No Justice, No Peace   1 comment

February 1, 2020

   I’m fascinated by the amount of hurt that is directed at the wealthy. In many cases it’s not their fault they’re wealthy. Consider, their wealthy parents were born before them and, in a form of financial gravity, shit (and money) rolls downhill. After the estate is settled, voila, the children are now officially wealthy. But wealth does not mean you live without pain.    

Take the woman from New Jersey, as reported in the Washington Post. She and her husband, reportedly, belong to an exclusive country club. How do we know it’s exclusive? When I’m told that the initiation fee is $65,000 to join and the annual dues are $19,000, I pretty much conclude that it’s exclusive. At the very least I know it excludes me. I’m reminded of Groucho Marx who exclaimed “I won’t belong to any organization that would have me as a member”. So there. Anyway, this apparently wealthy couple went to dinner at “the club”. Mrs. wealthy person carried a $30,000 Hermès Kelly clutch which she received as a gift from her husband on her 30th birthday. (My wife’s birthday is coming up in May. I hadn’t considered a $30,000 purse.)  So after a waiter at the posh New Jersey country club spilled some red wine on the luxury handbag, the Wealth family “sued for negligence, demanding that the Alpine Country Club pay her the eye-popping price of her spoiled handbag.” I would recommend she take a different route: Auction or sell the handbag to someone who likes red wine and can afford an Hermès Kelly clutch. Of course it won’t command $30,000 but, hey, take what you can get, donate the cash to charity and write off the difference as a loss on your taxes. Oh, wait. You can’t do that anymore. The 2017 “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” suspended the itemized deduction for personal casualties and theft losses. Bottom line? If you can afford to spend $30,000 on an Hermès Kelly clutch, don’t. Or at least don’t whine.    

Then there’s poor Betsy DeVos. If the name rings a bell but you can’t quite place it, she’s the current Secretary of Education. And she, too, suffers like many of us. Police in Huron, Ohio, reported that “someone untied a yacht owned by the [DeVos] family, causing the vessel to drift into a dock and incur up to $10,000 in damages.” Maybe this has happened to you. Silly me. DeVos’ yacht is really a YACHT. It’s 163 feet long and its estimated value is $40 million. I can only assume Betsy will sue to recover the $10,000. With any luck that will assuage her grief. Or she can simply dispense with the ‘damaged goods’ and use one of the other 9 yachts her family owns.    

We all want the best for our children and I’m no exception. I went to parochial grade school in the 1950s and early ‘60s, and then public high school. When it came to our daughter, we looked at all of the school options in the ‘90s and early-oughts in Connecticut. We ended up considering a Catholic elementary school and a non-denominational private high school. Public elementary and high schools would have been cheaper but a “school as community” was important to us. We applied, were interviewed, and accepted.    

George Packer wrote in the Atlantic about his own experience with today’s education reality. “Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle. Rather coolly, the admissions officer asked him what it was. “The moon,” he said. He had picked this moment to render his very first representational drawing, and our hopes rose. But her jaw was locked in an icy and inscrutable smile.  . . .   When the rejection letter arrived, I took it hard as a comment on our son, until my wife informed me that the woman with the frozen smile had actually been interviewing us. We were the ones who’d been rejected. We consoled ourselves that the school wasn’t right for our family, or we for it. It was a school for amoral finance people.”    

I hadn’t thought about our ’90s ‘process’ since, that is until last year’s college entrance cheating scandal with celebrity kids getting into USC (and other elite schools) based on the tens of thousands of dollars—and in some cases hundreds of thousands—spent on “gaming the system.” The uber-wealthy are now hiring people to game the system for them. Pity them, it’s not tax-deductible. And, it turns out, it’s illegal. Who knew?    

More than thirty years ago we spent three weeks in China. When we arrived in Guangzhou (aka Canton) in 1985, Mao Tse-Tung had been dead for almost a decade. We could actually evaluate his condition for ourselves a couple of weeks later when we spent time in Beijing. Mao was still dead but as we walked through the mausoleum we agreed he looked great. Really. We marched along (with hundreds of very reverent Chinese), viewing his preserved and protected body in its glass case. We toured Tiananmen Square (a few years before the massacre), walked through the Forbidden City, did a little shopping and more.  There was a clear and accepted or directed respect for the grounds we walked in Beijing.    

The Forbidden City is a palace complex, and it is not forbidden to tourists. It includes the former Chinese imperial palace, serving as the home of emperors and their households for almost 500 years. Foot-traffic is welcomed, reverence is expected—it certainly was in the 1980s—but change is inevitable. According to the New York Times, two women drove their glistening Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle onto the grounds of the Forbidden City and one of the women added insult to injury by bragging about “getting exclusive access to the palace, a notoriously congested tourist site, saying she had gone there to ‘run wild’.” And of course she posted her pictures on social media. But in reality isn’t that exactly what the wealthy are supposed to do? Be obnoxious, flaunt conspicuous wealth, take selfies and boast on Instagram?    

The Hermès clutch bags, $40 million yachts, bribes for education and Mercedes SUVs in the Forbidden City are symbols. Not of just obnoxious people and obscene wealth but of a world where Greta Thunberg is attacked by an American president, too many people are homeless, many more are stateless, we ignore climate change, and thousands of children are still in cages along the border. We should try and do more to change what we can. In “Mirror, Mirror”, a 1967 episode of the original Star Trek television series, Captain James T. Kirk reminds First Officer Spock that change is possible: Kirk tells Spock that “In every revolution there’s one man with a vision”, to which Spock replies, “Captain Kirk, I shall consider it.” Perhaps we can do more than consider it. Let’s each, in our own way, find one more ounce (or more) of energy to defend Greta, help the homeless, give thought to the stateless, tackle climate change and get children out of cages.

