Monday, July 29, 2019

Guest Essay (Chairman Ralph); UP AGAINST THE WALL?: THE REST OF THE STORY (RISING FREE, TRB TWO, SECTOR 27)

<Tom Robinson Band: 
Ticket, Reunion Show, 
Kentish Town & Country, 11//6/89
Author's Archive>

<i. TRB: The Reunion, Take One>
The teenage boy, now a twentysomething man, presses himself against the darkened wall, awaiting his cue. Nervously, he checks his leather jacket one last time. The recorder seems well placed inside his chest pocket. Good.

Hopefully, he'll take home a souvenir of an likely night that he wouldn't have missed for anything, now that he's finally made it over to Britain. 
After 10 years of dormancy, the Tom Robinson Band is treading the boards for a series of reunion shows across the UK.

Tonight's gig at the Kentish Town & Country features three of the four original members in Mark Ambler (keyboards), Danny Kustow (guitar), and Tom Robinson (bass, vocals). Original drummer Brian "Dolphin" Taylor is playing with Stiff Little Fingers, who reformed themselves only two years ago. Enter Steve Creese, who's ably deputizing for him.

The air is brimming with promise, all right. Depending on which article you read, the band will either record a couple of new tracks for a compilation, or even attempt a new album, who knows?

The band bounds onstage, dressed in black, to a thunderous roar. The young man flicks his recorder to life. Tom seems in a jocular mood, at one point stopping to ask, "How many of you saw TRB the first time round?" 

The crowd shouts back in affirmation. "How many are seeing us for the first time?" Now, it's the other half's turn to answer. "Well, hello to you, from all the rest of us!" Tom says, as his face breaks into a broad grin.

Tonight's set firmly focuses on
Power In The Darkness, including "Glad To Be Gay," "Too Good To Be True," "2-4-6-8 Motorway," "You Gotta Survive," and the title track. No real surprises there, since many TRB fans regard it as Tom's most enduring work. 

There's nothing from TRB TWO, the troubled follow-up album. No surprises there, either, although there's more to that story, as we'll see. To round out the set, Tom throws in some of his solo standbys ("Atmospherics," "War Baby"), and a couple new songs. "Number One Protection" is the standout,a catchy story-song about a gangster who comes to a bad end ("Get some protection/Too bad he never had protection/Get some protection/You never get ahead without protection"). 

The other new standout, "We Didn't Know What Was Going On," ends up on a live album, The Winter Of '89, and rings equally true today, for its unsparing more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same theme ("The times may be a-changing, but the story's still the same/'Cause the radio and the papers say the same thing every day/The government is wonderful/The country's doing great").

The night proves thrilling indeed. There's nothing like hearing an old favorite deliver what it does best -- in this case, protest rock that still packs a wallop. Like everyone else here tonight, the young man heads home, well satisfied.

The recording doesn't turn out, however. For the most part, all the young man hears is the sonic equivalent of shredded wheat -- a wall of over-amped guitars, with the odd keyboard or drum squiggle poking its head out amid the chaos. He vows to do better next time. He'll get that chance sooner than he thinks.


<ii.: Exit Danny Kustow>
<1955 - 2019>>

Danny Kustow died at 63 on March 11, at Royal United Hospital, Bath. His passing consigned him forever to my memories of those reunion gigs that bookended my six-month tenure as a clerk at the University of London. Danny's death offered yet another reminder about the fragility of life, as if I needed one. Like it or not, as your idols age, you're aging right along with them.

Danny's death proved bittersweet in another way, however, since we'd exchanged emails roughly a decade ago, when I first hit on the idea of writing a celebration of Power In The Darkness, the album that thrilled me so long ago. I wanted to get comments from everyone involved in making it, including its producer (Chris Thomas) and his sterling engineers (Jerry Green, Bill Price). 

Who'd ever publish such a thing? I honestly didn't have a clue, other than a vague notion of doing it online somehow, possibly as an e-book -- this was long before technology made such an idea more realistic.

Naturally, I initially approached Tom, who suggested rounding up his former colleagues first. He then gave me Danny's e-mail, and I duly fired off my proposal to him. He wrote back, saying that he was glad to see someone thought so highly of him, and hoped to still find a major rock band that could use his services.

I had no idea that, by this point, Danny had long retired from the game after The Winter Of '89 emerged as a major bone of contention (essentially, being repackaged and released numerous times, without the band's consent, and needless to say, not a penny for any of those endeavors). Full of excitement, I emailed Danny back, but never heard from him again.

Similar inquiries to Mark Ambler and Dolphin Taylor also ran aground. Nor did I have any luck with bassist Steve Witter, who spent six weeks rehearsing with the band, as part of a short-lived plan for Tom to focus solely on the lead singer duties. 

However, nothing came of the idea, once TRB's members decided their rapport had gotten so tight, there wasn't room for anyone else (or so Tom stated for Pete Frame's classic family tree chart, "2-4-6-8 Tom Robinson Bands").

