Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hotty Toddy

Hotty Toddy, Gosh Almighty
Who in the Hell are we?
Flim Flam, Bim Bam
Ole Miss, By Damn.

Just writing the words gives me a queasy feeling. They echo in my childhood memory from the many football games my father took me to between the Ole Miss Rebels and the Memphis State Tigers. We hated everything about them; how they came to town with their Confederate flags and pep band playing "Dixie" and took over the Peabody Hotel and turned it into a scene from the Old South with annual drunken arrogance. But we hated that damned southern aristocratic cheer most of all. Even before the Coliseum, back when the games were played in Crump Stadium, when the Ole Miss side started up the "Hotty Toddy" cheer, the stadium thundered with boos and the Memphis crowd shouted back, "Go to Hell Ole Miss, Go to Hell," which was considered somewhat scandalous for the time. Mississippi, and it's University, were the last bastions of white supremacy and the plantation mentality. I grew up hating Ole Miss.

In my sophomore year at Christian Brothers High School, I was sitting in a history class, staring out the window at South Parkway in awe as an endless convoy of military vehicles, heavy trucks and tanks, and Federal troops with U.S. Marshals caravaned South in front of the school on the avenue that became old Highway 51 into Mississippi. It was October of 1962, and the resistance of Gov. Ross Barnett to the integration of Ole Miss by James Meredith had touched off deadly riots on campus. President Kennedy had assembled a massive number of troops, which were passing before my eyes on the way to Oxford, when I felt a hard blow to my forehead. The Brother had hit me with a fast-thrown eraser and admonished me to pay attention to my history lesson.

That was an ugly time at Ole Miss. People died and numerous U.S. Marshals were injured by gunfire coming from the angry mob of segregationists. I had some knowledge of the state, travelling with my father on his sales trips when I was a child and performing throughout the Delta when I was a teenager. Although the high school kids seemed more interested in music, sports, and fashion than segregation, the older generation, and by only a few years, seemed to seethe with racial hatred and the potential for violence. At one Delta dance in 1965, a group of greasers at a diner yelled at us, "Where you Beatle boys from?" Thinking I could disarm anyone, I shouted cheerfully, "Memphis," to which the greasers responded, "Well, get your goddam asses back up there then," and we retreated in a hail of rocks and full cans of beer. They were just rednecks who wanted to fight. The same kind that nearly burned down Ole Miss in 1962.

I had no intention of playing at Ole Miss again until I met Holmes Pettey in 1972. Holmes was the scion of an old Mississippi plantation family and booked entertainment as a student at Ole Miss. He heard me play acoustic solo at the old Looking Glass in Overton Square and insisted that I play for his fraternity, SAE. I couldn't imagine that an Ole Miss fraternity, famous for their drunken Bacchanalias, could possibly want to hear me sing protest songs, but Holmes convinced me to come. I drove a VW Minivan full of hippies for moral support to Oxford and set up in the living room of the frat house.
Randy and friends at Ole Miss, 1972 (Melody above Randy holding beer mug w/ head back)
My friends and I could not have been treated better, and found a new generation of Mississippians who were eager to put Ole Miss' racial history behind them and join the rest of the nation in the Twentieth Century. I sang Dylan's "Oxford Town" in a frat house in Oxford, something I might have been beaten up for only a few years before. In short order, my friend Holmes had me opening for the Allman Brothers in the Oxford Coliseum, and pretty much fed me for a couple of years by continuing to book me throughout the state.

It's taken a long time for the stars and bars to disappear and the band to stop playing "Dixie" at athletic events, but under Chancellor Robert Khayat's leadership, even the die-hards came to realize that the Old South symbols were counter-productive for the University and needed to go. The success of that campaign was on full display as Ole Miss applied its finest spit and polish to the campus in preparation as host for the opening Presidential Debate. Just seeing the diversity of the student body that gathered in the Grove for spirited political rallies proves that the University has come a very long way. And it was not lost on some that the school that erupted in violence over the admission of a black student 46 years ago, would now host the first debate that included an African-American candidate for President of the United States.

Ole Miss may always be The Rebels, but the national attention focused on the campus last week was entirely positive. I realize that the significance of football is dwarfed by the pressing issues of our time, but for the unranked Rebels to travel to Gainesville the day after the debate and upset the Florida Gators by one point must have seemed like a sign from the Lord to Ole Miss fans. I will own up to rooting for the Rebels for the first time in my life, just because I know folks like Holmes Pettey and the other alumni, along with the students, faculty and debate organizers, will be walking on air all this week, if not all year. So, before we return our attention to the looming economic abyss, it's worth mentioning that during the vicious 60s, Ole Miss saw a bloody weekend that this nation will never forget. Now, 46 years later, Ole Miss had a weekend that school supporters, students, and officials, can always remember with deserved pride. I never thought I'd say it, but "Well done, Ole Miss." Now, if you could only change that goddamned cheer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Daydream Believer and a Homecoming Queen

