Atonement

The Decemberists: Apology Song
[purchase]

Tonight, Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, begins, and despite the fact that I’m not observant, and won’t be participating in the traditional fast or going to synagogue (but will attend a family “break the fast” anyway), I have to apologize.

My last post here was at the end of 2020, and we’ve made it all the way to September, 2021 before I got around to posting here again. There are certainly excuses, like the happy fact that I’ve been busy with work–a good thing for a self-employed lawyer–or that for a sadly brief period, the world seemed to be getting back to normal, allowing me and my wife to do a little traveling, visiting museums, and even seeing live music again.

Also, having a president who doesn’t make me want to pull out the little remaining hair that I still have every day has allowed me to be less focused on politics, which often prompts me to write. But ultimately, I really haven’t had a spark of an idea to write a longish piece about, and the longer I didn’t write, the harder it became to write.

So, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for never writing my annual favorite TV piece in a year where I watched a lot of TV. FWIW, here were some of my favorite things from 2020, in no real order, and including some shows that are older, but which I watched during the year:

Netflix: Bojack Horseman, Sex Education, The English Game, Unorthodox, Schitt’s Creek, Middleditch & Schwartz, Never Have I Ever, Dead To Me, Stateless, Last Chance U, Fauda, Teenage Bounty Hunters, Shtisel, Money Heist. The Queen’s Gambit, We Are The Champions, Bridgerton, The Crown

Hulu: High Fidelity, Shrill, Ramy, The Great, Taste The Nation

NBC: This Is Us, The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks & Recreation reunion, Council of Dads, Transplant

Freeform: Party of Five, Everything’s Gonna Be OK, The Bold Type

TBS: Miracle Workers

CBS: Hawaii Five-0

HBO The Plot Against America, My Brilliant Friend, Succession, Insecure, Leftovers, West Wing special, How To With John Wilson

Showtime: Homeland, Perry Mason, The Good Lord Bird

Epix: Belgravia, Enslaved

PBS: World on Fire, Baptiste, Sanditon, Reconstruction (2019), Finding Your Roots, Roadkill

ESPN: The Last Dance

Amazon Prime: Upload, Homecoming, The Expanse

History: Grant

AMC: Quiz

Disney +: Hamilton

AppleTV +: Ted Lasso, Little America, The Morning Show

FX: Fargo

TNT: The Alienist: Angel of Darkness

IFC: Brockmire

Maybe I’ll do a full TV post for 2021–I’ve again watched a lot of TV, and much of it was good.

On to the music writing roundup. I’ve continued to write for Star Maker Machine. Typically, I try to write twice for each two week theme, but this year, I seemed to do only one post more often (see above for lame excuses). Traditionally at SMM, we do an “In Memoriam” theme, which is usually the last theme of the year, or the first of the new year, although it does sometimes overlap. This year, I wrote about the passing of “Three Crims,” musicians who were members of, or affiliated with, King Crimson, Gordon Haskell, Keith Tippett, and Bill Rieflin. This eventually sent me down a rabbit hole, listening to Tippett’s non-Crimson jazz/fusion projects. I also commemorated the life of reggae legend Toots Hibbert, who I was lucky to see perform a couple of years ago.

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Year End Roundup

Pat Metheny Group: Better Days Ahead
[purchase]

If a blogger doesn’t blog, is it really a blog?

I’ve started drafting a few things for this space since July, but most of them were political screeds about issues that were discussed better elsewhere. But as we reach the end of an awful year, and the end of the Trump debacle approaches, maybe in 2021, I won’t be totally obsessed with political news, and might find other interesting things to write about here.

Instead, though, I’m going to round up my writing from other sites before tackling my annual TV post.

Most of my writing, as usual, is at Star Maker Machine, where we ran a Great theme in August, and I discussed historical theory and the Gang of Four’s “Not Great Men,” and the TV show The Great, about Catherine the Great, which was great, and will definitely be on my best of 2020 list. Next up was a Count/Counting theme, and I wrote about SCTV’s Count Floyd character, created by the great Joe Flaherty, and Human Sexual Response’s song “12345678910.”