I didn't take these developments personally. Getting people to talk about their past is often problematic, depending on the degree of trauma involved, and it's fair to say that TRB's biography fits that description. As I documented in my original post here last fall ("UP AGAINST THE WALL?"), TRB experienced an adrenaline rush of major success, only to implode after the troubled recording -- and mixed response -- to its second album.

That policy holds firm in the official punk narratives, which essentially write TRB out of the script, just like the music weeklies did during most of the band's final year of life. Nor did the infighting cease during the 1989 reunion, which splintered after about a year of steady touring, including sellouts at the Marquee.


Tom has since re-floated the TRB brand without any other original members, citing his '79 and '89-'90 experiences as ample reason to steer clear of such an idea, however much fans wanted to see it.


I can't vouch for any of these facts, not knowing the principals personally, but the lack of response convinced me to abandon the project. Given my own punk rock ideals, I had no desire to water down my original goals of getting everyone involved (and hopefully, a little enthusiastic, God forbid). I'd seen plenty of compromised history, and I wasn't keen on adding to it.


In any event, as friends, family and musical colleagues gather for tonight's affair, "A Night With Danny Kustow," now seems like a good time to look at the remaining works that his roaring guitar played such a key role in creating. We've already covered
Power In The Darkness, but if you need catching up, here you go, then:


https://ramennoodlenation.blogspot.com/2018/10/guest-essay-chairman-ralph-up-vs-wall.html


And now...on with the rest of our show. Take a moment to find the relevant platters (or discs), if you must. Stack them up. Fire up your favorite drink of choice, sit back, and cue the first track. We're going to kick up our feet for awhile, and get our brains back in gear, so there's no need to rush it. If you've just dropped by the neighborhood, sit back and relax. You're going to be here for awhile.



<Original UK EP Cover>

<iii.: TRB: Related Works>
<Rising Free>>



<Rising Free>, in a sense, is the record that made the rest of TRB possible -- as a band, and as a concept. Released in November 1977, on the heels of the band's first single ("2-4-6-8 Motorway"/"I Shall Be Released"), the EP showcased four hot live tracks captured at High Wycombe Town Hall (Sussex), and London's Lyceum Theatre, which became a go-to spot for many, outfits during the '60s, '70s and '80s. (To name just one example, Bob Marley & The Wailers recorded  their '75 breakout release, Live, there.)


In any event, Rising Free captures the band at its frenetic early peak -- we'll get to that momentarily. Many outfits during this era chose the live EP/LP route, either as a quick, cost-efficient way of plugging gaps between albums, or to showcase a grittier-sounding side that didn't always surface in the studio.


<"Don't Take No For An Answer"> kicks off the proceedings in fine style, with a quick blast from Danny, which Mark Ambler immediately answers with a fast, crisp roll across his organ, and Dolphin Taylor's drumming kicks the track into overdrive. As an intro, it stands among TRB's finest moments, one that still gives me goosebumps -- whether I play it for myself, or anyone else. 


The song works on two levels, being written as a sarcastic kiss off to the Kinks' Ray Davies, who still owned Tom's publishing at the time, something that didn't sit terribly well with him ("I signed on the line/I signed for a long time/Now you won't let me leave"). 

But even if you knew nothing about that situation, you could hear the song as a fist-waving dismissal of the bully boys in power, particularly in the chorus ("You don't take no for an answer/When you've nothing to lose"). Either way, "Don't Take No For An Answer" rattles and clatters with undeniable power and menace, as Ambler weaves his way in and out of the proceedings, that peak with a strangled, shuddering solo from Danny, that seemingly threatens to come apart at the seams -- only to fall back to earth, and kick the track back into gear.


<"Martin"> is the cooling off-point, which is presumably which it's positioned after such a hot opener. It's a complete contrast, coming across as a clever blend of Tom's Kinks-ish influences, and music hall whimsy, especially on the chorus, which the audience shouts with gusto ("It was worth it with a brother like Martin/It was worth it with a brother like him"). This is another of Tom's storytelling songs, and works well on that level, one that allowed him to temporarily park the bass, and focus on relating it to the audience. So how do you follow that particular act? 


<"Glad To Be Gay"> Simple: with the song that became one of Tom's best-known anthems, if not the best-known of them. Another midtempo number, dominated by Ambler's electric piano, it's smartly placed in the middle, and gives the listener a few more minutes to cool off. Or does it? 


"Glad To Be Gay," like many songs in a writer's arsenal, had a fairly involved back story, as it was originally written in 1975 (as "Good To Be Gay"), for The Campaign For Homosexual Equality. The song made it to a demo in 1976, during Tom's Cafe Society days, but ran aground when his colleagues wouldn't record it.


