Friday, September 30, 2016

Me, Donald Trump, and Miss USA

With his new Alicia Machado middle-of-the-night attacks, Donald Trump refuses to let his beauty pageant past go.  It's especially witless that he finds her posing for nude photos long ago as "disgusting"--when his own wife did the same.  This reminds me of my only brush with a beauty contest, before Trump took it on--back in 1974, when it was briefly based in my hometown of Niagara Falls, N.Y.   I covered the contest that year for my magazine, Crawdaddy, and wrote a much-too-long cover story, offending many in town with my pro-feminist slant.  I think the headline was something like, "Selling Boobs to the Rubes.'

What was cool that year was that in contrast to many recent winners, the reigning Miss USA (left) was a very un-glossy, intelligent, hip young woman, who was blessed (or blessed herself) with the name Amanda Jones--as in the Rolling Stones song "Miss Amanda Jones"--marched in peace rallies, was pro-choice, and spoken out about feminism (and against the contest itself) during her year on the job.  As she told Bob Barker on the night was crowned: "I'm not the [beauty pageant] type."  She even on occasion asked that she be referred to as "Ms. USA." Imagine that today.

When I interviewed her she was clearly ready to leave the post and promised a surprise for the night of the big telecast.  Sure enough, at the close of the ceremony, as she gave her "final walk" as queen, she looked straight into the camera (and, at that time, still a large TV audience) and gave the famous signal from the recent hit film, The Sting--indicating the whole beauty contest  thing was a sham, a "con."  Good times!  Studs Terkel later interviewed her for a book.  Her Wikipedia entry details it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cohen Returns

Title song from upcoming album by the poet of our generation Leonard Cohen, at age 82 and bedridden with bad back...

Trump Takes on Nixon and Kennedy

You had to be there.  But who's the tricky dick?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Parts Left Out of the Springsteen Memoir

Forty-four years ago this December I got a phone call at my office at the legendary Crawdaddy, where I served as #2 editor for nearly the entire 1970s, that would change my life, for several years, anyway.  It was from a fast-talking dude named Mike Appel, inviting me to catch his top (and only) act in a press event/concert upstate,  the following day, December 7, 1972,  in notorious...Sing Sing Prison.  The act was a total unknown whose debut album had not yet been released, by the name of Bruce Springsteen. 

With editor Peter Knobler,  I drove up to the prison with Bruce--we were the only two from the NYC press who bothered to show up.  Then after two weeks of hanging out with Bruce and the band, and attending half a dozen club gigs (as one of the very few audience members),  I helped create the very first magazine piece about Brucie--and 8,000 words, at that--written by Peter for Crawdaddy.  We even put his name on the cover.  Then, a year later,  I hailed his second album in a major review.  What was significant about all of this:  Most in the press were reacting to Bruce in a lukewarm (at best) fashion at that time and his record company was considering dropping him--until Crawdaddy doubled down, and then Jon Landau offered his crucial "I've seen the future of rock 'n roll" blurb.

Many other Crawdaddy pieces--and dozens of concert  dates--would follow and Bruce would become a friend for a number of years.  He even let me write a book at his house when he was away.  The self-described non-driver helped drive me to a gig in my hometown of Niagara Falls.  Before the fabled Time and Newsweek examples, Crawdaddy gave him his first magazine cover, again a profile written by Knobler.

For whatever reason, Bruce does not mention any of this in his new memoir.  (His only reference to Sing Sing is in a long list of odd places Appel had him play the following year.)   Still, a gold record for Born to Run hangs on my wall.  He did write the preface to my book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long, in 2007.   And just this past June, his management gave me four free tickets for his concert in Berlin. 

Bruce even figures in my new book on escape tunnels under the Berlin Wall, where he performed to his largest crowd ever a year before the Wall fell.  It's an amazing story in all regards.

