Thursday, March 10, 2011


for July 20, 2010

It's no secret that many think the American health care system

is criminally callous -- albeit, less so since reform passed. Last

year, I wrote a hip hop song about it called "Stealin' Medication"

and finally got around to posting it online today. If you wanna

hear it, just click here:

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- I flew over the Gulf of Mexico a few days ago

and, as the plane neared the New Orleans area, could see

brownish patches in the water. Don't know if that was oil

or some other element. But the Gulf farther to the south

is still vividly blue, and let's hope it stays that way.

Here's a shot I took of the Gulf on Friday:

[photo by Paul Iorio]



for July 18, 2010

I came up with a few brand new songs last month and

earlier this month, recorded them at my home studio

in Berkeley (Calif.) a couple weeks ago, and have

just now posted 'em here for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!

But I digress. Paul



for July 12, 2010

McCartney's California Dream Concert

Paul McCartney's massively entertaining show

last Saturday night at AT&T Park in San Francisco was drenched

in Californiana. And the enthusiastic crowd acted as if he

were a local hero from the Haight or Marin playing a

homecoming concert.

For the first encore, for example, McCartney strolled onstage waving

both the California state flag and the U.K. banner before launching into

a thrilling "Day Tripper," which, on this night, sounded sort of

like the very first arena rocker ever written, what with that

booming riff that fits a ballpark so perfectly.

Earlier in the show, he talked from the stage about his previous S.F.

gigs with the Beatles at the Cow Palace and at Candlestick Park (where he

had last performed, in '66, in San Francisco, though he has

given other area shows through the years). And he even played

a special song just for this show, "San Francisco Bay Blues," which

had boaters in McCovey Cove -- where I heard and saw the gig --

blaring their boat horns in appreciation. (AT&T Park is an

open-air venue right on the Bay.)

The highlights of this meaty, generous two-and-half-hour set,

which had fans dancing till nearly midnight, are too numerous

to mention here. The astonishing surprises included "I'm Looking

Through You," which unfolded so naturally with a crisp spare

beat (and with one of the greatest bridges in the McCartney catalog);

an unexpectedly brilliant "A Day in the Life"; a perfect

version of "Paperback Writer" that makes you wonder why the Fab Four

could never get that one right in concert back in the day; and a

"Something" so faithful to the original that I briefly thought

George Harrison had just walked on stage for a star turn.

Of the non-Beatles tunes, "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five," an

overlooked Wings gem, had the energy of a classic (I heard it performed

live a year or so ago by a Canadian band called The Golden Dogs (opening

for Feist), who made me see the track in a different light).

And "Mrs. Vanderbilt" was a lot of fun.

McCartney played half of the "Let It Be" and "Band on the Run"

albums, but (alas) none of "Ram" and very little early

Beatles material. Also missing in action were his very

first post-Beatles singles: "Maybe I'm Amazed,"

"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" and (especially) the very

underrated "Another Day."

One of the thrills of a McCartney show is that he almost always

throws in a wild card Beatles tune that nobody sees coming (at this

show he did a ska-ish version of "Ob-La-Di"; at a set I saw at

Madison Square Garden in '89, it was "Things We Said Today").

When he does an obscure Beatles track, it's sort of like

(to mix a metaphor) seeing a deep memory jump from your brain

and dance in front of you.

Those wild cards should be the starting point for a new kind of

McCartney tour in the future, one that focuses exclusively on

the hidden gold on Beatles albums, the non-hits. Imagine

Paul concerts, at venues like the Beacon in New York, in

which he plays only deep cuts like "For No One" and "Every

Little Thing" and "Rocky Raccoon" and "Honey Pie" and even

"Wild Honey Pie" (fancy that!) and "Mother Nature's Son" and

"I'll Follow the Sun" and "Her Majesty" and others that he has

never performed before.

Until then, we have this fabulous tour, a must-see.

* * * * *

* * * * *

Later this week, the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum (BAM) is

unveiling a new exhibition called "Hauntology," a

collection of works, by various artists, in which there is

a sort of "haunting" of the present by the past. A couple

weeks ago I was able to take a quick look at some of

the paintings in the exhibit (before they were put on the

walls) and snapped this shot of them. Looks promising.

Works in the "Hauntology" exhibit, which
opens July 14th at BAM. Through Dec. 5.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for July 6 - 7, 2010

The New Yorker magazine just published a satirical piece that

very strongly resembles something I wrote in this space on April 21, 2010

(just scroll down to the word "Friedman" to read it).

In my April 21st piece, I played off a New York Times column by

Tom Friedman -- in which he quotes bin Laden saying, “When people

see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong

horse,” as if that were some sort of pearl of wisdom -- and jokingly gave

examples of similar vapid aphorisms.

The writer for The New Yorker did exactly the same sort of thing.

Back in April, I made fun of the bin Laden line this way:

"When people see a new car and an old car, by nature they will
like the new car." Or like a psychotherapist saying: "When people
see a sick woman and a healthy woman, by nature they will be
attracted to the healthy woman."

The New Yorker made fun of the bin Laden line the same way,

using different, albeit more self-consciously elaborate examples:

"Let’s say you see two kittens. One’s nimble and fast and cute. The
other one is dead. My experience is that nature go for the live kitten...If people are given a choice between a nice lamb sandwich with pesto mayonnaise on warm pita bread and having to define the word “rheostat,”
the vast majority will go for the sandwich every time."

The only difference is that I was trying to show examples that

mocked and mimicked bin Laden's simple-mindedness. (What

kind of simpleton do you have to be to say something as stupid

as: When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature

they will like the strong horse? And I guess it takes a billionaire

accustomed to the unchallenged platitudes of the pricey lecture

circuit to think that's a good line.) The New Yorker writer used

baroque examples that seemed to be more the product of research

than of imagination (I wonder how many Google searches it took

for him to finally settle on the word "rheostat" for his not-funny line).

Further, the writer John Kenney ignores the first rule of humor:

it has to be, uh, funny.

Woody Allen used to write in the style that John Kenney badly

imitates in the New Yorker, but the difference is this: Allen is

funny, Kenney is not. (And lemme paraphrase someone: I've met

Woody Allen, I've interviewed Woody Allen. Sir, you are no

Woody Allen. [And neither am I!])

Anyway, my piece was a unique satiric concept (as opposed to, say,

a joke such as calling Tiger Woods a "Bootyist," a jokey

coinage a lot of people came up with simultaneously).

Though the writer did not exactly plagiarize my piece, he did

apparently take my original idea, or so it seems.

What do you think?

The article in The New Yorker is posted on its website

(it's called "No One Ever Said It Better") -- and my blog

for April 21 is posted below.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- I emailed TNY about this; just received an email

from the magazine saying, "I will investigate the origins

of our column and report back to you as soon as possible."

[Today's blog entry for 7/7 (above) updated at 5pm.]


[My interview with Barbara Billingsley just added (6/29) as MP3. Just click here:]


for June 26, 2010

Pavement, Live and Reunited in Berkeley Last Night

Pavement, together again.
[photo (of an earlier Pavement gig) from; photographer unknown.]

Though the main part of the U.S. leg of the Pavement reunion

tour doesn't begin until the Labor Day weekend, the band played

a couple gigs in its hometown area last night and the night

before. (There are no other upcoming domestic Pavement shows until

September -- except for the one at the Pitchfork fest in July.)

If last night's gig in Berkeley was any indication, fans are

in for a real treat. Drawing heavily from its "Slanted and Enchanted"

and "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" albums, and playing some

rarities that only true aficionados know, the band has almost never

sounded better, recalling nothing so much as The Replacements

in its prime.

This particular gig was clearly angled for the locals. Pavement

auteur Stephen Malkmus talked from the Greek Theatre stage

about the first show he'd ever seen at the Greek (a rained-out

R.E.M., Third Eye Blind), thanked "Aristotle, Socrates and all

the usual Greek punks" and even chatted about a former Cal quaterback.

At another point, he talked about nearby Stockton, where he

grew up but had never played until the night before.

"Do any of you worship Satan?," Malkmus asked as the crowd

cheered. "I was in Stockton yesterday and nobody worships

Satan in Stockton. In Linden, they worship Satan. In Stockton,

no Satan."

And several songs later, he performed a song about tiny Linden,

Calif., "Lions (Linden)," a rarity from the "Luxe and Reduxe"

edition of "Slanted and Enchanted."

As if all that local color wasn't enough, the band then brought

on Stockton's own Gary Young -- the band's original drummer, who

left the group just as Pavement was going to Matador -- for the

final songs, including another early obscurity, "Box Elder."

Of course, all the material they performed was from the years

when they were active -- from '89 to '99 -- though some of it

sounded like it'd been written just last month or last year.

A track that sounded notably ahead of its time was

1992's "In the Mouth a Desert," which seems to have

been the model for Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #1." (Anyone

not knowing it'd been penned in '92 would have thought

Pavement was influenced by AF rather than vice versa.)

And its lyrics seem soo 2010 ("Can you treat it like an oil

well/when it's underground, out of sight?").

Then again, as original as the band is, they can sound remarkably

like The Replacements (Nirvana seemed to use the 'Mats's

aesthetic as a starting point, too).

Remember, Malkmus and Cobain were virtually the same age (the former

is 44, the latter would have been 43 this year), so Westerberg, now 50,

must have seemed sort of older brotherish to both of them. (It was telling

to hear Malkmus sing the line "She knows what it's like to be 45 or

53," which he wrote when he was 32.)

By the way, it's more obvious than ever that Westerberg, who still

hasn't gotten his full and proper due (inexplicably, he hasn't

yet been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame), has

been a huge influence on Nineties and Oughties rockers. (I'd

love to hear Westerberg sing "Gold Soundz" -- a highlight

last night -- or listen to Cobain belt out "Stereo" -- and

I hate the fact that a Nirvana reunion tour is never gonna

happen. But I digress.)

Pavement was and is every bit as thrillingly audacious as

the 'Mats and Cobain. On songs like "Unfair," the sound is

pure you-can't-do-that and the lyrics take no prisoners ("Let's

burn the hills of Beverly" -- sort of the opposite of Death

Cab's "Grapevine Fires").

Plus, Malkmus has a great sense of humor. For example,

on stage he started the intro to "Shady Lane" -- "Blind

date with the chancer" -- to wild applause and then

jokingly broke it off.

"Thank you very much," he said. "Good night." The crowd

laughed. Then back to "Shady Lane." And a few minutes later,

he did some humorous a cappella crooning.

Opening the show, which I heard from the hills above the Greek, was

Quasi, a worthy band from Portland, Oregon, that will be kicking

off a few dates for Pavement in September.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- [This P.S. added on June 29th] By the way,

the movie "Airplane!" was released 30 years ago this week, and

while it's not exactly my favorite film comedy, it does have

its funny moments.

To commemorate the anniversary, I thought I'd share a bit

of an interview I conducted with actress Barbara Billingsley,

who memorably appears in the film as The Jive Lady. I spoke

with Billingsley one-on-one in July 1997.

Hear the MP3 here:



for June 23, 2010

Elias is In, Barnes is Out

Just saw President Obama's address on the change of

command in Afghanistan. Tough, decisive, wise, smart,

pragmatic. If I had written that speech, not a word would

have been different. And Petraeus is the perfect replacement.

Congress should confirm him today.

And now's the time to stop the "Platoon"-ish internecine fighting.

Barnes lost, Elias won. But the enemy is still Osama

bin Laden and his followers. And while we're bickering,

they're plotting.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Congrats again to Rolling Stone for its seismic scoop.

(See what a freelancer can do!) Amazing that a magazine with

over forty years of scoops has just had its biggest yet.



for June 22, 2010

Fire McChrystal

Obama has tried nice with the military, many

of whom don't respect him prima facie because

he's not a vet. Now he has to make sure they

fear him, too. If Stanley McChrystal is allowed

to stay on, he'd be a walking reminder to everyone

from generals to privates that there is no penalty

for borderline insubordination and for undermining

government policy. Make an example of him.

Oh, I know: McChrystal has his supporters (Karzai

among them) who would be demoralized or alienated

if he were fired. Replacing him would disrupt the

ecosystem of the war in Afghanistan, some would say.

OK, then give him a lateral transfer, put him in

charge of something irrelevant (like the drawdown in

Iraq). That way everybody saves face and is

sharply reminded that the U.S. military is ultimately

under the sole command and control of civilians.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Ah, so that seems to explain Barack 'n' Joe's

"golf game" the other day. Get a clear head in the open

air, away from all eavesdroppers and mikes (golf courses

and beaches are great for that), and make a really, really

tough decision.

Then again, maybe it was just a golf game!

P.S. -- Kudos to Rolling Stone for reporting such

a major scoop.



for June 19, 2010

Stuff About BP That Nobody is Telling "the Small, Small People"

Around the time that Lord John Browne, then-CEO of BP, was

having ultrasecret sex with his gay "escort," fifteen BP workers

in Texas City, Texas, were killed in a refinery disaster that

was the firm's fault.

The deaths and injuries -- over 170 were injured -- were

ghastly, resulting from a geyser of extremely flammable

chemicals spewing from an overloaded tower. (Suffice it to

say the people who died did not die well.)

This was March 23, 2005. Tony Hayward was

Lord Browne's lapdog assistant at the time, pre-occupied with

making sure no one found out about his boss's whoring.

And BP's corporate culture was such that Lord Browne was

not forced to resign from BP because 15 people died due

to his screw-up. No, he had to go because of issues related

to his sexual affair.

Because BP -- convicted of felonies and fined

a record sum in this case -- had done its job so

incredibly well in Texas, the firm was now promoted to

its next job: drilling for oil a mile underwater

in the Gulf of Mexico, which nobody had really done before.

Of course, BP handled that job equally well.

And when Browne did quit, most of the papers called him a corporate

giant, a great lion of industry. "Browne was one

of the most respected business leaders of his generation" went

one typical piece of puffery in a news story.

Never mind that Browne's bad practices caused fatalities

that could have been prevented. Never mind that

many of the workers who died and were injured

that day in Texas City had been working 12-hour shifts

without a break for a month, according to The Washington Post.

No, Browne had done a heckuva job, according to industry analysts

interviewed by some folks in the media.

The grisly 2005 deaths caused by BP were so outrageous

that even the now-disgraced Rep. Joe Barton of Texas vented

his anger on the House floor about the firm, saying: "This comes

from a company which prides itself in their ads on protecting

the environment. Shame! Shame! Shame!"

Of cour$e, one ha$ to wonder what cau$ed $uch a change

of heart by Barton about BP.

Anyway, when Browne resigned, Hayward took over.

And all the biz analysts played cheerleader in the press:

"Hayward has made a good impression so far," Fadel

, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Company, told the

New York Times. "He is more of a technocrat and a hands-on

guy. He's worked all over the place, so he knows. " (Knows what?)

And Hayward immediately announced he would bring

a new personal style to BP:

"I don't work at weekends apart from some Sunday evenings

and I take all my holidays," Hayward told a newspaper.

And as soon as he became CEO, Hayward said all

the predictable things: there has to be more communication (has a

CEO ever taken over a firm and said "There needs to be less

communication"?); the top brass has to talk more with the

small, small people; safety is our number one

concern; yada yada yada.

Of course, Hayward meant none of it. He evidently just

wanted to sail his yacht all day while the peons

handled the greasy stuff.

And my guess is that BP won't fire Hayward, no matter what

he does. Because Hayward, Browne's former assistant, knows

too much about Browne and (probably) other top execs

at BP. ("Escort," by the way, is what used to be called

a "whore.") And Hayward could very easily, uh, spill.

Sure, Hayward may be bought out (read: bribed) for some

exorbitant sum in the future. But he won't be canned,

because those in the know probably know ho Jeff Chevalier

wasn't Browne's only one (if you catch my drift).

In the private sector, that's the only sort of job security that's

really real.

But I digress. "Lord" Paul

P.S. -- [added June 21, 2010] And now, inevitably,

comes the revisionist history about BP and Lord Browne, which

apparently isn't being revised enough. In one newspaper,

a writer praises Browne in the way he had been

(inexplicably) praised in the pre-Gulf spill era, but

admits: "In retrospect, though, it seems clear

[Browne] presided over the creation of a dangerously

weak safety culture."

Uh, "dangerously weak" doesn't quite cover it. Try

"criminally negligent safety culture."

Some industry analysts are essentially saying:

"Browne was great if you overlook the 170 people

injured and 15 killed because of the negligence he

was responsible for." Which is like saying Capt.

Joseph Hazelwood was a first-class ship captain, if

you subtract the Exxon Valdez disaster. Or like

saying Jayson Blair was a terrific reporter, aside

from his plagiarism, fabrications and factual errors.


for June 16, 2010

The Rise of the Fist Bump Epoch

(or, Why My Ethnic Group Isn't Groovy Anymore)

The High-Five Era ended with Borat Sagdiyev's memorable

ridicule of the high-five greeting in the "Borat" feature

film of '06. Taking its place is The Fist Bump Epoch,

inaugurated when Barack bumped Michelle on stage in

St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 3, 2008.

The Fist Bump Era has brought us many good things, don't

get me wrong. Hey, you can now arrive bloody and

uninsured at the ER and be automatically enrolled in

Medicaid, if you're eligible. Saves some folks a lot of

bucks. Also, we now have a president whose nouns and

verbs agree -- a good example for everyone.

But with the Fist Bump Revolution has come the scourge

of Identity Politics, a my-ethnic-group-right-or-wrong

attitude in which people of a particular ethnic, racial

or religious group support someone from their own faction

just because he or she is in that group.

Generally, not a good thing. Lately, it seems, the

truth and the facts don't matter nearly as much as

the promotion of a favored ethnic group.

To be sure, every group is guilty of blindly standing

by their own, to some extent. It seems that whenever

a, say, beloved Puerto Rican politician is convicted

of corruption, many in that community will stand by

him or her. When an Italian-American mobster is collared,

some Italian Americans will stand by their man. And when

an African-American commits some indefensible crime, some

blacks will twist the facts into a pretzel to justify it.

Identity Politics among African-Americans seems to be on

the rise lately. Look at the recent Supreme Court case

Ricci v. DeStefano (aka, the New Haven firefighters case),

which seemed to many to be a case of unfair racial bias.

Look at the appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate,

which happened despite the fact that most pros thought he

wasn't up to the job and occurred only after the

Congressional Black Caucus played the race card.

Prior to the Fist Bump Era, my Italian-American ethnic

group used to be groovy. Back in 1988, when Mario Cuomo

looked like he might become an American Churchill, when

Frank Zappa was courageously taking on Congress over

free speech issues, when Martin Scorsese was making

his best films, Italian-Americans were riding high.

We had heroic cultural forebears back then. Like Mario Savio,

founder of the free speech movement of the 1960s. Like

Felix Cavaliere of the rock group The Rascals, who

refused to play segregated concert venues and paid a

high price for his principled stand. (And on a personal

level, I am so glad and proud my late dad, born in Italy,

fought against Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany

back when, unlike many of his generation.)

And remember how Richard Nixon was so bigoted against

Italians? Nixon was caught on tape saying, "We should do

something for Italians, of course they smell bad and they

are all crooks." I must admit I was filled with pride

knowing that my own ethnic group was despised by such

a clinically paranoid loser and lowlife.

Today, not so much. Crass guys like Rudy Giuliani and

Al D'Amato -- not to mention the buffoonish prime minister

of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi -- have helped

to make Italian-Americans seem deeply uncool.

Meanwhile, it's a great time to be African American. In

almost every precinct, favoritism has been shifting that

way -- or at least it was in 2009 and early 2010 (though

in the run-up to the '10 elections, there has been a bit

of a rollback of Fist Bumpism). In politics, we have

seen the phenomenon of people backing a mediocre black

political candidate (e.g., Burris, Kendrick Meek, Alvin

Greene, Jesse Jackson, Jr., etc.) mainly because he's black.

On television, there have been countless commercials that

show dramatizations in which a black character is large

and in charge and a white dude is a clueless oaf.

A corrective, some argue, to years in which blacks were

oppressed in America.

And there's some truth to that. Or more accurately, there

was some truth to that prior to, oh, November 2008, when

Barack Obama proved beyond a doubt that racism and bias

are not as prevalent or as debilitating as we once thought

they were. The 2008 election showed an African-American

progressive can win amongst white voters in red states -- even

against a strong conservative opponent. It's harder than

ever to make a case that racism is the obstacle

it used to be.

Meanwhile, the propagandistic aspect of Fist Bumpism

has also had an impact on non-race related phenomena

(culture and language, for starters). For example,

in the past year or so, the word "Cadillac" has

taken on an entirely new connotation.

When I grew up in the Sixties and Seventies, anybody

with any semblance of smart taste (or hipness, for that

matter) used the word "Cadillac" strictly as a pejorative

reference. It was used to define something tawdry or

someone who had lots of money but no taste.

Today, even though the Cadillac aesthetic hasn't changed much,

there seems to be a sort of forced upgrade of the stature

of the name -- as in the ubiquitous phrase "The Cadillac

health plan," used to describe an upscale, quality health plan.

Frankly, the first time I heard the phrase "Cadillac plan,"

on the "PBS NewsHour," I was genuinely perplexed. I honestly

thought they were trying to describe a tacky,

gaudy, expensive but cheap plan -- whatever that would be!

To me, the name Cadillac has always had firm and

fixed connotations (like the word Edsel).

But it seems the government and the media are just trying

to promote the ailing American car industry during this

recession. Because if you truly wanted to use the

name of a car to evoke high quality, you would say Rolls

Royce or Mercedes or Jaguar -- but then those aren't

American brands. Truth is, the U.S. does not make a car

that can compete with the excellence of certain foreign makes,

so there's an element of propaganda involved in using the

term "Cadillac plan."

Surely, this Fist Bump Epoch will soon be supplanted by -- who

knows? -- the Group Hug Era (maybe after a female presidential

candidate does a group hug on stage). Or a Shadow Boxing Era

(after a macho presidential contender who likes to

playfully shadow box with people at campaign stops). And maybe

the ethnic flavor of future months will be...Icelanders, or

New Zealanders (hey, the Flight of the Conchords might

help to make that happen!).

Or maybe Italian-Americans will become cool again. After all,

a new Cuomo is ascendant in New York -- Andrew, this time -- and

Fiat is again the pride of the auto industry.

But one things's nearly certain: in 2020, we'll look back

at video footage of the Fist Bump Era and it'll all look

so obviously propagandistic.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- I have to say that there's something a bit touching

about Gary Faulkner's brother dropping him off at the airport

so he could go to Afghanistan to find and kill Osama bin Laden.

Faulkner, as you've probably heard, wanted to give his last

full measure for an undeniably worthy cause: killing

bin Laden.

Faulkner's heart is in the right place, but his strategy for

killing Osama was a bit off. First, bin Laden is likely

hiding in the Bajour province in the FATAs on the Pakistan

side, not in remote Chitral. See my own original research

on this here:
(For starters, bin Laden wouldn't have been been able

to get his videotapes to al Jazeera in a timely manner as he

has been if he were located in the Himalayas. (All routes to

and from the region are impassable in the winter.) He also needs

easy access to the sorts of medical supplies (for his kidneys)

that you'd usually find only near big city hopsitals.) Second:

let the drones handle it. Obama, not W., is directing the war

now and knows what he's doing.

In the meantime, while we're waiting for a drone to do the

deed (and I still have a nice bottle of Chianti that I'm

saving for the day Osama dies), here's an MP3 version of a

song I wrote a couple years ago called "I SHOT OSAMA BIN LADEN."




for June 14 - 15, 2010

[new material added at bottom at 6pm (PT) 6/15!]

the 65th Anniversary of the End of the Second World War

The Fascist-o-Matic!

I was recently reading contemporaneous magazine accounts

about the rise of Adolf Hitler's regime, which fell 65 years

ago last month, and thinking how similar some of the Third

Reich's fascism is to the practices and policies of

autocrats today.

From Kim Jong-il's dictatorship in North Korea to Mullah

Omar's former regime in Afghanistan to religious

totalitarians enforcing their dogma via asymmetrical

means, the resemblances are eerie -- so similar in fact

that they began to mesh and merge in my mind. I started

thinking: was that Hitler who banned dancing except on

Saturdays between 7pm and curfew, or was that the Somali

fundamentalists? No, the latter have just (effectively)

banned music on Somali radio at all times, but

they're not the same ones who forced Hindus to wear yellow

badges on city streets, which is not to be confused with

storm troopers forcing Jews to wear yellow stars in public.

As I researched various fascist rules over the decades, I

found all sorts of peculiar (and oddly specific) bans

and prohibitions that started to seem interchangeable,

which they actually are, in many ways.

Proof of that is in this Fascist-o-Matic (below), by which

you can mix and match various totalitarian rules past and

present to create your own custom blend of oppression!

Just take one clause from Column A and mix it at random with

another clause from columns B and C. (Ex.: "Hindus

must...have a sun tan...under penalty of a forced haircut.")

Of course, each line, read straight across, describes an

actual regulation imposed by an autocratic state or group.

(See the "links" section (below) for more info on each

totalitarian regulation!)

[click to enlarge!]


1) Hitler lifted his total ban on dancing in July 1940, allowing it only Wednesdays and
Saturdays between 7pm and curfew.
2) One of the reasons Ayatollah Kazim Sadighi of Iran has cracked down on women with
sun tans is because a female tan might cause earthquakes.
3) The Islamic extremist group Hizbul Islam has forbidden radio stations in
Somalia to air music (and the stations, fearing violence, have complied, much to the chagrin
of some in the Somali government).
4) Kim Jong-il has declared that all men in North Korea must wear their hair short (or face a
forced haircut).
5) In August 1940, Hitler forbade Jews from entering a store or market, except
between four and five pm.
6) Sharia law in Pakistan and other Islamic countries forbids people to play the tambourine,
except at circumcisions and weddings.
7) In 2001, Mullah Omar's Taliban regime in Afghanistan forced Hindus to wear a yellow
badge in public.
8) Islamic radical group The Shabab have banned the ringing of schoolbells in parts of Somalia.
9) Sharia law in Pakistan and elsewhere forbids people to play the mandolin, flute or lute.
10) In August 1940, Hitler decreed that Jews were not allowed to use a telephone, except to contact
a doctor or hospital.
11) Islamic militants worldwide have used deadly violence to stop people from showing
pictures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad and other religious figures.
12) Under Kim Jong-il, blue jeans are banned in North Korea.
13) Hitler banned Superman comics, which he considered too Jewish.
14) In the Third Reich, Jews had to wear a yellow star on their clothing in public.
15) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the autocratic president of Indonesia, banned
protesters from bringing buffaloes to demonstrations (he felt the buffalo might be seen as
an unflattering caricature of himself).

* * * * *




3. ibrahim&st=cse












But I digress. Paul

P.S. --

The Fox News version of President Obama's Oval Office Address?:

"I just saw Obama's address, his first from the Oval Office.

It was a balanced speech. He had the American flag on one

side and the Indonesian flag on the other. And he made it

clear -- absolutely clear -- that he's completely open to any

suggestion from any socialist anywhere. And he will not

tolerate any delay in restoring and rebuilding Port-au-Prince.

Further, he's meeting with attorneys tomorrow to see whether

the spill can be upgraded to a hate crime."

* * * * *

* * * * *

Everybody's talking all about

how Nikki Haley came out on top in a tight three-way. But

I've heard rumors she's had experience with that sort of thing,

[Ba-dum ching!]



for June 13, 2010

"The Maltese Falcon" Turns 70 Next Year
Time for a Sequel?

"Give 'em Cairo!"

John Huston's 1941 version of "The Maltese Falcon" is turning

70 in several months and still soars and endures like few

other films in American history. But remember: the great

bird is still at large -- and it may take a sequel to find

it (more on that later).

At the time of its release, it was seen as a sort of Hitchcock

thriller, American style; today it's more rightly viewed

as the father of U.S. noir. Back then, it was seen as the

first film by the son of the far better known Walter Huston

(who, by the way, has a cameo as the man who delivers the

phony falcon to Spade's office). Today, John is the only Huston

anyone is likely to remember in fifty years.

Dashiell Hammett's novel "The Maltese Falcon" was made into a

movie three times in the decade before the Second World War,

but not before or since. And a fresh viewing of it reveals why

the tale held such sway in that era.

After all, those were the years in which nation after

nation fell to a powerfully evil force (named Adolf

Hitler), so it's no wonder a story about strong and

savvy men falling for an irresistible, deadly seductress

struck a nerve.

It's pre-war in sensibility in other ways, too. There are

at least three scenes in which Humphrey Bogart's character

(private eye Sam Spade) is held at gunpoint by an adversary

but manages to wrest the weapon away, only to give the

pistol back to the bad guy, who proceeds to use it on

Spade again.

Which is much like the way the world treated Hitler in those

years. I mean, Hitler tried to stage a coup d'état in Germany

in '23, a crime for which he probably should have been executed

or imprisoned for life or, at the very least, banned from ever

holding public office. But instead he got five years in a

relatively cushy cell. In Sam Spade style, we gave Hitler back

his gun, chuckled and said, "We'll make sure he doesn't hurt himself

with it."

Contrast that to the deadly serious tone in the next Bogart

flick, "Casablanca," made in the thick of the war, in '42.

When someone pulls a gun in that picture -- a very serious

action, by the way -- hands and blood pressure go straight

up. There's none of the laughter in the face of a gun barrel

that there is in "Falcon" -- and ain't nobody bluffing, either.

When Huston set out to re-make "Falcon," he had to deal with

the fact that the two previous "Falcon"s were not bad at all, though

not as great as the one he'd direct. If you watch the '31 film

expecting a stilted early talkie, you'd be pleasantly

surprised. It's sexier and a bit grittier than Huston's flick.

(I never thought the repetitive rhythm of a spent 78 record

on a turntable could sound so sexually suggestive!)

And the '36 version with Bette Davis -- "Satan Met a Lady" --

seems almost campy today. (If you think Wilmer is an indelible

character, check out his equivalent in the '36 flick, a homicidal

wuss named Kenny Boy.)

