Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Requiem for the American Dream

"We enter parliament in order to supply ourselves, in the arsenal of democracy, with its own weapons. If democracy is so stupid as to give us free tickets and salaries for this bear's work, that is its affair. We do not come as friends, nor even as neutrals. We come as enemies. As the wolf bursts into the flock,
so we come."

Franz Josef Goebbels

Welcome to Idiot Nation. Come to the place where dreams go to die. Don't feel sorry for us when the gazillion dollar shit hammer hits the fan. We stupidly did this to ourselves. In a nation that was once viewed by the world as a beacon of hope, this would be the darkest of comedies were it mere fiction. But this isn't fiction, campers. This is too real and catastrophic for contemplation. If you cannot understand this now, you'll get the picture very soon.

This is going to end badly, folks. Very badly indeed.
Forty-five years ago, the legendary gonzo journalist, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, accompanied by his attorney, Oscar Acosta, went off in search of the American Dream. They didn't find it. What they did find were the sure symptoms that the dream was terminally, mortally ill. They found out in Las Vegas - the city where the game is rigged in favor of the house. Today we awaken to find the game rigged all across the American nation. We find ourselves living in a plutocratic dictatorship. An unhinged sociopath - who lost the last presidential campaign by over two--and-a-half million votes - will be living in the White House in forty-five days. I was tempted to say that the game is over - but it's not over. The house will continue to deal its deck of marked decks. We will be forced to play by their rules - on their corrupt terms.

The American Dream is deader than Hunter Thompson and Oscar Acosta combined.
And so many of these idiotic Americans could not be happier. Just last evening someone I did not know (but who obviously knew who I was) walked up to me at a local convenience store and said, "I know you won't agree with this, Tom, but I was never prouder of my country than I was on the morning after the election". Poor, silly bastard, I thought to myself, he'll understand soon enough.
It has been said that repeating the same mistake - over and over again - expecting a different result every time, is the very definition of insanity. The American electorate has repeated this same mistake - over and over again - going all the way back to the administration of Benjamin Harrison a century-and-a-quarter ago. The lesson has yet to be learned: Right wing form of governance is economically, socially, infrastructurally unworkable. And yet... and yet....and yet....
And yet here we are about to go down this same,  mind-fuckingly stupid road again. I'm almost speechless...."almost" - not quite.

You have to wonder what the historians will be writing about us a century into the future. It's a fairly easy guess that we're going to look awfully foolish. That's okay; we'll all be long dead by then. What a lovely thought.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
by Hunter Thompson

This 1971 book (Thompson's best) is still in print. It's also one of the funniest things ever written. If you liked the film with Johnny Depp, you'll love the book. Buy it and read it. You can find it easily at amazon.com.
Requiem for the American Dream

This interview/documentary with Noam Chomsky is also available at amazon. I can't recommend enough.

"Listen, you motherfuckers...."

For all of you who were foolish enough to cast your precious ballot for Donald Trump last month, I just wanted to send you this gentle reminder of what you have unleashed upon the world. You might have missed this as it wasn't reported on Fox Noise. Please bear in mind that when he made this statement, he was referring to China, which is potentially one of the most dangerous countries on the planet. Buyers remorse is coming. Count on it.

Enjoy your stay in Idiot Nation.


The Battle Hymn of the Republic
by Herbie Mann


Their truth is marching on. It doesn't get any better than this, folks. Stop searching. Stop it.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Thank you, America

"Fascism should more properly be called 'corporatism' because it is the total merging of corporate and state power"
Benito Mussolini, 1927 

Are we there yet, Daddy?

Oh yeah, kids.  We're there. You'd better fucking believe it.

Murray as Thompson
A tip of the hat and a heartfelt expression of gratitude is in order for the inmates of Idiot Nation. You folks have made my job so much easier. For the people whose vocation  it is to call attention to the desecration of the American experiment in democracy, it will be a long time before any one of us has writers block. Of course, although the pen is indeed mightier than the sword,  it could very soon turn  into  double-edged pen. It's only a matter of time before people like us are stomped down upon hard. Wait for it.

