Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou Reed

Very early yesterday morning, out of the blue, I posted a You Tube link to a recording by Lou Reed  on my Facebook page. It was a song called "Lisa Says", recorded in a Texas nightclub in 1969. A few hours later I received an email from my old pal, Tad DeLuccia, who informed me that Lou Reed was gone forever. Although it made me sad to hear about his passing, considering Reed's excesses in life, seventy-one years is a pretty good run. I suppose we should be grateful to have had him for as long as we did.

Sad song....Sad song....

Until yesterday afternoon I knew next-to-nothing about Lou Reed. All I knew about the man was his age (which I looked up a few years ago for a piece I was writing about my high school years). I never knew, for example, that his father was an accountant and that he was raised in a typical middle class home on suburban Long Island. I never knew that he was Jewish. I never knew that in the fifties he had undergone electroshock therapy in order to "cure" his bisexuality - nor was I aware that he was bisexual. I never knew he began his career as a staff writer for the infamous, low-budget label, Pickwick Records. I had no idea that he had undergone a liver transplant earlier in the year, and that in recent months he had become quite frail. His death took me totally by surprise. There was just so much that I didn't know about Lou Reed - which is an astounding thing when you take into consideration the fact that I have been listening to (and loving) his music for almost forty years now.

Perhaps I was afraid where my inquiries might take me. I have done so much research on the life of John Lennon that I think I could sit down and write a five-hundred-page biography of him without the benefit of notes. My initial hero-worship of John has been diminished somewhat by the sad reality that there were more-than-a-few periods of his life where I would not have chosen to be his friend. The man could be a real bastard when the mood struck him. He was a horrifically flawed human being. Wasn't he a bit like you and me? This is what is known as acquiring "more information than I needed to know".

Whatever the private failings of John Lennon and Lou Reed might have been, their influence on twentieth-century rock 'n' roll cannot be denied. 

Rock 'n' Roll Animal, 1974
I first discovered the music of Lou Reed in the summer of 1974 when an 8-Track tape of something called "Rock 'n' Roll Animal" started making the rounds among my high school friends. At first glance I wasn't very impressed; for starers the title was really stupid - and the cover photo was beyond ridiculous. Lou definitely did not make a good first impression. But when I heard the sounds emanating from inside that little plastic cartridge I was floored. Recorded in Brooklyn, NY at Howard Stein's Academy of Music on December 21, 1973, it remains one of my all-time favorite, rock concert records. The followup album, "Lou Reed Live" (recorded during the same performance) is almost as good. His renditions of "Heroin" and "Rock 'n' Roll" are gut-wrenching and wondrous. Both songs he had recorded years before with his groundbreaking and influential band, Velvet Underground. And yet on Rock 'n' Roll Animal, Lou turned both of those songs upside down and inside out, effectively recomposing them without changing a note or a lyric. The guitar work on these two records by my old Facebook chum, Dick Wagner, is indescribable. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of either one of them. Neither will disappoint.

As 1974 wore on I discovered more of Lou Reed's work. His 1972 album, "Transformer", was an awesome collage of wit (Goodnight, Ladies) and joy (Satellite of Love). But it was a discovery I made in the early months of 1975 that really  "transformed" me.

In Berlin by the wall
You  were five foot, ten inches tall
It was very nice
Oh, honey, it was paradise

Berlin, 1973
"Berlin", recorded in 1973, damn-near blew my mind. It is, in my opinion, Lou Reed's masterpiece. A concept album that tells the sad story of a drug-addicted couple living in postwar Germany, it is Lou Reed on the mountaintop. Berlin is not the kind of record to play if you want to be uplifted. It's imagery of lost love, suicide, violence, addiction and despair is stark and, at times, brutal. And yet, despite these things, it's a beautiful album - darkly so. Not long ago Reed told an interviewer that he was unable to listen his early work because all he could hear was "what's wrong" with the recordings. I have to take issue with that. From beginning to end, Berlin is perfection. Were I to make a list for you of the top five LP's to come out of the rock era, Berlin would most certainly be on that list. As I stated before, it is a masterpiece. End of argument.

