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Live at Tuft Theater Denver, 4/15/2016

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpCfVOkhI68

0:00 — Neat Freak
2:10 — Your Little Finger
4:54 — Life’s Too Long
8:33 — Rid Of Her
13:00 — The Extra Verse

The True Meaning of Beyoncé’s Lemonade

Beyonce single ladies Glastonbury

Even with my advanced age and near-total lack of exposure to pop music in the year of our Lord 2016 — a year in which my most recent live-music experience was with the world’s premier classic Van Halen tribute band — I couldn’t help being taken in by the exciting release of Beyoncé’s new album, Lemonade.

It was exciting because of how she did it: announcing a program called Lemonade with no other details on HBO two days before it aired, goosing people’s anticipation about what it might be. Most people correctly guessed that it was another previously unannounced album, like her last one, Beyoncé. Even more interesting, once people heard it, was the album’s content: an apparently extremely confessional (or very persuasively performed) musical psychodrama about a female protagonist — let’s just call her Schmeyoncé — working through her feelings about being cheated on by an unnamed hound dog — Schmay-Z, we’ll call him. It’s raw, it’s emotional, her voice is terrific, the production sounds great, it has already sold a trillion copies, and it’s dominated the pop-culture conversation for a week now.

Speculation is wild about who exactly Schmay-Z may have cheated with, and whether his marriage to Schmeyoncé is still operative, and above all WHO IS BECKY WITH THE GOOD HAIR? Other people speculated that it was all just a big marketing stunt. There was a lot to talk about in all this, and any way you looked at it, there was a lot to give Beyoncé credit for: for her emotional honesty in writing about such painful subject matter, for pushing the lyrical content of pop music into such bold new places, for her promotional savvy.

To clarify, I am no particular fan of Beyoncé, by which I mean I have not actively followed her career, never bought any of her music, don’t have her picture in my locker. I like her just fine, but I am aware of her strictly on a pop-culture level. Anytime I have happened to see her performing on television, I am invariably wowed by her. (Try singing and dancing in perfect sync with an army of backup dancers at the same time. Now try BELTING and dancing at the same time.) She obviously works hard, she is possessed of a phenomenal instrument, she looks amazing on stage — what’s not to like?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViwtNLUqkMY

But I have not seen anyone giving her any credit for something that to me is more significant than any of those other things: that Beyoncé is inventing a totally new kind of pop music.

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Don’t Go Kobe Good Riddance

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Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players ever and bar none the easiest to root against, played his final NBA game this week, a come-from-behind win over Memphis that served as an exciting end to a 20-year career distinguished by five NBA titles, an MVP award, 18 All-Star games, and a rape trial settled out of court. The 38-year-old star turned in a vintage performance emblematic of his career as a whole: he took 50 shots to score 60 points, cementing his lifelong reputation as a ball hog, shameless chucker and awful teammate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdGeXcJ-hfo

Admittedly, I am not a huge sports fan. I don’t really have favorite teams. I root for Drama. I root for whoever’s behind to hit a buzzerbeater to send it into overtime and force a seventh game. Since that kind of drama is not readily available in the regular season, no matter what sport you like, I don’t really watch much sports until the later rounds of the playoffs — but I pretty much always watch the later rounds of the playoffs.

But Kobe Bryant spent the majority of his career reaching the later rounds of the playoffs, so I have watched a lot of Kobe Bryant, and though he should obviously have retiredthis three seasons ago, after he had sustained his first Achilles injury — the kind no one comes back from — but before he signed a three-year extension with the Lakers for max salary, I will be genuinely sorry to see him go.

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Bernie and Hillary at Twenty Paces

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The race for the Democratic nomination for president is starting to get nasty, or what passes for nasty in the Democratic race: Hillary Clinton’s demurral when asked whether Bernie Sanders is qualified to be president was reported as her stating that he is not, and Sanders retorted that Clinton’s votes and past positions on the War in Iraq, gay civil rights, banking reform, and shoulder pads disqualified her from being president.

That’s not enough nasty to move the nasty needle among the Republican candidates, whose discourse has most recently centered on hand/lap size, direct insults, and open blackmail, but different strokes, I guess.