In September, we started hearing about Trump’s attempts to cripple the post office (which may have backfired on him), so we had a Mail theme, and I wrote about the band Letters to Cleo, who faded away after some early success, only to have another moment in the spotlight when they were featured on Parks & Recreation. I followed that up with the 1969 hit by the mostly forgotten R.B. Greaves, “Take A Letter Maria.” The start of a school year that was, for most teachers, students, staff and parents, very different, inspired a Lessons theme, prompting a piece about the underappreciated Paul Carrack’s “Lesson in Love,” and another about “Better Git Yer Learnin‘” by the incredible Our Native Daughters, which tied into all of the BLM protests and marches I attended last summer.

Empty sports venues led to an Empty theme, for which I took a literal approach, with Whiskeytown’s “Empty Baseball Park,” followed by Titus Andronicus’ “The Void (Filler),” which included musings about concept albums and the time I saw the band with my son. In honor of the passing of Eddie Van Halen, we looked at Guitar Heroes, but because I had already written about most of mine over the years, I put our tiny spotlight on Gretchen Menn, a great guitarist who, like my wife and daughter, went to Smith College, but unlike them, plays in an all-female Led Zeppelin cover band, Zepparella (in addition to her solo work).

Many of my theme ideas for Star Maker come to me in the car, when I’m listening to music, which is where the Hidden Places idea came from, and inspired by my hatred of what the soon-to-be former administration did to our government, the imminent election, and seeing the song performed on the filmed version of David Byrne’s American Utopia, I wrote about the Talking Heads’ “Don’t Worry About The Government,” which mentions Washington D.C. (but not in the title–that’s why it is a “hidden” place.”) I’m still worried about the government, but somewhat less so now, after the election.

Speaking of which, our next theme was Joe, because, you know, he won. I discussed Concrete Blonde’s “Joey,” which is what, it seems, Biden’s father called him, and also why, maybe, Biden’s warm relationship with his father made him a more empathetic person than Trump, whose father was, by all accounts, the opposite (and by some accounts, a member of the KKK).

Then, it was Thanksgiving. In line with this year’s ass-backwardness, our theme was No Thanks, and I wrote about three things that I was not thankful for from 2020–the incessant lying from the president and his cronies (The Jayhawks’ “Sound of Lies“), not being able to gather with my family (Old 97’s’ “Lonely Holiday“), and my retinal surgery (Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes“). Interestingly, that last one was one of my most viewed posts of 2020, probably because I used a pathetic picture of my post-surgery bandaged eye instead of the typical album cover. So, expect more medical procedure pictures in 2021–anything for clicks, right?

Another Star Maker tradition is the post-Thanksgiving Leftovers theme, where we go back and write something that would have fit a theme from earlier in the year, and I looked back to the Looking Forward theme (which was inspired by things we looked forward to when COVID was just a bad memory) by posting about the Highwomen’s great song “Crowded Table.” Despite the fact that it is a great recent song, and popular in the country/Americana world, it was one of my least viewed posts of 2020. So, if you missed it, check it out.

Our last theme of 2020, which is typically a holiday-related theme, is Pandemic Holiday Songs, and I wrote about Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December,” which I learned about from Phoebe Bridgers’ recent cover (and which is another post that hasn’t gotten the attention that I’d have expected), and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” first sung by Judy Garland during World War II looking forward to better times in the coming year, and then “jollied up” by Frank Sinatra.

Next up will be our annual In Memoriam theme, with, sadly, way too many choices to write about.

My writing at Cover Me was limited to group pieces, including a Q&A about favorite a cappella covers, allowing me to write about my daughter’s lead vocals with the Smith College Smithereens on Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” We did a 50 Best Leonard Cohen Covers piece, and I wrote about No. 48, Madeleine Peyroux’s cover of “Dance Me to the End of Love,” which should be ranked much, much higher, No. 23, “I’m Your Man,” by Amanda Shires, who has lyrics from two Cohen songs tattooed on her body, No. 21, Lloyd Cole’s fine take on “Chelsea Hotel #2, No. 15, Lera Lynn’s bluesy “I Tried to Leave You,” and No. 5, R.E.M.’s treatment of “First We Take Manhattan,” which would not have sounded out of place on Monster.

