Never Too Late to be Great



GORDONVILLE — It’s a common refrain among supporters of your president (not mine).

Repeating as much as the line in the song “Talk Talk” (by the band Talk Talk), it goes something like this: “He has done so much for this country. I wish people would just give him a chance.”

And then I’m usually issued a personal challenge to do so.

Fine, I’ll take off my alleged blinders and play along.

Let’s go in search of evidence of any presidential achievement that rises above the level of the baseline perfunctory stuff.

What has your president (not mine) achieved with the core policy of simply undoing anything and everything that Barack Obama did?

Does governing by overnight insult via Twitter count as an achievement?

By demonizing the media, whose rights are guaranteed under the First Amendment?

It is clear your president (not mine) has certainly tried, albeit with all the political grace of the proverbial bull in a china shop, to fulfill his clumsy populist campaign visions.

Even though the lives of Wisconsin farmers or Michigan factory workers or West Virginia coal miners have not been altered for the better, and sometimes for the worse, your president (not mine) still makes sure to feed them that steady diet of red meat with a side dish of overcooked venom.

But the cost of not governing the full nation has been so steep that we are in Civil War mode.

Your president (not mine) said he was going to build a wall at the border with Mexico and, get ready for the rim shot, make Mexico pay for it.

Because the big baby didn’t get his bottle, he willingly created chaos — a 35-day government shutdown – and he is still threatening the nuclear option of declaring a national emergency.

Other applause-line promises included repealing Obamacare, defunding sanctuary cities and Planned Parenthood, starting to say “Merry Christmas Again” (not sure if and when that ever stopped, but whatever), etc.

His main legislative victory was passing a tax reform bill, one that backfired enough on average Americans – likely the same swing voters that got him into office — that the Republican party was hit hard in the mid-terms of last November.

It would seem that, for every attempted step forward, we have waltzed backward toward an abyss.

The real answer to the accomplishment question may lie in the biggest overarching promise of all, the one to which some clung and his detractors scoffed, which was to “Make America Great Again.”

The feeling here is that we were never great, and I challenge you to show me a time in our blood-stained history when we were. Remember, people, “great” is a perfect 10, not a 9 or a 9.5.

Before you tell me to love it or leave it, I do believe that what makes America great is that our potential for greatness has a high ceiling.

As far as giving him a chance, I’m willing to give anyone a chance.

Sure, I was left pretty much bewildered that the national electorate could be so misinformed, but there was a thought – a Hail Mary pass, really – that this wheeler-dealer could bring both sides to the table and end gridlock.

Instead, it has gotten so bad that Obama-era gridlock would be an improvement.

As far that chance you want me to give him, your president (not mine) pretty much lost me at hello. It was a 1-2 punch. His lack of leadership in the wake of Charlottesville, and then with his aloof pomposity – and pledges of the allegiance to the NRA — after horrific mass shootings were turnoffs beyond repair.

And let us not forget his arrogant ignorance toward Puerto Rico, treating this American territory like a foreign country, after Hurricane Maria.

The arrests of those in his administration, and the whole Stormy Daniels thing, almost seemed like side freak shows outside the big tent (even though they would have brought down other presidents not wearing coats of Teflon armor).

The net results of these missteps show up in the lowest approval ratings in modern history (source: Gallup) and the highest senior staff turnover rate (source: Brookings Institute).

But there is good news.

So good, in fact, that the promise of a modicum of greatness is within reach.

I saw it in the generations of women marching in D.C., not to mention around the nation.

I saw it in the young people, the voters of tomorrow, doing the same after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

I saw it in the results of the 2018 midterms that created the most diverse representation of the changing culture that the backers of your president (not mine) were galvanized to resist via coded language.

And I see it in the resilience of barely five-foot Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who – in the words of the late great Tom Petty – won’t back down to the 6-foot-3 orange giant.

Now, we just need to see it from Robert Mueller.

Oddly, this reachable American greatness is one your president (not mine) may achieve at his own peril.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Sunday, Feb. 10.

CBS, NFL Take Wrong Turn

Medical Grass


GORDONVILLE — So here we are.

The national holiday known as Super Bowl Sunday.

But there is not much to celebrate here in the mythical town of Gordonville, where Main Street has been gentrified with used record stores and all-night diners.

Last year? Yes. This year? No.

When the game ends, and the Lombardi Trophy is handed to the winning team (my prediction is the Patriots in a walk), it will officially end the reign as champions for our Eagles.

A year ago, and unlike Super Bowl 39 (I don’t believe in Roman numerals, as we are not in Rome, although the fall of that empire and our own is eerily similar), I didn’t attend in person.

