The Times Are Not Changing

March 2nd, 2011

The Frozen Hudson

On January 22nd, Katie and I traveled up to the small town of Hudson, NY.

We had dinner at Ca Mea, an attractive Italian restaurant with a  fantastic mussels and clams appetizer on the specials list that evening.  Then we hustled over to the Time & Space Limited Theater.  We wanted to get there early since this was our reason for making the trip.  Also, it was around 4 degrees outside.

I had recently heard Ron Bennington interview Ken Bowser, the director of “There But For Fortune,” a documentary on the life of folk-singer Phil Ochs.  I had no idea this movie was being made, but after hearing the interview, I knew I had to see it.

Phil is often compared to Bob Dylan.  They were contemporaries in the Greenwich Village folk scene, and had interests in each others work, but there is a world of difference between them.  The movie lays it out really well, but my view is that Phil lacked Bob’s subtlety and nuance, and Bob lacked Phil’s conscience.  Unfortunately it seemed that Phil saw himself as Dylan’s inferior, rather than recognizing and accepting that they were doing different things.  I love the contributions both have made to the world, but as someone interviewed in the movie said, “Anyone could like Bob Dylan.”  You have to have a certain sensibility to be a fan of Phil Ochs.  Ever since I discovered Ochs’ music, Dylan’s ascendancy as the voice of the 60’s/early 70’s folk world has seemed more of a media creation…as Utah would say, a journalistic convenience…a safe and easy choice, rather than a true reflection of the time.  But that’s an opinion of someone who wasn’t there.

Back to the film…we showed up early, not knowing what the turn-out would be, considering the limited release that brought us 3 hours from home.  By the start of the movie, there were only 2 empty seats in the cozy theater.  The rest were filled by me and Katie,a couple a few years younger than us, and a whole bunch of old hippies.  The film re-created the era in such a way that it felt current and intense, and provided a backdrop for explaining a man who has been dead for 35 years.  The depiction of the turbulent times, including the murders of Martin Luther King, the Kennedys, Malcom X, and of Chilean folk-singer Victor Jara – following his country’s Sept. 11th, was an emotional wringer.

The film pulled no punches in its examination of Ochs.  His family members attributed his suicide to the untreated bipolar disorder that found him in his early thirties.  Aside from self-medicating with alcohol, Phil refused any kind of treatment (lithium in those days,) knowing that ridding himself of the awful depression, also meant losing the manic highs…losing his art…losing himself.  Considering the arc of Phil’s personal life, I also found Ed Sanders‘ comment about regret particularly insightful (I’m not sure of his exact quote,) – “…mistakes are like harpoons and fish hooks lodged in an intelligent person’s soul…”

Coincidentally, Phil’s sister Sonny was in attendance for this showing.  She told stories about Phil, and engaged in Q&A after the film.  Following that, Reggie and Kim Harris, a folk-singing duo originally from Philly, performed a few of Phil’s songs – capping the event with a sing-along of “When I’m Gone.”  The whole evening was an incredible experience.  Hearing the stories of people who were part of the scene during such an interesting time in our history was fascinating for me.

In those days, months, years after our 9/11 when justice and love were suffering under the weight of fear, those of us looking for cover were able to find it in each other.  That’s when I found Phil’s music.  For the first time I heard, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” “Ringing of Revolution,” “When I’m Gone,” and “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” and “Cops of the World,” and I couldn’t believe they had not been written that week!  It was so apt, so fitting for the time, it just didn’t seem possible that it had been performed before I was born.  Sadly it made clear the reality that we were following a familiar script.

And of course the scripts remain the same all over the world, as revolutions are unfolding in several countries at once.  And their desperate leaders are trying to cling to power.

“In a building of gold, with riches untold,
Lived the families on which the country was founded.
And the merchants of style, with their red velvet smiles,
Were there, for they also were hounded.

And the soft middle class crowded in to the last,
For the building was fully surrounded.
And the noise outside was the ringing of revolution.”

Here at home we have struggles between corporate power and workers’ rights in Wisconsin and other states.  I am amazed and hopeful, as I see the capitol police in WI selectively refusing to enforce the governor’s orders.  When law enforcement sees it has more in common with citizens than with lawmakers…using their brains rather than mindlessly following orders, there is hope.

“Is there anybody here who thinks that following orders takes away the blame”


Phil Ochs, for better or worse, is as relevant today as he ever was.  In a society obsessed with right and left, Phil was focused on right and wrong.  “There But For Fortune” offered a look into Phil and his world that was gut-wrenching, but also funny and thoughtful, and ultimately, meaningful.


