In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

Fifty years ago, one of my first assignments as a reporter provided a backstage press pass to a rock festival in northern California.

Wow, I thought, what a great gig this newspaper business, being paid to spend two days in the sunshine – peace, love, dope – listening to music and interviewing the folks who were making the music.

I was 21, a few weeks on the staff at the Herald & News in Livermore, only an hour’s drive east of San Francisco but a world away from the birthplace of the Beats and the hippies.

As I recount in this excerpt from my memoir, The Expat Files, that assignment was an inauspicious start to my career, missing a nearby “riot” while hanging out with the boys in the bands and my then-wife Anita:

She was very pregnant when she joined me backstage the last weekend in October for the San Francisco International Pop Festival, at the fairgrounds in the neighboring town of Pleasanton.

I was there providing the coverage, of course, as the resident cool kid on the Herald, able to translate into English the musical menu that included Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida; Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun.

While Anita and I went home Saturday night, a couple of thousand people camped on the grounds for the next day’s show, which featured a new group that called itself Creedence Clearwater.

When I got back to the office late Sunday to write my story, my editor asked about the riot.

“What riot?”

“The police say five-hundred people crashed the gates, the cops had to call for reinforcements.”

“I didn’t see anything, or hear anything about that.”

I wrote my story …

PLEASANTON – “You and your damn music. I have to exercise my horse and the track is swarming with dirty hippies,” an elderly cowboy said walking his horse up and down the sidelines.

Thus, another nail was hammered into the generation-gap casket as a result of the San Francisco International Pop Festival, held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton this weekend.

I inserted info from the cops. It ran under the headline: Pop Festival Success Despite Youth Melee.

Pop festival

It really wasn’t much of a melee. No injuries. No arrests. Just a bunch of kids climbing over fences to get free admission to the show.

I guess gatecrashing was big news in Livermore. Or maybe my editors knew the locals disapproved of all those “dirty hippies” invading their peaceful valley.

Like today, 1968 was a time of great division in the United States (and elsewhere). Young versus old. Hippies versus straights.

And the people who ran the Herald leaned straight/right on most issues.

It’s one of the reasons I left the next spring. Went home to New York.  Took a job on a magazine called Changes, which was going to be the East Coast answer to Rolling Stone.

It wasn’t. Only lasted a few months.

I moved on, was out of the country when Woodstock happened that summer, and was covering a terrorist trial in Zurich later in 1969 when the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont – in Livermore – descended to murderous chaos.

By then, my journalistic ambition did not include backstage passes at rock festivals, though the music of that time remains the music of my life.

Today, those music-makers are old – or dead, including two of the three who appear in my pictures published in the Herald.

Guitarist Erik Brann was only 18 when he played with Iron Butterfly that weekend in 1968. He died of a heart attack at the age of 52 in 2003.

Bob “Bear” Hite of Canned Heat was 25 when I interviewed him. He died of a heroin overdose during a gig at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood in 1981 at the age of 38.

The Herald & News is also dead. It was folded into a succession of regional papers and, after the mid-1980s, no longer had a newsroom in Livermore.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

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POTUS: ‘I can do whatever I want’

WASHINGTON (ENS) – President Trump recently discussed expropriating the hurricane-ravaged town of Mexico Beach, Florida, rebuilding it under a government contract awarded to his company, and renaming it Barron Beach after his youngest son.

“Look, I can do whatever I want – who’s going to stop me?” he said during a clandestinely recorded White House meeting with cabinet officers earlier this month.

“The Democrats are all talk and no action. Bunch of losers – no guts. I always win because they always choke like dogs.”

The president also proposed renaming every place in the U.S. that contains the word Mexico, as well as cities such as San Diego and San Antonio because they sound Spanish.

The meeting, soon after Hurricane Michael struck Florida on Oct. 10, was attended by Vice President Mike Pence, cabinet secretaries Kirstjen Nielsen (Homeland Security), Ryan Zinke (Interior), Betsy DeVos (Education), Rick Perry (Energy) and others.

Here is a transcript of the meeting, according to a recording provided by an administration source:

POTUS: Have you seen the TV?

PENCE: Which TV, Mr. President, you have several?

