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February 27th, 2021

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BY WILLIAM C. HENRY This just in: Determined to keep the former would-be Fuhrer at the forefront of their lily-white-skinned nationalist agenda, CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) has announced that effective February 28, 2021, it will be changing its acronym/name to ATAC (Annual Trump Affirming SMUSConference).  In keeping with such action I think it only fitting and fair that some of Donnie’s phoniest, most two-faced, spineless, self-serving curtsiers and ring-kissers get a bit of well earned homage as well. I mean, it’s the least we can do. Here, in no particular order of their ignominy, are perhaps the most repellent of those tRumplicons still suckling from the teats of their former–but no less fetid–fat-ass Oval Office bowel-mouthed sow (sure, I probably should have used the “male” designation, but, in this particular instance, I felt to do so would have been an insult to every boar hog ever born):

Lindsey Graham:  The slipperiest, slimiest, self-servingest, bundle of swine still suckling. Hell, he’d throw Melania, Barron AND Donnie into the sty if he thought it would guarantee his re-election. Here’s what he said about tRump in 2016: “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.” And who can forget the recent, “All I can say is count me out, enough is enough.” Reportedly he had to practically suck the sapphire out of said ring to curry forgiveness for that last gaffe. You’ve got to admit, however, that he exhibited considerable pinpointing and prognostication prowess with respect to the other two. According to reliable sources, the purpose of Lindsey’s most recent pilgrimage to Palm Beach was to try to persuade Donnie to select him as his number two on the 2024 ticket … or vice versa … if tRump is still a free man.

Ted Cruz: Here are a few of the good words he had to say about Donnie Dirtbag prior to their past four-year bromance: “He’s a sniveling coward and a pathological liar. If I were in my car and getting ready to reverse and saw Donald in the backup camera, I’m not sure which pedal I would push.” He’s said to have undergone multiple double knee and lip replacement surgeries in the four years since. You gotta hand it to him for his political dexterity though. When, in well below-freezing temperatures, the lights, water and heat went out on more than four million of his Texas constituents, he explained his having immediately hightailed it to Cancun as an “emergency search for hot sauce” to keep them warm. Oh, Ted, if only auditions for the SouthWest Airlines TV commercial were being held today, youda become an overnight comedic sensation instead of a Lone Star State steershit pitching legend. “Wanna get away?”

Jim Jordan & Ron Johnson: Dead heat for the title of “Sleaziest Steadfast Senatorial Scuzzball.” Jim has literally never met a Republicanism he couldn’t defend with evangelical fervor and right hand held out shoulder high in salute to his heavenly master–and I think we all know which demigod we’re demeaning here. Unfairly for Ron, mere hate-filled legislative longevity rather than sheer sordidness may leave many with the opinion that Jim holds the edge. To Johnson’s credit, though, he did bring to our attention the massive Trump-bannered Signs.com conspiracy exposing who the “actual” participants in the Capitol riot of January 6th were. Jim, on the other hand, recently argued that Al Gore’s questioning of Florida’s disqualification of Democrat voting cards with hanging chads in 2000 is somehow synonymous with Jordan and all of his fellow Republicans falsely asserting massive voter fraud in the 2020 election and deceitfully attempting to disenfranchise 80 million American voters. Sure it is, Dipshit. Take your pick.

Josh Hawley: Relative newcomer on the Republican kneeling/ring-kissing scene, but ascending rapidly in the “ability to fecalize facts” pecking order. Possesses literally all of the septic attributes of Jordan and Johnson.

Kevin McCarthy: Undisputed “Prince of Kneelers.” Aside from still being unable to stand erect, Kevin is also recovering from severe tongue and lip lacerations. But it looks like his pleadings for mercy were all for naught. He just didn’t take tRump’s psychopathy seriously enough. According to Peter Navarro (Donnie’s preferred enforcer), McCarthy “has to go.” I guess he should have known that you can’t let real Republican women of character, courage and conscience like Liz Cheney roam the halls of Congress on two good legs, and afterwards live to entreat the likes of Donnie tRump. And then there’s the matter of that speech following the impeachment vote. Sorry, Kev.

Marjorie Taylor Greene:  It’s difficult to put into words just how much of a tRumplicon chumpette this bigoted, QAnon-belching, bleached blonde bimbo actually is. If she couldn’t parrot the tRump and QAnon prevarications, she’d be speechless. She’s literally dumber–and a damn sight more malodorous–than Donnie dung.

Ron DeSantis: Oh, hell, just read this.

Rick Scott: This is the guy whose company–that’s right, it was HIS company–perpetrated the biggest Medicare fraud in American history! There’s simply nothing more you need to know about this tRump suckling puddle of puke!

Marco Rubio: What the hell, just read this, too.

So, there you have it, a rogues’ trough of truckling Republicans still suckling from the breasts of their sociopathic, self-aggrandizing, super sow.

Incidentally, Marjorie, could you please explain why men have nipples, and women retain the vestige of a penis. Thanks in advance. And, while I think of it, could you confirm for me that QAnon actually IS a pig farmer in the Philippines. It would go a long way towards helping me understand why you so willingly allow all that racist, bigoted, xenphobic pig shit to get shoved down your ginormously gullible gullet. Keep me posted. Thanks again.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage octaagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.

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CINEMA: Who’s Afraid Of Sam Levinson?