We wrote about the 50 Best Tribute Albums of all time, and I wrote about Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young For Charity and Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97’s. And, as always, we ended the year with a look back at the 50 Best Covers of 2020. I wrote about No. 36, Ben Lee and Sarah Silverman’s (yes, that Sarah Silverman) cover of an Adam Schlesinger song originally sung in a movie by Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, and No. 31, Poolside’s appropriately danceable cover of the Grateful Dead’s disco-era Shakedown Street.

The featured song is “Better Days Ahead,” a jaunty, Brazilian-influenced piece from the Pat Metheny Group. Originally recorded for the Letter From Home album, released in 1989, this version is from the 1993 live album, The Road To You, which I’m posting because it is a little longer and allows Pat and his great band to stretch out a little.

See you in 2021!

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Seven-Twelfths Recap

7-12

Joan Shelley: First of August
[purchase]

The last time I filled space on this blog with links to things that I’ve written elsewhere was in April, and so here we are, seven-twelfths through a truly crappy year, and I decided that it was time to do it again.  Because what’s better during an oppressive pandemic summer than asking readers to read old posts, right?

As usual, most of my blogging is at Star Maker Machine.  We reached into the SMM Storehouse of Theme Ideas for “Musical Mysteries,” and I finally got to write one of my personal favorite posts, about Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” (Who are these boys? Where have they been?  Why are they coming back?  And why do you have to let them fight?  Among other mysteries…), as well as R.E.M.’s “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”

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In Praise of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Really.

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Martin Sexton: Diner
[purchase]

I know that I should be writing about the wave of protests sweeping the country and the underlying systemic racism that has burst into mainstream consciousness, but who wants to hear about that from a middle-aged white guy without any particular expertise on the issue? (Much better, I think, to read and learn from the experts, right?)  Or I should be writing about our horrific president and his gang of fascist-wannabe enablers, but I’ve done that, and I don’t have anything new to add that hasn’t been said better elsewhere.  Or, maybe I need to write a review of Jason Isbell’s excellent new album, Reunions, but considering that it was recently the number 1 album on most of the relevant Billboard charts, and has been reviewed everywhere, I’m not sure what new insights I have  (It’s good.  Not Southeastern good, but that’s a damn high bar).

So, instead, let’s talk about the television equivalent of the most comforting of comfort foods, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  I’d argue that during this period of home sheltering and increased binge watching, “Triple D” is the perfect way to pass time.

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You’d Think

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You’d think that being stuck at home with diminishing work to do would have resulted in more writing on this blog, but you’d be wrong.

When it became clear that I’d be back to working from home–this time, with my wife doing the same–and with the gym and most other places closed, or reduced to takeout, or uncomfortable to be in, we started off with a head of steam.  We reorganized some cabinets and drawers.  We cleaned.  My wife baked and baked and baked.  I continued to work, and do some light music blogging, although I spent much of my time helping to organize a series of Zoom meetings of my Princeton classmates.  I learned how to use Zoom, Slack and Spotify.  And we binge watched TV like crazy.

A couple of weeks ago, the vision in my left eye, which had successfully stopped a hard shot on the soccer field back in the fall, was partially obscured, resulting in a diagnosis of a torn and detached retina.  After getting pneumatic retinopexy, where a gas bubble was injected into my eye, followed by getting blasted by lasers, I’m on the mend, but I have to spend much of the day with my head tilted–and the easiest way to do that is to lie in be or on the couch, watching TV or sleeping.  I guess that if I had to have to go through this, now is not a bad time.

Between that and the general malaise that has come from the long period of home stay, where taking a masked walk by the Hudson is the highlight of the week, and grocery shopping is both risky and frustrating, I’ve settled into a state of ennui.  I tried writing an alternative history piece about what would have happened if Trump were president when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but that bogged down (ultimately, of course, the answer would have been, German would be our national language, and I’d never have been born, since my family would have been killed by our Nazi overlords or, more likely, their American collaborators).  And, as you’ll see, I’ve continued to bang out music writing for the other blogs, because it isn’t that hard.

One thing that I’ve learned from blogging is that sometimes you just need to write something, and it opens the floodgates.  So, I figured that a roundup of writing and other stuff since my last one in November might just prime the pump for some more interesting pieces.  And stay to the end (or scroll to the end now, if you are already bored) for some more COVID themed Spotify playlists.