But if you see the '36 film before seeing Huston's "Falcon," you

start to wish Bette Davis was in the role played by Mary

Astor, who, truth be told, is the only weak spot in Huston's

otherwise nearly flawless film. I still can't picture someone

as wispy as Astor gunning down anyone. (As Bogart so memorably

puts it: "If you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be,

we'd never get anywhere.") Davis is much more convincing in

that sort of plot.

Plus, it doesn't fully make sense that Astor would shoot Archer

to frame Thursby. Why not simply have her shoot Thursby

directly, since she's already getting her hands bloody, rather than

take such a circuitous route to eliminating Thursby, who (as far

as she knows) might have an alibi for the hour in which she

killed Archer? (And, truth be told, Astor's part at the end is

remarkably incomplete. Wouldn't she be vehemently asserting her

innocence to the detectives in the final frames rather than

silently walking off with them to prison?)

But then, noir isn't supposed to neatly parse, its stock in trade

being fog and mystery at the edges. One of the only major noir

films with a plot whose every twist and nuance make perfect

sense is Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," which both draws from and

actually flies higher than "Maltese" -- and features a far older

John Huston in what is arguably his greatest acting role.

And both films share the marvelous element of

having characters talk up successive theories about

a murder that prove, in the end, to be completely wrong.

("Your first idea that I killed Thursby because he killed

Miles falls to pieces if you blame me for killing

Miles, too," Bogart smartly says to detectives who are barking up the

wrong tree.)

Likewise, Jake Gittes in "Chinatown" floats numerous mistaken

theories about the killing of Hollis Mulwray before finally

arriving at the unspeakably ugly truth. ("The Godfather, Part 2,"

has this element, too; Michael Corleone, trying to find out who

attempted to kill him, tells Roth that Pentangeli set up the

hit (and reads Roth's facial reaction). And then, separately,

he tells Pentangeli that Roth arranged the hit (and reads

Pentangeli's face).)

Everyone associated with "Falcon" has been dead for a long time

(and only the actor who played Wilmer lived long enough to see

the dawn of the Internet era). So there are no more first-person

stories to tell about the making of the flick.

Still, there's plenty of room here for a sequel that I'm astonished

has not been made yet, After all, at the end of the film, the

falcon, which has eluded celluloid adventurers since 1539, has

still not been found. The movie ends with the immensely valuable

bird still in the hands of someone in an Istanbul suburb, which

is where "The Maltese Falcon 2," if there ever is such a picture,

starring, say, Johnny Depp (or George Clooney), should take up the tale.

In such a sequel (not a re-make), the authorities are forced

to release Gutman, Cairo and O'Shaughnesy, due to lack of

evidence in the Archer/Thursby murders. Gutman and his

gang, on release, immediately fly to Istanbul to find the

bird. And Spade, still seeking both justice for the murder of

his partner and a cut of the loot (should they

actually find the falcon), jets off after them. With prequel

flashbacks to 16th century Malta and Spain to show the

origins of the falcon and its disappearance. (Also starring, in

this idea, Jack Nicholson as Kasper Gutman, Olivia Williams

or Scarlett Johansson as Brigid O'Shaughnesy, Christoph Waltz

as Joel Cairo. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, or -- better

yet -- Roman Polanski, who, if his legal issues were behind him,

could conceivably start making films in America again, if he

wanted to.) In an era when we're (rightly) pre-occupied

with finding Osama bin Laden, a story about an interminable

search for the elusive falcon might resonate.

Such a sequel would be, ahem, the stuff dreams are made of (to coin a phrase).

can you imagine...

The Maltese Falcon 2
finally finding the ultimate bird

starring Johnny Depp as Sam Spade
Scarlett Johansson as Bridget O'Shaughnesy
Christoph Waltz as Joel Cairo
and Jack Nicholson as Kasper Gutman
Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

But I digress. Paul



for June 8, 2010

Election Prediction: At Least Six Tea Partyers Will Win Tonight
The NICE/Tea Split in the GOP

The interesting thing about today's elections is

that the Gulf oil spill and the topic of oil drilling

in general are not the main issues in any of

the twelve states where voters are going to the polls.

Perhaps that's because none of the twelve is a Gulf state,

perhaps anti-Obama fervor among the GOP has eclipsed that


Whatever the reason, the main trend in this set of

contests is the presence of a Tea Party candidate in almost

every race. In fact, there are so many Tea Partyers

that they're canceling each other out in some instances,

allowing more moderate Republicans to prevail.

I mean, even in Jersey there's a Tea Party candidate for

Congress (ex-NFL player Jon Runyan), and in red states there

are numerous ones: Boyd and Loyola in Virginia; Haley in

South Carolina (by the way, what is it about adultery and

South Carolina?); LePage in Maine; Graves in Georgia; and,

most significantly, Angle in Nevada (easier pickings for Reid

in the general).

The big headline of the night is likely to be the triumph

of several Tea Party candidates. Off the top of my head, it

looks like at least six Partyers will win tonight: Angle,

Haley, Runyan, LePage, Loyola and Graves.

And Robert Hurt will win in Virginia only because a couple

TP candidates are splitting that vote. (The GOP split

everywhere is between the TP and NICE (Not-Intensely-Conservative-Enuff)

candidates. And the NICE versus Tea split will be seen again

in August, when NICE McCain goes against (and probably wins against)

the Tea partyish J.D. Hayworth, and in November when NICE indie

Crist faces off against Tea's Rubio (with an increasingly

irrelevant Meek in the picture, too).

On the less volatile Democratic side, the trend in a couple

races seems to be incumbents having opposition from the

left (Blanche Lincoln will probably lose to the more

liberal Bill Halter, but Jane Harman will win against Marcy


Anyway, time for me to get to the polls, which open at 7am,

and vote in the California primary!

By the way, I'm writing this a little after 6am and

posted it at around 6:30 on June 8th.

the ballot where I live.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- I know my blog is obscure, but it does have original

content. If you are going to echo my ideas, please

credit me. Thanks.

P.S. -- [This P.S. added at 8:45am.] Just back from the polling

place. Very low turn-out here in Berkeley, Calif. I was the

16th voter after around 90 minutes of voting. And no wonder:

there's no significant state-wide race in Calif. that's really




for June 1, 2010

Many thanks to Marshall Stax and KALX radio for playing

my new song "If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Susannah" last night

on The Next Big Thing!

Just click here to hear the tune:

Enjoy! Paul



for June 1, 2010

Even the 72 Virgins are Saying to al-Yazid, "You Wish!"

Celebration day: the al Qaeda guy who handled the

financing for the 9/11 attacks, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (aka,

Sheikh Said al-Masri), is finally dead, killed by an

American drone strike in the border area between

Afghanistan and Pakistan.

At last, we have a president who is pointing American rifles in

the right direction: at the planners of the '01 murders.

Obama's success just underscores how clueless Bush was.

Bush had his missiles aimed a thousand miles away at

irrelevant targets -- in Iraq! No wonder W. was never able

to get al-Masri or anyone at his level.

One has to wonder whether the Saudi Binladin Group paid Bush

laundered campaign contributions to divert firepower away from

their wayward son Osama. What other explanation could there be?

At least today, and on most (but not all) days, I am so proud

Barack Obama is the president of the United States.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Remember how stodgy conservatives in the mid-1960s used to

miss the cleverness of the name The Beatles and say, "Ooo, they can't

even spell. Beatles is spelled Beetles." And they used to

(how devastating!) make "jokes" like, "No, I haven't heard Meat

the Beetles yet!"

Well, a friend of mine from the old days seems to think that I

actually misspelled the name of the duo The Flight of the Conchords

in my previous column. Conchords is actually spelled

Concords, she notes.

In the words of David St. Hubbins (named

after the patron saint of quality footwear), "There is

a fine line between clever and...." Well, you know the


* * * *

I caught this pooch looking at himself in a truck mirror
the other day and snapped this shot!



for May 29, 2010

Last Night's Flight of the Conchords Concert

The Flight of the Conchords (aka, Jemaine Clement (l) and Bret McKenzie).
[photo (of previous concert) from;
photographer unknown]

"Save the whales, 'cause they're out there, they're drowning,"

joked Jemaine Clement of the folk comedy duo Flight of the

Conchords last night in Berkeley, Calif.

"The problem is they're mammals -- they really shouldn't be in

there," added Bret McKenzie, the other half of the Conchords.

The crowd roared. And the duo, in song after song and bit after

bit, proved they're as musically funny as anyone out there,

even Tenacious D and the current cast of SNL.

The Conchords, originally from New Zealand, had a hit HBO

sit-com until around a year ago and have been releasing albums

for several years, the latest of which, "I Told You I Was Freaky,"

has been out since around last Halloween.

Last night's highlights included a magical singalong in

which the duo had thousands of people singing "I love epileptic

dogs"; a song about a racist dragon and how "dragon tears turn

into jellybeans"; Jemaine's hilarious impression of David Bowie;

and electric songs like "Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor,"

"Inner City Pressure" and "Hurt Feelings."

Opening for the Conchords -- and nearly stealing the show -- was

Indian-American stand-up comedian Arj Barker, who use to

play Dave on the HBO series.

"You don't even have to go to a doctor anymore because

of the Internet," said Barker, starting one particularly

uproarious sequence. "I just go to Pain in the

lower abdominal [area]?...Thanks to webmd and my instant

diagnosis, I'm already taking steps to treat my swollen uterus.

I'm feeling better every day. I do get a little tired of

cranberry juice."

At another point he made fun of bucket lists, mocking someone

who says, "I want to touch a dolphin before I die."

"Well, Vallejo's right over there," he said. "A real bucket list

wish would be, 'Before I die, I wanna slap an adult grizzly

bear in the face!' Now that's something you do before you die!

Right before you die!"

And here's Barker's take on "Avatar":

"'Avatar' is crazy. The night I saw it, I think they

turned up the 3-D too high. Lemme tell you, that movie was

getting too close to the people sitting four rows in front

of me. I thought, This is a safety issue."

Kicking off the whole concert -- which I heard in the hills

above the open-air Greek Theater -- was another regular on

the HBO series, Eugene Mirman, who joked about the Tea Party

movement and religion.

All told, a tour well worth catching.

But I digress. Paul



for May 29, 2010

"All he wanted was to be free/and that's the way it turned out to be"

-- Roger McGuinn



for May 26, 2010

Based on my analysis of new GOP campaign ads and

other political info, I suspect the Republicans

are thinking this way about the 2012 presidential


romney/rice '12
let's take our country back

Makes sense. Because the RNC powers-that-be, in their post-mortem

analysis of '08, must have concluded that the '08 ticket failed

largely because Palin was so obviously unqualifed and McCain was so

obviously over the hill.

Mitt Romney and Condoleeza Rice have no such issues -- and Rice

solves two demographic problems at once while cutting into

two key Democratic constituencies: women and African-Americans.

The Republicans could, meanwhile, claim to have greater diversity

on their ticket than the Democrats have on theirs. And the

Democrats will, once again, trot out two middle-aged men,

vice president Biden and president Obama, the latter now

a fiftysomething guy with lots of oil on his hands, not

the vigorous fortysomething he was in '08.

Further, with Rice on the ticket, a slogan like "Let's Take Our

Country Back" will have no possible racial overtone; it would

merely mean, "Let's wake up from our socialist dream."

Betcha that's the strategy. Romney and Rice are both appearing

in at least one political television commerical in

California, a tell-tale sign.

* * * *

Regarding my comment that Freud is best

appreciated if you view him as an insightful

philosopher ("Who Created Nothingness," May 18, 2010),

I should add there are other lesser reasons why his

stock has dropped in academia and elsewhere

in recent decades. Perhaps some are also put off

by his unbecoming immodesty. (Freud once called

himself "an archaeologist of the mind" -- if he should

say so himself! In my waning schooldays, I once knew

a plagiarist who tried to claim that "archaeologist" line

as his own -- but I digress
.) Anyway, the main reason for his

devaluation is people have come to realize that

Freud was sort of like an early cartographer whose

first maps have since been improved upon by subsequent


* * * *

The Program Director at radio station KRNG FM in the

Reno area sent me an email to let me know that:

"One of your song titles is obscene."

He was referring to a brand new track I wrote and

recorded titled "Back to Jackin' Off," a fun tune not likely

to be played at any decency rally or Tea Party convention

anytime soon.

My response? "Back to Jackin' Off" is not nearly as risque as

Mozart's "Leck mich im Arsch." (That, by the way, translates

to something timely even today: "Lick my Ass.")

Hear the tune here:

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Any other radio people who think my new song is

obscene can write to me and tell me so at

And I'll be glad to post your email!

P.S. -- Clearing up misconceptions dept.: People

sometimes ask, Do I come up with music or lyrics first in

writing a song?

Answer is: sometimes the music comes first (examples,

"Endgame," "Married Too Young," etc.), sometimes

the lyrics come first ("I Was Young Until Fairly Recently,"

"You're Gettin' Played," etc.) and sometimes both come

simultaneously ("Hey There, Watcher," "Something in the

Sky," etc.).

Sometimes I come up with just a guitar riff -- and a song

blooms from there (examples, "Love's the Heaven You Can't

Reach," "Nothing is Something," "Life's Just a Single Blast,"

etc.). Often, a song begins with just a rhythm (e.g., "The

World Blew Up," "If I Were a Beautiful Woman Like You,"). Other

times, I'll come up with a song concept that suggests a

melody/lyric (e.g., "Scruples," "Back to Jackin' Off," etc.).

Several songs or parts of songs have come to me in dreams

or were running around in my head when I woke up (e.g., "Endgame,"

"Something in the Sky," "Dontcha Sleep," etc.).

And some of my songs start as nothing more than a shape -- I don't

how else to put it. A shape. I sort of visualize a shape

and the song evolves from there (examples, "Love's the Heaven,"

"Can You Hear Me 9-1-1?," "Paradox," etc.).

Some people have the wrong assumption thinking, "Oh, Paul is

a writer for newspapers and magazines, too, so he must be

primarily a lyric-driven composer."

That assumption couldn't be more wrong. Wayy off. More often

than not, I come up with melodies and have no lyrics for them.

I currently have a couple dozen melodies that I've composed

that I've not yet written lyrics for.

And in fact in most cases, I write lyrics based on their sound,

not on their sense, and based on how well they fit my melodies.

The next time I write or record some songs, I'd love to

have a press or radio person here as a fly-on-the-wall to

witness and to document how I do it. Because the

misconceptions out there among some people are

sometimes downright nauseating.

There was a video shot by the tech support guy (William)

for long-ago sessions in '05 (sessions for a previous

group of tracks that have since been scrapped). It's

somewhat interesting, if dated, footage -- but keep in mind

that the tech support guy made sure his own camera was

running and pointed at himself every time

he made even a minor suggestion.

So watch that '05 video carefully, if you have a

chance And you should note that not one -- not one -- of

the tech support person's suggestions was ultimately

used in the final versions of my songs. Look at that

'05 video and show me one single frame in which he

made a suggestion that I actually used in the final

recordings. If he had, he'd have been credited.

Sure, two months after -- after -- those '05 sessions, tech

support guy overdubbed a "background bass" track (his own words!)

to my songs. "Do you like the background bass?," he wrote in a note.

"If not, feel free to delete the bass. I've never played bass before."

Uh, let's just say that his bass overdub in '05 was counter-productive.

Didn't work out. The bass track was deleted long ago -- years

ago. Hey, these are my songs and I'll do what I want

with my songs, thank you very much.

And, yes, I also solely own all the registered copyrights for

every one of my songs (meaning all the songs on the "130 Songs"

album and others), so I'm the only person authorized to

give the final word on any matter related to any of

my songs.

Tech support guy William has had his own career, completely

separate from mine, of writing and recording his own separate

group of songs that are not my songs. And he has been none too

shy about releasing and performing his own tunes over the years --

and if you want to find his separate song catalog, you can

find it on the Internet and elsewhere. His songs are on

his own albums and sites. Don't look for any of his

stuff on my sites, because it ain't there. And he is the

"director" of his own material that is on his own separate

albums -- and I am the "director" of my own material that

is on my own separate albums. Period.

In any event, that's long ago stuff. Those sesssions

have nothing to do with songs I've been releasing in

the past few years or the new ones I've just posted.

And he hasn't even been on the field of play

in any capacity since.



for May 25, 2010

OK, folks, I've just come up with a few brand new songs

and thought I'd share 'em with you here.

Just click here

to listen to the MP3s for free!

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Got an inadvertent compliment the other day. Someone

asked, "Who's your drummer on "If I Were a Beautiful Woman" and

"Nothing is Something"?

Wow! Am I such a good drummer that people think someone

else must be doing it? Cool.

Yes, Virginia, all the drumming (and everything else) on all of

my songs was done by me. And my "drum" is a home made thing

that I'd be embarrassed to describe.

The writing, performing and producing of my songs couldn't

possibly be a more solo thing. And I'm flattered when

people think others must've been involved!

I don't even use the tech support guy (William) I used

for sessions five years ago on an earlier batch of

my songs. Since '05, I've not even had an

engineer or count-off guy in the studio.



for May 23, 2010

I predict "Lost" will end with....a commercial for Disneyland!

* * * *

If Democrats have a replacement for Richard Blumenthal

in the Connecticut Senate race, they should roll him out now.

Because his Vietnam combat lie is eclipsing everything

else about that contest.

I think the public is tired of seeing politicians act like

they can erase or create history just by talking. The insulting

implication is that we the public are such oafs that we'll

believe any bio they put out there.

Blumenthal's lie resembles Hillary Clinton's, who infamously

said she was once pinned down by sniper fire in the Balkans,

a fib that probably cost her the presidential nomination. (By

the way, if there hadn't been videotape of Hillary's actual

arrival in Bosnia, you know for a fact she would have

defended her lie to the last breath. And the "sniper" incident

would have become part of her established life story.)

Problem is, the liar robs other people, honest people, of their

rightful level of accomplishment. Because if you're falsely

claiming to have done something rare that I actually did do,

then that devalues my achievement.

I mean, I traveled alone by local train deep behind the Iron

Curtain during the Cold War as a teenager -- and was even detained

by authorities in Zagreb -- and did so twice. Though I didn't

exactly face sniper fire, there was considerable risk involved in

making that trip. But a lie like Hillary's sort of devalues all

stories -- even true ones -- of risk in a hostile international

environment. (How dare I compare the two experiences? How dare

you compare the two!! Hey, I was met at the Bulgarian

border crossings by brutal soliders with rifles and shoot-to-kill

orders. She was met at the airport by a little girl with a


Equally wrong and damaging is the reverse phenomenon: someone

wrongly and willfully casting doubt on another's accomplishment.

Swiftboating someone. The namesake of the practice is, of course,

the swiftboating of Sen. John Kerry, a real war hero. Richard

Jewell was also a hero who saved many lives, yet it only took a

single liar -- a disgruntled former employer -- to undermine

his accomplishment and make him look like the opposite of what he


My late great dad, a genuine combat veteran who had the wounds to

prove it, always use to quote Ben Franklin to me as a kid, but with

a twist. He'd say, "Paul, remember: Franklin said, 'Honesty is

the best policy.' He didn't say honesty is the most

moral course or anything else. He said, 'It is the best policy,

the most practical course, the best way to police yourself.'"

If Blumenthal had heard that advice at a formative age, he'd

probably be on his way to the Senate right now.

But I digress. Paul



or May 22, 2010

Wanna check out the latest official photo of

Kim Jong-il? Here it is, with annotations.

But I digress. Paul



for May 19, 2010

Why Isn't "Me and Orson Welles" on DVD Yet?

Linklater film portrays Welles the year before he caused
a national panic with "War of the Worlds."

One of last year's best movies, Richard Linklater's "Me and

Orson Welles," was released last Thanksgiving weekend, so we

should be expecting the DVD any time now, right?

Not unless you're in the U.K. or Sweden or a handful of other

nearby countries. Because the DVD isn't currently available

in the States -- and there's apparently not even a domestic

release date set yet.

And this comes after it was unfairly snubbed at the Academy

Awards, where it should have picked up at least six

nominations (at a minimum, Christian McKay should have been

nominated for best actor (or supporting actor) for his

masterful performance as Welles).

I mean, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" had more


Anyway, thanks to, uh, a "friend" from, uh, somewhere, I was able

to get a DVD copy of the Swedish edition of "Welles," and I

must admit I was knocked out by it. I've already seen the

flick three times -- and you really do have to give it

a couple viewings to get all the clever asides, small

poignancies, period details, cross-currents.

Like a few other Linklater films, this one is like an

underestimated bottle of Stolichnaya: it goes down easy

like water at first, but then you feel the unexpected


And what a spot-on evocation of Welles by McKay! He's

so convincing in the role that you leave the film

feeling like you've actually met the man himself

and witnessed his tyrannical genius at full velocity.

The movie shows Welles just before his "War of the Worlds"

(and its faux extraterrestrial invasion) created a national panic

in radioland and made him a household name.

This is 1937, four years before "Citizen Kane," the year

in which he directed a radically reimagined version

(with ukulele!) of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" for the

Mercury Theatre.

Linklater tells the story of how Welles muscled that

production onto the Mercury stage, braving a flood,

fights with actors and innumerable rivalries (damn that

to create a supremely triumphant opening night.

In the process, he fired...everyone, cruelly hurt the

feelings of others, ignored bureaucratic rules

and -- oh, yeah -- created a work of brilliance.

As always, Linklater captures romantic heartbreak like

few other directors, showing Welles stealing the

girlfriend of an actor (Zac Efron) who proceeds

to confront Welles in a particularly explosive sequence.

(The girlfriend, played by Claire Danes, is irresistible

enough to attract almost anyone on the Hollywood

(and Broadway) A+ list, including David O. Selznick,

John Houseman, Brooks Atkinson and Welles himself.)

Anyway, if you haven't seen it yet, do so -- even

if you have to find a friend in London or

Stockholm who'll send you the DVD!

But I digress. Paul



for May 18, 2010

On Cavett

Who Created Nothingness?

Dick Cavett, smart as usual, asked an interesting question

about dreams in a recent blog in The New York Times: Are you

the author of your dreams and nightmares?

To which I ask: are you the author of your breathing? Are you the

author of your heartbeat? Yet your heart beats whether you want it

to express that impulse or not. It's your heart, right? But if

I wanted my heart to beat to the tune of, say,

the opening notes of Beethoven's fifth symphony, I would not be

able to get it to do that. My heart has, er, a mind of its own.

One can also ask who is the author of so-called "automatic"

works by writers like Coleridge and Blake who wrote poetry

that came to them in dreams. Who is the author of

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," for instance?

The author of "Rime" is...Coleridge, or more precisely

Coleridge's unconscious mind. (Some discount Freud's ideas but they

remain insightful; one should look at his writings as the work of

an extremely perceptive philosopher rather than of a scientist.

When people talk of brain circuitry and the like, they are

really just referring to the unconscious by other terms. Today,

some seem to be put off by Freud's unbecoming immodesty -- he

once called himself "an archaeologist of the mind" (if he should

say so himself!) -- but that's another issue.)

In creating your dream, your unconscious wasn't improvising

like a jazz musician who doesn't know where his jam will lead,

but rather it had a set of imagery (arranged from start to finish)

that it deliberately wanted to bring up to your conscious self.

(The start implies the finish, the same way the start action

of dropping a ball from a skyscraper defines the end action

(i.e., its hitting the ground). [Incidentally, I wrote about

that last idea in the East Coast Rocker newspaper in 1990, long

before the movie "Minority Report" expressed something

suspiciously similar. But I digress.]

The mind has a mind of its own. If you are, say, mugged violently

by someone wearing a hoodie, you might very well be unreasonably

fearful, for the next month or so, of people wearing hoodies. You

might tell yourself that such a fear is irrational, but your mind

has a mind of its own. The association is fixed -- an automatic

survival mechanism.

For some people, the logical endline of the question "Who authored

my dream?" is to ask the next question, "Who authored the

mountains and the Milky Way?" As if all things must have an author.

But that's only if you take the anthropomorphic view that

existence has to have a creator.

OK, you ask, if existence doesn't have a creator, than how did the

universe come into being?

It came from nothingness, which an infinite span of time

transformed into being and existence. What we experience today

is nothingness transformed by countless billions of years.

Remember, before the Big Bang, there was nothingness for an

infinite span. Nobody ever asks, "Who created


Yet for trillions of years, nothingness was all there was. Would a

deist seriously claim that there was a deity during that time who

created and then lorded over only nothingness? Would someone

seriously assert that a god would create nothingness?

("Create nothingness" is almost an oxymoron.) And then

"god" suddenly became creative after the Big Bang?

More likely, nothingness, over an unimaginably vast period of

time, evolved. Nothingness plus time -- trillions and trillions of

millennia -- equals matter (and anti-matter, which is not the same

thing as nothingness), because (as I've noted before) time

is transformative. So nothingness over infinity will

inevitably produce some sort of minuscule irregularity -- a

wisp of gas, for instance -- that, in further time, will

lead to another bit of matter and then another, setting in

motion the unfolding of the universe we have today.

The element that most thinkers leave out of the

equation when discussing so-called "Creation" is time, which

is really another form of nothingness and merely

our own contrivance, a way that we organize successive

instances of being (i.e., events) and place them

next to each another to create order, something.

But I digress. Paul

[Above, drawing of Cavett from "Rock Icons" DVD cover;
artist unknown.]



for February 16 - 17, 2010

Two very funny pieces in The New York Times today -- one

intentionally funny, the other not.

First the deliberately humorous one, Frank Rich's op-ed column

("Heaven-Sent Rent Boy," Feb. 16), in which he writes about

yet another hypocritical anti-gay holy roller -- Baptist

preacher George Rekers -- caught in a homosexual tryst.

Here's a graf from the column (which had me laughing for around

ten miniutes):

His only mistake, he told the magazine Christianity Today, was to hire a “travel assistant” without proper vetting. Their travels were not in vain. The good minister expressed gratitude that his rent boy “did let me share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him with many Scriptures in three extended conversations.”

* * *

Now for the inadvertently funny piece, an A-1 pull-quote from

the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, that had me

chuckling -- and slightly angry. Here's the quote:

"Can you tell me a way to save the oppressed? And a way to
fight back when rockets are fired at us and Muslim blood
flows?" -- Faisal Shahzad, in an email message to friends.

Let me make sure I have this right: Shahzad is the

"oppressed"? Is that some sort of joke?

Keep in mind that Shahzad, up until fairly recently, owned a

$273,000 house in Connecticut. So I'm not sure that he exactly

qualifies as a member of the underclass. (By the way, I

don't begrudge anybody's affluence if the person

has actually done something notable (like writing a great

hit song or directing a brilliant film) to earn it. But

why did the marketplace reward Shahzad?)

By contrast, I busted my ass in NYC for nearly two decades in my

youth -- and (in some years) wasn't in a position where I could

afford a $273,000 house in the tri-state area (though, to be sure,

there were other years in that period when I was quite affluent and

made nice money for companies that didn't share the wealth).

I must admit that while I was doing consecutive all-nighters

on Wall Street in my early twenties, I was able to afford

only a Manhattan apartment that was so overrun by mice and

rats that every morning I'd wake to find how they'd died

in the traps I'd set the night before. (I remember one mouse

was hit on the head by a trap but not caught, and it

wandered off and died bloody a few feet later. The rat that

"guarded" the basement laundry room was almost the size of

a Bearded Collie, but not nearly as cuddly.)

So let's see: several years after I worked on Wall Street

(at a job I didn't want to do), the well-to-do Mohamed Atta,

working for the filthy rich Osama bin Laden, was plotting

with other wealthy trash to slam a commercial airliner into

my workplace neighborhood in order to kill other underpaid

workers like me.

And some of the 9/11 plotters (and those who supported

that and other jihadi conspiracies) are now hiding in the

Federally Administered Tribal Areas. (Gee, I can't

imagine why we're sending drone missiles over there, he said


As for calling jiahdis in the FATAs "oppressed": would

you have called the Nazis being bombed in the Bulge the

"oppressed"? Muslim militants are not the American

blacks of the 1950s; they are the Germans of the early 1940s.

* * * * *

Fans of director Robert Rodriguez have two new films to look

forward to: the Rodriguez-produced "Predators" (with Adrien Brody),

slated for release on the 4th of July weekend, and "Machete,"

directed by Rodriguez and starring Robert De Niro and Jessica Alba,

due around Labor Day. In the meantime, check out Rodriguez's video for Bob

Schneider’s “40 Dogs (Like Romeo & Juliet)”

But I digress. Paul



for May 13 - 14, 2010

Dave 'n' Nick Take Over in the U.K.!

(David) Cameron and (Nick) Clegg in younger days?

* * *

Drone, Baby, Drone!

Predictably, the drum beat has begun at the political fringes

against the drone war in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas,

even though it's the smartest and most surgically precise

military strategy in recent memory.

But some are citing the stated motivation of the Times Square

bomber -- frankly, the guy seemed equally motivated by the recession

that took his house away -- and jumping to the wrong conclusion that

the drones are causing home grown militants to step up their attacks

on the U.S.

That theory ignores the evidence. The underwear bomber wasn't

motivated by the drones. Neither was the Fort Hood shooter. In fact,

none of the recent domestic militant attacks and attempted attacks

(except Faisal Shahzad's ) was motivated by anger over the drone strategy.

Here's a chart that shows all the major militant plots since last

September and each jihadi's motivation:

JIHADI: Faisal Shahzad (aka, the Times Square Bomber)
HIS PLOT: He wanted to set off a car bomb in Times Square on a Saturday night.
HIS STATED MOTIVATION: Those pesky American drones!

* * *

JIHADI: Raja Khan
HIS PLOT: He wanted to bomb a U.S. stadium during a concert or sports event.
HIS STATED MOTIVATION: To strike a blow for his idol bin Laden.

* * *

JIHADI: Colleen LaRose (aka, Jihad Jane)
HER PLOT: She tried to assassinate a Swedish journalist/cartoonist.
HER STATED MOTIVATION: She was offended by his drawing of Allah.