February 19th, 2021



MALCOLM & MARIE (directed by Sam Levinson, 106 minutes, USA, 2021)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Malcolm & Marie is Sam Levinson’s follow-up to 2018’s Assassination Nation, which was a film that I think was a bit too smart for its marketed target demographic. I say that because copies of film that perfectly weaponized the metaphor of the social media witch hunt are always plentiful at my local used movie store. Assassination Nation was a film that stuck in my craw long after the press screening, and the more I thought about it, the more I found to appreciate in its densely nuanced tale of a group of girls at the center of a small town plagued by cell phone leaks, where thanks to the contents of these leaks we discover no one is as just as they pretend to be. With that in mind I sat down to watch the directors’ latest that just hit Netflix – Malcolm & Marie. 

Malcolm & Marie takes place the night after the world premier of a film the titular’s Malcom (John David Washington) wrote and directed about a woman struggling with addiction, based on the life of his live-in girlfriend, the titular Marie (Zendaya). The film shot during COVID lockdown is a claustrophobic glimpse into an abusive relationship taking place in the wee hours of the night after the premier as Malcom – your stereotypical asshole filmmaker with a god complex, riding high on his big night, emotionally eviscerates his significant other in their beautiful home to a swinging jazz score. Where the film gets into even more troubling territory is the fact that much is made of Malcolm being a black filmmaker in Hollywood, surrounded by, according to him, sycophantic white critics all looking to leverage politically correctness for social justice clout. Given the film was both written and directed by a white man, to call some of these racially charged conversations/statements/jokes problematic is way too kind.

The film is both excruciating and exhausting to sit through. Malcolm & Marie makes Marriage Story feel like a Brady Bunch episode, as the couple spends the entire one hour and forty two minute run time at each other’s throats, over and over again attempting to up the ante each go round. It’s terrible as it is, but it’s how the film traffics in racial stereotypes and tropes as a white filmmaker attempts to dissect racism in Hollywood that throws this cringe-worthy masterpiece into Green Book level cinematic black face. I mean at one point Malcolm jokes his take on a Lego movie would be called “Forty Bricks and a Mule”. This all happens while Malcolm and Zendaya — who is wearing little more than underwear for most of the film — attempt some hyper-meta dialog heavy cinematic deconstruction of race, politics and  the male gaze in order to give the filmmaker a sort of plausible deniability to any or all off these call-outs by future reviewers. It’s almost as if by giving the film a solid two thumbs down review — which I do very enthusiastically — I’m somehow fulfilling prophecy. So be it. This sucks.

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GO FUND THIS: Restoring The Shriner Mobile

February 18th, 2021

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I recently purchased the most magnificent 1948 Buick flower car that the Reading PA Shriners originally customized into a Shriner parade car. This is after years of me trying to track it down. For reasons known only to them, they grafted a Packard hood with a vertical grill to the body, above the now better remembered toothy Buick Roadmaster horizontal grill. Benches to carry a whole flock of shriners were added where the flowers once were. The really nice family that owned it vetted me and decided I was the right home for it. I’m honored!

It is my plan to restore this unique vehicle 100%, and then make it available for any large Shriner parades from New York through Philadelphia to Washington DC. Have it tow a trailer full of Shriner band members, or fill it again with flowers and have it carry Miss Shriner Wowoo, 2022, waving and hurling root beer barrels.

This way it will not just be a restored car of some interest. It will serve to help raise awareness of the Shriners, and to their great works with their hospitals, work that I am in awe of. In between such service, it will rest dry and comfortable here in our 1890 carriage house in the Overbrook Farms section of Philadelphia. When not at either, it will be shown at car shows like the great Hershey auto show, and Shriners will be welcome to be on hand to explain about their charitable works.

We mean to raise the funds to do this right, and film the restoration and the eventual return to parades. Having never done this type of fundraising before, but being fully aware of the real rather than the overly optimistic costs of a total restoration, I will be pushing part one of our GoFundMe out to Shriners, classic Buick owners groups, myriad antique car groups including the AACA, which we have long been associated with, AND THE DELIGHTFULLY NUTTY AMERICAN PUBLIC IN GENERAL WHO WANT TO BE A PART OF MAKING SOMETHING FUN HAPPEN, AND HAPPEN NOW!.

I mean to ask everyone to take a THREE DOLLAR CHANCE on this project, giving the fundraiser a subtitle ‘THREE DOLLAR BILL!’. If that seems an insanely small ask, consider if just a modest percentile of our target audience grasp the fun and worthiness of this adventure, that right there is enough to do the restoration completely and then some. Those tiny but steady increments means that for once, a small family of modest means can do a real resto, frame off. This Magic Carpet should take its place in the ranks of the great cars in our popular culture, from the Munstermobile to the Popemobile. From the Monkeemobile to the Grave Digger. From the original Batmobile to the golf cart shaped like Bob Hope’s head. Be a part of it!

Note that while this amazing car will be of service to the Shriners and by association, with their amazing Shriners Hospitals for Children, this is not a Shriner’s’ sanctioned project. It has been decades since this car was owned by or associated with the Shriners, and therefore all the more wild that the owners before me chose to leave it original. MORE

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CINEMA: The Best Of Sundance 2021

February 18th, 2021



Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC This year I had the honor of attending Sundance as a member of the working  press — well, virtually that is. We are still currently in the middle of a pandemic. Sundance, the Park City, Utah-based film festival started by Robert Redford 36 years ago, is well known to film buffs for premiering the can’t-miss films of the year. This year Sundance ran from January 28th to February 3rd and screened 72 features and more than 50 shorts.