John McClane(L)
John McCain(R)

I believe this election is still close because a great number of the voting populace have confused John McCain with John McClane, of the "Die Hard" movies. We certainly need a "Yippie Ki-Yay" kind of guy right about now, but I think Bruce Willis is in a House of Blues somewhere blowing harp. So we're left with surly tough-guy John McCain applying for the lead role in the next disaster classic, "Soft Money Dies Hard." He's going to "clean up Wall Street" and "reform the Old-Boy Network in Washington." He's going to "follow Bin Laden to the Gates of Hell," because, as McCain/McClane says, "I know how to win wars." Like that one against the villian who blew up an office building. Now that he's cast Sarah Palin as his wisecracking, gun toting, sidekick, we have either a blockbuster, or a sit-com waiting to happen.

There's nothing like a total economic collapse to re-focus the attention. As a lay observer of the Bush economy, I posted an article about this a year ago that I encourage you to revisit by clicking on the title of this piece. But that great ship, the no-holds-barred U.S.S. Free Market, has hit the iceberg and there aren't enough life rafts to go around. And then, the deregulating, anti-government greedheads who have placed us all in this rudderless boat, have the fucking gall to come before Congress and ask for $700 Billion dollars to pass out bail-buckets to Wall Street, but only if no questions are asked, and we must act immediately. Sec. Henry Paulson, the one doing the asking, is the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and has surrounded himself with GS execs to assist him in the current crisis, even while Goldman Sachs is one of the firms in danger of collapse. I don't see any brokers jumping off the ledges yet, so shouldn't we all just stop and take a deep breath?

I'm the first to admit I don't know Freddie Mac from Bernie Mac, except for they both recently died, so I appreciate John McCain's honesty in admitting that economic matters aren't his strong suit. But to suggest a "9/11 style commission" to study the problem when you've just been told the economy is teetering on the verge of the Great Depression Part II, is the equivalent of sitting in a classroom reading "My Pet Goat" when the country is under attack. Now, McCain is eviscerating the very culture he helped to create in his "Maverick" days as "The Great De-Regulator." Only Ronald Reagan patented that fake cowboy stuff 30 years ago, and what Bush the Elder once called "Voodoo Economics," has now come to its' full fruition. Things finally "trickled down" alright, all over me and you. But I don't want Dr. Phil Gramm, the architect of removing institutional regulation like stripping varnish, to be Secretary of the Treasury after the "Ownership Society" has just become the "Borrower Society."

The implosion of the McCain campaign is further evidenced by the Disneyesque, manufactured Sarah Palin bubble that is just about to burst. After being secluded like a college student cramming for finals and being tutored in politics by former Bush operatives, the Palin camp made a serious blunder in trying to manage the media on her meet-and-greet at the United Nations. Attempting to ban a pool reporter from the room while allowing photographers to capture the friendly smiles is an old Soviet-style propaganda stunt. Someone should remind the Governor that in the lower 48, we still maintain that quaint "Freedom of the Press" thing, and sooner, rather than later, she will have to subject herself to the same scrutiny every other candidate must face. In 1980, Geraldine Ferraro's glow fell victim to her husband's sleazy business associates. Should the "First Dude" receive a similar examination of his secessionist views since his wife wants to hold office in this country? Tomorrow, Sarah has a photo shoot with Bono, who's a pacifist, so I hope she washed the blood off of her hands after meeting with Henry Kissinger today.

How anyone could support a candidate who's entire political career has been a trajectory leading to the current crisis is beyond me. His answer to provocation is force; his answer to fiscal crisis is committee. I don't know about you, but I am not a Georgian today, and I will not send my stepson into another politician's misguided war. Our country is being drained, financially and militarily, by the expenses of occupying a sovereign nation and our collapsing financial institutions, but John McCain "can't wait to introduce Sarah Palin to Washington." It's too late for introductions, but I'd like to get in my request. I am an entertainer who serves a societal purpose, and I made some bad investments several years ago that have affected my ability to perform happily. I would like the government to bail me out and reimburse my losses, or I could be too stressed to sing at Woofstock, the music festival for pets, in Overton Park next Sunday afternoon. That would be a huge loss for canine morale, and payback is a dog. This might be a job for John McLane.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick On Your Collar

This signed photo has nothing to do with the current circus clown pie-fight over lipstick, pigs, mavericks, and pit bulls. I just wanted to show you how nice Connie Francis is. When I was a little kid, I got hold on one of my big sister's "Teen" Magazines, and found some publicists' addresses for the current stars and I chose to write my beloved Connie. Weeks later, when I had forgotten about it, I received this picture in the mail proving that Connie had not forgotten me. Since she sang "Lipstick on Your Collar," I figure she knows more about it than most and, in any case, I believe she is far more qualified to be Vice President than Sarah Palin. Concetta Franconero rose from her small town roots in Newark to make albums in over 13 languages, including Yiddish and Russian, and has travelled all over the world. She once appeared in Romania and did a concert in the native tongue. She's dealt with some of the toughest men of her generation; Dick Clark, Ed Sullivan, Don Kirschner, and Bobby Darin, who learned about her family's position on gun control the hard way when Connie's father brandished a shotgun and threatened Darin's life. That's more hard core than shooting wolves from a bi-plane with an AK-47.