* * *

JIHADI: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (aka, the Underwear Bomber)
HIS PLOT: He tried to blow up a commercial airliner with 289 people on it.
HIS STATED MOTIVATION: To wage jihad. (Specifically, he wanted revenge for an attack against al Qaeda in Yemen by the Yemeni government that was aided by the U.S.)

* * *

JIHADI: Nidal Hasan (aka, the Fort Hood shooter)
HIS PLOT: To murder as many "infidels" as possible with his handguns (he shot 43).
HIS PROBABLE MOTIVATION: Pressure over his upcoming deployment to a war zone.

* * *

JIHADI: Najibullah Zazi
HIS PLOT: He wanted to detonate bombs at the very busy Grand Central Station subway station.
HIS STATED MOTIVATION: His general opposition to the Afghanistan War.

* * *

I can't help but wonder how many more Times Square

bombers and Fort Hood shooters there might be right now if the

U.S. drone war against al Qaeda hadn't eliminated some

influential jihadis.

Take Hakimullah Mehsud, for example, the late leader of the

Pakistani Taliban. Charismatic guy, by all acounts. Able to

mobilize lots of militants in the FATA, who have also

trained American-based jihadis.

If drones hadn't killed Mehsud, he might now be well on his

way to toppling the Zardari government in a few years, taking

control of both Islamabad and that nation's nuclear arnsenal.

To those who oppose the missile strategy in the FATA, a

question: would you rather that we let someone like

Mehsud live another year so that he could later command

the Taliban to take over the Pakistani government, thereby

putting nuclear weapons in the hands of a bin Laden ally?

Are you aware of how difficult it would be for the U.S.

to extract a Mehsud from the presidential palace in Islamabad

after such a coup? Because the moment the Taliban unseats

the president there, we would automatically be at war

with a nuclear power.

And we'd have to act immediately, too -- before

the new leaders become firmly entrenched, before they're

able to get their hands on the nuclear levers. Or else we'd risk

the unthinkable: a nuclear power allied with bin Laden.

Better to use drones now than risk such a catastrophic

conflict later.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- By the way, don't get the wrong idea about my

previous column about Hendrik Hertzberg's blog on

I read his stuff all the time and was just having a

little fun with one of his previous pieces. But he's

always worth reading.

[Above, photo of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds from
the cover of the Columbia single "Nick Lowe and
Dave Edmunds Sing the Everly Brothers" (1980).
Photographer unknown.]



for May 8, 2010

Why Obama Will Lose the 2012 Election

Do you realize that in a matter of months we will be referring

to the 2012 elections as "next year's presidential election"?

And the outcome of "next year's election"? Well, let me put it

this way: U.S. president Scott Brown (or another Republican)

will have a like-minded partner in prime minister David Cameron

of the U.K. during most of the 2010s.

Because Obama won't be the re-elected. He probably should be,

but won't.

Why? Because Obama failed to prevent the next 9/11, which will

happen sometime between now and 2012. How do I know that? Because

he already hasn't prevented the string of mini-9/11s or

attempted-9/11s that have cropped up since last September -- all

on his watch and after his policies (e.g., his rollback of wiretapping

and surveillance of domestic Muslim militants) have had time

to take effect.

Obama's garden is sprouting mushrooms -- i.e., active jihadi

terrorists -- that hadn't been sprouting in previous years. And

he must stop the policies that are creating fertile

ground for these people to plot and kill.

Obama's emphasis on promoting positive images of

Muslim-Americans and debunking religious stereotypes and reaching

out to the domestic Islamic community is all very well and

good, noble and p.c. (Though, frankly, the focus should

be on creating PSAs and campaigns that say things like: "You

have the right to be offended; you don't have a right to

get violent" and "Please be tolerant of the person reading

books that you disagree with." But I digress.)

But that is no way to stop the next 9/11. His priorities

should shift to surveillance of mosques in which imams preach

jihad and of university Islamic societies, hotbeds of militancy.

That's only if he'd like to be elected again.

Obama's conciliatory emphasis has been creating one militant

plot after another since last Fall, from Najibullah Zazi's

Grand Central Station subway scheme to the Fort Hood massacre

to the underwear bomber to the Times Square bomber. Muslim

militants in America appear to have been emboldened by the

fact that, under Obama, the police car that used

to be parked outside a militant's home is now gone, the tap

that used to be on a jihadist's phone is now off. The religious

killers are now free to kill at last. And they laugh at the

olive branch Obama has extended to them.

Muslim militants say, "The Jew Obama is a fool. The Jew Obama

has loosened our handcuffs so that we can now build the

acetone bomb we've been dreaming of detonating." (It's sort

of funny: the religious right of America thinks Obama's

a Muslim; the religious right of Islam thinks he's a Jew.

And Newt Gingrich thinks he's an atheist!)

And by the way, Obama can't count on a deus ex machina

event like the collapse of the economy to miraculously

whisk him to victory in '12 the way it did in the old days

of '08. The dive of the economy mere weeks before the

election was an incredible fluke, and he can't expect

that to happen again.

How will we know when Obama's anti-terror policies are

working? When we see the stream of militant attacks and

attempted attacks stop.

But I digress. Paul


for May 7, 2010

Separated at Birth?

Remember the witty dialogue in the movie "Four Weddings and

a Funeral" in which characters played by Hugh Grant and

Andie MacDowell riffed on the word "skulk"? Here's a bit of

that film:

HUGH GRANT: Maybe we could just skulk around here
for a bit and then go back down.

ANDIE MACDOWELL: That's a thought. I don't usually skulk, but I
suppose I could skulk if skulking were required. Do you skulk

GRANT: No. No, I don't normally think of myself
as a skulker but...

MACDOWELL: Well, why don't you come in
and skulk for a while and we'll see?

Could this have been the (uncredited) inspiration for some of

today's Jon Carroll column in the San Francisco Chronicle?

Here's a part of it:

"Unless the bomber was skulking. I'd probably skulk, in his
shoes. I suppose they have a class in "Not Skulking," and
I hope it's taught by a different guy than the bomb-making

Perhaps there should be a new rule for writers: any future riff

on the word "skulk" should at least make a passing reference

to the king of skulking riffs, "Four Weddings and

a Funeral."

What's next for Carroll? Maybe something about the amusing

differences between baseball and football?

* * * *
* * * *

Hendrik Hertzberg recently wrote in The New Yorker about

how he thinks political debates should be re-structured

(April 29, 2010; "Debate, British Style"). Each

presidential candidate, he wrote, should sit on a stage next to

an aide, who is allowed to pass him or her notes throughout the

debate. (He cites a Swedish precedent for this.)

I know, I know: some of The New Yorker's satire and humor is

played so brilliantly straight and dry -- and without its being

labeled as satire -- that it's occasionally difficult to tell whether

a writer is pulling your leg or not.

Whether or not Hertzberg was trying to be funny, I must admit that

all I could think of while reading his account of such an

"ideal" debate was how it somehow resembled a famous scene

in Woody Allen's "Take the Money and Run." That's the scene

in which a chain gang escapes from prison but isn't able to

break free of the chains that bind several of the cons together.

Everything the gang does, from going to the bathroom to having a

private romantic phone conversation, has to be done as a group.

Funny stuff.

Perhaps Hertzberg, too, was trying to describe something comically


I can see it now: "PBS presents a debate between Obama's committee

and Palin's committee."

And imagine the primary debates, where eight Democratic hopefuls

and their eight aides fill a crowded stage, with memos being

drafted and passed back and forth as the speakers speak. While

we're at it, let's also let them bring their attorneys (and their

laptops, fax machines and smartest relatives) onstage. And perhaps

there might even be a few internecine disagreements between

candidates and aides, creating sub-debates within the main debate.

No doubt about it, Hertzberg's idea would work perfectly -- on "Saturday

Night Live."

But I digress. Paul



for April 27, 2010

I've just seen a couple movies and videos, and here are my reviews.

Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer"

The best movie released so far this year -- and Polanski's

best since "Chinatown," though its plot isn't quite as airtight as

"Chinatown"'s, even if it surpasses that flick in visual


I wouldn't be surprised if it earns, oh, seven Oscar nominations

come January -- for best picture, director, actor (Pierce

Brosnan's best work yet), actress (Olivia Williams has a

blue-blooded gravity that is convincing and authentic), supporting

actor, adapted screenplay (great dialogue) and the best

cinematography this side of an Antonioni film.

The trademarks of Polanski's genius are on display here: his

gift for drawing even minor characters vividly; his

marvelous habit of showing the action in one room through

the action in another room; the striking visual

composition of certain scenes (we see Brosnan's

character leaning up against a large picture window so that it

appears as if he's holding up the sky, which, of course, is

falling on him); resonant enigmatic images (e.g., a fantastic

broom made of what looks like straw); a noirish paranoia; and

acting that always shows the characters (not the actors) sweating

under pressure.

The plot is about former British prime minister and ex-actor

Adam Lang (Brosnan), a cross between Tony Blair and

Ronald Reagan, who hires a ghost writer to pen (or to re-write)

his memoirs. Lang's previous ghost died mysteriously in a

drowning incident that, we later find, was probably murder.

The new writer (Ewan McGregor) starts to suspect that Lang, now

being officially investigated for war crimes by the ICC, had

the previous ghost killed because he uncovered damaging information

about Lang. The ghost, acting increasingly like an investigative

reporter, discovers Lang knew a CIA agent in college who

facilitated his rise in politics. The film treats this like

damning evidence of some sort of criminality.

And that's the one plot flaw, the one element that keeps

this picture from equaling "Chinatown": the fact that it

all turns on Lang's link to the CIA as a young man.

Suppose the worst was true of Lang, that he did know a CIA

agent in school who later helped him rise in British politics.

Or that he (or his wife) had once been an agent. So what?

The CIA is, after all, a legitimate (if often denigrated)

agency of the U.S. government. It's not like he has

uncovered evidence that Lang had links to organized crime

or to al Qaeda. Keep in mind that the U.S. and the U.K.

have been long-time allies whose foreign policy positions

have been almost identical in most decades. So it's

not like Lang had been moonlighting for the FSB.

And for those who already know the ending, let me note, by

way of analogy, that James Carville and Mary Matalin have been

husband and wife for years -- and that hasn't made Carville more

Republican or Matalin more Democratic or either one any less

loyal to their own parties.

A far better plot would have resulted if Lang was found to have

had ties with the bin Laden family's construction firm, which paid

campaign contributions so he would suppress intelligence

about where their wayward son Osama was hiding. Now

that sort of secret would have justified all the cloak

and dagger intrigue. But the CIA-phobic element doesn't quite

add up, though it also doesn't seriously diminish the film.

To his credit (and as is his style), Polanski never gets

polemical, always allowing even evil folks (like Lang and

Noah Cross) to have their say and humanity. And Lang does

have persuasive moments in defense of his hard-line

policies on terrorism, at one point contrasting two types of

airline flights. "On one flight, you infringe on no one's bloody

civil liberties, use no intelligence gained by torture," says Lang.

"And on the other flight, you do everything you possibly could to

make it perfectly safe. And then we'd see which plane the

Rykerts of this world would put their bloody kids on! And you can

put that in the book." (Lang is referring to Robert Rykert, a

government official who set in motion the war crimes charges against


The film works as a straight thriller, too (the ghost's

escape from the car ferry is gourmet popcorn suspense).

Nearly halfway through this year, we finally have a 2010 film that

is refreshingly, defiantly un-3D, its only special effect unforgettable


And "The Ghost Writer" is a sharp reminder, if we needed one,

that Polanski is one of the five or six greatest living film

auteurs. Let's hope he's being treated in a way that will

withstand scrutiny by future generations (though,

unfortunately, I hear that's not the case).

* * * *

Hanna Barbera's "Saturday Morning Cartoons, Vols. 1 and 2"

...................Touche awayyy!!

For baby boomers, watching Hanna Barbera cartoons

of the 1960s is sort of like viewing videos

of early childhood dreams. One has to sometimes stop

and wonder whether creatures like Atom Ant and

Dynamite Kaboom were images from REM sleep or from the tube.

Probably a little of both. Most kids saw this

stuff and then likely dreamt about it. So seeing the

cartoons again as an adult has a strange sort of

nostalgic power.

Half-remembered or completely forgotten animated characters

keep parading from these discs: Snooper and Blabber,

Secret Squirrel, Morocco Mole, on and on.

Among the surprises is Breezly and Sneezly, an

imaginative series with an engaging visual style

(with no less than Mel Blanc voicing Sneezly).

And the charming Touche Turtle and Dum Dum, about a turtle and his

dog (the most adorable pooch in the Hanna Barbera stable), is

engaging from the opening credits (where Touche fences with

a lightning bolt!). The retelling of "Moby Dick," with

Touche and Dum Dum assisting Capt. Ahab ("I didn't lose my

leg in a card game!"), is a classic.

There is some eccentric stuff, too -- like the one in which

Augie Doggie travels to Mars to hunt Greeches (don't ask).

Or the Jetson's episode in which young Elroy ends up on

the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

The collection spans three DVDs -- and if you can only

rent one, get the first disc.

* * * *

Recently heard on KALX radio: very terrific "Old Ladies Reading

the Bible" by Collisionville; the amusing "The CIA Made Me Sing

Off Key" by The Fugs; and the very, very obscure Kinks track

"No More Looking Back" from the underrated "Schoolboys in

Disgrace" album. (By the way, another overlooked track from

the Kinks catalog that never gets played (there are so

many) is "The Way Love Used to Be." And "Live Life."

I'm surprised that one never became a hit.)

* * *

Shameless self-promotion dept.:

Yes, my latest album, "130 Songs (Parts 1 to 6)," is

now available as a limited-edition release. It spans

six discs and includes 130 songs -- and every song was written

solely by me (except for two tracks: "Must Call Love,"

which includes around ten words from a Grace Paley short

story; and "You Won't Be Burying Me Now," which is based

on a trad folk melody). Yes, all 130 songs were written

by me (except for the two tracks mentioned above). You can

request a copy at

But I digress. Paul



for April 23, 2010

Remembering the First Earth Day, 40 Years Ago
What April 1970 was Really Like

When Earth Day was born in 1970, I was attending one of

those quasi-experimental private schools that cropped up in

the 1960s, the Independent Day School (still around, by the

way), so the day was celebrated school-wide, or at least by

the kids in my 7th grade class.

I think I even wore a button with a picture of the Earth

on it (in between wearing my Student Mobilization Committee,

New Party, Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh and Impeach Nixon buttons).

It was April 1970. The Beatles had just broken up but nobody my age

really believed it. (After all, there had been rumors that the

band had broken up in '66, '67, '68 and '69, so the new one in

'70 had little credibility or impact. But I digress.) The band was

more important to me and my friends at the time than any

environmental cause (though I was involved in politics

to an extraordinary degree back then).

Unfortunately, the eco movement didn't have

a galvanizing charismatic leader behind it like Abbie

Hoffman or Tom Hayden or Bobby Seale, who were like

rock stars to me in '70. I remember that the students

who were most into the first Earth Day were generally

the kids who aced science classes.

And I don't think there was a single eco-anthem

of note from that period. "Abbey Road," last fall's album,

was still on my turntable. Led Zepppelin's "Whole Lotta Love"

was on the radio 24/7 (though the much-maligned "Livin' Lovin' Maid"

was actually the bigger airplay hit). Freeform radio was just

beginning and was still on the AM dial (where I could hear

Thunderclap Newman, "Kreen-Akrore," CCR, Steppenwolf's underrated

"Monster," Cream, Hendrix, obscure Beatles b-sides, Sly and the

Family Stone and "Time Machine," the first single by Grand Funk

Railroad, who I had tickets to see in concert in May). And

pornography in those days was a picture of Michelle Phillips

in Hit Parader. The word "green" still meant money or naivete.

Remember, this was April 1970. May was a whole different

smoke. All environmental issues were completely eclipsed by the

Kent State massacre -- America's mini-Tiananmen -- which

happened on May 4th and caused young people to shift radically

to a more harder edged approach on all fronts. They really

were shooting us down. More extreme action was required.

The post-Kent State mood was reflected on vinyl, definitively,

within a year by CSNY's "Ohio" and by The Who's "Won't Get Fooled

Again" (which was on an album that also included the first

anti-environmentalist lyric: "I don't care about pollution/I'm

an air-conditioned gypsy/That's my solution").

But back to April 1970. I and my pal Richard (who I still

see every now and then; he recently played a jazz concert

in Berkeley, Calif.) didn't talk about the first Earth Day

nearly as much as we'd discuss the clues in "Revolution 9" and

on the cover of "Abbey Road" about whether Paul was dead.

("Wow, tonight WFSO is gonna play "Revolution 9" backwards!"

Big event.) This, of course, was in between listening,

ceaselessly, to this new band Led Zeppelin that had even

longer hair than the Beatles and was sort of hated by the

older generation (so it was ours, all ours!). And, of

course, there were the ubiquitous singles of '70: "Everyday People,"

"Ma Belle Amie," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Love Grows

Where my Rosemary Goes,' "Spirit in the Sky," etc. Not one

eco-themed, as I recall.

Anyway, it was against this backdrop that the first

Earth Day occurred. At the time, it had a sort of

anti-pollution angle. If you're not part of the solution,

you're part of the pollution -- the slogan of the hour.

I think the TV ad showing an American Indian with a

tear in his eye was being aired.

It was really Anti-pollution Day. The big issue back then

was that car emissions were making the air in big cities

unbreathable. (Even the Kinks were singing, with

provocatively ambiguous pronunciation, "the air

pollution is a-foggin' up my eyes," in "Apeman").

I think there were pollution discussions ("rap sessions" as

they were called back then) that day in classrooms that

had wall posters like "War is not healthy for children

and other living things."

And I remember being driven home from school through

the 'burbs and seeing a classmate riding his bike

while wearing a gas mask on his face. Very cool, I thought.

The irony, however, was that many eco-activists lectured

about air pollution while smoking cigarettes (or pot)

and creating a second-hand smoke hazard for everyone

in the room! Ah, 1970!

Today, Earth Day is more like Earth Day, Inc. And this year's day

comes in the wake of the exploding volcano in Iceland, a reminder

that all our meticulous environmental planning can be upended by

a single belch from inside the planet.

Still, a very worthy cause, but a couple notches below nuclear

proliferation on my priority list.

But I digress. Paul



for April 22, 2010


Did Awlaki Have Foreknowledge of the 9/11 Attacks?

The (Possibly) Tell-Tale Publication Date and Other Circumstantial Info

By Paul Iorio

Awalki's copyright for much of his life's work. Was
he summing up and getting his affairs together, a few
weeks before 9/11, in anticipation of some sort of upheaval?

Anwar al-Awlaki, the Islamic militant known to have met

with two of the September 11th hijackers, spent the weeks

prior to 9/11 collecting much of his life's work for publication

and copyright.

The proximity of his work's official publication date to the

9/11 attacks arguably gives the appearance of someone summing up or

getting one's work and affairs in order before an anticipated upheaval or

interruption of some sort.

It's worth noting that defendants are often convicted of

serious crimes based solely on circumstantial evidence. (An

analogy: the Securities and Exchange Commission often launches

investigations and even indicts based on this level of

circumstantial evidence (i.e., increased business activity preceding

a dramatic market downturn or upturn).)

According to the online records of the U.S. Copyright Office,

reported for the first time here, Awlaki has filed for a copyright

only twice in his career: for a 22-CD audio compilation of his

lectures that was published on August 15, 2001, and for a cassette

tape version published months earlier. (The formal copyright for

both works was registered in subsequent months.)

Awlaki's copyrighted oeuvre -- "The Life of the Prophets," an audio

anthology of his speeches spanning some two dozen discs and

18 cassette tapes -- was published by the Denver, Colorado-based

Al-Basheer Company For Publications & Translations, which

shares the copyright with him. (The company has not yet

responded to a question about whether it still pays royalties

to Awlaki and, if so, who it now pays.)

The Al-Basheer Company initially promoted the CD-set prominently

on its website's front page but has since removed it from its

online catalogue altogether. However, the publisher does

currently publish and promote works by another jihadi, Bilal Philips,

who the U.S government has called an "unindicted co-conspirator"

in the World Trade Center attack of 1993. (It was previously

thought that Philips' works were only available at the few

western libraries that hadn't yet removed them from the shelves.)

In the period before the 9/11 attacks -- from August 24 to August

27, 2001 -- Awlaki and Bilal Philips both appeared at a Da'wah

Conference at the University of Leicester in the U.K. with

other Muslim activist speakers, including Rafil Dhafir, now

in prison in the U.S. on terrorism charges.

When the circumstantial evidence about Awlaki's activities

in the weeks before 9/11 is put together, one has to wonder

and ask about the possibility that Awlaki had

foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks.

First, as has been widely reported, Awlaki knew two of the

hijackers -- Hawaf al-Hizmi and Hazmi's roommate Khalid al-Mihdar --

in the months prior to the hijackings. (A third, Hani Hanjour,

attended the mosque where Awlaki was the imam). Second, as

reported exclusively here, Awlaki spent the months and weeks

before the attacks getting his life's work together, assembling

together a sort of 'collected works' retrospective of his

lectures (though he had never before and hasn't since

copyrighted his material). Third, in the week before the

hijackings, he was participating in a seminar with a militant

involved in the World Trade Center bombing of '93.

(It should be noted that a cassette tape edition of Awlaki's

work had been published in January 2001, and even this date

supports my theory that he was tying up loose ends. After all,

the hijackings were originally scheduled for early 2001 and

then for July 2001, with the final date of 9/11 decided only

at the last minute. So if hijacker al-Hizmi had confided

in Awlaki in 2000 about the upcoming attacks, Awlaki would have

come into 2001 knowing only that the hijackings would take

place some time that year.)

For the record, the conventional wisdom has it that Awlaki

publicly condemned the 9/11 attacks at the time. But

close scrutiny of his statements reveals that he almost always

talked about 9/11 in highly ambiguous and almost sneaky terms

that could easily be read as an endorsement of either side.

For example, Awlaki was quoted by The New York Times in '01 as saying

the following about incendiary jihadi talk that leads to violence:

''There were some statements that were inflammatory," Awlaki told The Times --

while not specifying whether he was referring to statements by

Muslim radicals or by the so-called infidel -- "and were considered

just talk, but now we realize that talk can be taken seriously and

acted upon in a violent radical way." (Again, his meaning was

slippery and could have easily been along the lines of:

'now we realize that blasphemy and anti-Islamic talk must be

taken seriously and should be combated with violence.')

By the time of the 9/11 attacks, al-Awlaki had already been under

investigation for a couple years by the F.B.I. for suspected al Qaeda

ties. (The myth that he was a moderate then and has become an

extremist only recently is evidently just that: a myth.) He is currently

thought to be hiding in Yemen and is considered a high priority target

by the U.S. government.

Awlaki's collected lectures, prominently promoted
by its publisher, Al-Basheer, in '01.

* * *

Awlaki's publisher has gone on to publish
books by other jihadists like Bilal Philips,
who helped plan the bombing of the twin towers in '93.

* * * *

Awlaki and Bilal Philips both shared the bill
at a conference at the University of Leicester a couple
weeks before 9/11.


for April 22, 2010

To the religious rednecks who are threatening "South Park"'s

Matt Stone and Trey Parker because of their very funny recent

episode about religion, I have two words for such religulous

folks: shut up. We're sick of your threats and your violence.

Fundamentalists, Muslim and otherwise, have the right to be

offended, but don't have the right to get violent about a cartoon.

And keep in mind, "infidels" have pistols, too.

This is as good a time as any for an "I am Spartacus" moment in

the west.

The people threatening Stone and Parker are like the Islamic

Ku Klux Klan, except worse in some ways. A lot of

American progressives would see this issue much more

clearly if they simply substituted the word "Ku Klux Klan"

every time they heard the words "al Qaeda" and "jihadists."

(Examples: Cindy Sheehan has expressed sympathy for

the Ku Klux Klan; John Walker Lindh joined the Ku Klux Klan

just prior to a major lynching; Steve Earle wrote a song from the

sympathetic point of view of a Ku Klux Klansman; Noam

Chomsky thinks we should not bring in the police to stop

the Ku Klux Klan lynchings; George W. Bush diverted

resources away from battling the Ku Klux Klan so he could

chase down possible Klansmen in Mexico (and the New Yorker

magazine agreed with his decision!); the Ku Klux Klan

was violently offended by a newspaper picture of one

of their members without his hood, so papers across

America pulled the pic and promised never to show

such a photo again; The New Yorker magazine wrote an

editorial calling the Ku Klux Klan "rational actors";

politicians talked about the virtues of showing respect

for the Klan; etc.)

Hey, this isn't 2004, when America had a president

with a soft spot for fundamentalists and decided

to pointlessly chase down Saddam Hussein

instead. This is 2010, and we now have a president who is aiming

squarely at the fascist threat -- with drone missiles.

At last.

Note to news organizations: you should refer to

Muhammad as "the Muslim prophet Muhammad," not

"the prophet Muhammad." He is a prophet only to believers

in that sort of supernatural stuff, not to all others. Likewise,

when reporting on other mythic religious matters like, say,

the "resurrection" of Christ, you should always cite your

source (e.g., he rose from the dead, according to the Old

Testament, etc.).

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Could this be Muhammad's high school yearbook photo?

[by Paul Iorio, using photo/text from
"The National Lampoon High School Yearbook Parody"]



for April 21, 2010

There are writers -- both evil and not -- that have a

knack for coming up with perceptive or memorable one-liners.

Like Mao. You don't have to agree with Mao to feel the force

of such aphorisms as "Political power grows out of the barrel

of a gun."

And you don't have to agree with Stokely Carmichael to appreciate

how memorable some of his language was ("Violence is as

American as cherry pie!").

But unfortunately for fans of contrarianism or jihad, Osama

bin Laden, murderous son of a construction mogul, has never

had a talent for coming up with incisive or weighty lines.

And I'm not saying that because I despise the guy (I also

detest Mao, but have to admit Mao wrote some great

stuff). It's just that everything bin Laden says and writes

is sort of along the lines of "Allah (pbuh) is the way and

the light and if you don't follow the light you will be

condemned to an eternity of yada yada zzzzz."

Frankly, the guy's a bore (as a writer).

Today's column by Tom Friedman in the Times is yet another

(inadvertent) reminder of what a dull writer bin Laden actually

is. Friedman, probably trying (a bit too hard) to be contrarian

or provocative, serves up a quote from bin Laden that is...really

pretty dim, when you think about it. “When people see a strong

horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse,”

Friedman quotes bin Laden as saying, acting as if that's some

sort of pearl of wisdom.

That's a good line?! Think about it for a moment. It's

exactly like a used car salesman saying, "When people see a new

car and an old car, by nature they will like the new car." Or like a

psychotherapist saying: "When people see a sick woman and a

healthy woman, by nature they will be attracted to the healthy woman."

Wow!! What an insight! What penetrating perception (he said


It's funny that when you quote something that has the structure

and the cadence of an epigram but is actually banal and vapid, many

people will mistake it for wisdom. (Now that's a good aphorism!)

But I digress. Paul



for April 19 - 20, 2010

New Book About the Lethal Concert That Ended the Sixties

Jagger, after the disastrous Stones show in Livermore,
Calif., Dec. 6, 1969. (Who knew that "Under My Thumb"
would spark a murder?) [photo by Ethan A. Russell,
from "Let it Bleed"]

Finally got around to reading an interesting

book released last November about the Rolling Stones's

1969 American tour, "Let It Bleed" by Ethan A. Russell

(Springboard Press).

Of course, that was the tour that effectively

climaxed with what was originally supposed to be

a free Stones show in San Francisco, where the band

was going to debut a brand new tune called

"Brown Sugar."

As many know, that gig was moved forty miles

east to a remote speedway near the Altamont Pass,

where a day of free music ended up having a huge

price tag: one murder, numerous injuries, widespread

violence and bad vibes resonating for decades.

As it turned out, "Brown Sugar," still around 18 months

from release, was performed for the first time around ten

minutes after the killing of a teenage fan in the

front rows.

The book has hundreds of revealing photos from the

tour and fascinating observations as well ("The '69

tour was the best tour until then, which gets completely

overshadowed by what happened at Altamont," Bill Wyman

says in the book). Worth checking out.

* * * *
* * * *

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself...

Jagger meets former president of Poland
Kwaśniewski at the Beacon in "Shine a Light."
[photo of "Shine a Light" by Paul Iorio]

Also re-watched the Rolling Stones 2005 concert film

"Shine a Light" the other night. The part where

Bill Clinton introduces Jagger to former president

of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski before the band's

Beacon Theater gig in '05 meant something different

this time, given the tragic death of ex-president Lech


Surely, we all mourn Kaczyński's death, but there is

(nonetheless) the reality of a Polish election coming up

in a couple months. And I couldn't help but wonder why the

progressive Kwaśniewski, who is only 55, hasn't stepped

in to run for president. (Perhaps there are term limits in Poland

that I don't know about.) In fact, there seems to be more

talk about a candidacy by Kwaśniewski ally Włodzimierz

Cimoszewicz. Stay tuned.

* * * *

Moody's is Either Corrupt or Incompetent. Period.

Bravo to California AG Jerry Brown for taking Moody's

Investors Service to court. He wants Moody's to answer a

very simple and very crucial question: why did Moody's give

triple A ratings to worthless securities before the '08 crash?

The company was either incompetent or corrupt. There's no

other credible excuse.

By the way, TV news producers seem to love putting Moody's Mark

Zandi on the air. But how come nobody ever asks him the question

(above) that I'll repeat again here: "Mark, why did your firm

give triple A ratings to worthless securities before the crash?"

And why would tv news shows give podium to a guy representing a

discredited ratings agency?

While I'm on the subject of Jerry Brown, I found this bumper

sticker from his '92 presidential campaign the other day:

* * * &

Today is the 15th anniversary of the tragic Oklahoma City

bombing, which killed 168 people and injured hundreds.