I was at the best place in the world. A house of a friend with a roomful of diehards totally fixated on the game (with the local broadcast on the radio and the volume of the TV, with the irksome network crew, turned down).

I get chills now – I am, right now – thinking about how the room erupted when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady and Derek Barnett fell on the ball.

When Brady’s Hail Mary pass fell to the ground, I made my way out of the room and sat by myself and cried like a baby for a good five minutes.

What can top that?

Not much, not even another Eagles’ title – although they are more than welcome to win it all again whenever they’d like before I am in my rocking chair with two or three marbles rattling around upstairs.

So here we are.

The following year.

There will still be plenty of those Super Bowl parties, which I abhor almost as much people who make snide global warming remarks whenever it’s below freezing where they happen to be drawing air that particular day.

These are really the polar opposite of what I experienced last year, as barely anyone in those rooms will give two hoots about the game while dipping their chips in guacamole dip.

There will be men – I’ll let women slide on this – who barely know who is playing, and couldn’t name you more than 5-10 players on either team.

Everyone will drink their foreign lagers and play their block pools and only shut up to watch the commercials.

And they will see commercials for all kinds of nonsense, like people buying each other $50K vehicles for Valentine’s Day. There will be ads for beer and online sports gambling, while some sort of nonsense scrolls under the screen about drinking – and gambling — responsibly.

It seems like anything and everything is fair game.

But it’s not.

CBS, the network broadcasting the game this year, rejected a 60-second ad for medical marijuana.

Read that again, and let that sink in.

There will be ads for ailments such as adult acne and leg pain, with side effects so severe that that they may led to any of the 21 conditions approved for the use of medical marijuana in our state (and 29 others, including the District of Columbia).

Puritanical much?

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th), who teamed with State Sen. Mike Folmer (R-48th) in a successful bipartisan effort to legalize the use of medical cannabis in Pennsylvania, couldn’t help but note the irony.

“Preventing people from hearing about the benefits of medical marijuana, while at the same time happily advertising booze, dangerous drugs and fast food is a strange and disturbing choice,” said Leach. “Apparently the network doesn’t think their viewers are smart enough to handle a simple message responsibly, which is truly sad.”

Again, to make it clear, this has nothing to do with recreational use – although an entertaining one with Grateful Dead fans would be a hoot – but for medical marijuana.

The ad reportedly featured three patients whose suffering has been eased by medical marijuana.

The 60-second PSA-style ad (CBS is charging $3.2 million for 30 seconds) reportedly shows some uncomfortable stuff:

-A Colorado boy who suffers from Dravet syndrome (his mother says her son would have dozens to hundreds of seizures a day and medical marijuana saved his life).

-A Buffalo man says he was on opioids for 15 years after three back surgeries and that medical marijuana gave him his life back (even though he lives in Buffalo, where shoveling snow is not ideal for back health).

-An Oakland man who lost part of his leg in military service says his pain was unbearable until medical marijuana.

Funny how the NFL, which is surely the neck that turns the head that is the network in these final decisions, hoists the pomp and circumstance of the military but backs off from the other side of the story.

This is the same circuit that is on the precipice from allowing the Oakland Raiders to move to Las Vegas, which is in the only state where prostitution is somehow legal.

So here we are.

The Eagles are no longer World Champions and a major network – with a league where officials are borderline incompetent — can’t get over itself.

I’ll watch again, because that’s what I do.

It’s wired in my DNA.

But there are no tears of joy this year.

There is no joy in Gordonville.

This column originally appeared in The Times Herald on Feb. 3, 2014.

Story Behind the Story



GORDONVILLE — So first an explanation. My wife was watching a series on Netflix about Humboldt County’s Murder Mountain. She was already halfway through an episode — and halfway through the series — when it caught my ear.

Her brief explanation, while telling me to shut up so she could listen, and my Google search had me in the ballpark.

Meanwhile, the phrases I was picking up from the real-life people on the screen had a lyrical quality to them. At that point, I start putting them into the notepad on my iPhone and had myself a song pretty quickly.

I was sufficiently mocked for getting a song out of something I only skimmed the surface of, but this is how I got through high school and college, so …

The song, for whatever reason, wrote itself. Those are the best ones. And I thought enough of it to enter it in American Songwriter Magazine’s March/April lyric contest (I got Honorable Mention for another song, Gray Christmas, in November/December but the bastards dissed me in January/February).