Clearly, neither Bernie nor Hillary ever expected the race to be this close; Hillary neglected to take Bernie seriously for far longer than she should have, and Bernie stuck to his promise not to attack Hillary Clinton personally even longer. But now Bernie’s on a roll: he’s won seven of the last eight states, and he’s within striking distance of Hillary on pledged delegates — the April 19 New York primary is suddenly hugely consequential, as it could not only close that pledged-delegate gap, but could conceivably swing some of Hillary’s superdelegates to him: winning Wyoming this weekend, as he’s expected to, and then New York would bring him to nine in a row, and would seriously undercut the superdelegate assumption that Hillary is the stronger candidate.

So the gloves are off, on both sides: Bernie’s banging the drum hard on Hillary’s big-money special-interest fundraising, and her support for the trade deals recently exposed as totally crooked in the Panama Papers leak, and Hillary is once again pointing to the only issue where she’s truly to the left of Bernie: guns.

In the same interview with the New York Daily News where Sanders’ vague answers about the specific tactics he’d use to pursue the policies at the center of his campaign, prompting the line of questioning that led to Clinton’s refusal to say whether he’s qualified to hold the office, Sanders was asked about a lawsuit brought by the parents of the Sandy Hook victims against the manufacturers of the weapons used in the massacre, and Sanders felt the manufacturers should not be held liable.

“That he would place gun manufacturers’ rights and immunity from liability against the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook is just unimaginable to me,” Clinton said on Morning Joe.

It’s quite a leap to call not prosecuting these gunmakers putting their rights “against the parents” — it makes no sense whatsoever, and it’s a huge, blatant pander to the gun control crowd. I’m part of the gun control crowd, to an extent, but the idea of holding Browning responsible for a murder-suicide makes as much sense as holding Chrysler responsible for a hit-and-run or Louisville Slugger responsible for what happened to Glenn (spoiler alert).

Because here’s the thing: Like it or not, guns are legal. It is legal to make them, it is legal to buy them, it is legal to own them. And as long as that’s true, making manufacturers liable would both misguided and ineffective in stopping gun violence. A gun manufacturer is a nice deep pocket to go after, but they’re not breaking any laws so there’s no kind of justice being served.

Rush Limbaugh and assholes like that like to go on and on about dumb liberal fixes to problems that sound nice and make people feel good but don’t actually make things any better, and this is one of the few examples they could point to where I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. If a person is killed by a gun I am all for the killer being held liable for all he’s worth, but the manufacturer is not the killer, the killer is the killer.

Holding a manufacturer liable wouldn’t just be misguided, it wouldn’t work. The pile of money these companies make selling weapons could be seen from space; a few lawsuits aren’t going to put them out of business. If anything they’re just going to try to sell more guns to make up the losses.

But liability could be a good tool to certainly not end, but somewhat curb gun violence, and Sandy Hook provides a good example of how it could have worked.

Opponents of gun control point out that background checks would not have prevented Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook killer, from getting his weapons, and they are correct about that. He didn’t pass a background check because he didn’t have to: his mother was a gun collector and had a whole bunch of them in her house, so when Adam decided it might be a good day to mow down a kindergarten class, he needed only to go into her guest room closet to arm himself to the teeth and do exactly that.

Sandy Hook is an extreme example, but there’s an alarmingly high rate of gun deaths that are the result of people keeping their weapons in insecure locations, like under the bed or the top shelf of the closet, where an intruder or a curious young child or a disturbed older one might find them. But let’s say it had been patiently explained to Mrs. Lanza when she purchased and registered her weapons that she would be held legally responsible and personally liable for any crime those weapons were used in, accidental or voluntary, with or without her knowledge, until or unless she legally transferred that registration to another person. Let’s say that her background check required her to prove that those guns would be kept in a safe place, and that everyone else in her household had also passed the background check. Maybe young Adam would have gotten a little extra attention during the mental health portion of his background check. Maybe Mrs. Lanza would have kept those guns in a safe, like the one my dad has, 6’x4’x4′, and that kindergarten class would have been above ground on Christmas.

It’s a lot of maybes, but any fairminded person would have to admit that this kind of approach would prevent at least a few murders committed with stolen weapons, a few accidental killings where toddlers pulled the trigger, and more than a few straw purchases.

This approach would obviously not end all gun violence. But that’s my biggest frustration with the no-reforms-ever crowd: unless something can be proven to be an airtight, foolproof silver bullet to solve the problem 100%, it’s dismissed as ineffective, which is a completely childish way to evaluate almost anything.

Almost as childish as prosecuting gun manufacturers.