I’ve attended more than a dozen virtual film fests in some capacity over the last year and Sundance exceeded any and all expectations for how a fest can and should run in this new ‘virtual’ world. As press we were given a seminar on how to most effectively use their custom platform, and to mimic an IRL fest films were still screening against one another in real time slots so you still had to pick your battles wisely. About 15 minutes before films, there was a virtual waiting room, with a chat function, to mimic that getting settled in your seat and checking in with those around you to gauge word of mouth on what is the can’t-miss at the fest vibe.

All screenings featured intros with directors and a post screening Q&A with cast and crew that was interactive as well. You could tell this was real time, because you still had the groan worthy questions getting through, like making a filmmaker explain in excruciating detail the ending of a film that was obviously meant to be ambiguous. I saw roughly five films a day with 28 films total at the fest and these were some of my favorites in no particular order, you will probably be hearing about in the months to come.

CODA Directed by Sian Heder

Opening Sundance this year was Sian Heder’s follow-up to Tallulah (2016), Coda, a re-imagining of the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier. Coda, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults stars Emilia Jones as Ruby Rossi, the only hearing member in a family of deaf fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts. When Ruby discovers a love of singing her senior year of high school, it leads to the crux of the drama: her teacher believes she has the talent to get a scholarship at Berklee. This happens just as her family decides to break out on their own and start a co-op, which Ruby is an integral part of, since she is the only one who can bridge the gap between her deaf family and the outside fishing community.’

SABAYA directed by Hogir Hirori

About five years ago ISIS attacked the Yazidi people and while thousands were killed, hundreds of Yazidi women were kidnapped and sold as sex slaves or ‘Sabaya’ on the black market. This film is a harrowing documentary about a group of men that have made it their life’s work to rescue and rehabilitate these women, opening up their hearts and their homes to them while risking their lives in the process. Most of the film is just these men — no more than five at any given time — assisted by a group of newly freed Sabaya known as ‘infiltrators’ who go into these camps looking for women being hidden from the authorities and free them. While this doc is filled with hope as woman after woman is rescued, there’s also a grim reality on display, like when they discover and free a seven year old Sabaya.

PLEASURE directed by Ninja Thyberg

Director Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure  is the Swedish director’s second feature and is based on her previous award-winning short of the same name. While women directors taking on the adult film industry in cinema isn’t something new, it’s the Swedish director’s empowering take on the American porn industry in particular, with that fresh outsider perspective that gives the film its power. Pleasure is the story of Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) who comes to LA from Sweden bright eyed and determined to be the next big porn star. Unlike some protagonists in these sorts of films, Bella is intelligent, cognizant, confident and capable of what she is going to do, and just how she is going to do it.

COMING HOME IN THE DARK directed by James Ashcroft

Coming Home in the Dark is New Zealand director James Ashcroft’s stunning debut and quite possibly one of the best genre films you will see this year. The film is a relentless thriller that starts out simple enough: a family out for a hike in the gorgeous New Zealand wilderness are happened upon by two nefarious drifters. What starts out as a simple robbery turns into something much more, when one of the drifters recognizes the Dutch patriarch of the family and takes him and his Māori wife hostage. From there we as the audience is fed bits and pieces of the backstory in an attempt to piece together “the why”, and it’s downright masterful how this plays out. Powerfully acted and flawlessly executed there’s not a second wasted in the tense 93 minutes runtime as Ashcroft guides us through this night of captivity.

THE SPARKS BROTHERS directed by Edgar Wright

Director Edgar Wright is probably best known for his love of music, and how it’s been such an integral part of his filmmaking process in whimsical fictional narratives like  Shaun of the Dead  and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. This time out he tries his had at the documentary genre with a very passionate look at one of his favorite musical acts you’ve probably never heard of, Sparks. Wright makes the case for what could possibly be one of the most influential bands in pop music is also one of the most overlooked as well.

Given Wright’s penchant for rapid fire montages and info dumps, it makes sense he would be a great documentarian, given that the point of the forms is to convey information in an entertaining and engaging manner. Wright does a remarkable job of tracking 25 albums and more than 500 songs the band has recorded to date, bringing in celebrity super fans to speak candidly about their career’s ebb and flow. The film doesn’t dig too deep into the personal lives of the brothers, choosing instead to focus on the music, where there is more than enough drama  to fill multiple documentaries.

VIOLATION directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinelli

Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s debut feature Violation is an  empowering feminist take on the invariably exploitive Rape Revenge sub-genre. What puts this film head and shoulders above similarly themed outings is  Madeleine Sims-Fewer the unflinching and heart breaking portrayal of Miriam, the film’s victim-protagonist Miriam, in addition to her co-writing and co-directing duties. Violation flips the audience’s expectations to tell a much more nuanced story, venturing into that gray area that most directors fear to tread. Violation is a ferocious depiction of absolute cause and effect that is chilling in its exactness.

CENSOR directed by Prano Bailey-Bond

Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature length directorial debut Censor is a period piece taking place in the United Kingdom in the 1980s during the Video Nasties era. For those not privy to this bizarre slice of genre history, Video Nasties refers to that ignominious era when the British government was heavily censoring or outright banning horror and exploitation films for the sake of protecting their citizens who they believed would turn into mass murdering heathens if they ever saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in its full uncut bloods-gushing glory. Keep in mind, this was at the peak of the home video boom, so this is when video distros were plumbing the seedy depths of New York’s then-infamous 42nd street for any and all content to put on video store shelves, the more lurid the film or the subject matter, the better. Censor is the story of a female censor Enid (Niamh Algar) who begins to come apart at the seams when she thinks she glimpses a woman who she believes is her long-lost sister, who vanished when she was a child, in a fictional slasher film she’s, um, censoring. This sends her down a rabbit hole as she attempts to track down the reclusive director of said film and the mysterious woman she thinks is her sister, which turns her journey into a surreal descent into Hell.