At the time, it was an unprecedented horror, though

now it is, of course, dwarfed by the savagery of the

9/11 attacks. In fact, the anniversary makes me see

the enormity of the 2001 mass murders all the more vividly,

given that the September 11th body count was exponentially


Incidentally, shouldn't 9/11 have been classified as

a hate crime? Wasn't it, after all, a crime motivated

by religious bias, committed by Muslim militants

against non-Muslims? Likewise, shouldn't the Ft. Hood

massacre be considered a hate crime? Nidal Hasan did shout

"Allahu Akbar" before he started slaughtering the "unbelievers,"

thus revealing religious bias as his motive. (Instead,

apologists said, "Oh you poor man, did they rip a bumper

sticker off of your car? No wonder you shot 44 people!"

When they spoke of Hasan, too many media people sounded

like Frank the novelist addressing Alex in "A Clockwork Orange":

"Oh my poor boy, you're a victim, a victim of the modern age!")

I know that after 9/11 the emphasis at the U.S. Justice Department

was on watching for possible hate crimes against Muslims

by people out for revenge against Islamic terrorists. But let's

be real: in the nearly nine years since 9/11, has there been even

one hate crime against a Muslim in the U.S. that resulted in

that person's death? I mean, has there been even one?

Yet there have been numerous hate crimes by Muslim

militants against non-Muslims in America resulting in mass murder

(e.g., Ft. Hood) or attempted mass murder (ex., Najibullah

Zazi's plot to bomb the Grand Central Station subway). (And there

are less serious hate crimes, too; I recently was nearly assaulted by

a religious fanatic while silently reading books on Salman Rushdie

at a desk in a remote part of a library.)

Shouldn't law enforcement priorities reflect this? Shouldn't

America be more on the look-out for hate crimes committed

by Islamic fanatics against "the infidel" rather than vice

versa? Mainstream non-Muslim Americans, for the most part, to my eye,

are surprisingly tolerant of diversity, taking a "to each his

own" sort of attitude. Sure, there are a few bad apples at

the fringes -- for that matter, there are still rednecks

who hate Catholics and talk derisively about

Eye-talians -- but that's at the fringes.

Let me be so bold as to say that a nation that just elected a guy

named Hussein president shows signs of being really tolerant

and unbigoted. And it's sort of insulting to non-Muslim Americans,

who have to dodge the bullets and conspiracies of fundamentalists

on a regular basis, to say that they somehow have to be watched for

tendencies that are actually more prevalent on the other side of

the divide.

But I digress. Paul



for March 14, 2010

OK, today's column is just photos and a new cartoon.

I recently went through some original archival photos

that I'd shot years and decades ago and have never posted

until now. Thought I'd share a few here.

A very early morning shot of folk club Cafe Wha? in
Greenwich Village. Circa '95. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Very rare view of New York's World Financial Center, as
it was being built in early 1985, from atop a
not-yet-completed building. Yes, that's the skeleton
of the Winter Garden (bottom left) and one of the twin
towers (top left). (I gained special access to the
site because I happened to be working as a
writer/photographer for a company
that was a WFC tenant.) [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Another American city that also isn't as it used to be.
Here's New Orleans in early 1976. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Someone raises his hat at an outdoor speech by
Bill Clinton. Liberty State Park in Jersey City,
August 1, 1994. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Remember all the anti-Clinton fervor of the 1990s?
Well, here's an example, via a kid holding a sign his
parents probably gave to him. Same rally as prev pic.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Ah, the Berkeley, Calif., hills.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Berkeley gets very foggy on some mornings.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Blurry photo of singer Marti Jones performing in
New York for the very first time (at Irving Plaza).
Late '85? Or early '86? [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Dawn at Kerouac Alley in San Francisco.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

The Mexican border, 2000.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

And here's a cartoon I came up with the other day:

[cartoon by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul


for April 5 - 9, 2010

MP3 of my Latest Song "Backfire" Streaming Here

Many thanks to Marshall Stax at KALX Radio for playing

my song "Backfire" a few hours ago on his show The Next

Big Thing. (And sorry that my album cover erroneously

lists "Backfire" as the 4th track on my new CD when

it's actually the second one -- that'll be corrected

in future editions).

Anyway, I wrote "Backfire" in 2004/2005 but didn't release

it until late March 2010. I composed, performed and

produced it -- and recorded it at my home studio in

Berkeley, Calif., a few weeks ago.

Listen to it here:

And here're the lyrics:

Music and lyrics by Paul Iorio

You've gotta take a little smallpox
To get rid of the smallpox
You've gotta take a little polio
To get rid of the polio

You've gotta light a little backfire
To get rid of the main fire
To get rid of the main fire
You've gotta light a little

You've gotta take some medication
To get rid of medication
You've gotta take a step backward
To take another step forward

You've gotta light a little backfire
To get rid of the main fire
To get rid of the main fire
You've gotta light a little

Sometimes you've gotta get high to stop a high
Sometimes you've gotta get low to stop a low
Sometimes a little bit of peace will stop the peace
Sometimes a little bit of war will stop the war

You've gotta light a little backfire
To get rid of the main fire
To get rid of the main fire
You've gotta light a little

Sometimes you've gotta get high to stop a high
Sometimes you've gotta get low to stop a low
Sometimes a little bit of peace will stop the peace
Sometimes a little bit of war will stop the war

You've gotta light a little backfire
To get rid of the main fire
To get rid of the main fire
You've gotta light a little

"Backfire," by the way, is included on the latest (and the ultimate)

Paul Iorio album, "130 Songs."

Six CDs. Nearly six hours of music. 130 songs composed,

performed and produced by Paul Iorio. Available starting

in late April 2010 via

* * * *

Here's a cartoon I came up with this morning:

[cartoon by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for April 2 - 5, 2010

Squeeze in the Era of Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire

Pure pop in the last year (1981) before promiscuous sex
was wiped out by the threat of deadly disease.

[photo: Getty Images]

It's official: Squeeze has reunited -- or at least three of

its five members have -- and is heading out on tour while

developing new material.

Here's what to expect.

First, the band plays the Glastonbury and Isle of

Wight fests in June. Then, songwriters Chris Difford

and Glenn Tilbrook take off to Italy for the summer

to -- hold on to your skinny ties! -- write brand new songs

together. For the first time since the 1990s.

Come November, the group returns for a one-month tour of the U.K.,

playing around two dozen shows that will culminate with three big

holiday season concerts in London, their hometown. Dates in

Wales and Scotland are scheduled, too, but no U.S. gigs are

planned yet.

I'm sure some fans are hoping the band plays at least

a few shows at which they perform one of their classic

albums ("Cool for Cats," "Argy Bargy," "East Side Story")

from beginning to end. Or that they at least bring out

neglected gems like "Slightly Drunk" and "His House, Her Home."

Those who can't catch the band in the U.K. can check

out a fairly terrific recent DVD ("Essential Squeeze")

that includes a 1982 Squeeze concert film.

1982, of course, is just slightly off-peak Squeeze, but it's

good enough. I was lucky enough to have seen the band at its

true zenith, in July 1981, at the Ritz in Manhattan, on their

"East Side Story" tour. And it remains one of the most

enjoyable power pop concerts I've ever seen.

I also attended two of the shows on its far less

impressive 1982 tour.

The difference between Squeeze in '81 and Squeeze in '82 is

substantial, like the difference between a high and

a hangover.

I'll never forget the part of the '81 show in which

every standing member of the band was spontaneously

tapping his foot in unison as they played "Piccadilly" --

the very picture of harmony.

Contrast that with '82. I was fortunate to have gotten

tickets to a show at the Peppermint Lounge in New York where

the band played for a small crowd packed in a relatively tiny

space. It was a sort of glorified rehearsal before

their first-ever gig at Madison Square Garden later that day.

Up close, I could see a great group disintegrating

before my eyes. More than one bandmember seemed unmistakably

drunk (drummer Gilson Lavis, no longer with Squeeze, was

alarmingly soused, judging by his appearance). And

Difford and Tilbrook could be seen openly sparring on


It was also obvious that they were putting the

finishing touches on their setlist, nodding to

one another when one song or another went over

particualry well, as was the case with "Cool for Cats,"

which the crowd loved (the song was subsequently moved up

to the opening slot for the Garden gig).

The DVD captures the band on a better night than the

one I saw at the Pep in '82. My first thought while

watching the video was: is there any way they can

re-form and bring back that wonderful sound of octave

harmonies and McCartneyesque melody? I mean, "Labeled

with Love" is a thing of real poignant beauty and other

songs from albums two to four are unfailingly exuberant

and thrilling.

And thirty years later, I still can't figure out

how they came to create a piece of magic like "Another

Nail in My Heart."

Even so, there's sometimes the sense on the DVD of a band not

handling pressure well, of Tilbrook rolling his eyes in the manner

of someone being forced to sing something a certain way.

Still, the concert film makes me wonder why the band

isn't a top draw in the States. (Maybe because

they created only three A-level albums before breaking


Let's see if Difford and Tilbrook can re-capture their

chemistry this summer in Italy. The combination of

Tuscany and Chianti has inspired lots of artists and

writers through the centuries. (Isn't that how the

Renaissance happened?)

A Squeeze concert film is included on the "Essential Squeeze" DVD.

* * * *

Dropped by the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum (BAM) yesterday

afternoon and caught an impressive collection of

William T. Wiley's paintings and sculptures (and even a

pin ball machine!). Absolutely loved his "Shark's Dream"

('67) and "& So On" (below) paintings:

William T. Wiley's art is on display at BAM
through July 18th. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

By the way, the Abstract Expressionists now have their own

set of commemorative postage stamps. Terrific idea. Ten

stamps, each featuring a work by a different

artist, are being offered by the USPS. Among the

paintings: Mark Rothko's "Orange and Yellow" ('56),

Jackson Pollock's "Convergence" ('52) and Willem de Kooning's

"Asheville" ('48). You can buy 'em online on this site:

Mark Rothko's "Orange and Yellow," now on
a commemorative stamp.

* * * *

The public option? I think lots of women might've
viewed him that way! [photo:]

* * * *

Bad original joke of the day

The Mexican drug wars are getting serious. Yesterday a battle between
the Jalapenos and the Serranos was interrupted by a natural gas
explosion. (Ba-dum-ba!)

* * * *

Every time there's a major earthquake in southern

California, everybody says the same thing: it's the

biggest temblor since Northridge. But what about Hector

Mine? Does anybody remember Hector Mine, a 7.1 that

struck at around three in the morning on October

16, 1999? I was living in L.A. at the time and felt

the quake, which was a doozy and had everyone up and

awake and pacing outside at 3am. Virtually the

same magnitude as yesterday's Mexicali quake, too.

* * * *

Some folks are in a tizzy about new websites like

Unvarnished that allow people to post their opinions

about other people. Well, what's so new about people

talking about others?

I vividly remember the ancient pre-Internet days of

'94 and '95 when a scurrilous rumor could go viral via

word-of-mouth -- and the victim of the rumor would have

almost no way to counter it. But today, if a false or misleading

bit of misinfo gets around, a simple blog can allow you to

post a rebuttal and get the truth out, complete with

primary documents!

What a relief! In the old days, what could you do? Call a friend

and say, "Uh, hey, there's this, uh, rumor that's going 'round that's

not true and I, uh, thought I'd let you know"? Yeah, right.

In the pre-web age, some of us resembled Jason Alexander on "Seinfeld"

trying to debunk hearsay by talking up his theory of "shrinkage" to

anyone who'd listen!

Truth is, the powers-that-be hate the fact that the Internet

gives regular people the potential to spread their own viral

info -- a power that used to be only the privilege and domain

of rich folks who could drop a piece of well-placed slander

at a corporate luncheon or confab and wreck someone's

reputation with ease and impunity. The Internet, thankfully,

has democratized that part of life.

* * * * *

Name of a Chinese restaurant in the Castro just waiting to happen:


* * * *

Bumper Stickers I've Yet to See

[graphic, photo, text by Paul Iorio]

[graphic, photo, text by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for March 27 - 28, 2010

Raja Knows Where to Reach Lala. Lala Knows Where to Reach Osama.
Chicago cabbie Raja Khan, friend of Osama associate
Ilyas Kashmiri (above), was apparently planning to a blow up
a packed American stadium this summer -- for the love of Osama! "Boom,
boom, boom, boom," he said in a wiretapped conversation.

[photo from]

The latest U.S.-based al Qaeda militant to be caught

by the authorities is Raja Khan, a Chicago cabbie who

is a big fan of Osama bin Laden's. Wiretapped conversations,

recently revealed in a federal indictment, show that

Khan claimed to have been in regular contact with someone

who currently deals with bin Laden: Ilyas Kashmiri, who

Khan calls "Lala."

Lala has quite a bloody resume. Tried to kill Musharraf in '03.

Recently plotted to attack the offices of the Jyllands-Posten

newspaper. Leads a group of Sunni militants that is always

threatening to commit mass homicide.

Plus, Lala apparently knows where bin Laden is. Check out this exchange

between cabbie Khan and an undercover agent in a wiretapped


KHAN: I love that Osama bin Laden, he says the last fifty
years we have been, you know, America will
taste that.

UC1: they're afraid.

KHAN: Then he gonna feel...then he gonna feel to know...

UC1: Feel our pain...

KHAN: Yeah, feel our pain

UC1: ...yes, feel our suffering

KHAN: Yes, that's what he did in Kenya

UC1: Yes

KHAN: ...Nigeria and uh somewhere in Yemen, you know, that boat,
you know?

UC1: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Together we can do it...with, with,
with Osama bin Laden...with him being our leader, he has helped
us so much.

KHAN: Yeah, I asked the Lala about him. And he says he's healthy,
he's leading...

UC1: He's good

KHAN: He's good and uh

UC1: Inshallah, inshallah

KHAN: You know I was think he was, uh, they say he was...

UC1: Was sick, yeah sure...

KHAN: yeah [unintelligible] but he says no. He's perfect, healthy
and he's leading, he's giving the orders...

UC1: Inshallah

KHAN: [unintelligible] hurndallah [phonetic spelling] he's,
he's OK, he's in safe hands

UCI1: [unintelligible] good

KHAN: That's what Lala said to me, you know...

* * *

So let's add this up. Khan the cabbie knows how to

reach Lala, right? And Lala knows how to reach bin Laden.

That means our goal should be to use whatever leverage

necessary to get Khan to give up Lala. From there,

finding Osama would be much easier.

But I digress. Paul



for March 27, 2010

I'm starting to think the Obama team sort of resembles the

Rolling Stones: Obama is Jagger, Rahm is Keith, Axelrod is

Charlie Watts, Gibbs is Brian Jones, Plouffe is Ron Wood.

Biden is Andrew Loog Oldham. Hillary is Marianne Faithfull.

(Infinitely better than previous WH occupant Hank Jr.)

By the way, I wonder what various despots are making of

the video of Obama browsing at a bookstore and checking

out works by political arch-enemies Mitt Romney and Karl

Rove. Imagine footage of Saudi King Abdullah at a

Borders, smiling and flipping through Salman Rushdie's

"The Satanic Verses." Dream on.

One other thing: has anyone noticed that soon-to-be

ex-Senator John McCain has been proved wrong about Iraq?

Remember during the '08 campaign when McCain

repeatedly said the U.S. should not set a date for

pulling out of Iraq because the "bad guys" would simply

wait us out and then attack? Well, we're already

virtually out of Iraq -- and the insurgents are

no more aggressive or militant than they've ever been.

(Less so, probably.) A pointless war is winding down

without helicopters crashing or refugees streaming

or bombings escalating.

* * *

I just saw a few movies and videos, and here're

my reviews:

Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man"

One of the ten best movies of last year, probably the tenth

best. Love the film's multiple levels of everyday hell, the

cascading flow of quotidian misery. You never know which

layer of small hell will turn up in the next scene, whether

it will involve problems at work, with the family or

with a very persistent guy from the Columbia Record Club.

And some of the dialogue is the best written for a feature

released last year; the conversation about tenure between Larry

and the head of the tenure committee -- who tells Larry that

he has received anonymous letters denigrating him -- is priceless

and rings completely true. ("Are they, are they idiomatic?," asks

Larry about the letters. "No, the letters are competently -- even

eloquently written," answers his colleague. And at that

moment you realize that it was probably Sy (and not the

disgruntled South Korean student) who wrote them.)

It's also a brilliant evocation of American suburbia circa

'66 to '71ish, pointing to an even greater film that has

yet to be made about life in the 'burbs as the boomers

knew them in the sixties and seventies.

There are, however, a couple plot turns not taken in this

film that could have been. For example, it would have

been a great twist at the end if Larry had discovered

that the money on his desk was actually an envelope

of Arthur's gambling winnings that had inadvertently gotten

caught up in papers he took to the office. Also, rather

than have Sy commit suicide by car accident, I would have

had him try to arrange the (unsuccessful) killing of

Larry via car accident. (More motivation, better plot


All told, most of the flick is excellent, though it also

feels like it's missing both a chapter and a satisfying

resolution. An "A" film, though I'm still tempted to give it

an Incomplete.

* * *

Bruce Springsteen's "Wings for Wheels" and "Live at Hammersmith Odeon, '75"

Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" was the first album that

I bought after arriving at college to live on my own for

the first time in the fall of 1975. The LP came to mean a

lot to me, though at first I tried to get my money back.

You see, when I brought it back to my dorm room and put

the needle on "Thunder Road," I thought it sounded warped

and didn't know whether the cause was the vinyl or the actual

music. So I went to the returns counter at The Hub and told

them I wanted a refund. But they'd only give me an exchange,

so I got another copy and went back to South Hall with it.

I tried "Thunder Road" again. It still seemed a bit warped,

like it had been left out in the sun too long. This doesn't sound

anything like Dylan, as the critics said it did, I thought. And

I was a huge Dylan fan at the time.

As the album progressed, I remember thinking that I couldn't

make out what they were playing, that it was sludgy and dense

and lacked definition.

At the time, in that month, my ears were used to the trebly Byrds and

the Beatles. And the way the crits were talking, I was expecting the

springtime freshness of "Blood on the Tracks." But this album was more

like the clogged oil pan gasket on the '73 Plymouth I'd rented to

drive to school.

Still, I grew to love the album and it remains one of my all-time


Now that we're approaching the 35th anniversary of the release

of "Born to Run," I decided to finally, belatedly watch the

DVDs released in '05 to commemorate the disc's 30th birthday.

One video is about the making of that album, the other a concert

film from '75 --and both would have meant a lot more to me 20

or 30 years ago than they do now.

Today, I and everyone are so overly familiar with Bruce's

schtick that it no longer seems as astonishing and exhilarating

as it did back then.

In the docu, Bruce claims he wrote innumerable

drafts of the song "Born to Run" and spent months

recording it. Frankly, in retrospect, it sorta feels that way.

Overworked, overthought, overwrought. Left in the sun too long.

To me, it doesn't have the unstoppable momentum of "Thunder Road,"

parts of "Jungleland" or even "Night."

Today, the track "Born to Run" feels less like a song and more

like a contraption.

The months that Bruce spent in the studio on it weren't

used to invent new production techniques or to innovate;

rather, the studio time was spent learning how to overdub and

layer in the manner pioneered by Phil Spector and Brian

Wilson. (With the clout of John Hammond and Columbia

Records behind the project, I can't help but wonder why

they didn't bring in Spector himself to produce the thing.)

Also, Bruce is damn lucky the post-release period wasn't

dominated by a "Tiny Dancer"-copyright infringement suit.

As for the show, Bruce didn't yet fill his cap -- literally

and figuratively. Onstage, he wore this cap that was too

bulky and clearly didn't fit him -- and it kept falling

over his eyes and off his head, which required him

to constantly re-adjust the thing. If it had been red and white,

he could have passed for Santa Claus.

Like his hair under the hat, some of the live versions

of his songs sprawled ineffectively in endless twists and

curls (see: "Kitty's Back," brilliant on vinyl, but awful

in concert here, aspiring to an almost ELP-ish prog rock).

That said, I'm a big fan of his early multi-part compositions

and wish he'd taken them in a more Queen-ish direction.

But on the way to making Bruce more musically effective,

Jon Landau also made him more formally conventional,

shifting him from a poetic framework to prose.

I actually attended a show on his next tour, in 1978, which

was much better than both the '75 London gig and the '73

Ahmanson show on these DVDs. By '78, Bruce had pared away

his songs, sheared off his hair, thrown away that cap, and

rocked like a combination of Presley and a less lithe Stones.

At the time, his pre-'78 concerts must have seemed more

awesome than they do now. Today they're more like the

promise of a spectacular rock 'n' roll show -- a promise

fully kept in the concerts of '78 and (especially)

of '84/'85.

But I digress. Paul



for March 23, 2010

Use Google, Boycott Bing

Imagine if the Internet had existed in the late-1930s

in Adolf Hitler's Germany. And suppose there had been

a search engine then -- and every time you put the word,

say, "Judaism" into the engine during the Third Reich,

you'd get no search results but only government

propaganda savagely denigrating all Jews.

If such a search engine had been operating under the

Third Reich's censorship rules of the 1930s, it's

fair to say that that search firm would have been

complicit in distributing Nazi propaganda and furthering

Hitler's totalitarianism.

Such is the case, analogously, in the modern-day People's

Republic of China (which, to be fair, is not nearly

as tyrannical or genocidal as the Third Reich, though it's

still unusually oppressive).

By operating in the PRC, Bing has become a de facto partner

in government propaganda in China. By that I mean: Try looking up the

Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 on Bing in China and see if

all search results aren't scrubbed of any mention of the

government's slaughter of protesters. Try looking

up, say, Ai Weiwei on Bing in China and see if your search

results don't get blocked (or perhaps you'll get a government

site calling the dissident artist a traitor).

I've heard Bill Gates's defense on this. Gates says you have to

operate by the rules of the nation in which you're doing

business. And to a certain extent that's true, but only to

a certain extent. In countries where the totalitarianism is

indefensibly extreme, where human rights violations are rampant

and intolerable, a search engine ceases to become a tool of inquiry

and research and free exchange of information and becomes

merely a megaphone for the government line.

In his defense, Gates likes to cite the example of

modern-day Germany, which outlaws the display of the swastika

and blocks it from most search results in that country. But

Gates knows that that's an atypical and isolated example in

a nation that otherwise encourages free speech and allows

dissidents to be heard.

Let's not let Bing gain advantage because Microsoft isn't

willing to take the same principled stand that Google has.

Until it pulls out of China, boycott Bing.

But I digress. Paul



for March 22, 2010

The Chinese Government Wants You
to Know It Doesn't Want You to Know
About the Following Subjects

"Thunderingly" Embarrassing Revelations About Hu's Regime

If more proof were needed that Google made the right

decision by pulling its operations out of China, it came

in the form of a censorship list recently and secretly issued

by the Chinese government. The list, which has since leaked

all over the Internet and was reported yesterday by The New

York Times and others,

includes 17 people, newspapers and scandals that

Hu Jintao's regime is trying to keep the public from knowing


Here is my own (partially pictorial) guide to some of

the subjects the Chinese government is trying to

censor. (And don't worry, Hu, I won't let any

of this get out!)

He poisons thousands, gets new gov job! (Shhhh)

Some call him a baby-killer. He's Li Changjiang,
a government official partly responsible for deliberately putting
melamine in the milk in China, causing six deaths and 300,000
cases of sickness. The Chinese government doesn't want
you to know he's got a brand new government job! (We won't
tell anyone!) [photo from Life magazine]

* * *

Truth-teller, dissident. (Hu Jintao says, "Don't mention him!")

Ai Weiwei, dissident artist, pain in the ass to
the Chinese government. The powers-that-be don't want you to
talk about him. [photo from]

* * *

This picture is banned in China!

The youtan poluo flower. Don't write about it. Don't
show its picture. (It's making people superstitious.)
[unknown photographer]

* * *

Hu Sez: Liu's SUV Not Prole Enough for Mongolia

Psssst! Prosecutor Liu Lijie used to drive a very expensive,
very snazzy Volkswagen Touareg SUV to work everyday. Not very
prole. She was canned but has a new job. Don't tell a soul!

* * *

Hu Jintao Sez: "Pay no mind to the newspaper called 南方周末 ."
The main editor at popular liberal newspaper Southern Weekend,
Xiang Xi, was recently demoted and replaced by an "editor" from
the government's Propaganda Department. (To be sure, this
sometimes happens at Rupert Murdoch's "newspapers," too, or
at least some people seem to think so!) Don't talk about this at all!!

* * *

And definitely don't print anything about Han Feng, a disgraced government
tobacco official who was caught taking bribes.

* * *

Oh, also: don't use the word "thunder" or "thundering."

* * *

Here's the original list of things the Chinese government wants to


作者:何贝 文章来源:维权网 点击数:156 更新时间:3/7/2010 2:24:03 PM


















文章录入:ye_1989 责任编辑:chinesemz
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But I digress. Paul



for March 21, 2010

Obama Spring!

one (of many) adoring posters of President Obama
in shop windows in the Bay Area, this one in Oakland
[photo by Paul Iorio]

I was walking around Berkeley, Calif., this afternoon,

just as the news was breaking that the deal was done,

that health care reform was going to pass the House. And

just about everybody downtown was smiling, opening doors for

each other, saying you go first, go ahead, on this

blazing green spring day.

Underneath it all was the unspoken feeling that we did it,

we realized the dream, or part of the dream, that had

been beyond our grasp for more than a century.

If Barack Obama does nothing else in his presidency,

and doesn't otherwise mess up, he is on his way to

becoming the greatest U.S. president since JFK.

And here's hoping the great Barney Frank revives his

attempt to repeal the 22nd Amendment. A president

this effective requires a few more terms to put his

complete vision in place.

* * * *

OK, since everyone's in a good mood right about now,

here are a couple jokes I came up with the other day:

Q: What did the Hindu carpenter in the West Bank say to his
Arab and Jewish clients?
A: "Epoxy on both your houses!"

-- Sarah Palin is lately spending a lot more time out of Alaska
and on the mainland U. S. (the "lower 46," as she calls it).

* * * *

Here's a photo I shot the other week of the aftermath of

a student party in Berkeley, Calif. (looks like it was

an "Invictus"-themed bash!).

[photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for March 18, 2010

"If he was from Venus, would he meet us on the moon?," asked Paul Westerberg of Alex Chilton (right) in "Alex Chilton."

Hey, he met us on Earth instead! A better place.

Very sad to hear he's gone.

[photo of Big Star from; photographer unknown]


for March 10, 2010


Reading "Jihad Jane"'s MySpace Site

The Stuff Other Reporters Missed

She's so bored with the U.S.A.!
[photo of website by Paul Iorio.]

As everyone knows by now, the latest Jihadist plot, this one by

Pennsylvania resident Colleen R. LaRose (aka, "Jihad Jane"), targeted

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who she was allegedly planning

to kill for drawing a cartoon some Muslims consider


Jihad Jane had a wide online presence, with videos on

YouTube and a sprawling MySpace page (at,

now deleted). The cached edition of the site

has already been covered by news organizations.

But some material on the actual (as opposed to the cached)

web page has not been written about anywhere, probably because

content on the site (prior to its being completely deleted)

was blocked by graphics and the words "photo deleted." In fact,

the "photo deleted" message made it impossible to read the

site -- unless you did what I did and used the "select

all" function to highlight the entire page. By doing that,

I was able to read the website in its original form, which

included active links and information not available in

the cached version.

It turns out there was intriguing material being

blocked from view. And I'm reporting some of it here exclusively.

First, on a personal note, near the top of the site, she lists

her favorite movies. "Braveheart, Troy, Gladiator, Moulin Rouge,

Helen of Troy, Joan of Ark, Kingdom to Heaven," she writes.

"Religulous" and "Borat" did not make her list.

Janey's Jihad Movie Picks include many flicks by
the Infidel! [photo of website by Paul Iorio]

Then, in her blog, she cites the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan

65-years ago as a primary motivation and justification for

current jihadist violence. (As we all know, Tokyo is a

hotbed of al Qaeda activity.) Here's her (unedited) rant:

"If America is not a terrorist state, then I dont know
what is. One only deserves to be in a mental asylum to
not call America a terrorist Government whilst knowing
of all these atrocious crimes she committed."

Then Jane weighs in on the 9/11 attacks:

"And when 9/11, an act of retaliation for Americas terrorism, is
done and kills 3,000 people, it seems that America is no longer
the terrorists (and Im not saying that she was even called a
terrorist state beforehand!!!) and that she never committed a crime
and was totally innocent like a newborn baby. Now that is what
you call good brainwashing by the media...."

Of course, she blames plenty on -- you guessed it! -- the media:

"Its [sic] absolutely amazing and fascinating that the media
can cover up the atrocities of America so well such as the
dropping of the atomic bombs on the helpless women and children
of Japan and focus heavily on how the Mujaahideen are
terrorists when in reality, they were retaliating (just as
America retaliated upon Japan, but in a more sick way)."

And when she talks about Her Homeland, she apparently is not
referring to suburban Philly:

"[America] comes to our lands to spread her filth,
disbelief and criminal activities and if one soldier
rapes a Muslim sister, we judge the entire
Army and not just him alone..."

Janey's blog, which might as well be titled "Yes, We Kampf!" [photo of website by Paul Iorio]


And she also "friended" lots of people on MySpace, and here're

some of the fucks -- I mean, folks! -- who appeared on her site:

Wasn't he the bassist in Uriah Heap?
[photo of website by Paul Iorio]

* * *

He's with the band!
[photo of website by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Ubiquitous on Janey's site!
[photo of web page by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Was Janey driven to homicide by a mere cartoon? (Such
delicate sensibilities!) Here's the Lars Vilks
drawing that got Jane in a murderin' mood!

But I digress. Paul



for March 4, 2010

The verdict seems to be in: people really think

the movie "Crazy Heart" is using one of my distinctive

melodies without my permission.

And "Crazy Heart" didn't use "my" melody just once,

but at least four times in the film (at the 23, 40,

41 and 49 minute marks), making it the most repeated

musical hook in the whole film.