Irony of ironies: As impossibly corrupt and incompetent as George W. Bush was to the foundations of this once great republic, by this time next year, we-who-bother-to-pay-attention will find ourselves nostalgic for the contemptible  little thug. Honestly, even during Dubya's reign of grotesquerie and terror, I never dreamed it would get this surreal. What is coming is no mere constitutional crisis; what is on the bleak horizon is a fucking constitutional meltdown. Remember, you read it here, boys and girls!
At the conclusion of the classic 1980 cult film, Where The Buffalo Roam, Bill Murray (portraying Hunter Thompson) proclaimed: "It still hasn't gotten weird enough for me". Thompson committed suicide in February of 2005, weeks after Bush's second inauguration. I only wish he could have lived to see the rise of Donald J Trump. I can imagine him saying, "Okay, this is weird enough, thank you very much".
Jeff Sessions
In the hours following the worst electoral catastrophe in this doomed nation's history, it was almost endearingly pathetic to read so many posts out on the internet (not to mention personal email messages to me) from those whom obviously hadn't been paying attention, vainly attempting to quell our fears. "Don't worry", they said, "He'll surround himself with good people!". Right. He's already put into positions of power Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, two avowed white supremists. If fact, two decades ago the Alabama-born Sessions was denied a judicial appointment because the members of his own party felt that he was too vile a racist for the position. Today this man is Attorney General designate. I kid you not.

FUN FACT: When one is judged to be too bigoted for the tastes of the GOP, that person has set one hell of a new standard. And you think that the comparisons to the rise of the Nazis eighty-three years ago are too over-the-top?
During the campaign, Trump promised his moronic base that, once he was in charge of things, there would be no more corporate lobbying at the executive level of our government. In the days following the election he announced the appointments of these same lobbyists to run and control the very federal agencies that they have dedicated their careers to destroying. And the shit storm hasn't even begun.
To all of my friends who naively cast their lot with Trump (and, believe it or not, I have more than a few of them who did) do you still honestly believe that sending this sociopathic asshole to the White House was a particularly neat idea? Here's a little something you can take to the bank, folks: By July 20 of next summer, which will mark the six-month-point of this new administration (with forty-two VERY LONG months left to go!), every one of you will realize that voting for Donald Trump was the stupidest thing you ever did in your lives. I promise you that. This could very well be the point of no return. These freaks will be looking for their own Reichstag Fire as an excuse to suspend the Constitution. The Patriot Act was merely a grim overture.

This is going to end very badly. How's that for understating a foregone conclusion? Its all over.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
Waiting for the Barbarians
by Chris Hedges
This needs to be read by everyone:


 "The rebels will be our hope."
In the meantime, get used to living in a nation in ruins.


Some within the extreme right are now heralding the news that a constitutional amendment outlawing the burning of the flag is just around the corner.

Although  it is my belief that flag burning is a constitutionally protected expression of free speech, I always felt that it was a really idiotic, infantile form of protest.

At the moment this proposed prohibition takes effect, I won't be able to burn enough of them. In fact, my plan is to burn them publicly - in front of my house (I live on a busy, two-lane highway which should make things rather interesting). Now would be a dandy time to invest in companies that manufacture American flags. People will be buying them just to burn them. I'm serious.

Cheerio! Pip! Pip!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Out of the Woodwork and Into the Mainstream

"No one mourns the great crimes committed against us. For us it is conquer or die....To be white is to be a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build. We produce. We go upward."
Richard Spencer
Speech to the annual conference of the National Policy Institute
19 November 2016
A woman on Facebook posted an ominous comment yesterday regarding an acquaintance of hers  who is a German exchange student studying in the Los Angeles area. This person received a communication from his parents instructing him to come home immediately. The reason?
"America has fallen." 

The Lovely "Ms. L" of Indiana
Well now! Doesn't that just give you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside? The times they certainly are, uh, "changing".
I received a message early this morning from my beloved friend, whom I'll refer to here as "Ms. L", gently urging me to write about this. She lives in Indiana. Although that state has radically shifted to the right in recent years ("Governor Mike Pence"? - I ask you.) she not long ago moved to Indianapolis, an oasis in a desert of craziness. My late mother was born and raised in that state. A lot of my dear cousins, the fabulous Clements Family of South Bend, still call Indiana home. I used to be proud of my connection to the Hoosier state. As the Monkees once sang, "That was then. This is now". 

The quaint little gathering, from where the speech above is quoted, did not take place in a Bavarian beer hall, circa 1933, it took place four days ago - at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. Ain't that a hoot? I knew that the National Policy institute was extreme, but even I was dumbfounded by the words emitting from the mouth of Richard Spencer while addressing this mob of racist dingbats. At one point, this asshole even had the chutzpa to cry out: "Hail Trump! Hail our [white] people! Hail victory!"

Seig heil, mein Trumph!

I would love to be able to tell you that when I awoke on this otherwise fine Autumn morning, on a whim, I decided to try my hand as a writer of fiction, and that this was merely a sick and twisted fantasy on my part. Sorry. All of this is very true indeed. The election two weeks ago of Donald J. Trump has brought the fringe into the mainstream of our national political conversation. At one point in his diatribe, Spencer went so far as to depict journalists as somehow being sub-human - an old Nazi ploy. He referred to the press as "Lügenpresse", an epithet that Hitler and his gang once used to attack members of the media who dared to offer even the mildest of criticisms.