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Profiles In Cowardice

February 14th, 2021


BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Listen up, all ye would-be retainers of your precious Republican (in name only) Senate and House seats, all you timid, trembling, yellow-bellied, come to truth latelies, who’d reluctantly proclaim you’re finally willing to put your country above pandering to Trump and his pestilent hoards of punks and chumps, and meekly beg the forgiveness of the REAL Republican party. Pay attention! I’m about to present you with a guaranteed, fool-proof, fail-safe means of doing the right thing, the patriotic thing, the SMUSdecent thing for a change; something that just may provide you a second chance at salvaging the courage that no one is sure you ever had; something that just might earn you the dignity and respect you’ve only dreamed of having; something that could offer you the possibility of regaining at least partial use of that spine you lost on Trump’s nomination day; something that perhaps might grant you at least some hope of garnering the self respect you’ve always seemed to show was never worth the bother; and, yes, even possibly getting the gift of some day soon finding the perfect Republican donor match to replace the guts you lost five years ago. So, pay close attention because I’m about to hand you what in all probability will be your last chance for redemption: a step by step means of how to defeat those cretin-ish Trump-cult challengers the Impeached in Chief will be primarying against you because he feels you’ve become insufficiently subservient to his still autocratic ambitions and thus are no longer fit to carry his big blood-soaked red necktie-shaped banner with the noose-encircled snow-white RBX (Racism, Bigotry, Xenophobia) acronym execrably tattooed in its center.

Step One: Secure a recent picture of your opponent’s face, preferably with a submissive look on his or her face. Photoshop said face into an oxen yoke with the words “Property of Donald J. Trump” burned into its beam. Add a big shiny brass ring through his or her nose. A visible inscription on the ring should read, “Donnie and (add your opponent’s first name) Forever” plus the current year. Don’t be concerned about your opponent’s sex. In fact, in this instance, if it’s a man it will work out better anyway.

Step Two: Make her lips appear to move in sync with the following message: “If elected, I promise to be the instrument of Donnie’s every political wish and whim. I promise to have no mind of my own whatsoever when it comes to politics–or anything else for that matter. His voice will be my voice. I will take no action whatsoever without The Donald’s express approval–which, of course, includes seeking and obeying his council with respect to any and all votes which I may be called upon to cast while in office. I have accepted Donald J. Trump as my Lord and Master. I shall have no other Gods before him.” After a short pause, you will no doubt be required to add, in your own voice, the following: “I am so and so (your name) and I approve of this message. Unlike my opponent, I will always independently represent the best interests of my constituents and my country.” Say it like you mean it!

Step Three: Get the ad up and running and keep it going on every state and/or local TV and radio station and major social media platform. Run it ’til your campaign contributions and matching public funds run out, whichever comes last.

Step Four: Start packing for the move to Washington. And, by the way, You’re Welcome!

Remember, from this point forward, you must always refer to Trump as Donnie. Never again allow him the dignity of being referred to as “the former President” or “former President Trump.” From now on it’s Donnie, period. If you feel that the situation absolutely demands a wee bit more formality, you may use “Donnie the Would-be Infante,” but that’s the only exception.

Oh, and this is extremely important: you’ll want to immediately get started formulating an ironclad, bullet proof, mea culpa response to the question(s) as to why you suckled from the teats of the fetid fat-ass former Oval Office sow for so long. Sorry, you’re on your own on that one.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage octaagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.

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CINEMA: The Dearly Departed

February 12th, 2021



JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (dir. by Shaka King, 126 minutes, USA, 2021)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC It’s rare that you see a first time filmmaker just race out of the gate with such a grand and assured debut, which feels like something a more seasoned filmmaker could work their entire career and never achieve. But Shaka King has accomplished just that with his second feature Judas and the Black Messiah. The ambitious biopic which just premiered at Sundance is based on newly declassified documents similar to MLK/FBI and Seberg, and if you’re thinking there’s a pattern starting to surface here with these films I mentioned, you’re probably right. Judas further cements what were once simply conspiracy theories, of how government agencies were instrumental in the assination of any person that looked to put an end to systemic racism and champion unity.

Judas is the story of Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield),an apolitical street hustler who is ensnared early on by the FBI when he’s busted for impersonating a federal agent to boost cars. Bill, aka the titular Judas, is unwittingly living out the old saw that goes: ‘if you don’t believe in anything, you will fall for everything.’ Bill is recruited by Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to be a paid informant to help infiltrate the Black Panthers. Their target is Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the charismatic chairman of the Panthers’ Chicago chapter, who has begun reaching outside of the black community with his mission of unity that has landed him in the dead center of J. Edgar Hoover’s crosshairs — emphasis on the dead. The film borrows a bit from The Departed (by way of Infernal Affairs) for the narrative engine of this tragedy wherein Bill almost loses himself while discovering he might have picked the wrong side. This is highlighted by King who masterfully interweaves interviews with the real Bill O’Neal who gives his hindsight perspective on those chilling events of 52 years ago.