Yesterday, I get the following email:

Hi Gordon, 

I’m pleased to inform you that your song “Humboldt County” has received honorable mention in the American Songwriter March/April Lyric Contest. Congratulations! 
Your name, hometown, and song title will be printed in the March/April issue of American Songwriter, as well as posted on our website
Congratulations again, and we hope to see  more lyrics from you in the future!

And you will, Annie, despite what my wife says.

To thine own self be true.

And now the song, as inspired by the Netlfix series “Murder Mountain.” I didn’t see it all, but I saw — and heard — enough.

No music yet, but it will be fast-tracked. In my process, the words come first. Expect something in the spirit of Springsteen, Mellencamp and Steve Earle.

Pictured below is the dude whose words got me going …


Humboldt County

Neighbors shoot guns
We don’t even blink
Record is expunged
Let’s have a drink

Come work the land
The land yields grass
Hippies and Rednecks
Who forgot their pasts

Murder Mountain
It stands above the law
Humboldt County
A bridge with no toll

It’s all about the rush
Without going fast
Turned over trucks
Cruise right on past

Up in the Redwoods
Got rain, got snow
Hippies and Rednecks
Forget what they know

Murder Mountain
Let me live my own life
Humboldt County
Don’t violate my rights

Russian roulette
American style
The best you get
High on arrival

Lines in the sand
They kick up dust
Hippies and rednecks
Sucked in, sucked up

Murder Mountain
You keep it dark
Humboldt County
Dogs eat your bark






Celluloid Heroes In Waiting

fleetwood mac


GORDONVILLE — I have a love-hate relationship with Queen.

Not the Queen, as in Queen Elizabeth.

But with Queen, the rock band suddenly mythologized in a biopic film focused on the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury.

Queen has some of the best songs I ever heard – including “Under Pressure” and “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” – but some of the worst, too.

On my list of all-time songs that make me feel like I have Lyme Disease all over again, there are three Queen – yes, three – Queen songs.

And topping that ignominious list (which also includes Queen songs “Bicycle Song” and “Somebody To Love”) is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which happens to be the title of the movie that was just nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Rami Malek, who has been stellar in every role he has played).

Its critical and box office success has me thinking about other musical acts and artists whose stories would potentially show well on the big screen.

The Beatles and Elvis? Too many to count. Dylan? In 2007, there was a flick called “I’m Not There” with six different actors – including a woman and young black boy – portraying six sides of his public persona. Kind of killed that one for now. Rolling Stones? Eh, maybe, but not yet. It would kind of kill the mystique. Ditto for Led Zeppelin. The Doors? Been there, Oliver Stone done that (with Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison better than Morrison could have himself). The punk era was covered in “Syd and Nancy.” Johnny Cash? Check.

This doesn’t mean we are without options.

Consider a sampling of five that did make the cut?

1) Fleetwood Mac – Drama, drama, drama. Heck, just the drama around the making of the top-selling “Rumors” album, with the songs all about the members of the band breaking up with each other – Lindsey Buckingham with Stevie Nicks and John and Christine McVie getting divorced, all while Mick Fleetwood lurked in the shadows — would be enough without spreading it out over a period of years. People having to play and sing background vocals about how they should “go their own way” would be worth the price of admission.

2) Carole King – It used to be commonplace for Broadway musicals to successfully transition into feature films. The 1960s alone saw likes of “West Side Story” (1961), “The Sound of Music” (1965) and “Oliver” (1968), but there hasn’t been anything noteworthy since “Chicago” in 2002. For example, “Jersey Boys” (2014) was just average. “Beautiful,” the story about singer-songwriter Carole King is a script with terrific music screaming out to be adapted for the big screen. So adapt it already, will ya?

3) Otis Redding – You may only know him as the “(Sittin’) On The Dock Of The Bay” dude, but there is so much more to his story. For one, his greatest success, the aforementioned No. 1 hit, did not top the charts until after his death in a 1967 plane crash when he was just 26. Although his gospel-inspired singing style inspired many more popular contemporaries, as well as a litany of soul singers to follow, he is only mentioned as an afterthought. A movie delving into his interesting life could bridge that divide. The Georgia native quit school at 15 to help his family by pursuing a music career, and was a married father a month before his 20th birthday. His breakthrough came in 1966, when his version of “Try A Little Tenderness” reached No. 25. As time went on, he began writing a lot of his own material on a beat-up acoustic guitar. The batch of songs included “Respect,” which became Aretha Franklin’s signature anthem. With a gregarious persona, Redding was large in stature (6-1, 220 pounds), athletic and a sharp-dressed man (200 suits, 400 pairs of shoes) who was close to his family and successful entrepreneur. With the right actor in the lead role, this could be a stellar period piece that could introduce more of his lesser known music to the world.