"The mainstream media....it is not just that they are leftists and cucks. It's not just that many are genuinely stupid. Indeed one wonders if these people are people at all; or instead soulless Golem, animated by some dark power to repeat whatever talking point John Oliver stated the night before."

A few within this hoard of like-minded nincompoops responded with the arm-raised Nazi salute. One wonders what might have been going on in the minds of the geniuses who manage the Reagan Building when they agreed to allow this spectacle to take place on the premises. Or are they happily complicit in all of the "merriment"? Let's face some nasty facts here, kids: der Gipper was not exactly a champion of all things non-white.
"We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace. We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet. We were meant to overcome - overcome all of it - because that is natural and normal for us!"

Gee, I wonder if this moron is available for kids' parties.
These are the people who were instrumental in sending Donald Trump to the White House. These are the people who today rejoice over his ascendance to the presidency in less than two months. It would be redundant for me to say that this country can go straight to hell. We sent ourselves there on Election Day 2016.

Welcome to Donald Trump's America. Watch yer step, Jew Boy; Know yer place, Nigger - Ya hear?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tom Degan
Goshen, New York


Here is a YouTube link to watch a highlight of the speech quoted above. And, please, I don't want to hear any accusations that I have quoted this jackass out-of-context.

This is going to end very badly.


It Can't Happen Here
by Sinclair Lewis


It's fucking happening here.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Donald's New Reality Show

I heard an interesting bit of news this morning that was enough to send me into a Class A funk: They're just one Republican-controlled statehouse away from being able to completely rewrite the Constitution. Isn't that something?
Spending the last nine days adjusting to this to this new and quite nasty American reality has been interesting to say the very least. When I awoke early this morning, for the first time since the day after the election, my first thought wasn't that this electoral catastrophe was just a nightmare. I guess that means I'm somehow coming to terms with what I can only describe as the complete and utter lunacy of the American people. The fact that Hillary actually won the popular vote doesn't make the coping any easier. Thanks to a quaint relic of the eighteenth century called "the electoral college", disasters such as George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump are almost inevitable. The United States seems hell-bent on remaining the laughingstock of the rest of the planet.
So be it. I plan on joining in on the laughter. It can be a very lonely thing when one is an intelligent person living in Idiot Nation. It can be quite amusing, too,
On the morning of Election Day, bitter experience had me nearly resigned to the possibility of a Trump victory by day's end. When Dubya was reelected in 2004, no one paying attention could have doubted that he was the most insanely incompetent chief-executive in the history of the republic. When I received the news early the next morning that John Kerry had gone down to defeat, that was the moment I finally realized that these stupid fucking Americans were capable of just about anything. The star of a reality TV show is now the president-elect of the United States of America. The Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party are this morning celebrating. Think about that.
It serves those moronic Democrats right for nominating one of the worst candidates in their nearly two-hundred-year history. Since George McGovern lost to Dick Nixon in 1972, instead of fine-tuning their progressive message, the Dems have been running from it like frightened little bunny rabbits. Hillary Clinton was not the visionary that they so desperately needed in 2016. She was nothing more than a tired and stale old plutocrat, eager to pander to the whims of the one percent. Why do you think she tried to hide the transcripts of her speeches to the Goldman Sachs mob? At the time of the Democratic convention, every poll had Bernie Sanders wiping the floor with Trump on Election Day - while she was barely neck-and-neck with him. Don't hold your breath waiting for the Democrats to reform themselves. This is no longer the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It hasn't been that for a very long time. They need to be wiped from the face of the earth.
"There's gonna be a lot of dues, Jim!"
Lenny Bruce 

This is bad, folks, as bad as it's ever gotten or is ever going to get - at least in this doomed generation. We need to come to terms with the fact that the damage that is being done to America is on the cusp of being irreparable. A Trump administration might very well prove down the line to be the proverbial point of no return. That might be poetic justice. The people who were naïve enough to send Donald Trump to the White House are going to deserve everything that happens to them.   A few minutes ago I was gently scolded by a young woman on my Facebook page:
"I have to raise my 5 month old daughter in this country. 
 For the sake of generations to come,
is it really helpful to promote further division??"
Mea culpa. Mea culpa. She probably has a point. I hate to find myself as part of the fist-shaking-mob, but at this moment I need to vent. As disastrous as Bush 43 was for the USA, the Donald's term will prove to be infinitely worse. As impossibly bad as Bush was, a year from now we will almost definitely find ourselves nostalgic for the little thug.