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COVID Playlists 1 & 2

Tiger music fan

For the past few years, my college class, the Princeton Class of 1982, has celebrated ’82 Day on the 82nd day of the year, with small gatherings of classmates around the country.  It is a good way to keep in touch with college friends, and an excuse to wear our crazy Reunions jackets and have some fun.

This year, of course, we had to cancel the events, but are planning to try a Virtual ’82 Day on the appropriate day, which this leap year falls on March 22.  We’ve lined up some classmates to lead presentations during the virtual event–journalists and a doctor to discuss the pandemic, but also some fun stuff, like a movie executive to make suggestions on things to watch while stuck at home, and an astrophysicist to give us pointers on stargazing.

Also for fun, I decided to create a playlist of 82 songs themed for what we are all experiencing in these crazy times, for the first time venturing onto Spotify.  It was fun to do, and when I shared it with classmates, and then my Facebook newsfeed, people seemed to like it, so here it is:

So, of course, I did another one:

As I noted, it probably isn’t as good as the first one, but most sequels, other than The Godfather II and The Empire Strikes Back, fall short of the original.

That being said, I’ve got a third one almost done, and will share it here when I release it to the public.  I do think it is better than The Godfather III, but maybe not Return of the Jedi.

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My Favorite TV of 2019

Best tv 2019

Penguin Café Orchestra: The Ecstasy Of Dancing Fleas
[purchase]

Miles Davis: Bags’ Groove
[purchase]

Starting in January of last year, I began doing my real job mostly from a real office and not from home, which, I assumed, would mean that this list would be shorter than last year’s.

It isn’t, somehow.

And it is also the reason that this list is being published in late February.

As I noted last year, not everything on here is a gem, but all had something that made me put it on this list. Also, there are actually some other shows that that I watch that didn’t make this list.

Because of the ability to stream older shows, I also discovered one series from a prior year, so there’s a separate section for things that were “new to me” in 2019. But, if the show has a new season in 2019, it is in the main section.

One of the themes from 2019 were second seasons from shows that had amazing first seasons, which many critics argued should simply stand alone.  But TV is actually designed to make money, and one theoretically safe way to do that is to commission more of something that worked.  Unfortunately, for most of those shows, the second season was not nearly as good.

The big (although not only) exception, and my favorite show of 2019, was Fleabag (Amazon). To be fair, I also thought that season 1 was so good that a second season would only tarnish its luster, and I was wrong.  That’s what you get, it appears, from underestimating Phoebe Waller-Bridge.  It was funny, it was poignant, it was clever, and engrossing, and it made a relationship between a woman and a priest sexy.  And I’m glad that there are no plans for season 3.

Disclaimers:  (1) I know that there are shows that made many year-end best of lists that I didn’t watch, because you can’t watch everything, or because their premise didn’t seem interesting, or because I’m already too many seasons behind. Some of them I may watch down the line, and some I won’t.  A short list of those appears below.

(2) Because I haven’t seen every show, and because some of the shows aren’t “great,” but still enjoyable, I call this a list of “my favorites” not a list of “the best.”

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End Of Third Quarter Review

third quarter

U2: October
[purchase]

I’m a little disappointed at the small number of views on my last Nostalgia post–I spent a fair amount of time on it and thought it was kind of interesting.  But then, again, when you don’t blog regularly, it is hard to generate readership.  Or, maybe it wasn’t all that great.

I haven’t done a summary post since March, so it seems high time for another one, before we head into the holiday season (although this year, October was the “Jewish Holiday” season).

My contributions at Cover Me have again been limited to participation in group posts, and I participated in the following:  Best Joni Mitchell covers— I wrote about No. 29, The Cantrells’ bluegrass inflected version of “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” No. 25, Natalie Merchant’s faithful cover of “All I Want,” No. 18, Northampton’s Darlingside and Heather Maloney joining forces for a upbeat, folky take on “Woodstock,” No. 16, Adrienne Young and Little Sadie’s rootsy “Free Man in Paris,” No. 14, Okkervil River’s lugubrious and affecting “The Blonde in the Bleachers,” and No. 8, the mostly teenaged members of Fairport Convention’s version of “I Don’t Know Where I Stand,” which was released before Joni’s version.  Then, we did a Q&A addressing the question of whether artists can cover their own song (the answer, by the way, is “no.”)  I wrote about Nick Lowe’s various interpretations of his song, “I Knew The Bride.” 