Oh, it's such a perfect day
I'm glad I spent it with you
Such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on.... 

Coney Island Baby, 1975
The best rock concert I ever attended - in my life - occurred on the night of May 3, 1975, at the Capital Theater in Passaic, New Jersey. Lou Reed was promoting his new album, "Coney Island Baby". Even his warmup act, a band called "String Driven Thing", was fantastic. My gang and I had choice seats - eighth row, center! Some members of the audience were quite hostile that night - but Lou gave as good as he got. That's what made the show so memorable. Lou Reed was always great, but when he was pissed he was unforgettable. Toward the end of the performance, he responded to that hostility by having the band play very low, almost at a whisper. Someone yelled out, "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU, LOU!" to which he replied, "Now you get the point". I imagine that Lou Reed probably didn't have a very good time that night which - if true - is a shame. Lou, if you can hear me, I want you to know that I went away from that performance thinking it would never again get that good. It never has. I imagine it never will. That night was as good as it gets.

After the show was over, about eight of us piled into my friend John Corwin's car for the sixty-mile ride back home. We were beside ourselves with the realization that we had just spent the evening with The Man. Lou Reed captured our imaginations at the moment they were ripe for the capturing. He never really let go. He still speaks to us in ways that are not easy to define. His music made us feel just a bit freer, and listening to those recordings all these decades later makes one quite nostalgic; they transport us back to a time when anything seemed possible. Hearing again the hypnotic words and music of "Ennui" from the Sally can't Dance album takes my mind back to the Capital Theater on May 3, 1975. It was such a perfect day. I'm glad we spent it with Lou.

Sally Can't Dance, 1974
So there goes Lou Reed bopping off into eternity. There will never be another one like him, that's a given. The man was a true American original, the poet laureate of lower Manhattan. 

The closest thing he ever came to having a hit record was 1972's "Walk on the Wild Side" which made it to number sixteen on  Billboard's Top 100 chart. Its relative success more-than-likely took him by complete surprise. Commercial appeal never meant a damned thing to Lou Reed. All the guy ever wanted to do was to play rock 'n' roll music. "I was made for rock 'n' roll" he once said. It's a statement that's impossible to disagree with.

Lou Reed spoke for the misfits, the outcasts and the disaffected. No small wonder why I loved this guy so much.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Staring at my picture book
She looks like Mary Queen of Scots
She seemed very real to me
Just goes to show how wrong you can be 


Sad Song 
by Lou Reed

From the Conclusion of Berlin. 


Here's Lou being interviewed by Charlie Rose. It's quite revealing and he's very funny at times:
Gotta love the man!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hell Care

AMERICA'S WORST KEPT SECRET: Healthcare in this country is beyond dismal. The good news is that it's about to get a whole lot better for a whole lot of people.

 "In short, in the US, you pay more, get less, and die younger than we do in Europe. What part of that don't you understand? My fellow Americans, you have nothing to fear except those who would use fear to keep you enslaved to the myth of the might of the American health care system."

Jeff Degan, 2009
Jeff Degan
That's from an open letter my brother, Jeff, wrote four years ago, directed to the readers of the Rant. For over twenty years he has lived on the other side of the pond. In short, he's looked at life from both sides now. He and his wife and two daughters have been treated at various times at hospitals in Britain, France and Germany. His verdict is that the hospitals OVER THERE are, at the very least, equal to the quality of health care in the United States. In many ways they're superior. His only complaint is that the food in English hospitals is not very good. That seems to be everyone's pet peeve about merrie olde England. I beg to differ. You've never had fish and chips until you've had them wrapped in wax paper, sprinkled with vinegar.

One last thought on the subject of Brother Jeff: Moving back to the states will never be an option for him. He says the quality of life is better in France. I'll take him at his word.

"Obamacare" (The right wing doesn't dare call it by its real name: "Affordable Care") is now the law of the land - passed in both houses of Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. It's certainly not perfect, but as this country moves further to the left in the years to come (it's already happening - deal with it) it can be improved upon and it will be. Bringing it into existence, making it a reality, are merely baby-steps on the path to the bill's ultimate improvement (I can't bring myself to use the word "perfection". It's becoming clearer to me each day that perfection is an illusion).

