Wednesday Newsletter

Getting our Phil of impeachment: Plus, a little Cash and no regrets: "Coyote"

Seems fitting to open our third full day here with this classic from old friend Phil Ochs, which he set to his earlier “Here’s to the State of Mississippi.” If alive today, poor, tragic Phil would surely be singing, “And the speeches of the president are the ravings of a clown / so here’s to the land you tore out the heart of / Donald Trump, find yourself another country to be part of.” Reminder: feel free to Comment on today’s blog or tells us how we are doing. More music and a film comment below. If you like this, please subscribe, and it’s even free!

Political and Media Notes:

You may have heard that the Biden team was planning an Inauguration Night special to be carried by all major outlets but, ahem, not by Fox or Fox News. Now today a few names of guests: from inevitable Tom Hanks (your host) to the regrettable Jon Bon Jovi. Plus: Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ant Clemons. I’ve got to believe Sir Springsteen will show up by the end of the night just as the mobs in the darkness on the edge of town melt away….

Yesterday I hailed the newly caustic and sometimes witty (who knew?) Michael Beschloss, so here’s one of his latest tweets: “And the White House ‘Tennis Pavilion’ can be delivered to Mar-a-Lago on a flatbed truck.” But it’s been Stephen Colbert monologues that have helped many of us get through the Trump years, usually with laughter but for the past few nights by bringing the fire—almost visibly shaking—in eviscerating the Republicans and the rioters. Here’s where things started getting heated last night. Then he shifted into another “Don and the Giant Impeach” riff.

It’s either been a great, or comical, week for The Clash amid countless references, often clueless, to “White Riot” in the mainstream media (e.g. today). That anthem was, of course, a “foghorn” to the white masses to take action. Perhaps more apt for the recent events would be “Police & Thieves.”

And all the crimes come in, day by day
And no one stops it in any way
All the peacemakers turn war officers
Hear what I say

Speaking of white mobs, don’t miss this New York Times special “decoding” several of the prominent far-right flags and banners and hand signs displayed during the Capitol insurrection—you will see them again in the coming days. They’re all here: the militias, the Proud Boys and Boogaloos, QAnons and neo-Confederates, and diehard Trumpers plus two new ones for me: Pepe the Frog and the green-and-white flags of Kekistan.

This is the fictional country that is home to the deity “Kek.'“ In the meme-driven culture of the alt-right, a satirical religion has sprouted up around Kek “as a way to troll liberals and self-righteous conservatives,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. He is a god of chaos and darkness, with the head of a frog, the source of their mimetic magic, to whom the alt-right and Donald Trump owe their success.”

Also, don’t miss Monica Hesse’s none-too-kind review of “Trumpist masculinity” on display during the riot, also with witty photo proof, including the guy who worked at Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk & Rock ’n’ Roll Steakhouse. Which delivers only via DorkDash.

Robert Reich needs to tell us how he really feels: “If any member of Congress dies after catching COVID from Republicans who refused to wear masks, those Republicans must be indicted and convicted for involuntary manslaughter.” That is if they are not shot first by pistol packin’ mama Rep. Lauren Boebert, who was the most vocally adamant GOP reps who objected to the new metal detectors installed outside the House chamber last night. Somehow she still got onto the floor with her piece still in her handbag. Come on, Capitol Police would never let an insane terrorist get away with that! Oh, wait…

And just now, the estimable Val Demmings became yet another congress member to tell CNN that she believes "there was some inside assistance" for the Capitol rioters. We’re looking at you, Boebert.

Charlie Pierce: “If Kevin McCarthy straddles any wider, he's going to split his trousers.”

The U.S. finally got its wish early today in executing mentally ill Lisa Montgomery, in your name, after the Supreme Court’s 6-3 vote (guess which six approved state murder?). Twenty years ago, I co-authored a book with Robert Jay Lifton, Who Owns Death?, and in this case we now know: “When after all, it was you and me.” The Trump administration has put eleven humans to death over the past seven months, the most in many years. Two more federal inmates are scheduled for execution this week—but if their appeals delay matters just a few days they will be spared, for Joe Biden has suggested he would put a moratorium on the federal death penalty. This only shows again the abject cruelty and unfairness at the heart of a deadly system, on who lives and who dies. So here’s the late great Johnny Cash’s version of Nick Cave’s “Mercy Seat.”

Paging Joe Biden, from The Guardian this morning:

The planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” that threaten human survival because of ignorance and inaction, according to an international group of scientists, who warn people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises. The 17 experts, including Prof. Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University, author of The Population Bomb, and scientists from Mexico, Australia and the US, say the planet is in a much worse state than most people – even scientists – understood. “The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts,” they write in a report in Frontiers in Conservation Science which references more than 150 studies detailing the world’s major environmental challenges.

Hat tip here to Ron Brownstein, the well-known Los Angeles Times and Atlantic reporter and TV guest known for serious political pieces but with a more culture-oriented book coming this March, its title from Jackson Browne: Rock Me on the Water: 1974, The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics.

Films: Still awaiting some of the purportedly terrific movies from late-2020 to hit a streaming portal (hello, Nomadland), but I am particularly looking forward to Regina King’s directing debut, One Night in Miami. It explores a remarkable true-life meeting in a Miami motel room in February, 1964, that I have been obsessed with since first learning of it many years ago. These four men, all my idols in the ‘6os, met following Muhammad Ali’s upset victory over Sonny Liston to take the heavyweight title: Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Malcolm X, and Ali himself, barely scarred in the fight. The boxer, still known as Cassius Clay, was about to set off an epic shitstorm by coming out as a “Black Muslim,” with Malcolm’s aid; Jim Brown and Sam Cooke were already very political themselves. (Sam was about to write “Change Is Gonna Come,” feeling a black writer had to try to match Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”) Fresh off Hamilton, Leslie Odom plays the equally slick Sam.

I’ve read the play this is based on and it’s quite fine. Early word on the movie, which has been out in a few theaters for a few week, is slightly mixed, so we will see. It’s a tough act to both float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

Song of the Day: No need to introduce anyone to Joni Mitchell, but it’s nice that after years in self- and health-imposed solitude, she has received all sorts of new acclaim and exposure over the past couple of years: from tribute concerts to leading roles in docs about the heyday of Laurel Canyon. I never saw her perform live after the Rolling Thunder tour in 1975-76. It took me until last year to catch up with one of greatest covers of her songs, Diana Krall’s live in Paris version of “A Case of You,” but it has haunted me since. Ditto for two takes of even earlier Joni from the great Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention (“Eastern Rain” and “I Don’t Know Where I Stand”). And I’m sure I’ll be featuring here soon what I consider two of her five greatest songs, musical profiles of two titans in my history, Leonard Cohen (“Rainy Night House”) and Beethoven (“Judgement of the Moon and Stars”).

But the Joni highlight for 2020 had to be her appearance in new footage aired in that so-so Marty Scorcese documentary on Rolling Thunder. It finds her, after a show, in the Toronto home of fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot, playing her then-new song “Coyote” (allegedly about Sam Shepherd, who was also on the tour), as Dylan and Roger McGuinn strum along, silent and rather put in their place for three minutes.