I've decided to quit drinking as of today The next four years will require all of us to remain mentally alert and on our toes. Brace yourselves for the storm. This shit is about to hit the fan. This is going to get really interesting.
Tom Degan 
Goshen, NY


John Oliver of HBO's "Last Week" pretty much nailed it:


The bloke is good.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Idiot Nation

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public"
H.L. Mencken

For the last three-and-a-half decades, the United States of America has held the proverbial loaded pistol, pointed at its own collective, clueless head. Last night it pulled the trigger. According to the "experts" who are desperately attempting to put a smiley face on yesterday's electoral catastrophe, the American people were merely trying to send a message. Of course they were. And that message has been received loud and clear:

FUN FACT: On the morning after Election Day 2016, I had to take two showers before the clock struck 12 Noon.

We're currently at eighty-plus months of consecutive job growth. Expect that trend to end by the summer. You can also expect the economy to tank before New Year's Day 2018. Expect the right wing SCREAM MACHINE to blame Barack Obama. Expect these stupid fucking Americans to swallow the propaganda whole.

The Democratic Party needs to disappear forever. Early in the primaries, it was obvious that they had within their grasp the most visionary candidate in their nearly two-hundred year history in the form of Bernie Sanders - and these idiotic Democrats blew it. At the time of the convention, every poll had him beating the Donald decisively, while Hillary was barely neck-and-neck with the guy. Bernie might have been the nominee but for the Democratic National Committee's sabotage. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hillary Clinton should go into permanent hiding. We want to be reminded of them no more. Go away. Go away. Go the fuck away. 

I left the Democrats eighteen years ago and never looked back. If the parties of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt are unable to puke up anything better than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, this country has had it. Defeating Trump should have been the political equivalent of shooting a school of half-witted fish in a leaky barrel. The Dems need to be wiped from the map.

For the next two years (at least) Donald Trump and the GOP will have complete control of the House and the Senate - not to mention the Supreme Court. If you are unable to understand the ramifications of this nasty fact, then, my only advice to you is: Go back to sleep. You'll understand them soon enough.

I was almost tempted to end this piece by saying that this country can go straight to hell - but that would have been redundant. The American people sent themselves there on Election Day 2016. Get used to living in a nation in ruins.

Stupid fucking Americans.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


I usually knock out pieces much longer than this in less than two hours. It has taken more than twenty-four hours to complete this one. I'm speechless.



 My video commentary on Facebook

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Down to the Wire

It's now coming on two o'clock in the morning. The polls open in a little over four hours. Silent night. I wish I could tell you that all was calm and bright, but that's hardly the case. On the night of the 2004 election I retired for the evening, thoroughly convinced that John Kerry would defeat the halfwit from Crawford, Texas. My nephew was staying with me at the time. When I woke up at around three AM to get a bottle of water out of the fridge, he was still awake. "He won" he said to me. I could tell by the look on his face and the tone of his voice who "he" was.
"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
H.L. Mencken
And to think it has come to this. I'm not-at-all certain who is going to be declared victor at the end of what I know will be a very long day. I've so little faith in the civic intelligence of my fellow countrymen and women that a Donald Trump victory late this evening won't phase me in the least. In fact I'll be able to make some tasty lemonade out of those nasty lemons. If the Donald wins this thing, I'm the only person I know of who makes under a million dollars per year that will benefit handsomely.
I have always been somewhat ambivalent whenever comparisons are made between the GOP of today and the Nazi Party of yore. Are they fair comparisons? It all depends upon what year we're talking about. Comparing the Republican Party of 2016 to the Nazis of 1938, the year of Kristallnacht and the opening of the first concentration camps, is not only unfair, it's quite absurd - and I'll be the first to admit it. But how about the Nazis of 1928, when they were just getting their feet off the ground? Not only is the comparison apropos - it's unavoidable. If the American people are stupid enough to go down that road at day's end, it will be a comparable jump from 1928 to 1933, which was the year that Hitler came to power. If the American people are stupid enough to go down that road at day's end, they'll deserve everything that happens to them. EVERYTHING.

I'm not crazy about Hillary Clinton. She was not my first choice to be the nominee - in fact she wasn't even on my list. I believe that she is, at heart, a plutocrat. But when placed in juxtaposition with a sociopathic Neanderthal like Donald Trump, what choice does anyone with an IQ above room temperature have? Jill Stein??? Please. This is not the time for third party experimentation.

Again the comparison to 1933 needs to be made. I've never been a fan of Communism, but if I had been living in Germany then, and been forced to choose between the Nazis and the Communists, the choice would have been a no-brainer. And, no, I'm not implying that Hillary is a commie - Chill!

