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FALSE PROPHET: Idiocracy In The Hall Of Mirrors

May 20th, 2020

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THE ATLANTIC: If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world. You see plague and pestilence sweeping the planet, and understand that they are part of the plan. You know that a clash between good and evil cannot be avoided, and you yearn for the Great Awakening that is coming. And so you must be on guard at all times. You must shield your ears from the scorn of the ignorant. You must find those who are like you. And you must be prepared to fight.

You know all this because you believe in Q. MORE

WIRED: The Qanon conspiracy theory is based on the belief that Trump and a mysterious individual known as “Q” are battling against a powerful cabal of elite pedophiles in the media and Democratic Party. Q supposedly communicated with their followers through encoded posts known as ”Q drops” on the quasi-anonymous forum 8chan. After 8chan was taken down, Q, or someone using the Q persona, resumed posting on 8kun.

Qanon followers have cultivated connections over social media with key Trump allies. President Trump himself has retweeted Qanon-linked accounts at least 72 times, including 20 times in one day in December 2019. Other influential Trump allies also promoted Qanon-linked accounts. For example, on December 23, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani retweeted @QAnonWomen4Rudy (the bio of which reads “Patriotic Ladies supporting the sexiest man alive”).Trump_Q

Beginning early last year, Qanon followers more explicitly embraced concepts of “information warfare,” efforts to shape narratives and people’s beliefs to influence events. The Russian interference in the US elections in 2016 has been described as information warfare. In a February 2019 thread titled “Welcome to Information Warfare” on Endchan’s Qanon research forum, a poster exhorted fellow users to “[g]et ready for a new phase in the battle anons: the fight to take back the narrative from the [mainstream media].” Now, Qanon users are trying to wield the same tactics to shape the political narrative for 2020.

“We need memes that are funny and mocking of the democrat candidates, but also that are informative and revealing about their policies that are WRONG for the United States of America and the American people,” wrote a poster in a thread titled “Meme War 2020″ on 8kun in November 2019. “We also need memes that are PRO-TRUMP, that explain how his policies are RIGHT for the United States of America and the American people, and that can debunk the smears and attacks that are no doubt going to come at POTUS.. again, and again.” MORE

THE ATLANTIC: In its broadest contours, the QAnon belief system looks something like this: Q is an intelligence or military insider with proof that corrupt world leaders are secretly torturing children all over the world; the malefactors are embedded in the deep state; Donald Trump is working tirelessly to thwart them. (“These people need to ALL be ELIMINATED,” Q wrote in one post.) The eventual destruction of the global cabal is imminent, Q prophesies, but can be accomplished only with the support of patriots who search for meaning in Q’s clues. To believe Q requires rejecting mainstream institutions, ignoring government officials, battling apostates, and despising the press. One of Q’s favorite rallying cries is “You are the news now.” Another is “Enjoy the show,” a phrase that his disciples regard as a reference to a coming apocalypse: When the world as we know it comes to an end, everyone’s a spectator.

Adherents are ever looking out for signs from on high, plumbing for portents when guidance from Q himself is absent. The Screen Shot 2020-05-20 at 1.37.59 AMcoronavirus, for instance—what does it signify? In several of the big Facebook groups, people erupted in a frenzy of speculation, circulating a theory that Trump’s decision to wear a yellow tie to a White House briefing about the virus was a sign that the outbreak wasn’t real: “He is telling us there is no virus threat because it is the exact same color as the maritime flag that represents the vessel has no infected people on board,” someone wrote in a post that was widely shared and remixed across social media. Three days before the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Trump was retweeting a QAnon-themed meme. “Who knows what this means, but it sounds good to me!” the president wrote on March 8, sharing a Photoshopped image of himself playing a violin overlaid with the words “Nothing can stop what is coming.”

On March 9, Q himself issued a triptych of ominous posts that seemed definitive: The coronavirus is real, but welcome, and followers should not be afraid. The first post shared Trump’s tweet from the night before and repeated, “Nothing Can Stop What Is Coming.” The second said: “The Great Awakening is Worldwide.” The third was simple: “GOD WINS.” A month later, on April 8, Q went on a posting spree, dropping nine posts over the span of six hours and touching on several of his favorite topics—God, Pizzagate, and the wickedness of the elites. “They will stop at nothing to regain power,” he wrote in one scathing post that alleged a coordinated propaganda effort by Democrats, Hollywood, and the media. Another accused Democrats of promoting “mass hysteria” about the coronavirus for political gain: “What is the primary benefit to keep public in mass-hysteria re: COVID‑19? Think voting. Are you awake yet? Q.” And he shared these verses from Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has become an object of scorn among QAnon supporters who don’t like the bad news he delivers or the way he has contradicted Trump publicly. In one March press conference, Trump referred to the State Department as the “Deep State Department,” and Fauci could be seen over the president’s shoulder, suppressing a laugh and covering his face. By then, QAnon had already declared Fauci irredeemably compromised, because WikiLeaks had unearthed a pair of emails he sent praising Hillary Clinton in 2012 and 2013. Sentiment about Fauci among QAnon supporters on social-media platforms ranges from “Fauci is a Deep State puppet” to “FAUCI is a BLACKHAT!!!”—the term QAnon uses for people who support the evil cabal that Q warns about. One person, using the hashtags #DeepStateCabal and #Qanon, tweeted this: “Watch Fauci’s hand signals and body language at the press conferences. What is he communicating?” Another shared an image of Fauci standing in a lab with Barack Obama, with the caption “Obama and ‘Dr.’ Fauci in the lab creating coronovirus [sic]. #DeepstateDoctor.” The Justice Department recently approved heightened security measures for Fauci because of the mounting volume of threats against him. MORE

