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Jewish World Review April 30, 1999/ 14 Iyar 5759


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John John:
I’ll Moonlight, Too

(JWR) ---- (
I DON’T SUPPOSE IT’S GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP to whale on George, John Kennedy’s trivial magazine that seems to exist only for his vanity and for larding quasi-famous journalists with extravagant glossy paychecks for writing stories in about three minutes, but the May edition, dubbed “The Media Issue” on its spine, is so silly that it calls for some comment.

We must assume by now that Kennedy doesn’t hire a personal ghostwriter: his “Editor’s Letter” letter each month is so muddled that it simply has to come from what can only be a shallow mind. For example, his lead sentence is a horrible cliche: “Every presidential election is freighted with its own conventional wisdom.” Thanks for the tip.

He goes on to write that George W. Bush, considered a “shoo-in” for the GOP nomination, “enjoys almost universal appeal among journalists and moderate Republicans.” It’s true that Bush is leading in the polls, and has built an impressive organization, but I can’t think of many Beltway pundits who are writing favorable columns about him. As Kennedy must know, it’s John McCain who’s the Republican Democrats slobber over; and on the Democratic side, Bill Bradley (whom Kennedy doesn’t even mention in his short piece).

John John
He also says that Americans love “dark horses,” which is true, but then uses Jimmy Carter as an example, a man who emerged “out of nowhere” and “[ate] the favorites for lunch.” In fact, in ’76 there were no clear favorites for the Democratic nomination: Hubert Humphrey briefly contested, but he was sick and was merely running out of instinct and for a last hurrah; Scoop Jackson’s campaign never got off the ground; Morris Udall was a long shot; and Fred Harris, another favorite of journalists, couldn’t attract voters aside from Nation readers. Carter, through shrewd organization, had the nomination wrapped up early, winning New Hampshire and the early primary states. His only real challenge, and it was brief, was from Jerry Brown, then governor of California, who won the Maryland primary, with the help of that state’s corrupt Gov. Marvin Mandel, mostly as an alternative to Carter.

And isn’t it time that writers, even those as dim as John Kennedy, stop referring to The New York Times as the “Gray Lady”?

Even though it’s the “media” issue a celebrity is required on the cover and this month it goes to Calista Flockhart, who plays Ally McBeal on the network sitcom. I skipped that piece, but did read Claire Shipman’s enormously dumb column about “Missing Monica.” Not only has this theme been mined 100 times previously, but Shipman, an NBC White House correspondent, adds nothing to the Monica Files. She writes: “Sure, the scandal was icky and embarrassing and ethically hazardous at times. But that simply let us reporters feel deliciously squeamish and superior and concerned. Monica’s choicest asset, though, was that she was downright easy. For those of us who are normally mired in the details from everything from NAFTA to welfare reform, our jobs were suddenly streamlined.” Shipman doesn’t admit that on the rare occasion she and her colleagues do report on the ostensible business of government—like NAFTA—they’re usually uninformed about the issues and accept at face value whatever rubbish the White House releases and then simply go to a GOP source to get the opposite view.

Shipman closes her ridiculous column with a stupid joke that I hope (but don’t expect: that means you, Molly Ivins) would be rejected at most newspapers. Attempting satire, she wails that we just can’t get the Monica scandal back, and writes: “But I’d suggest tackling the problem more directly. How about a national 12-step scandal program to wean us from what we crave? I’ll go first. I promise to write my next column about the impact of the General Accounting Office’s budget of Social Security reform—but only if you promise to read it.” Now that’s the second coming of H.L. Mencken.

Kennedy’s newest hire, Paul Begala, the Clinton flack who lied for his boss on national tv and to reporters for a living, and presumably even had to take meetings with Sidney Blumenthal (who I’m convinced is still in the White House basement, cleaning the rat trays, after his dustup with Christopher Hitchens. After all, who’s heard of him since? That’s Clintonian loyalty at its most typical). Begala also attempts humor, offering advice to Gov. Bush about winning the general election. “What George W.—or any other Republican who truly wants to save the party—ought to do is copy Clinton. Bush should take on the radical right with the same courage Clinton showed in rescuing his party from the left.” Now, there is a new idea: I’ve never seen the words “Clinton” and “courage” in the same sentence. So hat’s off to you, Paul. But what Begala misses is that Bush has already done that: By ratcheting down the abortion issue, openly flirting with choosing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who’s pro-choice, as his selection for veep, that work has been accomplished. What Begala doesn’t understand—and it’s easy to understand, since he was in the White House bubble for so long—is that it’s not 1996 anymore. The GOP isn’t going to cede the presidential nomination to a candidate who takes orders from the religious right.

That battle is over, thank God.

In the “Primaries” section at the front of George, it’s noted that John Sununu, a “majordomo” in the first years of President Bush’s administration, has endorsed Dan Quayle for president. That’s no surprise, since Sununu was dumped by Bush and the executioner was his son, the current governor of Texas and front-runner for the nomination.

GOP political consultant Ed Rollins says, “I think both John and Quayle are embittered that the Bushes have brushed them aside and moved forward with the kids. But to the Bushes, family is more important than staff, and they were staff.” Hmm. It’s my opinion that President Bush would’ve done himself a favor by canning Quayle in the ’92 election, but isn’t family loyalty a trait that’s desirable in a president? Especially considering Clinton’s tenure in the White House? I think Kennedy’s father and uncles would agree.

Finally, Timothy Noah, an awful journalist who now mainly peddles his prose to Slate, collects his generous George fee for another dated article: a profile of Howell Raines’ supposedly aggressive style as editorial page editor of The New York Times. Noah notes the often harsh criticism of Clinton in Times editorials, which appalled former Times staffers, but says that even though the paper was steadfast in its call for censuring the President it never called for his resignation, unlike The Washington Post. Guess what? The Post didn’t either.

