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CLAMDIGGING: Q&A With Shannon Shaw

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

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SOPHIE_BURKHOLDER_BYLINERBY SOPHIE BURKHOLDER Shannon Shaw is the fearless leader of the Oakland-based vintage rock foursome, Shannon and the Clams. Drawing inspiration from 50’s and 60’s era rock, they sound like some dreamy combination of the Zombies, Chuck Berry, and the Chantels – with a little added edge from their punk DIY-scene roots. Earlier this year, Shannon and the Clams released Onion, their sixth studio album and first on The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach’s label. Partially inspired by the loss of friends in the deadly Oakland Ghost Ship fire of 2016, the record follows Shaw’s gritty Winehouse-like croon as the band pulls back each layer of the metaphorical onion they’ve grown into since their start ten years ago. We got Shaw on the phone in advance of the Clams’ Thursday show at First Unitarian to talk about that introspection, what it’s like to be a woman in rock today, and how it feels to have John Waters as your biggest fan.

PHAWKER: I wanted to start by talking about Onion, and more specifically the dedication of it to the victims of the Ghost Ship fire back in 2016. What made you decide to do that? Were you part of that artist collective, and did you have friends in it?

SHANNON SHAW: Basically, that occurred when we were halfway through writing the album, and Shannon Shaw (Of Shannon & The Clams)- Shannon In Nashvillethat was just complete sadness. It was so unbelievable. I’d never suffered or lived through trauma like that before. There’s a hole in Oakland now. But I think a big part of why it touched us so much was that not only did we all live there or have lived there, but we all lost friends in the fire, and that place is the kind of place we would play. Our band came up in the Oakland warehouse scene. We would play more warehouses than we would play anything else. The warehouse scene is a very unique, very special, and very sacred place. So it just brought on a lot of reflection of all sorts when that occurred. It was constantly on everyone’s mind. Before we figured out who had passed in the fire, there were days of everyone waiting on edge, trying to find out who was at the party. I know that our drummer was saying he was having a party that night and Ghost Ship was close to his house. And I was actually at a bonfire at my brother’s house, and there were people coming and going from that party at that bonfire. Like people left our bonfire to go there. Luckily, they didn’t make it into the warehouse, but it was super traumatic.

PHAWKER: You said that you were halfway through writing the album when that happened, so did you end up keeping those songs you had already written?

SHANNON SHAW: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Maybe a third of the album is more related to those events.

PHAWKER: Do you still keep up with the Oakland scene, or have favorite bands coming out of there right now?

SHANNON SHAW: The Oakland scene has changed so much, but I try to. When I’m home, my brothers play in some bands. The garage rock scene that was in Oakland feels like it’s morphed. A lot of it’s gone. A ton of people moved away. A lot of people became junkies. A lot of people just broke up or got married and settled down. So what’s left of that scene has morphed in an interesting way. I feel like people are getting more creative. With the Ghost Ship fire, I feel like that blew a big hole in the scene too. In one sense, it’s brought more people out. Over time a lot of people have had to move away, but the people that have stayed almost have a deeper passion and a better understanding of how fragile and temporary life is. I feel like it made a lot of genres and mini-scenes within the Oakland punk scene come together more, and support each other more.
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BEING THERE: Thurston Moore @ RUBA Club

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

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Photo by DAN LONG

The warriors: Thurston Moore, James Sedwards, Deb Googe. Their weapons: identical Fender Electric XII 12-string guitars and a Squier Bass VI, respectively. But, there’s one more player: Steve Shelley sits at his throne behind the drum set, rhythmically guiding the total of thirty vibrating strings into a droning battle of angelic overtones. The battleground: RUBA Club on Green Street, right behind Silk City Diner, last night.

The entire set was one continuous jam entitled “Alice Moki Jayne,” a piece Thurstone wrote, which was inspired by the works of Alice Coltrane, Moki Cherry, and Jayne Cortez. Conductor Thurston nods and flashes hand signals to the group when he decides on the next chord, next strum, next stomp onto each player’s fuzz box. The piece seemed to flow in movements, with lows and highs, drawn-out crescendos, soaring climaxes, and feedback interludes. The ambient segments were nothing short of intoxicating, and the piece as a whole was a beautiful, cinematic, post-rock epic imbued with nostalgia-inducing, Thurston-core riffs.

There was one particular segment during which Moore, Sedwards, and Googe were picking a melody in unison – each part containing slightly different notes – and each player jammed a metal rod under the strings, essentially raising the pitch of the melodies while creating a very unique, Eastern-sounding tone by taking advantage of the instrument’s scale of harmonics. This technique of adding what is known as a “3rd bridge” to a guitar was popularized by the late Glenn Branca, a great friend and musical inspiration to Thurston, back in the days of the No Wave movement.

The band had exited the stage, leaving behind some six-string guitars and a Hofner bass that hadn’t gotten played, so I stuck around knowing there would be an encore. The band played a couple Thurston Moore tunes with Sedwards and Moore on Jazzmasters and Googe on the Hofner Violin Bass, with Shelley back at his kit, a fun sendoff before their final thanks to the audience, to each other, to the supporting acts, and to everyone who helped put together this intimate evening show upstairs at RUBA. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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HORSEPLAY: A Q&A W/ Broncho’s Ryan Lindsey

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

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BY HENRY SAVAGE If tongue-in-cheek was defined in the Oxford Dictionary, a picture of Broncho mainman Ryan Lindsey’s face would sit right next to the entry. Originally formed in Norman, Oklahoma in 2010, Broncho came out of the punk and house show scene with their debut LP Can’t Get Past the Lips the following year. Last month, Broncho released their fourth LP Bad Behavior, showcasing a redefined sound that moves past their fast-paced punk stages to a new age of Broncho. In advance of their show at Johnny Brenda’s tomorrow night, we got Lindsey on the horn. DISCUSSED: paltry streaming royalties, Wayne Coyne, submission, bad behavior, why there is an H in their name, Magic Mark and how it’s a blurry world out there for a pimp.