MEDIA MATTERS: The QAnon conspiracy theory has been tied to multiple violent incidents and threats of Screen Shot 2020-05-20 at 1.43.29 AMviolence, including a man accused of murdering his brother with a sword, a man accused of murdering an alleged crime boss, a man who reportedly threatened to kill YouTube employees, an armed man who blocked the Hoover Dam with an armored vehicle, and even a man who threatened to assassinate Trump. Additionally, its supporters even targeted a charter school and forced it to cancel an annual fundraiser, and another QAnon follower was arrested for reportedly plotting with other supporters to plan a kidnapping “raid.” The conspiracy theory has also become increasingly popular among border militias and anti-government groups. [The Daily Beast, 8/11/18, 9/27/18, 1/9/19, 1/4/20; BuzzFeed, 6/17/18; The New York Times, 7/21/19; The Daily Dot, 5/10/19; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/23/19]

As of May 11, 2020, President Donald Trump has amplified tweets from supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory at least 131 times via at least 80 individual accounts, some of them more than once. (Since the novel coronavirus pandemic began in the United States, he has amplified QAnon Twitter accounts at least 36 times via 15 individual accounts.) Additionally, members of Trump’s family, his personal attorney, current and former campaign staffers, and even some current and former Trump administration officials have also repeatedly amplified QAnon supporters and their content. MORE

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Jimmy Kimmel Pays Tribute To Fred Willard

May 20th, 2020

PREVIOUSLY: Fred Willard Was The Obi-Wan Kenobi Of White Male Cluelessness

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WIRE FROM THE BUNKER: Meet Howard Tate

May 19th, 2020

Howard Tate

Art by NIALL MCCORMACK

Houlon2BY JONATHAN HOULON This week’s Wire concerns Philadelphia’s own late great R&B legend, Howard Tate. I’ll send this one out to another late great Philadelphian, my dear friend Peter Stone Brown who passed away earlier this year. Peter, of course, was known both as a formidable songwriter and as one of the world’s leading “Dylanologists” as recognized in David Kinney’s book of the same name. Kinney tells a wonderful story about how Peter, as a teenager, mowed the words “Fuck You” into his parents’ lawn in Millburn, New Jersey where he grew up. They don’t make teenagers like that anymore, do they? Texting FU just doesn’t show the same commitment as mowing it into an overgrown lawn. I am deeply saddened by the fact that Peter, whose brother Tony was the bass player on Blood on the Tracks, won’t be around to hear Bob’s new record Rough and Rowdy Ways when it drops next month. But, in a way, I’m grateful that Peter isn’t around for this COVID jazz. He’d been ill for a while but his exit was relatively peaceful compared to the horrific COVID deaths that seem to be the exclamatory signature of this awful virus. You ever have thoughts like this? I remember when the Towers fell, I thought to myself: well, at least my dad, who had died three months earlier, isn’t around to see THIS. I dunno. Maybe Peter will hear Dylan’s new one. Perhaps they’ve got Spotify up in his spot in the sky. (*ugh*–The Editor)

In any case, while revered primarily for his Dylan know-how, Peter was also an incredible student of what is sometimes called “American Roots Music”, including R&B, and he is the one who turned me on to Howard Tate in the mid-90s, well before the then lost soul legend reemerged around the turn of the century. Howard Tate was born in Georgia in 1936 but migrated to Philadelphia as a child and made a name for himself initially backing Garnet Mimms. Somehow producer/impresario Jerry Ragovoy — whose son, Seth, incidentally is another leading Dylanologist and was also one of Peter’s associates — heard Howard’s voice on a demo and was blown away — as one should be! Ragovoy would go on to call Howard one of the top 10 R&B singers of all time and there’s an argument to be made that he may even rate higher. Like Al Green and Prince, Tate had the ability to effortlessly shift into pitch perfect falsetto, sometimes in the course of single note, as well as the power of, say, Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett. Ragovoy recognized Howard’s gift and wrote up an album of extraordinary material for his protege to sing. Get It While You Can was originally released on Verve in 1967 and, when it didn’t get anywhere, released by the very same label again in 1969, where it again sank without a trace. It became a holy grail of sorts for soul aficionados — none other than Janis Joplin mined it for the title track which became one of her show stoppers — until it re-appeared in 1995 on Mercury. (Hip-O Select did a limited edition of 5000 and that’s the one you want if you can find it. I have #0174. Good luck with that!)