O’Neal begins the film with an idealistic view of the FBI, but all that changes when he is brought in by a man from the Bureau who replaces that idealism with fear. Like O’Neal, the audience learns that there was a very good reason black power activists like the Black Panthers were militarizing:  the US government was trying to wipe them out as part of their strategy for sabotaging the civil rights movement. Hoover used the Bureau’s nearly unlimited powersfor fuckery to disinform the American people about the the true intentions of the Panthers. The film sets the record straight in the process of telling the story of the betrayal that led to Chairman Fred’s assassination at the young age of 21.

Stylistically the film feels just period enough to have happened in the late ‘60s while evoking a very contemporary vibe to supercharge the present-day relevancy of the film’s subject matter. This all transpires to the beat of an experimental jazz score that does a profound job at externalizing the chaotic internal voices of the characters. While the betrayal is definitely at the forefront of the film’s narrative,  it’s Chairman Fred’s romantic relationship with fellow Panther Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback) that gives us a real glimpse into the soul of the man. It is those moments of calm between the couple keeps the viewer invested as the devious machinations of the FBI are put into motion. Kaluuya and Stanfield turn in career-defining performances in this tragic tale that needed to be told. With all these secret histories coming to light as more and more of the Bureau’s files being declassified, the fear, paranoia and resulting radicalization of groups like the Panthers seems not only justified but necessary. After all, in 1969 Hoover’s G-men were the de facto enforcers of white supremacy, hunting and assassinating black activists whose only crime was pursuing equality.

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February 10th, 2021



Houlon2BY JONATHAN HOULON FOLK MUSIC EDITOR 2020 was a brutal year all around and the folk ghetto here at Phawker was hardly spared:  John Prine (covid), Jerry Jeff Walker (cancer) and Billy Joe Shaver (stroke).  And, then, they had to take down one more hero on the way out the door:  legendary bluegrass singer/guitarist Tony Rice died on Christmas … of all days.  In bluegrass circles, Rice was long acknowledged as one of the greatest ever, both as a picker and as a vocalist.  But outside that rarified jurisdiction, he is almost completely unknown to the general public.  Well, Deadheads – who most certainly are not members of said public — know Tony from his work with Jerry, most notably “The Pizza Tapes” named after a delivery man allegedly swiped a session tape off of Garcia’s kitchen table when dropping off a pie.  My guess is that ol’ Jerry had a few more slices than Rice who was always rail thin.

I myself discovered Tony Rice via his membership in J.D. Crowe and the New South, whose eponymous release from 1975 is one of the most influential bluegrass albums of all time.  To be sure, bluegrass is a genre in which the “album” is not especially privileged – you are more likely to hear a fan talk about a festival they attended or an artist they revere versus reference to any particular collection of songs.  But Rounder 0044 – as fans affectionately call it after its label and catalogue number – is the exception that proves the rule.  I came across it sometime in the 80s and it really knocked me out … but not for reasons usually associated with bluegrass.  Sure, JD had assembled a peerless group of musicians, all very young at the time:  Ricky Skaggs on mando, Jerry “Flux” Douglas on dobro, and, of course, Tony Rice on guitar.  Rice pretty much redefined bluegrass guitar with his sparkling solos, impeccable rhythm, and unique voicings.  But what made 0044 standout for me was the repertoire.  I can only take so much of the traditional bluegrass fare i.e. songs about mama and Jesus.  I mean, as Saint Strummer once declared, he who ***** nuns later joins the church.  But it’s just not my jam.  What I loved about Rice – both with Crowe and in his illustrious solo career that would follow – were the songs he sang and the way he sang ‘em.  Rice leaned heavily on some of the best singer-songwriters of the 60s and 70s, particularly Gordon Lightfoot.  Moreover, vocally, he eschewed that high lonesome sound – associated with Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley – in favor of a more honeyed, welcoming tone that better fit the sophisticated lyrics he sang.

So in celebration and in memory of the great man, I offer up five of my favorites from the Rice repertoire>>>

“Church Street Blues”:  Lawd have mercy!  1) whatever you do, don’t try this at home 2) if this doesn’t instantly make you a Rice convert, you are beyond hope and I suggest you join the Republican party forthwith.  Here Tony essays Norman Blake’s classic composition re:  hard times.  Blake is known more as an instrumentalist than a songwriter but this particular tune fits Tony like a flat-pick.  It’s basically his signature.  For you musos out there:  this is a great example of cross-picking which is the foundation of bluegrass guitar soloing.  And for you Martin guitar buffs:  Tony is playing the D28 that he somewhere inherited from the late great Clarence White of Kentucky Colonels and Byrds fame who was also a mentor of sorts to Rice.  Notice the enlarged sound-hole.  What a tone, Tony!

“Shadows”:  As noted above, Rice was particularly fond of covering Gordon Lightfoot.  In fact, there is a wonderful Rounder compilation called Tony Rice Sings Gordon Lightfoot consisting entirely of Tony’s renditions of good old Gord, arguably Canada’s finest songwriter (and, yea, that does take Neil and Joni into account).  Rice covered Lightfoot chestnuts such as “Early Morning Rain” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and made them his own.  But he also unearthed lesser known gems like “Shadows” which he performs here with the Tony Rice Unit.  I always dug the fact that Rice subtracted banjo from the bluegrass equation and replaced it with a second guitar (played in this video by his brother, Wyatt).  Banjo surely gives bluegrass its incredible drive but, to these ears, it quickly becomes annoying AF.  So good riddance!  Also check out dobro whiz Jerry Douglas’ mullet.  That’s some party you’ve got going on in back, Flux!