“There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here”


Found it!

February 27th, 2011

Let’s see how long it takes Chrissy to notice!

Katie and I went up North last month to visit Chris and Chrissy, and to see Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt perform together in Wilkes-Barre.

We’ve seen Lyle 3 times now, and it’s always awesome.  He started the show with a masterfully-played, soul-crushing favorite, “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind.”

This was the first time we’d seen John Hiatt, and he played this simple beautiful song that none of us had heard.  He introduced it as new, but without a clue as to the title.  Before we even got home, we were googling to try and find it, but no luck.

Finally last night, as Katie slept next to me on the couch, I found it.



Oh yeah…

January 15th, 2011

I’ve been so busy with work and life, that this has been totally neglected.
The garden was a mess this year. Got some tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, but little else. The deer got in early, and I couldn’t keep the groundhogs out after that. This year will require improved fencing!


They’re all leaving me…

May 27th, 2010

I just found out another of my heroes has passed on…apparently 4-1/2 years ago, at the astonishingly young age of 48!  He always seemed much older to me.

During my lost years after college, my typical Friday night included a glass or two of red wine and a particular lineup of television shows.  (yes my life was incredibly interesting – much like now.)  The capper at 11:00 was “No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed,”  a philosophical round-table hosted by Ken Knisely.

To call “No Dogs” bare-bones would be kind.  The production quality was hideous, and it was carried on Drexel University’s cable channel DUTV – which had some incredible, off-beat programming at that time, but was not exactly HD.

“No Dogs” was unique.  Ken, the taxi-driver-philosopher, dressed like an auto mechanic, would open a topic with a panel of guests, who were often awkward/determined/engaging/bizarre.  And by discuss, I mean Ken would probe these awkward/determined/engaging/bizarre guests with questions intended to peel away the outer layers of the discussion and encourage deeper thought and debate.

I loved it.

I had an email conversation with Ken at one point, and he sent me this T-shirt that is awesome in its strangeness.

Sadly when I moved out of Philadelphia, I could no longer get the channel.  And that was pretty much the end of “No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed” for me.  Eventually they had a website with a modest amount of content, but as time went by, I forgot about it.

Tonight, for some reason, I looked it up again, but it was gone…  Then I found that Ken had died of a post-surgery heart attack.

If anybody out there has any of the old shows, or knows where I could find some, I’d love to watch them again.  I found one place that has them, but they were prohibitively expensive.  I think I had a show or two recorded, and I’ll look for them, but it has been a while…


Too anxious…

March 14th, 2010

With the nice weather we had early in the week, I couldn’t wait to do some outside work on Wednesday.  I should have waited longer…

I have a ton of logs piled up that need to be split, and I have a borrowed log splitter for the time being.  So I figured that would be a good job for the day.  I went through some of the bigger hunks of wood, that were small enough to be moved by myself, and wanted to get some of the older, more seasoned wood from the wood pile.  The splitter is not currently set up at that pile, so I could either try and move it over there, or bring the wood to the splitter.  So I drove my Jeep back to the pile, and loaded it up.  Half-way to the splitter…I sank.  In the muck that is currently my backyard.

I tried for hours to get the stupid thing out, but it sank down to the axles.  I brought out a jack and dug out enough mud to fit the jack in there and lift the rear tires.  I put some 4×4’s in the hole to keep it from sinking back down, and I was able to drive it forward…about a foot, where it sank again.  After numerous failures I got my friend Dimitri to come over with his pickup and we set out to tow the Jeep free.  Unfortunately, after another foot or so of success, Dimitri started to sink in as well.  So I pushed him out, and we gave up…a prisoner of my own backyard.

The next day I called AAA requesting a winch, and they sent a truck out.   The driver looked my trapped car from the road, estimated the 90 ft between him and the Jeep to be 200 ft, and said his cable wouldn’t be long enough.  But he would call it back in and have another truck sent.  Unfortunately he never did.  I called AAA again, and they determined that because the vehicle was more than 50 ft from the road, it would not be covered.  They also said they checked the area for a truck with a long enough winch cable, in case I wanted to pay cash.  But they couldn’t find one…uhh…OK…

Finally I called my friend’s dad, who has a tow service, and he sent a truck and had me out in no time.  I would have done this sooner, but he doesn’t let me pay, and then I feel guilty.  So I end up exhausting all possible options, before using the best one.