Here's (below) a little video about the day I met Bruce in December 1972--in Sing Sing--which also includes excerpts from his very early live performances, including the acoustic  "Growin' Up".   Photo above from December 1972, days after the Sing Sing gig, with me across the table (photo by Ed Gallucci). 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Leonard Cohen: Still the Man, at 82

Leonard Cohen, my perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, turned 82 last week, and he has a new album coming out in a couple of weeks.   I had reported that here last month and even posted part of the title song.  I'd seen Leonard twice on his recent world tours, as recently as a couple of years ago, and he seem healthy and spry, even skipping on and off stage every night--he was doing shows of almost Springsteenian length--and joking (?) about taking up cigarettes again when he turned 80.  (My photo left from Radio City Music Hall.) He stopped touring a little after that but that's no red flag these days, especially given his age, and when I saw he had a new record in the pipeline I figured he was still feeling quite well.

Wrong.  This lengthy piece in McLean's from his native Canada finds him in pain from severe back problems and unidentified other issues--an "ailing old man"--talk of this being his last album, and other words of gloom.  It seems that he worked on the album for a year and had to give it up due to his health, but his son, Adam, found a chair he could sit in to record the vocals, which apparently turned out great.  There's so much more in the article I won't summarize here, just go read it, and it sounds like the new album might be great. 
 “There were only a few hours a day that we could work. I was dealing with an ailing old man, but an ailing old man who was showing paranormal levels of devotion and focus, and that rubbed off on everybody. The encounters were urgent and sweet and meaningful. It was as if we were riding some kind of mysterious wind.” When he asked his father how he was managing to deliver “the most compelling vocals he’d ever produced, the answer was his condition.” As Leonard sang through the pain, “his immobilized condition led to a giant decrease in distraction. Through monastic training, or something, he had the resources to deal with this acute physical discomfort.”

Sunday, September 25, 2016

When I Wrote a Book at Springsteen's House

There has been, and will be in the following week, a flood of new stories about Bruce Springsteen tied to the publication of his first memoir, not to mention reviews and Best Songs lists, so I might as well add another one of my own.  I've already posted a bit, even created a little video, about how I met him in Sing Sing Prison and then helped create the first magazine piece about him for Crawdaddy in late 1972 (before the first album).  More recently, I caught his concert in Berlin this past June, with tickets from management.  In between he wrote the preface for my 2008 book on the media and Iraq, So Wrong for So Long.  And more.  That's a photo of me (left)  backstage with Bruce, band mate David Sancious and Crawdaddy editor Peter Knobler in Central Park in, I think, 1974.  What?  I was the only one with longish hair? But here's-an episode I haven't written about before.

In the autumn of 1975, after his triumphant week at the Bottom Line in NYC, his first ever magazine cover (again Crawdaddy) and then the fabled dueling Time and Newsweek covers, Bruce got ready to leave for the UK and his first really big tour there.  I happened to be visiting him in Jersey just before that, at a time I was trying to write my first novel.  It occurred to me that maybe there was a match here:  I needed an isolated place to exit Crawdaddy for a couple of weeks and write a massive chunk of the book, and he might (especially with his new fame) appreciate someone housesitting for much of his time abroad.  So I asked, and he said sure.

He left for London; I got a ride to his first real house, on a hill in (I think) Atlantic Highlands, overlooking the water that separates that part of Jersey and New York.  Nice view.  It was a compact two-level house with a big deck and, best of all, a little cabin off in the woods, unheated, and with a desk and chair, where I could write (even though I could be just as isolated in the house) on my portable Olympic typewriter.  Max Weinburg had a girlfriend, Karen, living a few hundred feet away as the nearest neighbor, and  we hung out a couple of times.  Southside Johnny and then-wife Betty (aka "Mrs. Southside") came by two or three times and that was it for fun.  To keep up with the outside world, I could watch the news on Bruce's 10-inch TV which he kept next to his bed.  One of the assassination attempts on President Ford happened then--Sarah Jane Moore or Squeaky Fromme, I don't recall which.