David Steffen

(c) 2020 David Steffen

Looking Back on 2019   Leave a comment

January 1, 2020

The beauty, for me, of being the editor of the Lighthouse Peddler is that each month I’m allowed to blather on about something. A few years ago I decided to start chronicling the passing of some great people, with a full understanding that greatness, like many things, is highly subjective. And be forewarned. There’s a lot about music in this year’s column. Here is my list of those we lost in 2019.

Art Neville died in July. I met the Neville Brothers in the 1980s when A&M released the “Yellow Moon” album. The legendary band were a joy to work with. Some 30 years ago I had the honor of getting on stage at Tipitina’s in New Orleans and introduce them to an audience of music fans. I’m happy our paths crossed but I must admit, with Art’s passing there’s a little less ‘Fiyo on the Bayou.’

João Gilberto died in July. One of the driving forces behind the creation of Bossa Nova, he helped change the rhythm of the world. And in 1964 his then wife, Astrud Gilberto became an icon with her recording of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema”. You can almost feel the sand at Copacabana.

Driving a rental car in San Francisco was always fun. Really. One afternoon in the late 1970s I heard a record come on the radio and thought to myself, this is a near-perfect single. That was the moment I first heard “Two Tickets To Paradise” by Eddie Money. Since that day, whenever that song comes on the radio I’m always ready to, crank up the volume and sing along. Eddie died in September. Hopefully he made it.

A radio legend died in December. “Grizzled, irascible, foulmouthed, an outrageous, confrontational growler with a buckram face, a battered cowboy hat and a gun on his hip, he spent decades on the air doing pranks and parodies that were often brutish, tasteless or obscene and sometimes surviving alcoholism, cocaine addiction, repeated firings and a nearly fatal fall from a horse.” That’s the New York Times take on the life of Don Imus. They’re right. And I admit it. I listened to him for years when I worked in New York.

The Monkees. Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones, and Mickey Dolenz were a pure Hollywood TV creation. Surrounded by great songwriters and a group of legendary musicians the Monkees became overnight teenage idols in the mid-1960s. Founding member of the band Peter Tork died this year. He was 77.

I first heard “Scatterlings” on the radio while driving in Los Angeles. An amazing song, and an amazing recording was the creation of Johnny Clegg (left). Beyond his musical talents he was a British-born singer, songwriter and guitarist who managed to fuse together Western and Af- rican influences, and found an international audience. He stood as an emblem of resistance to the apartheid authorities in his ad- opted land, South Africa where he was sometimes referred to as “the white Zulu”.

A few months ago I wrote of the death of Dick Dale, the King of the Surf Guitar. Listen to “Miserlou”. It was as if he decided in 1963 to rethink what the electric guitar should sound like. Likewise I remembered Dr. John, The Night Tripper. He died in September.

If you listened (or purchased) records by The Captain and Tennille, you may have heard that Daryl Dragon died in January. The son of composer and conductor Carmen Dragon, Daryl was a songwriter, a keyboardist with the Beach Boys, and a bona fide success with partner (and ex-wife) Toni Tennille. For five years in the late 1970s I had the pleasure of working with them. Their music wasn’t for everyone, but they sure knew how to make hit records.

The death of Scott Engel may not turn heads everywhere, but those in the music world knew him as Scott Walker. Along with John Maus and Gary Leeds, these three American-born musicians changed their professional surnames to Walker and found success performing brilliant arrange- ments of songs like “Make It Easy on Yourself,” “Love Her,” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”. Their hits were their own version of blue-eyed soul with arrange- ments that echoed those of the Righteous Brothers. Scott Walker was always a bigger star in Britain than in the States, and lived there until his death this year.

In 1969 we were fortunate to meet three actors, free spirits all. The film “Easy Rider” brought Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson into our lives. Fonda, who died in August, managed to escape the shadow of his famous father. Peter Fonda on a motorcycle is an image for which he’ll always be remembered.

2019 was a tough year for long-time Green Bay Packer fans. Forrest Gregg died in April. Jim Taylor died in October. Zeke Bratkowski, a talented but perennial backup QB died in November. But with a slight to no one, the biggest loss this year was Bart Starr. One of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history died in May. He was a dominating force in the 1960s. He and the Pack won three N.F.L. Championships (1961, ’62 and ’65) in the pre-Super Bowl era, and then the first two Super Bowls, in January of 1967 and ’68. The 1960s was the decade where Green Bay earned the nickname Ti- tle Town.

Rutger Hauer died in July. The Dutch- born actor turned in many fine performances but his greatest may have been as the humanoid/replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner. One of my all time favorite films, Hauer was both scary and sympathetic. As the replicant Blatty neared the end of his ‘life’ he reflected on his imminent “death”. With rain pouring down, Blatty tells us that whatever he was, whatever he did, “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

In 2003 Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson became an unlikely hero. He challenged the Bush/Cheney narrative about Saddam Hussein making nuclear weapons, which was the foundation of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. It was a lie, but the truth didn’t matter. We went to war and America is still paying for it. Wilson died in September. Thanks, Joe.

I.M. Pei died this year. A brilliant architect. I visited Paris numerous times begin- ning in 1975 and, in addition to the restaurants and the sights, loved the museums. I’ll only add that with Pei’s glass pyramid as its new entrance, the Louvre for better or worse will never be the same.