And there the song sat until the punk era, which now allowed for the expression of all sorts of previously taboo topics. "Glad To Be Gay" opens with an ironic observation ("The British police are the best in the world, I don't believe one of these stories I've heard"), then segues into a scathing blast of the LGBTQ population's treatment in the hands of Britain's finest ("Picking out people and knocking them down/Resisting arrest as they're kicked on the ground/Searching their houses and calling them queer/I don't believe that sort of thing happens here").


In songwriting, we call that technique the setup, as those opening lines are meant to take you somewhere else. In this case, that broadens to a wider critique of hypocritical attitudes ("Molesters of children, corruptors of youth/If it's there in the paper, it must be the truth"), anti-gay violence ("You don't have to mince or make bitchy remarks/To get beaten unconscious and left in the dark"), and the bitter resolution at the end ("Gay Lib's ridiculous, join their laughter/The buggers are legal now, what more are after they after?").


Difficult stuff, indeed, which makes for a marked contrast to the chorus, but one that ensures its mood all the stronger ("Sing if you're glad to be gay/Sing if you're happy that way, hey"). But, as Tom once stated, "you either live in a free and fair society or you don't, and clearly we didn't." This is the kind of track that you'll either accept, or not, so proceed accordingly -- if you saw him as a purely political artist, this is the track that likely helped in cementing that impression.

<
"Right On Sister"> Now we go back to full-on rock 'n' roll again, with Danny Kustow's full throttle guitar leading the charge. This song essentially tips its hat to the promise and power of feminism, in just 16 lines, making it a true snapshot of punk minimalism, by TRB standards.


Lyrically, I find this song the weakest of the pack. At the time, it came across to me as sketchy, particularly the title ("We don't say 'right on' anymore," I thought, "or we haven't since the '60s, anyway"). The best lines come near the beginning ("She needs you and me, man, like a fish needs a bike"); maybe a few couplets like that one would have helped. Then again, when you hear Danny blast away with the abandon that marked his style, you probably won't trouble yourself with so many of those particular fine points. As a teenage boy, I know I didn't. End of story.


But that's not where the story ends, exactly. Rising Free peaked at #18 UK, a performance that reaffirmed the band's rousing power as a live attraction, while assuring EMI that its investment had to begun to pay off -- hence, its inclusion as bonus disc with the original American release of Power In The Darkness.

So, not only did you get the original four live tracks, you also got the single that started it all. "2-4-6-8 Motorway," which peaked at #5 UK, has always struck me as the British answer to "Road Runner." They're both anchored that classic topic of "another night out on the road," with lyrics to match ("2-4-6-8 motorway/Me and my radio truckin' on thru the night/3-5-7-9, on a double white line/Motorway sun coming up with the morning light"). 

Both songs are also built around a simple, infectious riff -- in this case, it's the holy trinity of E, D and A, which gives plenty of breathing space for the band's main soloists, Danny and Mark, though they're a bit more restrained here, while the rhythmic Robinson-Taylor engine room keeps the beat moving at a brisk pace.



But it's not hard to see why this song scored so well at the time; once you hear it, you won't forget it, and you'll find it hard to resist. Every band needs a calling card, one that encourages the listener to explore a bit further. This song hits that mark, and then some. 


<"I Shall Be Released"> "2-4-6-8 Motorway"'s B-side once again plays the contrast card, as I like to call it, that marks so many moments in the world of TRB. Of all the versions that people have done of this Bob Dylan song, this one ranks near the top -- especially for the addition of a daring bridge that Tom added in support of George Ince, who'd been wrongfully imprisoned on faulty identification evidence ("They say there'll be a new inquiry/They say there's been a slight mistake/But while they write reports, we've heard it all before/Let's get him out before it's all too late"), but eventually won his release. (He's not to be confused with George Davis, another well-known inmate referenced in songs by Sham 69, Patrik Fitzgerald, and -- wait for it -- Duran Duran.) 


The bridge lifts the song to another level altogether, as the guitar kicks in, and Danny reels off a piercing, shuddering solo that ranks among his finest moments, plain and simple. To my mind, it's another example that raised TRB above the pack, since most punks at the time wouldn't have admitted to liking Dylan, let alone showing interest in his work -- yet for non-punks, "I Shall Be Released" offered another calling card to explore the band's work in more detail, while providing a tantalizing hint of the future to come.


<"I'm Alright Jack"> Closing out the original double LP, this song is nearly a cousin for "You Gotta Survive," only written from the viewpoint of the idle rich stockpiling for the apocalypse that they're sure is lurking around the corner ("Half a dozen shotguns in the Land Rover/Ready for the call to arms"). Not to worry, though, as the narrator briskly reassures us, with Tom adopting a suitably mock posh accent to match: "All good men at Number Ten/Everything's understood/Don't you worry, I'm alright, Jack/We've never had it so good!" 


All in all, it's a fitting closer, taken at a suitably breakneck pace that, again, opens an ample opportunity for Danny to do what he does best -- romp across the fretboard, with lots of screaming high end licks to match the mood here. (Shouldn't this song provide the real soundtrack for all those "doomsday prep" reality shows? Ponder that one, if you will, for a moment.)


