Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ain't Pat A Shame

When it comes to love songs, there's Al Green and there's everybody else. The good Reverend Green will be in Indianapolis for Jazz Fest on June 16.

I mention this because I'm ducking the issue, avoiding what was to be the real purpose of this writing. The intent here was to excoriate Pat Boone and I have to confess I'm on the verge of chickening out. This isn't because I'm afraid of Pat Boone (who would be?) but because he's such an easy and obvious target, and has been for many years now.

In the event you aren't familiar with Pat Boone, let me put it this way: he sold a lot of records in the 1950s due in large part to his ability to cover popular songs by Fats Domino and Little Richard and render them bland and soulless. In other words, his version of "Ain't That a Shame" is similar to Fats Domino's, except that Boone's really, really sucks!

At any rate, Mr. Boone has for some time been an activist on the religious conservative side of things. This is, of course, his right, no pun intended, but something Boone said recently on "Hannity & Colmes" really crossed the boundaries of credulity. While lamenting a general lack of unity in modern day America--he criticized Senator Harry Reid's defeatist attitude toward the Iraq War, among much else--he insisted the nation was far closer to being of one mind and one goal in the 1950s, his own heyday. Mr. Colmes pointed out that this was an era of segregation, to which Boone replied that in those days "we" knew we had to end segregation "together." Now, that is just egregious.

Millions of Americans of all races were undoubtedly opposed to segregation, but to imply that it was a collective, universal struggle is complete rubbish. First and most obviously, if everyone was so like-minded in opposition to segregation, why did it exist at all? Second, remember Orval Faubus, Lester Maddox, George Wallace and Strom Thurmond and millions of like-minded constituents who fought tooth and nail for segregated schools and communities? Is this the kind of "we're all in this together" spirit to which Boone refers?

I don't have any record of Mr. Boone's attitude toward segregation fifty years ago, but make no mistake about it, this sickenening practice helped his record sales. If you don't think so, try to imagine a white vocalist these days recording pale, sanitized versions of songs originally by black artists, and what kind of commercial success he or she would encounter. Josh Groban isn't going to top the charts with a toned down version of Kanye West's "Jesus Walks", is he? So a lack of exposure to the original material among Boone's core audience worked greatly to his benefit. There is no shame in white artists covering songs initially performed by black artists; Johnny Rivers did it, Elvis Presley did it, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did it, and all of them did it better than Pat Boone, incidentally. But when a very offensive social policy helps build your career--and that social policy was by no means Boone's creation--it strikes me as dismayingly disingeuous to appear on television fifty years later and imply hardly anything was wrong back then and today the nation is falling apart.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Wonder Full

It's hard not to wonder if Utah Jazz guard Derek Fisher's recent inspirational conduct will receive as much attention as that of athletes who break the law or make offensive comments. Fisher, whose young daughter is battling a rare and bizarre form of eye cancer, began the day in New York City forced to decide whether or not to have Tatum Fisher's left eye surgically removed, and ended it in Oakland, California with a victory against the Golden State Warriors. Fisher's admirable attempt to fulfill both his personal and professional obligations will almost undoubtedly go unnoticed by those prone to making generalizations about athletes anytime one of them gets into trouble.

Tony Blair is resigning as Prime Minister of Great Britain and his replacement is a man who looks alarmingly like Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. One can't help but wonder if Gordon Brown will appear before Parliament dressed in drag and reciting menu entrees like Egg and Spam; Egg, Bacon and Spam; Spam, Egg, Sausage and Spam. Such action could only improve the tone and decorum of global politics.

Is anyone else fed up with the phrase "going forward"? It's used primarily by pseudointellectual drones who employ it as a kind of tiresome replacement for "from now on" or "henceforth." For example, a recent automated phone message promised to save me money on my monthly bills "going forward." A memo from an old boss commenced with the sentence, "Going forward, it will be my policy..." I wish someone could relieve us of this pretentious, awkward, and increasingly insufferable butchery of the English language. Henceforth, I intend to overuse "henceforth" just to annoy the "going forward" crowd.

