Sunday, May 27, 2007

Alexander Cockburn & music

I'm working on the "And the war drags on" entry and going through the e-mails (public account and private accounts). I thought I could address something within that entry but it's not working out and I've now been attempting to do so for over an hour.

So we're doing it as its own entry. There are forty-one e-mails to the public account (all from visitors) about Alexander Cockburn and chiefly about "The Greenhousers Strike Back and Out."
They're pretty rude e-mails.

So to clear it up so they can stop e-mailing and stop boring me and wasting everyone's time . . .

Cockburn's on the third column if I read "The Greenhousers Strike Back and Out." I've only seen the first one (from the print edition of The Nation). There's apparently going to be at least a fourth one. I'm sure there will be others as well so to clarify for visitors (whose future e-mails on this topic will go straight into the trash folder), you get this entry.

Alexander Cockburn questions current theories regarding global warming. I hope I have that right (I'm not trying to distort him). Apparently, for doing so he is a host of terms and a source of mockery. That may be true outside the community, it's not true within the community.

At one point, when Ava and I first started doing the TV commentaries by ourselves (at The Third Estate Sunday Review) there would be e-mails coming in about how mean we were to Patti Heaton and the bad show she hailed from. Somewhere (I'm not hunting it down), we did a feature where we just responded to e-mails and replied to one man who had written that everyone except us loved that sitcom that if everyone did we're not grasping why our two voices questioning and dissenting are such a problem?

So, point, myself, I never have a problem with someone stepping away from established dogma or accepted wisdom to offer another take that they obviously firmly believe in.

Somewhere at Elaine's site (Elaine is a huge fan of Cockburn's writing), she addresses the first column by excerpting it and noting that she has no problem with Cockburn sharing and, though she disagrees, she's got no reason to bash him. She alludes to another situation.

I'll note it outright. Cockburn tore into people who question the official 9-11 story.

I think that was a mistake. I do not think it was as big a mistake as others taking part at that time. (I've noted the problems with others partaking at The Third Estate Sunday Review, look it up if you're interested. It's addressed in a roundtable.) But Cockburn at his finest is a passionate writer. (I do not mean "emotional" -- I mean "passionate.") So he needs his targets and I felt he choose poorly. With regards to others, I'll note that one needs to lose the fake voice and probably shouldn't do a breathy whisper about an article she didn't write claiming it's the end of story when in fact she killed a story that should have run in that issue (one that CounterPunch did run) that actually leads to questions and not "end of story."

My stated position on 9-11 is "I don't know, I wasn't there." I have friends who were. I have friends who believe the official version with modifications and friends who think it is a flat out lie. I'm not a scientist and I have no training to speak of in the hard sciences (other than the required hard science classes, I avoided the subject in college). I appreciate the work that Bonnie Faulkner (Guns and Butter) does and I would never insult her or demean what she does. If I'm lucky enough to be able to listen to her (Wednesdays on KPFA at one p.m.), I always find myself challenged. I am very aware that despite the popularity of her show, there are those who wish she would just disappear. (I'm speaking of vanish from the airwaves, not of people who wish she would die.) I'm sure she's very aware of that and grasps that, for instance, when she does a non 9-11 show, she can get mentioned at the website as part of "Today's highlights" and when she does a 9-11 show, she can forget about that. She can also forget about getting mentioned on air by other programs and I find it hard to believe she's not aware of that.
For instance, The Morning Show, which I listen to and enjoy, is happy to note what will on Living Room or Against the Grain or any other afternoon program but Bonnie Faulkner's treated as if she doesn't even exist and doesn't have a program that airs on KPFA.

I don't question Bonnie Faulkner's committment or her journalism. When I hear the broadside attacks, I always think of her first because I'm fully aware of the fact that she does a highly popular program (and does so very professionally and with much higher journalists standards than some programmers) and yet her show is treated as if it doesn't even exist.

She's a professional journalist who knows the easiest thing in the world for her career would be to drop the topic and explore other things (and the program does explore other topics as well, FYI). I don't question her committment.

I do question the two of the broadsides that appeared. One was written by the King of Errors who requires a note of correction everytime he writes though the magazine usually looks the other way unless someone 'powerful' hollers. That's how he can create John Kerry stating at something at the 2004 DNC convention that never happened and, yes, the magazine is aware of that, and yes, they have refused to do a correction. With the other one, I was just schocked because it was so out of character for the writer -- it wasn't his style (ridicule), it wasn't based on reality (he was reviewing books but seemed to take a huge leaps from what was said) and it really seemed attention seeking behavior from someone who is not, by nature, an attention seeker. Then there was Alexander Cockburn's piece. He was doing his usual passionate writing and I took it less seriously than the other three but did think, "This is going to come back to bite him in the ass."

So now some e-mails (all from visitors) suggest he's on the payroll of Big Oil. He's not. If he was on the payroll of Big Oil, CounterPunch would be the leading publication and known via means other than word of mouth. Some e-mails refer to him as a "conspiracy theorist" (and worse, but I'm not quoting those terms). He's not a conspiracy theorist. In fact, he runs from that label. (So much so that I think he's missed some valid points in the past, specifically the early 90s.) Most of all, he is not a "liar" -- as some e-mails insist.