Howard would go on to record two more records (one with Lloyd Price and another with Ragovoy). And then he disappeared in 1974, abandoning music in favor of insurance sales. At some point, he lost a child in a house fire and, overcome with grief, ended up on the streets of Camden, falling victim to the crack epidemic (what’s with these ‘demics, man?). Howard pulled himself together and eventually founded a ministry in south Jersey and his native Philadelphia. But Ragovoy couldn’t shake the sound of his voice and, in 2001, after many years of trying, he was finally able to locate Howard and convince him to return to the biz. Howard Tate 2.0 released three well-received records, starting with the aptly titled Rediscovered produced by Ragavoy, before passing in 2011 in Burlington. I am very grateful that I was able to see Howard perform a homecoming show in Camden during the period of his resurgence. I can tell you that his legendary pipes were more than intact. The man SANG!

Richard Robinson — who went on to produce Lou Reed’s solo debut and whose wife Lisa is a wonderful rock scribe/NYC scenester (check out her book!) — wrote in the 1969 Get it While You Can re-issue liner notes that “telling you about Howard with my white words is nearly futile.” Indeed, Richard. But what the fuck, these are crazy times, so I offer you these five tastes of Tate in chrono:

“Get It While You Can”: I could have picked any song from Howard’s debut. It’s that good. But I choose the title track to show you that, while Janis did it justice, Howard owned it. Check out the way he stretches out the word l-oo–ooooo-oo-ve. In the age of Idol, vocal histrionics have become an unfortunately common component of our cultural currency. Howard, however, ain’t about histrionics — he’s about TRUTH. Dig?

“What’ll I Do?”: Howard’s sophomore effort, Reaction, originally released on Lloyd Price’s Turntable Records in ’69, pales in comparison to his debut. Yet, it has its charms including this gospel-y ballad that works despite the syrupy strings. I normally don’t go in for this sort of thing, but with a singer of Howard’s strength there arises an interesting aesthetic tension between the sugary setting and the gritty voice. Producer Price and his co-conspirator Johnny Nash claimed that Reaction was recorded in Jamaica. False. It was recorded in NYC just like the Ragavoy debut. An early example of reverse marketing, perhaps?

“Girl From the North Country”: Ragovoy returned for Howard’s third and self-titled release from 1972 on Atlantic and I’ll be damned if this isn’t the coolest cover of a Dylan song I’ve ever head, at least in the R&B idiom. Listen to the way Ragavoy re-harmnonizes our Nobel Laureate’s love song and how Howard gives it a soul shout while retaining its longing and hope. Genius. I’m pretty sure, as you might have predicted, that this is the first Tate song that Peter played for me.

“Either Side of the Same Town”: A bespoke number from the pen of Elvis Costello, a longtime Tate champion himself. This song is from Rediscovered, the album that Ragovoy produced upon locating Howard in his Camden exile and convincing him to give the music business another shake. Costello did a credible version of this song himself on his Delivery Man LP but, again, you gotta hear Howard’s take. Costello was clearly influenced by legendary soul songwriter Dan Penn in writing “Either Side” and Howard seems to be channeling the also criminally under-rated James Carr’s vocal on Penn-penned “Dark End of the Street”.

“How Do You Think It Feels”: Here’s one from Howard’s penultimate platter. I previously wrote about this song in a piece about my favorite covers of Lou Reed songs. I don’t know who the Steve Weisberg Orchestra are but they sure did a beautiful job re-casting Howard’s voice in an entirely new light. Naturally, he kills it. Here Lou Reed asks the musical question: “How do you think it feels when you’re speeding and lonely?” Howard knew. Howard knew.

So check Howard out, ya’ll, and get it while you can!

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REST IN POWER: Comedian Fred Willard Was The Obi-Wan Kenobi Of White Male Cluelessness

May 18th, 2020

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Fred Willard as Elvis Presley on SNL circa 1978

NEW YORK TIMES: Fred Willard, the Emmy Award-nominated comic actor best known for his scene-stealing roles in Christopher Guest’s improvised ensemble film comedies like “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman” and on sitcoms like “Modern Family” and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” died on Friday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 86. His death was confirmed by his agent, Mike Eisenstadt. No specific cause was given. Mr. Willard made an art of playing characters who, as The New Yorker once noted, are “gloriously out of their depth.”

There was Buck Laughlin, the dog-show announcer in Mr. Guest’s “Best in Show” (2000), who wondered why breeders didn’t want miniature schnauzers to be larger, believed that Christopher Columbus had captained the Mayflower and thought the perfect lighthearted comment to make as the terriers made their entrance was, “To think that in some countries these dogs are eaten.”Mr. Willard received best supporting actor nominations for the role from the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle.