TRB had plenty of celebrate as the calendar wound down on 1978. You had a reborn singer-songwriter, with a knack for lyrics and hooks that captured the moment; a powerhouse guitar player whose own sense of invention seemed boundless; and a keyboardist and drummer with distinct styles of their own, who always knew what worked best for each song, which also benefited from their input. 


They'd done a landmark debut album, and while a lot of work loomed, in terms of crafting a suitable followup, nothing suggested that they couldn't pull it off. What could go wrong? 

<iv.: TRB: Related Works>
<TRB Two/Sector 27>

<Front Cover Art:
Author's Archive>


Our story now takes something of a left turn. Released in March 1979, TRB TWO coincided with a decided shift in the band's fortunes, starting with the arrival of a new keyboardist, Ian Parker -- who turns in a nifty vocal on "Law & Order," another ironic, music hall-style song with echoes of "Martin," only this time, with the cops as the target("Got a Stetson hat and a big cigar/And I clean up trouble with my little tin star"). He provides discreet, sturdy support, though not as distinctively as Ambler, who'd quit after finishing Power In The Darkness.


There's also a new drummer, Preston Heyman, who stepped into the breach after Dolphin Taylor quit the band -- ironically, after agreeing to let producer Todd Rundgren rule on which songs would make the cut. This move proved necessary after months of struggling to create a followup to Power In The Darkness, including an aborted effort with its producer, Chris Thomas. 

When Rundgren chose a couple tracks that Taylor particularly disliked, he took it as a Sign From Above to quit, fracturing the tightly bonded identity that had distinguished the original group. By this point, the good reviews were no longer coming so regularly, as the British music press had begun deciding that Tom and his merry men were now yesterday's men.

In some respects, TRB TWO exemplifies Elvis Costello's famous maxim that bands have 20 years to make their first album, and six months to make their second. That being said, I think there's half a great album on display here -- call it a great double EP struggling to get out, if you like. But I no longer agree with my own observations on the AllMusic Guide website ("One of rock's great letdowns"), an experience that made me decide not to become a full-time reviewer of any kind.

In any event, the highlights here include "All Night, All Right," which opens matters on a rousing note ("Debt collection, high connection/Gonna get some insurrection"), and is one that track that successfully mirrors the older sound (even if half the band isn't around to provide it at this point, and bolts of synth emerge as a predominant musical counterpoint). 


<"Why Should I Mind"> provides an apt snapshot of the resignation creeping in, on the eve of Margaret Thatcher coming in as Prime Minister, only a month after this album's release ("Debt collectors on the railway stealing me blind/Why should I mind/It's nothing but a sign of the times"). Slinky and slow-burning, it provides a glimpse of what a more mature-sounding TRB might have accomplished, had the band survived into the '80s.


<"Blue Murder"> This song could also have fit comfortably on the first album, in its subject matter and musical approach. Listening to it now, it's the obvious pick of the litter, focusing on the death of Liddle Towers, an amateur boxing trainer who died of injuries sustained in police custody. The band dedicated the album to his mother, Mary, for that reason.

The track's laidback funk approach makes for a truly chilling contrast with its stark description of Towers' status (
"He wasn't a loony with a sawn-off gun/A dangerous terrorist on the run"), his eventual run-in with the police ("Well, they kicked him far and they kicked him wide"), and the final coverup ("It was eight to one and the one man died/But the coroner said he was satisfied"), a point driven home by its seemingly singsong chorus, until you listen a bit more closely ("Lie lie lie diddley lie/Die die die Liddley die"). 

Again, this is another example of what a more mature, mainstream TRB might have done, had they weathered the pressures tearing at them left and right in the turnover from '78 to '79. Here in America, where we're experiencing case after case after case of police brutality at its most lethal -- such as the Eric Garner chokehold case, the one that Donald Trump's Justice Department declined to prosecute -- only makes "Blue Murder" all the more saddening and disturbing. 


<"Bully For You">
 This song marks the first of Tom's many outside collaborations that he began to pursue, as the old gang feel began to dissipate, and TRB seemed more and more to be living on borrowed time. An apparent dig at Taylor for his decision to bolt the ranks, "Bully For You" throws in some snappy lyrics to make its case ("I hear the sound of dogs in the rain/I know you won't be back again"), over a smart funk-rock melody. That blueprint, of course, emerged on Power In The Darkness's title track, on which TRB TWO manages to expand in a convincing manner.


<"Days Of Rage"> This is another hidden gem, one that only became apparent after repeated listens. It's another track that would have felt right at home on the first album, as it's one of the only full-throttle moments -- and few showcases where Danny Kustow's guitar lets fly, while the organ chases every lick he plays. Musically, it's a close cousin to "Up Against The Wall," even as the lyrics offer an unsettling statement of intent ("Coming of age I'm feeling the rage/That I never had the bottle to show"). The title seems to reference the Weathermen's property smashing actions of 1969, though this could be a red herring, perhaps. In any event, it's a fine moment.


Honorable Mentions go to "Let My People Be," which references Latin American repression a full two years before the Clash did likewise, on Sandinista! ("Set my people free/Hounded down in towns across the nation/How long will it take/How long do we wait?"), and "Getting Tighter," the B-side of the last TRB single, which -- most unusually -- is a cover version, but builds adeptly from a muted piano riff, to a more loping, introspective solo from Danny Kustow, but no less biting than much of his TRB work overall, and makes a fitting backdrop for the subject matter of the social repression endured by its nameless narrator ("Jocks from Jersey passing by/Threw a rock, I don't know why/I got stoned but I lost my high/Just could not be free"). If you've spent any time battling the straights in your territory, you'll relate to this one right away.



<Front Cover Art:
Author's Archive>


And that's largely where our story ends. Just four months after TRB TWO's release, the band were no more, after doing a handful of summer festivals to begin the onerous task of promoting it -- though the original gang was long gone now, consisting of the duo who'd started it (Danny Kustow, Tom Robinson), rounded out by sidemen hired as circumstances and convenience dictated. 

Still, for me, the next turn in Tom's musical journey is worth our attention here, even if it's a naturally different beast. Sector 27 (1980), the lone self-titled offering from his new band, ditches the wall of sound for a decidedly more stripped-down, pop-rock approach, which offers mixed reassurances for the likes of me.

As a guitar player inspired and fired up by the likes of The Clash, The Creation and The Yardbirds, to name three of my top favorites...I don't want a nice clean sound on
anything, whether it comes from my amplifier, or CD player, or my turntable. 

The production (by Steve Lillywhite) strikes me as murky and watery, at times, an impression furthered by Jo Burt's guitar playing, which dishes out lots of that scratchy metallic sound so vogue in the time, yet hasn't aged particularly well, unless your name's Keith Levene.

That being said, again, there's another good double EP struggling to get out. My top picks include "Looking At You," another fine story song about the seemingly endless gulf between punter and pop star ("They're looking at you, but what can you do?"), and "Take Or Leave It," a sarcastic blast against a business that, then and now, treats its proteges as property, at best, and product, at worst ("Do as we say the alternative way, remember who's running the show"). "Not Ready" and "Bitterly Disappointed" convincingly revisit the struggle of coming out, while "Where Can We Go Tonight" sums up Anykid's life in Anytown, as in...hey, man, what's going on, 'cause it sure as hell isn't happening here. "Invitation" also makes  a fine opening statement of intent ("What have we got to lose if we try it on?/None of them bastards notice when we're gone"), buffeted along by some crisp, heavy guitar, and shows a determination not to give ground on the ideals that inspired the likes of a TRB...even as pressure continued to do the opposite.

<TRB Fan Flyer/Mailer,
March 1979, The Long View:
Author's Archive>



<Pages 1+2, In Closeup>

<v. TRB: The Reunion: Take Two>

The young man shifts from foot to foot, as he leans against the wall. It's been a couple of hours, it seems, and there's no sign of the band yet. For this reason, he's not terribly fond of nightclub gigs, where time and tide seemingly grind on forever, with no regard for no man (especially if it's about selling drinks, right?).

The Subterania, as this venue is called, is well-named, effectively tucked away inside a basement -- and only a stone's throw from a housing estate, deep in the heart of Ladbroke Grove. But the young man figures it's worth a shot, because the sound here at previous gigs has been great, a definite notch above what he typically experiences.

He checks the inside of his leather jacket one more time. His mike peeks out, just over the top, as it should. Check. He's got fresh batteries in the recorder. Double-check. He covertly hits the Record button, making sure the red light comes on. Triple-check.

Tonight's gig (4/25/90) marks one of the last he'll catch here for awhile, because in four days, he's headed back to the States. His own band here has fallen apart, so there's little reason to stick it out, on that account -- now that his work permit is running out. But he's joining another one back home, so all is not lost.

Now the Stone Roses are blaring on the PA, a song they've been playing over and over, like a nagging itch: "Have you seen, or have you heard, the way she plays, there are no words, to describe the way they feel..."

Suddenly, the song cuts off. Finally! The young man hurries closer to the middle of the venue, where he expects to capture the best sound, and hugs the wall, stage left. This is it, he tells himself. Hopefully, you'll get it this time.

There they come now, bounding across the stage -- the three originals, Tom, Danny and Mark, with their latest drummer close behind them - and take their places.

The set follows the same blueprint from the previous autumn, with key selections from Power In The Darkness standing front and center, rounded out by a smattering of new material ("Number One Protection," "Driving Through The Desert"), and a solo track or two from Tom's solo career ("Atmospherics," "War Baby"). Once again, nothing from TRB TWO gets an airing.