We lost some names from the world of television. Actor David Hedison died in July. And humorist and creative force Mar- shall Efron died in September. Maybe you can see some of his stuff on YouTube. Try “Great American Dream Machine”. Efron was one of a kind. And Sylvia Chase, Sander Vanocur, and Cokie Roberts died in 2019. All were forces in national news and political news reporting.

2008 was one of those years. I mean one of those fire years. While answering phones at KZYX public radio during the fall Pledge Drive we took a call and a pledge from a seemingly unlikely caller. He lived in the area, was already a supporter of the station and wanted to help a little more. His name was René Auberjonois. Better known to some as Father Mulcahy in the original film M*A*S*H. To others he was Clayton Endicott II from the sitcom Benson. To me he will always be Odo from Start Trek: Deep Space Nine. He was 79.

There are, obviously, many more who could be added to this list. But I have just one more name to mention: Jim Swindel. Most of you, I assume, are thinking “Jim who?” Jim was one of those people born to succeed in the music business. He wasn’t a pop musician, songwriter or producer although he touched all of it. I hired Jim to work for A&M in the late ’70s. He was smart, and he was the consummate ‘people person’. Walk into a room and Jim would meet one or more people who would come to appreciate his gifts. After A&M he worked for Island, Virgin, Qwest and Arista and never changed. Some people like to say of someone they liked or loved, “he was the best”. In this case it was all true. I attended a memorial for Jim in San Francisco in October. The place was packed. It’s rare when we can say ‘that person was one of a kind’. Jim was smart, charming, and a friend. I miss him.

My 12 Favorite Holiday Movies   Leave a comment

December 1, 2019

One of the things I enjoy in December is reliving Thanksgiving and Christmas memories through films. It’s easy to see my- self as a child having Turkey dinner with my family, dealing with crazy relatives, seeing Santa, going to church, enjoying the snow (really) and, of course, opening presents. This year I’ve expanded my list of favorite holiday films to include twelve films that are worth watching . Take any one or all twelve and enjoy them, preferably with someone you love.

#12 • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Not all of the films from Na- tional Lampoon have been winners but this 1989 spinoff from the original National Lampoon’s Vacation is a lot of fun. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo return as the Griswold parents, along with a new cast- members Juliet Lewis (Audrey) and Johnny Galecki). It’s also worth watching Julia Lou- is-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest in almost cameo roles as the way-too-hipster next door neighbors “Margo and Todd Chester”. Fond memories (or not so fond memories) on the horror of sharing Christmas with the entire family. Good fun.

#11 • A Christmas Carol: There have been many film versions adapted from Charles Dickens’ story, but this 1951 version is my favorite. It features Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit, and Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley. The story is timeless and worth watching every Christmas. Whether you become tearful or not, it’s a century old story, in a half-century old film, shot in glorious black and white, and it still delivers

#10 • Prancer: This 1989 film features a midwest farmer/single dad, his 9-year old daughter, and a reindeer named Prancer. It has sentimentality but also a first rate real- ism and charm. Directed by John Hancock, Prancer stars Sam Elliott, Rebecca Harrell, and Cloris Leachman. Roger Ebert’s review included this: “[ Jessica is] a 9-year-old who still believes in Santa Claus, and uses logic to defend her position: If there isn’t a Santa, then maybe there isn’t a God, and if there isn’t a God, then there isn’t a heaven, and, in that case, where did nine-year old Jessica’s mother go when she died?” Heavy stuff or heady stuff? Either way, you can handle it and feel good about this unusually good holiday treat.

#9 • Home Alone: Few movie stars have the ability to be both charming and annoy- ing on screen and in real life, and all before the age of 12. Forget the annoying part. Macaulay Culkin helps drive this 1990 film as the young child left home by highly dis- tracted parents. Culkin benefits from the direction of Chris Columbus, the writing of John Hughes, and the comedic performanc- es of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. It’s been a quarter century since the film was made yet the basic premise holds up. If it seems like too much work, watch it for Pesci and Stern. The film wouldn’t work without them as the bumbling thieves.

#8 • The Santa Clause: Tim Allen’s turn in this 1994 holi- day feature film was a surprisingly good idea. In short, Santa dies on the job, Tim Allen’s character steps in to save the day and dis- covers that he is now (and forever?) the new Santa Claus. It’s funny with some tugging at the heart. This is the Twinkie of Christmas movies. Enjoy it and don’t think about the calories. The Washing- ton Post had it right: “The Santa Clause would be another for- mulaic Christmas special without Tim Allen.”

#7 • Elf: I find Will Ferrell to be an above average performer, but his films rarely rise to become a favorite. However, Ferrell as Buddy, the elf, does make Elf succeed as a holiday film worth seeing and, to be hon- est, to put in your annual Holiday rotation. How the 6’ 3” Ferrell becomes one of San- ta’s little helpers is less important than his holiday visit to New York City to find his birth father, played by James Caan. Suffice to say that the movie works and should be- come one of your regular holiday treats. Elf also stars Bob Newhart, Zooey Deschanel, and Mary Steenburgen.

#6 • Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: No holiday season would be complete with- out this 1987 film. One of Steve Martin’s better outings, and John Candy is as per- fect as he can be. These two travelmates be- come mutually dependent as they attempt to travel from New York to Chicago by way of Kansas and Missouri in an effort to get home for Thanksgiving. As with most films written and directed by John Hughes, the music is top notch (including Martin’s trau- matized rap effort “you’re messin’ with the wrong guy”.) The film is wonderful and it always reminds me of how much the world misses John Candy.