PHAWKER: What is the meaning behind Broncho? Why the more obscure spelling with an “h?” I’m curious what else was on the list of possible band names?

RYAN LINDSEY: I think there’s a few different stories. [Laughing] There’s a few historians who see this differently. Ultimately, at one point it was the name of a song, and then we needed a band name. Somebody just said, “Let’s just call the band ‘Broncho’, and call the song ‘Pick a Fight.’” The rest fell in line.

PHAWKER: You guys are based in Norman Oklahoma, ancestral home of the Flaming Lips. Do you have a good Flaming Lips or Wayne Coyne story to share?

RYAN LINDSEY: Yeah, Wayne will pop into different places. Oklahoma City is where the Lips live, and they have a whole headquarters there that’s awesome. Very inspirational. Oklahoma in general is a great spot, there’s people doing stuff here.

PHAWKER: The new album is Bad Behavior. What sort of behavior have you and the band been getting into these past years?

RYAN LINDSEY: [Laughing] Listening to our mothers more. Doing what we’re told.

PHAWKER: Well-behaved gentlemen?

RYAN LINDSEY: [Laughing] Yes, it’s all about submission. This record is very submissive.

PHAWKER: What the hell is going on in the cover of the new album Bad Behavior? What is that tongue licking?

RYAN LINDSEY: Jury’s still out on that. I’m still not sure what’s going on.

PHAWKER: “Class Historian” has something like 20 million plays on Spotify. Now that streaming has more or less replaced retail sales, I’m curious what that amounts to in royalties? Most musicians find Spotify’s royalty model to be completely unfair to artists. What are you thoughts on all this?

RYAN LINDSEY: Ultimately, I want people to hear it. So however people are going to hear the music, I think it probably has more to do with the state of the economy. Back when record sales were through the roof it seemed like there was less of a wealth gap. There was more money in the middle class. Now it’s like, shit better be free because no one’s got money for it. I think the problem is elsewhere than with the music stuff. Unless someone is making all of the money and people could be getting a bigger cut…I’m not as well educated on that stuff…but I would definitely be for making sure things are fair when things are getting paid out on streaming services. I would rather somebody hear us. We just wanna be heard!

PHAWKER: What can you tell me about the actor who stars in the “Sandman/Boys Gotta Go” video? He is intense. Where did you find him and how did that video come together?

RYAN LINDSEY: I first met [Mark Ward] probably 10 years ago. I was told there was a party at Magic Mark’s. So I went to this warehouse in Tulsa, and I walk in the warehouse and I realize I’ve been to this place before. One of my uncle’s rented a spot there, where him and his band recorded and it was kind of a total band and art space. It was a great inspiration for me as a kid, and probably one of the biggest influences on me, seeing a spot like that. So then I go back as an adult, I walk in, and Mark’s doing magic. As I was cruising around I meet him, and he immediately starts doing some type of magic for me.

That’s where I met him and we’ve been friends ever since. He’s the type of person who can do anything. Our friend Pooneh [Ghana] who did that video, she met Mark because she came to Tulsa to take some photos of us. Mark was there with us and kind of jumped in and was helping her with whatever she needed. Like, “Hey I need light here,” you know, he would just make it happen. He’s just that type of person. She wanted him for that video, and loved the way he looked, but she had no idea that he knows what he’s doing. He’s a legit talent. There’s so many movies that he should be in, hopefully someone will exploit that. He can also blow things up. He knows explosives, and he can jump in and do pyro.

PHAWKER: What is the last song/album you listened to that blew your mind or changed the way you view the world?

RYAN LINDSEY: I don’t know, I’m always bad at that. I take in music a little unfocused, for that matter, I take all things in a little bit blurry. It’s probably to put my own spin on things, and to maybe not know all the info. You know, I don’t want to know everything that’s going on, but really what direction it’s going in. Also, it’s something that I’m still figuring out or knowing how to talk about. Thus far, it’s been blurry. Cause I never know lyrics to things, but I kind of do know them. I know the melody, and I know there’s certain parts that I can go to with music. It’s a blurry world.

BRONCHO + PINKY PINKY + SIXTEEN JACKIES @ JOHNNY BRENDA’S NOV. 7TH

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ELECTION 2018: Fear & Loathing In Pennsyltucky

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

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EDITOR’S NOTE: A much shorter version of this story ran in the August issue of Philadelphia magazine. We are posting the complete unabridged version on the heels of Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s re-election.

mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA December 5th, 2017, started out as just another low and mildly contemptible day in Harrisburg, the foul rag and bone shop of Keystone State governance. But by mid-morning, it had become a day that will live in infamy. In the bowels of the state capital building, in the midst of an undoubtedly fascinating debate about landlocked easements by the State Government Committee, something both unforgivable and endlessly, albeit unintentionally, hilarious happened: Representative Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery County), in what would instantaneously prove a futile effort to stave off interruption and hold the floor long enough to finish his sentence, briefly touches the arm of the man seated next to him, Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County), the committee’s glowering authoritarian chairman. Although the man-on-man physical contact lasted less than one second (00.69 seconds, to be exact) it sends Metcalfe into a downward spiral of full-blown homosexual panic, and triggers the following cringe-inducing pronouncement:

“Look, I’m a heterosexual. I have a wife, I love my wife. I don’t like men, as you might.  But stop touching me all the time. It’s like, keep your hands to yourself. Like, if you want to touch somebody, you have people on your side of the aisle that might like it. I don’t.”

There are gasps of disbelief and nervous laughter as everyone looks around to make sure they hadn’t inadvertently slipped down a wormhole in the time/space continuum and transported back to their 5th grade cafeteria lunch line. The woman in a blue dress sitting next to Bradford, Kim Hileman, then the Executive Director of the committee, covers her face with her hands and looks away as if averting her eyes from a particularly grisly crime scene. But upon closer inspection — you can watch it on youtube — she is trying to avoid laughing in the chairman’s face.