We then did a Best Cure covers piece, and I wrote about No. 27, Luka Bloom’s heartfelt cover of “In Between Days,” No. 21, Scala and Kolacny Brothers’ choral take on “Friday, I’m In Love.” and No. 11, Kate York’s countrified “Boys Don’t Cry.  I participated in the blog’s Best Elton John covers roundup, contributing three: No. 22, The Indigo Girls’ very Indigo Girls sounding cover of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” No. 18, Bettye LaVette’s stunning, personal cover of the relatively obscure “Talking Old Soldiers” (which should be much, much higher on the list, IMHO–and was great when I had the chance to see her perform it), and No. 10, Time Timebomb (Rancid’s Tim Armstrong) and Friends-joyful, ska-punk take on “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”

Honoring the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, we collected the 50 best covers performed at the festival (and there were many, many covers performed at Yasgur’s farm).  I wrote about No. 39, Joan Baez’s cover of union song “Joe Hill” (featuring some a discussion about the unsuccessful assassination of a Tarrytown resident, whose mausoleum I saw last week during a lantern tour of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery), No. 25, Baez (with Jerry Shurtleff) turning the Byrds’ “Drug Store Truck Driving Man” from a revenge song into an antiwar anthem, No. 11, The Jefferson Airplane covering The Great Society’s “Somebody To Love,” which was also originally sung by Grace Slick, and No. 2, Joe Cocker’s legendary, John Belushi inspiring, cover of the Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Next up was best covers of The Boss, and I wrote about No. 47, Shawn Colvin’s stripped down “Tougher Than The Rest,” No. 42, Graham Parker’s acoustic “Pink Cadillac,” No. 38, Two Cow Garage’s pedal to the metal “No Surrender,” No. 21, Lera Lynn’s twangy “Fire,”and No. 5, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires’ haunting “Born In the U.S.A.”  Most recently, at my wife’s suggestion I proposed a Q&A about experiences with tribute bands, and wrote about my surprisingly positive attendance at a show by The Musical Box, a Genesis tribute band.  I’m about to start on my contributions to a Best R.E.M. covers piece, so stay tuned.

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Nostalgia

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Cracker: Nostalgia
[purchase]

“Nostalgia is often the abdication of responsibility.”  Prof.  Eddie Glaude, Jr.

I’ve been thinking about nostalgia these days.  It isn’t as good as it used to be, though. (Insert rimshot).

I started ruminating about nostalgia when my wife and I watched Ken Burns’ Country Music series (which I have also discussed here and here).  It’s a monumental work, and was fascinating to me, despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that my knowledge of the genre is pretty limited.  I came of age listening to music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the type of music that you listened to was a political statement.  If you were a liberal, anti-war type, then you listened to long haired hippy rock and roll.  And if you were a conservative hawk, then you favored cowboy hat, Nudie suit wearing country.   Which, like most generalizations, is overbroad, of course, but there’s a lot of truth in it, and Burns addressed that in the documentary.

It is hard to argue that rock music didn’t branch off from country, when artists like Elvis Presley melded country with what was called “race” music, or rhythm and blues, creating something that was, predictably, rejected by the country music establishment.  Burns also made a big point about the fact that Johnny Cash was politically and socially progressive, even at the height of his popularity, and possibly at the cost of his popularity. It really wasn’t until much later, when I had started listening to more folk/Americana/alt-country music that I began to dip my toes into classic country music.

But what struck me the most about the series was the thread of nostalgia that runs through country music from its very early days.  So much of country music was based on looking back toward what was seen as simpler, better times,  which, to me, was a reaction to the various upheavals in the South and West (from whence this music mostly comes)–the end of slavery, the Great Depression and Dust Bowl poverty and migrations from rural areas to cities, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement, and so on.  When life now is hard, look back to when things were better (or at least seemed so, with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia).  And often, the reaction to the perceived commercial and “inauthentic” forms of country music was nostalgic–a return to roots, old-time mountain music, bluegrass, and more stripped down, less glossy music.

