Friday, February 28, 2014

Jordan Davis Gets His

Jordan Davis 1995-2012
Jordan Davis would have - should have - turned nineteen last week. The only thing he celebrates these days is fifteen months under six feet of dirt. Whoopee. A man nearly three decades his senior stands convicted of firing the shots that ended his young life. The jury in Jacksonville, Florida convicted him on four of the five counts filed against him. The only thing they couldn't agree on was whether or not it was first degree murder.

Only in the American South. 

Michael Dunn
I'm not going to lose much sleep over this one. Michael Dunn, the man accused of murdering Jordan in cold blood on November 23, 2012, will be spending the next sixty years in prison - regardless of whether-or-not he is convicted in a retrial on the first degree rap. The fact that he is now in his late forties guarantees him a life sentence. Whatever happens, I won't be wasting too much time and energy bitching and wailing about the outcome of this sad case. My personal life has been nothing short of torrential these last two months and I need to be focusing my energy and concentration elsewhere at the moment. It's just that there are a couple of things I need to take note of here - my personal distractions aside. 

Michael Dunn and I have at least one, fairly substantial common denominator: We both don't care much for rap music. With the exception of the late Biggie Smalls (AKA: Notorious B.I.G.) most of the rap music I've heard is shit. When discussing the genre I'm sometimes mortified to catch myself sounding like someone's grandfather ("YOU CALL THAT MUSIC???") I'm going to come out on record now: I think rap music sucks. It's a cultural thing to be sure. There is nothing in my experience that causes me to relate to it in any way. Call it the downside of being raised a upper middle class white boy. 

That being said, it never even occurred to me to take out another human being misguided enough to enjoy the stuff. I'm sorry but homicide just isn't my schtick. I'm kinda funny that way, you know?

Mr. Dunn was parked next to Jordan Davis and his pals at a convenience store. He was offended at the volume of the rap music ("thug music" he called it) emanating from the stereo system in the vehicle in which Jordan and his pals were chilling. He asked them (or told them) to turn the music down. They refused. Dunn claims Davis reached for a shotgun - although not one of the eyewitnesses (including Dunn's own fiance) ever saw one and none was ever recovered. He fired several shots into the car. Three bullets entered Jordan Davis' seventeen-year-old body. He was killed almost instantly. 

Throughout his trial Mr. Dunn has projected the contented demeanor of a man quite pleased with himself. This is definitely not a guy with the habit of looking inward. What was it that Socrates said about the unexamined life?

One more thing for the record: I dislike modern country music as much as rap. With very few exceptions (Willie Nelson comes to mind - God bless the old guy) nothing about it strikes me as very original. Like rap, it's merely audible shit to my ears. Hank Williams and Johnny Cash are gone and they're not coming back I'm sorry to say.

Here's what bugs me:

Suppose - just suppose - that the shoe had been on the other foot. Let's say that Jordan Davis had been offended by the sound of Achy Breaky Heart cranking at maximum volume from Michael Dunn's car stereo. What if the scenario had transpired in reverse? What if Jordan Davis killed Michael Dunn in the exact same situation? Do you believe - for a half second - that any Florida jury would have hesitated in finding Jordan guilty of murder in the first degree? The kid would be rotting on Death Row at this very moment. Let's stop kidding ourselves, folks. 

The moral of today's story is short and not-too-sweet:

Fellow Caucasians, there are two sets of rules way down south - one for them and one for us. My message to any young, black male planning on visiting the Sunshine State is as simple as can be: Watch yer step, boy! Stay the hell up north if you know what's good for you. The racial situation is a little better here....I think.

In Florida Michael Dunn took his stand; he "stood his ground". The result was another broken black body, scarcely past childhood. What is called for here is a worldwide tourism boycott of what must be the most overrated peninsula on the planet earth.

Can I get a witness?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
by Bob Dylan

Listen as Uncle Bobby lays it out in chapter and verse.

Mr. Benny

For those of you who have been kind enough to inquire about my health after my recent illness, I have good news and bad news for you....

The good news is that I'm as a fiddle.

The bad news is that it's Jack Benny's fiddle.

Seriously, though, I'm doing better than the law (and karma) should allow. Thank you so much for all your well wishes and kind thoughts!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 9, 1964

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make

The Beatles
from Abbey Road, 1969

"They look like Moe from the Three Stooges!"

