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Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 2)

Saying ‘okey-dokey’/singalonga Smokey/Coming out of chokey

Ian Dury

When British New Wavers Ian Dury and the Blockheads were scaling the charts in 1979 with Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3), the rock group Smokie bumped into Dury at an airport and thanked him for including their obscure band on his list. Dury responded with good cheer, not letting on that his lyric referred, of course, to Smokey Robinson. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD9AFG1GdgI

Dury’s example of keen wit, social criticism and generosity of spirit inspires the following reasons for cheer during this tough holiday season.

1. Off-Ramp. 89.3-KPCC Saturdays 12-1pm, Sundays 7-8pm and archived here. Omnivorous host John Rabe finds stories wherever his mind and feet take him, and his award-winning show mixes the gritty with the beautiful with the comical. One minute he’s arguing about Whittier Boulevard architecture with Americana expert Charles Phoenix; the next he’s supervising Queena Kim (Off-Ramp’s producer/reporter)/Frank Stoltze/Jackson Musker’s documentary The Ashes of Oakridge, a hard look at the 2008 destruction of the Oakridge mobile home park by fire last year; then, lest things get too serious, he gets marine biologist Milton Love to explain how tracking fish helped him understand alien abductions. Rabe’s blog is also a must-read.

2. CyberFrequencies Rabe evidently doesn’t keep his producer busy enough, so earlier this year Kim teamed up with Tanya Jo Miller to launch this innovative web and technology podcast for non-techies on iTunes. (It also airs on Off-Ramp.) Segments have featured Moldovan activists using Twitter to stage a protest (months before a similar story in Iran played out on the world stage); Ann Minch and her Debtors Revolt — one woman’s YouTube quest to take down the big banks; and “Digital Daddies,” a humorous take on the Fortune Tech Brainstorm. CyberFrequencies, which covers the web and technology as culture rather than mere gigs, bytes and pixels, demonstrates that the digital revolution isn’t as much about companies like Google and Microsoft as about us everyday users.

3. Andrew Loog Oldham. XM Sirius Satellite Radio has become a kind of rock-and-roll heaven on earth, with iconic artists turning us on to their favorite tracks and telling stories we’d never hear otherwise. Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour is the godhead of the form, and Steve Van Zandt (creator of Little Steven’s Underground Garage, one of the greatest rock stations of all time), Steve Earle, Graham Parker, Tom Petty and others also have — or have had — their own shows. I especially love Andrew Loog Oldham’s daily broadcasts on Underground Garage. Oldham managed and produced the Rolling Stones from 1963-1967 (Marianne Faithful too!). From his virtual headquarters in Bogota, he spins sets that might begin with a little-known Who or Kinks track, progress to Kate Winslet by the Silver Brazilians and Del Shannon’s Little Town Flirt and end by swinging from the Ronettes to the Noisettes, whose lead singer, Shingai Shoniwa, he describes as “the voice, the voice…Diana Ross meets Eartha Kitt today.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnxQMAmv3gU
Oldham’s eclectic sensibility and droll philosophizing make his shows that much more fun. When he calls us “darlings” or “luv” while giving his current take on Beatles (“They never had to look over their shoulders”) vs. Stones, he transports us to a special world in which the British Invasion co-exists with Sarah Palin, whom he describes as a “feral idiot.”

4. Toni Bentley Former Balanchine ballerina and author of five New York Times Notable Books and countless reviews and essays in The Times Book Review, The New Republic, Playboy et al., Bentley has become the go-to writer on things balletic and for Parkeresque wit and take-no-prisoners commentary on sex. Last month, she branched out with “The Bad Lion,” a stunning NYRB essay with photos about “Satan,” a great cat she encountered on an African safari.

5. David Mellon’s mysterious paintings and drawings have been described as dreamlike, creepy and bursting with humanity. He doesn’t care about money or fame — in fact he pretty much hates having to part with his works, preferring to keep them home as roommates. A few years ago I persuaded him to sell me a painting of a child of 10 or so who looks uncannily like I did at that age. I say uncannily because he painted it long before we met.

6. Nancy Fierro (Sister Nancy until she left the Convent to pursue her own spiritual path several years ago) Dr. Fierro — who studied with Nadia Boulanger — performs, composes, gives master classes and lectures about classical music all over Southern California. She’s recorded four wonderful CDs, two of which emphasize her passion for women composers from Hildegard of Bingen to various ragtimers whose music rivals Scott Joplin’s.

7. To complete the cheerful circle: Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Life And Work Of Barney Bubbles, by journalist Paul Gorman. The first, definitive collection of the work of the graphic genius responsible for classic record packages of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and many other heroes, including, yes, Ian Dury. Foreward by Billy Bragg.

The Fear of Magical Thinking

“Do You Believe In Magic?”
–Lovin’ Spoonful

A little magic never hurt anyone. I don’t mean the delusional “spiritual therapy” practiced by Lynn, one of the first women I met after moving to L.A. 25 years ago. She claimed to have removed a client’s malignant tumor during a phone session in which she got to the “embedded physical roots” of her client’s “issues.” (Lynn was far from the wackiest New Age crazy I ran into in those days; At least her work didn’t involve time travel or breast enlargement through hypnosis.)