Thanks to the Austin 360 website for posting my

contrast of the two songs (see below):

Listen to the two songs here and judge for yourselves:

For the record, I wrote "Is The Rushmore Bridge Falling

Down" in 1989 and sent it in '89 to my regular editor

at Spy magazine -- who is now, by the way, an editor at

The New York Times -- so he could consider it for a flexi-disc


I revived the song in early 2004 for my album "About Myself"

and sent it to a wide range of music industry professionals,

including T-Bone Burnett, the movie's music director, and

executives associated with New West Records, the label that

has released the soundtrack album.

Yesterday, I checked my previous computer, which is

in perfect working order, and saw that I emailed the

song to myself several times in 2004, when I was

preparing it for "About Myself." The actual emails

still exist (and, as we all know, the hard drive

does not lie!).

For anyone interested, here's the history behind my song

that is similar to the one in "Crazy Heart":

My song "Is the Rushmore Bridge Falling Down" began right here,
in 1989, in this proposal for a flexi-disc project for Spy
magazine. The melody that is similar to the one in "Crazy Heart" is
in the part titled "How Many Exiles?," the end of the suite
"Is the Rushmore Bridge Falling Down."

* * *

Here's page one of a (still active) email from
April 24, 2005, that I printed out just yesterday (see print out date
on the bottom). On this page, I listed the forty (or forty-one) best
songs I'd composed (which I was planning to include on the upcoming
CD version of my album "About Myself"). "Rushmore" is the 41st song

* * *

Here's page two of that (still active) email from April 24, 2005.
On this page are the lyrics of "Is the Rushmore Bridge Falling Down."
(Note the part three-quarters of the way down the page in
all caps that reads: "ORIGINAL VERSION FROM 1989.")

* * * *

Here's page three of that (still active) email from
April 24, 2005. This page has the rest of the "Rushmore" lyrics.

* * *

I'll keep you posted on how this situation progresses.

But I digress. Paul



for March 1, 2010

Just saw a couple new movies and here're

my reviews:

Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island"

This resembles the high-concept B-movies that Scorsese

used to love when he was growing up in the 1950s. It's

sort of like an "Island of the Insane!"-type populist

crowd-pleaser, with more unexpected twists than Lombard

Street. Better than usual late-Scorsese, with lots of

visual magic.

Also, more than a half-century after "Wild Strawberries,"

Max von Sydow may be enjoying the greatest commercial

success of his career with this film (if it surpasses

"The Exorcist"). The most memorable performance by an

octogenarian in memory.

Because the finale makes you view everything that preceded

it in a completely new light, I bet lots of moviegoers are

returning to see this one again.

* * *

Scott Cooper's "Crazy Heart"

No doubt about it, Jeff Bridges will definitely win the Oscar

this Sunday for Best Imitation of a Kris Kristofferson Performance.

It's such a spot-on impersonation, I occasionally had to do a

double-take, thinking I was either in the middle of "Lone Star" or

"Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore."

Central problem with the film is that Bad Blake has

all the demons and torment of The Artist but not much

artistry, all the cliches of ravaged genius with none

of the content. Blake's music rarely rises above

generic country stuff that you can hear in a thousand

bars across the country on any weekend night, country

music wallpaper. There's nothing on the level of "Tender

Mercies"'s "Over You" or "Nashville"'s "Idaho Home."

What we're left with is the story of a wash-up without

a prior career that was distinctive or interesting.

The guy's merely a martyr to the roadhouse cliches of

whiskey and cigarettes and rehab. (And after rehab he starts

sounding like a country Leonard Cohen.)

And Maggie Gyllenhaal's character is badly conceived.

Let's see: she's writing about Blake for a local newspaper,

sleeping with him and then breaking with him after he loses

her four-year-old son while boozing in a bar. (Gee, I sure

hope losing her kid didn't affect the write-up!)

And then the movie ends on a heartwarming note, when Blake

passes what amounts to a bribe to the reporter!

Bridges's peak remains "Tucker." And T Bone Burnett has written

far better material and been associated with greater films than

this one.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Issues of plagiarism in "Crazy Heart" discussed below.



for February 28, 2010

Is "Crazy Heart" Guilty of Plagiarism?

Finally got around to seeing "Crazy Heart" last night

and immediately recognized that somebody had apparently

ripped off the distinctive melody of my 1989 song

"Is the Rushmore Bridge Falling Down."

In the movie, my melody is used, without my permission,

in the song "Fallin' & Flyin'," credited to the late

Stephen Bruton and Gary Nicholson. It's used in the

film at least four times (at the 23, 40, 41 and 49

minute marks) and is probably the most repeated

musical hook in the whole film.

For the record, I wrote "Is The Rushmore Bridge Falling

Down" in 1989 and sent it in '89 to my regular editor

at Spy magazine so he could consider it for a flexi-disc

project. I revived the song in early 2004 for my album

"About Myself."

For 21 years, I've regarded that as one of the best melodies

I've written, and I really don't appreciate the fact

that somebody appears to have stolen it for use in

another song.

Here's an MP3 that lets you contrast both songs. Listen

here and judge for yourself:

But I digress. Paul



for February 25, 2010

Making the Workplace Religion-Neutral

Suppose a cashier at a clothing store were to say that she had

joined the Ku Klux Klan, which (let's say) had recently

reconstituted itself and redefined itself as some sort of

sick religion, and that her faith required her to wear a sheet

to work. (A nauseating scenario, to be sure!)

Anyone would fire that employee, right?

Of course. For obvious reasons.

How about this. Suppose I were running a store and one

of my salesmen came to work with a large button saying

"Scientology is Better Than Christianity," and refused

to take it off, saying that his religion required him

to wear it.

I'd probably want to fire him, too.

Why? Because I don't want to be in a position where

it appears that I, through my employee, am tacitly

endorsing a religion that I don't want to endorse.

And thanks to the Establishment Clause, I'm not forced by

the U.S. government to choose or support a religion.

But if I ran a shop, and one of my employees wore religious

garb that you simply could not miss visually, wouldn't that

employee's clothing constitute an endorsement of a

particular religion? And because it's my shop -- and he's

my staffer -- doesn't that constitute a sort of surrogate

endorsement of a faith by me? (After all, there's no way

to issue a disclaimer or rebuttal in that sort of retail


And when that surrogate endorsement is backed by the EEOC,

then effectively the government is violating the Establishment

Clause, because it is forcing me, de facto, to endorse a

religion that I might completely disagree with.

After all, when the government steps in, via the EEOC, and

says I have to allow that employee to continue to endorse

a religion in a shop owned by me, then the government is

requiring me to create the unmistakable appearance that I favor a

particular faith.

Shouldn't my rights under the Establishment Clause take

precedence in such a situation? Shouldn't the EEOC be

interceding to enforce religious neutrality in the workplace,

rather than allowing a particular employee to turn a secular work

environment into a virtual place of worship?

On a personal level, if I owned a clothing shop, I'd

have a blanket policy: leave your crucifix, yarmulke,

burqa, veil and "Jesus Loves You" button at the church,

temple or mosque before you come to work.

If I were a store owner, I'd tell my employees that we're not

in the business of promoting, or even appearing to promote, a

political agenda or a religion.

Perhaps the EEOC should revise Section 12 of its Compliance Manual

to further factor in Establishment Clause protections to make

sure that the secular private sector is as religion-neutral

as the public sector is.

But I digress. Paul



for February 22 - 23, 2010

Reading Bob Herbert's column, just posted. I usually marvel

at his evenhandedness, unpredictability (and hey, he wrote

really smart things about the first (but not the latest)

Afghanistan war).

But then I came on this line in today's piece, written as

a criticism of a school:

"When I asked one boy why there were no fights in the school,
he replied, 'Because it’s not allowed.'”

Aw! Such deprivation! (Readin', writin' and assaultin'

people. Curious curriculum.)

Y'know, back in '01, Herbert had strokes of brilliance.

In 2010, I think he's had a stroke.

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

This next item is directed to a small group of people

who know what I'm referring to. And this is what I wanna say:

Have we forgotten all about the connecting-the-dots thing that

we supposedly learned after Ft. Hood? Have we forgotten that

it was our collective timidity in blowing the whistle on a

Muslim fundamentalist -- a timidity stemming from an overabundance of

political correctness -- that was exactly what helped to cause the

Ft. Hood massacre?

I wouldn't be surprised if within nine or 17 months, there is

violence by Islamic fanatics against "infidels" in academia

in the U.S., just as I've been warning. (And I wouldn't be

surprised if the guys involved in a particularly ugly

recent incident in Berkeley (and some of you know what

I'm referring to) eventually end up on tv screens and

newspapers across America after killing a non-believer

or three.)

How do I know that's going to happen? Because it already

did happen last week; it was just an unsuccessful attempt.

[Do I know something you don't know? Actually, you should

know exactly what I know (you editors and others to whom I

explained the situation in writing and on the phone). Unless

you're stupid or biased, it's obvious what happened. And

I have correspondence written to me from university officials

that fully corroborates my story. By the way, sincere thanks

to the police and university officials who have been both

smart and helpful in this matter

And then I'm gonna shove that fact down your throats. (Down

the throats of some (not all) officials and editors who

doubt there's a problem with Muslim fundamentalists, to be specific.)

I'm gonna say, "I warned you about the possibility of secularists

and others being targeted on college campuses by militants back

in 2010. But because of a p.c. mindset (and identity politics),

you didn't put the fundamnetalists under a microscope. So the

blood is on your hands."

And then I'll make sure everybody knows I warned you, way

back in 2010, about the very real possibility of

Muslim militants attacking those who teach or study

works by the "infidel." (At the very least, libraries

across America should post signs, directed at religious

fundamentalists, that say: "Please be tolerant of those

who are reading books with which you disagree."

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

For some time, there has been an exceedingly wrong-headed

view out there that fundamentalist militants are, for some

mysterious reason, worthy of respect. Automatically. Without

having to earn it.

Hmm. Let's take that idea apart.

Should we also respect, say, pedophiles? No, of course

not. Should we respect...rapists? No way. Should

we respect swindlers like Bernie Madoff? Mass murderers like

Charles Manson? Not a chance.

Already, in around 25 words, I've defined a sizable

number of people who we can all agree do not deserve respect.

So let's expand that population a bit.

Should we respect, oh, people who try to blow up airplanes in

the name of their god? Obviously, no. Should we respect people

who support people who try to blow up airplanes in the name of

god? No way.

After all, you certainly wouldn't say we should respect people

who support blowing up innocent children while also saying

that we should not respect those who molest children?

What would be the logic, the consistency there? (If you're saying

that, then you're saying that murdering a child is a lesser

offense than molesting one.)

So you're not saying that, are you? Being reasonable, you have to

conclude that suicide bombers and their backers (and that includes all

of al Qaeda and much of the Taliban) are not worthy of respect.

Because respect should be earned, should be based

on some level of admiration for, or at least tolerance of,

another person's actions or beliefs. And there is no reasonable

foundation for respecting a religious fanatic who deliberately blows

up (or tries to blow up, or supports blowing up) an airplane

with children and other civilians aboard. That's common sense.

People should really think through the nice-sounding

platitudes they say before they say them.

But I digress. Paul



for February 20, 2010

I'm really glad people seem to be enjoying my new song

"Taliban Virgins."

I had a lot of fun writing and recording it, and the song

seems to bring a smile to those who hear it.

And I can't imagine that it would be offensive to any

reasonable person. It is, after all, a satirical song written

in the first person from the point-of-view of a religious

suicide bomber.

Every single line in the song is something militants themselves

have said or implied repeatedly (e.g., they want to die so they

can go to paradise and have dozens of virgins at their disposal,

etc.). And what precisely do you think they want to do with such

imaginary virgins once they get them? Do you think they merely

want to stare adoringly at them from afar? No. The whole suicide

bomber fantasy is based on the idea of being rewarded with sex

from numerous virgins (which, I suspect, would involve taking

off their clothing).

A ripe target for satire, if anything is!

Unless you're in favor of suicide bombings by Islamic

militants, my song could not possibly be offensive to you.

(And I think it's irresponsible to let sympathizers of

fundamentalist bombers decide what the limits of freedom

of speech are in the United States. And I believe it shows

poor judgment and a disrespect for the first amendment to

cave in to jihadists on free speech issues.)

I thank the radio people who have already played it and

hope more of 'em do in the future!

Haven't heard "Taliban Virgins" yet? Listen here:

* * * *

* * * *

The way I felt a few days ago...
[cartoon from The New Yorker magazine; I don't know who drew it.]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- To those who know what I'm talking about: I

said, "No, I haven't seen the person you're

referring to -- sorry." That was the tone and



P.S. -- I've just added new material to my column on Cash Box

magazine (see the Feb. 16 - 17, 2010, column, below).



for February 18, 2010

I finally got to see Clint Eastwood's "Invictus"

and here's my review:

Clint Eastwood's "Invictus"

I sat around with Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo,

talking with him one-on-one in the 1980s, and one of the things

that struck me was he was sincerely and deeply generous and

kind, despite having been victimized for so many years by

the apartheid regime in South Africa. There was no trace

of bitterness whatsoever. It was as if the oppression made

him appreciate everyday wonders like beautiful rain and

melody all the more.

Some of those same personal qualities -- generosity of spirit,

dignity, a pacific disposition -- also characterized Nelson

Mandela, who served 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid


Morgan Freeman does a magnificent job of capturing Mandela's

dignity and all the president's mien, and he's the best

thing about this movie. There is magic in the picture,

though it's not a wholly magical or successful work.

What Clint Eastwood leaves out of "Invictus," which takes

place (more or less) after Mandela has already ascended

to the presidency, are scenes from the apartheid

era itself. If Eastwood had given us a glimpse of the

terror and persecution of the period before

Mandela's presidency, his audience might better appreciate

how extraordinary Mandela's forgiveness of his enemy was.

I sometimes wonder whether Mandela was too forgiving. I

sometimes wonder whether 27 years in prison took its toll,

made him identify on some level with his captors. I can't

help but see that his response to being a political prisoner

was the opposite of, say, Fela Kuti's in Nigeria. Fela, who

I spoke with one-on-one shortly after his release

from the brutal Maiduguri prison in Nigeria in '86, emerged

from his cell defiant, unbroken, more opposed to the military

regime than ever, even ready for a little vengeance (though

it should be noted that Fela served far less time in prison

than Mandela did).

Part of me says that Mandela is a better man than I am. Because

if thugs had put me in prison for 27 years for (essentially)

political reasons, I would, upon release, insist that my

oppressors be brought to justice before there could be any

reconciliation or forgiveness.

You can argue that Mandela's way has worked out, so maybe

he knows more than I do. Then again, you might also note that

too many blacks in South Africa still live in abject poverty,

that cultural apartheid has merely been replaced by a de facto

economic apartheid. You could argue that more radical

strategies were necessary to undo the injustice and

impact of decades of segregation.

But back to the movie. The problem with it is focus, the

awkward split screen of a flick about both political

revolution and a rugby match (albeit, a rugby match with

considerable symbolic value), with an emphasis on the latter.

Unfortunately, if you didn't know any better, you'd come out of

thw theater thinking that Mandela was the head of the International

Rugby Federation, a sports figure from South Africa, so absorbed

is he in the events leading to the World Cup.

In fact, parts of the film are completely given over to

footage of a rugby match, though without any play-by-play

commentary, creating an almost empty effect, as

if some of the audio track is missing. (By the way, what an

odd game rugby is, played with all the roughness of American

football but with none of the protective gear. And if you're

allowed to kick the ball forward, why not allow players to

throw the ball ahead? Arbitrary.)

Anyway, in my opinion, a better way for Mandela to have

gained black support for the Springboks would have been

to encourage the team to enlist black players -- to integrate

the team. And then the South African blacks would have had

something to genuinely cheer for.

That said, Matt Damon's "This is it! This is our destiny!" pep

talk to his teammates (as the national anthem is sung by

the crowd) is going to go down in Damon's highlight reel

forever. Undeniably stirring.

Unfortunately Eastwood tries to create some false tension

near the end with a subplot about The Plot to Assassinate

Mandela, a narrative line that isn't really

supported by the rest of the story onscreen.

All told, not exactly Eastwood's "Graceland," but a noble

try and well worth seeing.

But I digress. Paul



for February 18, 2010

Update on peripheral issues related to my music:



for February 16 - 17, 2010

First, many thanks to the great Marshall Stax at

KALX for playing my latest songs "If I Were a

Beautiful Woman Like You" and "Taliban Virgins"

last night! (Particularly thrilled he played the


I really admire the aesthetic courage of his

show (and of other programs on KALX), a quality

shared by people at a handful of other stations like WFMU,

KCRW, etc.

And I have to say that every time I come up with

something I think is terrific, I listen to KALX or FMU or

Morning Becomes Eclectic and realize there are other

new recording artists out there who leave me in the dust.

And that spurs me to write even better stuff.

By the way, last night Marshall noted the death of Doug

Fieger, who led The Knack, and I'm sorry to hear that he


Fieger will be remembered for creating one of the

most irresistible pieces of candy in the history

of power pop, and that, of course, is "My Sharona."

When I moved to New York City in June 1979, I vividly

recall that the boomboxes on the Upper West Side were

playing two songs constantly: Squeeze's poignant "Up the

Junction" and The Knack's "My Sharona."

Both songs satisfied an almost insatiable appetite for

a Beatles reunion, which was the big hope among twentysomething

New Wavers (and others) in '79 -- a hope extinguished forever,

unfortunately, the very next year.

Though Squeeze's work has endured far better than the Knack's

over the decades, the former never had an era-defining

hit (or at least a summer-defining hit!) on the order

of "My Sharona," a track that has inspired subsequent

generations of rockers and power poppers and tuneful

punks (including Nirvana, which covered it live)

and will likely continue to do so in the future.

Wanna hear "Taliban Virgins" and "If I Were

a Beautiful Woman Like You"? Click here:

* * * * * *

The Real Reasons Why I Left Cash Box All Those Years Ago

I'm hearing apocryphal and inaccurate stories about why

I left the music trade magazine Cash Box a couple

decades ago, so let me, here and now, correct the record.

I left Cash Box in 1987, after two years as a writer/reporter

at the magazine. By the end, I had become successful enough

as a music journalist that I was regularly fielding offers

from other, better publications. And I started to see that

I could make a lot more money writing as a regular freelancer

for two or three magazines than as a staff writer for Cash Box.

Besides, there were aspects of Cash Box that were a bit unethical

that I didn't want to be associated with. For example, if an

album was advertised in Cash Box, there was pressure from

the business side of the publication to give it a good review,

whether it deserved it or not. And I wouldn't go along with

that. I would call it as I saw it in my reporting. And that

caused friction between me and the business side.

For example, when I'd write an honest story that happened to

go against the interests of advertisers, I'd find that

the magazine's receptionist, working under the gun (literally!)

of a vice president who sometimes brought a gun to work, would

suddenly lose my phone messages. Major sources would call

me and say, "Didn't you get my phone message?" I was clearly

being undermined by the business side of the mag, which

was using the support staff to do their dirty tricks.

Things came to a head in August 1987 when Epic Records paid the

magazine lots of dough to advertise the upcoming release of Michael

Jackson's "Bad" album. I did a news story in which I interviewed

people in the industry about the hoopla surrounding the album,

quoting them saying things like 'the Beatles

CDs were causing more buzz than 'Bad' was' and 'the hype was

greater than the demand for 'Bad.''

My honest reporting went to print, and I immediately got

a phone call from the hatchet man in the home office in

Los Angeles, furious that I had dared to report facts that

were contrary to the interests of Cash Box's advertisers.

After he finished his tirade, I knew I'd probably be sacked

within a week, so I called an editor at another magazine and

accepted his offer of steady freelance work. I then wrote a

letter of resignation, saying that I had taken a job at another

publication, and presented the letter to the boss as soon

as he (inevitably) called me into his office to discuss my

continued employment at the mag.

There was no dispute about these basic facts at the time. My

work for the magazine was excellent, impeccable and (I'm not

going to be falsely modest) groundbreaking (i.e., I discovered

more than a few unsigned bands and recording artists who had

not been written up by anyone and probably would have remained

unknown if I hadn't covered them). Further, I worked in the

office seven days a week. And three in the morning was sometimes

mid-day for me (when I was covering clubland).

Today, of course, it's all too easy for rivals to distort the

record. And the magazine was very careful to hire a replacement

who they knew would ascend the ladder of music journalism -- and

they made sure that that replacement, who was young and only

stayed a few months at the publication, heard every false

rumor and smear about me. And I'm certain the business guy

at the mag used support staff, who he'd intimidate, to

carry out most of the smears.
(Can't wait to see him launder his

retaliation (for my revealing this) to his friends at various

newspapers and magazines! Gee, guys, seeking out the other side of

the story is so passe, eh? Y'know, I could bring up the fact

that the magazine's corruption at one of its bureaus led to

the murder of one of its honest employees, and that very few

of the magazine's staffers or former staffers (besides

me) condemned and investigated that situation, but that's

a whole other story for another day.)

After all, the business end of the publication was pissed

at me because I wouldn't play their corrupt game and automatically

give favorable coverage to those who advertised in the mag. Some

of them, apparently, still hold a grudge after all these years and

are implying things that they know are not true.

But I digress. Paul

[this column of Feb. 17 was updated on Feb. 21, 2010.]


for February 11, 2010

Here it is, the online debut of my newly-minted

songs "If I Were a Beautiful Woman Like You" and

"Can You Hear Me, 9-1-1?"

Just click here to hear the MP3s!

I wrote 'em last month and recorded 'em last week.

Enjoy! Paul

P.S. -- read about peripheral, day-to-day issues related to
my music here:



for February 11, 2010

Just about everything that's wrong with America is in that

video of a girl being brutally stomped by a thug in Seattle

while several security guards stand and watch and do absolutely

nothing to stop it.

The by-the-book idiocy, the bureaucratic mindset,

the blindness to common sense and context: it's all

there in the video.

But those stupid, amoral security guards were really

only doing what the U.S. government does everyday,

as it stands around debating the rulebook of health care while

sick people who are uninsured writhe in pain, unable

to afford proper treatment or medication. The footage

is a metaphor for the unique callousness at the core of

American society today.

The video also shows that the U.S. has created a subculture

of workers who have no talent except the talent to fill out forms

and memorize a rule book.

To the dopes at Olympic Security: here're three

more rules:

1. Always use common sense

2. You're a human being first, an employee second.

3. "I was only following orders" is no defense against misconduct.



for February 9, 2010

The Joker of Waziristan is Dead. The World is Safer.
I guess he must be with his virgins right now.

To celebrate the death of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud (and

"celebrate" is the right word), here's another new song that

I wrote last month. It's a little ditty you all might enjoy

called "Taliban Virgins":

But I digress. Paul


for February 8, 2010

New Paul Iorio Song Censored by Microsoft?

Is "Draw Me a Picture" Too Hot for Bill Gates's People?

Whenever I write new songs, I usually send them to people

at a wide variety of radio stations and elsewhere. Sometimes

I'll even try to reach across a cultural or political

divide to send, say, a satirical song about religion to a

religious radio station, or a left-wing ballad to a

conservative station.

And occasionally, I'm taken aback by how good-natured

the response is to material that is antithetical to their

beliefs. You'd be surprised to see that some absolutists

actually do have a sense of humor!

And if it sparks controversy, all the better. Controversy

leads to dislogue, dialectic, which is part of the

point. (Hey, I'm a writer, not a diplomat or a politician.)

As we've seen over the years, if we let absolutism

fester without challenging it, it continues to feater,

like an infection, sometimes for centuries (as with

religious absolutism).

Last month, I wrote a new song that I'm proud of called

"Draw Me a Picture," an irreverent humorous tune,

sort of in the spirit of Tom Lehrer's "The Vatican Rag," though

it's about the famous Jyllands-Posten cartoons that sparked

protests and unrest several years ago.

I decided to see what the response would be if I sent a

copy of "Draw Me a Picture" to several radio stations in

Islamic countries, asking if they would consider airing the


What I discovered is that Bill Gates's people are apparently

more of a threat to free speech than Ahmadinejad is. After sending

the song to several stations via Microsoft's Hotmail service,

my Hotmail account was suddenly blocked by Microsoft

with this warning:

"This account is currently blocked from sending messages. If you
don't think you've violated the Windows Live Terms of Use, please
contact customer support."

And when I tried to contact Miscorsoft's customer support department,

there seemed to be no way to send a message to appeal their

decision. (And, by the way, the lyrics of my song include

no obscenities.)

This sort of blocking action, while minor, seems to

be of a piece with Microsoft's willingness

to play by the oppressive rules of the Chinese

government when it comes to its disappointing search engine

Bing. The word from the top of the corporate ladder at

Microsoft is apparently: "We will let the Chinese

government censor Bing's search results, and

we will allow Islamic reactionaries to determine who

is fit to send Hotmail."

This experience of mine with Hotmail seems to underscore

the fact that Microsoft values freedom of speech less than it

values an obscene level of corporate profiteering.

Yet another reason for all of us to choose Google instead of Bing.

For those who want to hear the song is question, I've

posted a link to "Draw Me a Picture" below. (And I'll

soon be posting three other new songs -- none of

them controversial, all of them better -- that I wrote

and recently recorded. Stay tuned.)

But I digress. Paul



for February 8, 2010

I've just finished writing and recording four brand new

songs; will be posting lyrics and MP3s as soon as I

solve website software problem (Feb. 8, 2010).



for February 2, 2010

The other day I mentioned (in this space) a humorous

feature story I'd written and reported for Details

magazine in 1994 called "Choosing My Religion," and

some are wondering how they can get a copy

of the piece.

Well, look no further. Here is the story I wrote, as I

originally wrote it, for the magazine. Enjoy!

* * * *

As many of you know, I was the first journalist anywhere to

have conducted an audiotaped interview with Phish bandleader

Trey Anastasio (it happened in January 1989).

One reader wonders how certain I am that my interview

with Anastasio was conducted in January 1989.

My answer is: I'm 100% sure that it was done in January 1989.

How do I know? Easy. In the taped interview, you can clearly

hear Trey talking about shows that he and has band have

just performed and concerts that are coming up. So, for example,

he says, last week we performed at the so and so cafe (and

research shows that gig happened in January 1989). And

Trey says, next week we'll be performing at the so and so club

in Boston (and research shows that gig happened in

February 1989).

Thankfully, the Q&A is loaded with such date references, which

make it easy to figure out when I did the interview.

My Anastasio interview was ultimately published in the

December 25, 2003, issue of Miami New Times (so it, of course,

went through a rigorous level of fact-checking and verification

by the editors at New Times before it was published).

I've posted an edited transcript of the interview at and have some of

the audio posted at

* * * *

As some of you know, my main music website is at But I've just launched

another music site that has more informal, day-to-day

info and messages about my music. It's at

But I digress. Paul



for February 1, 2010


The Death of J.D. Salinger

What the Townspeople in his Hometown Thought About Him

J.D. Salinger has died, at age 91, meaning he lived

in the tiny U.S. town of Cornish Flat, New Hampshire, in

seclusion for 57 years. By all accounts, he was as

reclusive in the end as when he was when

he first moved to town on January 1, 1953, back

when President Truman was still in the White House.

The author moved there around 17 months after the release

of his first and only full-length novel, “The Catcher in the

Rye,” at a time when he was “tremendously relieved that the

season for success of ‘The Catcher in The Rye’ is over,”

as he told the Saturday Review magazine in 1952. Little did

he know the season had just begun.

The townspeople of the Cornish Flat area grew

accustomed to him and usually left him alone to live

his day to day life with his wife, a quilt and

tapestry designer around half his age, in a house

near a covered bridge (how fitting it's a covered

bridge!) that leads to Vermont. (He moved down the

road to his current Cornish house after divorcing

his previous wife in 1967.)

Most people in the area do not talk about him,

but some do. Or at least they did in

2004, when I conducted the interviews

for this story, unpublished until now.

"People know who he is, yet he acts like nobody

knows who he is," says Lynn Caple, who runs the

nearby Plainfield General Store, where Salinger

and his wife occasionally used to stop in to buy the

New York Times and other items.

"Very straight-faced guy," says Caple. "I've only seen

him smile once. I've been here four years."

Other neighbors, like Jerry Burt of Plainfield, have

actually been to his house, which he says is at the

end of a long driveway and atop a hill on hundreds

of acres owned by the author. "We would

go over to watch movies in his living room and have

dinner with him," says Burt, who claims he hasn't

seen the author since 1983.

"He's got a big living room with a deck that looks out

over the hills of Vermont, way up high, very private,"

he adds.

Burt recalls one dinner party at Salinger's house

twenty-some years ago at which Salinger, who is said

to enjoy health food, served meatloaf. "No Julia

Child," he says of Salinger's cuisine. And

the conversation was rarely literary. "He talked

about movies and the gardens and his children," he says.

The books Salinger usually talked about were not novels

but non-fiction works related to “health, being your own

health provider -- and gardening."

Of course, none of the guests dared to mention


"You'd never even think to do that if you were around

him," he says. "He'd just give you a look. He's a

very tall man and stern looking. You just know not

to do that. He'd probably show you the door and

say, 'Don't come in.'"

“He never talked about his work except to say he wrote

every morning faithfully,” he says. “And he said if I was

ever going to be a writer, I would have to do that.”

He also says Salinger had a big safe -- like a "bank

safe" -- where he kept his unpublished manuscripts. "I've

seen the safe, I've looked in it. And he told me that he kept

his unpublished [work] there....It's huge," says Burt. "You

could have a party in there."

At one get-together in the 1980s, Salinger screened Frank

Capra's 1937 film "Lost Horizon," about a group of people

who find a paradise called Shangrila tucked in a remote

corner of the Himalayans. "He liked all those old things,

those old silents, Charlie Chaplin," he says. (His

description of the Salinger party almost resembles the

scene in the 1950 movie “Sunset Boulevard” in which a

has-been screens old movies for friends in a remote house.)