#5 • Miracle on 34th Street: On the surface this is a film about a nice old man who calls himself Kris Kringle and claims to be Santa Claus. Threatened with being declared insane, a young lawyer steps in to de- fend Kringle, arguing in court that he really is Santa Claus. While Kringle’s sanity is the central theme, the real centerpiece of the 1947 film is about a single mom’s journey (and ours) to have faith, and to believe in something that may be difficult or impossible to prove. While that sounds like religion, the faith here is far more about life itself. But it works on both levels. The cast is a who’s who of post WWII Hollywood faces: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood, Granville Saw- yer, William Frawley, and Jerome Cowan.

#4 • The Bishop’s Wife: This 1947 film is also about Christmas and faith. But relax, this is not a film that looks or feels anything like a tent-revival. It’s an intelligent story basedon a visiting angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) entering the life of protestant minis- ter Henry Brougham (David Niven), who’s marriage to wife Julia (Loretta Young) is tested along the way. There are numerous religious moments but the film is anything but preachy. There are lofty (sometimes heavenly) goals, a couple of sermons, a boys choir, some shopping, lunch at a French res- taurant named Michel’s (of course), a few snobs, and some solid citizens. Sit back and simply let yourself get lost inside this film. Rounding out the cast are Elsa Lanchester, Regis Toomey, James Gleason, and Monty Woolley.

#3 • Love Actually: This is a film that, as happens to many of us, I missed when it was theatrically released in 2003. The cast- ing is superb. Bill Nighy as the aging pop/ rock star Billy Mack and Hugh Grant as the newly-elected Prime Minister. Colin Firth loses a cheating British girlfriend and man- ages to find love in Portugal. Love Actually also stars Emma Thompson, Keira Knight- ley, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thornton and another 20 recognizable faces among the thoughtfully-assembled ensemble cast. There are a dozen criss- crossing relationships that are, surprisingly, a joy to follow. There’s magic in the music, humor, love, and politics, and you’ll learn about the Christmas lobster. It’s worth add- ing to your holiday viewing.

#2 • It’s A Wonderful Life: Frank Capra presents the life and times of George Bai- ley and Mary Hatch (James Stewart and Donna Reed). In just over two hours, we are treated to their lives and ours. Like the old nursery rhyme, this 1947 film features tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, doctors, a rich man and more. As Bailey’s life moves forward, he’s forced to reflect on how he’s helped change things for the better, and with an angel’s help, he sees an alternate version of how his absence could change everything and everyone. Like other Capra films, this one is rich in characters and char- acter actors, including Lionel Barrymore,Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, and H.B. Warner. And for trivia buffs, there is the perfectly-cast voice of Moroni Olsen as Franklin, the never seen senior angel narrating the film.

#1 • A Christmas Story: This 1983 film narrowly edged out the others for #1 simply because it speaks to me on so many levels. Instead of just seeing the enjoyable chaos surrounding the lives of the Parker family, I can clearly see my own family growing up in Milwaukee; our version was all Wisconsin, not Indiana. Yet like ‘old man Parker’, my father did swear at the furnace (and other things). I did want a BB gun for christmas. We lived in our version of that neighbor- hood, on that street, in that house and we had our own Bumpus family for neighbors. And there was plenty of innocent “drama” surrounding our lives as Christmas ap- proached, but there was also the sense of family and time together. I love this film. Happily we’re taken back to a time when, as Jean Shepherd tells us, “all was right with the world”.

Gavin and Me (and Mike, Ted, Dianne, Jim, Tom, Jared, Kamila)   Leave a comment

November 1, 2019

    I should have known that this was not going to be a good week. By Friday (the 25th) PG&E’s rumored power shutdown in northern California was quite likely.

     Having traveled to some 30 countries in 30 years, I’ve learned a few things. Blackouts are the norm in many countries. Water can be sketchy (never put ice in your drink and if you order a Coke or a beer, have the bottle opened at your table.) It’s always a good idea to ask what you’re eating. Actually, ask before the first bite. It may be delicious but it is still nice to know.

     Familiar food in some of those 30 countries was often different. French fries with mayo in the UK? Not for me. Some street vendors in Denmark and Norway offered hot dogs made with horse meat. Sorry. I can’t even think about taking a bite without getting emotional about Trigger. Butter in Germany? Eat it until your arteries close. Grilled crocodile in Kenya? Tried it. It didn’t kill me and, I assume, it may have helped save an idiot tourist or two from getting eaten while standing near the Mara River. Mao Tai in central China? Now there’s a drink that will get your attention. CBS’s Dan Rather called it “liquid razor blades.”

     Because of (or in spite of) the journey, once we Americans return home and get in our own beds, it’s perfectly normal to say “Ahhhhhh. I’m home”. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t enjoy living another life in another country. But my personal adventures are offered here to give you enough background to understand that I’m not just some whiny ass who can’t handle mayo on fries.

candlelight-3194287_1920

Image by gentleflamechen from Pixabay


The power went out Saturday evening (the 26th). On Sunday morning—day 2 of our PG&E adventure (I was not yet calling it a crisis)—I went to our local Gualala Supermarket and learned a couple of things. Their staff was at work, helping people find what they needed and, wait for it, projecting a positive image and smiles. That’s not unusual for Gualala Super, but in the crisis created by PG&E, (and with the store operating on generator power only) the staff was like a glimmer of sunshine inside an otherwise crappy situation. I bought about 6 pounds of ice, some batteries, a few candles and some M&Ms. Yes. I needed those too. We managed to survive the day knowing we were more than  half way through. We thought.