Tommy Degan, age five
9 February 1964

That was my first assessment of the most magical phenomenon in the history of popular music. And yet, in spite of my initial befuddlement regarding hair longer than I had ever seen on any man, within less than a minute of the five-beat count-down into All My Loving, I was hooked on the Beatles. That night, for reasons I cannot remember, my brother Pete and I slept on a mattress that was laid out on the floor of older brother Jack's room. Possibly the bedroom we usually slept in down the hall was undergoing renovations. I distinctly remember drifting off to sleep with those incredible harmonies echoing through my mind. They've been echoing ever since. After a half century of constant exposure to the sweet sounds of John, Paul, George and Ringo, I have been diagnosed with diabeatles.

Looking back on the unison harrumphs of the establishment's music and cultural critics, it's astonishing in hindsight to realize how wrong every one of them got it. The Beatles couldn't sing, we were warned; they were lousy musicians; third-rate songwriters - and they just looked ridiculous in those silly, "pudding basin" haircuts. In a year no one would even remember their names, we were pompously assured. These rock 'n' roll ruffians from England were a bad joke. To his dying day, Walter Cronkite, then CBS's most visible broadcast journalist, would laugh at the memory of how he was able to get his two infatuated daughters backstage passes to meet the lads from Liverpool after their performance that night on the Sullivan program. While all this was going on, he was across the street at Lindy's having a drink. "The biggest entertainment story of the century right under my nose and I missed it!", he later said.

These guys were no mere "flash in the pan". The Beatles - two of whose members are long dead - were the best-selling recording artists of the first decade of the twentieth-century. Think about that. Quality is still marketable - five decades be damned.

It was the children who understood. It's always the children who are the first to catch on to anything as magical as the Beatles. Ours was a troubled generation - and the Fab Four - landing on these shores less than three months after the assassination of a beloved president, seemed a gift from Heaven. They not only had the whole world singing a joyous, electronic madrigal, these four, frustrated comedians made us laugh tears of joy. To those of us who suffered traumatic and unhappy childhoods, there was (and still is) a psychic bond with this band that cannot be easily explained. We learned early on that they, too, had had troubled upbringings. This was only one of the ways that made it so easy to identify with them on a gut level. They were indeed a bit like you and me. 

I long ago gave up trying to figure out their sociological significance; I only know that they that they were the best little pop group that ever rocked this world. That's all that matters

Fifty years later we wait in  vain for the music to show signs cultural senility. I'm happy to tell you that the Beatles still matter. I know personally too many young people to count, some born a quarter century after the band ceased to be, for whom the music is a continual presence in the soundtracks of their lives; another happy reminder that talent and substance will defy the passage of many years. The Beatles are the silly and joyful ghosts who refuse to fade into that unknowable, mysterious void. 

John, 1964
For a decade after they went their separate ways in 1970, in a break-up that was marked by its bitterness and rancor, there was always the hope, strengthened with each passing year, that they would one day get back to where they once belonged. That hope was forever extinguished on the night of December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was taken from our midst in an act of cold-blooded murder. Twenty-one years later George Harrison died. The Beatles have been cast out to the ages, forever consigned to memory. Perhaps that is as it should be. Unlike the Rolling Stones, they left us wanting more.

All you need is love. I've always believed it. I'll pass into eternity believing it.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Four years ago, my brother, Pete, our old pal, Kevin Swanwick and I took a tour of the Abbey Road studios in merrie olde England. Read all about it:

A splendid time was guaranteed for all - and the nice folks over at Abbey Road delivered. It was one of those mountaintop moments that just stays with you, you know?


I meant to write this piece on February 9th, the actual anniversary of the Beatles' Ed Sullivan appearance. Unfortunately on that day I was stricken with a near-fatal illness while I was attending - of all things - the Annual Festival for the Beatles at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Ironies: Life is just littered with them. Have you ever noticed that?


There's nothing you can know that isn't known
Nothing you can see that isn't show
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be
It's easy!
All you need is love....
The Beatles on the mountaintop.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

POST #528: Random Observations

That Old Gang of Mine
The following demented collage of reckless musings have no rhyme or reason - just a series of random observations from a guy with WAY  too much time on his hands. I'll get a real job soon, cross my heart.