AC/DC’s New Lead Singer

acdc-brian-johnson-guns-n-roses-axl-rose-1458815735-article-0

AC/DC lead screecher Brian Johnson has had a lot of bad news lately. First his doctors told him that the massive hearing loss he’d sustained over the course of his 35-year career emceeing a show that, in addition to a literal wall of Marshall stacks, included actual cannon fire at the end of every performance, was permanent and likely to get worse. They strongly recommended that he quit performing immediately, or risk losing what little hearing he has left.

AC/DC announced Johnson’s retirement soon after, promising to soldier on and honor their ten scheduled summer 2016 dates with a replacement singer to be named later.

And that was news to Johnson, who says that he told the band about the doctor’s advice, but also offered to do the last ten shows as a kind of farewell tour. The next day, all of Johnson’s tour belongings and other personal effects in the possession of the AC/DC organization were dropped off in his driveway, and he has not spoken to Angus Young or anyone else with the band since.

I can only speculate, but I assume that Brian Johnson can be dropped from AC/DC like an old piece of luggage because he is not an original member of the band; when he replaced far superior but deceased frontman Bon Scott in 1980, they must have put him on the payroll rather than cutting him in as a full voting partner in AC/DC Enterprises.

It’s a rotten thing to do to Johnson, but let’s be honest: the guy is not exactly easy on the ears. He never was, but he was better in the ‘80s. Now he’s just a screech with just the slightest hint of a key. His voice is not really a voice. Bon Scott’s voice was really his voice — it was weirdly high, but that’s what made it interesting. Brian Johnson’s voice is more of a trick, a way of leaning into your throat to screech an octave or two higher than your normal range, sort of like a falsetto on steroids. It’s an easy way to imitate a voice higher than your own — it was a great way to keep the band’s sound consistent, by staying right in Bon Scott’s range — but it’s hell on your throat and vocal cords. Do it for two hours on Friday night and you probably won’t be able to speak more than a croak on Saturday. Multiply that by 200 shows a year for 35 years and you’re left with the sound Johnson makes now, which is like the noise a giant ostrich would make if it was trapped under something heavy.

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Donald Trump and the N-Word

trump-graffiti

Donald Trump is an asshole. I think that’s clear enough to everyone by now. He’s a raging id monster made of narcissism, spite, and arrogance, held together with an orange angora and spray-tan spackle. The increasingly plausible idea that he might actually win the White House in November is unsettling and his presidency would, at best, be totally ineffectual (because he doesn’t actually know anything about how the government works) and at worst mire the United States in multiple unwinnable long-term military conflicts while bankrupting the Treasury with a combination of regressive Tax Cuts and impractical Mass Deportations.

Trump’s blustering, overweening personal style would almost certainly degrade the dignity of the presidency even further than Congress has worked to degrade it the last eight years. His tendency toward holding personal grudges and airing them in the press and on Twitter would alienate most any other world leader, and his single-minded, zero-sum obsession with “winning” — a very black-and-white concept in an increasingly gray world — and his apparent compulsion to answer any slight, no matter its source or relevance to the bigger picture, would make any kind of diplomacy nearly impossible. It’s hard to imagine how a Trump presidency would be anything but an across-the-board disaster (except for the media, which would regard it as four years of consecutive Christmases) and though every election of my lifetime has been touted as The Most Important In A Generation, there might actually be some truth to it this time.

But can we ease up on the Nazi talk?

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Angry Old Man for President

The primary elections are getting serious now, with Donald Trump on the verge of sewing things up on the Republican side (so maybe “serious” isn’t quite the right word) and Hillary Clinton beginning to open up a lead over her sole rival, Bernie Sanders.

As they have done for this whole primary season, pundits are once again writing Sanders off, believing Clinton’s margin to be too wide and Sanders’ self-described democratic socialist policies too far out for Americans to embrace. While both may indeed prove to be the case, the Editorial Board of this publication endorses Bernie Sanders for president of the United States.

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Trump/West 2016

trumpkanye

It’s becoming clear that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. Against all conventional wisdom, common sense, good breeding, and natural law, Trump has emerged unscathed from numerous supposed faux-pas, in which his plainly hateful comments would shake his 40-odd percent of right-leaning voters out of the foolish reverie that had them contemplating a reality TV star, known for his numerous petty grudges with other low-level celebrities, as worthy of possessing the nuclear codes.