     Monday morning the two of us shared our one functioning car. I stopped at my office and found, not surprisingly, that the building was closed with signs that said “No Power.” Since it was still dark (6:45am) and the gas gauge was now south of half a tank, I drove Dolly to work in Point Arena and headed for Highway One. Nothing was open at 7:30am, including the local Pt. Arena gas station. As I got to Anchor Bay I looked over at the Anchor Bay Store and saw the sign: “Closed. No Power”.

     I drove down the hill into beautiful downtown Gualala and it became apparent that virtually nothing was open, although the ’76 station apparently had a backup generator as there were 6-7 cars gassing up, so I got in line. The wait was about 5 minutes, I pulled up to a pump and bought almost 9 gallons. Hallelujah. An hour or so later I drove past the gas pumps and saw the good people from the ’76 station helping direct the now long lines of vehicles (15 cars and trucks from the north, 7 or 8 from the south). They reassured everyone in line that they would all get some gas. These were our local friends, business people displaying a welcoming attitude, controlling a difficult situation, and keeping everybody calm until it was their turn to gas up. With a full tank I was able to drive to the S&B Store in Manchester (about 20 miles away) suspecting they had ice. They did and our refrigerator was good for another day or two.

     Tuesday I managed to get down the hill and stop in at ARFF (a shortened name for the original Annapolis Ridge Farm & Feed). Jane, the owner, was helping customers get dog food, cat food, bird seed. You get the idea.  She handled this in, perhaps, the only way she knows how to do business: with her friendly nature, a good attitude and keeping the store open with a borrowed generator. (She also offered customers a chance to put a little charge in their cellphones while they were there.) So I stuck around, took advantage of her offer and got some juice for my iPhone. But I also noticed that the customers were feeling the physical and mental aches and stress of Day 3 of PG&E’s mess. The customers I saw at ARFF were a cross section of coastal residents and travelers. Two people were looking for ice as both of our local supermarkets were now sold out of ice. I suggested they call the S&B store. Voila. S&B still had ice and the two travelers were on their way. But there was something else in the air.

     Almost every conversation touched on the weight of this mess. How did we get here? We began to talk about those people without enough gas to get ice, or in need of medicine. Or, how about this. If you’re on a well, you get your water (usually) with the help of an electric pump. No electricity? No water. And for some that also meant no working toilets. So people were attempting to get water from wherever they could but, no surprise, water was coming into short supply. Forced-air furnaces up here run on propane. It didn’t matter. Even a propane furnace needs electricity to function. Space heaters didn’t work. Try being elderly and living in a 30 or 40 degree house or apartment. Those conversations at ARFF were what pushed me over the edge. With my cell phone charged at Jane’s I went home and began calling our politicians.

     I called Governor Gavin Newsom (October 29, 4:50pm). One of Gavin’s assistant’s listened for 6 minutes as I explained the crisis. She listened attentively, asked some good questions and assured me that the governor would be made aware. I called Supervisor Ted Williams (October 29, 4:57pm). He wasn’t in so I left a 2 minute voicemail about this disaster. I called Sheriff Tom Allman (October 29, 5:01pm). His office was closed for the day. The recorded voice said “if this was an emergency I should dial 911.”  I think this was an emergency but since my personal life wasn’t under immediate threat I demurred. I left him a 30-second message. I called the sheriff substation in Point Arena (October 29, 5:05pm). That phone just rang and rang and rang. I called the Office of Emergency Services in Ukiah (October 29, 5:06pm). Nobody there either.

     I called State Senator Mike McGuire’s office (October 29, 5:08pm). Here’s something scary. A human being answered the phone and was more than willing to hear me out. I told her of my concerns about the situation, of elderly without medicine or heat, of gas lines, businesses losing thousands of dollars due to closure, spoiled inventory or both. I also told her that with the exception of our local radio station, KGUA (who did a splendid job—I heard Peggy and Susan slept at the station) for other media it was like we didn’t exist. The aide at Mike McGuire’s office assured me she’d get me some information. Maybe that 7 minutes was well spent. I called Jim Wood’s office (October 29, 5:20pm). I connected with someone from Assemblyman Wood’s office who, once again, was a good listener—17 minutes worth. I called Jared Huffman’s office (October 29, 5:39pm). Left a message. No returned call. I called Dianne Feinstein’s S.F. office (October 29, 5:42pm). I was told that the Senator cares deeply about the situation. The aide refused to give me his name. Office policy. It was a useless call. I called her Washington, D.C. office (October 30, 9:09am). Same. Useless, although they gave me another number to call. That call went straight to voicemail, and I was immediately informed that “voicemail was full. Goodbye.” I called Kamala Harris’ offices (October 30, 9:20am) and was informed she was away campaigning. Beyond that they wished me well.

    I received a call from Senator McGuire’s office (October 30, 8:43am) telling me that PG&E expected the power to be restored at 8:00am. We both found a minor moment of levity in that call. I thanked her for reaching out. I called Sheriff Tom again Wednesday morning (October 30, 9:03am) and was asked by the answerer—not Tom—if I had been to the shelter. Asking “what shelter”, she told me about the Community Resource Center. I asked her where it was and was told 1717 N. State Street, Ukiah. I found myself explaining to her that I was calling from Gualala and it would take me 2 hours to drive the 87 miles to get there (and fyi, the round trip would use 6-7 gallons of gas.

The power on the south coast came on about 12:30pm. It was good to know that some people in our political world cared, even if the information McGuire’s office had been given was off by 4 hours. She was an exception to the rule. In the netherworld of people in authority outside of Mendocino’s south coast, most (not all) were useless during the crisis.  But on the south coast, I already knew we cared. Perhaps more than most.