POTUS: The hurricane in Florida. What the hell you think I’m talking about? You got those beautiful beaches – not Palm Beach beautiful, but beautiful for the rednecks down there – and now they look like fucking Haiti.

NIELSEN: We’re doing everything we can, Mr. President …”

POTUS: How long to clean it up?

NIELSEN: It’s still a search and rescue operation.

POTUS: But we’re going to clean it up, right?

NIELSEN: It’s going to take a while, sir. The devastation is widespread.

POTUS: We should make it better. Build a nice big resort. You just clean it up and I’ll take it from there.

NIELSEN: Sir?

POTUS: You heard me. Clean up the mess. Get me the land and I’ll give it to my boys.

PENCE: What boys?

POTUS: Donnie and the other one.

PENCE: I don’t understand, Mr. President.

POTUS: Jesus! Don’t you people know anything about business? You bulldoze the crap away, clear the land, give my boys the money under some federal grant or some shit like that, and they’ll build a resort better than the trailer park or whatever shit was there before.

NIELSEN: But what about the people who live there?

POTUS: Pay ’em off.

PENCE: I don’t think we can do that, Mr. President.

POTUS: Look, I can do whatever I want – who’s going to stop me?

PENCE: We’ll have to get Congress to allocate the funds.

POTUS: What’s the problem?

PENCE: The other side …

POTUS (cuts him off, angry): The Democrats are all talk and no action. Bunch of losers – no guts. I always win because they always choke like dogs.

CROSSTALK INAUDIBLE

POTUS: And while we’re at it, I’m not thrilled that there are places in this country named Mexico. The kid told his mother that there are more than ten places across the country – besides that beach in Florida that looks like a shithole – named Mexico.

PENCE: What kid, Mr. President?

POTUS: My kid, the little one. After the hurricane, he did a school project on all the places in the United States named Mexico and asked Melania if I was going to do anything about that. Pretty smart, huh? So, Melania told me about it and she said the names of places are under the Department of the Interior. So, I ask you, what are we going to do about it?

ZINKE: Actually, sir, I think that’s a local jurisdiction.

POTUS: Well, I’ll just sign one of those executive orders banning places named Mexico. And we can start with that place in Florida, and since the kid thought of it, I think we should name it after him – after Donnie and the other one turn it into a nice resort.

PENCE:  Barron?

POTUS: Who?

PENCE: Your son. You want to rename Mexico Beach for Barron?

POTUS: Sure, it was his idea. (Long pause.) I wanted to name the kid Prince, but then Melania reminded me of that black singer named Prince – he worked for me, weird guy, I think he’s dead – so we talked about Duke, but that sounded too much like a dog, and Earl sounded like trailer park trash, so she came up with Barron.

DEVOS: True royalty, sir. And Barron Beach will be a testament to your administration that will live forever.

POTUS: The Trump International Hotel and Resort at Barron Beach. (Long pause.) Now what are we going to do about all these other places?

ZINKE: What other places, Mr. President.

POTUS: Like New Mexico. Change the name to East Texas.

PERRY: It’s west, sir.

POTUS: I know it’s out west.

PERRY: Yes, sir. But New Mexico is west of Texas.

POTUS: Whatever. And while we’re at it, let’s change San Diego and San Antonio and all those other sans. What the hell does san mean?”

PERRY: It means saint.

POTUS: What are we going to do about that? We shouldn’t have any places named Mexico because Mexicans think it’s okay to live here. It’s the same thing with those sanscities.

PERRY (chuckles): You want to rename San Antonio Saint Anthony?

POTUS: Why not?

PERRY: Heck, for one thing, all them Jews in Texas will be up in arms.

POTUS: Any of those Texas Jews on our side?

PERRY: Not many, sir, but our ladies sure like shoppin’ at Neiman Marcus.

CROSSTALK INAUDIBLE

POTUS: Betsy, this whole Mexico business got me thinking – and then I saw something on the shows about kids in our schools being allowed to speak Spanish in class and how that’s hurting the white kids who just have to sit there and don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

DEVOS: I’ll take a look at that, Mr. President.

POTUS: Good. That’s enough for now. I’ve got some pressing business with Ivanka.

Keep an eye out for the next dispatch from the Expat News Service (ENS).