Another neighbor, this one in Cornish, is much more

circumspect about what she says about Salinger and

takes great pains to defend him. “He has been a wonderful

neighbor,” says Joan Littlefield, who lives close to

him. “The minute we moved into the neighborhood, he

called and gave us his unlisted number and said,

‘We’re neighbors now.’”

Littlefield spontaneously defended the author against

some of the allegations in the memoir by Salinger’s

daughter Margaret A. Salinger, “Dream Catcher: A Memoir”

(2000). That book claimed, among other things, that

Salinger was involved in offbeat health and spiritual

practices, such as drinking urine and Scientology.

“This thing about telling him to drink his own urine

or something that I heard that somebody wrote about,”

said Littlefield. “...I think that if any of these

reporters did some research into Ayurvedic medicine

or the medicine of China or the Far East, they would

probably find out that the medicine people over

there recommend this sort of thing.” (Ayurvedic

medicine provides alternative health treatments -- including

urine drinking -- that have origins in ancient


Littlefield defends Salinger on smaller issues, too.

“Absolutely ridiculous things have been written about

him, like that they had two Doberman attack dogs,”

she says. “For Pete’s sake, they had two little

Italian hounds of some kind that looked like Dobermans,

and they were skinny and tiny as toothpicks!”

(My request for an interview with Salinger went

unanswered over the years, though I did speak

with his wife, who was not at all pleased that I was

writing this story.)

The author was, of course, famous for not granting

interviews and gave only around six interviews,

some of them brief and grudging, to reporters since

the release of “Catcher."

Most other people in the area saw Salinger only when

he was out in public, if at all. “He’s great looking for his

age,” says photographer and area resident Medora Hebert,

who has spotted him twice. “He’s dapper, very trim.”

“It was a long time before I could actually recognize him

because he looked so ordinary,” says Ann Stebbens Cioffi,

the daughter of the late owner of the Dartmouth Bookstore,

Phoebe Storrs Stebbens.

But Salinger himself once said that he thinks others don’t

see him as ordinary. "I'm known as a strange, aloof kind

of man," Salinger told the New York Times in 1974. And

some agree with him: "He's a very strange dude," says

Hanover resident Harry Nelson. Burt agrees: “He had a

weird sense of humor,” he says.

What emerges as much as anything is that the

author was a serious book lover and serial browser

who shopped at places ranging from Borders Books to

the Dartmouth Bookstore. “He was uninterrupted

during his hour or two of browsing for books,” says

a person answering the phone at Encore! Books in West

Lebanon, New Hampshire, describing his own Salinger


“He does come in reasonably frequently,” says someone

who answered the phone at the Dartmouth Bookstore in

Hanover, New Hampshire, around 20 miles north of Cornish.

“He’s a pretty good customer here but doesn’t really

say anything to us.”

"He frequented the Dartmouth bookstore," says an

employee of Borders Books Music & Cafe in West Lebanon.

"I talked to people who worked over there one time;

they say he wasn't very nice, wasn't the most cordial

person. So I kind of keep my eye out for him

here, go my own way."

Adds Medora Hebert, "One of my daughter's friends

was a cashier at the Dartmouth Bookstore. And they warned

him, 'If J.D. Salinger comes in, don't talk to him,

don't acknowledge him.'"

And there had been many reports of Salinger

browsing the stacks at the Dartmouth College

library. “I’ve talked with people who have met

him in the stacks and whatnot,” says Thomas

Sleigh, an English professor at Dartmouth College.

Salinger was also said to enjoy the annual Five-Colleges

Book Sale at the Hanover High School gym, a springtime

sale of used and antiquarian books that raises money

for scholarships.

In Hanover, as in Cornish, he kept to himself. "My

wife [says] Salinger always said hello to Phoebe

and no one else," says Nelson, referring to Phoebe

Storrs Stebbens, who was a year older than

Salinger (and incidentally shares the same first

name as a major character in “Catcher”).

And area booksellers say Salinger’s books are

displayed just as prominently as they would be

if he were not a local.

Then again, Salinger didn't have many books to

display, since he published only three besides

“Catcher,” all compilations of short stories or

novellas that had been previously published, mostly

in The New Yorker magazine. His last book,

“Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and

Seymour, An Introduction,” was released in

January 1963. His previous books were the bestsellers

“Franny and Zooey” (1961) and “Nine Stories” (1953).

By the way, The New Yorker magazine actually

rejected "The Catcher in the Rye" when Salinger

submitted it as a short story/novella that was

substantially similar to the novel, according to

Paul Alexander's book "Salinger: A Biography."

In 1997, he had planned to publish a fifth book,

essentially a re-release of his last published

work, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which appeared in The

New Yorker in June 1965. The book’s publication

was ultimately scuttled.

But “Catcher” eclipses everything else he’s

done -- by a mile. It’s one of the most

influential 20th century American novels, a

coming-of-age odyssey about high school student

Holden Caulfield, who wanders around New York

after being kicked out of prep school. And

it's arguably the first novel to convincingly capture

the voice of the modern, alienated, American


"Catcher" was successful in its initial run but not

nearly as successful as it would become by the end

of the 1950s, when it started to turn into a

freakish cult phenomenon. To date, it has

sold more than 60 million copies worldwide and

continues to sell hundreds of thousands more each year.

Over the decades, the book has appealed to a wide

range of readers that even includes certified

wackos (John Lennon’s killer had a copy on him

when he was captured). So it’s not surprising that

Salinger had to fend off obsessive

fans even at his private Shangrila in Cornish

Flat, which has a population of under 2,000.

“People approach him a lot,” says Burt. “And they

stole clothes off his clothesline. They stole his

socks, underwear, t-shirts. And they’d come up on

his deck. It’s a huge picture window that

goes across the front of the house looking out to

Vermont...And he said he’d get up and open the

drapes and people would be standing there looking in.

It really pissed him off.”

And there was also a much publicized scuffle outside the

Purity Supreme grocery store (which he used to jokingly

call “the Puberty Supreme,” according to two biographies)

in 1988, in which Salinger reportedly mixed it up with

a couple photographers who tried to take his picture.

But for the most part, people in the area didin't bother


“People in Cornish are quite protective of him,” says

Cioffi. “I can’t think of anyone who will tell you

a word about Salinger,” says a woman who answered

the phone at the Hannaford Supermarket in Claremont.

Apparently, Cornish is the perfect place to go if you

vant to be alone. “This is also a part of the country

where [writer Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn lived in his

enclave -- and his kids went to public

schools,” says Bob Grey of the Northshire Bookstore

in faraway Manchester Center, Vermont, referring to

the Nobel laureate’s former home in Cavendish,

Vermont, which is around 20 miles from Cornish.

“It’s the kind of place where, if you’re going to move

to be left alone, it’s not a bad place to be.”



for January 30 - 31, 2010

It's official: my song "Love's The Heaven You Can't Reach"

is the song of mine that (lately) is most ripped-off by other

songwriters. I wrote the song in 2008 and it first got

radio airplay some weeks alter (for which I'm grateful! My spiel

here, by the way, is not at all directed at the great radio people

who have played my stuff, and I hope they continue to play it).

Currently you can hear the song for free on MySpace here:

Look, I don't wanna be a spoilsport and name names (which I'm

not gonna do). But hey, I'm the small fish here. And when

better-known musicians steal one of my ideas, it devalues my

original tune. Someone who is more affluent than I am ends

up making money off of my idea without compensating me. And I

don't know how you call that fair.

As I said, I ain't naming names but the most prominent people

who have ripped that song off are: a late night TV talk show host

and his house band (stealing it so flagrantly that I could probably sue

them, but I won't); and a singer-songwriter I admire, who merely took

my idea and modified the song's main line. (Even one of my old

friends is sort of trying to rip the song off retroactivbely,

trying to make it look like one of his own old songs was

kind of about the same theme (when in fact his own song had

nothing to do with the theme of love-being-out-of-reach and

was merely a psychedelic tableau).)

There are other songs of mine that have been nicked by other

recording artists in recent years (I'm not going to go through

the litany, but suffice it say that the idea for my

2000 song "Wait for Girls" was stolen by (you can guess

that one!) and my 2008 song "Bang, Bang, Shoot, Shoot" was ripped

of by (I bet you can guess that one, too). I generally post

my songs online as I write them so that people can enjoy

'em, but I might have to rethink giving out cyber-freebies

in the future. I mean, my music site is apparently becoming

a backwater where some musicians-on-deadline feel they

can easily steal an idea or two.

Three reasons songwriters and performers shouldn't steal

from my songwriting catalog are: 1) I have a good attorney,

and if anyone crosses the line and lifts a substantial

part of one of my songs, that person will be sued; 2) if anyone

steals one of my songs but cleverly does so in a way that

is just outside the boundary of formal copyright violation,

I'll merely publicize the theft on this website and

elsewhere, and you'll have the reputation you deserve; 3) it's

not fair.

Here's an idea: next time a performer likes one of my songs,

write to me at and arrange for permission

and payment to use it. What a concept!

Thankfully, I have had a longstanding habit of

sending my songs to myself in an email shortly after

I've written them (I've been doing this via email since '97). Hence, I

know exactly when I came up with almost all of

my songs. And my email and hard drive say: I finished

"Love's The Heaven" on August 9, 2008, at around 9:30 AM.

(Studio version is from an August 19, 2008.) For anyone

interested, here's the top of the email I sent to myself:

The song is about my belief that we fall in

love with those who are just out of reach,

probably because they are just out of reach,

and (absent first-hand contact with the person)

we tend to imagine that she (or he) is heaven.

* * * * *

Exposing an Apocryphal Story

One of the great things about blogs is you can

address persistent nasty rumors or false stories

about yourself (or others) in a way that one never

could before the invention of the Internet.

So I'd like to clear up one particular false and irritating

story about me that I've heard echoed over the years.

In 1987, when I was a writer/reporter for a music trade

magazine in New York, I struck up a conversation with a

publicist who had recently been fired from her job. She

seemed to be unusually loquacious, which might have been

motivated by the fact that she trying to get me to say

something embarrassing that she could later quote (I think

she was pissed about something I had written about one

of the artists she represented).

Anyway, the talk turned to my schedule for that evening. In

those days I would regularly attend a couple concerts a

night -- a night -- in between attending an industry party

or conducting an interview. Very busy sked in those days.

That night there were around two concerts and another event

I had to cover in Manhattan, where I was based. And that

meant I had to miss a big David Bowie concert out in New

Jersey that night. (That particular Bowie tour had already

been reviewed by the L.A. bureau of my magazine some time

earlier, so (for obvious reasons) I wasn't going to cover it.) But

this publicist hooked on to the fact that I wasn't attending

the Bowie show. Why not?, she asked. And I explained that

the magazine had already covered his tour -- and besides, I

joked, it was going to rain and I might melt.

Admittedly, not a good joke. But a joke nonetheless.

Ever since then, a willfully distorted version of that story has

gotten around in order to make me look like 'Paul's-not-a-hardy-reporter,

he can't even brave a rainstorm.'

Well, excuuuuuse me! For the record, I've covered stories during

bomb threats, death threats, blizzards and earthquakes.

Besides reporting on an unsolved murder that almost cost me my

life, and venturing alone behind the Iron Curtain during

the Cold War, I've also braved more ordinary inclement elements on

the job (like getting a bad case of clinical frostbite while

reporting "Choosing My Religion" for Details magazine in

late December 1993, as I had to walk around from church to church

in Manhattan when it was 30 below zero. And, by the way,

I'd gladly get frostbite again to do a story as humorous

as that; thanks to the people who were at Details then

who understood what I was doing and let me do it!)

Twenty-three years later, I can finally put an end to a

distorted little story that misleads people about who

I am.

But I digress. Paul



for January 27 - 28, 2010

exclusive, uncensored

Underwear Bomber's Islamic Group Once Posted Pro-Jihadist Writings

Muslim Organization More Extremist Than First Thought

Before he decided to become an international underwear model -- burned

in his first turn in the spotlight, alas -- Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was an

Islamic top banana at University College London (UCL). Elected president --

president -- of the college's Islamic Society in 2006, he ran the

organization until 2007, even organizing an extravagant week-long

conference on the war on terror at one point.

Today, of course, he stands accused of trying to blow up a plane that had

nearly 300 passengers on it -- and of doing so in the name of Islam.

In the wake of the attempted bombing, there has been a widespread

perception that UCL's Islamic Society was a moderate Muslim

group devoted almost solely to humanitarian causes, academic issues

and charity.

But this reporter has uncovered postings on the Islamic Society's website

that contradict that impression and show the group has posted

pro-jihadist commentary over the years. In 1999 and thereafter, the

Society posted an editorial advocating religious warfare, leading

with this unambiguous line: "With respect to Jihad, O my brother, in

this time and before this time it is fard ayn." (The phrase "fard ayn" means

individual duty and obligation. )

Elsewhere, the author -- identified as "Al-Albaanee" -- advocates driving

Israel "into the sea." "For here we have neighbouring us, the Jews who

have occupied Palestine, and not a single Islamic country has moved

to establish the obligation of making Jihad with them, and evicting

them and throwing them in the sea...," he writes on the site of the

group that Abdulmutallab once ran.

This sort of extremism is consistent with reports from The Guardian

newspaper and others that fundamentalist Muslims (and Christians) at

University College London have been virtually insisting that professors treat

religious myth as if it were scientific fact and on the same

level as scientific explanation.

As The Guardian reported in 2006, noting that both

Muslim and Christian students were advocating the teaching of

creationism in science classes: "There is an insidious and growing problem,"

said Professor [Steve] Jones, of University College London. "It's a step back

from rationality. They (the creationists) don't have a problem with science,

they have a problem with argument. And irrationality is a very infectious

disease as we see from the United States."

Of course, the Islamic Society's site has also published material

on many other subjects over the years, ranging from

restaurant guides for Muslims and information on where to go for Happy

Hour after Friday prayers to explanations of why women are

deprived of rights under Islamic law.

Interestingly, the postings during Abdulmutallab's tenure seem to emphasize

a Lonely Guyish pre-occupation with social activities. (Even a

charity walk for earthquake victims is (almost callously) billed as

"a great excuse to have a fun day out with sisters to see

the famous sites of London..." And the site abruptly juxtaposes an

announcement about the deaths of two colleagues with a notice

about a Paintball event.)

Here are some excerpts from UCL's Islamic Society website during

Abdulmutallab's tenure and before. (All punctuation and spelling is

exactly as it appears on the site; some of the material quoted here

was posted directly on the site, some was linked to it.)

"With respect to Jihad, O my brother, in this time and before this time it is fard ayn."
(The phrase "fard ayn" means individual duty and obligation. ) (titled: "Al-Albaanee on Jihaad," '99)

-- "Brothers: Happy Hour after Jumu'ah [Friday prayers] in Conference room, 2nd Floor
Bloomsbury." (main website, 2004 and beyond)

-- "For here we have neighbouring us, the Jews who have occupied Palestine, and
not a single Islamic country has moved to establish the obligation of making Jihad with
them, and evicting them and throwing them in the sea..." (titled: "Al-Albaanee on Jihaad," '99)

-- "Always keep in mind the reason we are here studying, and remember that every
action we perform should be for Allah." (main website, 2004 and beyond)

-- "It is obligatory upon the father when [his daughter] reaches the age of nine or greater
that he asks for her consent [before marrying her off]."
("Fataawa (Legal rulings) for women," '01, also posted on Univ. of Essex Islamic Society site)

-- "Any woman who perfumes herself and passes by some people that they smell her scent,
then she is an...adulteress." (from "The Obligatory Conditions For An Islamic Hijab," with the
quote attributed this way: "On the authority of Ad'Diya Al-Maqdisi, the prophet (pbuh) said...", '01)

-- "Brothers please do not use the toilets in the Henry Morley Building, these are for
SISTERS ONLY" (main website, mid-Oughties)
-- "[Smoking] is most spread among the low-class immoral people. It reflects blind imitation o
f the non-Muslims. It is mostly consumed in bars, discos, casinos, and other: places of sin. A
smoker may beg or steal if he does not have the money to buy cigarettes. He is ill-mannered
with his friends and family, especially when he misses taking his necessary "dose" at the usual time."
. ("Smoking: A Social Poison," by Muhammad al-Jibaly, posted in '01)

-- "Cut the moustaches and grow your beards. Be different from the Magians (followers of a religion
that dominated in Persia)."
("Shaving the Beard: A Modern Effeminacy," by Abu`Abdillah Muhammad al-Jibaly, posted in '01)

-- "The fast is valid for any person who wakes up in a state of sexual defilement "
(from "The Rulings of Ramadaan: A Comprehensive Guideline, adapted from the Hudaa magazine; posted in 2001.)

-- "Smoking refers to the action of lighting a cigarette, a pipe, a cigar...The object is then
sucked on with the lips to extract smoke...'Smoking' is now used to refer to the action
of producing this smoke in English, Arabic, and other languages."
("Smoking: A Social Poison," by Muhammad al-Jibaly,posted in '01)

-- "Ankaboot...A MUST try restaurant for every muslim." (main website, 2004 and beyond)

-- "The beard is defined as the hair which grows on the cheeks and the jaws."
("Shaving the Beard: A Modern Effeminacy," by Abu`Abdillah Muhammad al-Jibaly, posted in '01)

-- "Downloadable Quran recitations from around 50 choices of Sheikhs." (main website, mid-Oughties)

-- "Dua [Prayer] for Distress:...Do not leave me in charge of my affairs even for a blink of
an eye..."(main website, mid-Oughties)

-- "Dua [Prayer] After Studying: "Oh Allah! I entrust you with what I have read and have
studied..."(main website, mid-Oughties)

-- "You are a former British heavyweight boxer. The women are chasing after you, you've got
the muscles, you've got the money and the cars, you're making the back page headlines.
Why turn around and become Muslim?" (main website, 2006)

-- "Stairway to Heaven - Cruciform Lectrue Theatre 2...A solo tab for Led Zeppelin's
guitar hit? Nope, think again! This is an uplifting talk by Abu Aaliyah...Come down
and let's take the stairway to Heaven." (main website, 2006)

-- "thank Allah for a successful year, and pray that this coming year will follow in similar vain [sic]".
(main website, posted '01)

-- "He who raises his hands during the prayer, there is no prayer for him."
("The Prophet's Prayer," by Shaykh Muhammad Naasir-ud-deen al-Albaanim posted in '01.)

-- "Are the rulings for wiping the same for women as for men? Or is there a difference?"
("Rulings regarding wiping over the socks," by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih 'Aal-Uthaymeen, posted in 01)

-- "I was suffering from haemorrhoids (piles), so I asked the Messenger of Allaah...and he
said, Pray standing; if you are not able, then sitting down; if you are not able to do so,
then pray lying down." ("The Prophet's Prayer," by Shaykh Muhammad Naasir-ud-deen al-Albaanim posted in '01.)

-- "Anyone who ridicules any aspect of the religion of the Messenger of Allaah [saw],
or any of its rewards or punishments, becomes an unbeleiver."
("Ten Things Which Nullify Ones Islaam," undated, no author credited, on main site.)

-- "The beard is a major distinction between men and women. Shaving it removes
this distinction, and is thus a means of imitating women."
("Shaving the Beard: A Modern Effeminacy," by Abu`Abdillah Muhammad al-Jibaly, posted in '01)

-- "More than 5,000 people were killed, and thousands injured by the earthquake
that struck Yogyakarta, South Central Java [in[ 2006....UCLU Islamic Society has
organized a sponsored a walk around central London to raise money for this
deperate cause. This is a great excuse to have a fun day out with sisters to see
the famous sites of London..." (main website, 2006)

The new logo of University College London's Islamic Society?

[all writing, reporting, research by Paul Iorio. Graphic by Paul Iorio
based on UCL ISOC logo and Kurt Westergaard drawing.]

* * * *


A Fresh Look at Islam, Circa 2010

In the spirit of Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame,"
in which Murrow both reported his findings and provided
commentary on his subject, here is what my reportage
tells me about Islam...

When it comes to Islam, I'm with the late Norman Mailer.

Mailer once appeared on Charlie Rose and, as usual, made

clear and audacious sense, saying -- as Rose tried to

shush and sanitize him -- that the whole posture of Islam

is completely wrong, that to have your ass in the air

and your nose on a floor is such a negation of all

the beauty of existence.

It was liberating to hear Mailer, a leftist and progressive,

say such a thing flat out, not caring what the consequences

were, speaking without fear or favor, the way good

journalists do.

I had seen Mailer in person earlier, shortly after the fatwa

against Salman Rushdie in February 1989. And I was impressed,

even energized by his bravery in the face of a bomb

threat that temporarily emptied the pro-Rushie rally at

the Manhattan venue where he was speaking. Quoting Jean Genet,

Mailer addressed the person who made the threat: "Blow out your farts."

But getting back to Mailer's opinion of Islam, I have to admit

that the posture of Christians and Jews to the world -- on their

knees, with their eyes closed -- is no better. Why not celebrate

and worship the world by standing upright in a forest,

or in a great city, amidst a beautiful landscape, or enjoying

sex face-to-face with another person? Why negate all the

beauty out there by having your face on the floor or your

knees on the ground. (They have a song about pants on the

ground; how about a tune about how you look with your

nose on the floor?)

I used to think there was a larger centrist faction of

Islam in the world, but my recent research has taught me

that faction is smaller than I thought. In researching the

case of the underwear bomber, I read the past editions of

the University College London's Islamic Society website (UCL ISOC)

and realized that even there -- where you would expect a more liberal

and secular Muslim viewpoint -- it was virtually the 15th century.

On the UCL ISOC site were postings (that I've

compiled above) advocating jihad, giving advice about forced

marriages to girls who are nine years old and older, etc.

Backward stuff. And this is what passes for progressive

academic Islam in 2010? (Wanna see for yourself how

backward some of these postings are? Here's one -- posted

on the websites of at least two academic Islamic

Societies, where one would expect (in vain) a more

modern version of Islam. Read for yourself (if you can

stomach it) here how they defend "forced marriages"

to girls as young as nine years old:

I can only conclude that the difference between moderate

Islam and orthodox Islam is that the former is only 150 years

behind the times (before Darwin, the abolition of slavery,

women's rights, etc.) and the latter is around 500 years

behind the times (even reaching back before Galileo and Copernicus).

According to newspaper reports, Muslim and Christian

fundamentalist students in the U.K are bringing

their religious irrationalism into the classroom,

posing a problem for professors. For example,

students who are Christian and Muslim literalists are

answering science questions on exams with religious

answers -- and are rightly being flunked as a result.

On science exams, students are asked questions like:

The earth is around _______ years old.

The correct answer, of course, is 4.5 billion years old.

But devout Muslim students are answering:

"5,000 years old, according to Allah (pbuh)."

A professor would of course have to mark that answer wrong.

The professor might also suggest that the student save his religious

beliefs for religion courses, and apply his scientific knowledge in

science classes.

After all, you don't teach astrology in astronomy class in the

name of diversity. (You might however include a (brief)

discussion of astrology in a course about, say, Hindu folk

traditions.) And one wouldn't teach that the earth-is-flat

is an alternative scientific theory that some believe is true.

Problem is, many fundamentalists, both Christian and Muslim,

come to college expecting a church or mosque, not a classroom.

They expect a preacher, not a teacher. They want dogma,

not verifiable knowledge or dialectic.

And isn't there an implicit intimidation factor involved

when a student answers "the earth is 5,000 years old,

according to Allah (pbuh)," an answer that is hostile to

what the professor is teaching and doing? Will

intimidation tactics cause more than a couple professors to, maybe,

tamp down their teachings of Darwin or Copernicus? Isn't this

a dangerous slippery slope?

First, the fanatics try to murder a novelist (Rushdie)

because they are offended by his novel. Then, they

murder a van Gogh because they are offended by his

film making. Then, they try to kill Kurt Westergaard

because they are offended by one of his cartoons. The

other week, in Malaysia, fundamentalists decided to

forbid non-Muslims from using the word "Allah." How long

before they start targeting professors who have the

nerve to teach that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old?

I must say, what a sensitive bunch, these religious fanatics.

Let me get this straight: these religulous souls are not the

least bit offended by burning people jumping to their deaths

from skyscrapers (see: 9/11) but they're suddenly reduced

to tears and anger over a mere cartoon.

Of course, Muslims (and Christians and Jews) have every right

to be offended by whatever they want to be offended by. Nobody

is saying they don't have the right to be offended by anything

or everything. What I am saying -- and emphatically -- is that

mass homicide is not the way to respond to being offended. Killing

is not only immoral and unacceptable in this context, but very

illegal, too. It's not a culturally protected practice or

defensible because of cultural relativism.

You see, when you're offended by something, you can respond

with lots of different tools. One tool is a boycott. Another tool

is civil disobedience. Another is picketing. Another is publishing

an essay in a newspaper (or on a blog).

But Muslim extremists, when offended, too often reach for only

one tool: homicide. They don't boycott Rushdie; they try to

kill him. They don't picket van Gogh, they murder him.

And that is precisely where the problem is with regard to

the Westergaard, Rushdie and van Gogh situations and

other similar ones. The problem is not that some Muslims are

somehow being offended or disrespected (everybody gets dissed

every now and then); the problem is the tool that the

devout use to respond to a perceived insult.

As I said before, Muslim extremists have the right to be

offended by whatever offends them. But they do not have

the right to get violent about it. An entire subculture,

it seems, needs anger management.

Let's not feed the sickness of religious literalists by

giving in to their irrationality. It truly is a slippery

slope. If they force us to ban a cartoon (or to self-censor),

then why not also ban (or discourage) non-Mulims from saying

"Allah"? It offends many of them, after all. And (using the

logic of the self-censors), why not encourage professors

to pass students who flunk tests because they have given

religious answers to scientific questions?

In most of the U.S. and in Western Europe, we try to let a

thousand flowers bloom. But absolutists want only their

own flowers to grow. And they want the flowers of others to

be replaced by their own flowers. They return our tolerance

and our attempts at diversity with no reciprocity.

Still, it's important to lead by example, to show Islam that

we don't silence voices that we disagree with. That's why it

was a correct decision by the Obama administration to grant

Swiss Islamist Tariq Ramadan a visa for entry into the U.S.

Though I disagree with Ramadan, and am even offended by

him a bit, I say, let him speak.

Now will you fundamentalists reciprocate and allow Kurt

Westergaard to express himself freely and live in peace?

If not, why won't you respect diversity and practice


(By the way, I encourage questions, answers and comments

from my Muslim readers (and others) at

* * * * *

Again, a few people are wondering about how I came up

with particular songs, namely "Hey There, Watcher,"

"You Know It Shows" and "If One Rainy Night."

I wrote "Hey There, Watcher" alone in my Berkeley, Calif.,

apartment one afternoon in August 2009. It came to me at

the end of a four or five hour solo jam session in which I

was coming up with riffs and ideas, and suddenly the

main chord progression of "Watcher" came flowing out.

I began singing whatever came into my head, which was

"Hey There, Roger," about a long-time pal, but then I

started thinking of that 1960s hit "I'm a Girl Watcher"

and changed it to "Hey There, Watcher," with lyrics

about an urban street tableau. That one eruipted very


I wrote both "You Know It Shows" and "If One Rainy Night"

in the late fall of 1980 and early winter of 1981, while I

was living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and working

for Delacorte Press. I penned and developed both songs

on the rooftop of the Beacon, 26 stories above NYC. "You Know

It Shows" has not changed a bit in the decades since I

wrote it. From the opening chords (influenced by a G.E. Smith

album I was listening to then) to the hook "and I'll show you why,"

the song has remained as I wrote it at the Beacon.

Even though I wrote it almost 30 years ago, I could probably

pin down the hour that I came up with"If One Rainy Night."

Because its genesis came after I watched a Dick Cavett

show in late '80 or early '81 on which Cavett said to a guest,

Oh, you protest too much!" That phrase stuck in my mind and

I immediately went to my guitar -- it must have been close to

midnight -- and wrote: "Don't protest too much/You'll give

yourself away/you still love that girl/no matter what you say."

And then I came up with the rest of the song, about an

off-and-on girlfriend I had at the time. That one also

hasn't changed at all in 30 years.


BE AWARE! An ex-friend from my long-ago high school days threw some money at my music career a few years ago and now appears to be
going around dishonestly trying to grab credit for little bits of a few
of my songs that he didn't have anything to do with writing. For
the record: he wrote exactly zero percent of my stuff.(By the way,
by "my songs," I'm referring to the more than one hundred songs
that I've posted on my website (plus every
song on the "About Myself" albums, and many other songs I've not
yet posted), all of which were written solely
by Paul Iorio
[click here

While I'm appreciative of the person's financial backing, there never
was a deal to give him credit for material he didn't write. We've never
jammed together, much less written a song together. And, further,
his memory is fine, and so is mine; he's merely lying. Those who
know who I'm talking about: please don't let this person's lies go
unchallenged. It's irresponsible (and unfair to me) for people to
tolerate this guy's dishonesty. Anyone who lies (the way he appears
to be lying) needs psychotherapy. Guide him to that, please.
Problem is, this guy wanted to be a songwriter when
he was a teenager, but failed at it as an adult. Now he wants to
piggyback on my own late-breaking musical work.

I've thanked this person over the years for financially putting in motion my long-ago (now-shelved) "About Myself" album of '05; but, frankly, I never would have allowed him to invest his money in my music if I had known he would try to take credit for bits of material he had nothing to do with writing. As I've said before, every song on my site -- from its initial idea to its finished version and everything in between -- was written solely by me.

But I digress. Paul


for January 22, 2010

Late Notes on the Remastered Beatles Albums

Things You Might Not Have Noticed

Wanna hear something on a Beatles album that you

almost certainly haven't noticed before? Check out

the recently remastered "Rubber Soul" album and

put on "Norwegian Wood." Listen to the part

right after John Lennon sings the cleverly

suggestive line, "She asked me to stay and she told

me to sit anywhere."

A couple seconds later you'll hear somebody cough -- yes,

somebody is heard coughing in the background -- as if

to underline the cleverness of the preceding line (the way

Warren Zevon sort of grunted after the great lyric

"His hair was perfect" on "Werewolves of London"). On

the previous edition of the CD, superfluous handclaps

covered up the cough.

