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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Night Live Music: "Africa"

Is there nothing which the magic of an ex-Beatle can't do? Apparently not. Check out how Ringo Star and His All-Star Band shape what was probably the single-most mockable pop song of the whole 1980s into a sometimes jazzy, sometimes crunching, overall very cool rocker (and with Richard Page of Mr. Mister on bass just for fun!).

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Night Live Music: "In the House of Stone and Light"

Something a little different this Saturday: no live video, just an audio recording. But this is such a fine recording of such a wonderful, haunting pop tune from the 1990s--one that's only available because Brian Weatherman, who is backing up Martin Page on this song Page wrote, recently found an old copy of the recording--that I have to make an exception. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Most Important Element of Tonight's Win for Marijuana Sentencing Reform

Tonight, a ballot issue here in Wichita, KS, to reduce the penalty for a first-time arrest for the possession of a small amount of marijuana won. Did it win big? Nope, but it did win decisively: 54% to 46% of the total votes cast. And that, frankly, may be the best possible result which we who supported this ballot issue could have hoped for.

Why do I think those result are better for the overall effort to challenge drug-war overreach than a blow-out win? Because this is just the first step. Now, here in Wichita, we will wait to see what our new mayor and the new city council will do as Kansas's Attorney General, Derek Schmidt, decides whether or not to make good on his threat to sue the city to force our government to ignore the results of the election, since it would involve Wichita police treating as an easily disposed-of criminal infraction the possession of a controlled substance which the state lists as a Class A misdemeanor, with heavy fines and a criminal record attached. If an injunction is laid upon the city, our government almost certainly won't fight it, and that will be that.

Except it won't be, because state legislators will be watching. They wouldn't be if the sentencing reform ballot issue had lost. And it's quite possible they also wouldn't be if it had won big--say, a 70%-30% blow-out. In such a case, it would have been very easy for the opponents of the measure to say to folks up in Topeka, "They won solely because they registered for this one issue a bunch of marginal, disaffected folk who can't possibly be counted on to vote normally." But they can't say that in this case, because the turnout in this election--with about 37,000 votes cast out of about 200,000 registered voters, or about 18% of the total--is unfortunately pretty standard for springtime city-wide elections. And moreover, if you look at the votes cast for the sentencing reform ballot and the only other city-wide contest--for mayor--the numbers are almost identical. Clearly, those who worked so hard to bring this reform issue to the voters did not manage a win by somehow flooding the ballot booths with thousands of disengaged, marginal, first-time voters. (If they had, voting totals would have been different, because they wouldn't have voted for mayoral candidates at the same rate, or else if they did the number of write-in ballots--which amounted to only 5% of all votes--for outright supporters of the sentencing reform issue like Jennifer Winn would have been much higher.) No, this ballot issue won a small but clear victory because thousands of standard Wichita voters were persuaded it was the right thing to do. And those are exactly the voters whom at least a few of those state legislators in Topeka will want to have on their side to stay in office.

So tonight, I'm feeling pretty good. My bet is that sentencing reform won't be allowed to happen in Wichita--but the people who will be frustrated by the state's actions in that regard are going to include thousands of ordinary voters in this mostly white, mostly conservative city, and that is the sort of thing that may really lead members of certain committees to wake up to not just a valuable reform in criminal justice, but an electorally beneficial one as well. This is how you build movements, folks. Door-knocking, signature-gathering, and vote after vote after vote.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Blessed Easter, Blessed Spring, Blessed Day

It's morning. Which means, as always, by God's grace, it's time to begin again.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