Warming Warning, Revisited   Leave a comment

Working in the music industry at the dawn of the 1980s I remember having mixed emotions about the state of popular music. My memory is that the best seller charts were beginning to reflect two concurrent trends.

 

     First, rhythm was more than a backbeat with disco and dance music taking an increasing share of the record-buying audience. Nothing necessarily bad about that but, frankly, A&M wasn’t a cutting edge dance/disco music label. Having ended the ‘70s with breakthroughs by artists like Supertramp and Peter Frampton, our artists tended to be more traditional pop/rock. However, in 1979 A&M Records co-founder Herb Alpert came roaring back on the charts with a huge instrumental dance hit record titled “Rise”. The tempo of “Rise” was noticeably slower than disco. Herb told us that he wanted  to “make a dance record, not a disco record.” He defined the difference as much in BPM—beats per minute—as musicality.

 

     The second trend was an influence of more synthesized recordings, many coming from the U.K. Think groups like Culture Club, Thompson Twins or Human League. Added to the evolving style of music was an obvious and open approach to fashion and sexuality. There was a more obvious use of makeup—for male and female performers—and a greater flair in wardrobe and hair. Along with a renewed influence in music, UK/European musicians (many of them with their 1970’s mullet hairstyle) brought their music and fashion to America in the ’80s.

 

     Songwriters have long incorprated social change into songs including issues of war, civil rights, and feminism. For example, there’s Pete Seeger (“Where Have All The Flowers Gone”), Bob Dylan (The Times They Are a’ Changing”), Helen Reddy (I Am Woman”) and Peter Gabriel (“Biko”). And another interesting topic was starting to rise to the consciousness of the public through the news, although not necessarily in song. To be honest, the size of the audience actually hearing this news was almost microscopic compared to the general population.
     A television listing appeared in Britain’s ITV Network’s evening programming on December 8, 1981. Scheduled to follow “Brideshead Revisited” at 9:00pm and the local news at 10:00pm was a program titled “Warming Warning”. Here’s how it was described in the newspaper listing:

 

     “A documentary about the serious effects our polluting of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide will have on the climate. Scientists are worried that at the present rate the Earth will be two degrees warmer by the middle of the next century with disastrous consequences for the polar regions. It is estimated that if the Ross Ice Shelf were to break up it could lead to an ice surge which would raise sea levels by up to twenty feet thus putting two million people, in London alone, at risk.”
     Produced in Britain by (the now defunct) Thames Television, it’s highly unlikely you or anyone you know ever saw “Warming Warning” in 1981.

 

     Most people, understandably, believe “climate change” is a recent topic, perhaps in the lexicon for 10-20 years. And millions continue to deny climate change is real, with many of those believing it’s a hoax.

 

     British journalist and writer Leo Hickman wrote about the documentary in 2017. In part he said that the broadcast of “Warming Warning” in 1981 “was among the earliest occasions—possibly the earliest—anywhere in the world where a major broadcaster aired a documentary dedicated solely to the topic of human-caused climate change. The documentary was broadcast seven years before Dr. James Hansen’s famous ‘it is already happening now’ Senate testimony in 1988, nine years before the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report was published, and 25 years before Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was released. . . .”

 

     A decade after Dr. Hansen’s warning, and almost two decades after “Warming OCT 2019 Gen ProtestWarning” first aired in the U.K., the topic had reached the American congress. That is not to suggest United States senators were sitting around a campfire, arms locked, singing “Kumbaya”. The world was, in fact, talking about climate change and discussing the need to address the issue. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol—so named for having been adopted at a conference in Kyoto, Japan—was an international treaty which extended the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, committing signatory states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

     President Bill Clinton never got the United States Senate to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and President George W. Bush had no interest in raising the issue, much less push for ratification. While Clinton failed, in part, due to a minor distraction known as the Clinton Impeachment, Bush could easily have gotten this through the senate had he wished. But, Bush decided to allow the most conservative (i.e., anti-climate change) members of his administration to influence the GOP writ large, and by the time the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act came up for a vote in 2005, it was defeated on a bipartisan basis, 60-38. To be fair, the American government did  not stand alone. We bravely and  boldly stood with Kazakhstan; the only two nations to ignore the Kyoto Accord and formally deny Climate Change.
     By the time President Obama had secured a second term, maybe people believed the United States could now join the world in an effort to fight climate change. The new opportunity was for America to be a party to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate. President Obama committed the U.S. to joining almost 200 other nations of the world and work toward change. Obama’s good intentions—again, a treaty that was never ratified—was a casualty of the 2016 presidential election. It took the current occupant of the Oval Office less than six months to decide that America would, indeed, withdraw from the Paris Accord. And here we are.
     This past week an estimated 4 million people marched to draw attention to climate change as part of the September 2019 Climate Strike. And one can assume the estimate of 4 million is all about big cities and ignores the dozens, hundreds or even thousands of OCT 2019 Gualala Protestsmall towns and rural enclaves where people also stood for the Climate Strike. 16-year old Greta Thunberg’s dramatic call to action (and the Swedish teen’s authentic passion) were virtually impossible to dismiss. Some did, but Thunberg spoke for many. (Watch her on YouTube).

