Getting the Kinks Out, Before 'Doomsday'

Plus: tunes by Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Lake Street Dive--and the Lego version of "Dr. Strangelove."

“Ahh, that’s terrible,” Stephen Colbert quipped last night about the rise and fall of GameStop stock. “Those poor hedge fund managers. Now might be a good time to invest into whoever manufactures the world’s tiniest violins.”

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Politics/Media

Nancy Pelosi during presser on Thursday: "The enemy is within the House of Representatives." Jimmy Kimmel last night labeled Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene the body’s “screwiest, Q-iest member,” and Stephen Colbert said that the GOP putting this school shooting denier on the Education committee was like naming Joe Camel as Surgeon General. But seriously, a New York Times report this morning reveals new probes of various GOPers ties to extremist groups.

Watch Dustin Hoffman doing a VW ad for TV before he met Mrs. Robinson. Maybe that guy in The Graduate should have whispered to him “Go see Don Draper,” not “plastics.”

You may have read that Donald McNeil, Jr. is in hot water at The New York Times, where he has often led pandemic coverage, for allegedly using a racial slur while taking part in a sponsored travel tour awhile back. He’s been with the paper for forty years—so long that I had some exchanges with him back in 1978 when I was one of the first to write about the Love Canal toxic waste disaster up in my hometown of Niagara Falls, after McNeil paved the way. But it seems that most have forgotten that he was reprimanded by the Times as recently as this past May for daring to offer an absolutely truthful opinion in an interview on the pandemic. Imagine: "We completely blew it for the first two months of our response," McNeil said. "We were in a 'headless chicken' phase….It is the president's fault," he added. "It is not China's fault." Off with his head.…line.

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Later this morning, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will announce (as I noted yesterday) that it is leaving the hands of its famous “Doomsday Clock” at 100 seconds to midnight—no change since one year ago (thank god) but still the closest they have stood since 1947. Yes, Biden and Putin privately decided this week to extend a key arms control treaty, but the threats today are wide-ranging: from terrorists who might obtain nuclear materials to unstable regimes such as in North Korea and Pakistan. Then there’s the chance for a pre-emptive first-strike by any national leader with nukes, even a U.S. president.

Various polls, in fact, reveal that a large segment of the American public (from 30% to 50% depending on specifics) seem to be okay with the U.S. striking first and maybe killing millions of civilians if, say, Iran launches a conventional attack on our forces or North Korea rattles its own missiles. I will return to this subject more than once, as I am the author of three books on lessons of the atomic bombings of 1945. For now I will refer you to my recent Newsweek piece on our “first-use” nuclear policy. It closes:

Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the commanding general in Europe and later president of the United States, opposed the first use of the atomic bomb against Japan, calling it that "awful thing" and urging the U.S. to "avoid shocking world opinion." Admiral William Leahy, President Truman's chief of staff, also criticized that first strike as a "barbarous" weapon against Japan. First use of far more powerful and destructive nuclear weapons must be strictly avoided today. No single, fallible person should have the authority to take an action that could lead to millions of deaths—or even the end of civilization.

But to lighten the mood, here’s an excerpt from one of my ten favorite movies, Dr. Strangelove, as the U.S. president calls the Russian premier—all done with Legos….

The new normal: Yesterday, in Detroit, “One of six men charged in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy, admitting that the group discussed an incredible scheme to snatch her at her lakeside vacation home and destroy a bridge to slow down police.” And watch this video just released and then remember it every time a GOPer wants to turn the page on this: "Body Camera Footage Shows Capitol Rioters Trampling Woman."

Lyle Lovett and my man Jason Isbell are doing one of those online chat-and-sing specials tonight. Have seen Lyle a couple times do this with John Hiatt (live) so this ought to be good. Jason already told Lyle that tweeting is harder than guitar playing—it can get you in a lot more trouble. Here’s Lyle, with a different partner (Steve Earle), shouting “Lungs” by one of the greatest songwriters ever, Townes Van Zandt. And apt for the current pandemic: “Breath I’ll take and breath I’ll give / and pray the day’s not poison / and stand among the ones who live / in lonely indecision.” Note: Brandi Carlile live streaming her The Story album tomorrow.