The government shutdown is over and the debt ceiling debacle has been worked out - for the time being anyway. The numbskulls - who today desecrate the same floors that were once walked upon by the likes of Henry Clay and William Seward - are looking worse than ever. Polls are now telling us that even most registered Republicans can't wait for the day that the Democrats control Congress. That is a good news/bad news scenario. If I were a registered Democrat, I certainly wouldn't go around bragging about it. My only consolation is that there is at least a spark of hope for the Dems. The GOP is beyond redemption. Now you see them; soon you won't.

The very fact that the extremists would send this country to the precipice of economic catastrophe should tell you all you need to know about their weird agenda. Uber-doofus, Ted Cruz, said on CNN the other day that he has every intention sending us there again at the first opportunity that presents itself. You see, Canadian-born Teddy boy is running for president in three years. He's read the political writing on the wall and he knows damn well that the "party of Abraham Lincoln" is doomed if it dares to nominate a (GET THIS) "moderate" like Mitt Romney in 2016. That's right, class; the man who accused forty-seven percent of the American people of being beggars and thieves wasn't right wing enough for these knuckleheads. The clear thinkers on the RNC (I think there are about two of them) are frightened-to-death of the possibility of a third party uprising if Ted and crew don't get their way. That's why that party is doomed. This is so much fun to watch, isn't it?

Think about this: As unpopular as Ted Cruz is nationally, when he made an personal appearance this past weekend in his home state of Texas, he received an eight minute long, standing ovation. Molly Ivins once posed the rhetorical question about her home state: "Just what is it about Texas?" You've gotta wonder.

Ted has been stomping around the country blabbering about the "train-wreck" of Obamacare and all of the damage it is doing to this grand and glorious land of ours. That's kind of interesting when one takes into account the fact that it's barely off the ground. If the Conservatives really believed that the Affordable Care Act was as bad as they're saying, they wouldn't be going to all these extremes to stop it. As they have demonstrated too-many-times-to-count, they will do anything to make this president look bad - the well-being of the American people be damned. They're trying to stop it because they know it's going to be successful; just like Medicaid and Medicare were successful. 

Before President Johnson signed those two bills into law almost fifty years ago, the right-wingers, within Congress and without, went positively apoplectic in their efforts to warn us of the damage those two programs would do to the land of the free:

"One of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”

Ronald Reagan

So help me, he actually said that. Ronnie's dire warnings aside, Medicare and Medicaid worked out pretty well in the long run - and that is precisely what scares the shit out of the Republicans. I can't stress this enough: They are not our friends. Sooner or later most people will understand this. In fact they're starting to figure it out. High time, ay?

Affordable Care has arrived. It's here to stay. Learn to live with it.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


In 1961 Ronald Reagan, then a failed B movie actor, recorded an album on RCA Victor Records,  warning his fellow Americans about the "evils" of "socialized medicine". When you have a moment to spare, give a listen to this excerpt. It's a scream:

But seriously, folks.

AFTERTHOUGHT, 10/16/13, 7:35AM:

Our family laid to rest the remains of Jerry and Grace Degan yesterday. It might sound a bit trite, but this is indeed the end of an era. Here's a photograph of Uncle Jerry and I taken in Northridge, California in May of 1985:

Tom and Jerry

Monday, October 14, 2013

Into the Abyss

I finally figured it out last evening. It came to me like a loud bell in the night. It is so obvious, how could I have missed the clues? What I am about to reveal might floor you so brace yourselves: The entire Tea Party phenomena is a left wing plot to destroy the Republican Party.