Soon dubbed Touchy-Feelygate by the smirking statehouse press corps, it became the tap on the shoulder heard round the world — literally. The story was headline news as far away as the UK and Australia, and soon became fodder for late-night talk show monologues. Most notably actor Neil Patrick Harris, who is openly gay, found it necessary to explain to America that homosexuality is not contagious. “You don’t turn gay if a gay person touches you, we’re not zombies,” he said two nights later when he was guest-hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live.

For the last 20 years, Metcalfe has been holding up the far right ‘God, guts and guns’ end of the political spectrum in Harrisburg, a theocratic winter soldier doggedly fighting for the beleaguered armies of White Male Grievance in the muddiest trenches of the culture wars, a throat-slashing hyper-partisan flamethrower railing against the lies of the “fake news media,” sounding false alarms about phantom voter fraud, invasive hordes of  “illegal aliens” and libtard crusades to confiscate guns and make everyone get gay-married. On Facebook, he puts quotation marks around the word “students” when referring to the kids of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, suggesting they are in actuality crisis actors not tender-aged gun-massacre-survivors-turned-activists.

In the course of 10 terms in office, Metcalfe has become an adept practitioner of the dark arts parliamentary fuckery, parsimony and vengeance. He has successfully opposed any law that affords LGBT people even the most basic civil rights protections from housing and employer discrimination for fear it will turn the Keystone state into a Sodom and Gomorrah of gay coal miners fracking all night and partying every day. He thinks mass transit is nothing more than a taxpayer-funded people-mover for welfare recipients. He’s the John Coltrane of racist dog whistlers. He once invited a white supremacist to testify at an English-Only bill hearing, much to the delight of the Daily Stormer web site, which, before it was shut down in the wake of Charlottesville, was like the online neo-Nazi Bible. In 2008, he was the recipient in absentia a ‘Christian Soldier’ award from a Ku Klux Klan affiliate called Christian Nation. Let the record show that Metcalfe publicly renounced the award and condemned Christian Nation, but if you blow the white power dog whistle, don’t act so surprised when people in white hoods and swastikas start showing up.

Since 2010, Metcalfe has been chairman of the all-powerful yet altogether dysfunctional House State Government Committee, where all good Democratically-sponsored — which is to say Philly-friendly — legislation goes to die. That is not just some West Philly anarcho-leftist exaggeration, it is a statement of objective fact, and Metcalfe proudly acknowledges as much. “When they [Democrats] oppose us on my committee, they lose every vote and we win every vote! I block all substantive Democrat legislation sent to my committee and advance good Republican legislation!” Metcalfe wrote in a Facebook rant back in April. “Liberals continue their lying attacks in an attempt to stop my work in defense of taxpayers and our liberty!”

Were he not chair of the State Gov, it would be easy to dismiss Metcalfe as just another extreme right wing wackadoo — the troll prince of the menthol trailer parks and the MAGA-loidal hinterlands of western Pennsyltucky. After all, as a state representative, Metcalfe lords over a relatively paltry fiefdom of roughly 122,000 people that reside Pennsylvania’s 12th legislative district, a bucolic patchwork of farms and suburbs just north of Pittsburgh. He’s their problem. However, as chairman of the all-powerful State Government Committee, Metcalfe lords over all 12.8 million Pennsylvanians — and given that Pennsylvania was one of three swing states that made Donald Trump’s electoral college victory possible, Daryl Metcalfe is America’s problem. Which begs the questions: Who the hell is this guy and what is he on? What makes a man start fires? And how does someone known for such cruel and shallow sideshow antics and astonishingly infantile outbursts keep getting elected? And how do we make it stop?
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AMERICAN DEMOCRACY: Just Do It!

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

VOTE R FOR RUSSIA
[SOURCE: COMMITTEE OF SEVENTY]

Polls across the city and Pennsylvania  are open  7am to 8pm on today. Any voter in line by 8pm must be allowed to vote.

VOTER RIGHTS

As a voter in Philadelphia, you have the right to:
  • Vote if you are a U.S. citizen, city resident, at least 18 years of age and properly registered with the County Board of Elections. Visit philadelphiavotes.com for more info.
  • Vote privately and free from coercion, intimidation or harassment. Campaigning of any kind and the distribution of buttons, flyers or other partisan literature is strictly prohibited inside the polling place.
  • Access to interpreters (live and/or telephonic) at all polling places if you are a Limited-English Proficient citizen.
  • Request help from anyone you choose if you are disabled or need language assistance in order to vote; however, the person assisting cannot be your employer or union representative.
  • Ask election officials about voting procedures. Rules and resources are in place to ensure every eligible voter can cast a ballot privately and independently. If you have a question, ask!
  • Cast a Provisional (paper) Ballot if, for any reason, you are unable to use the voting machines. Provisional Ballots are a fail-safe option to ensure no voter is disenfranchised due to a question regarding their eligibilty. All ballots are counted following verification that the voter was properly registered.

Report issues or problems encountered at the polling place to the Philadelphia County Board of Elections at 215-686-1590.

VOTER RESPONSIBILITIES
As a voter in Philadelphia, you have the responsibility to:
  • Familiarize yourself with candidates and ballots questions. Visit seventy.org before you go to the polls. ONLY registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for candidates in primary elections; ALL voters, regardless of party affiliation, can vote for ballot questions. In the general election; ALL voters can vote for candidates and questions.
  • Report voter intimidation, or potentially illegal or fraudulent activity to a poll worker or the District Attorney’s Office at 215-686-9641.
  • Review election procedures and voting machine instructions before Election Day at philadelphiavotes.com. Seek guidance from poll workers if you have questions about the voting process.
  • Keep your voter registration up-to-date with your current address and party affiliation. Online registration is available at votespa.com. The registration deadline is always 30 days before Election Day.
  • Treat poll workers, canvassers and other voters with courtesy and respect. Thank your local Election Board for their service!