“Why You Been Gone So Long”:  From the pen of late songwriting legend, Mickey Newbury, who surely deserves a Wire of his own at some point.  This one is from the same session as “Shadows” and features the wonderful mandolin and harmony vocals of Sam Bush.  Take a listen to Douglas and Rice trade solos starting at 2:10.  So many people can play fast and these two certainly could.  But very few play with this kind of soul.  Tony always dressed to the nines, his classy appearance reflecting his classy sound.

“Summer Wages”:  I had to include one from Rounder 0044.  What really gripped me about this record was that the New South could play with blinding speed on bluegrass standards but they tempered that (im)pulse with uncommonly beautiful ballads sung by Tony.  I can’t even hear leader J.D.’s banjer on this track which is, rather, highlighted by a very young Ricky Skagg’s fiddle.  Sounds double-tracked to my ears but we’re not purists here, are we?  Ian Tyson – another great Canadian songwriter whose “Four Strong Winds” is practically considered an alternative national anthem up there in the land of snow – wrote this one that begins with the following words to the wise:  “Never hit 17 when you play against the dealer.”  So noted!

“I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”:  This one’s from Tony’s Cold on the Shoulder LP which is named after yet another Lightfoot composition and also is a good place to start investigating Rice’s work.  Randy Newman wrote this number and it contains both lyrics and music that most bluegrassers wouldn’t touch with a ten foot cross.  Try the opening stanza on for size: Broken windows and empty hallways // a pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray // human kindness is overflowing // and I think it’s going to rain today.  Can you imagine, say, Uncle Dave Macon singing let alone comprehending the irony contained therein?  But Rice delivers it in dulcet tones that somehow make Newman’s words seem almost hopeful.

Well, that’s enough of yet another sausage fest.  I’ll let Patty Griffin have the last word from a song, to be sure, about someone else that popped into my head for obvious reasons:  “Hey, Tony, what’s so good about dying? // He said I think I might do a little dying today.”  But wait, Patts, how about trading in that flaming red for a little blue sky?  And I think it’s going to rain today!

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ALBUM REVIEW: Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

February 6th, 2021



Bad news for all you work-from-home folks. The new Psychedelic Porn Crumpets album is going to bring your house crashing to the ground. Don’t worry about it. Lucky for you, it’s also going to serve as the badass soundtrack to your new life as a gallivanting cowboy roaming the land in search of brand new sensations. The two-sided goliath, dubbed SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound, brings fans a new lease on life in the form of luscious, towering riffs, anthemic vocal melodies dripping in static, and a palatable sonic energy.

Hardly a departure from their previous albums, High Visceral Pt. 1 & 2, followed by And Now for the Whatchamacallit, this latest body of work further contributes to the broader picture of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets as a sketchy amusement park that you’ve got all to yourself. Sure, you’ve got your brief downtime in the form of tracks like the 2017 tune “It’s Not Safe To Leave This House” (who could’ve predicted the relevancy of that one) and the new “More Glitter,” but what you’re clearly there is for that hectic, righteous adrenaline.

Building off of the band’s at times muffled, arcade game-like production, SHYGA! sees the incorporation of nostalgic, crushed 8-bit soundbites reminiscent of the 1980 Namco game “Rally X”, on tracks like “Sawtooth Monkfish,” “Hats off to the Green Bins,” and “Round The Corner.” This rough-around-the-edges approach on the production end serves as a fitting compliment to the group’s teeth-grinding, boot-stomping flavor of psychedelic rock.

Psychedelic Porn Crumpets do share similar sounds (and a homeland in Australia) with acts such as King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Tame Impala and its closely-related counterpart Pond. That being said, the group nonetheless has continued to pave a road of their own within this sphere, a road covered with glass shards from broken bottles, asphalt melting from the heat of a brutal Australian summer, leading to nowhere and everywhere. – DYLAN LONG

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Time 2 Take Out The Trash

February 6th, 2021



BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Breaking news: Just released transcript of Capitol Hill telephone conversation between Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy: “Oh, my God, Kev, I’ve just been informed that that strange Greene substance the scientists unknowingly brought back from the asteroid destruction mission is mutating into a Trump mimicking monstrosity!! I’m SMUStold it’s spreading like a giant Donnie lie dump in liquid form!! What are we going to do?! We’ve got to stop it!! Maybe we can get it scooped up into audio-tight containers and ship them off to a federal landfill, maybe in northwest Georgia, huh?! Waddaya think?! Maybe it’s too late for that!! Is it, Kev?! Is it too late?! Maybe we could get it funnelled into the Fox News broadcasting center?! Yes?! No?! For Christ’s sake, Kevin, talk to me!! We need answers!! The press is going to be on this like white on rice–if you get my drift!! This is way way beyond serious!! We need a solution and we need it NOW!! What the hell are we going to do?! Dear God!! Get on the horn to Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and J&J!! Tell them to get their asses to work on a counteragent ASAP!! Tell them it’s a national emergency!! Tell them we’ll buy all the neutralizers they can come up with!! Listen to me, Kevin, I’ve got nearly six years to get this mess cleaned up, but you and about a third of the entire Trumpican Congressional contingent have got less than two!! We’ve got to get ahead of this Greene Slime shit, and we’ve got to do it NOW … and, goddammit, I do mean NOW!! Get MOVING!!”