4) Frank Sinatra – Yeah, sure, you are not supposed to mess with the Chairman of the Board. However, he has been dead since I was 30 (1995). That’s a long time ago. The only real dedicated screen time has been a character loosely based on him — Johnny Fontaine in “The Godfather,” which apparently drew an assault by Sinatra on Mario Puzo after the book was published. There have also been a few cheesy movies about the Rat Pack, but that’s about it. Let’s just pick a period of Sinatra’s life — like when he has down and out and came back, or his second run of popular success in the 1960s – and start filming tomorrow.

5) Bruce Springsteen – Don’t sigh, don’t moan and groan. You knew this was coming. It actually goes to the point about Carole King and Broadway, as the curtain just fell on Springsteen’s “Bruce on Broadway” run. The show has since been released on Netflix and, to be honest, was hard to get into at first. A lot of his spiel was verbatim from his autobiography or from stories I have heard him tell before. While the Netflix version picked up momentum toward the middle (we still haven’t reached the end), it occurred to me that his words and music are so visual that that maybe a movie of his life – with some selective narration over it – would be a logical next step to cement the legacy.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Jan. 27, 2019.

Forgotten: MLK’s Edge

king in jail


GORDONVILLE — MLK DAY, the 2019 version, means a lot of feel-good service projects in the suburbs – making PB&J sandwiches for the hungry and scrubbing away misunderstood graffiti — while U2’s “Pride (In The Name of Love)” plays on a loop.

It beats the alternative – reducing the minister turned activist into a faded footnote in American history – but each passing year seems to do less justice to the real man and what he actually stood for when the times they were a-changing.

While his wax figure has since found a safe space in the mainstream memory banks, he had enough of an edge to him that he was a far cry from the antithesis of, say, Malcolm X.

Just like the founding fathers were more radical than now portrayed, so too was MLK.

King – the person, as opposed to the icon — needs to be put in a real context all over again to truly understand the significance of his impact.

Consider that he was just 26 years young in 1955, the year he rose to national prominence as a leader in the Montgomery Bus Boycott that began with the likes of Rosa Parks refusing to surrender her seat, and ended 381 days later (with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 bus fares lost).

Deeply moved by the deaths of young people, like 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 and the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church that killed four young girls, King was radicalized.

When King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, not long after giving a speech where he practically predicted his own fate, it was presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy who famously addressed – and quelled — a largely black crowd on the streets of Indianapolis.

In the era before instant news, many were not yet aware of what happened in Memphis, and the gasp as he makes the announcement remains as haunting as his words afterward where moving.

Ironically, it was earlier in the decade, when RFK was attorney general under his brother, that he gave the nod to tap King’s phones.

Jailed 29 times, King was considered that much of a radical.

The Kennedys – and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover – suspected him of having communist leanings. Keep in mind that this was in the height of the Cold War era, so it’s a pretty heavy suspicion – if not all-out accusation.

MLK was more than just a rebel. He was a rebel of the most frightening kind to the powers that be – a rebel with a cause.

And a rebel with followers with everything to gain and not much to lose.

What gets virtually dropped from the history books was King’s staunch opposition to the Vietnam War. While he decried all casualties of the war he called “madness,” King couldn’t help but note that the soldiers on the frontlines were disproportionately black.

King began speaking out in 1967, with his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. At the time, and in stark contrast to generalized remembrances time period, being outspoken against the war was still a few years away from being commonplace.

Consider that he said the following: “I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

That was not exactly what those in mainstream America, who could call in favors to have their sons diagnosed with bone spurs to get out of serving, wanted put out into the universe.

This is supported by a 1965 Gallup poll showing that 64 percent of Americans supported the war.

This, and the Civil Rights activism, did not make MLK beloved on Main Street. His approval rating in 1965 was 45 percent, and it slumped to 32 percent in 1966.

Recent polling consistently has MLK approved at a rate of over 90 percent.

What accounts for this about-face? Not his radical side as much as the whitewashing of it.

A good number of those polled likely don’t even know much more than the snippets of the “I have a dream” speech and the day off on the calendars.

From the mid-1950s until his death, fighting for the equality of blacks in a white-dominated society made him a pariah.

But once you are a martyr in death, all bets are off.

Some of us always heard a bit of an angry edge to the “I have a dream speech” and his doubts that his vision would or could come to pass.

It is important to note that, at the time of his assassination — under suspicious circumstances — MLK was only 39 and was not really talking about breaking down barriers of Jim Crow laws.