He's speaking what he believes. He's not faking it.

Seventeen e-mails demand that CounterPunch be delinked for his thoughts on the topic of global warming. Which is rather amazing because I had no idea this community answered to visitors. I had no idea that we did what visitors demanded. Maybe the visitors could also write "And the war drags on" and tomorrow morning's entry so I could have a break. I wasn't aware we took orders or directions.

And that's because we don't. CounterPunch is an incredible site and anyone who's not visiting it (who has the time -- I need to add that because I don't have the time to visit websites on most days) is really cheating themselves.

More importantly, Cockburn's commentary didn't bother me. He's obviously writing sincerly and this isn't a pose or because someone's lining his pocket.

Is he right? I couldn't answer that. I don't have a scientific background. Does my gut tell me he's right? No. But that doesn't bother me.

His sincere opinion is his and he's sharing it. I had no problem reading it. I had no problems after I read it. (No "readers' remorse.")

To be frank, I'm much more bothered by some of the 'activists' on global warming. I don't mean the ones who have been on this subject from the beginning. I don't mean the ones who dedicate their lives to it. I do mean a woman who needed a make work project. I do mean, for instance, Sheryl Crow.

I think it's rather disgusting that Sheryl Crow expects applause for challenging Karl Rove on global warming when she's been more than happy to shut her mouth on an illegal war she knows is illegal and one that she knows is wrong. I think that's cowardly and I think of a lot of the people (many of whom I know -- including Crow) have sat on their asses out of fear for the last few years and now want to take part in a concert or a photo op for the environment because it's easier to speak out about the environment. It's sunny and it's light and a big toothy smile photo op.

What Cockburn's written is brave. I can disagree with it and see it as brave.

Those who've been silent about the illegal war but now want to be 'activists' and do a concert with Al Gore? They're cowards. (And they're worse than but we have a policy here about keeping it "work safe.") Crow's not the only one.

But there are a whole host of musicians who spent forever in the 80s and 90s talking the talk, talking about how great the 'sixties' were and how they wish people were as involved now as they were then. And of course, in song and private statements, they were always there to celebrate the speaking out from that past era.

Sheryl Crow' "Mississippi" is a great song. It's one of my personal favorites of everything she's ever written. She gets a bad rep for her talents from some, but she truly is talented. That song was in 1999. It appeared on The Globe Sessions which also features a very political bonus, hidden track. I don't begrude "Soak Up the Sun" which was a fine radio hit. But the last album, the first album she's recorded since the illegal war began, the one she was all brave talk early on about how she was going to make a statement, you can toss that ___ in the trash can.

What a coward. And most offensive, what a coward on an artistic level. She knows the war is wrong. Most people are fully aware she's against the war (due to the guitar strap which apparently is the sole statement she appears willing to publicly make having run scared from the criticism) but the woman who bored so many of us with her talk of Dylan and others and how she admired that kind of speaking out -- all talk before the illegal war broke out, for years and years -- can't do a damn thing about the war. Won't speak out about it publicly, won't write a song speaking out. Won't do one damn thing.

And she got criticized for it. I noted it here years ago. So now she thinks an easy issue like global warming is proving she's 'concerned'? No. It only demonstrates that she decided others had cornered the market on starving children so it was onto the next item on the easy cause list.
She got yelled out by Karl Rove (after touching his arm) and questioned him about what the administration was going to do about global warming! Wow. Color me unimpressed. The administration's not going to do a damn thing about it and global warming is a safe topic.

Guts and courage would have been asking about the illegal war.

She won't do that. She wants to play it safe. That's all the embarrassing last album was. And the talk of moving to country (which wouldn't have her). While Bruce Springsteen could issue a statement -- at the height of the bashing -- defending the Dixie Chicks, Crow stayed publicly silent. She's conducted herself like a coward and now, realizing how disgusted so many of us are with her, she's trying to grab an easy issue to prove she 'cares, man, really cares.' No one's buying it and she can forget the career because it's over.

She blinked. That killed her with her peers. She got scared and tossed out a piece of crap CD that would be embarrassing from an American Idol winner. A grown woman, a politically aware woman, at the height of an illegal war, a woman who acted -- in simpler times -- as if Dylan was God and couldn't shut up about how she would have been out front too back then, found herself 'back then' in that the country was in illegal war that she was against and she elected to blink. She chose to play it safe. She chose to issue a set of embarrassing songs -- embarrassing for any grown adult -- about a 'relationship' that everyone knew was over. (And I noted that here a few days before that piece of crap album came out.) Upon release, the relationship, like the CD, crashed and burned. That's called 'justice.' And she can give it up now because her attempts at a sunny makeover aren't going to help her. No one needs puff from an over-forty woman. The 'kids' don't want it (she's too old for them) and most adults (rightly) see her as a joke. (Not helped by the laughable commercial which -- for the record -- to sell its product had to use a song and knew damn well they couldn't use anything from that last CD so they dropped back to her last hit -- from 2002! From five years ago. You think Madonna would put up with that? Hell no. Madonna would demand they promote her most recent project.