There was Ron Albertson, a travel agent trying his hand at community theater, in “Waiting for Guffman” (1996). When Ron wants a doctor acquaintance’s medical opinion, he begins to unzip his pants in the middle of dinner at a Chinese restaurant. And there was Mike LaFontaine, a laughably crude show business manager, in “A Mighty Wind” “ (2003). In “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004), Mr. Willard was the news-station producer who horrified Ron (Will Ferrell) by promoting a woman to co-anchor. The producer had problems of his own: His son was the kind of teenager who might have a bad day and take a marching band hostage. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: With his light comedic touch, Fred Willard, who died Friday at 86, made getting laughs seem effortless. His string of now-familiar characters — a daffy late-night sidekick, a blundering dog show announcer — were exaggerated extensions of himself. They were obviously goofier and less self-aware than the real-life Willard was, but they evinced the same kind and cheerful manner he displayed in interviews and on talk show couches. It wasn’t until he stepped outside of his comedy comfort zone that his talent became more clear — when he played the rigid, religious Hank MacDougall on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” for instance, earning three Emmy nominations. In his later years, Willard had entered a dad phase — playing fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers (or all three, as he did across all 11 seasons of “Modern Family,” which also earned him an Emmy nomination). Despite the awards recognition, Willard had more range than those sitcoms suggest. His next (and last) show, “Space Force,” won’t be available on Netflix until later this month. Fortunately, much of his best work is streaming right now. MORE

NEW YORKER: Christopher Guest, the writer-director of “Best in Show,” as well as the Willard showcases “Waiting for Guffman” and “A Mighty Wind,” has observed that “Fred has the patent on characters who are comfortable in their stupidity.” Away from the cameras, however, Willard is a scholar of vanished luminescence. He pores over photos of bygone buildings and makes pilgrimages to places like the intersection near Bakersfield where James Dean’s Porsche got rammed and the motel in South Los Angeles where Sam Cooke was shot. […]

“A few years ago,” he said, after a moment, “I was in Cleveland, where I grew up, and I looked up my dad’s death certificate at City Hall. I was twelve when he died, in 1951. He died after dropping off Christmas gifts to a customer—he worked at a financing company, it was all a little vague. They said he usually turned to wave after he got in his car, and this time he didn’t. Heart failure. I went down to the intersection listed on the certificate, a Buick dealership, and it was very touching. He was Fred Willard, and I was Fred Willard. He was a pretty stern guy, though. I don’t remember much joking, never much encouragement. My wife hates all these visits, going to see the graves. ‘The people aren’t there!’ she says. And I say, ‘But this is the closest we can get to them.’ ” He gazed out at Times Square, perhaps seeing past the JumboTron dazzle to the Tenderloin of decades past. “If it was up to me, nothing would ever change, no one would ever die. On the other hand,” he added, “then no one could have babies, either, because it would get too crowded.” MORE

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

May 14th, 2020

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FRESH AIR: John Barry, author of the 2004 book, The Great Influenza, draws parallels between today’s pandemic and the flu of 1918. In both cases, he says, “the outbreak was trivialized for a long time.” MORE

DISCOVERY MEDICINE: The great influenza pandemic began in 1918 and ended in 1920. Worldwide, the virus itself caused an estimated 20 to 100 million deaths most of which occurred between September 1918 and early 1919. In the U.S., with about 105 million people at the time, the virus killed approximately 675,000. Conventionally influenza causes its mortality among the elderly and infants due to their inadequate immune defense systems. But the 1918 pandemic was highly unusual in that approximately half of the casualties were young men and women in their 20’s and 30’s. As many as 8 to10% of all young adults may have died of influenza.

The 1918 virus killed more people in absolute numbers than any other sudden outbreak of disease in history. During the 1300’s, the Bubonic plague or Black death, a uniformly fatal bacterial infection caused by Yersinia pestis and spread by flea bites, killed a higher percentage, more than 25%, of the European population, but less in absolute numbers. In perspective, the 1918 pandemic influenza virus killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has so far killed in 24 years, and more people in a year than the Bubonic plague killed in a century.

The virus was endowed with unchecked brutality, virulence and malice. It brought havoc to its victim’s body, particularly the lungs. Many of those afflicted had an irrepressible cough and bleeding. Blood came out mostly from the nose, but in many cases also from the ears or from the mouth as a result of the coughing. The body was said to have ached to the point that it felt as if the bones were breaking. The skin of the patient changed color to blue, violet, or even black. At times, some Caucasian patients could not be distinguished from naturally black people. The primary cause of death was hemorrhaging pneumonia. One army report noted “fulminating pneumonia with wet hemorrhagic lungs,” “fatal in from 24 to 48 hours.”

Another unusual aspect of the 1918 influenza was that the virus struck its victims suddenly. Many people remembered precisely the moment that they first felt ill. Around the world people dropped from their horses or suddenly collapsed while walking. This didn’t mean that they collapsed at the moment they were infected. The incubation time of the influenza virus was about 24-72 hours compared to 2-10 days for the Black Death. The virus needed about 24 hours to infect a cell, replicate itself into millions of copies, and release its progeny. This did mean that after the virus had replicated, it subdued its victims in a dramatic, uncompromising fashion. Death could come rapidly. A person could appear well at one moment and collapse and die in the next moment.