The collar that bears the lipstick in this current nastiness sounds like it belongs to Karl Rove, who has admitted "assisting" the McCain team and would prefer the media indulge in another tabloid campaign than one of substance. So, first the Murdock machine jumps on the false outrage concerning Obama's "lipstick on a pig" remark about McCain's economic policies and then the rest of the media, being in the entertainment and ratings business, follows suit. It's too juicy a story not to say that Sen. Obama referred to Governor Palin as a "pig," and then let him deny it, without reporting the full context and the asininity of the assumption. They're fortunate the language of the Nashville songwriter was avoided. When we found ourselves trying to dress-up something that was fundamentally flawed, we called it "polishing a turd." This campaign trick equivalent of throwing sand in the referee's eyes only deprives people of a serious debate on the real issues.

The GOP seems so giddy over their V.P. nominee, they don't quite know how to behave. The last time I witnessed public hysteria like this build over a public figure in a period of ten days, it was called Beatlemania. Only it's the adults doing the screaming this time over their working class hero. But when they throw big Fred "Hoss" Thompson in front of the cameras to rage about "vicious" attacks on the Governor, and McCain insists she is owed an apology, it merely illustrates how they know nothing of feminism, and are even oblivious that their frantic leaps to "defend the little lady" are nothing but chauvinistic insults to women who actually think for themselves. Still, Obama was forced, first thing, to address the "Old White Men Gone Wild" videos, which the cable networks, in turn, spent the rest of the day gnawing on and the politics of Rove lived to fight another day.

This is why Obama made a mistake in waiting a month to reach out to the Clintons. Only today, will he be having lunch with the former president, while Hillary begins to campaign on his behalf. A valid point that Hillary made during her primary run was her experience in dealing with the Republican attack machine. During Bill's two Presidential campaigns, the "Rapid Response Team" was a hallmark of his organization, and an unsubstantiated claim rarely lasted a news cycle before being firmly addressed. Maybe Obama did not feel the urgency to mend fences, but on a day like yesterday, he badly needed Hillary Clinton on the stump to explain how the other party was exploiting their own nominee. Forcefully saying "Enough!" is not sufficient. It's time to release the hounds.

The saddest part of this is that it seems to work. These irrational GOP attacks become water cooler fodder and blend into the general hum of election discussion. The party apparatchiks, like Marsha Blackburn (a genuine Republican woman), go on talk shows with talking points, screaming "sexism" every time Governor Palin's qualifications are questioned, just like John McCain deflects criticism with his POW credentials. McCain promised a dignified campaign, but I suppose it's clear how this is going to go. The baffling giddiness over Sarah Palin will even out after she answers some tough questions about her vision for the country's direction and some explanations regarding her personal beliefs, but the sneering, self-righteous attacks from the GOP will not stop. Meanwhile, both Palin and McCain have repeated their St. Paul speeches for a week now. It's time to get some new shtick.

I have no doubt that the Governor will do well with reporters, having once been one of them, but I hope no one falls for this Sir Walter Raleigh defense that is now filling the airwaves. I'm sure Sarah is entirely capable of leaping over her own mud puddles, and it will be interesting to watch. Then, women offended by "lipstick" references will see that Palin stands pretty much in opposite of the causes for which others struggled so mightily for so long. At present, her party is trying to portray her as the heroine of another song about lipstick, Benny Spellman's New Orleans classic, "Lipstick Traces," where he says:
"Lipstick traces on a cigarette/every memory lingers with me yet/I've got it bad like I told you before/I'm so in love with you, don't leave me no more."
Sort of like Governor Palin, I disagree with most of what she says, I abhor everything she stands for, yet somehow, I can't quite seem to get her off my mind.
If the McCain/Palin campaign really believes that stunts like this are not going to backfire on them in this important election, I've got another Connie Francis hit for them to listen to. It's called, "Who's Sorry Now?"