Everyone needs to get out and vote for Ms. Clinton today. It doesn't matter if you're in a safe "blue state" or a hopeless "red state". Her victory in the popular vote needs to be decisive. If you live in New York and are thinking: She'll win here, why bother? or if you live in Mississippi and are thinking: She'll lose here, why bother? - then you're missing the point entirely. We need to send a clear message to the Tea Partiers that her victory will be the unquestioned will of the people. (By the way, we really do need to get rid of the electoral college - seriously. Without it, more people would vote. Without it, Al Gore would have been elected in 2000. Something to think about).

The message also needs to be heard loud and clear by the far right politicians presently polluting the halls of Congress. These people have become too weird for their own good. Expect at least four more years of obstruction and procedural chaos if they are able  retain control of the House and/or Senate.

Now is not the time for apathy, folks. I don't give a damn who you are or where you live: If you believe that there is a future for progressivism in America, get down to your polls and vote today as if your life depends on it. I am not sure whether or not Hillary Clinton will be a good president. I hope that she will be (that's assuming she wins). All I can tell you with any degree of certainty is that America will survive her administration. The alternative is too horrible to even talk about.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


America The Beautiful
by Ray Charles


A little ditty we all need to hear today.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

A Virtual Tie

"The fact that Donald Trump would encourage the worst aspects of the character of his half-witted groupies is further proof (as if any more were needed) that the man is a dangerous sociopath. Were he to be elected in eighteen days I would have predicted that he would someday be remembered as the champion mass murderer of world history. Fortunately I won't have to make that prediction. Not even the American people are that dumb. Not quite." 

I wrote that paragraph on this site less than two weeks ago. All bets are off. It would probably would have been wise of me to remember the words of the legendary, muckraking journalist, H.L. Mencken, who once wrote that "nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." Smart dude, that Mencken. 

Add caption
I won't get into the details regarding the reopening of the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails. It's all too bizarre and thoroughly depressing to think about. This time around, the primary focus is - incredibly - the texting scandal of a few months back between Anthony Weiner and a fifteen-year-old girl. What the FBI's James Comey was thinking when he decided to have another peek into this Pandora's box is anyone's guess. Have he and the Donald made some kind of backroom deal? Nothing would surprise me at this late stage. All I know for certain is that enough voters have decided that this latest "scandal" is enough to place Trump in serious contention to be declared "President-elect" in five short days. Isn't that something?

I'm almost at the point where I hope he wins. The American people deserve Donald Trump. What's ironic is the sad fact that the rest of the planet doesn't deserve him. If a Trump administration does indeed come into being, the entire global population will suffer greatly because of American electoral stupidity. Ain't that a riot?
Anthony Weiner
Not only are the latest polls this morning showing Clinton and Trump to be neck-and-neck, a handful are implying that this sociopathic nincompoop could actually end up winning this thing. And to think that this possibility is courtesy of  Anthony Wiener. Should the worst fears of thinking people come to pass on Tuesday night, the guy should go into permanent hiding. It's hard not to feel a strong degree of real pity for a politician who, not so very ago, showed such promise. F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that there were no second acts in American life. While that is not always the case (Think Elliot Spitzer) it will be in this instance. His show has permanently closed. How pathetic. How sad.
It's impossible to believe that the people of this doomed country (at least the ones that vote) are, quite possibly, within less than a week from nominating the most Hitleresque candidate to come along since der fuehrer himself. Don't make the mistake of dismissing that last sentence as a wild exaggeration from a unhinged lefty. The fact of the matter is that for the last half century, the Republican Party has been crawling - ever-so-slowly and ever-so-surely - toward an insanely dark and disturbing place. If you've yet to notice this undeniable phenomenon, you haven't been paying attention. A Trump administration might be just the thing to awaken you from your apathetic slumber.

Dr. Jill Stein
As I have pointed out too many times, Hillary Clinton was never my ideal candidate; I believe she is, at heart, a plutocrat. But I'm not going to make the same mistake in 2016 that I made sixteen years ago when I cast my lot with Ralph Nader. The result of that fiasco was eight years of George W. Bush, a man who is in serious competition with James Buchanan for being remembered as the most insanely incompetent chief-executive in history. Dr. Jill Stein is a decent, intelligent human being - there's no argument about that - but this is not the year for third party experimentation. Even six months of a Trump presidency would mean the end of this country. Think I'm off base? Fine. I just got the wildest idea: Let's all vote for Donald Trump on Tuesday and see what happens!
These might not be the happiest of times to be alive, but they sure ain't boring! Did you ever dream it would get this weird?
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
Disarmed and Dangerous
The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Phillip Berrigan
by Murray Polner and Jim O'Grady
Fathers Dan and Phil Berrigan are today remembered as "religious extremists", which I think is a misnomer. They merely took the gospel of Jesus Christ literally. For this, they happily paid a heavy price. I'm just now finishing this excellent biography. Here's a link to order it:
"Blessed are the peacemakers."