For questions about the voting process or to report an issue at the polls: Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683), a service provided by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

DOWNLOAD: A Pocket-Sized Voter Rights Card
RELATED: Check Your Voter Registration
RELATED: Find Your Polling Place

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WHITE NOISE: A Q&A W/ Thurston Moore

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

THURSTON MOORE

 

Kyle_WeinsteinBY KYLE WEINSTEIN Thurston Moore turned 60 this past summer. It’s been about seven years since the breakup of Sonic Youth. Moore first hit the noisy New York no wave scene after dropping out of Western Connecticut State University in the late ’70s. His early music career was nourished by his guitar work in Glenn Branca’s orchestra, from which he would draw many of his alternate tunings to be used in Sonic Youth. It was in 1981 that Sonic Youth would officially come to fruition with its founding members: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, and Lee Ranaldo. The group changed alt-rock and went down as one of the most important musical influences of the ’80s. In the wake of SY’s dissolution, Moore has kept busy, releasing three albums and touring frequently. In recent years, he’s been backed in the studio and on tour by longtime Sonic Youth bandmate, Steve Shelley (drums), Debbie Googe of My Bloody Valentine (bass, backing vocals), and James Sedwards (guitar). All of whom will be joining Moore at Ruba Club tonight as a part of his “New Noise Guitar Explorations” project, which Moore explains in the following interview.

PHAWKER: There was recently a huge sale of Sonic Youth gear on Reverb. Almost everything sold by the afternoon of the first day. It got me thinking: what has been some of your cherished and nostalgic gear over the years? And what prompted you guys to get rid of so much memorabilia?

THURSTON MOORE: We are making room to do more work in our studio with our various projects.

PHAWKER: Your current tour is called “New Noise Guitar Explorations.” Naturally, that begs the question: what new techniques have you been experimenting with? What can the audience expect this time around?

THURSTON MOORE: “New Noise Guitar Explorations” is my group with My Bloody Valentine’s bassist Deb Googe playing a baritone bass, although she has brought a few guitars in case there are encores, we might play some songs. Also James Sedwards and I are playing electric 12-string guitars and Steve Shelley is on drums and percussion. We are using special tunings on the guitars and are playing a composition I’ve written called ALICE MOKI JAYNE in honour of Alice Coltrane, Moki Cherry and Jayne Cortez —the women who brought out the spirituality of some heavy jazz players for me. My longtime best friend, the author and poet Byron Coley will read and the incredible electronic composer Jon Leidecker (aka Wobbly) whose studio collaborations include work I love from Negativland, Dieter Moebius, Tim Story, Matmos Zeena Parkins and others will present some musics utilising mobile devices, microphones and other electronics in zap mode.

PHAWKER: What was the last album or song you heard that blew your mind/altered your perspective on the world, and why?

THURSTON MOORE: BIG JOANIE!! We recently went to see our friends from Holland play and this black feminist punk trio called Big Joanie opened up. They were so good I asked if I could put out their songs. Their new debut full length album SISTAHS will be coming out this month on November 30th on my new label, The Daydream Library Series, with my partner Eva Prinz.

PHAWKER: Since last year, Michael Gira has been “rethinking Swans completely,” meaning it will be him and “a revolving cast of contributors.” Since you and Gira go way back, and I can hardly think of a more appropriate collaboration, do you think there might be future work for you in Swans?

THURSTON MOORE: ABSOLUTELY. I would always love to work with Michael. I hope we find some time together soon.

ARS NOVA PRESENTS NEW NOISE GUITAR EXPLORATIONS @ RUBA CLUB TONIGHT

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MILESTONED: 30 Years In A Daydream Nation

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

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Thirty years ago this week, experimental noise-punk visionaries Sonic Youth changed the underground rock world with their 1988 avant-rock masterpiece, Daydream Nation. The sprawling double-LP remains a howling beacon of holy noise straddling the crossroads of the avant garde, noise-rock, cyberpunk, and psychedelia.

Daydream Nation was Sonic Youth’s avant-rock manifesto, setting in stone the band’s modus operandi of riding the borderline between the accessible and esoteric, not just within the space of an album, but within single songs, doing so with such hypnotizing grace that we should think of them as missionaries of noise converting many unsuspecting, vanilla listeners into devout noise enthusiasts. It’s a skill they’ve honed following their invaluable work on the dreams-meet-reality of Sister the previous year, and one that would carry on through to their next venture, the pop-culture-themed Goo. Daydream Nation was the next logical rung on the ladder, it lifted Sonic Youth to a legendary status that would only snowball from then on, although none of their 10 LPs that followed were able sustain this exalted state of grace over the course of an entire album.

Sonic Youth’s prime mover was Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals) who had dropped out of Western Connecticut State University in the late ‘Sonic_Youth70s to join the no-wave/post-punk scene in New York which is where he met bassist and future wife Kim Gordon. Having come of age in Los Angeles, Gordon had moved to NYC after graduating from art school. Thurston and Kim met at the final gig of The Coachmen — Thurston’s band at the time — and almost instantly became the It Couple of the New York underground rock scene. In 1981, they formed Sonic Youth with guitarist Lee Ranaldo, a fellow habitue of the downtown art/rock scene. Moore met Ranaldo while working together on downtown avant-rock avatar Glenn Branca’s Lesson No. 1 together. Branca, who passed away earlier this year, was responsible for facilitating the germination of many a New York noiseling. Early on, Sonic Youth employed a revolving cast of drummers before the SY drum stool was permanently occupied by Steve Shelley, formerly of Michigan hardcore band The Crucifucks (arguably the greatest band name in the history of Michigan hardcore).
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THEATER REVIEW: Mr. Burns @ The Wilma

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018

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Photo by JOHANNA AUSTIN

Attachment-1-15BY TONY CARO Earlier this week, I caught a performance of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play at the Wilma. Written by Anne Washburn and directed by Yury Urnov, Mr. Burns starts off in complete darkness before a few lamps light up to reveal that some never-explained apocalyptic event has destroyed the power grid and left a small group of survivors sheltering in a cargo container. To keep from going insane, the survivors act out the “Cape Feare” episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob is put on trial for attempting to murder Bart. Although the jokes they recount from the episode land better in animated form, the dire post-apocalyptic setting and the interpersonal tensions that arise between the survivors render the Simpsons karaoke surprisingly compelling.