In Philadelphia, priests drove horse drawn wagons, going from house to house, calling upon people who lived in horror and grief to open their doors and bring out dead bodies, like today’s calling for recycling of papers and cans. What was happening in Philadelphia was happening everywhere in the US and the world. MORE

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35 YEARS AGO: ‘The Roof Is On Fire/We Don’t Need No Water Let The Motherf*ckers Burn’

May 14th, 2020

IMMORTAL TRUTHZ: On 13 May 1985, Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE compound, killing 11 people, including five children, and destroying an entire neighbourhood which left more than 250 people homeless. The counter-cultural group lived communally and had a history of violent encounters with police. The raid stands as the only aerial bombing carried out by police on US soil.

MOVE ~ a mostly black, radical organisation that believed in shedding technology and “man-made law” in favour of “natural law”. After years of antagonism with police, Move had fortified a rowhome on Osage Avenue as their headquarters. They boarded up walls, built a bunker on the roof, and broadcast their anti-police ethos through a bullhorn, night and day.

Neighbours in the predominantly black, middle-class neighbourhood complained about the profane tirades and how Move’s children rifled alongside rats through the house’s compost and garbage. Then district attorney Ed Rendell authorised arrest warrants an mayor Wilson Goode sent in police.

“Were we wanted for rape, robbery, murder? No, nothing,” says Ramona Africa, the only living Move survivor of that day. Africa linked the bombing to the recent police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray… “These people that take an oath that swear to protect, save lives.. the cops don’t defend poor people, poor white, black, Latino people. They don’t defend us, they kill us.

“All you have to do is look at the rash of police murders and the cops not being held accountable,” she added. “That should really alarm and outrage people, but the thing is that it’s happening today because it wasn’t stopped in ’85. The only justice that can be done is people seeing this system for what it is.”

Hundreds of officers, several fire trucks and a bomb squad arrived that day, with military-grade weapons in tow. They first tried to flush out the house with fire hoses. A team then blew holes in the walls to funnel in teargas, but no one budged.

“Then they just began insanely shooting, over 10,000 rounds of bullets, according to their own estimates,” Africa said. “That didn’t work, and that’s when they dropped the bomb on us, a rowhouse in an urban neighbourhood.”

“The story is a parable of sorts; it’s a parable of how the unthinkable comes to happen,” said Jason Osder, the director of the documentary ‘Let the 🔥 Burn’. “It’s a tragedy. In my opinion everyone who was an adult in the city failed that day. Move failed, the police failed, the neighbours failed those children in some ways. Collectively, the whole city failed.” MORE

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ISOLATION DRILLS: Sociallly Distant Fest

May 14th, 2020

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VanessaBY VANESSA GOMEZ PEREYRA Back in my day, we would gather in groups of ten and more, with bare faces and no hand sanitizer in sight. Usually, it was someone’s cramped, stained-carpet living room where a friend’s beloved band would play. The sound wasn’t amazing, and the new guitar player could never tune his guitar quite right, but who cared — we were gathered. A sweaty keg bought with everyone’s wrinkly dollar bills stood by, and the only thing you worried about catching was your best friend’s heroin addiction. But those were the good ole days of loud and close house parties that we couldn’t dream of having now. Sort of.

Socially Distant Fest is a public group on Facebook created by Jake Allen, or as he is known at the fest, “Papa SDF.” In this group, musicians and other performers like poets and puppeteers, are invited to perform live to a potential audience of over 156,000 Fest group members.  Allen created the group in late March, just as shelter-in-place orders began to shut down non-essential businesses across the country in an effort to slow the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus. Concert venues, bars, clubs — non-essential. Musicians had nowhere to go and no money coming in. So Allen, a musician himself, created a space where everyone was already going: online.

Performers are selected to play a “set” one at a time within the group at the weekly Sunday Showcase. This means, no two performers can stream at the same time. Allen describes the selection process as being akin to Fight Club — he says, “If it’s your first night, you gotta go live.” This is part of what makes this virtual fest unique. The performers aren’t submitting or uploading a video of a previously recorded live performance. Musicians and artists are required to live stream their performance through Facebook in order to be showcased or else they risk being shut down by admins.
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OK GO: All Together Now

May 13th, 2020

DAMIAN KULASH, SINGER/GUITARIST, OK GO: I caught the coronavirus early, when there were only six known cases in California, all of them hundreds of miles from L.A., where I live. My symptoms lasted forever, but were only genuinely scary for a day and a half. My wife Kristin’s battle was tougher, though. She was only briefly at the hospital, but bedridden with breathing problems for a long stretch. As she convalesced, I struggled to keep up with our two-year-old twins, and there were times when her breathing was so labored I worried she just wouldn’t wake up.

We’re extremely lucky. She made a full recovery, and though the kids did have symptoms, they never got much worse than a nasty cold. My heart aches for those who haven’t had the same luck, who are suffering unimaginable loss and hardship, whether from the virus or the havoc it’s wrought on the world.