Veteran progressive activist/author Barbara Ehrenreich shows the consequences of such Pollyanna-ish thinking in her new book, Bright-Sided (How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America). A breast cancer survivor, Ehrenreich calls on her experience among pink teddy bears and healing prayers to skewer the notion that traumas are blessings to be embraced rather than tragedies spawning legitimate rage and grief. She’s appropriately outraged that many women don’t get the medical care they need because they believe magical thinking– a term psychologists use to describe irrational thought-patterns — will defy the laws of physics and pull them through.

When Ehrenreich observes, “It’s a mistake to try to turn your anger and resentment and sadness or grief into something else,” I’m with her all the way. But her next sentence — the glib, “It’s very bad to try to just plaster on a smiley face” — throws the spiritual baby out with the delusional bathwater.

I recently spent some time talking with a woman in her 70s who, several years ago, suffered permanent nerve damage from a terrible car crash. Traditional and alternative medical treatments produced little relief; she sank into despair, fearing that constant, near-intolerable pain in her hands and neck would plague her every minute for the rest of her life.

Never a religious or spiritual person, she turned, as a last resort, to Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation, which asks practitioners to sit still and observe their moment-to-moment bare sensations, trying not to attach judgments or add distracting story-lines about the past or future. With regular practice she soon began to notice tiny nuances of impermanence in her pain: Burning turned to itching turned to sharp stabs turned to rare moments of relief. The result: she’s now able to see herself as separate from her still-awful physical pain and lead a full life. Further, she’s found so many side benefits to this practice — greater alertness, better sleep — that, while she would never put on a smiley face about the accident, she no longer sees herself as a victim. (As opposed to the perhaps apocryphal 95-year-old woman my mom told me about who, when she learned she had cancer, asked, “Why me?”)

I asked Ehrenreich about this and her playful response — “I have nothing against meditation! Don’t do it myself but I zone out a lot, if that counts” — is also instructive. Zoning out — read escapism — is the opposite of mindfulness, which might be described as “zoning in” to dwell in the present moment, however pleasurable or painful it may feel.

Magical thinking can provide real benefits. My erstwhile piano teacher, the late Sheldon “Teddy” Steinberg, was a pedagogical as well as a musical genius. He’d inspire his students to tackle wondrous compositions that were often far above our technical pay grades. When we played for him — and for each other — he told us we were brilliant when we were competent, terrific when we hadn’t practiced much and good when we were pathetic. There’s no doubt that this manifestation of “positive thinking” made us better pianists than we otherwise would have been.

Teddy’s magic didn’t stop there. My dream had always been to own a Steinway, and, after depositing a nice check from a fortunate business deal 15 years ago, I was ready to head to the piano store and bring one home. I called Teddy for a recommendation, but he stopped me in my tracks with a typically oracular pronouncement: “Do nothing. You don’t find a Steinway; A Steinway finds you.”

I sat tight, and not too many weeks later, Teddy directed me to the home of a friend who’d just inherited three Steinways. He told me exactly how much to pay for “the one in the kitchen,” and, as always in matters pianistic, I followed his lead.

Playing my beautiful Steinway now, I’m often horrified by my inconsistent tempi, over-pedaling and frequent clinkers. Think Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata played with actual hammers. Then I imagine Teddy’s voice booming from the next room, “That’s recordable,” and I not only feel better, I play better.

Thank You for (Not) Running for President

The U.S. is the best country in the history of the world, Americans like to say, because here any child can grow up to become president.

But now that our 24/7 cable/Internet news culture has opened a window on how thankless a job the Presidency can be if you win — and how humiliating it is to lose — it’s more fun to explain why you’re not running for President, though God knows you’d be a great one and plenty of people want to back you.

Pitiful pay is one excuse for turning down high office. Shortly after Jimmy Carter was inaugurated in 1977, I stood beside Sid Parnes, the owner of Record World, the music magazine I worked on, when he took a call from Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s chief of staff, offering him a job in the new administration.

Sid was a wonderful man who drank way too much. One time, when a staffer came back from lunch falling-down drunk and reported he’d downed eight Bloody Marys, Sid’s only response was to ask, “How in the world did you drink all that tomato juice?”

Sid slurred a bit when he asked Ham to tell the president that, while he was flattered, he’d have to decline because, as he put it, “I make too much money.”

In 2006, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein demonstrated the power of the double negative when he titled a column, “Barack Obama Isn’t Not Running for President.” Barring catastrophe, President Obama will not not run again in 2012, so most of the not-running has been on the Republican side. (Though delusional Democrat Rod Blagojevich recently told The New Yorker — who didn’t ask! — “When I say comeback, I’m not necessarily saying I’m going to run for President. You understand that, right?”).

Two months ago, right wing talk-show host and full-time bully Sean Hannity declared he would consider a Presidential run, but only if God directs him: “I’ve never made a decision in my life without – whatever destiny God has you’ve got to fulfill it,” he mused, ungrammatically. “I’m not sure that’s my destiny.” Any bets on how and when Sean will thank his well-wishers but announce he can do more liberal-bashing by taking his name out of the running?