But now Trump has won three of four primaries, and is leading significantly in all polls heading into Super Tuesday. It says a lot about the field of candidates the GOP put forward this season that we are now down to five and Donald Trump is, terrifyingly enough, the best of them.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 5.36.04 PM

“President Trump” is a chilling thing to imagine, but not as chilling as “President Cruz” or “President Rubio.” As I have written before, Cruz looks and sounds like a child molester — though I am in no way alleging that he actually is one — and appears to be to the right of Martin Sheen’s character in THE DEAD ZONE.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tj9M34DzAKo

Rubio’s whole case for being president, as I have also written before, is that unlike any of the other candidates, a woman might actually sleep with him if he were the last man on Earth. People didn’t want another Bush in the White House, but Rubio reminds me a lot more of W. than Jeb! did — he is blankly almost-handsome, he does okay with the right script, and a vote for him is a vote for all the old-GOP neocon advisors that will surround him out of nowhere the moment he takes office.

Given the alternatives, I have to say that, of the current Republican field, Trump would make the least awful president, and it’s clear that voters agree.

Trump could very well wrap up the nomination on Tuesday, and if he does speculation will begin to turn to who he will choose as his running mate.

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The 2016 Grammys: A National Disgrace

It was an appalling scene at the Grammy Awards Monday night, when multiplatinum singer/songwriter Lady Gaga desecrated the sacred memory of David Bowie by dressing up like him and performing a medley of his best known songs.

The performance was a disgrace, an insult to the legacy of one of the most prolific and eclectic musicians of the last several generations, and may actually have caused several cases of hysterical deafness, according to the tweets I saw about it later that night.

I’m outraged that someone as talentless as Lady Gaga (from what I’ve heard — I’m not very familiar with her myself, though that “Poker Face” is awfully catchy) would dare to compare herself to an artist of Bowie’s stature. I’m not sure which songs she decided to butcher, I haven’t watched the Grammys since around 1985 — but I won’t be able to listen to them again without wincing at the memory of how bad everyone said this performance was for at least a couple of days.

gaga-bowie

And her costumes! Though what I saw from the few 2-second .gifs that came through my Twitter feed didn’t look so bad at first glance, all of Twitter assures me that her clothes were hideous, her makeup an embarrassment, and her bright red wig a direct assault on good taste.

Even Bowie’s son, the Artist Formerly Known as Zowie Bowie, hated the performance:

You kind of have to read between the lines to interpret the dictionary definition of “gaga” as an attack, and ignore the possibility that it was acknowledgement of the tribute or even praise, but if everyone says this tweet means he hated it, he hated it, and I will hate it too — if I ever get around to watching it, which seems very unlikely.

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Steven Adler is Dead

1401x788-GettyImages-86138225You may have heard that Guns N’ Roses is reuniting. Axl Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan are all on record promising to play a handful of shows, starting on my birthday in Las Vegas, then headlining Coachella, then Mexico City, ramping up to a 46-month tour of South America and points beyond.

Anyone who knows enough about Guns N’ Roses to care about this news also knows that there are a couple of names missing from the reunion call sheet: Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler.

Izzy is easy to explain but hard to understand. If Slash’s and Duff’s autobiographies are to be believed, Izzy left the band voluntarily because a) he had turned into a junkie and wanted to clean up and b) he was sick of Axl’s bullshit. Everybody knows Axl developed a punctuality problem as the band got bigger, but he also started spending money — the band’s money — like the worst kind of star-tripping asshole: huge opulent themed backstage parties that he didn’t even attend, private jets, adding horn players and backup singers and a fucking white grand piano to the live show, and worst of all incurring countless curfew fines because a show that starts two hours late ends two hours late.

Or as Izzy put it shortly after he bailed: “I had a bus, and they had a plane, and I beat them to the gigs.

Between that basic personality conflict with the giant machine that GNR became and will certainly be again, it’s understandable that Izzy wants to keep his distance. Rumor has it that he will appear on a few of the shows, or a few of the songs at every show, or a few of the songs at a few of the shows. He has supposedly written new material with them, and the played with Axl Rose Presents Axl Rose’s Guns N’ Roses Featuring Axl Rose for a few shows in 2014. He does not appear to have any hard feelings, he just doesn’t like all the to-do, and you have to kind of respect him for that. It will be a bummer if Izzy is not a part of the reunion, but if he isn’t it’s because he doesn’t want to be, not because they’re shutting him out.

Steven Adler is another story.

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