For all of us, the future has gotten scarier and more unknowable, and it’s bearing down on us faster. But for me, as this new strain of anxiety has spread, it’s brought an incongruous companion: a new breed of hope. It’s subtle and diffuse, but in the moments when the anxiety lets up, it’s there, hovering in the periphery of my consciousness.

At first I thought maybe it was a psychological defense; with Kristin teetering on the edge of the unthinkable, my brain was throwing me life rafts. Then as she and the kids got better, the hope felt like an offshoot of my personal relief. Then I read an essay by historian Rebecca Solnit, The Impossible Has Already Happened: What the Coronavirus Can Teach Us About Hope, and she put words to the thing I was struggling to identify.
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WORTH REPEATING: Will Americans Lose Their Right To Vote To The Covid–19 Pandemic?

May 13th, 2020

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NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK TIMES: A national election is a giant pop-up event, larger in scale and significance than any other private or public occasion. Two-thirds of Americans expect the Covid-19 outbreak to disrupt voting in November, according to a late-April survey by the Pew Research Center. A successful election will require some Covid-era changes. The main one is enabling tens of millions more people to vote by mail (also called absentee balloting — the terms are synonymous) than have ever done so before. It’s also important to make adjustments to keep polling places open for people who don’t have stable mailing addresses — a group that increases as people are uprooted during an economic downturn — or whose disabilities, like blindness, make it hard to fill out a ballot unassisted.

The outcome of the presidential contest will most likely be decided in a handful of swing states. This year, the likeliest prospects are Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. All of them, along with 23 other states and the District of Columbia, already have laws on the books that give voters the right to request an absentee ballot without an excuse. But only one swing state is already set up for most people to vote by mail — Arizona, where 79 percent did so in 2018. In Florida and Michigan, about 25 to 30 percent voted by mail that year. In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, very few voters have voted absentee in a general election; in 2018, the range was from 3 to 6 percent, according to The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. (A total of 27 states fell below 10 percent, including Georgia and New Hampshire, which also may see close presidential results.)

To fundamentally change the way voting has been done in those states, they will have to move quickly to sign contracts with vendors and then order supplies, like specially certified paper for envelopes and ballots, high-speed scanners to count votes and secure drop-off boxes. If they wait, they’ll risk running into shortages like the ones that have troubled the country’s efforts to fight the virus. In Wisconsin in April, when voting by mail rose to more than 70 percent, totaling over a million, from around 6 percent in previous elections, many people didn’t get to vote because counties ran out of envelopes for a time and then couldn’t fill all the applications for absentee ballots fast enough. “Wisconsin shows that you can’t adopt vote-by-mail overnight,” says Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford law professor and the head of the Healthy Elections Project, a new effort by Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to address the threat of Covid-19. “It’s not as easy as people think. The boring stuff matters — the scut work of supply chain and logistics and management is crucial.” MORE

FRESH AIR: Assuming the pandemic has not ended by Election Day, will you be able to vote by mail? And if not, are you willing to risk your health, maybe your life, by going to the polls in order to exercise your constitutional right to vote, like many people in the Wisconsin primary did last month? My guest Emily Bazelon has written a new article titled “Will Americans Lose Their Right To Vote In The Pandemic?” It’s published in this week’s edition of The New York Times Magazine. She focuses on many of the financial and political obstacles that are likely to prevent many Americans from voting by mail. She writes, the U.S. prides itself on its democracy in theory, but this year, not necessarily in practice. Bazelon is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, where she writes about legal issues. And she’s the Truman Capote Fellow for creative writing and law at Yale Law School. Her latest book, “Charged: The New Movement To Transform American Prosecution And End Mass Incarceration,” was just published in paperback. It won the 2020 LA Times Book Prize in the current interest category. MORE

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NEIL NATHAN: Staycation

May 13th, 2020

The Go-Go’s “Vacation” retrofitted for The Plague Years.

PREVIOUSLY: Neil Nathan Covers John Prine’s “Some Humans Ain’t Human”

PREVIOUSLY: Neil Nathan & Friends Cover Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land”

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ISOLATION DRILLS: What I’m Listening To Now

May 12th, 2020

Swans_How_2
[Click HERE to enlarge]

Kyle_WeinsteinBY KYLE WEINSTEIN Elegant and cruel, Swans are beautiful birds with very ugly temperaments. That duality is the reason Swans maestro, visionary, and lead guitarist/singer/songwriter Michael Gira chose them for the namesake of his band, an ongoing art-rock concern that has been trafficking in bliss and dissonance to great acclaim since 1982. Built from the wreckage of New York No Wave scenesters Circus Mort by Gira and Jonathan Kane, Swans quickly established themselves as the most ferocious act in town, and considering which town that was, that pretty much meant the world. Their early sound was a pulverizing hellscape of metallic, steam-powered percussion, warped tape loops, guttural basses (yes, plural), screeching curtains of guitar, and Gira’s drill sergeant vocals.