And last week, MSNBC host/erstwhile Republican congressman Joe Scarborough and Fox News titan Roger Ailes — neither of whom has much more of a chance than Blago to get nominated, much less elected — addressed the burning question of their possible candidacies. Ailes, after encouraging a draft-Ailes rumor, took a page from Sid’s book, quipping “I can’t take the pay cut.”

Scarborough, amidst the cable networks’ trumped-up descriptions of “rumors swirling” that he would run, told his own network, “No, I am being drafted by the Huffington Post, which is going to help me a hell of a lot in those early, conservative Republican states.” (Speaking of trumping, The Donald himself declaimed that he wouldn’t run for President in 2000, after being seen by some as the “stop (Pat) Buchanan” candidate. Buchanan, himself a cable pundit, withdrew when it became clear he had no chance of winning.)

At least those guys had a sense of humor about it. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told C-Span’s Washington Journal that he will run in 2012 only if he and his (third) wife, Callista, feel “a requirement as citizens that we run.” Translation: “I’m much more important than any office, but might consider the Presidency if duty calls. Deep down, of course, I know I could never win.” And don’t you love the “we” from a guy who beat even John Edwards in the Sleaze Sweepstakes by cheating on his first wife while she was hospitalized with cancer?

When Sid turned Ham Jordan down, he was being his honest, modest self. A decade later — after Sid had drunk himself to death — I had a different boss whose considerable talent took a back seat to his grandiosity. He told me more than once that he could get elected President of the United States but didn’t want the job.

If you’re over 35 and a natural born citizen of the United States, you need to get off the fence about whether to run for President in 2012. If the answer is no, start polishing that non-acceptance speech — C-SPAN and the commercial cable networks have lots of hours to kill.

Job Seeking in Tough Times

In the media/entertainment business these days, so many qualified applicants are chasing so few good jobs it’s enough to drive you into selling real estate. Oh, wait, there aren’t any jobs there, either. This week the New York Times laid off more than a hundred editorial staffers, Conde Nast — in the wake of closing four titles last week — announced cuts at Architectural Digest and Bon Apetit and the LA Times lurched through its umpteenth round of firings.

But there are always opportunities out there. In order to prevail you’ll need the focus of Tiger Woods, the patience of the Dalai Lama and the pushiness of Sammy Glick. Herewith, a few do’s and don’ts from someone who’s interviewed thousands and hired hundreds.


Read every want ad. Call everyone you know and get them to call everyone they know. Think big but not too big. Apply for jobs you might actually qualify for — don’t waste time shooting for a top marketing position if your marketing experience extends only as far as Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery.


Don’t undersell yourself.
I once got a resume from an applicant for a senior management post — we’ll call him Jack Smith — who’d spent his career as “Vice President/Jack Smith Enterprises.” If he didn’t have what it took to appoint himself president of his one-man band, I wasn’t interested.

Don’t oversell yourself.
No checkable lies or contradictory claims. Don’t say you’re a PhD but still working on your BA, or give dates of prior employment that, when added up, indicate you started working when you were a toddler. For every David Geffen who benefited from the big lie, there are ten John Bebers who lost out. Who’s John Beber? Exactly!


Do not drink multiple cups of coffee or take a bite out of your kid’s Adderol in advance of your interview. Speed combined with anxiety can result in lengthy disquisitions on the meaning of being. If you must medicate, consider a beta blocker.

Sit mindfully while you wait in the lobby. A job interview is a kind of blind date, where that first moment — even if it’s the boss walking by the waiting area to use the facilities — can be a deal-breaker. Sit comfortably with your spine in an upright position and pretend to read something related to the job you’re seeking.


At the outset, do shake hands with the interviewer, but then make sure to let go. A death-grip will not earn points. Once the handshake is completed, no close talking, arm-touching or shoulder-clapping.

Project confidence but not arrogance. Explain what you can do for the company, not how much you need the job. Do not tell your prospective boss you want her job. If she says she’s looking for someone who wants her job, don’t take the bait. Avoid desperate sentences like, “I would do anything to get this job.”

If asked to name your greatest strength, do not say “I’m a people person.” For a weakness, do not under any circumstances say “I care too much,” “I work too hard” or “I’m a perfectionist.”

When the exec asks you if you have questions, ask two pre-rehearsed ones — no more, no less. Pay attention to the answers. (After I had explained a job opportunity in detail to one candidate, he asked me to describe the job opportunity.)

If you’re hoping to get hired by Daily Variety, LA Weekly or Huffpost, don’t ask about the frequency of publication.


Don’t count on glowing references to put you over the top. Everyone likes everyone, or at least they say they do.

Follow up the interview with an enthusiastic thank you note or email, even if doing so makes you cringe. If it’s an email: no emoticons, ee cummings-like lower casing, lol’s or fwiw’s. Don’t say “u” when you mean “you.” No exclamation points unless you’re applying for a sales position, in which case put one at the end of each sentence. No jokes, no irony, no rambling displays of your erudition.

When you reach the finals, do what it takes to close the deal. I once had a promising applicant for controller ask to reschedule her follow-up interview because she couldn’t find a parking space. That wasn’t the kind of controlling I had in mind.