 

And on a more personal note, the Climate Strike was clearly front and center on Mendocino’s south coast. As I walked and talked with fellow climate-strikers, and with representatives of organizations, I was struck by how many of my friends and neighbors were on the green. Smiles were everywhere. This wasn’t a group of angry people. But that is not to say they aren’t serious, concerned or committed. They are. And we should be too. I live on the coast. I see the Pacific Ocean every day. You can’t live in Gualala, Sea Ranch, Anchor Bay, Point Arena, Manchester, Elk, Stewart’s Point or in any other town and not be thinking about our ocean, our planet, and climate change. I’m happy we’re aware, active, and thinking. But we need more. The world needs to seize the moment.
David Steffen
© 2019 David Steffen

Where Are The Muses, Where Are The Voices   Leave a comment

September 1, 2019

 

I was talking to a friend this week (yes,I have friends. Well, at least one. I’m pretty sure.) Our coffee conversations—usually an hour and a half or so—often cover a variety of topics including coastal stuff, travel, music, environment, movies, weather, politics and more. Back at home a little while later it got me thinking about writing.

I’ve been working to complete my second book, a book I started in 2003, put aside while I finished another book and then left it in a safe place (a digital file and a well-worn hard copy on my desk) to mature like a fine wine. Spoiler alert. It turns out that hard copies and digital files left on or in the desk don’t improve over time.

I’m not certain if I expected one of the muses to stop by and complete my second book for me, magically of course with a wave of her muse-powers, or if she would drop herself into my old brain and voila, a completed book. While not everyone assumes all muses are female (or even real), I know they are. Both. Real and female. Historians tend to agree that “the earliest known records of the Nine Muses tells us they are from the homeland of Hesiod”. The nine muses, in alphabetical order (in English, not Greek) are Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, Urania. Here are their claims to fame.

 

Calliope (“The One with a Beautiful Voice”) is the Muse of Epic Poetry.
Clio (“The Proclaimer”) is the Muse of History.
Erato (“The Lovely One”) is the Muse of Lyric Poetry.
Euterpe (“She Who Pleases”), is the Muse of Flute-playing.
Melpomene (“She Who Sings”) is the Muse of Tragedy.
Polyhymnia (She of the Many Hymns”) is the Muse of Hymns and sacred poetry.
Terpsichore (“The One Delighting in the Dance”), is the Muse of Choral Lyric and Dancing.
Thalia (“The Cheerful One”) is the Muse of Comedy.
Urania (“The Heavenly One”) is the Muse of Astronomy.

 

As if I had a choice I wondered which muse would pick up my unfinished book and help me complete it. Could I count on Calliope? Nah. I’m not a poet. Even starting with a brilliant classic like “Roses are red, Violets are blue”, I got nothing. How about Clio? Maybe she’s for me, since she’s into history. Erato favored playing the lyre and lyric poetry. I’ve played guitar since I was 12. My telecaster is not a lyre so I’ll just say no. Euterpe is all about flute playing. Well, I did borrow my sister’s flute—she was 13, I was 11 and when I put my lower lip to the lip-plate and blew, the sound that came out of the instrument was akin to stepping on the tail of a large angry feral Siamese cat with asthma. Melpomene is the muse of tragedy. Let me ask, who would want to be the muse of tragedy? And who would want assistance in being a tragic figure? Although in these trying times, perhaps she’s working full time in politics. Polyhymnia favors hymns and mime. I admit I sang a lot of hymns growing up in Milwaukee but mime? It ain’t me. Terpsichore favors choral dancing and song. I can sing but if you’ve seen me dance, well, let’s just say it has all the beauty of watching Elaine Benes dancing on Seinfeld. I’ve always been credited with having a good sense of humor, so perhaps Thalia, the muse of comedy and light verse could help me out. Urania, is predictably, about astronomy. It’s clear. No help from her. I’ll keep an eye out for Clio.

Three

This week I received an email from an online group that I’m a part of—along with one or two million others—who follow the music of Lana Del Rey. Lana—I call her Lana, because, well, that’s her name. Actually her name is Elizabeth but she gave herself a stage name and Elizabeth Grant became Lana Del Rey. Never mind.

I wrote about Lana in February 2016 when she first got my attention. I found her music compelling then, and she continues to successfully expand her repertoire and audience. Her vocal style has been described as Dugazon—Mezzo-soprano without the puffery—and her recordings are filled with high production values, big atmospherics. Think orchestral arrangements of ballads for a pop singer with a punk attitude. Never mind. The point is they are big, rich, emotionally-charged recordings.

My go-to track to get people to try a dose of Lana is “Born To Die” which is easily found on YouTube. I suggest listening to it BEFORE you watch the official video so that you won’t miss the music and the lyrics instead of focusing on the visuals. Believe me, it’s easy to find yourself staring at Lana, looking beautiful in her drop-dead gorgeous white dress, seated on a throne in the opulent Gallery of Diana at the 17th century Palace of Fontainebleau near Paris, flanked by two live Bengal tigers. . . . Oh, nevermind, too late.

 

Let’s get to the new music. I received the aforementioned email to announce that Ms. Del Rey just released a new track titled “Looking for America”. The lyrics include,

Took a trip to San Francisco
All our friends said we would jive
Didn’t work, so I left for Fresno
It was quite a scenic drive
Pulled over to watch the children in the park
We used to only worry for them after dark
I’m still looking for my own version of America
One without the gun, where the flag can freely fly
No bombs in the sky, only fireworks when you and I collide

 

It’s a different sort of song for Del Rey. It’s actually a protest song, about guns, violence and lost innocence in an increasingly violent America. You may have to listen closely to appreciate the protest. Clearly it was a whole lot easier decades ago to recognize a protest song, as when Barry McGuire sang “Eve of Destruction”, or Bob Dylan sang “The Times They are a’Changing” or when Creedence Clearwater’s John Fogerty sang “Fortunate Son”.