Then, I went to Princeton over the weekend.  Visiting one’s alma mater makes it almost impossible not to engage in nostalgia, and Princeton is a champion at encouraging it.  Walking through the campus where you lived in your youth floods your brain with memories of that older, simpler time.  But, of course, it isn’t the same place.  New buildings have gone up in the decades since I graduated, and some have been razed.  And the campus is filled with young people, living their own college years, and, to the extent they even notice us alumni, thinking about how old we look.  Not to mention, if I were to assess my college years objectively, there were things that I certainly would have done differently, a realization that sometimes interrupts the warm orange glow of my memories.

I was on campus to attend the Thrive conference focusing on Princeton’s black alumni.  No, I’m not black (although I do have dark skin for a white guy), but Princeton invites back all of its alumni for all of its various affinity group conferences.  Actually, one of the great things about being a Princeton alumnus who lives reasonably close is that the university provides us with many opportunities to hear from professors, prominent and interesting alumni, and students throughout the year.

There was, of course, a good deal of nostalgia–people seeing old friends and talking about old times–but there was also a significant amount of discussion about how things had changed over the years, and whether it was enough change.  At least two of the sessions that I attended directly addressed the question of nostalgia.  The first was led by Professor Glaude, who spent the session mostly reading the first chapter of his forthcoming book, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, interspersing observations and comments along the way.  It was a tour de force.  A key point that Glaude raised was about Baldwin’s position that the nostalgic “American Dream” was, in fact, a lie for black Americans, and that failing to understand that results in a failure to understand the black experience in America.

And certainly, this dark side of nostalgia was the underlying basis of the Trump campaign, whose slogan, “Make America Great Again” was nothing more than an attempt to look backwards.  But it begged the question–when was America great, with the clear subtext that its supposed greatness was when white men ruled unquestioned, and the interests of minorities and women were of little or no importance — which is why the white supremacist movement burst back into prominence, when the President is a sympathizer who refused to denounce neo-Nazi violence.

Toward the end of the weekend, I attended a session devoted to a discussion of how Princeton was addressing some of its own less savory history, mostly related to race. Most of the session focused on the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, former University president, whose name is on two significant Princeton institutions.  In 2016, the Black Justice League, a student organization, occupied Princeton president Chris Eisgruber’s office for 33 hours, with a wide-ranging set of demands, including the removal of Wilson’s name, due to his racism.

After gathering comments from various constituencies and historians, Princeton decided, in light of its perception that Wilson’s legacy was mixed, both in his transformation of Princeton and in some of his policies as U.S. President, not to remove the Wilson name, but to take a number of steps to confront Wilson’s history and other problematic parts of its past.  One of those steps was to commission an installation, “Double Sights,” which is located on the plaza in front of the Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.  The designer of the piece, artist Walter Hood, an African-American who recently was awarded a Macarthur Fellowship and the Gish Prize, cogently explained how his project was intended to address Wilson’s legacy.  As President Eisgruber said at the dedication, which followed the session,  “It is disruptive by design. ‘Double Sights’ exposes the profound contradictions in Wilson’s life and character, and in so doing, it challenges us to confront the fault lines in our society and the tensions within the human soul.”  So, if you agreed with the university’s approach toward dealing with Wilson, the installation appears to be a good start.

However, it was clear that not everyone agreed with the way Princeton was acting, and most of the comments from the audience were negative.  One black alum who graduated in the 70s was adamant that Wilson’s name needed to be erased from its positions of honor, and he was joined in that sentiment by a recent alum who was one of the founders of the Black Justice League, and a current student, among others, one of whom pointed out that the Wilson School is literally the whitest building on campus.  It was a stark reminder of the power of history to affect current attitudes and passions, and the need to reassess the “good old days” when they actually weren’t all that good (for most people).