When asked why you left your previous job, don’t lie but don’t supply grisly details. Resist the temptation to discuss your history of suing employers for wrongful termination.

Finally, if you’re offered the job, take it on the spot — in this environment an offer can disappear faster than a puny severance package. And if your boss turns out to be a monster, there’s always this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPrSVkTRb24&feature=player_embedded

CDs and Ardi and Vooks, Oh My!

CDs. Ardi. Gourmet. Vooks.

It’s a digital, astonishing, sad, hilarious time to be alive.

The CD, which just celebrated its twenty-seventh anniversary, continues its path toward extinction. Sound Scan reports that even this year’s multi-million-unit Michael Jackson and Beatles bonanzas haven’t stopped album sales from dropping 13.9 percent from 2008, which itself saw a 14 percent decline from 2007.

At least one skeptic, present at its birth, always thought CDs were a fad. George Albert, late owner of the now-defunct music trade magazine Cashbox, opposed the CD format like a creationist dismisses Darwin. Years after they accounted for the overwhelming majority of recorded music sales, he’d tell anyone who’d listen, “CDs are a hype. Truck drivers only buy eight-track tapes, and that will never change.”

Eight-tracks, of course, had long before gone the way of the Conestoga wagon, soon to be joined by George and his magazine. (Like all fundamentalists, George was a bit delusional. He liked to remind me, “Mike, I got you staawwted in this business.” He didn’t.)

Print magazines — especially local and niche-oriented publications — aren’t endangered, but their numbers are thinning faster than trees in the Brazilian rain forest. When publishing giant Conde Nast closed Gourmet and three other titles last week, the number of North American magazine fatalities rose to 383 for the first nine months of this year, according to mediafinder.com; 64 more converted from print to online-only. These numbers are somewhat less disastrous than 2008 and 2007, which saw 613 and 643 closings, respectively. But maybe that’s because there are just fewer magazines left to fold. On the bright side, fewer trees have to be felled to provide paper, which is helpful because there are also fewer trees to fell.

Gourmet wasn’t just the best food magazine. Its gifted editors — including Jane Montant from 1980-91 and Ruth Reichl for the past 10 years — regularly published brilliant essays on a variety of subjects by the likes of M.F.K. Fisher, Ray Bradbury, George Plimpton, Jonathan Gold and the late David Foster Wallace, whose memorable “Consider the Lobster” in 2004 explored the morality of boiling living beings alive. Thankfully, many of these pieces can still be found at gourmet.com.

Extinction doesn’t have to mean eternal obscurity. An international group of scientists (led by Kent State’s Owen Lovejoy) has analyzed the fossils of Ardi, a humanoid being that 4.4 million years ago apparently leapt from the trees to launch the human family tree. Ardi thus retakes the evolutionary stage as experts sift through thousands of pages of material, much of which is available to the general public here.

Of course, scientific proof is no more impressive to millions of Christian fundamentalists than CD vs. eight-track stats were to George Albert. According to John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas — whose offices are just down the street from The Mel Brooks Institute for the Very, Very Nervous — “This is a meaningless discovery of another ape. As far as the creationist community is concerned, this is a big yawn. There is nothing about Ardi that has anything to do with the evolution of man.” And what about the fossil record? That’s easy for the creationist community: an omnipotent God with an instinct for meddling could easily bury fossils that look millions of years old any time He wants.

It’s unknowable whether the next stage in the evolution of books will be the “vook” — which joins “DigiScent iSmell” and “*ist” in the absurd-names- for-tech-products hall of fame — but let’s hope not. According to Ellie Hirschhorn, chief digital officer — as opposed to an analog officer? — of Simon & Schuster, the publisher that just introduced the first line of the creatures, the vook is “a game-changing model for reading in the age of digital multimedia, the first viable combination of text and video that is user-friendly and that addresses today’s multitasking audience and how it absorbs information and entertainment.”

Vooks aren’t inherently bad. As the critic David Finkle noted in a recent blog, “Okay, I’ll concede that books concerned with, say, fitness, can benefit from video segments. But fiction?”

One of Simon & Schuster’s initial vooks is Promises, the thirty-seventh novel by best-selling author Jude Deveraux, who explained that she “had to take a little bit of scenes out to make room for the video.” Given that philosophy — and grammar — S&S might do well to take Finkle’s advice and “release the video and forget the book.”

It can be exhilarating to contemplate the digital and evolutionary future. But I don’t know if I could bear a world of “vookcases,” “vook reports,” and, God forbid, a New York Review of Vooks.

Mental Health/Economic Health

A close friend of Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Jennifer Kromberg — let’s call her Jane — recently fell into a depression after losing her job as an academic researcher at a major university. Jane, also going through a painful divorce, couldn’t afford even the bargain-basement rates her psychotherapist was charging, and her treatment was terminated. Without therapy, Jane’s depression deepened, making it all the more difficult for her to find another job.

While politicians argue about bank regulation and health care reform, tens of millions of Americans like Jane who’ve lost jobs, homes and assets are suffering severe anxiety, depression or other debilitating symptoms brought on or exacerbated by financial distress.