Del Rey’s lyrics are, indeed, reflective of current events. Points of reference: El Paso, Texas, Saturday, August 3, and Dayton, Ohio, Sunday, August 4. The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica wrote about “Looking for America” in the paper’s August 9 edition. “[The song was] Written on Monday, teased with a snippet on Instagram that same day, and then released in full on Friday, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Looking for America’ is a rapid-response protest song—following a slew of mass shootings—from an artist whose tortured relationship to an idealized America has always been central to her persona.”

 

All of this got me wondering just what is the current state of protest songs in America? Certainly there’s plenty of material out there to inspire writers (or incense them). The message of “Looking for America” is clearly not ‘in your face’ but then again at least Lana’s millions of fans are reminded that the times are, in fact, a-changing. We still need our writers, musicians and muses to give us a push in the right direction. Music is not simply about the atmospherics. It’s also about the times we live. I’m wondering just where is our musical outrage? Where are our voices? Where are our muses?

 

David Steffen

 

© 2019 David Steffen

Note: L-R: Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Lana Del Rey.

We Were Going Down To Yasgur’s Farm. . . .   Leave a comment

August 1, 2019

 

  It was a random concert some fifty years ago, with an audience—almost all strangers but some of those strangers would become and remain friends. To this day. In travel terms, it might as well have been happening in a ‘galaxy far far away’, considering the distance from Milwaukee to Bethel, New York. But I was in the right place at the right time to hear about an amazing concert event and be in a position  to get in my car and drive to the event.

 

     Sitting in the studio at WZMF-FM radio in Milwaukee I would sometimes answer the phones. We were a station with a small staff so we all did a little of everything. In fact, I remember we all had 3rd Class FCC licenses. We needed this basic permit as we were required to take transmitter readings. Test qualifications for the permit: breathing, ability to sign ones name, answer a few questions, and pay the fee.

One morning in July I received a phone call from a potential advertiser. They were putting on a rock concert and thought advertising their event on Milwaukee’s “Original Album Rock Radio Station” would be a good idea. Duh. So I took down the information and by the time I got off the air George, our intrepid ad sales guru, was in the office. George was one of those guys who could sell one-pound boxes of sand to people sitting on a beach. He called the concert promoter, got the information, and in short order (the concert was about a month away) spots were on the air. A lot of spots. It seemed like woodstock_posterevery couple of hours another 60-second commercial aired promoting this concert. On a closer listen to the ads I realized that it was more than a concert. It would be a multi-day rock music festival, and it was taking place ‘out of town’. Still, it sounded great and I’m thinking “I gotta go.”

     More than 30 acts were signed to perform including Richie Havens, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie (Safka), Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald (and the Fish), Santana, John Sebastian, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, and Jimi Hendrix. Tickets were priced at $18 advance, $24 at the gate. If you were driving to the show you’d fill your car’s tank with gasoline that cost just 35¢ a gallon. The festival lasted three days and drew about 500,000 people. And while there was no significant security force to mind the masses, the festival was relatively peaceful. It was reported that two people died (insulin killed one and a tractor the other). Two babies were born.  Chaos was part of the mix but so was a sense of humanity and mutual good vibes.

 

     All in attendance will attest to Woodstock delivering an amazing three days of peace, love and great music. August 15, 16, & 17, 1969 branded everyone of an age (and certainly all who attended) as the Woodstock Generation. I know that I felt it then and feel it now. And like most of the people you meet who tell you how great it was to be at Woodstock, most of those people weren’t there. An unscientific fact is that if everyone who says they were at Woodstock were actually at Max Yasgur’s farm that summer, the number attending would have equalled the population of Philadelphia. But in reality it was nearer half a million. The festival was documented with a feature film and multiple soundtrack albums. And my memories of Woodstock are crystal clear. After all, I saw the film and listened to the albums. And truth be told, I was NOT there. (To my credit I’ve never told anyone that I was there. Honest.)

 

     On the surface Woodstock seemed like a very good idea. Create a live music event with every big name in music, advertise it all over the country while still in the glow of the “Summer of Love”, put tickets on sale, and wait for the money to roll in. The festival was an absolute success, except for turning a profit. It wouldn’t be the first time that a successful idea can go awry. After all, it’s been proven that idiots can go bankrupt operating a casino. At least Woodstock had a successful film and series of albums. And an amazing amount of good feelings. So let’s celebrate. Music is in us and we are in music.

 

     I was fortunate enough to have worked with four HITH-remembering-richie-havens-ten-things-you-may-not-know-about-woodstock-Eof the Woodstock performers, promoting and marketing their music: Melanie’s “Gather Me” album. That was in, ah, no, really. . . 1971. (Geeeeez). Three of Joan Baez’s albums in the 1970s including “Diamonds and Rust”); Joe Cocker (including “I Can Stand A Little Rain” in 1974); and Richie Havens (“The End of the Beginning” in 1976.) Richie and I reconnected when I booked him for a sold-out concert performance at Arena Theater in Point Arena in 2007.
My good fortune of working with, listening to, and connecting with Havens, Baez, Cocker and Melanie is cherished. But in reality, we are all connected just by listening. And perhaps there is something to playwright John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation”. Or the variations, as in the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, “Six Degrees of der Kommissar” or your own life experience. We are all connected. What we do and say and how we live is all connected. And thinking of Woodstock, maybe we all were, in fact, at Max Yasgur’s farm. At least when we’re within those six degrees. Peace and love, man.

David Steffen

©2019 David Steffen

 

NOTE: I met and worked with Henry Diltz 25 years ago on a video project. The above image of Richie Havens is probably one of his. Henry’s been a great photographer and historian for half a century. Thanks Henry. (He’ll be 81 on September 6.)

 

%d bloggers like this: