Sunday, November 30, 2014

Some thoughts on the passing of Jamie Powell.

The first musical environment I discovered in the Los Angeles area when I moved out here three years ago was a blues jam in Toluca Lake at a place called Lucy’s 51. It was led by Bobby Spencer and his band, and I found my trumpet to be welcome in that place. One of the leading lights of that session was an imposing gentleman who would lumber to the stage carrying a black guitar, situate himself on a tall bar stool, and from about a foot off the microphone, do some of the most gripping blues hollering I have ever seen anywhere. This was Jamie “Blues Boy” Powell, a six-foot-four powerhouse of blues music, one of the early indicators to me that yes, Los Angeles is a place where I might be able to live.
Jamie Powell has died and I find myself to be pretty busted up over the news. He was in the hospital and was visited frequently by close associates, and all of the reports were that he was looking well and in good spirits. I fully expected him to recover and I expected to play with him again. He didn’t, and I won’t.
Jam sessions are formed, they live and they die, and this one at Lucy’s is no more, but while it was happening, it had its own unique beauty. A real family developed in the time the session was happening, and I grew to be part of that family. When Jamie would sing and play, if I were there, he would always request that I join him on trumpet. That was a great honor and a pleasure, as I looked upon Jamie as a blues master, and someone who, as Bobby Spencer once put it, “comes from what he’s singing about.”
The most beautiful part of the Lucy’s 51 little chapter in Los Angeles music history was the advent of a young man named Ray Goren, then 12 years old, who played authentic blues guitar. He would come in accompanied by his father, and he would often share the stage with the great master, Jamie Powell. The two became dear friends and with the help of Bobby SpencerRetha Petruzates Tadg Galleran and many others, they formed the Generation Blues Experience, a blues band that featured the stately stage command of Jamie Powell and the ferocious guitar work of young Ray Goren. The project garnered significant attention and resulted in gigs from Los Angeles to Chicago and in between.
The picture I post here of Ray and Jamie says it all. It was a brief confluence of ostensibly different but at a core level practically identical trajectories of energy, Jamie’s and Ray’s, colliding at this jam session that happened for a period of time in Toluca Lake, and I was afforded a front row seat on it and the opportunity to play with both of these great musicians, one whose musical voice is just finding its wings, and one whose mastery and command shall soar no more.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day Eve Ramblings...

I am preparing for a bad referendum on a pretty good president tomorrow. Rotten politics will be rewarded and a lousy selling job on the part of the administration will be manifest in some mid-term spankings in senate, congressional and gubernatorial races. Speaking of gubernatorial races, wait until you see the goober who might get reelected as Maine’s governor tomorrow. It’s could be a bad day for Maine Democrats.

But it’s going to be a bad two years of non-governance for America as well. The butt-hurt that is felt by the soon to be former majority in the senate is so acute and its lesson from McConnell and Boehner in blind obstructionism so recent that what’s good for the goose will surely be considered good for the gander, or turtle, as the case may or may not be. Expect congressional gridlock that will make the 101/405 rush hour intersection look like boarding school toilets on the night of a bean supper. Sixty is the new majority, and the GOP won’t have it.

Recent presidents, and indeed recent politicians rarely come from single parent households, rarely needed a student loan, and rarely haven’t made a long slew of really rotten deals. A thrice-elected senator, a kick-ass speech at the Democratic National Convention and boom, there’s your Manchurian candidate. He was too clean, and the machine did not like that a bit. A bit of grime is appreciated, a few skeletons in the closet, and it is best if they resemble little boys.

The more parts of your soul you’ve already sold, the more capitulation can be expected, so when this moderate political figure with a silver tongue, caramel skin, a clean slate and a decent jump shot came along, the DNC put a lot of its eggs in the Obama basket and Brand Obama pulled it off. The resentment throughout the blue blood arm of the Senate alongside that of the Adam’s Rib/Noah’s Ark crowd in the House made for strange bedfellows and pretty soon, the only way this brainy African-American was going to survive at all was by capitulating at every turn with the Republican Party, with giving the banks a pass in the housing collapse, at signing the NDAA without a sneeze, signing away habeus corpus for military detainees, and the list goes on.

But even these egregious betrayals, these phenomenal sellings-out on the part of our smart, level headed president failed to satisfy the beast. Obama was not sufficiently craven for the side the oligarchs have decided to back more heavily, and the Citizen’s United savaging of representative democracy and the McCutcheon final removal of it paved the way for the gerrymandering ad-blitz masterpiece currently being orchestrated by theKoch/Adelson/Bechtel/Halliburton economic dictatorship.

It is to our shame that the message of military and corporate beholdenness has been inculcated into the American pysche to the degree that it has. The real truth of the matter though is that we have in fact not as a nation fallen into line with this message, rather the fact is that the ones who have adopted it have done so passionately, and  the majority of people who haven’t fallen for it haven’t fallen out of bed on Election Day either, thereby ushering in rule by people who do not have their best interests at heart. Low voter turnout is the stated goal of the Republican Party, and with or without voting restrictions, to my amazement and unspeakable frustration, America's hoi -polloi, the rabble middle, my people, seem willing to oblige them.

The 5-4 lock on the Supreme Court that believes it to be appropriate that 42 individuals control one third of the totality of Political Action Committees' resources will ensure that one dollar one vote supersedes one man one vote for the immediate future. I don’t see a way out beside campaign finance reform, and that won’t happen without a Supreme Court change or a senate veto. A senate veto is out, so progressives are going to have to hold their noses and vote for Hillary in order to have a prayer of effecting some easement of the money, media and politicians triumvirate of internally competing criminality, and even that has to wait. I guess so. Unless the Bernie Sanders miracle happens and we have our next assassinated president and our next shot at the truth. In any case, we can't just give up or the super predators will keep swarming to this country's wealth like bugs to a summertime porch light. They're not going to quit, and we can't either. I won't if you won't.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Gas Wars

There is a profound geopolitical move on Saudi Arabia’s part right now that is resulting in lower gas prices, and countries with significant but not voluminous oil export capacity, like sanctions-crippled Iran, are the ones who are most feeling the pressure. Ordinarily when oil prices become depressed, Saudi Arabia cuts production and keeps prices high. Right now though, they seem to be in a frame of mind to toss a stink bomb into Iran’s tent. The question then, is why?

Of course there are the Sunni versus Shiite national profiles of Saudi Arabia versus Iran. Iran is one of only a few predominantly Shia countries, and Saudi Arabia is currently in a position to punish them for it. What’s the real problem though? It takes awhile to grok the difference between Sunni and Shia, why it matters, and why the level of commitment to the schisms is as great as it is.

Apart from the stylistic, academic, jurisprudence and other departures of the practice of Sunni versus Shiite Islam, the Shiite’s professed sole claim to direct lineage from Mohammed to the exclusion of the Sunni is offensive, and it is a gripe that has sustained itself through the oral tradition and manifest itself through the tradition of Civil War for centuries. The question then ought not be about why Saudi Arabia is trying to rupture Iran’s economy. The question instead is, why now?

One piece of circulating conventional wisdom is that Saudi Arabia is leveraging the economic sanctions that have been applied to Iran by the US over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s production and markets are so hobbled by sanctions that even what little they can bring to market can only sell for half of what it did a month ago. So, the same pain that Saudi Arabia oil barons will experience from lower profits will generate a more acute blow to the Iranian economy than it would absent the US sanctions, thereby being a more efficient expenditure of resource.

The United States government, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil and munitions industries, has been doing what it can to add to the glut by practically fracking its Grand Tetons off. It’s easier to get a fracking license in Texas right now than it is to get proper voter ID. The reason for that is because what’s bad for Iran is bad for other oil-exporting countries that do not have oceans of the stuff lying around in easily accessible desert regions, Russia for instance.

Russia is as crippled by this current glut as Iran is, and for those Obama haters who think he’s a ninny and not up to playing big boy games, this is the one to watch. Russia and Iran are nasty little nests of capacity, resource and a cultural ability to withstand prolonged agony and inflict unimaginable pain on their enemies.

The US has pulled the strategy of Arab collusion to bankrupt the Russians before, playing footsy with Iran and Iraq while draining Soviet resources with a covert CIA war in Afghanistan in 1985. Add in the Cold War arms race, burgeoning secessionist movements among the Soviet protectorates, most notably the Baltic states, and come 1991 under Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s long-outlived reason for being collapsed.  You can bet that Russia is leery of this move right now and will in all likelihood react with some show of belligerent irksomeness.

In the late 1980s under the Reagan presidency, there was a more or less symbolic downward pressure on oil prices in letting James Watt savage the southwest and putting ANWR drilling back on the table, but the philosophy of the times matches the Obama response right now.  The administration, in cooperation with big bomb and big oil, is in search of anything to heighten a real or expected glut that will further damage the Soviet economy, and fracking is obviously it.

So yes, the final acts of a horror show are going on in Afghanistan and Syria right now, but the real war just may be happening at a gas pump near you.