Unless properly treated, these conditions — and the accompanying loss of productivity — may become chronic. A recent study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that even after a person finds employment, the effects of a vicious cycle of depression, loss of personal control, decreased emotional functioning and poorer physical health can last for years.

We must lobby government to do more, but in the meantime community groups, foundations and non-profits — themselves struggling to raise enough funds to stay afloat — need to find ways to go the extra mile.

To that end, and inspired by Jane’s heartbreaking circumstances, Dr. Kromberg has taken on the directorship of the just-launched Economic Crisis Program (ECP), under the auspices of Wright Institute Los Angeles (WILA) — a non-profit psychoanalytic institute which provides struggling Angelenos with low-cost, long-term psychotherapy. (Disclosure: I’m WILA’s board chair.) Funded by a grant from the Robert Ellis Simon Foundation, the ECP features a 15-week program delivered by skilled, compassionate mental health professionals offering a range of options, including individual psychotherapy, group therapy and educational workshops.

Fees are determined by participants’ ability to pay, according to WILA founder and executive director Allen Yasser, who tapped Dr. Kromberg for the position.

“The individual and group therapy sessions will help participants cope with day-to-day difficulties, connect and receive support from others in similar circumstances, and better manage anxiety and depression,” Dr. Kromberg says. “The workshops will teach methods of improving mental and physical health, taking active and measurable steps toward regaining financial control, and accessing available community resources.”

The vast majority of the newly unemployed and the uninsured can’t afford the treatment they need. And for many who have jobs and insurance (even the gold-plated plans rarely cover more than few therapy sessions) the faltering economy can also cause severe symptoms and make help less affordable.

Mental health services at all levels of government are being decimated, but the ECP and similar efforts are especially crucial in California, where the latest statistics are beyond grim: unemployment exceeds 12 percent and there are now 92,000-plus homes in foreclosure, the most in the nation. The bone-cutting reductions in California’s budget go hand in hand with skyrocketing demand directly linked to these unprecedented job losses and foreclosures.

Even those who’ve kept their financial heads above water may need psychotherapy to deal with the economic anxiety that pervades all corners of American society. A recent AP-Yahoo News poll found that one-third of those surveyed are concerned about losing their jobs, half worry they’ll fall behind on mortgage and credit card payments, and seven in 10 are anxious that their stocks and retirement investments are losing value. An American Psychological Association poll backed up those findings, concluding that 80 percent of those surveyed report economic-related stress, up from 66 percent in April 2008.

Mental health and financial health are, as lawyers like to put it, inextricably intertwined. If you have been prescribed risperdal, check out the risperdal lawsuit payout per person. Now’s the time to get more active. Get involved in grass roots efforts to pressure government to restore essential services; contribute to and participate in community and non-profit groups, or start new ones; and push in every way possible for universal health care which includes reimbursement for long-term psychotherapy.

If you want to know more about WILA or ECP — or are aware of other opportunities for low-cost psychotherapy for those most in need — please comment here, call ECP at 310.277.2609 or visit www.wila.org.

A Vote Ain’t Just A Hill of Beans

“Republicans have been accused of abandoning the poor. It’s the other way around. They never vote for us.” — Dan Quayle

I admit it. I like the late Bono — Sonny, that is — better than the current one. The U2 front man is a certified rock god and globetrotting champion of great causes. Sonny Bono was a mildly talented ’60s pop star turned mediocre Republican politician who could also be a clever businessman and was pitch perfect as Cher’s poker-faced straight-man. But the few times I met him, Sonny was a super-nice guy with no airs, while Bono seems, well, kind of full of himself. Besides, for me the Sonny & Cher gem “I Got You Babe” and Sonny’s song “Needles and Pins” — as rendered by The Searchers — hold up better over time than more than a few of U2’s portentous “classics.”

But if I were running for governor of the largest state in the land, I would think twice before identifying Sonny as my role model. That’s what Republican former eBay CEO and gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman’s campaign — trying to explain why she didn’t even register to vote until she turned 50 — has done. They’ve trotted out Sonny’s widow, California congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, who says her late husband — who first registered when he ran for mayor of Palm Springs in 1988 — did so well as a politician that it must actually be a good thing Whitman took so long to exercise her basic right of citizenship.

Non-voting has been an issue from time to time on both sides of the aisle. Democrats Jon Corzine (now running for reelection as governor of New Jersey) and John Edwards (who won a North Carolina Senate seat in 1998) both had abysmal voting histories when they first ran for office.

This year, in addition to Whitman, U.S. senate hopeful Carly Fiorina (a Republican and former Hewlett Packard CEO) and Seattle mayoral candidate Jim Mallahan (a Democrat and T-Mobile exec) are among the pols who’ve had to account for their serial Election Day no-shows.

Failure to have voted in the past needn’t disqualify those seeking political office. Maybe you didn’t vote because you resented the Tweedle dee/Tweedle dum(b) choices in certain elections. Or perhaps you chose to opt out of the system on principle, like the Stoics in ancient Greece — forefathers of today’s libertarians — who expressed their disdain for voting via the redolent slogan, “Abstain from Beans.” (Voting machines back then were receptacles into which the electorate placed beans of various colors.) Or say you’ve come through the crucible of drug or alcohol addiction with a commitment to make the world a better place.