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Me 'n' Kitty Bruce
Lenny and Kitty, 1966
Something extraordinarily beautiful occurred at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts on October 27 and 28 that I was fortunate enough to have participated in. We all came together to honor Lenny! Lucky me. I am having a very interesting life - I really am.
When Lenny Bruce died of a drug overdose on August 3, 1966, his career as a working entertainer had come to a bleak end. He could still work a rare concert venue (as he did at the Fillmore auditorium nine days before his death, with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention opening for him) but performing in nightclubs was out of the question. No club owner in the country was willing to risk the near-certainty of losing their license to serve liquor that an obscenity bust would entail. With the exception of San Francisco (where his only legal triumph in 1961 left him immune from persecution) he had been effectively banned from every major city in America - New York included. On the day of his death he received in the mail a foreclosure notice from the Bank of America on his house in the Hollywood Hills. The greatest American humorist of the twentieth century was within days of becoming homeless.
One can only imagine the despair that must have overwhelmed him on that last day. That's why what occurred at Brandeis this week was such a sweet thing to bear witness to. If only he could have somehow known that, fifty years later, at a north eastern ivy league college - about as far away from Lenny Bruce's Los Angeles as is possible to get in the continental United States - a group of his friends and admirers would come together for a scholarly discussion of his art, and a celebration of his unacceptably short life.
There had never been a comedian like him before: He was handsome, smart and as hip as they come; A real finger-snapping, urban bon vivant; A combination sage rabbi and verbal kamikaze, Lenny Bruce was the real thing. The facets of his psychological make up, including his all-too-obvious personal vulnerabilities, were there for all the world to behold, bravely exhibited on the nightclub stage. That he was a troubled, tormented soul, there can be no doubt. Unhappiness and insecurity would dog him all his life. Close friends would remember him as a basically sad and lonely man. But, damn! When he walked on stage he was funny, Jim. Screamingly funny!

In the placid 1950s era of Eisenhower, "I Love Lucy" and hoola-hoops, the American establishment wasn't ready for the kind of honesty that Lenny was presenting to the public. The mainstream press was mostly aghast: Walter Winchell branded him, "America's Number One Vomic"; In late 1958, Time Magazine would crown him "the sickest of the sick comedians". Rather than dismiss these affronts outright, Lenny (in typical Lenny fashion) embraced them. The cover photo for his second album, "The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce", portrayed him having a picnic in a cemetery! How's that for moxie? That same LP included a classic bit called, "Religions Incorporated" which depicted a fast talking, Hollywood booking agent talking on the telephone with his "client", the newly ordained, Pope John XXIII:

"HELLO, JOHNNY! WHAT'S SHAKIN', BABY!!! Yeah the puff of white smoke knocked me out! I got'cha booked for the Sullivan Show on the nineteenth... Oh, did ya dig Spellman on 'Stars Of Jazz'??? OK, sweetie! Yeah, right... You cool it, too! Nah, nobody knows you're Jewish"!

While that type of humor might be considered tame by the "anything goes" standards of today, in 1958 it was positively revolutionary.

For three golden years he was cooking, appearing as a headliner in the top clubs across the nation. When he opened at Mister Kelly's in Chicago, crowds were lining up around the block to see him. According to his biographer, Albert Goldman, word had reached the windy city that, "this new young comic was sensational".

On February 4, 1961, he actually did a gig at Carnegie Hall! Carnegie Hall?? Even he couldn't believe it: "Maybe the people who own this place don't even know we're here"! He speculated that the entire audience had been admitted into the hall by "a corrupt janitor: 'Alright, just don't make no noise and clean up after you're finished, alright'? Alright".

That night, the Island of Manhattan was blanketed by one of the worst blizzards in its history. All bridges and tunnels leading into and out of the city were shut down; Every street in town was closed to traffic - and yet, somehow, Lenny was able to pack his people into a concert that didn't begin until after midnight! It was a Standing Room Only performance that the old gang at Lindy's still talk about! Fortunately the entire evening was preserved on tape and is available today on CD. "Lenny Bruce At Carnegie Hall" is the greatest performance of his all-too-brief career.

Seven months after Carnegie Hall, in the autumn of 1961, the arrests started. On September 29th Lenny was arrested in his Philadelphia hotel room for possession of drugs for which he had a prescription. Five days later, on October 4th, he was busted at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco for obscenity. Although he was eventually acquitted on both counts, the pattern had begun. The persecution would continue for the rest of his life.

Between 1961 and 1964, he was arrested nineteen times across the country on various narcotics and obscenity charges. His legal problems would bankrupt him, forcing him to spend too much time in too many courtrooms defending his art. His income plummeted from roughly $350,000 in 1960 to about $7,000 in 1965. On his fortieth birthday, he was forced to legally declare himself a pauper - so consumed in debt was he.  In the end, his persecutors would render him broken and defeated. In March of 1965, under the influence of hallucinogens, he fell out of the second floor of a hotel in San Francisco, permanently damaging his left leg. Although never a "sick comedian", in his final days Lenny Bruce was a very sick man. During that last, desperate summer of 1966, he told more than one person that he would not live to see 1967.

Most of his obituaries would contemptuously dismiss him as a "dirty comedian", a label that profoundly hurt and humiliated him while he was alive.

When the Los Angeles police arrived at the death scene, they allowed photographers and newsreel cameramen to walk into his home to take their gruesome photographs of his unclothed body lying on the floor of an upstairs bathroom. His good friend, Jack Roy,  had a catch phrase: "I don't get no respect". Talk about irony. Roy, who would later change his name to "Rodney Dangerfield", was one of the most respected comics in the business when he passed away in 2004. Lenny Bruce would be forced to linger a long time in the dark night of obscurity before he received his due. When I first discovered him at the tender age of fourteen, I knew that he was a genius. I'm grateful that academia has finally caught up with us.

It was an honor to take part - however peripherally - in the symposium this week in Massachusetts. A tip of the hat and a heartfelt bow to Christie Hefner and the Playboy corporation for making this event possible. When it seemed that the entire world had abandoned him, her father was always in Lenny's corner. One could not ask for a more loyal pal than Hugh Hefner. In an interview a number of years ago with NBC's Bob Costas, he said of Lenny Bruce, "I think he's a very important American". I'm hard-pressed to disagree. A raising of the glass to Hef as well!

Honey, Lenny and Kitty, 1960
Kitty Bruce, Lenny's only child, donated his massive archive of letters, photographs, films and tapes to the Brandeis vaults. In addition to meeting her, I got to spend time with so many people who were a part of Lenny's biography, and some who, like me, were profoundly influenced by him - including Lewis Black, a man who is one of the small handful of comedians not presently lying in cemeteries that is able to make me laugh out loud.   I plan on returning there sometime in the near future to spend a day or two researching this brilliant satirist's wild, funny and tragic life.

At Brandeis University I told the people gathered there that I've always been hesitant to refer to Lenny Bruce as a "comedian". My habit is to label him a "humorist"; one of the greatest of the troubled century he inhabited. Twain, Will Rogers, Robert Benchley, George S.  Kaufman, James Thurber - anyone you prefer to mention - Lenny belongs right up there on the mountaintop with the best of them.

Lenny at the end
I often wonder what Lenny Bruce might have thought about the America of 2016. No doubt he would have had a lot to say about the very sick society we all still inhabit a half century after his passing. Can you even imagine? It makes me giggle out loud contemplating what might have been.


Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


To Kitty Bruce: After a decade of correspondence, it was a joy to finally meet you. It was so cool the way you made everyone feel relaxed and right at home. I'm eternally grateful and honored to have been there.


How to Talk Dirty and Influence People
by Lenny Bruce

A hitchhiker named Terry Malone left this book in my dad's station wagon in the summer of 1972. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting the cemetery where my parents are buried when I saw a marker bearing the same name: "Terry Malone". I walked up to it and said out loud, "If you're the same guy, THANK YOU." Finding that book was my introduction to Lenny Bruce, and it completely altered my life. It has been reissued in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his passing. In case it's not available from your friendly, local, independently-owned, neighborhood bookstore (Let's stop kidding ourselves - they no longer exist!) here is a link to order it off of Amazon.com:


Lenny Bruce In My Life
from The Rant, 8/2/16:

I wrote this one in August on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Lenny's passing:



Here is the first recorded bit by Lenny Bruce I ever heard. I was fourteen at the time and was sold from the get-go. This one is from the summer of 1958 - right around the time I was born:


And, finally, I took this photograph of Kitty Bruce cutting the cake at a posthumous, 91st birthday party we threw for her dad on Thursday night. We all even joined in to sing, "Happy birthday, dear Lenny"! Somewhere, I am sure, he is smiling.

Happy birthday, dear Lenny, happy birthday to you!