He was planning what was called the “Poor People’s Campaign,” which was going to be highlighted by a march on Washington, D.C. demanded better access to housing, employment, and health care through legislation.

While an approximate 50,000 still people attended the march, the revolutionary idea faded and was never addressed in a way that MLK envisioned.

Kind of like the one of racial harmony.

And it makes me wonder if creating his holiday, with days of service and what not, is not just a way to the dull the edge of what was in his heart and soul.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Jan. 20, 2019.

Heart and Soul of a Crisis



GORDONVILLE — Philosophers, writers, poets and lyricists have used lies they have been told as creative fuel.

The reason is simple. Falsehoods create a crisis of the heart, and a crisis of the soul.

If that sounds familiar – the crisis of the heart and soul part – it is because your president (not mine) went there, with the sincerity of some saccharine Air Supply love ballad, during his Tuesday prime-time address to the nation.

As a cliché, it was just little more than filler in a speech he was reportedly prodded into giving about the national shutdown over the border wall he longs to build as, ostensibly, a monument to himself.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has his own opinion, one that polling shows most Americans are agreeing with, by calling this proposal of a wall – whether built of steel, concrete, brick or cardboard — “a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.”

Durbin is probably letting your president (not mine) off the hook by a few centuries, but his point his well-taken.

Your president (not mine) wants this wall, as impractical as it is, to stand as some sort of nationalist phallic symbol.

Perhaps it would be more prudent to erect a red, white and blue billboard saying: “We will not press 1 for English and 2 for Spanish anymore!”

The net result? A legitimate crisis of the heart and soul of America.

There is now a humanitarian crisis at the border — particularly in West Texas — that was handmade in the USA.

There are families left struggling to pay bills and put food on the table because of the completely avoidable shutdown.

The First Amendment guarantees your president (not mine) a right to an opinion, but he is asleep at the wheel if he governs by opinion.

Which brings us back to the heart and soul of the crisis.

While a fact-checking scroll running under the screen during Tuesday’s speech would have been ideal, it didn’t take long for scorecards to emerge.

And the grades read like one of his Wharton School report cards.

Here are some of the results (source: NPR):

-“There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our Southern border”

Fact check: Illegal border crossings in the most recent fiscal year (ending in September 2018) were lower than 2016 or 2014, and significantly lower than their peak in 2000. NPR adds that the recent change is the increase in children and families seeking asylum from countries other than Mexico, presenting different challenges.

-“All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.”

Fact check: Though studied extensively, the conclusion remains inconclusive. The push and pull of the debate is between immigrant workers (on the decline) taking low-wage/low-skilled jobs from native born workers weighed against reducing production costs for specific industries.

-“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country.”

Fact check: Though technically correct about the total number of ICE arrests of immigrants with criminal records the past two years, NPR described the number as “misleading,” as the lion’s share of those arrests are immigration-related offenses.

The view here, not of NPR, is that this is a most egregious lie. Why? Because your president (not mine) has spoon fed the base a steady red meat diet of a dangerous false narrative about illegal immigrants going on raping and pillaging sprees when, in actuality, they commit crimes at lower rates than those of us born here.

And if your president (not mine) is as concerned about violent crime as he claims, here is an idea to break the stalemate: How about he consider budging an inch on common sense gun control legislation?

-“Our Southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs.”

Fact check: Well, your president (not mine) tends to believe the KGB (or whatever Putin calls it these days) over the FBI or CIA, so it only stands to reason he would go against the DEA, which has been clear that most illegal drugs imported to the U.S. from Mexico are smuggled in through legal ports of entry.

OK, with kudos to the fact checkers, it’s just not cool to be lied to, especially when it grinds the country to a halt.

So let us not talk falsely now.

There is the overriding lie that gnaws away at what truly is a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.

What I mainly heard, while rubber-necking Tuesday’s prime-time crash on the highway, was the ongoing trope that Democrats “don’t want border security.”

Your president (not mine) doubled-down on it the next day, dubbing them “criminals” for not ceding to his tantrum.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) made it clear in a televised rebuttal — that actually had higher ratings than the speech they were rebutting (probably a record in television history) — that they, in essence, want the same thing.

They just won’t sign off on an impractical wall (there already is one covering 700 miles).

Your president (not mine) will not meet them halfway, or even a quarter of the way, making one wonder if it’s more about what Colin Powell recently decried as a dire situation wherein “Me the President” is more important than “We The People.”

Sounds like crisis of the heart and crisis of the soul worthy of a Bob Dylan protest song.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Sunday, Jan. 13.