Bill Clinton was a terrific politician, but we don’t want all our leaders to have plotted their rise to power from a very early age. (Remember his “have it both ways” explanation of why he registered for the draft as a teenager even though he didn’t believe in it? “I decided to accept the draft in spite of my beliefs for one reason: to maintain my political viability within the system.”)

What we do want — and what most politicians are far too narcissistic to understand — is some truth. Candidates need to tell us when and why they didn’t vote. Cover-ups and dissembling aren’t just wrong, they’re downright stupid at a time when a Google search is all we need to get the facts.

In the absence of heartfelt explanations, we’re left with our common sense, which tells us that Corzine, Edwards, Whitman, Fiorina et al were probably too busy getting mega-rich to register and vote. Or maybe they believed their jobs were just too essential to leave for a half-hour – or even to take a few minutes with an absentee ballot — to cast one vote out of millions, a task better left to those of us with less important things to do.

If Bono were running for office against a resurrected Sonny Bono, I’d vote for the former over the latter because he’s so good on the issues. But I’d be tempted to change my mind if Sonny explained that when he was young he was just too stoned to find the registration booth…

Let Corporations Be (Just) Corporations

Politics has gotten so expensive. It takes a lot of money just to get beat!

–Will Rogers

When Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton implausibly claimed during his 1992 presidential quest that he’d tried marijuana but never inhaled, Johnny Carson quipped that Jerry Brown, Clinton’s quirky rival, appeared never to have exhaled. Clinton, of course, went on to win the presidency that year thanks in no small part to the largesse of corporations like Tyson Foods, Archer Daniels Midland and investment banks like Goldman Sachs.

Today Brown — still without significant personal wealth or corporate backing — seeks the Democratic nomination for the California governorship. If he gets the nod, his Republican rival may well be billionaire and former eBay chief Meg Whitman, who’s already out there mining the trope that skill in helming a business qualifies you run a government. So what if she’s never contested an elected office before and didn’t even vote until she was 46? Before eBay, she worked at Hasbro, where she played a key role in the success of Mr. Potato Head, and perhaps voters will feel this gives her an edge in understanding California’s child-like state legislature.

It might take someone who’s inhaled and exhaled a few too many times to truly believe that running an online auction company qualifies one to manage a state with the world’s sixth-largest economy and a plethora of crises that go way beyond business and finance. But Whitman has pursued her party’s nomination by acting just like a CEO, vowing to fire 40,000 Californians and pledging to spend as much of her own money as necessary toward a $150 million campaign war chest.

Then there’s Carly Fiorina. She wants to represent the Republicans in their sexennial bid to replace U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. Fiorina’s campaign slogan: “Carlyfornia Dreamin’!!!” One hopes John Phillips’ estate will have the same reaction as Bruce Springsteen and James Taylor did when they refused to let Ronald Reagan and John McCain co-opt their songs in previous elections. (If Carly needs to regroup, she could always petition Showtime to let her use “Carlyfornication.”)

Fiorina — who also has rarely voted; what is it with these people? — previously ran Silicon Valley giant Hewlett Packard. When an unhappy board of directors forced her out in 2005, she collected in excess of $20 million. John McCain tapped her as his chief economic spokesperson in last year’s presidential race until she told the inconvenient truth that neither McCain nor his running mate Sarah Palin was qualified to run a major American corporation. But she, who presided — with questionable skill — over a tech company is fit to be a United States Senator? That, as they say in Silicon Valley, does not compute.

Corporations are dictatorships, with everyone ultimately reporting to the CEO. Governments are vast cooperative bodies with legislatures, courts and other institutions without which chief executives can’t get much done. Corporations exist primarily, if not solely, to enrich shareholders. Even most conservatives don’t argue that government’s primary purpose is to make money.

The conceit that “business” equals “sensible,” “rigorous,” and “lean” does not, to put it kindly, comport with the evidence. Do we really want our government run by the financial wizards and corporate honchos who brought us the current economic meltdown, laughing all the way to their own banks while taking obscene risks with their shareholders’ money and their workers’ future?

Of course, big money dominates both Democrats and Republicans, while making it next to impossible for third party candidates to gain traction. And this won’t change until elections are, at least to some degree, publicly funded.

We can trace the need for reform back to 1886, when the Supreme Court granted corporations the same rights as living persons under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Now the Roberts Court is poised to expand on the incredible idea of “personhood” for corporations, giving them more “rights” than ever to influence campaigns. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/09/05/MN7K19INC8.DTL

National campaign finance reform isn’t even on the radar these days. But Californians next year will have the opportunity to vote for CFEA (California Fair Elections Act), which provides a test of a public financing option to even the playing field for candidates without the resources of a Whitman or a Fiorina.

This bill won’t pass unless activists can raise enough money to wage an effective grass roots campaign. To learn more and get involved, check out this link. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-block/fixed_b_270123.html

Let’s get corporations to stop acting like governments or persons and go back to being just corporations. Then maybe we can all exhale.