Ted Cruz is a Communist plant. His entire family are agents of Fidel Castro! Think about it: Teddy Boy's dear old dad fought alongside Castro on the fifties and was instrumental in overthrowing the Batista regime. He now claims that he had no idea that the Bearded One was a commie. YEAH, RIGHT! NUDGE! NUDGE! WINK! WINK! After the evil-doers had that island in their treacherous claws, and Batista was safely living in disgraced exile, Fidel sent Papa Cruz over here by way of Canada - CLEVER! He was even able to fix himself up with an American wife. The perfect front! Old Man Cruz has been doing Castro's dirty deeds ever since. He was even able to enlist his half-witted kid into the cause. There is no other logical explanation - none

Whether or not Ted is a willing participant in this conspiracy remains to be seen. My guess is that he is not. I mean, let's face it - the guy is just so dumb. Whatever the case, the team of father and son have done their work well. As I write these words the "party of Abraham Lincoln" is self-destructing thanks in large part to commie-dupe, Ted Cruz. He has talked the Grand Old Party into cheerfully committing political suicide. I submit to you that Ted's dad is the Albert Einstein of international espionage.

But seriously, folks....

Each day it's getting weirder. We're two weeks into the complete shutdown of the government and a couple of days away from a possible default on our debt - which would mean economic catastrophe - not only in this doomed country, but worldwide. When this happens (and I'm willing to bet that it will) the right wing scream machine will smugly announce, "See? Big government doesn't work!". This is all quite amusing, don'cha think?

Here I go again: I made a prediction on this site a number of months ago. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record it but I must repeat myself: 

On Inauguration Day 2017, a Democratic administration will hand over the reigns of power to another Democratic administration. Do you know when the last time that happened? March 4, 1857, when Franklin Pierce tossed the keys to the White House to stuffy old James Buchanan. It hasn't happened since. Check the history books. Not only that, the first black president might very well bequeath the office to the first woman president. Interestingly, the Democrats of  1857 were a party chock-full of racists and (obviously) sexists. Had they known of this possibility they would have disbanded the party right then and there. The history books overflow with juicy little ironies like that one.

The GOP is within five years of disappearing completely. They have devolved from the "party of Abraham Lincoln" to the party of Uncle Fester. George W. Bush will be remembered for two reasons:

1. For being the most corrupt, insanely incompetent chief executive in the history of human stupidity and....

2. For being the last Republican president. There will never be another one. The grand old party is over.

How ironic that a political party founded on the principal that the black man should be liberated from bondage would commit suicide over the first African American being elected president.

Isn't life strange?

Tom Degan

Goshen, NY


Bloody Crimes
by James Swanson 

Two stories are interwoven here: The last days and funeral of Abraham Lincoln, and the flight and capture of Jefferson Davis. A few years ago this same author wrote a book about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth. Both of them I couldn't put down. Swanson is a first rate historian.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

John Boehner's Might-Have-Beens

One week and counting. Can you remember when this country was a pretty nice place to live in? I can. While its complete and utter destruction may be a tragic thing for some of you to behold, I find myself looking for - and finding with no effort - scads of unintentional giggles. I never dreamed that America's political apocalypse would be so much fun to behold - and yet it is! Who'd have thought?                     

The Great Belushi
It really must be a difficult thing to be John Boehner these days. Think about it: He looks to all the world like such an unprincipled, petty and mean-spirited little man. I wonder if he wishes he could turn back the clock just one week. He could have done the right thing and wound up showing a bit of political courage. He knows (everyone knows) that the votes to fund the Affordable Care Act are there, but he just can't bring himself to allow those votes to be heard. He doesn't dare incur the wrath of the idiotic extremists who today call the shots in the GOP. His position as Speaker of the House of Reprehensibles is more important to him than the well being of a nation whose population now exceeds a quarter-of-a-billion people. Eventually he'll have no other choice but to let those votes go to the floor - but by that time he'll have been forced (shamed) into doing so. As the late John Belushi would have said, he might have done the right thing at the right time...."BUT NOOOO!!!"

It should be said for the record (and I'm not the first to say it) that any political party that would bring the country they profess to love so well to the economic precipice - as the Republicans have cheerfully done more than once - needs to be relabeled. In his New York Times column this morning, Frank Bruni cautions any of us who would be quick to make Nazi analogies. True, this is not 1938 and John Boehner is certainly no Adolf Hitler. But it cannot be denied that the Republican party is devolving into something perfectly dreadful. While they have a long way to go before they can be rationally compared to the Third Reich, it must be conceded that the "Grand Old Party" is no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. And were he to rise from the dead at midnight tonight, it takes not a smidgeon of imagination to conclude that old Jeff Davis would find himself right at home in today's GOP. Debate that point all you want.

