Amanda Gorman Now 'Super'

Plus a preview of the upcoming Billie Holiday movie and music from the Black Pumas and the Long Ryders.

In case you saw Austin’s Black Pumas at the chilly Biden inaugural concert, here’s a quite different feel for the same song—one might say, more colorful—the Grammy-nominated “Colors,” earlier this month on the Colbert show. Not enough? Here’s their recent NPR Tiny Desk concert. The usual politics and media shorts below plus preview of FBI vs. Billie Holiday movie and sad goodbye to Tom Stevens of the Long Ryders.

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Politics/Media/Music

The Israeli daily Haaretz today with a simple tweet: “Biden's Holocaust Remembrance message is different than Trump's. For a start, it mentions Jews.”

A local TV reporter who tried to ask nutty new Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (QAnon-GA) a question about her violent conspiracy theories at a town hall last night was threatened with arrest by a sheriff’s deputy. Staffers from Greene’s office told her she had “caused a disturbance” and demanded she and her team leave, WRCB reported Wednesday night. Reporters had been invited to attend….

And here’s a Mother Jones piece today on how the GOP is now “in crisis” over Greene as even more of her social media craziness emerges—but these same leaders embraced her and her election knowing a good deal about her views. “There’s nothing she can do to lose my vote, unless she murdered a baby or something,” one Georgia Republican official told the New Yorker in October. And perhaps you saw the viral video of Greene No Deal harassing young gun control activist David Hogg? Jake Tapper comments: “The week this video came out showing Greene harassing a Parkland student—the week we learned she agreed with someone falsely calling Parkland a ‘false flag planned shooting’— we learn that @GOPLeader has assigned her to the House ‘Education’ & Labor committee.”

Well, I guess this could be worse: On the one hand, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has announced that it is not moving the hands on its venerable “Doomsday Clock” any closer to midnight this year. Now the bad news: The hands are still stuck at merely 100 seconds to midnight, which remains the closest it has been since 1947.

As if to answer Robert F. Kennedy and other nutty anti-vaxxers who had raised the issue, the medical examiner of Fulton County in Georgia declared yesterday that baseball legend Hank Aaron did NOT die from the Covid vaccine he recently received.

As you may have heard, poet and Inaugural sensation Amanda Gorman will now appear in the Super Bowl pre-show and also snagged a contract with IMG Models for fashion and beauty endorsements (and so it begins). Here she is last night with Trevor Noah chatting about activism and poetry.

San Francisco’s school board is dropping the names of 44 local schools in a “reckoning with racism.” The purged include Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Dianne Feinstein. “Lincoln, who had a high school in the city named for him and also made the list, has been criticized for his response to the so-called Minnesota Uprising, in which more than 300 Native Americans were sentenced to death by a military court after being accused of attacking white settlers in 1862. Lincoln said he found a lack of evidence in most of the cases and reduced the number of condemned to 38, who were hanged in what was thought to be the largest mass execution in U.S. history….Feinstein was on the list because a Confederate flag that was vandalized in front of City Hall was replaced while she was mayor of San Francisco.”

Was sad to see that Tom Stevens, bassist / songwriter for the fabled 1980s cowpunkers, the Long Ryders, passed away earlier this week, at the tender age of sixty-four. He had taken the lead as recently as April in creating a pandemic lockdown video of their song “All Aboard.” (The band had reunited for an album in 2019.) But I also remember him as friend of one of my all-time favorites, Gene Clark, and he played stand-up bass for the ex-Byrd near the very end of his career. Tom’s credits with other bands, such as Danny & Dusty, and solo projects are too numerous to mention, but here’s an old song and video for the Ryders that is as Byrdsy as anyone could want and with photos of Clark. Gene sang backup on the studio version and sometimes joined them when they played it in concert.

And now more sad news that Kris Kristofferson is retiring from the stage and screen…. Sun Records has just sold its catalog to Primary Wave with all that early Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee and Orbison material—but, alas, no Elvis (who sits at the right hand of Sony).