They keep chugging away through it all, as the crowd sings en masse through a highly charged second half, where "2-4-6-8 Motorway" yields to a feverish "Up Against The Wall." The encore ("Power In The Darkness," "Don't Take No For An Answer," and the Rolling Stones's "Satisfaction") sends everyone across the finish line home with a smile, as it should.

The young man climbs into a black taxi with a couple women with whom he's been chatting for part of the night. He readily agrees to split the fare cost with them, as it's a long way back to his Central London digs, and it helps to squeeze out every little pound or two in savings.

He pulls the tape recorder out of his pocket, rewinds to the beginning of side A, turns the volume way down, and presses it up right next to his ear. Naturally, his seatmates wonder what the hell he's about to do, but the young man doesn't pause to explain.

He simply needs a quick confirmation, which comes makes him feel better immediately: "Get some -- protection! You'll never get ahead without protection!" He follows up at random intervals, here or there ("And I said, look out, listen, can you hear it/Up against the wall/They got us up against the wall!"), but the evidence seems reassuring enough.

All right! This time, I got it! He smiles, and slides the recorder back in his jacket. How long that cassette will last, God only knows, but the young man's not worried about that point now.

Time will tell if anyone trades for it, but he's not concerned about that, either. He made this tape for himself, plain and simple, which will make the flight back to America go a little bit faster.

He knows two things already. First, he'll treasure that night, and that music forever -- because, second, without it, life would have made less sense, and run just a little bit harder.



<A Night
For Danny Kustow
Press Release>
"Danny Kustow - whose guitar playing was a key ingredient of the Tom Robinson Band hits Up Against The Wall, Don't Take No For an Answer and 2-4-6-8 Motorway - died unexpectedly at the age of 63 this year at the Royal United Hospitals in Bath after a short illness.


"Danny's friends, family and former bandmates have organised a concert in his memory to take place at The Scala in London. 


"'A Night For Danny Kustow'" featuring the Tom Robinson Band plus special guests will take place on Monday July 29thThe lineup will include members of both the original and current TRB lineups, plus video footage of Danny playing on stage at his incendiary best.


"Danny was one of the most gifted British guitarists of the entire punk generation. Four decades after the early TRB records he made with Mark Ambler, Dolphin Taylor and myself, his legacy is still remembered with warmth and wonder by fans around the world. 

"This concert will be a chance for all of us to remember that legacy with huge affection and deep appreciation. His death has been devastating loss for everyone who knew him."

<Tom Robinson>

<Links To Go>
How We Made:
Tom Robinson & Nick Mobbs
On Glad To Be Gay:
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jul/01/how-we-made-glad-gay

TRB History:
http://www.tomrobinson.co.uk/records/trb/trbhist1.htm

TRB Lyrics Page:


Tom Robinson: Unmask Us
<A Few Quotes About The Songs, Basically>:
https://www.unmask.us/songwriters-q-s/tom-robinson/

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

A Special Prosecutor In Count Dracula's Crypt (Robert Mueller Testifies)


"Privatize It Now!"
Trump As Count Dracula:
A bygone battle cry
from an old protest sign
<Artwork: The Squawker>

Reckoner's Note: As a House of Representatives committee finally heard from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller Wednesday, we here at Ramen Noodle Nation sat back, sighed aloud, and began playing that ever-popular parlor game of...what if? What if? 

We now invite you to imagine an alternate reality, a parallel universe, if you like, one that takes place in Bram Stoker's beloved classic Gothic novel, Dracula. Specifically, imagine Trump as the Count, and Mueller as his arch-nemesis, the vampire hunter...Van Helsing. We begin in a setting familiar to countless horror movies.

Van Helsing arrives at the Count's singular crypt, identifies his coffin, and raises the familiar implements of his trade -- the hammer and stake -- high above his head. Suddenly, his eyes dart around, he takes a deep whiff, and then he sighs. He puts the hammer and stake down, and walks slowly out of the crypt. On arriving back in downtown metropolitan Transylvania, Van Helsing does not dare breathe a word to anyone about what he was doing, or why he slipped the stake back in its shoulder bag.

Less than an hour later, Dracula rises from the grave, and embarks on a spectacular raid. The body count ticks up spectacularly, as the people who haven't locked their shutters and doors pay the ultimate price. At the local casualty ward, corpses pile up by the tens, twenties, thirties, until the chroniclers lose track of the tally. Still, faith remains high in Van Helsing, who has been doggedly trailing the Count for months.

"Mein Gott, vhat is happening here?"

"Is Dracula sending us a message to..."

"Surely, if Van Helsing had known, if van Helsing would have come across him, he would have put a stake right through Dracula's dirty little blackened heart!"

"Ja, if only we could be sure of that, eh?"

Still, popular feeling runs high, especially at the casualty ward, and the morgue, where shocked families are reeling from the impact of Dracula's latest killing spree. The undertakers hover closely behind them, with one-page sheets of coffin sizes and measuring tape at the ready.