Another season

March 9th, 2010

Late as usual, I finally got some seeds started on Sunday.  I think all the snow has made it hard to get in that “Springy” frame of mind, but we finally got a break from the cold this weekend.  Most of the snow has melted, and hopefully the rest will go by the end of the week.

It feels good to be outside again, and I hope the warmth sticks around for a bit.

I’m planning on expanding the garden area soon, but who knows when the soil will dry out enough to start working it?  Since the potatoes have worked out well the last 2 years, I’m hoping to allot them more space this year.  And like everyone, I’m really hoping for a better, warmer, dryer Spring than last year!



January 28th, 2010

Sad news that Howard Zinn has passed on at 87.

Zinn had an impressive ability to present fact within an uncommon context.  His best known work, A People’s History of the United States, presented American history from the point of view of ordinary, oppressed, powerless people rather than that of aristocrats. He painted a broader picture than any textbook I had in school, and balanced the  story they told.

I admired his dedication and resilience, and will miss his occasional interviews on Democracy Now.  I certainly count him among my teachers.

He is irreplaceable, but thankfully will live on in his works and the people he influenced.


Old Time Hockey

January 13th, 2010

Katie and I joined our friends Kenny and Lori, their son Justin, and Lori’s sister Colleen, for a brief trip to Boston on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

The reason for the trip was that Kenny and I had the opportunity to attend the Winter Classic, an annual outdoor hockey game, this year between the Flyers and the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park.


I would guess that we (Flyer fans) were outnumbered something like 65/35, but you would never know it.


Early on, some surrounding Bruins fans took mild offense to our treating of the event like a home game.  After trading good-natured barbs back and forth (much of them from Kenny,) there was mutual agreement that we were all there because we are hockey fans.


The weather turned out to be overcast and chilly – perfect for a hockey game.  And in the end, the Boston fans got to enjoy an overtime victory, the Flyers got a point in the standings, and we all had a great time.  It was the way it should be.



October 5th, 2009

I hate politics.  I really do.  Unseemly and largely corrupt in America, I try to avoid that world as much as possible.  But I see things getting worse.

I was almost amazed by the level of evil joy taken by a certain segment of the population upon learning the United States had lost out on hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics.  Wasn’t there a time when it was considered an honor to host the Olympic games?  When did it become mere political fodder?  Why would these Americans delight in defeat?  These people  have decided either that the President of their country is not one of them, or that they are no longer of this country.  I’m not sure which.

Thomas Friedman had a thought-provoking column in the New York Times the other day about the disconnect between the President and much of the right wing.  Personally,  I disagree with Obama on many policy issues.  I doubt if a political figure with whom I agree, could ever be elected.  But Friedman makes the point that these dissidents are trying to undermine the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, rather than argue his policies.   Lately I’ve been getting the feeling that some people are willing to be led in any direction.  From the tea-baggers that Chris wrote about a few weeks ago, to seeing people fight against making health insurance more attainable, and now snide glee in the Olympic committee’s choice of Rio De Janeiro.  My mind boggles at the thought of the same people who wouldn’t be caught dead without a flag on their person 8 years ago, now rooting against America.

I understand that we are in hard times.  Our business here has slowed considerably.  People are scared and want someone to blame.  They hear the word stimulus and want to know when they will see it.  I don’t blame them.  It stinks that the thieves in the finance industry are the first to see it.  But this didn’t all happen overnight.  There is a lot of blame to go around.  And the first place to look is always in the mirror.

Politically, I tends towards anarchy in the sense that Utah Phillips spoke of it. He said that one of his great mentors, Ammon Hennacy (a fascinating character in his own right,) pronounced to a judge that, “an anarchist is anybody who doesn’t need a cop to tell him what to do.”

Utah described anarchy as an adjective rather than a noun, saying, “It describes the tension between moral economy and political authority, especially in the area of combinations–whether they’re going to be voluntary, or coercive. The most destructive, coercive combinations are arrived at through force. Like Ammon said, ‘Force is the weapon of the weak.”

As someone who tends toward smaller politics, with much greater local control – local as in, I am in charge of me – I have noticed that although I too would prefer an improvement over our current system of government, I can readily see that the motives behind the change are more important than the change itself.  Maybe this is where we are headed as we bankrupt ourselves as a nation.  Surely change is coming at some point.  But what kind and why?  Who will determine the future leaders?  Will we want a strong hand to take the wheel?  Will the multi-nationals corral us all further into their tent? Or will we take responsibility ourselves?
Like the Wobblies on the Verona, “We are all leaders here.”



August 31st, 2009