This update on the Great Greene Slime Scare just in: Behind guarded closed doors, in the wee wee hours of this morning, Trumpican members of both the Senate and House of Representatives–while silently invoking the 5th–caucused and quietly implemented the Defence Production Act in order to force SERVPRO to come in and mop up all visible vestiges of the Greene Slime in and around the U.S. Capitol, and move them to an undisclosed location believed to be somewhere in Georgia. Members refused to comment on whether counteractive measures with respect to the remainder of the Greene slimed U.S. were anticipated. Stay tuned. Updates every hour on the hour.

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: The Impeachment Vaccine

January 30th, 2021



BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Note to all wannabe 2024 Republican presidential candidates: It’s never too soon to start cementing that bucket list of seditionist acts you’ve always dreamed of committing but were entirely too fearful to vocalize. It just so happens that as we speak your previous Republican president is in the process of showing you, step by step, precisely how to insure that you will NEVER suffer any adverse effects from doing so. There is one small catch, however. You SMUSmust perpetrate said sedition–and/or your choice of felonious act(s)–within two weeks of termination of your presidential term. Unfortunately, at this time it appears that the extent of wiggle room with respect to that time frame is yet to be tested. But, what the hell, you’ve got two weeks. Are you going to quibble about a day or two at either end? Save your avarice and amorality for the preceding 206 weeks (or, in a limited number of instances, the previous 414). This is final fomentation time! And, yes, “standing in the middle of 5th Avenue and shooting somebody” is included.

Step One: Pay no attention whatsoever to the word “impeachment.” That’s just House of Representatives speak for “we think you did something really bad.” They simply write down what “badness” they claim to have uncovered and pass it on to the Senate for the actual legal stuff.

Step Two: Deny everything. Get yourself a few decent lawyers. Continue to deny everything. Go about your normal routine. Keep on denying everything. Round up a few character witnesses. Never stop denying everything.

Step Three: Count on your Veep to slow things down. I mean, that’s what you picked him for, right? Lean on him a bit if you think he’s wavering. Start calling him an ungrateful jerk if necessary.

Step Four: Drop a few hints to your Republican party Senators that they may rue the day they ever vote for conviction. Remind them of the huge treasure chest of donations you’ve amassed that could “possibly” affect their upcoming re-election bids. Heh, heh.

Step Five: Relax. Your spineless, quaking, servile, Groveling Obsequious Puppets have gotten the message and voted that the very act of putting you on trial is, in and of itself, entirely UNconstitutional.

Step Six: Tell them to warm up Air Force One. You’re free to go. Roll out the red carpet. Strike up the band. Shoot off the salutes. Wave to the witless out the window. Enjoy the trip.

So, as you can clearly see, you have absolutely nothing to fear. And never forget that QAnon, the Proud Boys, the KKK, the Boogaloo Bois, the Three Percenters, the Wolverine Watchmen, Fox News, and almost the entire Republican establishment–and let us never diminish the putrefactive pandering prowess of Marjorie “The Queen Of Spleens” Taylor Greene–will always have your back … well, maybe.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage octogenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.

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CINEMA: The Walls Have Ears

January 22nd, 2021



MLK/FBI (directed by Sam Pollard, 104 minutes, USA, 2021)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC In 2019 the FBI released a treasure trove of documents related to the Bureau’s notorious surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. that began in the wake of the March On Washington in 1963 and persisted until the Civil Rights icon’s assassination in 1968. Director Sam Pollard has sourced these documents for his latest documentary MLK/FBI which doesn’t waste its time with the more salacious accusations, but instead delivers some amazing context and insight into the how and the why this was allowed to go on given King advised both Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson on Civil Rights matters. The most refreshing thing I found about this film is how objective Pollard is in his approach to the material and how he details both King’s and J. Edgar Hoover’s motivations in meticulous detail and how that influenced the way this disgraceful chapter in the FBI’s history played out.

The most fascinating piece of this story is how Hoover got permission to bug and wiretap MLK in the first place: the Red Scare. Stanley Levison, a close advisor to King, was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party up until 1957, and MLK was warned by both Robert and John Kennedy  to steer clear of him given his past political ties and how it could taint his movement. Given current events, Sam Pollard gives a painfully-relevant-to-the-here-and-now history lesson on how Kennedy’s recommendation was partially based on a belief at the time that black people were most susceptible to joining extremist groups.  King chose not to abandon his friend and advisor and opened the door for Hoover to begin wiretapping MLK.

Once Hoover discovered King’s infidelity, however, he became obsessed with derailing the Civil Rights movement with this ill-gotten intel. Pollard doesn’t simply demonize Hoover nor idealize King, instead plays devil’s advocate time and time again pointing out that the disconnect between King’s swinging lifestyle and the piety of his meticulously curated public image that drove the conservative Hoover over the edge. While there is enough salacious material about both men to go around, Pollard sticks to the facts that pertain to the story. King is portrayed as a flawed man that did have extra-marital affairs, but it’s ultimately left to the viewer to decide if the sins of the man taint the righteousness of his cause.