They keep referring to "Obamacare" (they don't dare call it by it's real name, Affordable Care) as a bill. It's not a bill - it's a law that has been passed and upheld by the Supreme Court. And yet they have shut this nation down rather than see that people of modest means get the healthcare they so desperately need and desire. Ain't that a hoot?

Teddy Boy
If I had been walking this earth one-hundred years ago, I might very well have been a registered Republican. Back in those bygone days they had a Progressive wing that was decades ahead of its time. Kiss those days goodbye forever. The party of Teddy Roosevelt has morphed into the party of Uncle Fester. That's okay. Soon they'll be gone forever. While the Democrats are useless and impotent, there is still a molecule of hope for them. The Republicans, on the other hand, are beyond redemption. The very fact that a bloviating dingbat like Ted Cruz is today one of their most recognizable spokesmen is all the proof you need that this is a party that has lost its mind. All of Boehner's horses and all of Boehner's men will not be able to put that party together again. Farewell, and good riddance.

Which brings me back the Speaker of the House. He's got to cave eventually, he hasn't any other choice. It's too late for an honorable way out of this mess. That opportunity has come and gone. The longer the government shutdown goes on, the worse it gets for the Republicans. It won't be the Democrats who pay the ultimate political price for this fiasco - count on it. A recent poll suggests that seventy-two percent of the American people put the blame for what is happening at the feet of the GOP. In the days to come that number is not going to get any better.

The freaks on the extreme right should be seeking the perfection of government - not its destruction. As for me, I hope this shutdown continues. I hope it lasts for a REALLY LONG TIME! I want to watch the reactions of all those "government-is-evil" twits as their world crumbles all around them. A very handy civics lesson could be learned for untold millions of people who desperately need to be educated. As a matter of fact, I want to just sit back in my easy chair and watch this place implode for lack of government. That would be a laugh-and-a-half! Can you even imagine the chaos? 

How long do you think it will take until the fools in Ted Cruz's district - the same ones who at this minute are cheering him on - get down on their knees and scream for the "gub'ment" to be turned back on? Sure, give them the right wing paradise of their twisted fantasies, and watch in glee (call it schadenfreude if you must) as their once-great nation sinks into an ideological and economic cesspool. Molly Ivins once called her native Texas "the national laboratory for bad government". Since the place is so dysfunctional and mismanaged, few states in this deranged union are more reliant on government handouts than the Lone Star State. As long as the government shutdown is in effect that cash won't be coming in. I suspect that neither Ted nor his dimwitted constituency have thought this one through. A lot of them will suffer needlessly. This should get quite amusing.

John Boehner's one chance to be a hero has passed. He will not have his moment on the mountaintop. Whatever move he makes at this point will be seen for what it obviously is - sheer desperation. He said earlier this week that this latest Washington meltdown "isn't a damn game". He's wrong, of course. It is a game - it's a game he is losing.

Strange days indeed. Isn't this a time?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


In the little epilogue at the end of the Belushi film, Animal House, it is revealed that his character, the beer guzzling, food-fighting, Bluto Blutowsky, would go on to become a United States senator. If only that were true. I know he'd have been an improvement when compared to much of what we have today. For the record: Nearly thirty-two years after his passing, I still miss John Belushi. 


A couple of weeks ago I suggested that Long Island representative Peter King would be smart if he bolted the GOP. According to a report on the Irish Central website posted this morning he is now threatening to do just that. Here's a link to read it:

Do you suppose he reads "The Rant"? Wishful thinking, I know.

Soul Man
Can it actually be thirty-two years?

Enjoy this perfect autumn morn.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Great American Shutdown

The front page of the New York Daily News on this fine autumn morning got it right, did it not?

"One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the the results of an election."