The second act is set seven years into the future. Society is starting to rebuild from the brink of destruction. The same group of survivors is now putting on a theatrical production of the same episode of The Simpsons. This is where the show really gets going. We get to see the cast act out scenes from the episode, like where the Simpson family goes into the Witness Protection Program and Homer is assigned a new name to help protect his identity, “Mr. Thompson,” and despite many agents’ repeated reminders, Homer consistently fails to answer to his new name. Ross Beschler who plays Homer, nails the Simpson paterfamilias’ signature density and lovable oafishness. Much hilarity ensues from the meta tropes of putting on a play within a play.

When I heard that the final act was an operetta, I wasn’t thrilled. Opera is a trigger word that makes me panic and search for the nearest exit, but it turned out to be, by far, my favorite part of the show. The the third act is set 75 years after the apocalypse, and The Simpsons have become like religion and an integral part of the culture that society’s rebuilt. It starts with a gothic horror version of Mr. Burns, played by Jered McLenigan, coming out onto the stage followed by an entourage who put his boots and arms on for him. His clown-left-out-in-the-rain makeup and thousand yard stare are frighteningly reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s chilling portrayal of the Joker in the Dark Knight.

Although the tone of the production is midnight-dark and racks up an impressive body count, it’s consistently hilarious and shot through with delicious meta-ironies. The vocals were consistently loud and clear, and I was impressed that the cast at many times was also playing a variety of instruments, essentially scoring the play they were acting out. The set design is ingeniously engineered, especially the giant rotating pillars in the third act that are subtly engraved with the Simpson family’s faces. The Wilma also recently added a café in its lobby, which I really appreciated. Not only do they serve alcohol, but they offer warm, spiced apple cider that just hits the spot.

“MR. BURNS: A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY” @ THE WILMA THEATER THRU NOVEMBER 11TH

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CINEMA: Life Of Brian

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

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EDITOR’S NOTE: On the occasion of Brian Wilson’s sold out performance at Parx Casino tomorrow, we are re-posting our review of the 2015 biopic Love & Mercy. Sail on, sailors!

LOVE & MERCY (2015, dir. by Bill Polhad, 120 minutes, USA)

ME avatar 3BY JONATHAN VALANIA Love & Mercy tells the harrowing, heartbreaking story of the life of Brian Wilson — Beach Boys auteur and resident genius — which goes like this: Angel-headed boy from Hawthorne, California, at the dawn of the 1960s, smitten by the harmonic convergence of The Four Freshman and the shimmering Spectorian grandeur of “Be My Baby,” forms band with his two brothers and asshole cousin, calls it The Beach Boys, writes uber-catchy ditties of Zen-like simplicity about surfing, hot rods and girls (despite being slapped deaf in his right ear by his sadistic tyrant of a father), boy becomes international pop star, boy has nervous breakdown and retires from touring and retreats to the studio where he gets into a pissing match with the Beatles and the race is on to get to the next level first, boy takes LSD, boy blows mind, boy sees God, boy starts hearing strange and beautiful music in his head, boy plays the studio like an instrument, sings choirs of angels, creates music of overarching majesty, astonishing beauty and profound sadness, boy makes greatest pop album of all time (Pet Sounds) and the greatest song of the 20th Century (“Good Vibrations”), boy starts hearing terrifying voices in his head, beset by demons from within and without (his sadistic tyrant of a father, his asshole cousin) boy loses mind and, eventually, the confidence of his band mates who pull the plug on his game-changing “teenage symphony to God” originally called Dumb Angel, but later re-titled Smile, boy retreats into a years-long bedroom hermitage of Herculean drug consumption, morbid obesity and sweet insanity, columnated ruins domino, family hires Mephistophelian psychiatrist/psychic vampire Dr. Eugene Landy (played with satanic aplomb by Paul Giamatti), who switches out boy’s steady diet of cocaine, LSD, sloth and self-pity for a zombie-fying regimen of prescription narcotics, fitness Nazism, and 24-7 mind control, boy meets girl (Melinda Ledbetter, his soon-to-be second wife, played by a big-haired, puffy-shouldered Elizabeth Banks) at a Cadillac dealership and falls in love, girl rescues boy from the clutches of evil doctor, boy lives happily ever after, or a reasonably close approximation thereof.

Pretty simple, really.

Granted it’s not a story that lends itself to the linear-flow cradle-to-grave biopic treatment, which is no doubt why Love & Mercy director Bill Pohlad (executive producer of Brokeback Mountain, 12 Years A Slave and Tree Of Life) and screenwriter Oren Moverman (I’m Not There, Jesus’ Son) elected to craft a bi-polar narrative that switches back and forth from the middle-aged Brian (played with aptly vacant affect by John Cusack, who eschews impersonation for understated evocation) and young genius Brian (played with doughy intensity and uncanny resemblance by Paul Dano, who does not so much impersonate young Brian Wilson as inhabit him), in a race to the middle where they collide in the time-space-continuum of Brian’s bedroom in a mind-bending montage that is both loving homage and direct quote of the mysterious metaphysical endgame of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The ancient, iconic moments of Wilsonian mythos — the barefoot, white Chinos- &-blue-Pendelton shirt-wearing, surfboard-toting photo shoot idylls; the terrifying nervous breakdown at 20,000 feet; the acid-fueled, poolside transfiguration; the Wrecking Crew’s adoration of his otherworldly compositional prowess; the drug den wigwam in the living room and the piano in the sandbox; the fireman-hatted Smile session meltdown; the prison of belief in Landy’s methods (less a therapist than a sinister puppeteer) — are recreated in arresting, picture-perfect period detail. The cinematography nails the shifting tone and color and tint of the times and the score and sound design is suitably mind-altering. Pedestrians may quibble, but that will fall away in time.  Love & Mercy is a grand and lasting monument to the noble beauty wrung from one man’s epic suffering. It is the story of Icarus on the beach, of the boy who got too high — flew too near the sun on wings of wax — and the man who fell to Earth.