My book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Thanksgiving cold turkey

I’ve kicked my addiction to cable news. Maybe it wasn’t an addiction after all. Just a bad habit.

It’s like when I quit drinking four years ago. One day I woke up and found the taste of alcohol repulsive. (More on that later.) Same with cable news.

For more than a year, up until 10 days ago, I must have spent five or six hours a day switching between MSNBC and CNN. It’s always the same – the latest clip or tweet from the grotesque creature in the White House, followed by endless too-polite chatter confirming he’s an ignorant fool, corrupt to the core, and his party is evil.

It’s not as if they do anything.

I finally decided: No mas.

Maybe it was because I’d spent a pleasant three days going cold turkey with family over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

Or maybe because when the last of our visitors were gone, I turned on CNN and saw wind-whipped, rain-soaked reporters hyperventilating about the weather in Florida.

Or, maybe it was the denouement of the Kavanaugh farce.

Whatever the reason, it seemed hazardous to my health. I didn’t have the shakes. No withdrawal symptoms. I just starting filling my TV time with movies – watched Molly’s Game for the second time, bathed in Sorkin’s words – and baseball.

It was reminiscent of my break from booze, coming up on four years now, as I recount in my memoir, The Expat Files:

Just after my sixty-eighth birthday, in late November 2014, I gave up drinking. I hadn’t planned on it. Hadn’t taken the pledge. It just happened.

I was sick in bed for about a week. Not sure what was wrong. Linda checked my symptoms on the internet. I either had an intestinal flu, kidney failure, or cholera. Didn’t go to a doctor. Didn’t get a diagnosis.

When I came out of it, I felt okay. That evening, as was my habit, I poured a glass of red wine. Tasted awful. That was it. Not a drop since.

Same with cable news. I can’t imagine I’ll miss Anderson Cooper or Don Lemon, Nicolle Wallace or Rachel Maddow.

I know I’m not any less informed. I still check the headlines. Dig deeper when I feel the need.

Feel confident that when I send my absentee ballot to Maine – the last state where I lived in the U.S. – I know who I’m voting for and why: Angus King is a smart guy and deserves a return ticket to the Senate, and I hope to help get rid of the only red stain in the House from New England.

I’ll tune in on election night and watch the results. And, if the Dems win the House and/or the Senate,  I’ll raise a glass – of Pellegrino – wishing them good luck in toppling the Orange One.

After that? Who knows.  I know I’ve visited this territory before.

Right after the results of the 2016 election were in, I stopped watching the news on television and canceled my digital subscriptions to the Washington Post and New York Times.

I’ve appreciated their reporting since the election, absorbed the key elements of their scoops. But I haven’t missed the Times or the Post, since there was so little worth reading.

And my declaration of No Mas in 2017 was not an April Fool’s joke.

For me, it seems, American politics is a tougher habit to break than booze. I was thirteen when I was hooked on JFK in 1960 – a couple of years before I had my first drink.

The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Beto hit with Dems’ dilemma

There was a story this week that highlighted how Republicans and Democrats play politics by a different set of rules.

While the Letch in Chief and his court of eunuchs unashamedly promoted a suspected sexual predator for the Supreme Court, a rising Democratic star apologized for a theater review he wrote as a college kid.

Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, hailed by some as the second-coming of Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy, is a long tall Texan who has brimmed with youthful vigor and no-bullshit eloquence in his Senate race against the odious Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke’s August speech standing up for NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem showed more guts than anything I’d heard from a politician in a long time. And watching Willie Nelson introduce a new song – Vote ’Em Out– at a Beto rally last weekend hit a soft spot.

But then, a couple of days later, O’Rourke faced the modern-day Dems’ dilemma when confronted with a piece of his past that might offend the zero-tolerance wing of his party.

Back in 1991, when he was a freshman at Columbia, Beto wrote a sophomoric review of a Broadway musical called The Will Rogers Follies for the student newspaper. It included this line:

Keith Carradine in the lead role is surrounded by perma-smile actresses whose only qualifications seem to be their phenomenally large breasts and tight buttocks.

An O’Rourke detractor, presumably an agent of the Cruz campaign, forwarded the review to Politico right in the middle of the shitstorm over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

Politico sought comment from the candidate. A savvy campaign manager might have rolled the dice, told Politico to stuff it, that the story obviously had no news value.