Since then, the band have undergone perpetual metamorphosis fueled by the coming and going of members like Sue Hanel, who was responsible for their early guitar sound, but disappeared off the face of the earth in Soundtracks_For_The_Blindthe mid-80s; Thurston Moore, who played one of the basses in ’82; and Jarboe, Gira’s lover during the band’s most sonically variant stages as they shifted from industrial to apocalyptic new wave to post-rock and dark ambient – from ’84 through Swans’ ’97 breakup. That’s not to mention veterans like guitarist Norman Westberg, lap steel guitarist Kristof Hahn, and drummer Phil Puleo.

The general arc of the band’s existence runs in the direction of increasing musical complexity as successive albums become more orchestral and divine. Regarded by many fans as the band’s magnum opus, or at least one of their magnum opi, 1996’s Soundtracks for the Blind was the last studio album Swans recorded before Gira, along with Hahn, went off to form the ethereal folk project, Angels of Light, where he would work with future Swans members Phil Puleo (drums) and Thor Harris (miscellaneous). Much of the Angels’ sound was carried over to the next incarnation of Swans, beginning with 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky and concluding with 2016’s The Glowing Man. During that period, each successive album built on the motifs that preceded it.

Last year, Swans released Leaving Meaning which pushed further into folk territory while maintaining Swans’ brand of orchestral soundscaping. The album’s personnel include all of the last iteration’s members, as well as some new and old faces, including Ben Frost, Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel, Beirut), Larry Mullins (mid-late-90s Swans, Iggy Pop, The Residents, etc. ad damn near infinitum), and improvisational ambient jazz trio The Necks to name a few.

When the album was announced, there was a preorder package I took advantage of that included a CD of Gira’s acoustic embryo of the album to come, a hand-written track list with his cryptic doodles, and a t-shirt. My pre order arrived in the mail on October 19th, six days before the release. While I was admittedly underwhelmed during my first listen, Leaving Meaning, like any Swans album with the exception of the cover-Swans-Leaving-Meaning-failed Burning World, gets better with each listen, and I don’t know what number listen I’m on now, but here’s my take thus far.

As Gira is a musician who never discards old ideas, most of the album is nothing new for the avid Swans listener. He even recycles “Amnesia” from 1992’s Love of Life and reworks the song into something unrecognizable on Leaving Meaning. Gira is painting a familiar picture with an updated palate; it almost sounds like Angels of Light playing Swans. He mentioned in an interview last year that “regrettably, [Angels of Light] never really made much of a dent on the public consciousness,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if Leaving Meaning is Gira’s attempt to revive the Angels of Light concept by feeding it to Swans. Judging by some of the tracks on the new record, I think this could work. The two tracks I find most noteworthy are “Sunfucker” and “What is This?” “Sunfucker” is a droning chamber freak-folk mantra that gives way to the arm-flailing, mind-numbingly repetitive art-rock reminiscent of albums like The Seer (2012) and To Be Kind (2014) – and I mean this in the best way possible. “What is This?” – also the title of the acoustic album from the preorder package – is the most uplifting song ever put out by the band, in a similar vein to the final section of “A Piece of the Sky” from The Seer. “What is This?” is the summit of hope that stands farthest from the harsh sounds that characterized early Swans, and the contrast between these two worlds showcases the enormous artistic scope of the band. What is most exciting is that the tour, which has been pushed back to next year, will consist of largely improvisational sets that will include material that hasn’t even been worked out yet. In this light, Leaving Meaning is but a glimpse into the future of the ever-unfolding tapestry that is Swans. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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WIRE FROM THE BUNKER: Meet David Allan Coe

May 11th, 2020

DAC NYT

 

Houlon2BY JONATHAN HOULON Equally reviled and revered, the reputation of C&W bad boy David Allan Coe precedes the man by a country mile: ex-con, polygamist, cave dweller, prison philosopher, biker badass — in short, he’s an outlaw’s outlaw. From the tender age of nine until one year short of thirty, Coe was in and out of reformatories and then adult prison where he claimed to murder a fellow prisoner for propositioning him. Rolling Stone later refuted this as one of many tall tales associated with the Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy as DAC would come to be called after finally slipping the criminal justice system in 1969 and arriving in Nashville where he parked his hearse outside the Ryman Auditorium and promptly landed a deal with Shelby Singleton’s Plantation Label to record the Penitentiary Blues LP he penned during his tenure in the tank.

DAC first achieved fame as the writer of other people’s signature songs. Tanya Tucker took an early Coe composition to the top of the Country charts in 1973 and many others would subsequently record his songs, including Johnny Paycheck who scored with DAC’s working class anthem, “Take This Job and Shove It.” Coe himself landed a post-Plantation deal with Columbia records in 1975 and had a hit with late great Chicagoans Steve Goodman and John Prine’s “You Never Even Call Me By My Name” on his second platter on the majors, Once Upon a Rhyme. To this day, Coe’s output on Columbia up until the mid-80’s stands as one of the finest catalogues in music history. DAC’s songwriting chops coupled with his lilting bel canto and interpretive gifts more than justify his legend. But here’s the thing: DAC is also a first rate dick. A vile racist, homophobe, and misogynist as amply demonstrated in this 1970’s interview with Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein, quite the prick himself. Check it out … or don’t!