Ian Millhiser of Vox recalls the NYT’s Trump-voters-in-diners obsession during his term—after the paper posted new pieces this week with interviews of those same neglected souls: “Still waiting for the New York Times to send a reporter to Phoenix to talk to six guys in a taqueria who voted for Biden.”

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Rep. Ro Khanna on Biden putting hold on Trump’s vast arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE: “This marks the end of US ambivalence in the face of unconscionable human suffering in Yemen. No longer will we placate brutal dictators for political or personal gain. Outstanding news from Biden. Sen. Sanders & I are eager to end arms sales + US military support once and for all.”

If you are deep into the probe of why and how the Capitol Hill insurrection of January 6 happened—and who planned it or pushed other buttons—then you may love Seth Abramson’s latest, here at Substack. There are still plenty of known unknowns but you may learn something about the roles of Trump and Roger Stone to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. Also, who attended that “war council” on the evening before the “rally” and how many of them were U.S. Senators? And then: “Why did Trump’s top advisers—and even some of the January 6 event organizers—flee the area before rioters had trespassed on Capitol grounds?” Were they aware beforehand that invasion and violence was planned?

Film

This ought to be interesting, especially since it combines elements of other recent movies. The fine documentary Billie profiled the same jazz star. It focuses on a nasty secret FBI probe of a famous African-American, as in MLK/FBI. The movie, coming February 26 on Hulu, is The United States vs. Billie Holiday. It stars Andra Day, in her first major role, with Natasha Lyonne (as Tallulah Bankhead, no less) and Garrett Hedlund, and is based on the wider-ranging book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.

It’s clearly no Lady Sings the Blues 2. And it was written by the highly-regarded Suzan-Lori Parks, whose greatest play, Topdog/Underdog starring Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright, I was fortunate enough to catch a few years back.

Lee Daniels, the director, recently told a reporter, "When you think of civil rights leaders, you think of men. When you think of Billie Holiday, you think of this brilliant tortured jazz singer that happened to have been a drug addict….Before there was a civil rights movement, there was Billie Holiday and 'Strange Fruit.' The government saw that song as a threat and she was a target. That's history and they keep it from us."

Here’s a 2015 piece that runs down the FBI probe, an excerpt from the Hari book. It include this:

She was sentenced to a year in a West Virginia prison, where she was forced to go cold turkey and work during the days in a pigsty, among other places. In all her time behind bars, she did not sing a note.

Now, as a former convict, she was stripped of her cabaret performer’s license, on the grounds that listening to her might harm the morals of the public. This meant she wasn’t allowed to sing anywhere that alcohol was served—which included all the jazz clubs in the United States.

And then after even more trials and worse trevails:

Her best friend, Maely Dufty, insisted to anyone who would listen that Billie had been effectively murdered by a conspiracy to break her, orchestrated by the narcotics police—but what could she do? At Billie’s funeral, there were swarms of police cars, because they feared their actions against her would trigger a riot. In his eulogy for her, the Reverend Eugene Callender told me he had said: “We should not be here. This young lady was gifted by her creator with tremendous talent . . . She should have lived to be at least eighty years old.”

Song Pick of the Day

Well, we’ll stick with Billie Holiday, here with a New Orleans cat named Louis Armstrong, her childhood hero, from the 1947 movie.

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Greg Mitchell is the author of a dozen books, including the bestseller The Tunnels (on escapes under the Berlin Wall), the current The Beginning or the End (on MGM’s wild atomic bomb movie), and The Campaign of the Century (on Upton Sinclair’s left-wing race for governor of California), which was recently picked by the Wall St. Journal as one of five greatest books ever about an election. For nearly all of the 1970s he was the #2 editor at the legendary Crawdaddy. Later he won more than a dozen awards as editor of Editor & Publisher magazine. He recently co-produced a film about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and now has written and directed his first feature, Atomic Cover-up, which will have its American premiere at a festival this spring.