-President Barack Obama

Well the silly bastards and bitches did it. At the stroke of midnight on October 1, 2013, the government of the United States of America ceased to be - at least for the time being. I can't see this lasting very long, but then again, a certain political party in recent years has redefined the process of "governing" to mean doing away with government. As Molly Ivins once pointed out, putting people in charge of your government who don't believe in government is generally not a very nifty idea. If you don't understand that by now you will soon enough. This is going to be interesting.

The really amazing thing is the fact that the congresspersons from the red states have no fear of voter-backlash because most of their constituents have no problem with the shutdown. In fact they're cheering their representatives on. It would appear that the overwhelming majority of these assholes will be reelected during next year's midterms. Ain't that a knee-slapper? How on earth are the Democrats expected to gain a majority anytime soon if these half-witted Tea Partiers keep getting sent back to DC every two years? I have a plan....

The secret is not-so-much in concentrating on the red states. They're a lost cause. Let's face some serious and uncomfortable facts, boys and girls: Most of the voters in those regions of this diseased nation are just too idiotic to do the right thing at the ballot box. If this country is to be saved it will only be saved by the voters in the blue and purple states. And they will be able to do that by sending every Republican that represents them in Washington packing in November of 2014.

Peter King, R. NY
I don't care how moderate he or she may be. Long Island's Peter King and Maine's Susan Collins may be "moderates" by today's definition of the word; they may both have an IQ above room temperature; and yes, they are one-hundred percent correct when they say (as each of them have) that shutting down the government is a really dumb thing to do. But Peter King and Susan Collins are Republicans. The only way to take the House of Reprehensibles back from the crazies who have hijacked it is to make damned sure that in the more liberal and moderate states, as many Republicans as possible - even the so-called "moderates" - are sent packing next year. That way the strength of the "party of Abraham Lincoln" will be severely diluted on a nationwide basis. In other words: think nationally, act locally. Neat idea, ay?

Yeah, I realize that that's a pipe dream on my part, but these are desperate times. Got any better ideas?

The one beautiful thing about this entire mess is that - for all the damage that's being done to the United States - it surely is an amusing spectacle to behold. I'm sure that watching Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned all around him must have been a funny thing to witness as well. You can say anything you want about the times in  which we live, but you can't say that they're boring. Anything but. In fact I cannot recall an era more entertaining - in terms of pure ideological insanity -  than this one. The ancient Chinese used to say, "May you live in interesting times". It was a blessing and a curse.

And to think that this all came about simply because the tea-partying hardliners refuse to extend affordable health care to the poor and working classes. They should be renamed the "Sociopath Party". This morning they are desperately attempting to put out the spin that the shutdown is the fault of the president. It isn't. We must not forget that he is there to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution the United States". Obamacare (they don't dare call it by its real name: the Affordable Health Care Act) has been judged to be constitutional by the Supreme Court. Holding the executive hostage over a law that is already on the books, on the other hand, is not only unconstitutional (That's obvious) it's also criminal. I thought I'd just point that out.

So, put your feet up, grab a couple of bags of pistachio, sit back in your favorite easy chair, and enjoy the farce while the country that you love implodes from within. This ought to be loads of fun to watch.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Upton Sinclair
The Jungle
by Upton Sinclair

Three events of note took place on November 25, 1968: the Beatles released the "White Album", my beloved friend Rosemarie was born, and Upton Sinclair died. 

In the case of Sinclair, his 1906 novel about the stark realities in the lives of working men and women in America had been all-but-forgotten by the time he passed from the scene. In recent years, however, the book has had quite a renaissance - and with no little wonder. At the turn of the last century there was no-such-thing as a middle class in this country. There was the "professional class" (Doctors, Lawyers, etc.) but the plutocracy held most of the wealth while nearly everyone else lived in poverty. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal put an end to that economic madness. Unfortunately it wasn't a permanent ending as recent years have proven.  The middle class that FDR bought into being is dying on a poisoned vine.

By all means give The Jungle a read sometime, and have a look at life during the Gilded Age - or as I like to refer to that time and place: "America's Conservative Paradise".