1. The Demented Duck

I don't know the name of the nitwit who writes the Mallard Fillmore strip, but I've been reading it with no small amount of amusement for many years. Last week's series was indeed  eye-opening. This fool was taking note of the fiftieth anniversary of President Johnson's War on Poverty. He was gloating over the fact that it has failed - and it cannot be denied that it has indeed failed. What he conveniently failed to mention was that - for many years - we were on the road to winning that war. Then, in 1980, something incredible happened: The American people foolishly came to the mass conclusion that sending a feeble-minded, failed "B" movie actor to the White House would be a really neat idea. The result was tax cuts for a class of people who already had more money than they could possibly spend in three lifetimes. We are now experiencing an income gap not seen since the Gilded Age. Go back to sleep, Mallard.

2. Electoral Freebasing

As they never tire of reminding us, two years is a lifetime in politics. That may be the case, but it's hard not to imagine Rand Paul as the GOP nominee in 2016. Something that weird would be the final nail in the coffin of a party hellbent on suicide. There are no more moderates. They've all been driven away by the mindless extremism of a relatively small group of people who have lost their marbles. Between now and then we can expect an exodus of voters disassociating themselves from the Republicans. This is too good to be true. 

3. Sid Caesar 1922-2014

I was sitting in front of the computer yesterday when Josh Mills announced on his Facebook page that that Sid Caesar had died. Josh's mom was Edie Adams, widow of the great Ernie Kovacs. She starred with Sid in the 1963 movie, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World - probably the only epic comedy ever filmed. I know I should be (and I am) thankful that, despite some very significant odds, he managed to live a long and fruitful life. It's just that a world without Sid Caesar is going to take some getting adjusted to. I'm working on it.

I remember my father telling me that, back in the Fabulous Fifties, your Saturday night did not begin until his program, Your Show of Shows, was over. Dear old Dad was just wild about Sid. So was I. And when one considers the writers he had on that program: Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart - to name merely a handful - is extraordinary in itself. More-than-one of these guys have said that the words they wrote for him never looked so funny in the printed script. It was only when Sid performed the material that the magic would happen.

He was the last of the great comedians of the twentieth century. They're all gone now - all of them. And the tragedy is that too many people born after his heyday have no idea who he was. Even my generation, now in our mid-fifties, remember him primarily as the coach in the film, Grease. Pity. If you're unaware of the phenomenon that was Sid Caesar, I suggest you look him up on YouTube. The guy was a brilliant.

And to think that he would leave this world on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Dad's passing. Life may be funny, but the Great Beyond is even funnier tonight.


It's over. Strike the tents; pack up the bus; pay the piper, and lock the doors. The fat lady has sung. The cows have come home. Any chance the Man from Jersey had to be the 2016 standard-bearer (and it was never a good one) has been obliterated by the reckless stupidity of his staff - and possibly even the governor himself. Like the old song says: "The party's over. It's all over, my friends." 

5. Desperately Missing Teddy

The Lion of the Senate sleeps tonight. He's gone and he's not coming back. It's almost five years now since Ted Kennedy shuffled off this mortal coil. That the United States Senate is a drearier place without him is beyond argument. Thank God for people like Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren. But for those two I would have tossed to the wind all hope for the Democratic party years ago. Harry Reid is a very nice man, but he is no leader; in fact, he's an embarrassment. Don't hold your breath waiting for the Dems to wake up and remember that theirs is (or was) "the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt". Teddy Kennedy stood for something. I miss him terribly.
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY 


Here is Sid Caesar on the mountaintop - doing what Sid Caesar did better than anyone:

I envy anyone who was fortunate enough to have lived in that time.


A. The photograph at the top of this piece is was taken a couple of years ago with with three cherished friends from Goshen High School's Class of 1977. They are (left-to-right): Debbie Dewitt, Lori Baldwin Kuroski, Yours Truly, and Patricia Mueller Seaman.

B. I apologize for the two week lag between the last posting and this one. I recently required a hospital stay following a little brush with death. They're always oodles of fun. I can't even remember the last time I was hospitalized. Eisenhower was president. I'm fine now, I promise.