The film very effectively brings some much needed context to the most shocking revelation in King’s FBI file: that King allegedly “looked on and laughed” as a pastor he knew raped a woman. Pollard paints the more salacious allegations in these documents as suspect, pointing out that agents were not only encouraged to dig up dirt on King, they were rewarded for it with career advancement and praise from the big boss — the more sordid the bigger the pat on the back from Hoover.  Let the record show that the transcripts present only one side of the story, and given that these documents are merely the FBI’s interpretations of events that were overhead on hidden listening devices but rarely eye-witnessed their reliability is somewhat suspect. The duplicity of the Bureau’s actions is only amplified by the fact that actual audio tapes won’t be released till 2027, thereby affording the FBI’s dubious narrative decades to harden into fact decades before the public will have a chance to decide for themselves what’s on those tapes. In stark contrast, MLK/FBI shuns the sensational and the speculative in favor of verifiable facts and evidence-based conclusions. While the more voyeuristic among us may be disappointed that Pollard chose this course, given the uncorroborated yet explosive nature of the FBI’s allegations, it’s clear he took the high road. Would that the FBI had done the same.

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

January 19th, 2021



FRESH AIR: From the March on Washington in 1963 up until his assassination in 1968, the FBI engaged in an intense campaign to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. and his work. Film director Sam Pollard chronicles those efforts in the new documentary, MLK/FBI.

“The first fear that [FBI director J. Edgar Hoover] had was that King was going to align himself with the Communist Party, which … J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with destroying,” Pollard says. Pollard’s documentary is based on newly declassified files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, along with restored archival footage. It shows the government’s extensive targeting of King and his associates in the 1960s.

The FBI campaign against King began with wiretaps, but quickly ballooned. When wiretaps revealed that King was having extramarital affairs, the FBI shifted their focus to uncover all evidence of his infidelity by bugging and taping him in his hotel rooms and by paying informants to spy on him. Eventually, the FBI penned and sent King an anonymous letter, along with some of their tapes, suggesting that he should kill himself.

Reading the letter, Pollard was struck by the fact that it was made to sound like it was written by someone close to King. “They were trying to make it sound like it was not only a former associate but a ‘Negro’ who wrote that letter,” he says. “This is supposed to be the nation’s police, that’s supposed to be doing the right thing, and this is the lengths they’ll go to destroy a human being? It’s awful.”

Pollard is an Emmy Award winner and Oscar nominee. His first work as a director was for Eyes on the Prize, a groundbreaking documentary series about the civil rights movement. He’s also edited many of Spike Lee‘s movies, including Jungle Fever, Mo’ Better Blues and When the Levees Broke. MORE


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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Make America Pastel Again

January 18th, 2021



SMUS-avatarBY WILLIAM C. HENRY The following is a just received excerpt from the text of Trump’s original (it was removed from the final text because his aids thought it might bring into question his diehard fans’ image of him as a “really smart guy”) self-congratulatory speech commemorating his “Great Trumpian Wall” and fulfillment of his pledge that fair, unbiased, comprehensive immigration legislation would never get passed during his four-year tenure as neo-Fascist in Chief … well, sorta:

My Fellow Pale Riders,

I have asked you to gather here today to kick off my executive order proclaming that henceforth the 12th of January shall be recognized as Make America Pastel Again (MAPA) day. We’ll also be dispensing with the Make America Great Again (MAGA) and Keep America Great (KAG) stuff given the bad press it appears to have generated and the fact that Fox News appears to have fallen below even MSNBC in the most recent TV ratings. The order also mandates that MAPA day be recognized as a national holiday. I think you’ll agree that we need to recast ourselves as a softer, more subtle, slightly less uncivil movement while retaining all of our hardcore fake news factualizing in pursuit of the paler, more pliable, nationalistic society we strive to ultimately achieve. In addition, I am officially announcing a renaming of the Republican party. From this day forth it is going to be called the Trump Adoration and Subservience Society (TASS)–and, yes, the change has received Putin’s express approval and endorsement. So, having dispensed with my formal comments, what do you think of my great big beautiful 450 mile wall (yeah, I know I promised you 1000 miles, but I’d planned to split it up between two terms)?! Isn’t it wonderful?! Isn’t it fantastic?! Believe me, no one does fences better than me!! It’s spectacular, right?! Tell me, who does walls better than The Donald?! No one!! Isn’t it simply tremendous!! I ask you, who builds barriers bigger and better than Donald J. Trump?! Nobody!!

Anyway, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve got scores of acolytes (yeah, I admit I had to look that one up) among you passing out our new Trump slogan caps. Help yourself. You’ll notice that these new TASS caps themselves and the monogramming have changed colors. Available stock slogans have been reworded as well. The bright, all-orange cap represents my most recognizable feature and sets a whole new standard for immediate association with me. The snow white of the monogramming stands for–well, I think you can guess what gave me the inspiration for that. They’re free and you can have as many as you like. Take some home for your insurgent friends and relatives.

Stock slogans include: Make America Pastel Again; MAPA; Trump Adoration And Subservience Society; TASS; It’s A Whole New Wall Game; Stolen But Still Rollin'; Still Humpin’ For Trump; Truth Is For Twits; Facts Are For Fools; and one that is certain to grab their attention–but be careful to not get caught having to provide a definition–Tergiversators For Trump. And, if you have another catchy slogan in mind, just leave your name, address, email and/or twitter handle, current family income and bank balance, along with what you’d like the cap to display. We’ll monogram and mail it to you free of charge (keeping in mind, of course, that whatever wording you request must reflect positively on my image and/or our collective xenophobia). It’s the least I can do–short of a full pardon–to show my appreciation for your continued sedition and support.

Incidentally, Mexico has informed me that delivery of the check to cover construction costs has probably been held up by the COVID, but it’s definitely in the mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage octogenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.

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