There are lots of little discoveries like that on the

remastered mono Beatles albums, which were released last

fall (though I'm just now getting around to them).

The full impact of the mono remasters comes through only if

you're as familiar with the band's work as you are with

your own face (as I am) and if you're able to contrast

the new versions with the previous CDs. And then you can

hear how radically different some of the production is.

My main questions are: who made the final production

decisions about the remasters? Was it George Martin,

or the surviving Beatles, or a combination of both?

Would those decisions have been different if John Lennon

and George Harrison were still around? Would Harrison, for

example, have insisted that his sitar-playing on "Norwegian

Wood" be remixed at a volume level equal to Lennon's

vocal? Is Ringo's drumming given greater prominence

on certain tracks because he is still around to influence

the final decision?

I'm assuming that by "remastering" they mean remixing

as much as remastering. By that, I mean, for example,

making sure the French horn on "Penny Lane" (analog

track overdub #3, let's say) is recorded at a higher

volume for the new final master. Or seeing that the overdubbed

cowbell on "Drive My Car" (analog track #2, maybe) is

reduced in volume to near-inaudibility on the final

master. (I've read that the masters were "cleaned up,"

but doesn't "cleaned up" really mean remixed? Doesn't it

amount to a de facto remix if, for example, a cowbell is

reduced to inaudibility or a harpsichord is put in

higher relief?)

Whatever they did and whoever made the decisions, this

feels like a masterful restoration of a great painting

by Leonardo or Raphael. The remastering does not correct

errors in sound (thankfully) but restores what is already

there, putting all the elements in the best mix and balance.

Highlights are everywhere. (I've only listened to three

of the mono CDs so far, but here goes!) The harpsichord track on

"Fixing a Hole" is higher in the mix, creating brand

new textures and interplay. The bouzouki-like guitar playing

on "Girl" is now beautifully marbled into the sound. The second

orchestral cacophony on "A Day in the Life" sounds different

from the first cacophony, the former sounding like the

gathering of a swarm of locusts in the sky, the latter recalling

the acceleration of a powerful jet. Vocal harmonies on many

tracks are a cooler smoother blend (check out "In My Life"

and "You Won't See Me," for example).

The remastering also makes flaws more evident.

Yes, the blunt cowbell on "Drive My Car" is now

either gone or reduced in volume, a good thing.

But that means we can hear the very uncertain

tambourine playing (and I bet the cowbell

was used to blot out the flawed tambourine,

which was probably part of a track they

couldn't get rid of). There is overuse of

unison clapping on "With the Beatles" and

overuse of tambourine on "Rubber Soul." And

is there too much reverb on Lennon's guitar

on "I Wanna Be Your Man"? And I wonder whether

putting the harmonica higher in the mix -- maybe

even distorted, Little Walter-syle -- might

have elevated "Little Child"?

The remasters also provide a good excuse to relisten

to this stuff again, and the Beatles oeuvre just

gains gravity with time. Those who compare Lennon and

McCartney to Gilbert and Sullivan, underrating the Beatles

in a back-handed way, are way off. McCartney is more

like Irving Berlin or even Franz Schubert, though I'd be

hard-pressed to cite a Schubert melody as beautiful

as "Hey Jude" or "For No One." (And name

one Gilbert and Sullivan composition that comes

within fifty miles of even "Mother Nature's Son" or

"Golden Slumbers.")

I've said it before and will say it again: McCartney

is the world's greatest living composer. In any genre.

The magic of the Beatles is partly explained by the

fact that they came of age in the first full decade in which the

possibilities of what used to be called sound-on-sound (now called

overdubbing) were available to the human race. And they

were the first group with multiple brilliant composers

to fully benefit from overdubs.

Keep in mind that 90 years before "Sgt. Pepper," Thomas Edison

hadn't yet recorded sound for the first time. There might have been

95-year-old codgers in 1967 who had first-hand memories of the first

recording of sound and of the release of "Sgt. Pepper," that

massive triumph of the overdub.

I can't help but think of all the McCartneys and Lennons

of the 19th century and before who couldn't preserve

their musical inspirations on tape. Imagine all the

"Hey Jude"s and "If I Fell"s that were lost because

the composer didn't know musical notation and couldn't

save his or her ideas. Remember: the greatest pop

composers of the last 75 years, from Berlin to Dylan,

couldn't read or notate music -- and neither could

McCartney and Lennon.

Paradoxically, tape recorders (and higher tech recording equipment)

have brought composers closer to more low-tech natural writing. What I

mean is: a melody comes into your head as you hike through

the hills; you hum or sing the melody into a tape recorder.

Prior to the 20th century, that melody would have disappeared

into the air like smoke (unless you knew notation). Thanks

to recording devices, the magnificent melodies of "Eleanor

Rigby" and "In My Life" survive forever. And because of

overdubs, we have "A Day in the Life" and "Strawberry

Fields Forever" -- and not just from the more formal

sorts of composers who happen to know notation.

But getting back to my point about McCartney's

place in the pantheon of composers. Perhaps

comparisons to even Mozart aren't out of line.

Look at the greatest opera of all time, Mozart's

"Don Giovanni." If you see it fresh, it's just a

series of two and three minute songs (they call 'em

"arias"), inspired discrete bits unified, sometimes

tenuously, by lyrics (they call it a "libretto")

written by a guy named Da Ponte (so why isn't it

called Mozart/Da Ponte's "Don Giovanni"?).

So hail the two-minute song! Even Mozart did.

Were Da Ponte's "lyrics" of sexual braggadocio really

superior to the lyrics of "A Day in the Life" or

"Eleanor Rigby"? Were Mozart's best melodies ("Gio vinette

che fate...," "la ci darem la mano...," etc.) greater

than the Beatles's best, or were they just as great?

That's up to future generations to decide. The oldest

of Lennon and McCartney's songs were written only

fifty years or so ago. But every indication says

they'll last for centuries.

But I digress. Paul



for January 21, 2010

My list of the top ten films of 2009 (below) won't be complete

until I see "Me and Orson Welles," which I haven't had a chance

to catch yet. Everyone tells me it's excellent. By the way,

I saw Claire Danes, who stars in the film, on Letterman

last night and couldn't help but think she seems to get more

desirable with the years. Reminds me of a great cathedral.

All the more reason to see "Welles."

* * * *

Watched "Up" again last night and enjoyed it even more

the second time. It may be the most moving animated

feature ever made.

* * * *

Woody Guthrie's "This Land" seems to be the most ubiquitous

folk song of 2009/10. It's at the end of the docu "Food, Inc.,"

opens "Up in the Air," and was covered at a few concerts I've

attended in recent months (Adam Duritz sang it at the Greek

Theater in Berkeley, Calif., last summer; Tom Morello sang it at

the Hardly Strictly fest in San Francisco last October). I wonder

when people are going to petition to make it our national


* * * *

Google should be praised for refusing to censor

Internet search results in China. Bravo. All the more

reason to use Google instead of Bing.

* * * *

Looking forward to the new graphic novel by Daniel Clowes,

"Wilson," due in May. I'm told this is completely

new material that has never been serialized in "Eightball."

* * * *

Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, whose exhibitions are

almost always fascinating and novel, is about to unveil

his latest work, this time in NYC: a movie theater for

house plants, a cinema where "house plants can watch

foreign travel documentaries." Read more

about it at

* * * *

Here's a cartoon I recently came up with:

But I digress. Paul



for January 19, 2010

No, the Daily Digression is not going 3-D...

* * * *

Many thanks to Hollow Earth Radio in Seattle for playing

one of my new songs, "I Was Young (Until Fairly Recently),"

and for writing about it on its website a week or so ago. If

you haven't heard Hollow Earth, you're in for a treat;

here's a link to their site:

And here's what they (very generously) wrote about

my new song:

And thanks -- again -- to Marshall at KALX for playing my

new song "Something in the Sky" a few weeks ago.

(His show, The Next Big Thing, always features great

music by obscure artists, and last night's NBT

was no exception: he played some amazing stuff by

a new band called For Fear the Hearts of Men are

Failing. I might even check out their upcoming show

at the Super Secret Circus in Berkeley, Calif.)

Also, thanks to the bloggers who have been enjoying my

songs and writing about them! Recently a blogger from

Bristol in the U.K. wrote this very nice review of my '09

song "Kim Jong-il":

Wanna hear my latest batch of songs? Here's a link:

* * *

* * * * *

Things are so bad at NBC that there are rumors
that Haitians

are now texting donations to Jeff Zucker.

But seriously....Zucker did appear on Charlie Rose last night

and actually insisted to Rose -- and he was emphatic about

this -- that the situation at NBC was not as bad as what

was happening in Haiti. Which I'm sure reassures everyone

at the network.

One of the things (that nobody has brought up) that contributed

to the Leno-O'Brien imbroglio is that NBC abandoned the

practice of having guest hosts on the Tonight Show after

Johnny Carson's tenure. The guest host idea worked so well

under Carson, allowing everybody to see who was most

successful in the Tonight format, who filled the chair --

and soon NBC had more than a couple contenders who

could sub well. And with repeat guest hostings, you could

even become acclimated to the replacement, almost

preferring him or her to Carson.

Whatever happens -- and nobody is bringing this up either -- Leno

is near retirement anyway and -- as funny as he is -- is not

the future of late night (or prime time) television. NBC is now in the

process of reinstating a host (Leno) who it will have

to replace (yet again) within five years, probably within three.

So perhaps NBC should stop being so short-sighted and

cut to the chase: get rid of both Leno and O'Brien,

and then immediately and decisively hire Jon Stewart as

the new host of Tonight. Make him an offer he can't refuse

(to coin a phrase).

Meanwhile, I feel sorry for Conan. In television history

he goes down as the first failed host of The Tonight Show

since the dawn of television. What worked at 12:35 didn't

work at 11:35. NBC is letting him go so easily because it

now knows what it didn't know in early '09: Conan doesn't

work in the 11:35 slot. So let Fox have him, NBC thinks;

why would he work any better there? Viewers attracted

to quirky and less mainstream late night humor will tune

into Letterman, who does it better than Conan.

If O'Brien had been allowed to guest host Tonight several

times over several years, everyone would have seen it

was a bad fit. As it turns out, "Late Night" was

his destination, not his stepping stone.

By the way, I predict...Conan will grow a beard in the

near future.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- OK. folks, I posted that joke (above) about
Jeff Zucker getting charity from Haitians at
8:45am (PT) on January 19, 2010. Let's see
how long it takes before someone rips it off
without crediting me!



for January 17, 2009

[the story I posted on today's Digression is generating unusual interest; I am temporarily taking it down from the site pending discussions with people who are interested in it.]



for January 13, 2009

Still haven't seen "Crazy Heart," "Me and Orson Welles,"

"A Serious Man" or "Star Trek," so this list might

still change. For now, here's my top ten of '09:

The Ten Best Films of 2009

1. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"
(Number one only because the first twenty
minutes stand as the greatest film making
by anyone last year -- and it's Tarantino's all-time best,
too. The rest of the film, unfortunately, not so much.)

2. Pete Docter's "Up"
(The vivid balloons alone are enough cause to fall
in love with this one.)

3. Lee Daniels's "Precious"
(Number three because it changed the way I view
people I pass on the street.)

4. Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story"
(Moore has been ahead of his time for some time, and history
proved him right last year. Here's his victory lap.)

5. "Nirvana Live at Reading"
(This never had a theatrical release but I'm
including it anyway because I enjoyed it immensely.)

6. Neill Blomkamp's "District 9"
(The imagery is startlingly original and
believable -- and it takes nothing from "Dances with Wolves.")

7. Michael Mann's "Public Enemies"
(Last summer in this space, I called this
a "symphony of violent light," and it is.)

8. Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker"
(It has everything a great movie
should have -- except well-drawn characters. Still, it's
better than every feature that I've ranked ninth or lower.)

9. Kenny Ortega's "This is It"
(This will take you by surprise. A terrific concert,
and inadvertently revealing about MJ, too.)

10. Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!" I hesitate to put this on the list, and it'll
probably end up being replaced by "Crazy Heart" or one of the
others I haven't seen yet, but the first forty minutes are
fantastic. The last half is unwatchable.

But I digress. Paul



for January 9, 2010

I finally got to see the movie "Up in the Air"

this afternoon, and here's my review:

Ivan Reitman's "Up in the Air"

It may well be the most overrated film of 2009.

This is a movie for people who are more impressed

with immaculate craft than with genuine expression or artistry.

It's so scrubbed and neat and scripted to within

an inch of its life that it makes me want to rent a

couple of untidy semi-improvised movies by John Cassavetes

or Robert Altman to counteract its effects.

And the film also presents a jarringly pre-9/11 vision

of air travel as a cozy and completely safe ride, with

almost no hint that jetliners are the flashpoint of a war being

waged against us by religious lunatics. (American

Airlines, featured prominently on screen here, is

(coincidentally, I'm sure) promoting that very point of view,

too! American Airlines wants to assure its passengers

that there hasn't been an attempted terrorist attack

on a U.S. jetliner since, uh, well...a few weeks ago!)

In the wake of the failed bombing over Detroit last

Christmas, this film seems like even more of a throwback.

(Yeah, I know the odds of a bomb blast are long.

But in this era, anxiety about such an attack accompanies

every single flight. In fact, it is the main fact of

air travel in the 21st century. None of that is on screen.)

It sometimes feels like a late-1990s dotcom-boom comedy,

despite its clever use of various 21st century tech gadgets.

And despite the downsizing theme, the film, oddly, doesn't

capture the spirit of this recession. In fact, sometimes

the firings feel like they're played for yucks by rich film

makers far removed from the nasty realities of the

job market. In that sense, Reitman's timing couldn't

be worse.

The tantrums and tears of the fired start to seem formulaic.

And the film doesn't truly capture the outrageous unfairness

in the marketplace. (Among the truths left out or

glossed over in this film: brilliant players are dismissed

while the untalented nephew of the boss gets to keep his job;

rich employees who are fired don't face any of the

financial trauma that fired poor employees do; corrupt

bosses who should have been dismissed remain to slander

the honest employees who have been downsized; the

truth does not always out in the workplace (never

forget: Jayson Blair came shockingly close to getting

away with his malfeasance and, if he had, probably would

be virtually running the paper right now, in a position to

smear the ethical people trying to expose him); very often,

a boss will write a letter-of-recommendation because

he or she fears the employee knows too much dirt

about him or the company; a letter-of-recommendation

is often withheld for petty or vindictive reasons

(hey, Jayson Blair wouldn't have written a LOR for

a subordinate who had (rightly) accused him of plagiarism);

employers break contracts whenever it is expedient for

them to do so; an employer will assure you your job is

safe on Thursday and fire you on Friday; if a

company wants to fire you because of, say, a merger,

it will first try numerous dirty tricks and set-ups

to besmirch your reputation, so that axing you

seems more defensible to other professionals; the pension

you were counting on may have disappeared, etc.).

If you want to see, without Reitman's corporate

gloss, how job loss really affects people, check

out Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story,"

"Sicko" and "Roger and Me," and watch the unemployed

get evicted on Christmas eve, watch them lose

their teeth, watch them die prematurely.

And this film shows almost none of the after-effects

of the firings, how the lives of the downsized play out.

Reitman misses a huge opportunity to ingenuously

weave their lives into Clooney's. (There could have been

a plot twist in which someone who Clooney fired ends

up becoming Clooney's boss, or a finale in which Clooney

himself is downsized and has to take a job working for

someone he once fired, or scenes in which one

of Clooney's victims targets him for revenge. A lot of

promising plot possibilities weren't explored.)

Then, suddenly, at the one hour mark, the downsizing theme

disappears and the flick becomes something like

"Rachel Getting Married," with an irrelevant and

unintegrated sub-plot about a wedding.

Don't get me wrong: I liked some of this, and Clooney

is generally fun to watch. But all told, "In the Air"

comes off like the airline food served in first class:

tasty in a bland sort of way, but overcooked, unmemorable

and without much nutritional value.

* * * * *

The other day I posted my list of the best films of

the past decade, but I neglected to include three

that I absolutely loved: Larry Charles's "Borat: Cultural

Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation

of Kazakhstan"; Larry Charles's "Religulous";

Michael Moore's "Sicko"; and Paul Haggis's "Crash."

I've integrated the three films into the mix, expanding

my list to 19 films, and here it is:

The Nineteen Best Films of the Decade

1. Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic"

2. Roman Polanski's "The Pianist"

3. Rodrigo García's "Nine Lives"

4. Woody Allen's "Match Point"

5. Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset"

6. Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks"

7. Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler"

8. Andrew Jarecki's "Capturing the Friedmans"

9. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"

10. Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood"

11. Larry Charles's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America
for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"

12. Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt"

13. Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men"

14. Larry Charles's "Religulous"

15. Michael Moore's "Sicko"

16. Paul Haggis's "Crash"

17. Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River"

18. Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale"

19. "Nirvana Live at Reading"

But I digress. Paul



for January 5, 2010

The Fifteen Best Films of the Decade

With the decade done, the Oscars nearing and the

critics summing up the Oughties, I've

finally decided what the best films of the past

decade were. Here's my list:

1. Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic"

2. Roman Polanski's "The Pianist"

3. Rodrigo García's "Nine Lives"

4. Woody Allen's "Match Point"

5. Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset"

6. Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks"

7. Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler"

8. Andrew Jarecki's "Capturing the Friedmans"

9. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"

10. Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood"

11. Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt"

12. Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men"

13. Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River"

14. Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale"

15. "Nirvana Live at Reading"

Coming soon: my best films of '09 list.

But I digress. Paul



for January 4 - 5, 2010

I've just seen a few new movies and here're

my reviews:

Nancy Meyers's "It's Complicated"

This is a smart and funny -- sometimes very funny -- romantic

comedy that will make you laugh, tear up and become wiser

about the joys and pains of adulterous (and non-adulterous) affairs.

It's sort of like a late-Oughties variation on Woody Allen's

great comic love stories of the Eighties and Nineties, and it

succeeds in a way that will probably have audiences

coming back to theaters for seconds.

And Meryl Streep -- is there a more intelligently attractive

woman on the planet? -- is as great as ever, playing the

role of a divorced mom (having an affair with her ex) so

naturally and effortlessly that she'll likely be

nominated for a best actress Oscar.

The script and plot are very knowing about

relationships and their afterlives. When

Streep's character and her former husband (played

memorably by Alec Baldwin) re-unite, the

same patterns and cycles of their past start

to repeat themselves. And she soon discovers why

she wanted him in the first place and, ultimately, why

she left him.

And Steve Martin had me laughing out loud at several

points, particularly in the scene when he's stoned

on pot at a party and can't find a way to

control his laughter.

As a sidenote, the flick explores baby boomers's

relationship to marijuana more entertainingly than

any film since "American Beauty." (Like most boomers,

the characters here had a lot of fun smoking pot decades

ago but haven't touched the stuff since. Until a

magic joint arrives in their social circle. "I

don't know what they've done to pot in the last 30

years," says a very stoned and happy Streep.)

The movie is a good ride. And anyone with an appetite

for romantic comedy will come out of the theater

fully satisfied.

* * * * *

Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock"

It's no wonder this movie flopped with both moviegoers

and many critics. It's -- what's the technical term

for it? -- awful.

Up until the one-hour mark, "Taking Woodstock" could easily

pass for a film about preparing for Bethel's outdoor LGBT

Film Festival rather than for the Woodstock rock fest (and

not because there's a mini-concert subplot).

Characters are more enthusiastic about a live Judy Garland

album than about any of the performers who actually

played at Woodstock -- and that's typical of Lee's

failure to authentically capture much of the true spirit

and zeitgeist of the era. (FYI, Garland wasn't really

a gay icon until years after her death.)

This is revisionist counter-culture history, sort of like

making a movie related to the Stonewall uprising of '69 that

focuses almost exclusively on, say, the drug-dealing

subculture at the periphery of that community. Or like

telling the story of the Stonewall riots from the

angle of Italian-Americans involved in the San Gennaro

festival in Little Italy -- with Stonewall seen as a struggle

against anti-Italian defamation.

Or like telling the story of Stonewall from the

angle of the feminist movement, emphasizing figures

like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan to the exclusion of

gay activists -- with Stonewall seen merely as part of the

overall struggle for women's liberation. Call it

"Taking Stonewall."

After all, Lee is not blending cultures

here -- that would have been admirable -- but

artificially superimposing his own

culture atop Woodstock, which, contrary to the

wishful distortion seen on screen here, had

virtually nothing to do with the gay rights movement.

In terms of Lee's own oeuvre, the director captured

the 1970s in "The Ice Storm" so much more realistically and

poignantly than he has evoked the Sixties here. In terms

of gay-themed cinema, "Taking Woodstock" makes "Milk"

seem like "Citizen Kane." (Hey, I know of only one

person who absolutely loves this film, and he's

also a fan of Charles Nelson Reilly's and has a bit of

a fetish for the mediocre.)

This flick ranks with "Pirate Radio" as one of the great

missed cinematic opportunities of the year -- and as one of

the worst films of '09 made from a promising premise.

But I digress. Paul



for December 29, 2009

Thanks to Marshall and KALX radio for playing

my new song "SOMETHING IN THE SKY" last night.

(I'm proud to say it was the Next Big Thing's

final song of '09!)

And I also love the fact that people are

connecting with a song whose chorus

I wrote completely unconsciously (the

chrous was running around my head, fully

formed, when I woke up one morning in

late October '09). That has happened several

times before in recent years, but it doesn't

occur often. (For the record, I wrote the rest

of the song awake!)

You can listen to "SOMETHING IN THE SKY" right

here for free:

I must confess Marshall's show spurs me

to write more and better new songs than I

normally would. Hope I'm able to write new

stuff in 2010 that's right for the

NBT and for all the other great radio stations

that have aired my stuff. Happy new year!




for December 28, 2009

Farther below are my film reviews of "Avatar," "The Blind Side,"

"Up," "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and other pictures.

But for now, let me show you some photos that I shot

in 1976 and haven't shown to anyone in decades.

* * * *

the ongoing 20th anniversary of Communism's fall

I Traveled Alone Behind the Iron Curtain During
the Cold War and Shot Photos That Haven't Been
Seen in Over 30 Years. Until Now.

When I traveled alone by local train behind the Iron Curtain

thirty-three years ago, I shot several pictures from the

train -- and developed them as slides, unfortunately. Because

they were slides, I haven't been able to share them with others

over the decades the way I would a set of prints.

Until now. The other day I found a way to convert the

slides to digital prints (and you can try this at home, too!).

Just scotch tape the slide next to a white light bulb and then

shoot the transparency with a digital camera, using the close-up

feature and with flash off. Then print out the digital

snaps. Voila!

Granted, the quality of the pictures would be considerably

better if I had a professional transfer the image from

slide to print, which I will do some day. But for now, you

can get a fair idea, via pictures, of what I went through

in my trek behind the Iron Curtain when I was a teenager.

I've since incorporated the pics into my story about

my journey, and you can read that here:

But in this space, let me share several of the new photos

that I shot in 1976:

My trip began here in Florence, Italy, and here I am around the time of my trek.

* * * *

This is how downtown Belgrade, Yugoslavia, looked in '76 from my vantage point on the train (you can see the word "Beograd" on the building to the left). [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Deep behind the Iron Curtain, August 1976. Here is downtown
Sofia, Bulgaria, which I shot from my train (even though
Bulgarian soldiers warned me not to take pics). [photo by
Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Just before I crossed into Bulgaria, five
Serbian guys absolutely insisted that I take their
picture! This was shot in southern Serbia, south of
Belgrade, west of Bulgaria, east of Kosovo. [photo by
Paul Iorio.]

* * * *

After the gray Balkans, western Turkey came alive in
Technicolor. Bright yellow sunflowers stretched for what seemed
like miles in this part of Thrace, and here's one patch of
sunflowers, west of Istanbul. [photo by Paul Iorio.]

* * * *

A wooden neighborhood in Istanbul. [photo by Paul
Iorio] After I shot this photo, the man in this
picture in the street chased me with a stick,
apparently because my shot partly included a
veiled woman (she's at right).

In retrospect, I now see that the larger risks of my trip
came not behind the Iron Curtain but in Islam (not only
did that guy chase me with a stick, but another man
almost became violent when I didn’t bow and scrape
at Istanbul’s Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, where
the Muslim Prophet Muhammed’s hair and teeth are
on display).

But what's also interesting is the diversity within
an Islamic city like Istanbul. The same neighborhood
-- the Sultanahmet district -- that included this
poor wooden fundamentalist section also
included a far smarter neighborhood slightly to the
east, centered around the legendary Pudding Shop
(which, as many of you know, was not primarily
known for selling pudding in the swingin' Seventies,
if you know what I mean). There, more liberal
and secular Muslim hippies would listen to banned
music like Cem Karaca and talk about western rockers like
Clapton and the Beatles.

* * * *

Istanbul's Galata Bridge, over the Golden Horn, featuring
a staggering parade of diversity. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *
* * * *

OK, how about a few more shots, these with nothing
to do with the Iron Curtain or Istanbul? Here goes:

The Palio horse race in Siena, Italy, from the front
row. I was so close to the track that clogs of dirt
from the horses hit me in the face. If I could have
transferred the slide better, you would see that the
blurriness creates a nice effect. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Olympia, Greece, with sunrise streaming through the
ruins. (By the way, my trip to Greece was completely
separate from my Iron Curtain/Istanbul trek and
occurred three or four months later in 1976.)
Again, if I had been able to transfer
this from slide to print properly, you'd probably
appreciate this one more. [photo by Paul Iorio]



for December 27 - 28, 2009

I've just seen a few new movies and

here're my reviews (posted below: reviews

of "Avatar," "Up" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox"):

James Cameron's "Avatar"

Overpraised, overpriced and unsatisfyingly

convoluted, James Cameron's "Avatar" is like

a film version of Roger Dean's cover art

for pompous 1970s albums by the prog band

Yes. Albums like "YesSongs" and "Tales from Topographic

Oceans" (see below). In fact, the resemblance to Yes

album art is so striking that one hopes Cameron

has paid him for his inspiration before Dean sues.

If you're into that sort of very detailed

fantasy stuff, gorge yourself here. But

if you're looking for something truly

original in a new sci-fi flick, go see

"District 9," which has a lot more wit,

a livelier imagination and more plausibility.

When "Avatar" is not busy imitating a

Yes album, it sort of resembles an

extraterrestrial version of "Dances

with Wolves," in that parts of its plot are about a

soldier going native and joining the army of an

enemy he is supposed to be fighting against

(even the blue skin of the aliens looks

like the face paint of Native American warriors).

Further, Cameron's anti-war allegory is trite,

obvious and heavyhanded.

As for the 3-D gimmick, it's now obvious, if it

wasn't before, that 3-D is not the future of

cinema or of anything else. It has cropped up

in almost every decade since the 1950s,

always pretending to be the new wave of cinema --

and flopping each time out. I have never been to

a 3-D movie in which the extra dimension added

anything except the feeling that I wanted

to take off the damn glasses and pop an

Advil for an oncoming headache.

Think for a moment: Can you imagine how tacky it would

have been had Stanley Kubrick turned "2001: A

Space Odyssey" into a 3-D feature? He

could have done it that way (and was probably

advised to do so by crass movie execs), but he didn't

need to do it in 3-D because his visuals were so

brilliant that they required no such enhancement.

That said, there are moments of visual magic

here (e.g., glimpsing, from Pandora, the planet that

Pandora orbits around; birds that look like

jellyfish in the sky; and mountains floating like clouds

over Pandora).

But the flaws are numerous, too: the dialogue sounds

written not spoken; the last half-hour is packed

with tedious battle scenes that look like

generic summer blockbuster action fare;

Sigourney Weaver's bossy persona is annoying and

not very interesting; Stephen Lang's character

is a cliche; etc.

All told, this is more a work of extravagance than

of imagination. And a few top critics should

explain their inexplicably excessive praise of this film.

Look familiar? Is it a Yes album cover or is it "Avatar"?

* * * *

Pete Docter's "Up"

Is "Up" the best movie of 2009? It may well be. At

the very least, the film includes the single cinematic

visual image of '09 (outside "Avatar") that is most likely to

resonate down the decades: thousands of vividly

multicolored balloons that lift a house across a

magical and amusing animated landscape.

It's the most beautiful collection of balloons I've ever

seen, onscreen or off, well worth the price of admission

just to see them. Like candy in the sky.

One of the most gorgeous creations in the history

of animated features.

I don't know if that makes it the best movie of 2009.

But keep in mind that this praise is coming from someone

who didn't like "Wall-E" at all (which, of course, was

also created by the folks at Pixar). "Up" has everything

"Wall-E" does not, particularly fully humanized cartoon

characters (and humanized animals) instead of automatons.

And what a bunch of characters! There's Russell the stowaway

kid, Kevin the bird, a dog who's the most adorable cartoon

canine since Huckleberry Hound and, of course, the main

character: codger Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner),

a lovable grump reminiscent of both Asner and late

Spencer Tracy.

I wouldn't be surprised if, in future decades, scenes

from "Up" are considered as iconic and indelible as

classic moments from the "Wizard of Oz" and "E.T."

* * * *

Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox"

Not so fantastic.

The animation is clunky, stiff, not fluid at all. Most of

the time, it's like the director simply filmed a series of

stuffed dolls and teddy bears (a la Mr. Bill on SNL). Even

the best of the celebrity voices (Meryl Streep's) can't

save this, as the film weaves in and out (mostly in) of boring


If you must see it, wait for the DVD and watch

only the good parts (and there are around three minutes

of 'em!) at the 63 and 30 minute marks, and at the end,

when the great Marshall Crenshaw's "Let Her Dance" plays.

(By the way, when is Crenshaw going to be inducted into

the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame?)