Will Newt Gingrich hurry up and join the Presidential race already? And how about Fred Thompson? Nothing spices up an election like an actor and an amphibian!

I can't bear it when someone approaches me and asks for my "John Henry" when the person actually seeks my signature on a document. Let's get this straight: John Henry is a legendary figure who is said to have raced a railroad machine, beaten it, but died of exhaustion in the process. The man famous for signing his name in extremely large letters on the Declaration of Independence was John Hancock. One died with the hammer in his hand and the other helped found the nation. They were both important and interesting men, but not terribly similar in their actions or source of notoriety. I wonder if people are ever going to wise up about this.

So obviously, I view the world with a sense of wonder.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Here's the news in a nutshell.

Zimbabwe is on the verge of social and economic collapse; Paris Hilton is going to jail; there are more people running for President of the United States than there are residents of the United States, so I suspect some of them are actually animals or, more likely, dead (surely Dennis Kucinich isn't alive now and it's questionable whether he ever was); honeybees seem to be dying off in large numbers and no one knows why, although I blame Dennis Kucinich.

For the most part, this is bad news. And frankly, I find it irritating. Bad enough that Zimbabwe President Dennis Kucinich, who has run the country since independence came in 1980, is clinging desperately to his diminishing power and apparently willing to bring the entire nation to its knees in order to do so, but poor Paris Hilton couldn't even circumvent jail time, thanks to the incompetence of her lawyer, Dennis Kucinich. Or was it her publicist who dropped the ball? Someone's to blame and it isn't her; I at least know that much.

This might be an unfair assumption on my part, but when Hillary Clinton speaks of universal health care, I interpret it as shameless political pandering. When Barack Obama refers to a similar idea, I see it as misguided good intentions. It isn't easy to admit this, as the idealist who still lurks inside me remains intrigued and heartened by the notion of health care for all, but I simply have very little faith in the government's ability to carry out such a plan. That does not mean I wouldn't vote for Mr. Obama, only that I consider his plan impractical. I also am not implying Ms. Clinton has no trace of goodwill left in her soul, no bone uncontaminated by political cynicism, nor am I suggesting Mr. Obama is all breezy optimism and has no cold, pragmatic side.

But the general public has been acquainted with the Clintons now for at least a decade and a half, and was only introduced to Obama within the last three years. Fair or not, that could be at least as much a strength as a drawback. For everyone who hammers him for his lack of experience, there will be others refreshed by his youth, charm and lack of Washington... "jadedness" (let's pretend that's really a word).

As for Zimbabwe, what's happening there is tragically unnecessary. One of Africa's few agriculturally self-sufficient nations (in theory, at least) and amply stocked with tourist attractions--from Hwange National Park to Victoria Falls to the mysterious and stunning Great Zimbabwe ruins--there is no justifiable reason for its soaring inflation rates and horrific poverty levels. But there we are. It isn't the first place or the last to be undone by poor leadership, misguided economic management, and just plain ill luck. However, I have been to Zimbabwe on two separate occasions and feel a twinge of sadness for the calamity that has befallen it. Even when I was there in 1996 and 1998, there were plenty of problems. Now they have ballooned into full-blown crisis and I want to do something about it. But what?

In Ishmael Reed's novel "The Free-Lance Pallbearers", he tells the story of one man confronting a twisted world referred to as "Harry Sam". The opening lines of the book are:

I live in Harry Sam. Harry Sam is something else. A big, not-to-be-believed, out of sight, sometimes referred to as o-bop-she-bang or klang-a-lang-a-ding-dong.

And that is our world, too. It's not to be believed; it's o-bop-she-bang; it's something else.

But there's more. One might call it a "tie in." When I was in Zimbabwe in October, 1996, Ishmael Reed was there, too, attending some kind of convention. We were both in Harare at the same time, and I looked all over for him. But I never tracked him down, a profound disappointment for me, as I didn't expect to be in the same city as him again anytime soon, especially not an African one where two Americans might be fairly easy to pick out. Mr. Reed, I'm sorry I missed you, but I can't promise you would have been pleased to see me had we met.

Wrap it up.