What else do I recall?  Had to laugh at finding the only dishes or utensils in the house were one small bowl and one fork.  The only food, until I managed to get some more,  was a box of cereal and some milk.  I take it Bruce ate his cereal with a fork?  Also there was a rhyming dictionary on a table.  Bruce wasn't too proud to leave that out and probably was about to lay it aside for good.  Oh, there was a dart board in the little writer's shack which got a real work out in those two weeks.

When it was over, I had written a couple of hundred pages of the book.  I thought it was quite good.  It never found a publisher.  Bruce returned, wrote Darkness on the Edge of Town, moved to another house, and, well, you know the kid has done okay since.

Debate Preview

Of course, this will not be the usual nuts and bolts and scenarios but simply this, in response to so many raising fears about Trump "winning" due to media's "low expectations": 

I covered very closely for Editor & Publisher and The Nation (also for two books of the elections, see right bar of this blog) the debates of 2008 and 2012, including the veep ones.  In almost every case the instant analyst on-air pundits claimed or hinted at the conclusion that the Republican candidate "won" or "did surprisingly well" against a supposedly better-informed Dem. Even Sarah Palin was said to hold her own, and then Ryan, against Joe Biden.

Then, in the hour afterward: the very unscientific online popularity polls, and equally skewed focus groups, also generally showed GOP candidate won or did very well indeed. These would then be cited by many pundits and GOP as proof their candidate "won," and Trump is certain to do this in spaces.  All through this in the past I would be warning people online that this would NOT hold true when the scientific (real) polls were released in another hour or so, usually by CNN and CBS. 

And, guess what? I was correct every single time. Viewers, properly sampled, gave the Dem candidate the clear win, narrow or wide. So be ready for the same phenomenon this week. Trump will be judged to have "held his own" and "done well" and be "sure to gain" but when the dust settles he will have gained nothing, or lost, and instant pundits and hacks will have the usual mud on their face.

When FDR Shafted Socialist-Democrat Candidate Upton Sinclair

 The following happened 82 years ago,  just after  muckraking author "Uppie" Sinclair,  the former Socialist, swept the Democratic primary for governor of California leading one of great grassroots movements ever,  EPIC (End Poverty in California)--and seemed headed for victory in November.  His meeting with a very friendly FDR at Hyde Park seemed to clinch the deal.  They even chatted about Teddy Roosevelt's response to Upton's The Jungle 30 years back.  Then Roosevelt and his top aides screwed him, backing his right-wing dullard GOP opponent.

Eleanor backed Sinclair in epic race--but FDR instructed aides to tell her to remain silent, and she did.  Sinclair wrote her a key private letter after meeting with the president, but she was away when it arrived, and the aides opened it and informed the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, no less.

And the dirtiest, and one of the most influential, campaigns in USA history--it virtually created the modern campaign--emerged to defeat him.  Hollywood took its first all-out plunge into politics and the saintly Irving Thalberg created the very attack ads for the screen.  See a trailer below for my book on what led to all this:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bruce Hits 'Moron" Trump, Endorses Hillary

It's his birthday, and his new memoir is out any second, and now amid all the new attention, Bruce Springsteen (who some though might sit out this election) has instead slammed Trump and backed Hillary.   Rolling Stone released a teaser for its upcomig cover story, in which Bruce makes his "moron" comment and more.

“The republic is under siege by a moron,” Springsteen told Stone in its teaser published Friday. 

“The whole thing is tragic,” he said re: Trump’s campaign. “Without overstating it, it’s a tragedy for our democracy. When you start talking about elections being rigged, you’re pushing people beyond democratic governance. And it’s a very, very dangerous thing to do. Once you let those genies out of the bottle, they don’t go back in so easy, if they go back in at all.”

Springsteen  supports Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.  “I like Hillary,” he said. “I think she would be a very, very good president.”

My recent photo of Bruce in Berlin above. 

When Obama Won (Songify) Debate!

A golden oldie from 2012, here it is: