Thursday, October 30, 2008


This election cycle has been both dispiriting and inspiring. Dispiriting for the negative tone of the McCain campaign, along with the rumors and innuendo and lies and outright racism on the part of many ignorant conservatives. Inspiring for the support of Obama's uplifting message of hope and populist redemption, along with a long-needed support of the middle class.

I started this campaign with much respect for McCain, who even if he didn't align with me on all the issues, at least seemed to have an independent integrity. I've lost all that respect for McCain since then, due to his opportunistic flip-flopping on key issues, embrace of the nut-wing social conservative right, selection of the extremely under-qualified Sarah Palin as his running mate, and overall willingness to do practically anything to get elected. It's one thing to have the ambition, another to pursue that ambition in an honorable manner. The John McCain of the 2008 campaign is not an honorable man.

Then there's Palin. What was going through his mind (or his advisers' minds) with that selection? At first blush, the woman seemed like another petty small-town politician, not too far removed from the mayor of Burnsville, Minnesota, my new home town. (For whom I will not be voting next week.) But Palin's a petty small-town politician with big ambitions -- and the ability to fire up a crowd of ignorant, small-minded racist trash. She's like the cheerleader from hell, no ideas of her own beyond advancing to the next level, by whatever means necessary. It's kind of like George Bush in a skirt, but amped up a couple of levels. I would fear for our nation if she were in any position of power.

The hero of this campaign is Barack Obama. His is an inspiring story, a rags to riches climb from impoverished childhood with a single mother to editor of the Harvard Law Review to United States Senator and hopefully to President. He didn't come from a four-star military background or an Ivy League family; like his equally inspiring running mate, Obama is one of us who made good. It really pisses me off when the blathering right tries to paint him as an elitist; he's really the culmination of the American dream.

That he's done all he's done is even more remarkable when you consider his race and his name. A black man has to work twice as hard in America to achieve any level of success; having a Muslim-sounding name certainly didn't help, either. But Obama overcame all his disadvantages and is now poised to claim the highest office in the land. Remarkable.

That's assuming that he actually wins on Tuesday. The polls all say he will, but there's still a lot that can go wrong -- from a racist backlash to the Republicans outright stealing the thing via election fraud, suppressed votes, and easily tampered-with electronic voting machines. It's not over till it's over, which is why all Obama supporters must keep up their efforts until every last vote is counted.

And here's one more thing I like about Obama: He's made it cool to be smart. With the Republicans pandering to those with little education and even less ambition, and society seemingly being prejudiced against smart people, Obama's education and intelligence is a shining light. We need to admire and reward intelligence, the way other countries do, instead of celebrating ignorance and lack of accomplishment. Here's hoping that Obama can lead by example and make our country just a little bit smarter.

So make sure you get off your ass and get out and vote on November 4th. My vote will go to Obama and Biden, and I hope yours will too; I earnestly believe that they represent the voice of change this country dearly needs.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Levi Stubbs passed away yesterday. A great voice has been silenced.

Levi was the lead singer for the Four Tops, one of the most successful groups of the Motown era. His voice was commanding, plaintive, soulfully emotive. You could hear pain and anguish and just a little hope when he sang; there was no more distinctive voice in his or any era.

He was my favorite male singer of the rock era. (Favorite female rock-era singer: Dusty Springfield. Favorite pre-rock singers: Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald.) I wanted to use the Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" as the recessional music at our wedding (it's the perfect tempo for strolling down the aisle -- plus I love the song), but my wife vetoed it; we settled on a Stevie Wonder tune instead, which was fine, but not a Tops song.

And there were so many great Tops tunes, most written by the premiere songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, all backed up by the pitch-perfect Funk Brothers, and all featuring the gospel shout baritone of Levi Stubbs. Remember them all: "Baby, I Need Your Loving," "It's the Same Old Song," "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)," "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," "Standing in the Shadows of Love," "Bernadette" (with its ground-breaking James Jamerson bass line), and exquisite covers of "If I Were a Carpenter" and "Walk Away Renee." Plus many, many more, classics all, all songs that hold up nearly a half-century later. I can listen to the Tops all day and all night and not tire of them.

(To honor his memory, here's a clip of the Four Tops singing "Baby, I Need Your Loving" from 1965. Enjoy.)

The Tops were unique in that they stayed intact with original members for so long. Levi and Duke and Obie and Lawrence were the Four Tops from 1954 until Lawrence's passing in 1997. The Temps didn't stay intact for near that long (20+ members and still counting), nor did the Supremes. But the Tops were the Tops, musical soul mates from beginning to end.

I had the good fortune of catching the Tops in Las Vegas in the early 1990s. They were on a double-bill with the Four Seasons (Four Tops/Four Seasons -- get it?), and it looked to be a standard Vegas lounge gig. It wasn't. Oh, the Four Seasons were as lame as you can imagine (and even then Frankie Valli couldn't hit the high notes), but the Tops brought the house down. The show was super high energy, nonstop hits, everybody dancing in the aisles and on their seats. It was a joyous noise, propelled by Levi and that voice. There was nothing like it -- and there probably never will be.

It saddens me to see the great performers of my generation getting old and passing on. Isaac Hayes a month or so ago, Levi Stubbs just yesterday, who's next? I don't want to know.

Anyway, here's to Levi Stubbs. I will miss his voice.

Monday, October 13, 2008


By all accounts, Barack Obama should be trouncing John McCain's ass something fierce. Historically low approval ratings for the current Prez, general dislike of anything incumbent or Republican, weariness of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the economy spiraling towards a Not-So-Great Depression... anybody running as a Democrat ought to be up by 15 or 20 points by now. Yes, Obama is starting to approach a double-digit lead, but that's recent and still not as big as you might imagine. The fact that McCain is still in the running, to me, speaks to a single issue.


Yes, there are some people who prefer McCain to Obama on policy issues, and some on "leadership." There are also the die-hard Republicans who would never switch sides, those closet cases with Daddy issues who always gravitate towards the older guy, and some older voters who identify more with a pre-Baby Boomer than a post one. But there is also a disturbingly large segment of the population, both young and old, who would never vote for a black man. They may couch their opposition in terms of "character," rail about Obama's past associates, or ask vague questions about "do we know who is is?," but at the core they're voting against Obama because they're racist. There is no other explanation.

Even in our supposedly enlightened society, racism still exists, and I see evidence of it daily. Relatives who shall remain nameless persist in spreading scurrilous emails that call Obama a terrorist, a Muslim, the anti-Christ, you name it. A surprising number of people consent to be interviewed on camera to say they'd never vote for a black man (although they often use a more insulting phrase). "He's not like us" is just a euphemism for saying he's back and you're white and you hate those blacks something fierce. Far too many ignorant people in America today still feel that way, some quite strongly and perhaps violently so. I worry for Obama's safety should he actually get elected.

Ignorance breeds prejudice and racism, and there are a lot of ignorant voters out there. Witness the near-rabid crowds at Republican rallies of late, crying out "terrorist" and "kill him" and likely worse epithets that the news media is self-censoring. You don't see any dark faces at these rallies; Sarah Palin's crowds, especially, give off the aura of a lynch mob or Nazi rally. It's frightening.

Palin may be over her head in lots of ways, but in this instance she's the perfect Nazi cheerleader, inciting the crowds with whatever propaganda she's been fed; I expect no less from someone who can deliver no more. I do expect more, however, from McCain. He's always seemed an honorable if somewhat curmudgeonly sort, and he should be better than all this. Or at least the old McCain was; the new 2008-edition John McCain appears to be the lowest form of pandering politician, doing anything his advisors suggest will help him win.

Granted, McCain has belatedly started tamping down some of the worst rhetoric. At a rally this week in Lakeville, MN (just a few miles from where I now live), an old woman in the town hall crowd said she wasn't voting for Obama because he was an "Arab." (It's sad when they can't even get their racism straight...) McCain stepped in to correct her and call Obama an honorable family man, but the crowd was already heavy in its blood lust and booed him. That tells you something.

I'd have a lot more respect for McCain if, at the upcoming final debate, he looked directly into the camera and said, "My friends, Senator Obama and I have some legitimate disagreements, and I think I'd be a better President than him. But if you're voting for me only because my opponent is a black man, I don't want your vote. Feel free stay home on election day, but don't vote for me because I'm white and Senator Obama is black. I don't want your racist votes."

That would turn a few heads, help to quiet the racist uprising (a little), and bring a much welcome note of civility to this increasingly uncivil election. I don't think it'll happen, but wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.