BRIAN WILSON PERFORMS PET SOUNDS @ PARX CASINO 11/3/18 SOLD OUT

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NEW RELEASE: David Lynch’s Thought Gang

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

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By the time Twin Peaks’ second season had aired and Fire Walk With Me had just began principle production, Thought Gang had been born. The esoteric jazz side-project of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti evolved from the seeds of Twin Peaks’ trademark slow cool jazz and blossomed into more experimental pastures: horizon-less vistas of acid-soaked free-jazz, laced with spoken-word narratives and sprawling noisescapes. Fire Walk With Me’s soundtrack would ultimately showcase two preliminary tracks (‘A Real Indication’ and ‘The Black Dog Runs at Night’) from a full-length album that wouldn’t see release for the next two and a half decades. Between May of 1992, and continuing throughout 1993, the bulk of the remaining material for the album was recorded in pieces…dove-tailed into a string of contracted sessions for other Lynch-Badalamenti projects. The defining elements that would birth Thought Gang into a fully-formed concept and eventually an entire album, however, took place during the 1991 session for ’A Real Indication.’

As the oft-told story goes, Lynch and Badalamenti had just finished recording the initial instrumental take for ‘A Real Indication.’ A set of lyrics had been penned, leaving Lynch with the question: who would he get to sing them? Eager to prove and deliver, Badalamenti suggested that he himself give it an attempt, much to Lynch’s uncertainty that he’d actually be the right fit. “I’d heard Angelo sing before…he used to sing on demos and things…I knew what Angelo sounded like and I thought he was going to embarrass himself…I thought there’s no way this was gonna work.” Much to Lynch’s surprise, Badalamenti launched into the song with his distinctive talk-sing delivery, summoning such a violent laughter-fueled excitement from Lynch that he literally induced a hernia. “It was like a lightbulb exploded in my stomach,” Lynch recalls. “Angelo was feeling it. He was feeling it…we hit the button and he just took off!” A giant lightbulb simultaneously went off in Lynch’s head, and it was perhaps the precise moment Thought Gang splintered off into an entity separate from all prior collaborations the two had had up until that point. Weeks later, Lynch was thrust into principle photography of Fire Walk With Me, carrying through the production the very same herniated stomach.
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MAY THE CIRCLE REMAIN UNBROKEN: Q&A With Roky Erickson, Cosmic Psych/Garage/Punk Avatar

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

 

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Cosmic ’60s psych/garage-punk pioneer. Acid casualty. Drug-war martyr. Demon-crazed extraterrestial ’70s solo artist. Patron saint of alt-rock’s fringe dwellers. In 1968, Roger Kynard Erickson, aka Roky Erickson, then singer for Texas’ psychedelic avatars the 13th Floor Elevators, was busted for possession of a joint’s worth of marijuana and offered a choice: 10 years of hard time or a stretch at Rusk State Hospital For The Criminally Insane. He opted for the padded cell. Already half-fried from Herculean doses of psychedelics, Erickson was subjected to a cruel regimen of “experimental” drugs and electro-shock therapy and was released three years later a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. Perhaps telegraphing the horror within, Erickson released a series of protopunk solo records in the ’70s and early-’80s riddled with lurid references to zombies, vampires, aliens and the devil himself. By the 90s, his appearances were rare, erratic and finally non-existent.

Though he never scored another hit after 1966, his tragic legacy commands a large and devoted cult following. His profile was raised further by the 1990 tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, which featured REM, ZZ Top, the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Butthole Surfers. After getting arrested again–for stealing his neighbor’s mail–Erickson was taken under the wing of the Butthole’s drummer, King Koffey, who got him back into the studio for 1995’s quite lovely All That May Do My Rhyme. In 1999, Touch and Go released Never Say Goodbye, a recording of Erickson alone with his acoustic guitar during his stay at Rusk.

Like fellow Texan Buddy Holly, Erickson delivers heart-tugging snatches of melody in the hiccup of his reedy voice and the plaintive strum of his guitar, mapping what Leonard Cohen calls the crack at the center of everything where the light gets in. Minus the acid polemics of his tenure with the Elevators and the demons that haunt his solo career, Never Say Goodbye reveals a gifted, broken soul searching for peace, love and understanding–and really, there’s nothing funny or crazy about that.

His life story is the subject of You’re Going To Miss Me, a 2005 documentary that maps his path back from the dark side. In 2010, Roky was backed by fellow Austin residents Okkervil River on True Love Casts Out All Evil (Anti). The following interview originally posted back in 2012. In advance of his show at Underground Arts on Saturday with special guests Far-Out Fangtooth (arguably one of the greatest band names in the history of local rock), we are re-posting it today. Discussed: Led Zeppelin, paranoid schizophrenia, Walker Texas Ranger, Wells Fargo, psychotropic pharmaceuticals, Dean Koontz, Family Guy, Rusk State Hospital For The Criminally Insane and the ubiquity of cable television.

ROKY ERICKSON: Hi!

PHAWKER: Hey, Roky. Before we get started I just want to tell that I’ve been a fan for a long time, so it’s a huge honor to speak with you today.

ROKY ERICKSON: Thank you.

PHAWKER: I really enjoyed the movie they made about you, You’re Gonna Miss Me, and I’m happy see that you’ve bounced back and you seem to be in a good place these days.

ROKY ERICKSON: Yes.

PHAWKER: Well I’m happy to hear that.

ROKY ERICKSON: We had a plane ride today coming out here, you know.

PHAWKER: From Austin?

ROKY ERICKSON: Yeah.

PHAWKER: And you’re in Chicago right now?

