Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nod 2 Bob - Benefit for Hunger Task Force - TONIGHT

Join me and many other entertainers TONIGHT (Wednesday) as we pay tribute to the music of Bob Dylan at Linneman's Riverwest Inn, 1001 East Locust in Milwaukee's bustling Riverwest neighborhood. I have the honor to MC the show once again this year and get to play a set myself with a brand new talented band (including the Illusory One and Eric Blowtorch) at about 8:40.  This is the 11th annual Nod to Bob, a benefit for the Hunger Task Force. Come early (the show starts at 7 and the place gets packed pretty quickly -- lines out the door last year) and stay late for a great night of music. See you there!

Religious Fanatics Infect Nation's Capitol

It seems patriarchical religious zealots who often favor medieval robes and rituals have descended on the nation’s capitol recently. Strategically placed in the offices of fearful congressmen and holding brow-beating sessions with parishioners not toeing the selective edicts of their secretive hierarchy, they seek to conform the nation’s secular laws to their random religious preferences.

If such an organized effort was put forth by Islamic clerics or Buddhist monks, investigations would be held as to why our elected leaders are holding audiences with such obvious fanatics, much less reshaping essential legislation to meet their unyielding demands. But these are representatives of the Catholic faith. Those not unduly impressed by their paternalistic zeal to keep women underfoot will be struck like so many of their cloistered nuns wielding metal rulers.

I know these people. I have spent more time on my knees in the service of various Vicars of Christ (mostly John XXIII, as I recall) than most of the right-wing commentators that use Catholic doctrine to beat up on those who would dare to let a woman control her own body. Sure, it was mostly back in the ‘60s, when I was a kid, a dedicated altar boy throughout grade school, back when we had to go to Mass every morning before class. I sang the ritual cants and even played in some of the first guitar Masses at the small parish in my small town.

Back then, the only politics the church involved itself in was a quaint notion of social justice. We gave lip-service to the poor, while spending most of our money on vestments and gold chalices. There was even an anti-war tinge back during that ugly Vietnam thing.

But now, the Catholic church is in the middle of a hard-right swing, careening around in political circles like a bull in a Holy Hill gift shop, slapping down any politician who would dare show independence or common sense on issues related to women’s health. When the House of Representatives was debating a health insurance reform bill a couple of weeks ago, a conservative German “pope” headquartered in Rome sent various functionaries (called “bishops”) – all, incidentally, carrying some fine health coverage – scurrying across Capitol Hill in an effort to scuttle the legislation if it dared to allow coverage for reproductive services, even in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the woman (read: incubator). The foreign, medieval effort was scarily effective, weakening and almost killing the bill.

This week, comes word that one of the scions of the Catholic family that has done more for the church’s historical goal of social justice than any other in the nation’s history – Patrick Kennedy – has been informed by one of the costumed clerics that he shall not be allowed to receive the sacrament of Communion until he toes the religious party line on the disfavored right of a woman to control her own body. “If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means you believe certain things, you do certain things,” declared the bishop. One wonders what would happen if, say, Keith Ellison, the congressman from Minnesota who happens to be Muslim, would receive such a threatening directive from one of his religious leaders. You would hear the screeching all the way from here to Mecca.

But, we allow the Catholics to interfere in the most important issue of our time on the grounds of their narrow, male-centered campaign to rid the women of the world of their right to choose. “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament,” Florence Kennedy famously said. Such irony is lost on the Soldiers of Benedict as they fan out to undermine social justice in the guise of protection of the “unborn”, even at the expense of the lives and health of adult women. Jesus famously threw the money-changers out of the temple. It’s time for someone to throw the medieval prelates out of the Capitol.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Walker Undermines Courthouse Security

Scott Walker isn't a County Executive -- he's a cartoon.  Every statement, every proposal, every budget he's made since he took advantage of Tom Ament's misfortune to gain an office he never would have otherwise has been an unserious joke, meant only to strike poses for the right-wing base he thinks is going to advance his blind ambition to be Governor.  When Walker proposes something, you know it's not going to happen -- the only question is who is going to be the adult that fixes the mess.

Among the proposed victims of the political document he calls a budget and his grandstanding vetos are the mentally ill, bus riders, lakefront tourists, park users and the entire community, who will suffer increased crime because they no longer have the benefit of the rehabilitation efforts by the highly-successful Community Justice Resource Center.  Also high on Walker's let's-beat-them-up-for-political-gain list are county employees, who will have to suffer through unbargained "furlough" days, and the citizens who expect the services the employees, on random days, will not be around to perform.

And then there are the county employees in the Courthouse itself that Walker doesn't want around at all.  Those would be those who maintain and protect it.  Of course, since Walker spends as little time there as possible -- and, when he does, he spends all his time on the phone with wing-nut radio hosts -- what does he care if the place is cleaned or secure? He probably figures he can get the Merry Maids in there for the $125 a week he plops down to get his house in Tosa cleaned and save money by not having all these annoying county cleaners all over the place.

But, of most concern to me as a daily visitor to the Courthouse is his attack on the security staff that have gotten people in and out of the building since early this decade.  After 9/11, everyone in the country responsible for public buildings went nuts.  In the Courthouse, they put metal detectors at the entrances they left open and closed many others (the Ghandi statue at the MacArthur Square former entrance stares at three permanently locked doors).  It took a while to get the system working -- a fellow lawyer and friend of mine once refused to take off his shoes while entering the building, spurring the current system of security passes that get us trusted regulars in the building without the petty indignities suffered by the thousands of visitors who come to the Courthouse everyday. 

