Tumbling Dice

We got rolled with the Trump verdict, but John Oliver is back, and then there's music by Linda Ronstadt, H.E.R, Sheryl Crow & Emmylou, and Micheal Stipe & Natalie Merchant.

Back to our regular format today after yesterday’s video tributes to Leonard Cohen. Check it out if you missed it and now onward today. John Oliver has finally returned in the nick of time, although his warnings on future pandemics may be a little unsettling. Feel free to Comment or Share—and subscribe, it’s free!

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Politics

Robert Reich recalls Trump saying: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and get away with it.” And now McConnell replies: “Yes, as long as you're about to leave office.”

As promised, Claudia Conway (troubled daughter of Kellyanne and George) did appear on American Idol last night, with Katy Perry. It was sad and grimace-inducing, even if taped last fall.

Kellyanne appears briefly, first shown in archival footage embracing Donald Trump and then via video link, lecturing her daughter: “You should be nervous, honey, it’s a very humbling experience,” she begins, before declaring that “winners are people who are willing to lose.”

Sorry, there’s much talk of Lara Trump (that’s Eric’s wife) going for Senate seat in N.C. next year and standing a good chance thanks to huge MAGA nuttery there.

This has long been my belief, now echoed by David Atkins at Washington Monthly: “As Senate representation becomes more comically skewed toward sparsely populated states dominated by rural white conservatives, the likelihood of getting 60 senators for even halfway progressive legislation becomes vanishingly small.”

Historian Michael Beschloss: “We should use ‘Presidents’ Day’ to remember occasions through our history when Presidents of the United States were allowed to grab too much power and thereby threatened American democracy.”

I missed the protests but now I note today’s big news break: Post’s Grape-Nuts cereal is heading back to the shelves after a social media outcry! Love the descriptions here of it being “like gravel” or “unsettling” in the digestive tract—and hence a “polarizing cereal.”

White, if you get work:

The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields has edited and apologized for an employment listing that said it was seeking a director who would work not only to attract a more diverse audience but to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.” The museum’s director and chief executive, Charles L. Venable, said in an interview that the decision to use “white” had been intentional and explained that it had been intended to indicate that the museum would not abandon its existing audience as part of its efforts toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion.

Their solution was simply to eliminate the word “white.”

A little late: Former DNC head Tom Perez now declares that the party can’t start another primary season in very unrepresentative Iowa and NH again. We’ll see if they stick to or back down (they are good at that).

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Media

Longtime media critic, Eric Boehlert, asks why it took so long for media to confront Trump’s lies (as outgoing Wash Post editor Marty Baron recently—too late—admitted).

Ben Smith, the NY Times media writer, with another column today on the Don McNeil Jr. mess. I disagree with some of what he says but he does have this bit of news: The paper is killing its “Journeys” money-grabbing program that is basically just “a travel agency that drops ornery 65-year-old journalists into the literal jungle with a pack of sharp teens”—and proved to be McNeil’s undoing. He also quotes at length one of the key students on McNeil’s Peru trip who had not been interviewed previously.

Music

Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel: This 88-minute BBC doc is far from new but newly up for free on YouTube and maybe not there for long, so act fast. Meanwhile, above, from a PBS tribute to Gram, Sheryl Crow joined Emmylou, and the fantastic harmonies made me hope back then they would do an entire album together. I recommend that whole special, which also featured just-emerging Ryan Adams, Steve Earle, Wilco and Chris Hillman.

Very Marvin Gaye-like H.E.R. song (above) from Judas and the Black Messiah getting major awards consideration. See post below on the film itself.

James Brown’s “cape man” has died at 85.

Film

There’s a terrific and multi-level essay/review on Judas and the Black Messiah, which dropped at HBO Max on Friday, by K. Austin Collins at Rolling Stone. I can recommend the whole piece, but especially that Hampton and FBI informer O’Neal should have been played by actors far younger who reflected the age of the actual men, which mattered. (For most of the film’s chronology, Fred was 21 and O’Neal 17.) Also some great commentary on O’Neal’s eventual “confession” suicide. But it also brought back memories of watching, in the late 1960s, a long-forgotten drama about a black police informer of that period:

In December 1968, almost exactly a year before the murder of Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton by the FBI, Paramount Pictures released what remains one of the most curious artifacts in the history of Hollywood — hardly a hotbed for radical views of black politics. It is a film titled Uptight. Its subject: a black former steel-mill worker played by Julian Mayfield, now an unreliable alcoholic who, in his desperation, in the confused ideological haze that besets him upon the death of Martin Luther King Jr., does an extraordinary thing. He sells out his own friends and neighbors, people who belong to a group called “the Committee,” whose politics, though altogether vague, have an obvious analogue in the real-life political circumstances of the film’s own moment: the Black Panthers. 

Richard Brody at The New Yorker has some qualms about Judas.

About fifty years ago, I interviewed Donald Sutherland (and a bunch of antiwar vets in NYC) for an article about plans for his, adventure with Jane Fonda in what would be known as the “FTA”—that’s Fuck the Army, folks—tour. This music/comedy sketch revue hit theaters and coffeehouses near U.S. military bases as Vietnam horrors still raged. In some places, the Army brass shut it down. Of course, the organizers would film it all with the aim of releasing it widely in July 1972.

On the one hand, the time seemed ripe: George McGovern was riding antiwar fervor to the Democratic nomination for president. Sutherland and Fonda had recently co-starred in the acclaimed Klute, with Jane winning her Oscar for best actress just that spring. Now for the bad news: Jane had just returned from Hanoi and was getting slammed by politicians and media of all stripes, with boycotts of her future work threatened. I attended a press conference in New York City when Jane tried to explain her trip and was met by hostile questioning from the press. I met her there afterward, as Peter Knobler interviewed Fonda for a major (sympathetic) Crawdaddy profile.

Anyway, after that, and with Nixon still riding high, the doc got pulled from theaters after a week or so and disappeared. Fortunately, I had attended a screening by then and, as I recall, found the film rather scattered and the many comedy skits not so funny—despite a co-writing credit by none other than Dalton Trumbo! There were a lot of brief interviews with the soldiers, many of them back from Vietnam or heading there. In any case, now there’s a new restored version of the film. Kino’s CEO boasts, “The world will now finally rediscover or more aptly discover a long suppressed document of a critical time in American history.” That’s the new trailer above.

Books

Many who know Ron Brownstein only from his many years of cogent writing on politics (currently at The Atlantic) or as a talking head on cable news may be surprised that he has written a “cultural history” book, coming this spring. It’s Rock Me on the Water, from the Jackson Browne song, and the subtitle explains: 1974—The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television and Politics. So we’re getting everything from Chinatown to Linda Ronstadt, Jerry Brown and Norman Lear. More on this down the line but for now here’s the first review, from Kirkus. Above, my favorite Ronstadt in rock ‘n roll mode with “Tumbling Dice.”

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Song Pick of the Day

Speaking of classic 1970s tunes, Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe, Billy Bragg with early one by the late John Prine, “Hello in There.”

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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 served as longtime 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.