ROKY ERICKSON: Well, we made it through security.

PHAWKER: What’s a typical day in the life of Roky Erickson these days?

ROKY ERICKSON: Yeah, well I been doing real good, and everything, you know.

PHAWKER: What do you do when you get up in the morning? Do you like to watch TV?

ROKY ERICKSON: Yeah, that’s what we do, I just watch cartoons.

PHAWKER: What’s your favorite cartoon?

ROKY ERICKSON: Um…I like Family Guy.

PHAWKER: Do you still listen to music for pleasure?

ROKY ERICKSON: Yes I do.

PHAWKER: What are you listening to these days?

ROKY ERICKSON: We sure enjoy a lot of radio. We listen to KUT back in Austin.

PHAWKER: Any specific groups or songs that you like these days?

ROKY ERICKSON: I like Led Zeppelin.

PHAWKER: You and me both. Do you still write songs?

ROKY ERICKSON: Yes, I’ve been working on it. I’ve been reading a lot of books and thinking about writing songs about them. Like Dean Koontz. He writes about this guy named Odd Thomas.

PHAWKER: What can you tell me about the 13th Floor Elevators that nobody else knows?

ROKY ERICKSON: Well I can’t think of anything about them that nobody else knows except…I just got this album in, it’s called Album Of The Three-Eyed Men or something, you know? And I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. I have albums, you know, like 33 and a 1/3 albums?

PHAWKER: Sure. Vinyl. I am familiar with it.

ROKY ERICKSON: So we got out house set up, so we’ve been working on that and everything.

PHAWKER: Very nice.

ROKY ERICKSON: We condemned a lot with Wells Fargo, so they watch out for us a lot, you know what I mean?

PHAWKER: I wanted to ask you about the movie you made with your brother…

ROKY ERICKSON: Uh-huh.

PHAWKER: In the bonus features of You’re Gonna Miss Me there’s an on-camera segment with your brother recorded after the movie was finished and he says there is no such thing as mental illness, Roky is cured and there is no need for him to take medication anymore. Is that where things still stand, you no longer take medication to control your schizophrenia? Do you take medication?

ROKY ERICKSON: I have been taking it for blood pressure.

PHAWKER: Just blood pressure, no mental health drugs?

ROKY ERICKSON: No.

PHAWKER: That’s interesting, because in the early part of the movie, when your mother was taking care of you, you weren’t taking any meds to stabilize your mental health because she didn’t believe in it and you were not in a very good place mentally, best I could tell. And then your brother takes over and gets you back on your meds and you seem to be a lot healthier and a lot more functional. And at one point you just stopped taking any meds and yet you don’t seem to have reverted back to the way you were before. Is that true?

ROKY ERICKSON: Well, I’ve had lots of help from my friends, so I’m doing real good. We have Time Warner and everything. You know, the cable TV Show? Do you have that too?

PHAWKER: Yes, we have that here in Philadelphia.

ROKY ERICKSON: Good.

PHAWKER: What other TV shows do you like to watch?

ROKY ERICKSON: Walker [Texas Ranger] And I just like a lot of them. Thank you for asking me about television shows. We’ve been watching Halloween a lot.

PHAWKER: The movie?

ROKY ERICKSON: Yeah.

PHAWKER: Not to bring up unpleasant memories but is there anything about your time at Rusk Hospital for the Criminally Insane that nobody else knows?

ROKY ERICKSON: Well, there’s this one movie called You’re Gonna Miss Me, you know? Where they visit for a while and interview some people there. And it’s really interesting.

PHAWKER: One last question, if you had your whole life to do over again is there anything you would do differently?

ROKY ERICKSON: Oh, I don’t know, I’d have to get some help on that. That’s an interesting idea, that sounds like winning some kind of extravagant contest or something, you know?

PHAWKER: I suppose it does. Well, I want to say thank you to for taking the time to talk to me and I wish you well and look forward to seeing you when you get to Philadelphia.

ROKY ERICKSON: OK, so you’re going to call there, too?

PHAWKER: No, I’m not going to call, Roky, I am going to come see you perform.

ROKY ERICKSON: OK. Take care. Take care. Take care.

ROKY ERICKSON PERFORMS TONIGHT AT UNION TRANSFER

ROKY ERICKSON + FAR-OUT FANGTOOTH @ UNDERGROUND ARTS 11/3

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TONITE: Black Hole Sons

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story originally published in the pages of the Philadelphia Weekly back in May of 2002 on the eve of a celebration of Sun Ra Arkestra director Marshall Allen’s 79th birthday at the sadly-now-defunct Tritone nightclub. We are re-posting it here today in advance of the Arkestra’s sold out Halloween performance at Johnny Brenda’s on Wednesday October 31st, presented by Ars Nova Workshop. Marshall Allen [pictured, below right], who continues to lead the Sun Ra Arkestra, turned 94 this year!

meavatar2BY JONATHAN VALANIA When the 15-piece Sun Ra Arkestra takes to the bandstand at Tritone on Saturday–as part of their monthly residency at the club–they will be playing in honor of bandleader Marshall Allen’s birth 78 years ago. Actually, “birth” isn’t the right word. “My arrival day,” says Allen, correcting his interviewer, as he sits in his third-floor workroom at the Arkestra’s house on Morton Street. Being born is far too mundane an explanation for the origin of the man who is carrying on the tradition of Sun Ra, the avant-jazz group’s deceased leader, who in 1993 returned to the planet Saturn from whence, he insisted to the very end, he came.

One of the most colorful characters in the history of jazz, Sun Ra couched his compositions in arcane spiritual beliefs that combined Egyptology, numerology, Afrocentric myth, the Book of Revelations and interstellar travel to create a personal religion. Arkestra members were not just musicians; they were disciples committed to a monastic regimen of musical and philosophical study. After Ra left Earth, saxophonist John Gilmore took over leadership of the Arkestra, and when he died in 1995, the baton was passed to Allen. A noted alto saxophonist, Allen joined the Arkestra in 1958 after returning from studying at the National Conservatory in Paris.