The veteran security staff gets us passed through and the citizens screened in a pleasant, efficient and professional manner.  I am terrible with names in the first place, but I know their faces and they know mine.  Besides waving me in, I can see them dealing with the county residents who come to the Courthouse to conduct business; perform jury duty; attend court hearings; get licenses; drop small claims cases on unsuspecting neighbors; get copies of deeds, birth and death certificates, etc.  They are absolutely superb in getting people through the metal detectors and directed to where they are trying to get to in the complicated three-building Courthouse complex. 

Proposing bringing in third-rate security goons from Bob's Security Service or whatever it would be is insane. The only people who would support it -- other than Bob -- are people who never come to the Courthouse and have no idea what it takes to make the security system efficient and competent.  That would be people like Scott Walker and his roving band of goofballs, who are only concerned with scoring vapid political points and couldn't care less about making the county government work.

The Courthouse is one of the few places where almost the entire community has to appear at some point or other for the important or mundane business of life.  The visting, taxpaying citizens should be greeted by permanent professionals who have a stake in getting them through and keeping the building safe.  The security staff at the Courthouse entrances have grown into a talented bunch who represent our county well.  To lose them to the greedy political ambitions of a opportunistic punk like Scott Walker would indeed be a tragedy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Say Goodbye

At the close of the official set last night -- before the epic multi-song encore -- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band ripped through a riviting "No Surrender".  With photos from the band's career projected up behind them, they made the subtle explicit.  "There's a war outside still raging/You say it ain't ours anymore to win," he sang, as they celebrated the life of the band as they put it -- for now and probably forever -- loudly to bed. 

Springsteen was serious and joyful at the same time, all night long.  Starting off with the celebration of the mysteriously interesting "Wisconsin night" of "Cadillac Ranch" and ending almost three hours later with a soulful rendition of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher", he was a man on a mission.  No "Are You Loose?" tonight because he wasn't; savoring the last moments of the most-talented band of rock musicians to ever come together by draining each perfect note from every player ready to give it to him.  After three more shows -- in exactly a week -- this tour will be over, with nothing further planned. 

But it wasn't just about the band.  Springsteen also engaged his other partners in his life's work -- his fans -- in every song.  He pointed to various people in the crowd all night long, waving "hi", pretending like he was encountering long lost friends.  He also gave up his body more than he has since he was crawling up the aisle during "Spirits in the Night" back at the Uptown in his famous first trip here in 1975; running down the side of the crowd to a small riser in the middle of the floor and letting the crowd in the front pit pass him back up to the stage during "Hungry Heart".  Always the earnest populist, Bruce knows his strength as a showman has always derived from his abilty to connect, and he made the most of it this night.

The centerpiece of this show was the end-to-end playing of Born to Run, one of the greatest albums ever made.  The idea of playing a whole album is an interesting one in concept, but less so in practice.  Sure, you get eight of the best songs in anyone's catalog, in their original context.  But the spontaneity of a usual Springsteen show is out the window for 50 minutes as one song follows the other.  Also, some of the treatments of the songs have changed so much through the years -- I'm thinking of "10th Avenue Freezeout" -- that you wonder why it was ever placed between "Thunder Road" and "Night" in the first place.  "Born to Run" seems jarring in the middle, unless you remember that it led off Side Two back when there were two sides to an album and you had to get up and flip the thing over.  After watching the same exercise to much the same effect the night before at the Steely Dan show -- Royal Scam, all the way through -- I think I'd just as soon these guys go back to trying to surprise me.

Which he did, after he got back in control towards the end of the set.  "Into the Fire", the most explicit of the The Rising's 9/11 songs and "The Rising" itself set a surprisingly serious tone before the "No Surrender" pseudo-finale. 

But the highlights were both in the encore, with a long "Kitty's Back" and "Rosalita".   During "Kitty's Back", Bruce led the individual band members in their solos, giving guest trumpeter Curt Ramm some extra time to stretch out and giving pianist Roy Bittan his full attention for a solo that must have gone on for over two minutes.  It reminded me of the first time I saw him at the Bomb Scare show back in '75, when he left the stage and sat in a seat in the first row while he just admired his band.  There was something he wanted to get from Bittan last night, and he was getting it.  Again, savoring the moments.

With old age, Clarence's health, Max Weinberg's TV career and numerous projects pulling the E-Streeters in different directions, they'll never put this thing together again.  Since they reunited from the last major break in 2000, Springsteen and the band has produced some of the greatest concerts of their career, as the strength of The Rising as a record and the incredible Rising tour gave them a momentum that carried them all the way through to last night. 

They've done all they need to do and said all there is to say.  There ain't no more, and there doesn't have to be.  Springsteen will be out with various solo projects and maybe he'll be able to cobble together a better replacement band than he did in '92 or stumble into another interesting project like the Seeger Sessions.  But Springsteen with E Street Band was a once-in-a-generation happy accident, both for him and for us.  And they shared the results with us last night, one more time, with joy and pride and passion.

UPDATE: The most pleasantly chaotic moment of the night is up on YouTube.  After the first bow, Bruce sees a sign for "Living Proof", a song about the joys of fatherhood from one of his non-E-Street projects in the misbegotten early '90s.  The band acted like they never played or heard the song before (if so, what's this?) and they fumbled around like a rehearsal until they found the groove -- or a groove, anyway.  Bruce holds up 1, then 4, then 5 fingers to let the band know where he is in the I-IV-V chord progression.  It was an interesting way to watch he and the band work.  The next song was..."Kitty's Back".