But Beto took the bait. “I am ashamed of what I wrote and I apologize,” he told Politico. “There is no excuse for making disrespectful and demeaning comments about women.”

The quote made it a story. It fed a morsel to the beast of cable news and made for headlines in all the wrong places.

Beto - Fox

In the dingbat logic of 2018 politics, some drew a parallel between O’Rourke’s theater review and the allegation a shitfaced Kavanaugh committed sexual assault. After all, both happened a long time ago when they were teenagers.

The response from each man followed his party’s playbook: Kavanaugh denied everything and O’Rourke cried mea cupla.

Jeez, Beto, you were a 19-year-old Ivy League smarty-pants. It’s not as if you got stinking drunk, crashed a showgirl’s dressing room, and tried to rape her.

Besides, your appraisal of the actresses was endorsed at the time by New York’s most eligible adulterer whose girlfriend, Marla Maples, exhibited her qualifications when she landed a part in Follies en route to becoming the second Mrs. Trump.

Marla Maples
Vanity Fair spread in 1990

Today, with the Republicans led by a confessed pussy-grabber who screwed a porn star without a condom, Democrats need to figure out how do the right thing without running scared.

It’s not the ’60s when JFK got away with comforting Marilyn between the sheets because the press didn’t look beyond the Do Not Disturb sign on the bedroom door.

It’s not the ’70s when the pious Jimmy Carter saw his campaign in a tailspin after he confessed: “Christ said, ‘I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.’ I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”

It’s not the ’80s when one photo of Gary Hart with Donna Rice blew up his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Gary Hart

By the ’90s, Bill Clinton could have saved himself, his party and his country a lot of grief if he said, Yeah, I got a blowjob. Next question.

Voters didn’t seem to care. His poll numbers kept climbing anyway.

But Bubba has turned into a political pariah in the era of MeToo.

Maybe that’s what Beto O’Rourke was thinking about when faced with phenomenally large breasts and tight buttocks earlier this week. That the political climate can get stormy in a flash for Democrats – just ask Hillary about the fealty of the left – while Republicans unflinchingly weather Stormy.

I’m just glad I’m not a politician and don’t give a damn what anybody thinks when they read a line in my memoir referring to “Jane Fonda’s pointy tits in Barbarella.”

The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Déjà vu all over again?

While this year’s Boston Red Sox have been a joy to watch, I’ve got that old feeling that failure is inevitable in October.

I have zero confidence in their pitching, which reminds me of all those seasons when the best of times became the worst of times.

Or were the worst of times really the best of times? Was I a sucker for the angst – THE CURSE – before  2004?

Must be – since I took little pleasure when the Sox won two more World Series within a few years.

My favorite team was the 1978 edition, perhaps because I saw so much of Yaz & Co during my one year as a baseball writer, for the Toronto Sun.

Forty years ago today, I was in the press box at Fenway Park watching Fucking Bucky Dent – or, as some prefer, Bucky Fucking Dent – and the Yanks beat the home side in a one-game playoff for the American League East title.

As I recall in this excerpt from my memoir, The Expat Files, it was the final gut-punch in a season that began with great expectations in spring training:

Bosox - Yaz
Yaz 

I took a drive to Winter Haven, the Florida home of the Boston Red Sox. I had a rooting interest in the Sox since a visit to Boston in the fall of 1967, when they won the pennant on the final day of the season.

I fell in love with their star, Carl Yastrzemski, who seemed to come to bat in every crucial situation and come through with a home run or a game-winning double off the wall. I was disappointed when the Sox lost that 1967 World Series but also elated that I was engaged in baseball for the first time since the Dodgers left Brooklyn.

In Winter Haven, I watched Yaz in the batting cage, working up a sweat in the gloom of a foggy morning, under the watchful eye of the great Ted Williams. “This is probably the best hitting team I’ve ever seen,” Teddy Ballgame told me.

I received the same appraisal from the Sox manager, Don Zimmer, when I joined the Boston writers in his office that morning. Zimmer, a little Popeye look-alike, was derisively nicknamed “the gerbil” by his hippie-dippy pitcher, Bill “Spaceman” Lee …

On this day, the Sox manager was spitting confidence his powerful lineup would win the pennant after losing it to the damn Yankees the past two seasons.

I reckoned he was right. But, being a Sox fan, I assumed they’d find a way to blow it …

1978 - Williams and Zim
Ted Williams and Don Zimmer in the final days of the 1978 season

… Boston had collapsed over the summer, their fourteen-game lead over the Yanks evaporating in the heat of August and early September.

Since the Jays played their last twelve games of the season against the Yanks and Sox, I had a press box seat for the closing act.

Boston had regained its form to close within one game of the Yanks entering the final game on the schedule. When the Indians beat the Yankees and the Sox beat the Jays, Boston and New York were tied for first place. The division title would be decided in a one-game playoff the next day at Fenway …

The next morning, I caught a cab outside the hotel and asked the driver to take me to Fenway.

“Going to the game?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s my job,” I said. “I’m a writer.”

“Which paper?”

“One in Toronto,” I said.

“Tough season for Toronto,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Last place. Another hundred losses.”

“What do you think of the Sox chances?” he said.

“I’m a Sox fan,” I confided, “so I guess I expect the worst and hope for the best.” He laughed in recognition.

We pulled up to the press entrance to Fenway. I checked the meter and reached for my wallet.

“Forget it,” said the cabbie. “I like you guys from Toronto. It was nice talking to you.”

It was a perfect New England day, blue sky, bright sun, a hint of fall in the air.

I found my assigned spot in the press box, dumped my typewriter and scorebook on the table, and went to the dining room. There was a choice of baked cod or roasted veal. I had the veal, with roasted potatoes and a salad.

The New York writers were there, of course, so the volume in the room was turned up a notch or three. By this time, after five years in Canada, I thought I’d lost my New York accent, a mission I’d been on since I left home in 1968. Somehow, I found it more seemly to be a know-it-all New Yorker without saying caw-fee.

I certainly didn’t want to be associated with loudmouthed New York sports fans, especially after seeing big-haired women at Yankee stadium coated with makeup, wearing painted on designer jeans and tight T-shirts that read Boston Sucksor Yaz Has VD.

Fenway was full early for the Monday afternoon playoff game, 32,925 crammed into the little ballpark. Yaz, ever heroic, hit a home run in the second inning and Jim Rice knocked in another in the sixth to give Boston a 2-0 lead.

But in the top of the seventh, the Yanks had a couple of runners on with two out when their most anemic hitter, Bucky Dent, came to the plate. He hit a fly ball toward the thirty-seven-foot-high Green Monster in left. Yaz, playing left field, seemed prepared to make the catch and end the inning. But the baseball gods, ever Yankee fans, lifted the ball over the wall.

1978 - BUCKY DENT
Dent greeted at home by teammates

That put the Yanks ahead and every Boston fan from Fenway to Fiji knew the game – and the season – was over. Sure, the Sox rallied a bit. But Yaz popped out, with the winning runs on the bases, to end the game and any suspense.

I watched that last half-inning from the stands, behind the seats along the third base line, sharing the inevitable pain with the Fenway faithful. Littered copies of an extra edition of the Boston Globe, distributed earlier in the ballpark, were illustrated with a six-inning linescore under the front-page headline: SOX AHEAD.

I made my rounds of the two clubhouses, the champagne and euphoria in the winners’ room, the beer and gloom of the losers. My story in the next day’s Toronto Sun was a Sox fan’s lament.

BOSTON – It wasn’t supposed to end that way. It wasn’t right to break the hearts of the people of New England, just when their spirits were starting to rise, just when their expectations were at their highest.

October in New England offers the promise of two things: The leaves changing colors and the Red Sox playing for the world championship of baseball. Now, one is dead.

I whined on from there and closed the story with a quote from Yaz. “The last three weeks, with our backs to the wall, we played like champions. But now, there’s just tremendous disappointment.”

1978 - Yaz after game
A disconsolate Yaz after the game in this shot captured by Michael Maher of the Lowell (Mass.) Sun 

The next day, I flew home to Toronto, called (the Sun), quit my job and packed the car. Linda and I drove to the coast of Maine to look at the damn leaves.

The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.