Friday, October 21, 2016

An Ominous Moment

 "The main threat to democracy comes not from the extreme left, but from the extreme right, which is able to buy huge sections of the press and radio, and wages a constant campaign to smear and discredit every progressive and humanitarian measure."
George Seldes
I nodded out quite early on the night of the third debate. Lying on top of my bed and watching a DVD, before I knew what hit me I was off to Snooze-ville. When I finally came to, it was 2:15 AM. Not to worry. I grabbed my trusty cellphone and watched a rerun via the nice folks at YouTube. Aren't modern times neat?
It was the one of the finest examples of unintentional comedy I have ever seen. There stood the glorious goofball, Sean Hannity, immediately following the debate, declaring a major victory for Donald Trump. Poor old Sean is way past the point of being a minor annoyance. The silly bastard is now a figure of complete and utter pathos. That a correspondent for a supposedly "serious" "news" organization could voluntarily expose himself as a mere propagandist the way this guy did - without a molecule of shame - was something to behold. The Donald was beaten to the point of senselessness. Anyone paying even casual attention was able to figure that out easily. When this entire debacle is, mercifully, only a wrenching memory, it's easy to foresee Sean Hannity spiraling into complete irrelevance. At this late stage in the game, if you're still watching Fox Noise for anything other that your own amusement, there's little hope for you.

Did you ever get the feeling that you were living through an amusing nightmare? You can't make this stuff up. That's a good description of American politics in 2016: "An Amusing Nightmare". If I ever write a book about this era, that'll be the title.

The incredible thing is that this election won't be a landslide like 1936 when FDR won every state but Maine and Vermont, or 1972 when Nixon won all but Massachusetts. Incredible as it may be to believe, Donald Trump will probably win more-than-a-few states. Before the Access Hollywood scandal unfolded, some talking heads were predicting he might win as many as twenty! Whatever the number turns out to be, it's not going to reflect very well upon this nation. Already the laughingstock of the planet earth, the results of the 2016 campaign will secure our place in the pantheon of political idiocy. That this nitwit was able to receive the nomination of a party whose one-time standard bearer was Abraham Lincoln is too sad to think about. From Lincoln to Trump: You just can't fall any lower than that - but they're gonna try in 2020! Count on it.
There were loads of milestones to behold at this festival of mediocrity (including the part where Donald referred to Hillary as "a nasty woman". Did you catch that?) but the highlight of the evening was when Trump refused to promise to concede the election to Hillary Clinton should she win on that night - which is not a foregone conclusion by the way. The following day, at a campaign rally in Delaware, he went on to declare that he would only make a concession, "if I win". Talk about arrogance.
It was an ominous moment. In case it's slipped your notice, in addition to being dumber than a box of moldy rocks, a significant number of Trump supporters tend to be a bit unhinged - not to mention armed and dangerous. One homicidal twit was caught on camera at a rally somewhere threatening to assassinate Hillary Clinton should she be elected on November 8. He proclaimed that by murdering her, he would be doing his duty as a "patriot". Can you believe that? For the last thirty-plus years these idiots have been egged on by Republican politicians, the NRA, and the right wing SCREAM machine. It's only a matter of time before they explode into an armed revolt. Mass murder made easy. Remember you read it here, folks.

The fact that Donald Trump would encourage the worst aspects of the character of his half-witted groupies is further proof (as if any more were needed) that the man is a dangerous sociopath. Were he to be elected in eighteen days I would have predicted that he would someday be remembered as the champion mass murderer of world history. Hopefully I won't have to make that prediction. Not even the American people are that dumb....I hope. That being said, I'm afraid that we'll have to somehow deal with the hangover of the Donald Trump For President campaign for some time to come - maybe even years,

Make way for the Nincompoop Army.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press

George Seldes
One afternoon in 1987, I was in a book store on East 86th Street in New York City (Don't ask me how I remember the location, I just do) when I came upon a new memoir by a man I had never heard of before. The book was called "Witness To A Century" and the author was named George Seldes, who was a few years shy of his 100th birthday. Seldes had been a crusading journalist, having begun his career in Pittsburgh in 1909. Browsing through the text and the photographs, it was obvious to me that this was a man who had led a very interesting and eventful life. I couldn't resist purchasing it of course. My instincts didn't fail me; it was, indeed, a fantastic read. On the dust cover, it said that he lived in the rural town of Heartland-4-Corners, Vermont. I decided to take a chance and try phoning the great man. Not only did he answer, we spoke for about a half hour. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. Eight years later, on July 2, 1995, George Seldes died at the age of 104.

At the time of his passing, a documentary on George was in the works. It was released shortly afterwards. It is well worth your time. A fascinating story of an equally fascinating guy. Here is a link to watch it on YouTube:

I really need to read that book again. For anyone who makes his or her name by the pen, George Seldes is inspiration and light.

Witness to a Century
by George Seldes
"A people that wants to be free must arm itself - with a free press."
George Seldes