 2012 approaches.

St. John's Birds

4:45 p.m.

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I Almost Sent Him $100 Myself

Dede Scozzafava, the GOP candidate for the House in New York who was derailed by the rogue Alaskan, has endorsed the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens. Conservative pundits like Fred Barnes have been saying that it would be a big win for Sarah Palin and the right wing if independent carpetbagger Doug Hoffman won the once-safe Republican seat. What will they say if Palin has delivered it to the Democrats?