Friday, September 05, 2008

Citizen mcKane

After all the speeches are over and the confetti has been dropped, this election comes down to who would you prefer to be your king, the Warrior or the Scholar? Certain times require each, so where is America facing now? The Warrior sees things strategically with the objective being the conquest and domination of his enemies. He closely examines the parts in furtherance of his mission and, when achieved, it is considered "victory." The Warrior sees cubes, while the Scholar sees circles. The Scholar can conceptualize an issue or policy in its totality. He sees the whole rather than the parts, and not just the acts, but their ramifications. The Scholar understands that, rather than confrontation with a belligerent government as a first resort, the power of diplomacy and the application of true American ideals in the world will win us allies and partners over the long run. In other words, "you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

The personal courage and conduct of John McCain while serving in the armed forces is unassailable. I had never heard him speak, before tonight, so personally about his experiences as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. I'd seen the clips and read the accounts, but nothing could have been as stirring as McCain's moving description of not only his suffering, but the bravery and honor he both witnessed and exemplified in that terrible place. For enduring that alone, McCain is a great man and a true American hero. But even while McCain was being tortured in Hanoi, a groundswell of social and political change was sweeping America, rejecting the militaristic mindset that fed 58,000 members of my generation into a mindless war machine that was of both parties making. When I reflect on my personal changes between the years 1967-1973, the Summer of Love to the summer of Watergate, I can't possibly conceive what it must have looked like to a man who missed it all; the growth of the anti-war movement and LBJ's abdication, the King and Kennedy assassinations, the Chicago Convention and Nixon's election, to Cambodia, Carpet Bombing, Kissinger and Kent State. None of these events informed John McCain's world view while imprisoned in Vietnam.

Like other military families, especially generational ones, McCain was infused with Naval Academy dedication to duty. By his own admission, he went into the war and came out of it with the same military bearing, and fought in the U.S. Senate against corruption and political financial abuse only after being implicated in the "Keating Five" Savings & Loan scandals of 1989, where he was cleared of wrongdoing but criticized by a Senate Ethics Committee for using "poor judgement." Now that he has made "judgement" a major issue in this election, there was a stark contrast between McCain's words, and the image of Governor Sarah Palin standing in front of the lights that spelled out the campaign's theme; "Country First." In this case, McCain did not put "Country First" by well considering his own mortality in placing a half-term governor and political unknown within one breath of becoming leader of the free world. He put "Election First" and made a "McGovern Picks Eagleton" decision.

The Governor made a great speech, electrified the base, and established herself as a new political star on the scene. She is, however, the anti-Hillary and though I'm sure Republicans love her, it's got to be love at first sight since no one outside of the 49th state knew her name before last week. Does it sound wise that the very first time the country lays eyes upon, or hears the voice of any aspiring politician, it's during that person's acceptance speech for the nation's second highest office? At least Dubya ran for, and won re-election to a second term as Texas Governor before Karl Rove set his eyes on the White House. Governor Palin is not yet into her second year. Even Dan Quayle spent a decade in the Senate before Poppy Bush picked him as, "My Favorite Blonde." Everyone held their breath for four years and prayed for Poppy's safety, lest the "potatoe" head assume power.

Senator McCain may have chosen an engrossing new personality, but he has grossly underestimated the intelligence of women with this calculated choice. In the last post I said that if McCain had a lick of sense, he would put a woman on the ticket, but I was thinking of Elizabeth Dole, Olympia Snowe, or even Susan Molinari. I didn't mean the first one passing by. But McCain caved to the Evangelical right and picked a hyper-Christian "hockey mom" who is to the womans' movement what Clarence Thomas is to modern jurisprudence. And I'm weary of hearing voters say, "We can identify with her because she's just like us." When I vote to elect either member of the Executive Branch, God help this country if he is just like me. I don't want some slacker like me as President, I want someone smarter than me and with more discipline and dedication than me. I want someone rooted in the present with an imaginative vision for the future, and I want someone who is for peace instead of more wars, and diplomacy rather than threats. And I want someone who finally knows how to use the damned internets.

That's why, although this was the most remarkable GOP Convention in memory, I've decided to vote for the smart guy this election. So, rather than compare the candidates' hobbies and hypothetical judgements, let's compare their SAT scores. I'm voting for the guy who came from nothing to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Columbia on scholarships and student loans, rather than the legacy admission who graduated near the bottom of his class at Annapolis. I am not afraid of the word "intellectual," and I want the once president of the Harvard Law Review who taught Constitutional law to be the Head of State this time, rather than someone who seems like a good guy or looks like he/she could kick ass. I want my president to be "elite." And despite the heroic record of John McCain while in captivity, I am tired of fighting the Vietnam War. McCain has contributed honorable service to this country and is 72 years old. By any measure, this will be a change election. I hope voters can summon the will to put one-issue, divisive politics behind and move into the new century with forward thinking, accompanied with a much needed dose of humility. We are presently engaged in a world war of new ideas, so who shall lead us; the Warrior or the Scholar?