But I digress. Paul



for December 20 - 21, 2009

Just saw a few new flicks -- here're my reviews:

John Lee Hancock's "The Blind Side"

This is like a two-hour version of those soft focus,

warm glow dramatizations in television commercials for

long distance phone service, Hallmark cards

and the Seventh Day Adventists. You've surely seen

those ads, the ones where there's always

a manipulative, heartwarming scene of incredible

altruistic generosity, forgiveness or camaraderie,

a depiction of a thoroughly idealized, retouched

and unrealistic view of reality. As in

"reach out and touch someone." "Because your dreams

matter to us." Such ads are also seen during the

Sunday morning talk shows ("Night baseball?! That'll be

the day!") Or in corporate commercials

that reenact the moment when Pitney first met Bowes

at the polo grounds, or when Merrill met Lynch at

the friendly neighborhood pawn shop.

Watching "The Blind Side" is also, at times, like

watching Yuletide logs burn in the fireplace on tv.

Or like listening to Christian rock that tries too

hard to be bad.

And occasionally, the movie is like "Precious"-lite, very

light, with lotza cream and way too much sugar and sticky


Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock, playing the main character, looks

and acts so much like Kathie Lee Gifford that I caught

myself wondering where Hoda was.

Yeah, it's all very heart-tugging that Bullock's character

takes in some poor homeless kid named Mike. But one has to

wonder why Mike seems to have none of the behavioral

problems or mal-adjustments associated with such a hard

scrabble background. He seems way too un-angry and

un-neurotic for someone subjected to a broken home,

abuse and abject poverty. I don't buy it. The film makers

seem to be glossing over the flaws and imperfections

that a character like Mike, coming from his background,

would surely have. (See "Precious" for a far more

realistic take on this.) True story or not, it doesn't

feel true here. (This is a feature not a documentary,

after all.) And Bullock even trusts him with her

kids -- with no supervision. (I don't know a

parent who would -- or should.)

To their credit, the film makers take some unpredictable

turns and keep your attention throughout. And it features

Bullock's most memorable performance to date, particularly

when she morphs into Sarah Palin later in the flick and

spouts dialogue that sounds like the lyrics

of a Gretchen Wilson song ("I'm in a prayer group with the D.A.,

I'm a member of the NRA, and I'm always packin'").

To be sure, the anti-racism of this movie is satisfying

and, obviously, very welcome. But this is 2009. One

has to wonder where these sorts of people -- the Mitt

Romney types, the white holy-roller suburbanites (aka,

the modern-day cultural equivalents to those who

opposed Martin Luther King back when) -- were in 1972

or 1962, when the civil rights movement really could

have used their help.

All told, this is the sort of thing the "Friday Night Lights"

TV series does so much better and more artfully. (There's

more truth in any two-minute scene featuring Buddy Garrity

(Brad Leland) on "FNL" than in the whole two hours of "Blind Side,"

whose secondary characters are mostly just smiley faces.)

And it left me with an appetite for a feature film based on the

new "FNL."

* * * *

"Nirvana Live at Reading"

This may be the most exciting movie I've seen this year, showing

as it does Nirvana in fullest bloom, performing a concert from

start to finish near the end of its "Nevermind" tour. Like

a dream concert. Just the great stuff from the second album

with very little of "In Utero," which, frankly, doesn't wear

so well today.

With just three players and a stack of amps, Nirvana had

as much force and power as Led Zeppelin and the Stones

in their primes, using basic elements more resourcefully

and magically than any band since the Ramones.

And the DVD shows a group already comfortably on rock's

Rushmore, though its breakthrough album had been

released mere months earlier. We're simultaneously

watching a band just after one of the most

breathtaking and unexpected rises in recent rock

history -- "Nevermind" was expected to sell around

50,000 copies and went on to move over 10 million -- but

also a group at the dawn of a sophomore slump. After around an

hour and ten minutes, Kurt is clearly out of musical ideas

and starts repeating himself (using "Polly"'s bridge for

"Dumb," recycling the "Teen Spirit" riff to lesser

effect, etc.).

The DVD also shows Dave Grohl was being truly

underutilized by Kurt; when they harmonize or trade

vocals on "Been a Son" and "Dumb," it sounds so

terrific that one wishes they had collaborated more than

they did (and as we've since discovered, they could

have written together, too). Grohl, who powers this

stuff beautifully, would have been forever known as

the Ginger Baker of grunge, had he not eclipsed

his own fame by forming the Foo Fighters (another

unlikely, thrilling ascent) and Them Crooked Vultures

(lightning strikes yet again!).

The highlights are everywhere; the opening chords of "In Bloom"

sound like spring itself bursting out; "Lounge Act" is

irresistible; "Sliver" is funny; "Smells

Like Teen Spirit" has a strange sort of inimitable power.

And it's sort of humorous that Kurt delegates the Jaggeresque

dancing onstage to a guy named Tony, who dances expressively through

most of the show (he seems to be especially enjoying himself

during "Lithium").

Up close, Cobain, who appears to be having some sort of

problem with his jaw on this night, seems not fragile but

sturdy, though deeply angry and deeply introverted, a lethal

combination, as we now know.

All told, one of the very best live rock concerts on

DVD by anyone.

* * * *

Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant"

The best American cop flick since the underrated "We Own

The Night" (and what a great double bill that would make at a revival


Nicolas Cage plays a hallucinating crooked cop in

post-Katrina New Orleans, where corruption permeates

the city like stifling Gulf humidity. Cage's

performance is audacious and over-the-top and

somewhat redolent of the acting in "Chinatown" in the

sense that one sees the character, not the actor,

sweating bullets and under stress. On the downside,

Cage is, repeatedly, in perfect make-up when he

is supposed to be sleep-deprived and in a cold sweat.

Love the ending in which Cage's misconduct and

criminality result in -- you guessed it -- a

promotion to captain. Happens in journalism, too.

This should be spun-off into a television series.

* * * *

"The Jackson 5ive" Cartoon TV Series

What with all the interest in Everything Michael Jackson these

days, it's surprising the "Jackson 5ive" cartoon

TV series of the 1970s hasn't been released on DVD yet. A couple

weeks ago I was able to buy a copy of all 17 episodes of the

first season, which aired almost entirely in the Fall of 1971 (another

six episodes ran the following year as "The New

Jackson 5ive Show").

It's not as entertaining as, say, the Monkees TV show, though

it does thrive on the occasionally amusing high-concept

idea (e.g, all the members of the Jackson Five disband

and release separate albums as the Jackson One; there

is a Jackson Island; someone invents a Groov-o-tron; etc.). But

the execution is usually flaccid, the animation slightly

derivative of the Beatles's "Yellow Submarine" movie. Still, there's

at least one good joke or pun per episode.

The real value here is that the episodes are packed with

obscure tracks from the Jackson Five that aren't on

greatest hits compilations or easy to find elsewhere.

A series more fun to hear than to watch.

But I digress. Paul



for December 17, 2009

Wanna hear four brand new songs I wrote in

November 2009 and recorded a few days ago?

Just click this link to

listen for free! Enjoy!

* * * *

Why "Precious" Will Win the Best Picture Oscar

It now seems clear that Lee Daniels's "Precious: Based on the Novel

'Push' by Sapphire " will win the Best Picture Oscar on March 7. Not

necessarily because it is the best picture, though you could make

a case that it is, but because of the addition of five nominees to

the best picture category this year.

What might happen in the Oscar voting is the same thing

that occurs in politics when there are multiple candidates

in a winner-take-all contest in which there is no

run-off. And that is: factional or niche dark horses, who

otherwise would never stand a chance of winning, triumph

because more mainstream contenders cancel each other out.

It's like Meryl Street running against Meryl Streep (as she

is at the Golden Globe Awards this year); there's a chance

Streep will split the Streep vote, resulting in her losing and

allowing a long-shot to win.

Analogously, if the war movie "The Hurt Locker" runs

against the war movie "Inglourious Basterds" -- and

they would have likely been the two favorites for Best Pic

under a five-nominee system -- they might

end up canceling each other out. With a ten movie

ballot, the mainstream votes might be siphoned

by several contenders, allowing a unified

bloc of avidly enthusiastic fans of (in this case)

African-American cinema to prevail. Hence,

"Precious" might well win at the Kodak.

I say "in this case" because in the future the

ten-nominee structure will surely favor other

marginal genres and subgenres. For example, there may

be a fringe horror flick or a religious movie that

will win if the other nine nominees divide

the serious cinema vote. The ten-nominee

system, after all, benefits the cult film backed

by a small but unified band of voters. The intensity of

support for a film is a larger factor.

Or, more likely, a comedy might easily sneak through

if it's running against nine dramas -- and

comedies have rarely won for best picture.

There might also be a situation in subsequent

years in which two African-American-themed

films cancel each other out (perhaps denying

poor Spike Lee a much-deserved Oscar once again!).

When ten nominees were last allowed by the Academy -- between

1936 and 1943 (and also in 1932/33) -- it caused

such travesties as the defeat of "Citizen Kane" by

"How Green Was My Valley" in 1941 and the defeat of

"A Star is Born" by "The Life of Emile Zola" in 1937.

And it also let lighter fare like "You Can't Take it With

You" win over weightier films like "Grand Illusion."

(To be fair, there were also years in which such mainstream

quality pictures as "Casablanca" and "Gone with the Wind"


Further, between 1931 and 1934, the Academy tried

eight and then a dozen nominees for best picture -- and

the results? A comedy, "It Happened One Night," won over

DeMille's "Cleopatra"; and "Mutiny on the Bounty"

defeated "David Copperfield."

In recent decades, up until the current year, one

could guess with reasonable accuracy who would win

awards in major Oscar categories. All one had to

do was look at the winners of trade awards that are

traditionally predictive (e.g., the awards given by the

DGA, PGA, SAG, the Golden Globes, etc.).

Not anymore, at least not when it comes to the

best picture category. Why? Because the

Academy's ten-nominee rule is unique to the

industry and changes the chemistry of the contest.

The 10-picture idea was born in the wake

of the egregious injustice (as some saw it)

of last year's Oscars, when top films like

"The Wrestler" and "Gran Torino" were inexplicably not even

nominated for the top prize. And, of course,

many Hollywood moguls saw the new rules as providing

an easier path to a such a coveted nomination, which can

give a film lots of prestige and box office oomph.

But it appears as if the law of unintended consequences

is now taking hold. Somebody didn't think this all

the way through. Undeserving fringe contenders -- summer

action flicks, a splatter film, an exploitation pic,

a Scientology project -- could conceivably end up

with the crown some day. And future generations

of film students and scholars might read all

about how, say, "Saw 7" was the best picture

of 2012, or how the most celebrated film of

2015 was "Police Academy: Reunion."

For now, this year's expanded list of nominees may well

produce a thoroughly benign result -- and a worthy winner

(in "Precious"). But the shortcomings of the new rule

are starting to become obvious.

But I digress. Paul



for December 9, 2009

The Ongoing Phenomenon of Dick Cavett

Have you been reading Dick Cavett's op-ed pieces for

The New York Times? Fascinating stuff, some of it. It

would be great if a publisher compiled the best of

'em for a book (though it's hard to know who

would buy the book rather than read the individual

pieces for free via Google).

Cavett's most interesting recent column is the one about

his being targeted by President Nixon in the early

1970s. And the official Oval Office tapes do indeed

reveal that Nixon talked about Cavett, always disparagingly,

several times in 1971.

So when you're watching Cavett interview John Lennon, as

he did a few times on his ABC-TV series, you're seeing

two entertainers who the president of the United States

was actively trying to take down.

I recently re-watched Cavett's 1972 interview with

Lennon, and all I could think was: Look at how Nixon

destroyed Lennon.

By that '72 appearance, Lennon appeared to be unraveling and had

let himself go both physically (he was overweight and out of

shape) and psychologically (he was unusually defensive, insecure).

At the time, the former Beatle was understandably preoccupied

with the Nixon administration's attempt to have him

deported from the U.S. In fact, it was his main

topic of conversation.

Thanks to Nixon's Justice Department, Lennon was

no longer sure where he'd be living in coming

months and years and unable to plan for the long term.

And you could sense that Yoko Ono, who had longstanding

roots in the New York area, was not at all thrilled about

the prospect that she, too, might have to leave

Manhattan for sleepy London town for the sake of her

husband. (Child custody issues were another

complicating factor.)

A mere year earlier, in his 1971 appearance on the

Cavett show, Lennon was at peace and in good humor,

clearly enjoying his post-Beatles existence.

But on the '72 show, you could see Lennon had begun the

slide into the toilet that culminated with the 1974 incident

at the Troubador in West Hollywood, when Lennon, drunk and

out of control, punched a few people and otherwise

caused a scene during a reunion concert by the Smothers


Sure enough, Nixon had turned one of the great

composers of the 20th century into a puddle. Or at

least that's the way it looks from a distance.

Anyway, Cavett's interviews with Lennon (and with numerous

other pop culture icons) have been available on DVD for

years and are well worth watching and re-watching.

One of the great things about the Cavett DVDs is that

they include complete shows rather than edited clips (though

no contemporaneous commercials, unfortunately).

His ABC series of the early seventies can truly transport

you to the era of bucket seats; of people lighting up

cigarettes without even thinking to ask, "Do you mind if

I smoke?"; of the Noxzema advertising jingle being played

or sung every time someone removed an article of clothing;

of people showing up drunk on national TV.

Ah, the early 1970s! Seventy percent of what people did back

then is now considered unhealthy, taboo or illegal.

Even the second tier guests on his show are interesting

in Cavett's hands. Check out a surprisingly charming Debbie

Reynolds humorously imitating the fine difference between

the accents of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Eva Gabor. Or former

Senator Fred Harris, a sort of rough draft of what

Bill Clinton would later become (a mid-western progressive

with presidential ambitions). Or Gloria Swanson,

looking so dignified in contrast to a feral Margot

Kidder. And an impressive Dave Meggyesy, a former

football player who wrote a book about how football

is little more than organized assault that is physically

destructive to its players (here's a

link to Meggyesy's appearance;

When interviewing rock stars, Cavett came off like a

guy with an essentially pre-rock sensibility who

jibed remarkably well with rockers (who were relieved

that they no longer had to deal with a square like Ed

Sullivan). Still, I sometimes wonder whether

Cavett actually liked the music by the rockers he had

on his show or whether he preferred another genre.

I met Cavett around a decade ago in Mill Valley,

California, and interviewed him for an around an

hour for a newspaper article. I think the most

striking thing you learn about him from meeting

him (that you wouldn't really know for sure from

merely seeing him on television) is how spontaneously

funny he is. On TV, you can't always tell whether something

is scripted or staged or made to look spontaneous. But in

person, you can see how Cavett comes up with good jokes

right on the spot (for example, when an employee of a

rental car company asked to see Cavett's

driver's license, he responded with: "Can't I just

describe it? It's rectangular with my name and picture...").

Now that he's writing on a regular basis, for the Times,

I can't help but wonder what would happen if he tried his

hand at scripting a comedic feature film or play. Maybe

there's another Cavett incarnation yet to come.

But I digress. Paul



for December 7, 2009

The Five Best Movies of 2009 (An Incomplete List)

No feature film of 2009 that I've seen, and I've seen

most of the major ones, has been great from start to

finish. Quentin Tarantino's new one is brilliant -- for

the first twenty minutes (as I noted in my Digression

of August 27). Steven Soderbergh's latest is amazing --

for the first forty minutes (see my column of November

5). And "Precious' is riveting -- but only for an hour

or so (full review in previous Digression).

So my best-of list includes mostly fragments of

films, because those are the only things worth raving

about this year. (My list is incomplete because there

are still a few important films I've yet to see.)

1. Ari Marcopoulos's "Claremont."

This short film reminds me of one of the best

sequences in Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider":

when Hopper and Peter Fonda imitate birds while

riding their motorcycles through the countryside

as Peter Stampfel croons his marvelously

eccentric "If You Want to Be a Bird." Almost no

other piece of cinema captures the sense of

pure frontier freedom, American style, or the

liberating spirit of the late 1960s the way

that scene does. And it also stands as the most

resourceful use of cinematic elements in an

American film since Orson Welles used hand

shadows on the wall in "Citizen Kane."

And "Claremont" captures that same feeling of

thrilling liberation and unlimited possibilities,

this time using skateboards instead of motorcycles.

The 11-minute film, which I saw at the Berkeley

(Calif.) Art Museum the other day (and is posted

online at, follows a

skateboarder as he rolls at high speeds through the hills at the

eastern edge of Berkeley.

Marcopoulos, known mostly as a photographer (and one-time

assistant to Andy Warhol), has a great gift for making short films

that you simply cannot stop watching, and this is one of them.

And his sense of motion and of the rhythms and shapes of motion

are masterful. Hollywood moguls should take note and hire him

to make a feature film.

2. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds":

Again, the first twenty minutes of this flick are

better than almost anything else released this year.

But the rest of the picture ranges from boring to obvious.

3. Kenny Ortega's "This Is It":

Surprisingly engaging and well-made documentary

about Michael Jackson's rehearsals for what would have

been his 2009 concert tour. The most consistent film

of the year and a rarity (for '09) in that it actually

gets better as it progresses.

4. Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant":

Following the cinematic pattern of 2009, this is half

of a terrific film. If only Soderbergh had been able

to sustain the brilliance of its first forty minutes.

5. Lee Daniels's "Precious":

This picture made me see everyday people on

the street in a new way, which is why it made

the list. But its first half is considerably

better than its second.

All for now. More to come after I see a few more key films.

* * * *

Blue Rondo a la Clinton

Fifty years ago, Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" album

was released -- and it's still going strong.

Last month, I went out to the Trieste in Berkeley to

hear one of my friends play with a jazz group and the

highlight of the evening was "Blue Rondo a la Turk" (my

friend played the piano figure on electric guitar and it

sounded great).

The piece makes 9/8 seem as natural as 4/4 (which, of

course, it is in Thrace and western Turkey). But my

favorite version is not on "Time Out" but on the live

album "Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond: Live Concerts

From the Late Fifties." Hard to find disc, but worth

checking out.

Anyway, I bring this up because last night,

Brubeck, Robert De Niro, Mel Brooks, Bruuuce and

others were honored at the Kennedy Center in D.C. And

according to a report in The New York Times, Bill Clinton

is a big fan of "Blue Rondo a la Turk" (Brubeck even gave

him a chart to the song, which he reportedly still has and

proudly displays). (Brubeck, by the way, turned 89 yesterday.)

Would love to hear a band play "Blue Rondo" with Clinton

on sax, Obama on guitar and Brubeck on piano. Now that

would be a bootleggable moment!

* * * *

The Amanda Knox Case

Whether Amanda Knox actually plunged the knife

into Meredith Kercher or not, she deserves to

serve at least 10 years. At the very least, Knox

is indisputably guilty of several secondary crimes.

As for the murder itself, Knox was either nearby

plugging her ears as Rudy Guede and her former

boyfriend killed Kercher, or she helped to do it.

Knox is at least an accessory. And what she did (or tried

to do) to tavern owner Patrick Lumumba, a completely

innocent man, is unconscionable. She tried to frame him,

knowing full well he had had nothing to do with the

killing. And that sort of criminal mendacity, which

shreds lives and can get a person killed, should be

punished with prison time in most cases. (False

accusation is the great underpunished crime of

our time.)

Did Knox think Perugia was Duke University, where

she could make a false accusation and have half the

population believe her bullshit?

What would be fair for Knox? Ten years, no parole, no

transfer to an American prison. Because even under

the defense's best case scenario, she has committed

major crimes.

Keep in mind Knox would have had no pang of

conscience about causing Patrick Lumumba, who

she knew was innocent, to serve life

in prison for committing no crime. Sympathy should

be directed to Lumumba, who had to endure two weeks

of false accusation and imprisonment, and to the

Kercher family.

On another issue: I'm getting a bit sick and tired of

the anti-Italian bias and hostility of some

American reporters and anchors. Some media people

have been sounding like this lately: "Oh, those

Eye-talians have these strange laws against

such obscure 'crimes' as sadistic murder. Can you

believe it? And their evidentiary standards are so

bizarre that -- get this -- if they find your DNA

on the murder weapon, they'll put you away! Grody!"

By the way, reporting on another subject a few

months ago on "World News," ABC's Charles Gibson

actually called Italy a "permissive nation."

I had to laugh out loud when I heard that one! Truly

ignorant. Anyone who has lived in Italy for any

length of time knows the Vatican is massively

influential in most parts of the country, creating

a much more conservative climate than you might


I've also heard lots of ignorance about Italy's

siesta structure of the business day. Let me

defend it this way. At Chrysler in Detroit,

Americans have worked eight and twelve and

eighteen hour workdays at a heart-attack

pace for decades. For all their trouble, they

have created only bankruptcy and cars that no

one wants to buy.

At Fiat in Italy, Italians have worked hard, but

with a three-hour siesta in the middle of the day

(which gives them two mornings of concentrated

productivity per day). As a result, Fiat's workers

have created a prosperous company and practical cars

that people truly enjoy driving.

And last I heard, Fiat now controls Chrysler.

Nuff said.

But I digress. Paul



for December 2, 2009

To those who oppose the Afghanistan War, saying

Obama is trying to fight the war Bush should

have fought eight years ago, I offer this


A bone broken ten years ago, since untreated,

remains a broken bone ten years later. It still

needs to be set and fixed. And, ten years later,

it probably comes with attendant complications

(i.e., inflammation, infection, ancillary

fractures, etc.).

The al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan is like

such an untreated medical condition (actually

more like cancer, but let's not mix metaphors

here). George W. Bush may have neglected the

broken bone in Afghanistan for eight years but

his neglect did not correct or cure the break.

Obama is saying, "That bone remains broken in

Afghanistan because Bush didn't fix it. So we're

sending in a team of doctors to set the bone,

clean up any infection and then leave."

To those who think the al Qaeda threat is not emanating

primarily from the greater Khyber Pass region, I have two

words for you: Najibullah Zazi.

To those who draw false parallels with Vietnam, I ask:

who is the homegrown mainstream populist a

la Ho Chi Minh amongst the Taliban? (Answer: there is none.)

To those who voted for Obama
but oppose the

Afghanistan war, I ask: didn't you listen during

the campaign when Obama said repeatedly and

unambiguously that, if elected, he would

wind down the war in Iraq and step up military action in

Afghanistan? Did you think he was joking?

To Osama bin Laden: there is no longer

a fundamentalist in the White House who is soft

on fundamentalist criminals like yourself. You'd better run.

(And don't forget your dialysis cycler.)

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- If McCain had been elected, we'd still

be pointlessly bombing Tikrit.



for November 30 and December 1, 2009

Just heard Obama's speech. All I can say is that I

agree with every syllable and word he said this time.

If I were president of the United States, I'd have

made an identical decision about the Afghanistan

War and delivered a similar speech. On this issue,

Obama is not merely 99% right. He is 100% correct.

* * * *

Let me change the subject to movies;

here're my reviews of a few new flicks:

Lee Daniels's "Precious"

The generous view of this film is that it is, quite simply,

the best picture of 2009. The ungenerous view is

that it starts like an episode of "Jerry Springer" and ends like

an episode of "Oprah."

The truth is closer to the former than to the latter. And it

probably is the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar in

this recession year.

It's scalding, disturbing, unflinching, relentless and will

make you see people on the street in a different way the

next day. It will grip you within the first minute and make

you wish Obama had another three terms to undo the

damage done to the underclass by decades of economic


The movie should also rack up at least a few

Oscar nominations in acting and writing categories,

too (there's even a surprisingly credible performance

from Mariah Carey).

If I can find fault with the film, it's that it's too

unrelentingly bleak and depressing in its first 70 minutes;

after that, it loses some of its tension and steam and

starts to resemble one of Oprah's daytime tearfests (Winfrey,

by the way, is the film's executive producer

and -- surprise! -- is even mentioned a couple times by

characters in the film).

Come February 2, I predict it'll receive at least four

Oscar nominations, probably more.

* * * *

Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story"

Michael Moore is so ahead of his time that

"Roger and Me," released twenty years ago,

could easily pass for a 2009 documentary

about economic hard times in Michigan (or Ohio,

as Bruce Springsteen calls it!) and beyond.

Having been proved completely correct by history, Moore

returns to the themes of his first film with a renewed

spirit of insurrection and righteousness. There's

something refreshingly punkish and dangerous about

this particular Moore project, as befits the tough

times in which it was made.

He has also never been funnier (Jesus, in a voiceover, says

he can't heal the sick when there's a pre-existing condition)

and is as fascinating as ever.

Highlights include: telling clips of Regan with Reagan;

Moore putting "crime scene" tape around Wall

Street buildings; an interview with Wallace Shawn (who

has aged quite well); clips of Bush Jr. that remind us

how stupid this Harvard/Yale alumnus was; and footage of

Captain Sullenberger -- the main hero of 2009 -- showing

courage in testifying before Congress about the plight

of underpaid pilots.

The message of this film is the message of this era: hey,

corporations, you've gotta split your abundant money more


Moore makes so much sense that you sometimes

wish he'd move to Berkeley or Vermont and

win himself a seat in the U.S. Senate or House.

(Don't laugh -- Al Franken did it.)

Anyway, I'm going to see this one again and write

more completely about it later (the audio on my DVD

konked out near the end).

* * * *

Richard Curtis's "Pirate Radio"

There is a great movie to be made along these lines,

but this is not it. It's too long by half, tedious

throughout and almost unwatchable at the end

when -- like "2012" -- it decides to become "Titanic."

And it doesn't really capture 1966 -- and that's not

just because some of the songs on its otherwise

awesome soundtrack aren't from that year ("Jumpin

Jack Flash" is from '68, "Won't Get Fooled Again" is from

'71, etc.).

What is really missing here is the exhilarating sense of

radio people breaking new bands and records, the sense

of pride that someone was the first to air, say, the

Box Tops or the first to play a Beatles b-side in

the U.K. I mean, the Pirate radio people

of that era were genuinely changing pop culture -- and

there's no real feeling of that here.

That said, the soundtrack is gourmet pure pop: "Lazy Sunday,"

"Judy in Disguise," "The Letter," "The Happening," "She'd Rather

Be with Me," "Eleanor," "All Day and All of the Night,"

etc., some of the greatest pop songs of the last fifty

years. Missing in action: The Hollies's "Dear Eloise,"

Wadsworth Mansion's "Sweet Mary," The Kinks's "Picture Book,"

Herb Alpert's "Whipped Cream" and The Monkees's "You Just

May Be the One" (all '66 in spirit if not in chronology).

So buy the soundtrack CD, skip the flick.

To the film makers: I'm your target audience for

this, and you missed.

* * * *

Roland Emmerich's "2012"

With all the countless crevices and fractures of the

earth's surface in "2012," it seems this movie has

more cracks than a Swedish porno flick.

At first, "2012" is a fat greasy bag of popcorn that

you can't stop munching on. But after finishing

the first half of the bag, the thrill is gone.

Emmerich begins to run out of tricks within forty-five

minutes and starts repeating himself. We see John

Cusack's character outrun the latest crevice (again)

as he hops on another in a seemingly endless supply

of airplanes (again) made available to him to fly

above the destruction of a cratering planet. By

the fourth time an airplane barely outpaces an

erupting crevice, it becomes a bit of a bore.

Don't get me wrong, there is the occasional gap of around

twenty minutes between showing new cracks and fractures -- we'll

call that a "crack gap" -- but not many. Occasionally,

Emmerich will dutifully inject a bit of obligatory

"characterization." But then it's back to the cracks!

Even Michaelangelo's painting of the creation of man

on the Sistine ceiling is -- how convenient! -- fractured

neatly between god and man! I mean, what're the chances?

Then the movie gets sucked into an even more

derivative vortex. It suddenly threatens to turn

into "The Poseidon Adventure." And then it threatens

to turn into "Castaway." And then it threatens to

turn into "The Wizard of Oz," what with little Toto

barely escaping a crack. And then, inevitably,

it tries to turn into "Titanic."

It's a cinematic echo chamber. Or like a highlight reel

of clips from classic blockbusters. There are echoes

of "Cliffhanger"'s opener. Echoes of "Armageddon."

At the end, the film finally decides it wants to be

"Titanic," but then changes its mind and opts for

an upbeat "Apollo 13"-ish finale -- sort of an

underwater "Apollo 13" (and I, too, didn't

think that was possible!). The only element missing

from this second-hand stew is...a school of sharks.

(I'm sure that'll surface in the DVD's deleted scenes.)

Apparently, the way to create a hit film in 2009 is:

Let's combine blockbusters! Let's have a ship sink

at the end and have all the passengers ripped apart by

sharks! "Titanic" meets "Jaws"! Or let's have the

Eiffel tower toppled and add a "Slumdog"-ish

dance number as a coda! We'll call it "Armageddon

Millionaire"! "Apollo Titanic"! Or "The Wizard of the

Titanic"! Wowee! Film making is fun! Watching such

stuff -- not so much.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Because the photo of me at the top of

this website is (intentionally) blurred, a

couple people have been curious about what

I actually look like. Well, to anyone who

cares, here's a photo of me several weeks

ago, in October 2009.

* * * *

P.S. -- Suggestion to Time magazine: this year's Man of

the Year should be Sully, an unsullied model of

how to conduct your life and work with innovative thinking,

modesty, dignity and a social conscience. Plus, he saved

lots of lives, didn't he? In this era of partycrashers,

balloon boys, snoozing pilots, and reality stars grabbing

every spotlight in sight, Sully stands out as a genuine hero.



for November 27, 2009

Ambassador Salahi and his wife sure looked the part, didn't

they? His trophy wife was gorgeous enough to have

the "power to cloud men's minds," or at least the minds of

the Secret Service and of the top brass of the United

States government.

Perhaps we've found our secret weapon against

al Qaeda: a woman so attractive and persuasive that she

just might be capable of penetrating (among other things)

the inner sanctum of Osama bin Laden himself. Let's set her

loose in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with a

budget and see what she finds and what Taliban

parties she can crash!

Keep in mind that al Qaeda has surely heard about this

party crashing incident, too, and might realize that the

the secret to getting past security anywhere in the U.S. look like a supermodel.

But I digress. Paul