Sure, you could argue that the first song David plays for Al is actually a gay rights send-up of notorious human shit-stain Anita Bryant. You could point to the fact that Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s son was the drummer in DAC’s band or the legend that David learned to write his jailhouse jingles from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins when they were both prison inmates in Ohio. I might reminisce about my delighted surprise when Coe pulled off a more than credible cover of “Purple Rain” as I watched him perform before an audience full of bikers in Towson, Maryland. Or I could perhaps pull a post-structuralist move and argue that DAC’s “performance” in the Screw interview is actually an effort to destabilize the very hierarchies that allow for and play into racism, homophobia, and sexism. But, sorry Dave: HARD PASS.

So why give this guy a platform at all you may legitimately wonder? Two reasons: (1) It is important to call out hate speech. I would be remiss if I did NOT tell you about DAC’s ugly history (he is now a shriveled-up 80-year-old whose current Weltanschaung is unknown in these quarters). In his recent chapbook, The Three Dimensions of Freedom, Billy Bragg argues that freedom of speech without accountability is actually just another tool for those with the loudest voices to prevail. Safe spaces — and I am continually disappointed by the otherwise astute Bill Maher’s inability to grasp this — are necessary for all and different voices to be heard. Hate speech quells actual freedom of expression. (2) I do not mistake the artist for the art.

DAC, I would argue, should be mentioned in the same breath as his peers Merle Haggard and George Jones who are widely considered the greatest country artists of their generation. I’d give Hag the edge over Coe as a songwriter and Jones is clearly the best singer of the three. But, still, Coe’s body of work in ’70s and into the ’80s is one that must be considered by any serious fan of the genre. As a Jew, I am told that my interest in Wagner — with whom Nietzsche departed based on his one-time idol’s antisemitism — is problematic. But, again, I am capable of appreciating the art without endorsing the person who created it. Thankfully, especially given that I work in the field of child welfare, I do not have to answer the Michael Jackson question cuz I never thought he was all that good: The Jackson Five were sorta the Archies of Motown. I mean, compared with Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Smokey and Stevie. Really? And while Off The Wall is a stone-cold masterpiece, have you listened to Thriller lately? Rubbish. Likewise, I don’t have to worry about Moz: The Smiths are, other than the Fall, perhaps the most over-rated band to emerge from England in the ’80s. But David is different. I love his work and, but for his disgusting persona (if that was “all” it was), I am quite certain that DAC would take his rightful place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Here’s five reasons why David Allan Coe matters:

 

“Death Row”: DAC, despite bragging about it, was never actually on it according to the authorities at the Ohio State Penitentiary. But, still, you gotta admire his wish list for a final meal: “I wanna double yolked egg from an albino pigeon with fried bat wings over easy // The left hind leg of a black giraffe cooked medium rare, not too greasy.” Bat wings, huh? DAC as prophet? The wide influence of his Penitentiary Blues is evidenced by the fact that the liner notes from the 2005 Hacktone reissue include quotes from both Peter Case AND Kid Rock!

“Would You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone?”: DAC’s version of the song that would catapult him to songwriting fame based on Tanya Tucker’s version. It provides a good example of Coe’s unique ability to be creepy and tender at the same time. I’d tell you that he was having a bad hair day in this video but, honestly, the man has never had a good hair day. And it looks like he may have filched Captain Stubing’s jacket from The Love Boat. Ouch!

“Face to Face”: Do you know how hard it is to write a song this simple and still have it sound original and compelling? Very few (Hank Sr., Willie, Hag, Cash) can pull it off and DAC is among them. His vocal strength on this one is astounding. Tattoo, the album from which this number hails, is one of Coe’s best collection of songs and its cover illustration was no joke. DAC was covered in ink, kids, long before it was the cool thing to do.

“Castles in the Sand”: The title track from his 1983 album. Check out Coe’s Dylan imitation (especially the wheezing elongation of the word “face” in the final verse) on the title track of his 1983 album that, unlike most of his stuff, somehow troubled the charts. In fact, Coe included a riveting cover of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” on Castles. Dylan himself has identified DAC as one of his favorite songwriters and has been photographed carrying a copy of this very LP. Coe sings, “They even had the nerve to ask me if I could rewrite ‘Like A Rolling Stone.'” Yea, sure, Dave, whatever you say.

“Please Come to Boston”: In addition to being an ace songwriter, DAC is also a fine interpreter of others’ material. As mentioned above, his first hit was actually a Goodman/Prine number and he has memorably covered songs by peers such as Mickey Newbury and Guy Clark. I choose Dave Loggin’s “Please Come to Boston” because it is my favorite example of DAC’s interpretive abilities and also will give you a good peek into his Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy phase [SEE top of this post]. David always complained that Glen Campbell stole this aspect of his act. Anyway, please come to Philly, David. Or, actually, don’t come right now. Maybe later.

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BAD SEED TEE VEE: Stay Home, Watch This

May 10th, 2020

A stream of videos, concerts, interviews, film, and more from the world of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, playing on random shuffle 24 hours a day. New footage added regularly.

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