Our featured song, “Nostalgia,” by Cracker, references Stonewall Jackson’s arm, which had been amputated and buried and never reunited with the rest of the traitor’s body (although it has reportedly been exhumed and reburied).  Of course, the “Lost Cause” narrative is one of the most insidious examples of nostalgia in this country’s history, and it has resulted in a remarkable amount of memorializing of the rebelling traitors and as an excuse for continued oppression of black Americans.  Cracker, by the way, chose its name, in part, because they were making music “based on country, bluegrass and [a] good dose of ‘White boy blues-rock, southern rock, and soul influenced rock. Things like The Band, Little Feat even Lynyrd Skynyrd,” which someone suggested sounded like “Cracker Soul Music.”

People are always going to look backwards, but it is important to assess the past with a fresh eye, without fear of what that examination might find, and with a desire to improve what needs improvement.  As Representative Terri Sewell, an African-American member of Princeton’s Class of 1986, and the speaker at the Thrive closing dinner, stated in a New York Times op-ed, “Patriotism is not looking at our past through rosy glasses and a revisionist history; it is having the courage to examine more closely those areas that are broken, and it is believing in the power of the system to fix them.”

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America–Love It….or Try To Change It

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The Beatles: Get Back
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Hello, you may remember me, the guy who promised to write here more regularly, and then totally wrote less frequently.  I have my reasons, but if you are reading this, you probably don’t really care what they are, so I’ll just move along.

It is amazing to me that we are currently having a national “debate” over whether critics of the current government policies should “go back to where they came from.”  And that this debate was kicked off by a series of racist tweets and comments either cynically, or ignorantly (or both), issued by the President of the United States.  I mean, I shouldn’t be amazed by anything that comes out of the clearly compromised brain of the current holder of the presidency, a man for whom “bottom of the barrel” and “bar cannot be lowered” comments keep coming, as things just get worse and more unhinged.

Speaking of which, the hypocrisy from the party of Trump continues unabated.  The man ran for president on a platform of criticizing the existing government policies, but no one from the Democratic Party suggested that “if he didn’t like it, he should leave the country.”  No one suggested that he “go back to where he came from,” whether that be our common native borough of Queens, his mother’s native Scotland, or his brothel-owning, draft-dodging grandfather’s Germany (from whence grandpa was banished…OK, technically, Bavaria…for the crime of draft dodging, which apparently is genetic).  To the contrary, he was permitted to run his racist, nativist, generally incoherent other than self-aggrandizing and bullying, campaign, and got elected by appealing to the worst instincts of a portion of the electorate and, with Russian assistance, sneaking through a quirk in the Constitution that probably has the Founders spinning wildly in their graves.  At which point, like most authoritarians, he decided that dissent was only OK for him and his ilk, and his opponents were un-American and should go back to where they came from, despite the fact that most of those who were the targets of his ire have roots in this country that long pre-date his.

Not to mention that it is hard to really believe that someone who “hates America” would expend the time, effort and money that it takes to get elected to Congress.  I’d argue that, in fact, they love America so much that they want to be involved in running it.

Of course, he tried to use his rhetorical jujitsu, claiming that it was his critics who were bigots, and that his targets deserved to be silenced because they said things that were un-American, or anti-Semitic, or racist (all things, of course, that he, himself, has done regularly).  And this led to another fight, among his critics, about whether or not it was OK to criticize Rep. Omar, or Ocasio-Cortez, etc., leading to the kind of whataboutism and confusion that helps to obscure the fact that the President of the United States is a bigot.

My take on this whole situation is that the racist tweets, statements and tweets should be called out.  And that individuals have the right–even an obligation–to point to their disagreements with even other Democrats on policy or strategy, but to recognize that they have every right to have their opinions.  I’d argue that it is much, much less dangerous for a Congressperson to have an opinion about Israel that I might disagree with, or a belief that the United States is currently ready to pass sweeping environmental laws, which I think needs to be better explained and executed, than for the President to be attempting to stifle debate.  And to those who argue that publicly differing with fellow Democrats is a “win” for the racist tactics, I disagree.  I think that we can do both, and in criticizing the attempt to demonize dissenters, shine an even harsher light on what he said–it is both racist and authoritarian.  Or, to put it another way, un-American.

As for our featured song, I’m told by the Internet that it was originally more pointed, and was meant as a satire of anti-immigrant policies in Britain back in the day.  The more things change…..

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