"Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation."

Norman Mailer
"The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China--why then it will be spring."

"This new history of yours," said McPhee, "is a wee bit lacking in documents."

C.S. Lewis

Synchronicities this week

  • June 24 Midsummer/St. John’s Day
  • June 24, 1947 The first flying saucers are sighted over Mount Rainier by pilot Ken Arnold.
  • June 24, 1542 St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet, is born.
  • June 24, 1938 500 ton meteorite lands near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • June 24, 1717 First Free Masons' grand lodge founded in London.
  • June 24, 1374 A sudden outbreak of St. John's Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.
  • June 24, 1314 Battle of Bannockburn; Scotland regains independence from England.
  • June 24, 843 Vikings destroy Nantes.
  • June 23 Midsummer’s Eve
  • June 23, 1972 Nixon & Haldeman agree to use CIA to cover up Watergate.
  • June 23, 1942 Germany's latest fighter, a Focke-Wulf FW190 is captured intact when it mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey in Wales.
  • June 23, 1888 Frederick Douglass is 1st African-American nominated for president.
  • June 23, 1848 Workers’ insurrection in Paris.
  • June 23, 1713 The French residents of Acadia are given one year to declare allegiance to Britain or leave Nova Scotia, Canada. They choose the latter, migrate to Louisiana, and become Cajuns.
  • June 21 Summer Solstice (11:28 a.m.).
  • June 21, 1964 Three civil rights workers-Michael H. Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James E. Chaney-are kidnapped and murdered by the Klan in Mississippi .
  • June 21, 1948 The 33 1/3 RPM LP record is introduced by Columbia Records.
  • June 21, 1944 Ray Davies of the Kinks born in London.
  • June 21, 1916 Mexican troops beat US expeditionary force under Gen Pershing.
  • June 21, 1877 The Molly Maguires, ten Irish immigrant labor activists, are hanged in Pennsylvania prisons.
  • June 20, 1947 Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, gangster, the “man who invented Las Vegas,” shot dead in Beverly Hills, Cal.
  • June 20, 1909 Errol Flynn, greatest of the swashbucklers, born in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • June 20, 1944 Congress charters Central Intelligence Agency.
  • June 20, 1943 Detroit race riot kills 35.
  • June 20, 1893 - Lizzie Borden acquitted in murder of parents in New Bedford Mass.
  • June 20, 1871 Ku Klux Klan trials began in federal court in Oxford Miss.
  • June 20, 1837 Queen Victoria at 18 ascends British throne ; rules for 63 years ending in 1901.
  • June 20, 1756 146 British soldiers imprisoned in the "Black Hole of Calcutta." Most die.
  • June 20, 1631 The Irish village of Baltimore is attacked by Algerian pirates.
  • June 20, 1214 The University of Oxford receives its charter.
  • June 20, 451 Germans & Romans beat Attila the Hun at Catalarinische Fields.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another European Socialist Spouts Off

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

MC5 for the Rock Hall! Tell Jann Wenner

Rock critic Dave Marsh once said that, if the MC5 and the Rolling Stones (at the height of their powers) were playing across the street from each other, he would choose to go see the 5. So would I, and we're far from alone in this. There seems to be near unanimity among people who saw the 5 live that it was one of the greatest rock and roll shows they'd ever experienced. There's now something of a concensus that the 5 belong on a short list of contenders for the title of The Great American Rock and Roll Band. All the "alternative" movements in hard rock that have come since them--glam, punk, grunge, indie-- are unthinkable without them. But you will not find them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The concensus would be stronger if not for legal hassles holding up the release of The MC5: A True Testimonial, a thrilling, inspiring, long-overdue documentary telling of the band's career. It now looks like the legal obstacles are clearing up, and if A True Testimonial sees the light of day, run, do not walk, to get a copy of one of the key rock and roll documents of recent years. Those wanting to know more of the story of the MC5 in the meantime are referred to Don McLeese's excellent Kick Out the Jams.

Do this experiment for me. Go watch the You Tube video of the 5 performing Kick Out the Jams. Then come back and try to explain to me why Bobby Darrin, the Bee Gees, Ricky Nelson and the Four Seasons belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the 5 don't. Do not forget the name of the institution: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Then e-mail Jann Wenner, founder and editor of Rolling Stone ( jann.wenner@rollingstone.com) and the 800 pound gorilla of the Rock Hall induction process.

If you need to hear more of the 5, buy their three albums here.

The Rock Hall may have compromised its mission in the years since its founding, but maybe an appeal to conscience may still work. In theory it exists to recognize and promulgate awareness of great rock and roll, and if the MC5 aren't great rock and roll, then my definition of the term is completely invalid. Go watch the video. Then buy Kick Out the Jams. It'll change your life.

Get the MC5 in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Watch this space...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The free market heresy

No legitimate spiritual tradition sanctions the abandonment of human responsibility for a just social order in favor of some neo-idolatrous faith in an "invisible hand." We cannot have our well-being at the mercy of a system whose primary energies and motivations come from greed and fear. This is very low-level stuff on which to order a social structure.

Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno, subtitled "On Reconstruction of the Social Order" on May 15 of 1931. I quote:

"...the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching. Destroying through forgetfulness or ignorance the social and moral character of economic life, it held that economic life must be considered and treated as altogether free from and independent of public authority, because in the market, i.e., in the free struggle of competitors, it would have a principle of self direction which governs it much more perfectly than would the intervention of any created intellect. But free competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life..."

The belief in the unrestricted free market as the best force for ordering society is what is referred to in Christian teaching as idolatry. It is the subservience of the human intellect, created in the image of God, to an inhuman amoral force. This, the faith teaches, is an abandonment of human responsibility, especially our responsibility to the poor.