Crow's not the only one who's destroyed herself in the industry. Bono's trashed himself as well. His announcement where he tried to hint that if he was free to speak he might (MIGHT) speak out against the illegal war but he's not free to speak (because his pet project might not get the funding -- which it never really got to begin with and which also derailed any real hope of change at the G8) made him the biggest joke. But Bono's a man and men get second chances. Crow is a woman and she's over forty. Her career's pretty much over short of her ceasing her ladies-who-lunch behavior, getting into the studio, recording some realistic music and releasing it. That would need to happen in the next few months. That might save her. Waiting any longer won't.

She thought (and she did get attacked, not like the Dixie Chicks, but it should be noted she get some nasty press) that she should could sit the illegal war out. She's not the only one -- nor is it just her and Bono. She can't. She's lost a lot of her base and to listeners who've come up she's a nobody or the woman who needed to cut her hair, act her age and stop singing dopey love songs. That's not forgotten, not today and not when the war ends. During Vietnam, there were those who sat it out. They thought that was a 'career builder.' What they quickly learned was that after the US was out of Vietnam, the new listeners were even more hostile to them than the ones listening while they sat it out. That's because people paid for standing up. Too many to list, but they paid. And just as then, we'll see the same thing when this illegal war is over.

Say US troops leave in 2010. In 2011, Crow will find that the Dixie Chicks are legendary with a segment of younger listeners for speaking out. You're going to be dealing with (as happened before) a period when the consensus will be that the illegal war was wrong. Revision may come in later (too late for Crow) but the young people, the bulk of the music buyers, will have a very sour opinion of Crow. They will know the story of the Dixie Chicks. They will know some spoke out and they'll know that some were silent. Those who sat out in the 'sixties' saw their harshest public reaction not duing the 'sixties' but in the mid-to-late 70s. That won't make sense for some who didn't live through it, but that's reality. The young buy music in larger numbers, the young get the word out and put the word out. There will be no nostalgia for Crow, no warm feelings. There will only be those who didn't know of her and those who get the word out on her. Those who get the word out on her will ensure that she is not consider 'cool,' 'hot' or whatever the venacular is as that time.

That's how it works. It's why Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and many others can tour and continue to find their audiences growing even though they don't have a 'hit.' Word of mouth gives them careers, long careers. Those who choose to sit it out, even if they had a few hits at one point, find no one cares. Maybe a 'hot' artist will start a brief 'revival' for them if they're lucky but that doesn't usually play out too well for women. (I'm biting my tongue on the perfect example of a woman who sat Vietnam out and saw her career go in the toilet. The 'revival' really didn't take and it never does. She's dead now but there are many other women who've found the same thing.) A shallow man can be brought back, revived, in shallow times, but a woman? Neither male nor female looks as they did 'in the day' but women are judged more harshly. (And if you do look as good, you're smeared for that.) The woman (in the parenthesis) who is now dead once spoke of how she could still have a career (she couldn't and didn't) but Joan Baez was stuck with her level of fame. The woman thought she had a huge comeback just around the corner (kind of like the Bully Boy). She didn't. She never had it. She ended up with one hit (finally) but she never had her comeback.

And she never had a career. A career is peaks and valleys. Joan Baez is at a base line (a rising one) and it is such that it allows for a career. It's not as flashy as it was in the '60s' and there's probably no Time cover in the near future. But that's reality for every woman. The woman playing it safe during Vietnam (as Crow does today) thought a career was huge hits and that she'd wait a bit and then it would all come back to her. That doesn't happen. That's not reality.
Joan Baez or Joni Mitchell (and others) have a career, they are never 'has beens' because they never sat it out. Top forty queens who think they can sit it out and 'comeback' rarely face reality but it's that there's no comeback. There's no comeback and there's no career. They played shallow, laid down no roots, and they're forgotten.

So in terms of who would be delinked, if we linked to Crow, we never have, she would be delinked. So would Bono. They and many others are embarrassing. And though men get more breaks than women, I think Bono may have a hard time when the illegal war is over filling venues in the US. When there's a final count on the number of Americans who died in Iraq, I think he's going to find it very hard to play political rock god, socially responsible activist in this country. I think the death toll will follow him and the band around as they attempt to tour America. I think the attitude of young America then will be, when he tries to speak out on a cause, akin to Noel Gallagher's much quoted comment on Bono because they're going to be enraged that Mister Political said nothing while thousands of Americans died (and millions of Iraqis but he's asking young America to shell out money for tickets). I think he'll be the joke that the Fly almost made him and I honestly hope there will be no lasting comeback. (As a man, he will get shots at some form of comebacks.)

Alexander Cockburn writing about what he believes re: global warming doesn't offend me. Those jumping on the cause (a worthy cause) to rehabilitate their own images do.

The e-mail address for this site is And all other e-mails on this topic will be trashed.