A press conference is called at the Town Hall. Van Helsing stands solemnly at the dais, the city fathers arrayed behind him, as the reporters shout their questions.

"Herr Van Helsing, what did Count Dracula know, and when did he know it?"

"Was Jack The Ripper colluding with the Count in any way? Is the Ripper a foreign national of some kind?"

"We understand there were numerous sightings of the Count, in and around his crypt, before the latest rampage. How is it, Herr van Helsing, that you and your associates failed to tally these numerous sightings? Wouldn't you have acted, if you'd known about them in time?"

Finally, the respected senior correspondent for the Transylvania Times gets to ask the million dollar question, the one that everybody's waited to hear: "Herr Van Helsing, you have had Dracula in your sights for nearly a year now. Many of his associates, like Renfield, are languishing in the castle dungeon, waiting for their day in court. Yet we hear that you could have gotten Count Dracula last night. is this true? If so, why didn't you act?"

Van Helsing sighs, furrows his mighty brow once more, and checks to make sure his garlic necklace is firmly in place. "Ja, mein Freund, it is all true. That rumor is true, every syllable of it. But even so..." The reporters begin to murmur, then growl.

The famed vampire tracker sighs, furrows his brow yet again, and mops it once more. He has been heaving rivers of sweat all night, and needless to say, he hasn't slept a proverbial wink.

Van Helsing grips the podium. Knowing what's coming next, and how the press corps will react, he steels himself to deliver the remainder of his response. "To have driven a stake through the heart of a creature so manifestly wicked, well -- it would have been unfair. I had to give him a fighting chance. After all, he is Count Dracula, and for all his dark doings, I must respect his office and his position. That was my rationale for leaving him as he was, in his coffin." 

The murmurs rise to a fever pitch now, but are soon drowned out in a cascade of shouts, muffled oaths, and obscure Eastern European curses. 

Seeing that the game is now up, his royal commission now apparently clouded forever, Van Helsing backs slowly away from the podium, shouting back in return: "That's it for now, gentlemen. No more questions! No more questions!" --The Reckoner

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Winners & Losers: The Stability Lottery Goes South

<https://www.michiganlottery.com/games/212-lucky-7s-tripler>

Winners and losers which one am I,
Is it the same under the sky?
Black motorcycles and the will to survive
Losers and winners low and high
Iggy Pop, "Winners & Losers"

<i.>
My health insurance experience is over, at least for now. After nearly two years, the state of Michigan has pulled the plug, apparently because I make way too much money for their blood to support it. In simple terms, I exceeded the official income cutoff limits that allowed me to keep my coverage, which officially expired on June 1.

If you saw my tax return from last year, you'd realize that the assumption doesn't hold water. Once my deductions kicked in, I cleared just over $11,000, hardly a superfluous amount by any standard. Like most people right now, I scrimp and skimp wherever I can, however I can, to make the math work out from week to week, to varying degrees  of success. 

But none of these rhetorical talking points can paper over the anxiety I feel about going without insurance, yet again, after a 10-year drought. It's a symptom of how public agencies operate -- once your head finally inches above water, their automatic reflex is to shove it back down, either by cutting back on something (like your food allowance), or yanking it completely (sorry, kid, no more healthcare for now).


But wait, there's a silver lining, I tell myself. I'm safe from those damned work requirements that they're slapping on Medicaid recipients. At least for now.

For all the yammering our political class does about those "bums on welfare," they have yet to get the memo as I've laid it out it here. Why should I have to choose between earning more money, or covering my meds? Why should women have to choose between working some crappy $8-10 an hour job, or risk losing benefits, because they can't afford daycare, or a car that runs
?

A couple of years ago, I attended a public forum with our state legislators, where several nursing home operators bemoaned their struggles to find (and keep) aides. They wondered how they'd make any headway in a system that "incentivizes people not to work," as one employer put it. Folks, I told myself, there's an old saying here: You got what you pay for


For all too many people, the die was cast long ago. American life increasingly resembles a Stability Lottery. Those who get some high-powered job, and keep it -- in some well-paying sector, like big tech, finance, government, or healthcare -- experience life's richest pageant, with the battleship-sized benefits, cars, and homes to prove it. Hovering just a notch or two under the oft-criticized 1% of our society, these are the fortunate few, whose lives will largely without the peaks and valley that await the rest of us. 


I got a vivid reminder of this reality while embarking on a late night search to see what happened to several high school classmates. Guess what? This one became a doctor, that one became a CFO and visiting professor of accounting. After three or four instances, I got so annoyed, I stopped. I haven't gone to any reunions before, and I sure as hell don't plan on going now.


Oh, yeah, what about the rest? For further reference, crank up "What Do I Get?", via The Buzzcocks, and you'll get the drift quickly enough: "For you things seem to turn out right/I wish they'd only happen to me instead/What do I get, oh-oh, what do I get?/What do I get, oh-oh/What do I get?" 