American free market extremists, who have dominated economic discourse since the Reagan administration, are quite literally worshipping a false god. Look around our country today to see where that leads.

The Religious Argument Against Free Market Extremism

The conservative agrument that the market should be the primary arbiter of our social and politcal relations is, strictly speaking, a heresy, and should be named as such by the Roman, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and mainline Protestant hierarchies. More on this to come...

The Road to a Long-Term Progressive Ascendancy

The best thing I've read about where American progressivism should go from here is an article by Michael Lind in Salon on August 15th of this year. As I read it, he reccomends that the Democrats stop engaging the Republicans on life-style, cultural issues--abortion, religious values, guns and gays, identity politics, special interest grievances--that have come to define the Democratic party since the McGovern candidacy, but played to a Republican strong suit. Instead they should engage them on economic issues, and the constructive role of a strong, healthily functioning federal government, where poll after poll shows a majority of American siding with the progressive vision. This is where the real power struggle in this country is waged, but only the Republicans seem to have understood it, and they have systematically dismantled the structures that support an effective national government (see Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule) as we saw with Hurricane Katrina. With the economic catastrophe that's upon us now, the time is ripe for intiatives that will reassert the preference of American's for a reasonably mixed, rationally managed economy, and a strong and effective public sector. This Obama largely managed to do in the recent election--he resolutely refused to be engaged on God, guns, gays and patriotism-- and the results bear out the validity of this approach.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sleater-Kinney:Headed for Valhalla?

I know I'm a little late on this, but a decade of nattering by rock critics got me to check out Sleater-Kinney. So I got Dig Me Out from the Library. I had dipped into All Hands on the Bad One a couple of yeas ago, and it struck me the sort of aimless indie plinky-plonk, art
damaged stuff that can convince young rock writers and dj's that they're getting the real thing. And Corin Tucker's vocals sounded affected and inhumane, a version of the kind of freak-like dead-affect posing of American punk in the 80's, itself a misreading of English punk of the 70's, a misreading in turn of the New York Dolls. So.
But curiosity got the better of me a few weeks ago, and I picked up a copy of Dig Me Out. Still the same sort of angular noodling around that made me wonder when, if ever, this band was gonna get off the ground. But I decided I was going to put ip with it and see where it went. At first it sounds distressingly like 80's American punk--you know, the "loud fast rules" thing. Loud-fast of course, as should have been eveident at the time, doesn't mean you're rocking. Steve Jones of the Pistols delightfully punctures that stupid aesthetic in a recent issue of Mojo, where he points out that alot of the power of the Pistol's mighty sound had to do with drummer Cook deliberately hanging back creating an exhilarating tension, a sensual technique I wouldn't expect an American 80s punk band to know about it.
Well, anyway. I got to "Turn It On" and it happened. Without warning, we--the band and I--were suddenly There. Frenzy. Ecstasy. The point at which the musician stop playing the music and this particular form of energy we've decided to call rock & roll plays itself through them. A place I've only heard the New Yord Dolls and the MC5 go before, but that I suspect you would have encountered at an early Elvis or Beatles show. It's like accidentally picking up an exposed wire. I hadn't been to that place for a long time, and I can see why some people thought the MC5 or the Dolls or the Pistols scary. It is scary--you go out of your head. This is the ecstasy of rock & roll, this is what the music aims at even in its most deracinated forms. These girls are on intimate terms with it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Read My Book

Read a review of my book, Holidays and Holy Nights here.

Read some of Holidays and Holy Nights on Google Books here.

Order Holidays and Holy Nights here.

The Stakes of the Election

Read Norman Mailer's 1960 essay "Superman Comes to the Supermarket", about the Democratic Covention that nominated JFK for president. It's the only thing I've ever read that comes close to capturing what Kennedy meant in the imagination of America, and why his death felt like certain possibilities were being closed off forever. Mailer talks about what he calls the "Two Rivers" theory of American history. One river is the accepted standard narration of events. The other is the underground river, the subversive dream life of the nation. When the two rivers come together, or the underground river surfaces, something critical is happening in the psyche of the nation.

The only work of straight history I know of that recognizes what Mailer is talking about is The Kennedy Obsession: The American Myth of JFK by John Hellman. It's about how the very clever group of people around JFK , including his family and Kennedy himself, consciously wove him into the mythic life of the United States, to communicate the sense that the nation had the chance to remake itself if it elected John Kennedy, to make a new history, more in line with the imaginary America that we like to pretend it is but secretly know it isn't.

It's intriguing, in the light of the recent election, to wonder if the underground river hasn't surfaced for a moment, after many, many years of being confined and ignored. That may be the only way to explain what happened. If that's the case, it's critical that Obama succeed. We're being given another shot.

Something big is happening in our country and the world. You can feel it in multiple ways. A door of possibility seems to be opening where there was no door before. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Obama's Starting to Disappear

Watching him on 60 Minutes last night, I could almost see his face disappearing. Something transpersonal was taking over his features. But it retains a flavor of individual personality. Like Lincoln with his jokes and stories. Or Kennedy with his wit and his lecherousness. When we see a person taken up like this, it's scary and we value the remaining human traits all that much more.

Presidents Making Themselves Disappear

Great leaders learn to set their small selves aside and let larger forces act through them. It's all you can do to survive intact when you're in a position like being president of the United States. Sometimes those power will take you up and use you up and almost tear you apart. Look at the pictures of Lincoln before and after the War. Look at how the job ages almost everyone who takes it. Obama's already turning grey. You could see that John Kennedy, flawed mortal through he was, had an innate respect for the powers that had him to work through. When he gave his civil rights speeach on television, there was a deep well of seriousness evident that supported his words with a power that was prophetic, beyond individual personality. You only need look at George Bush's face to know that he has never allowed that power to work through him. He is not a fundamentally serious man.