I'm Getting Older Too

I saw Fleetwood Mac on their "On With The Show" tour here in Wichita last night. What a fantastic show it was! It was obvious that both the band and the sold-out crowd were all sharing in the same general feeling: that this was, rather than a concert, a generational event, a triumph of artistry and fun over time and all the vicissitudes of the human condition. That may sound pretentious...but then, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood all, at different points during the night, delivered exactly that kind of light-hearted (yet obviously plainly earnest) pretension, turning autobiographical and philosophical and sometimes downright New Agey as they celebrated each other and magisterially presented one song after another. And none of those songs, I should note, lacked the full burning musical talent of the mature Fleetwood Mac behind them. Christie McVie (at 71 years old!), at the keyboards, had a glorious voice that still carried. Mick Fleetwood played and grooved and cackled behind his drum set like a deranged--bu immensely talented--Santa Claus. John McVie never said a word, and it was only rarely that his crunching blues sound took command, but his bass lines were always there. Stevie Nicks, without an ounce of apparent irony, did her Earth-Mother-Celtic-Goddness thing, her fringe spinning as he danced and swayed and sang like she did nearly 40 years ago. And Lindsey Buckingham? An absolute revelation to me. I knew he was a fine guitarist--but not that fine. His fret-work was astonishingly fast and strong, and his sound was clean and sharp, and he did it all as he leaped and kicked and yelped around the stage like Mick Jagger in his prime. Sometimes he got downright psychedelic--which perhaps was appropriate: whatever their English blues roots, this really still is a 1970s San Francisco hippie rock and roll band. Someone needs to tell Grace Slick and all the other former members of Jefferson Airplane who went slumming into Starship in the 1980s: this is the way it gets done.

I could help but think as we looked at these Social-Security-receiving (the youngest of the core group is Buckingham, at 65) musicians, consummate professionals all: how much pop and rock has changed in my lifetime. The fact that so very many of the best, most famous and influential bands from the 1970s and 1980s (which, as I have noted, was when my radio-smitten musical tastes were mostly formed) haven't changed is sort of the point. I can remember, as I first became acquainted with pop music as an adolescent, listening to these titanic (or so their appeared to me) gods of pop and rock--one of whom was, of course, Fleetwood Mac--realizing the shadow that they all played in: the real giants, the real pioneers, were out there, sometimes still stalking the earth, and being reminded to them--much less seeing them--was an occasion of amazement, awe, and often outright, even irreverent, disbelief.

Nowadays, of course, more than 30 years after people joked about 40-year-old rock stars, it seems like every person who is remotely serious about pop music and their dog has seen at least one these dinosaurs live, because they're everywhere. The Rolling Stones, at it for more than 50 years, are going back on tour. But forget about those pioneers; look at second and third generations of rock and pop bands, of whatever genre, and the longevity of the most successful of them. U2 will be 40 years old next year: still active, still recording, still touring. Metallica, 35 years old next year: the same. Pearl Jam, 25 years old: the same. All of this is by now, you might think, normal. Watching Fleetwood Mac, I heard and saw great performances, but I also couldn't help but be impressed by the huge, complicated business it was (our seats were high enough and nearer enough for us to be able to see behind the backdrop and the stage risers) to put on one of these shows. It was like a massive--but well-oiled and efficient--moving art installation project. There's a routine to it; these artists and the hundreds they employ with the millions of dollars these tours generate understand how to make it happen. And watching these experienced musicians move smoothly around the stage, it was undeniable that they buy into it. They're performers, and this is the way they deliver their performance. Why not keep doing it as long as mind and body allow; why walk away from your vocation, when the money and fans are still there? It gets to the point where you really wonder if Led Zeppelin or The Police or R.E.M. were perhaps just strange anomalies: successful bands that broke up and actually stayed broken up (for the most part, anyway).

As my friend Michael Austin always reminds me, it's all about us: we're the ones in our 40s and 50s, now in possession of some genuine buying power, who are willing to pay significant amounts of cash to see these talented folk whose tunes were so important to us 20 or 30 or more years ago. My friends and I swapped stories about who we'd drop serious coin to see. All of the ones named were bands and artists from decades ago. And, almost without exception (my friend who voted for Queen is obviously a bit out of running, unless a replacement for Freddie Mercury miraculously appears), it's all still possible. Capitalism may be responsible for any number of things that I dislike, but how can I fault a market system which smooths the way for folks with real talent to continue to deliver, even to me here in Wichita, Kansas, well performed music decades after I ever could have normally had any reasonable chance to see them live? Well done, you big beautiful impersonal technology-driven age-defying economic machine; well done indeed.

(Though honestly, Lindsey, would it have killed you to play "Trouble"? C'mon, man!)