While Pete Shelley and his merry men were confronting fractured romance here, it's not hard to apply the above lines to the punishment that's constantly dished out to the great majority -- a life battered by benefit cuts, endless outsourcing, flat wages, food insecurity, housing shortages, lack of healthcare, and mind-numbing McJobs that can go belly up any time. No future for you indeed, eh? You didn't win The Stability Lottery, so that's all you get. Your shop didn't come in, simple as that. "Againsters" need not apply.




No Santa Claus no happy elves
In this smoking gun existence
It gets harder to unwind
I'll just eat my breakfast
Iggy Pop, "Winners & Losers"

<ii.>
For the past four months now, I've struggled to put my revulsion over Joe Biden's candidacy into words. Initially, I just wanted to build on the rhetorical groundwork that I've laid out in previous broadsides, like "A Cure For Political Codependency (The Hillary-Bernie Endgame)," and "What Accepting The Lesser Of Two Evils Got Me," hit cut, print, and call it a day.

Ironically, that task is proving more difficult than I'd anticipated, simply because of all the unforced errors that the so-called Democratic frontrunner is already racking up. Whether it's romanticizing the joys of working with hardcore racist boil weevils -- like the late Senators Herman Talmadge, and James Eastland, who called blacks "an inferior race" -- or telling the deep-pocketed donor classes how great they really are, straight after speaking at a poor people's march (!), Biden's reputation as The Gaffe Machine remains proudly and perversely intact. If he didn't exist, comedians would have to invent him ("No one's standard of living will change," indeed).


Naturally, all these foot in mouth disease acrobatics have left Biden's neoliberal backers wringing their hands aloud, and sweating a few more bullets than usual. For those of us who witnessed Biden's  train wreck campaigns of 1988 and 2008, it's par for the course. We nod our heads at one another, and wink: See? Yup. Uh-huh. He just stepped into it again. Deeper this time. As hardened Biden watchers, we form a peculiar brotherhood, indeed. 


Still, what makes great late night comedy fodder isn't so great for the nation. But I've finally figured out what turns my stomach most about Biden, as he sleepwalks from gaffe to gaffe, and that's the brittle defensiveness he often exhibits. We saw that tendency yet again this weekend, when he finally acknowledged that gushing like a teenage boy about rolling up his sleeves with Eastland and Talmadge wasn't the most adept way of pushing out the nostalgic bipartisan narrative that forms the centerpiece of his campaign.


Even so, Biden being Biden, he couldn't apologize without slipping in a belligerent reminder about his civil rights bona fides, that didn't stop President Obama from running with him: "I was vetted by him and selected by him. I will take his judgment of my record, my character, and my ability to handle the job over anyone else's."


As Biden noted, the U.S. Senate that he joined in 1972 looked (and felt) like a different universe. That's a fair point, at first glance. However, in celebrating wastes of sperm and egg like Eastland and Talmadge as Bipartisan Exhibits A and B, Biden left the barn door open for rivals like Kamala Harris to take him down a peg, as she did so effectively during last month's Democratic debate.


For those who want to write in, and issue dire warnings against valuing purity over power, I get it -- so don't bother.  Nobody wants to miss an opportunity to vote against the Grifter In Chief next year. But we shouldn't lose sight of the bigger goals that we're trying to advance. 


As I've already told a few Biden backers, I understand how the political environment doesn't always favor big ideas. Timing is everything: that's why heavy rock bands learned to love touring Europe and Japan during the late '70s, when disco music and rolling mirror balls mesmerized the American masses.

Even so, now that ideas like universal health coverage -- and the potential dismantling of student debt -- are finally back on the table, we shouldn't let up on our demands that the political classes do something to make life better for the majority who sweat and strain at the bit every day. That's why we should pursue a multi-pronged approach at the state, federal and local levels.

Winning the Presidency might feel great, especially after the Great Electoral College Screwover of 2016. However, it will only feel like a consolation prize if the Republicans keep  the U.S. Senate, so that Mitch McConnell can finish his pet project of getting enough right-wing judicial activists in place to transform America into apartheid-era South Africa, where a tyrannical minority can enforce its will indefinitely, unchecked by such nettlesome inconveniences as public pushback.


But I do hope, however faintly, that Biden can actually grow beyond the weary pragmatism that he espouses, between the lines: Hey, kid, it ain't a perfect worldThe best we can do is rerun 2008 -- free trade for the masses, "I feel your pain, so here's a plan" for the losers. it's a game of inches. We settle for what we can get


Yet this narrative, coupled with the "lesser evil" logic, also makes extreme politics more attractive to people, and hence, more likely to capture their imaginations. That's surely what leaders like Heinrich
 Brüning discovered during the early 1930s, as Germany's Weimar Republic stumbled into its final death spiral, you can only tell people to keep starving for so long, because their rainbow is just around the corner. And we all know how well that turned out, don't we? --The Reckoner