Hypocrisy, Lies and Videotape

When I worked at LA Weekly in the early ’80s, our demographic research showed that not only did most of our readers not have kids, they didn’t even like kids. Ten years later, when we started OC Weekly, we were advised by “community leaders” that it would never fly because Orange County was much too suburban, conservative and “family values”-oriented.

But we didn’t need a demographic survey to know that the suburban naysayers had their heads up their crabgrass. The massive responses to LA Weekly’s phone sex advertisers from Orange County residents confirmed that Newton’s law — to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction — applies not just to stuff like space travel, but also to human sexuality. Where there’s repression, there will be an equal measure of licentiousness.

Turned out that both LA and OC Weekly did okay by endeavoring to stand for things — like social justice and looking out for the less fortunate — that applied whether you had 12 kids in a Costa Mesa tract home or lived like a hermit in Echo Park. (Okay, okay; we also, not necessarily proudly, made a lot of money from those phone sex ads.)

I haven’t worked for either paper in years but it came as no surprise last week that OC Weekly helped break the story that led to the resignation of Orange County Republican Assemblyman Mike Duvall just hours after a videotape surfaced of him bragging in graphic detail — during a legislative hearing! — of his sexual encounters with female lobbyists.

Duvall is a married man with two adult children and a 100 percent voting rating from the Capitol Resource Institute, a conservative organization that calls itself a “pro-family” — read “pro Christian” — organization.

His innovative defense set him apart from such admitted adulterers as South Carolina Governor/space cadet Mark Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign (who’d earlier called for the resignations of both Bill “I did not have sex with that woman” Clinton and Larry “wide stance” Craig). Duvall claimed he never did any of the things he was boasting about — his only mistake “was engaging in inappropriate story-telling.” So he’s not just a sexist pig, he’s a lying sexist pig.

And so the parade continues of self-righteous conservatives telling us “inappropriate stories” about their picture-perfect wives, kids and golden retrievers while sleeping around and voting for war, school prayer and censorship and against gay rights, sex education and humanity towards undocumented workers, who, the last time I checked, have families too.

Republican politicians are often caught between unbridled lust and marketing campaigns that pitch the GOP as the party of God and family. So they’ve had practice in developing a rationalization: Democrats — like Clinton and John Edwards — have illicit sex, too! In a discussion of l’affair Duvall on KOCE TV’s Inside OC last week, U.S. Senate candidate Chuck DeVore, a “pro-family” Republican from Orange County, tried to make that case. Republicans only seem to get caught more frequently because they have higher standards, he said; Democrats have no standards where sex and family loyalty are concerned, so they can’t appear hypocritical. http://www.cbjonline.com/shows/InsideOC_607_ConsiderThis.wmv

When a family-values politician has sex with someone other than his presumably family-values wife, he usually starts with the notion that the world revolves around him. Thus, Mark Sanford — who lied repeatedly about his extra-marital affair before getting caught — thought it necessary for the public to know about his efforts to “fall back in love” with his wife even though his Argentinean mistress was his “true love.”

But the pathology at work here goes beyond garden-variety narcissism. “The effect of excessive public virtue (italics mine) is an obvious psychological cover for discomfort with aspects of one’s own behavior and character,” George Mason University assistant professor Solon Simmons told the Christian Science Monitor. “By controlling others, the true believer attempts to heal himself and often does terrible violence along the way.”

Instead of going out to have sex with women not their wives and half their ages, these guys — and they are always guys — might consider visiting a shrink, or at least spending some time at grandiosity.org, which bills itself as “Your Complete Narcissistic Personality Disorder Resource” and offers information and advice for ego-trippers.

There’s a long tradition of skepticism where suburban morality is concerned. One of the best critiques may be David Lynch’s 1986 film, Blue Velvet. It opens with an aerial view of a perfect Norman Rockwell-esque small town, and zeroes in on a homeowner watering his garden. The man collapses, and as the camera closes in, his immaculate front lawn is revealed to be a mini-jungle teeming with revolting, cannibalistic insects.

The closer we look at the self-righteous leaders of the Right, the more we see the ugliness of — well, let’s use Mike Duvall’s euphemism — inappropriate story telling.

Field Notes on a Songwriter’s Centennial — Part II

How long does it last?
Can love be measured by the hours in a day?

September 24th is the centennial birthday of my late father, the songwriter
Carl Sigman (1909-2000), who wrote nearly a thousand songs, including “It’s
All In The Game,” “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” “Ebb Tide,” “What Now,
My Love,” “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)” and “Arrivederci, Roma.” In the second of two parts, I offer some not altogether random notes on the years 1959-2009.

When my dad awoke to the ’60s, it dawned on him that the times they were
a’changin’. Determined to keep writing hits, he got in on the girl-group
craze with The Angels’ heavenly “Till” and had a Top 5 smash with Brenda
Lee’s heart-wrenching “Losing You,” produced by Nashville legend Owen


In 1964, at the height of Beatlemania — by which time songwriters who
didn’t smoke pot and perform their own material were becoming an endangered
species — Beatles producer George Martin conjured a U.K./U.S. chartmaker
with 21-year-old Liverpudlian Cilla Black’s (nee Priscilla White!) stirring
recording of Carl’s “You’re My World,” one of my all-time favorite tracks.
Helen Reddy’s tepid reprise of the song was a tepid hit 13 years later.