Late last night, when news emerged that House leader Kevin McCarthy had traveled to make nice with pitifully disgraced Donald Trump, Brian Williams on MSNBC promised exclusive video—then played the “I love you…You complete me!” clip from Jerry McGuire.

Matt Viser of the Washington Post yesterday: “Pretty impressive that, 20 minutes into the White House briefing, there have been eight reporters who have asked questions. All female. With questions answered by a female press secretary.”

The great Ron Brownstein at The Atlantic:

No decision facing Democrats over the next two years will shape the long-term political competition between the parties more than whether they end the Senate filibuster to pass their agenda to reform elections and expand access to the vote.

The party’s immediate political fate in the 2022 and 2024 elections is likely to turn mostly on whether Joe Biden can successfully control the coronavirus outbreak—restarting the economy and returning a sense of normalcy to daily life. But the contours of American politics just over that horizon, through 2030 and beyond, will be determined even more by whether Democrats can establish new national standards for the conduct of elections through a revised Voting Rights Act and sweeping legislation known as H.R. 1, which would set nationwide voting rules, limit “dark money” campaign spending, and ban gerrymandering of congressional districts. With both bills virtually guaranteed to pass the House, as they did in the last Congress, their fate will likely turn on whether Senate Democrats are willing to end the filibuster to approve them over Republican opposition on a simple-majority vote.

Get Kinky

As I noted briefly not long ago, the Kinks and their fans are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their hit “Lola” single (which kind of saved their career) and subsequent Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround album. So now there’s the usual re-master and box set with various audio and video extras and blah blah blah. And today there’s the premiere of a 45-minute one-man show (plus archival Kinks video inserts) titled The Moneygoround, drawing on the “plot” of the 1970 album as well. UPDATE: Here’s the YouTube link to watch the full show.

The Moneygoround documents “a character facing the challenging circumstances of making an album under extreme pressure,” Kinks frontman Ray Davies explains. “This play, similar to a psychodrama, follows the ups and downs of the character as he plays out events in his life. He confronts the dark forces surrounding him after falling into an emotional and financial ‘hole’ eventually he is saved by a song after confiding in his friend, Lola.”

This may parallel what happened with the Kinks back in the late 1960s when they were banned from the U.S. for some reason as various singles and their albums (now considered classics) The Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur bombed. The new play is co-written by Ray and Paul Sirett, who worked with him on a Come Dancing musical and the BBC Radio 4 play of Arthur. Ben Norris plays the lead character. (Also see Jim Farber interview with Ray on the anniversary: “As for the song’s bold subject matter, many stories have been told over the years about its inspiration. Davies said it came from an encounter at a nightspot in Paris the group frequented called the Castille Club.”)

This all takes me way back. I was a major Kinks fan even in the pre-”Lola” years when they became a cult band and Warner/Reprise was giving away their records as loss leaders. I reviewed the Lola album at my first national magazine gig—the legendary Zygote—and then got to interview Ray Davies a few months later after I helped re-launch Crawdaddy. By then he was speaking openly (to me, and on stage) about depression. “I think I am totally mad,” he told me, and he didn’t mean angry. He had learned that the Lola album, which was conceived as (and labeled) “Part I” of this project, would not get its sequel, Warners had ruled, so the band had just jumped to RCA. Then there was the soundtrack he had written for a small movie called Percy which had also tanked. This was a film about a man who undergoes….a penis transplant. Well, Ray was far ahead of his time with his transgender Lola character, but let’s hope he didn’t get Percy quite right….

Film

When Variety reviewed the interesting current film, Promising Young Woman, it seemed to question whether Carey Mulligan (who has been great in nearly everything going back to Bleak House, including this) was hot enough for the role. Carey and others called them out on that kind of treatment. Finally Variety sort of apologized but what’s interesting is Carey’s quite lengthy response to that this week. For one thing: “I think there’s an element to where we have idealized women on screen for so long that I think we start to lose sight of what women really look like.” It’s all here.

Today’s Song Pick

Since “Lola” is one of the greatest songs in rock ‘n roll history, and with a semi-surprise ending, it is a favorite of the YouTube “first-time reaction” creators—and Jimmy Fallon and Kevin Bacon even did a parody here. And in another gender twist, here’s a fine Lake Street Dive version.

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Okay, just one more in this series, because it’s the iconic John Lennon (minus Yoko) snap.

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.