In typical Sun Ra fashion, Allen’s audition was less than conventional. “[Ra] had me come down to the Marshall_Allenpractice room every day for three days and all he did was talk, talk, talk,” says Allen. “He talked about outer space and going to the moon and Egypt and the Bible. It was like going to school. And then he finally tells me to come around to practice; I was in the band. I never even played my horn.” In 1968 Sun Ra brought the Arkestra to Philadelphia after residencies in New York and Chicago. “To save the planet, I had to go to the worst spot on Earth,” he once told an interviewer, “and that was Philadelphia, which was death’s headquarters.”

Allen’s explanation of the Arkestra’s migration to the City of Brotherly Love is a tad less dramatic. “My father owned this house and he wanted to give it to me, so I told him to give it to Sonny,” says Allen, referring to Ra, born Herman “Sonny” Blount. The house on Morton Street became a communal work and living space, where the Arkestra would practice every day and night of the week. It was an ascetic lifestyle. To join the Arkestra was more or less taking a vow of poverty. Booze and drugs were forbidden, as was the presence of women at rehearsals, with the exception of singers and dancers. “We lived it here,” says Allen. “‘I’m paying you to rehearse, not to gig,’ [Sun Ra] used to say. He would tell us that we were playing tomorrow’s music today.”

Indeed, the Arkestra was building an international reputation for mind-blowing musical spectacles that combined astral big-band swing with hard-bop dissonance, often veering into the outer limits of free jazz exploration. Prefiguring the psychedelic “happenings” of the ’60s by a decade, Arkestra performances featured cosmic costumes, interpretive female dancers, poetry readings, film projections and mind-altering light shows. Local jazzniks and hippie types got a taste of this during a series of trippy performances at the long-gone venue Gino’s Empty Foxhole, located in the basement of a church on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

“I first heard about Sun Ra when he was on the cover of Rolling Stone some time around 1969,” says John Diliberto, host of the nationally syndicated ambient music radio show Echoes, who at the time Sun_Ra_Otherwas a DJ on the then free-form WXPN and later assembled a radio documentary about Sun Ra. “So I went down and checked out those shows. There was a lot of tie-dyed shirts in the audience. I remember thinking, ‘Marshall is a brilliant player.’ He would attack his saxophone like his fingers were pneumatic hammers.'”

“They had a light show to rival anything in San Francisco during the Summer of Love,” recalls Jerry Gordon, former co-owner of Third Street Jazz and Rock who now runs the Evidence record label, which has reissued a sizable chunk of the Sun Ra Arkestra’s some 500-title discography. “I remember one night they used what looked like strobe lights and industrial-strength fans that blew the bandmembers’ robes to create the illusion that they were flying through space. And then Sun Ra put this black scarf over his head and it looked like he stuck his head into a black hole.”

While Allen has done an admirable job of keeping the Arkestra an active and vital performance group–they just got back from a three-week tour of Europe–money is, as ever, in short supply. The Arkestra receives no royalties from Sun Ra’s back catalog–that money is split between Evidence and Ra’s estate.”Only time we make any money is when [Evidence] sends us five or six boxes of records to sell at shows,” says Allen. “I have written four albums worth of new music, but we just don’t have the bread to go into the studio.” The deed to the Arkestra house is held by Ra’s surviving family, who allows the band to continue to live and rehearse there in addition to granting them the right to perform under the Sun Ra Arkestra name. Most of the key players from the Arkestra’s golden age have passed on, but Allen is adamant that the group will continue after him. “It just carries on,” he says.

SUN RA ARKESTRA @ JOHNNY BRENDAS WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 31ST SOLD OUT

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The Time 20,000 American Nazis Came To NYC

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

THE ATLANTIC: In 1939, the German American Bund organized a rally of 20,000 Nazi supporters at Madison Square Garden in New York City. When Academy Award-nominated documentarian Marshall Curry stumbled upon footage of the event in historical archives, he was flabbergasted. Together with Field of Vision, he decided to present the footage as a cautionary tale to Americans. The short film, A Night at the Garden, premieres on The Atlantic today. MORE

RELATED: The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact. The shooter might have found a different reason to act on a different day. But he chose to act on Saturday, and he apparently chose to act in response to a political fiction that the president himself chose to spread, and that his followers chose to amplify.

As for those who aided the president in his propaganda campaign, who enabled him to prey on racist fears to fabricate a national emergency, those who said to themselves, “This is the play”? Every single one of them bears some responsibility for what followed. Their condemnations of antisemitism are meaningless. Their thoughts and prayers are worthless. Their condolences are irrelevant. They can never undo what they have done, and what they have done will never be forgotten. MORE

FRESH AIR: Journalist Eli Saslow says there’s a “straight line” between the suspect chargedRising_Out_Of_Hatred with 29 counts related to the deaths of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday and the views of the white nationalist movement.

In the “horrific hierarchy of white nationalist beliefs,” Jews are considered the “primary enemy,” Saslow says. “Throughout the history of the white nationalist movement, we’ve seen more attacks on synagogues, more bombing threats on Jewish schools than we have almost any other demographic group.”

Saslow’s most recent book, Rising Out of Hatred, chronicles the life of Derek Black, a young man who was once a leading voice in the white nationalist movement but has since denounced his views. Saslow says that he spoke to Black after the synagogue shooting, and that Black feels “heartbroken” by the incident.

“Every time something like this happens, [Black] feels in small ways culpable,” Saslow says. “He wonders how much of the messaging that he did in terms of white nationalism plays into incidents like this.”

For his part, Saslow was saddened — but not surprised — by the attack.

“It seems like there’s a certain kind of inevitability. … I don’t think that this will be the last one, and I think probably, like a lot of us, I sort of live in fear and with a sense of dread of when is when is the next horrible thing like this going to happen?,” Saslow says. MORE

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Cost of the War in Iraq
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