What do Mel Torme, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Pussycat Dolls have in
common? Skipping decades from the ’60s through the ’80s to 2005, they all
recorded “Right Now,” my dad’s collaboration with jazz great Herbie Mann.

A friend recently sent me three sublime CDs comprising 28 versions of Van
Morrison performing “It’s All In The Game” live in various stages of
inspiration and inebriation.

Frank Sinatra committed over a dozen of my dad’s songs to vinyl, and sang
at least another half dozen in recorded radio broadcasts. His versions of
“I Could Have Told You,” “A Day In The Life Of A Fool” and “The World We
Knew” are definitive.


But even Frank didn’t always get it right. His swingin’, finger snappin’
interpretation of Carl’s most despairing song, “What Now, My Love” — in
which the singer pleads, Now that you’ve left me how can I live through
another day? — isn’t quite, well, suicidal enough. You’re better off
listening to Sonny & Cher’s jangly 1966 hit, or heartfelt versions by
Shirley Bassey, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland or Miss Piggy.


Once, at a dinner party, a woman remarked that Carl’s love songs were so
deep they could only have been inspired by his wife, Terry. Carl, who could
never ever tell a lie, replied, “No. Actually, they’re just songs.”

In the ’50s Carl wrote “Answer Me, My Lord,” and Frankie Laine quickly took
it to No.1 in the U.K. But the U.S. publisher thought the lyric was too
religious, so my dad substituted “Love” for “Lord.” The resulting charttoppers by Vaughn Monroe and Nat Cole on these shores paved the way for the song’s 56-year journey from croon (Bing Crosby) to pop (Petula Clark) to doo wop (Harptones) to country (Marty Robbins) to R&B (Impressions) to rock/soul (Johnny Rivers) to art rock (Bryan Ferry) to jazz (Pharaoh Sanders). Opera superstar Renee Fleming even recorded it a couple of years ago and sang it last season on Elvis Costello’s cable TV show, “Spectacle,” with Bill Frissell on guitar.


And two of the greatest popular music geniuses of our time have included
“Answer Me” in their repertoires: Bob Dylan often performed it in concert
in the early ’90s — playing the entire melody on guitar before singing a
note — and Joni Mitchell gave it a lush, gorgeous treatment in 2000.

Carl Sigman-Peter DeRose’s “A Marshmallow World” has been a
Christmas/winter perennial for decades and still gets new recordings every
year. Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Brenda Lee sang it early on and Darlene
Love knocked it out of the park for the Phil Spector Christmas
in the ’60s. In recent years, Los Straitjackets, Regis Philbin/Steve Tyrell, The Cheetah Girls, Kristin Chenoweth/John Pizzarelli and Raul Malo have added their voices, and last season even conservative commentator Mark Steyn joined the snowball fight with an affectionate take.


A friend of my parents would tell music directors on cruise ships he was Carl
Sigman, whereupon my dad’s songs would get played and the faux Carl would
take the bows and soak up the kudos.

When Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound treatment propelled the Righteous
Brothers’ “Ebb Tide” to the Top 5 in 1965, my high school social life
turned a corner: several cheerleaders actually became aware of my
existence. When Lenny Welch sang it at my senior prom two years later, he
either called me up to the stage or didn’t, depending on whom you ask and
what substances they’d consumed. I prefer to think he did, but couldn’t
swear to it.


Inexplicably, hundreds of German and Eastern European rock bands have produced
note-for-note covers of Louis Prima’s gloriously demented rendering of
“Buona Sera,” which floored my dad, who thought he’d written a sweet,
simple love song.


Paramount chief Bob Evans nixed my father’s original lyric for the movie
theme from the 1970 weeper “Love Story” because he thought the last two
words in the line, “A moment’s richness in the mystery of time …so Jenny
came” were too, uh, sexually suggestive. Livid, Carl paced the living room
floor of our Great Neck home, unable to come up with an alternative. In
frustration, he turned to my mom and said, “Where do I begin?” She
recognized the perfect fit of those words with the opening notes of the
melody, and you know the rest.


When both were in their ’80s, Carl got a call from the aforementioned
Frankie Laine, who was convinced that all the “Festival of the Bulls” theme
needed to become a smash hit was a Carl Sigman lyric. My dad’s immediate
reaction was pure Michael Corleone: “Just when I think I’m out of it, they
pull me back in.” He relented and wrote a pretty decent lyric, but
Frankie’s dream of a four-legged bookend to his classic “Mule Train” hasn’t yet

As 89-year-old Carl was wheeled into a Long Island operating room for heart
surgery, he quipped, “Aorta be in pictures.”

Not long before he died, my father awoke from a dream in which he had
written lyrics to Frederic Chopin’s immortal “Revolutionary Etude.” After
breakfast, he sat down at his desk and transcribed the words to “Unmask
Your Heart.” (Note to Mr. Buble or Ms. Keys: I have a nice demo…) And
that was his swan song, a collaboration — across the oceans and the
centuries — with as gifted a tunesmith as this world has seen.