And what Noah article would be complete without a slap at his former employer, The Wall Street Journal. He quotes Raines’ predecessor, Jack Rosenthal, as saying, “I didn’t want us to undermine our reporting staff in the way the Wall Street Journal editorial staff undermines its reporters.”

Bad, slipshod stories, all.

Hey Baby, Keep Them
Crackheads Outta My Store

It was a slow weekend at the homestead, with Junior knocked down with a mild stomach flu while his brother had a daylong nasty bout of diarrhea. Still, our oldest did manage to play half his Little League game against the Video Room Mets (who were superb fielders, but a little light on the bat) and get two hits and score a run. Don’t know the final score—as I wrote last week, that’s verboten in LL t-ball etiquette—but Junior vowed to find out eventually.

The rest of Saturday was a lounging festival: So, while a housekeeper did her mopping routine, I read magazines and napped intermittently while Junior watched A Bug’s Life and then Nickelodeon. Mrs. M and MUGGER III met a few of his school buddies at the park, and then later she crashed for a couple of hours. The boys spent a lot of time in the bath, trying to regain some energy, and played with toy soldiers, helicopters and tanks, and I got a kick out of creating a Kosovo tableau that included Rugrats toothpaste and Arthur soap, while Junior quizzed me about our trip to Washington, DC, next weekend. He’s eager to see the Jefferson Memorial, and is pleased that our hotel suite allegedly has a view of the White House. “I wonder if I’ll be able to see the Lip-Biter getting dressed,” he mused. I was tempted to launch into a history lesson, but decided to talk about the Red Sox’s losing streak instead.

The Beantowners just haven’t recovered since Tom Gordon went on the disabled list, falling to third place in the AL East, with only the pitiful Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Baltimore Orioles protecting them from the cellar.

Miraculously, Junior had recovered by nightfall to indulge in some junk food, which means McDonald’s in this family, mostly because of the toys they give away with the Happy Meals. The McDonald’s at Greenwich and Chambers Sts. has to be the slowest in the city: You have to be in an extraordinarily good mood to weather the post-office lethargy of its employees. However, I busted a gut when the sole lady dishing out the fries said to me, “Why do all the crackheads have to come in here on my shift?” She asked if I wanted to stay or go with the food and when I motioned with my thumb toward the street, she chuckled and said, “You’re out of here! Can’t say I blame you. Those fries will be done in two minutes.” I walked around—the inside of an urban McDonald’s isn’t exactly like a museum, so I was stretching my imagination—and when I came back to the counter she said again, “Those fries will be done in two minutes.” She was a sweetie, but still: “That’s what you said five minutes ago,” I countered, and she laughed and just shrugged her shoulders. “What can I say, I can’t cook ’em any faster and it’s not like I’m getting much help around here.” So, it was slow, but for the entertaining repartee I nominate this lady for McDonald’s Employee of the Month.

Forever Young: What’s
Dylan Talking About?

Three of us were sitting in my office last Wednesday afternoon, boomers all, chatting about Kosovo, the absurd IPO Salon is floating, national politics and Frank DiGiacomo’s gossip column in The New York Observer. I confessed that I never read it, but John Strausbaugh and our guest claimed they were fans: “It’s not Balzac,” one of them daftly said, “but DiGiacomo wrote about the Oscars with more style than anyone else in town.” Whatever. I then piped up that I’d read two reviews of a Neil Young solo show at Madison Square Garden in the dailies that morning, and while the prose was awful—Ben Ratliff in the Times and the News’ Jim Farber—what was most striking were the photos of Young. Man, has he aged in the last several years. I thought I was looking at Van Morrison!

Neil Young
Mind you, this is no knock against Young: I’ve been a fan since his Buffalo Springfield days—“Broken Arrow,” “Mr. Soul” and “On the Way Home” still sound fresh—and admire him as a truly eccentric rock ’n’ roller who’s never conformed to industry or cultural trends. Jeez, he even endorsed the Great Communicator back in the 80s: If that’s not a J.R. Taylor move, I’m not sure what is. And unless you’re so vain, with tummy tucks, Rogaine and the like, who doesn’t get wrinkly and uglier as the years pass by? Not to mention the significant fact that Young has actually lived long enough to become ugly: Every other week, it seems, there’s an obit of a rock ’n’ roll personality who croaks in their late 40s or early 50s, victims of sustained substance abuse and a careless lifestyle.

(Young’s bandmate/adversary Steve Stills went to seed far earlier: I can’t think of one decent tune beyond “Four Days Gone” from Last Time Around that the fatso has produced since ’68. Likewise, liver-transplanted gun enthusiast David Crosby, the Byrd who joined up with Stills, Graham Nash and Young, never surpassed his “Everybody’s Been Burned,” released in ’67.)

I was rummaging through my archives at work and found a copy of the April 17, 1970, Fusion, a short-lived Boston-based competitor to Rolling Stone, and there was a cover story on Young. The author of the profile, Robert Greenfield, in keeping with the hippie-dippy times, wrote a like-wow intro to his piece: “Neil Young has a voice like a sunrise, fresh with promise, wise with years and practice, something you turn to for light, encouragement and warmth. In an era when stars are no longer in the sky but occasionally performing down the block, he comes on almost too good to be true, neither unnecessarily humble nor necessarily rude. In an age when little faith is left in the words we use to describe our music, its composers and performers, Neil Young is a pleasure to have around. In whichever group he plays, he quiets the jingle-jangled nerve-ends of an audience bred for speed and left to wander on its own.”

What I was thinking about—and this is no unique observation—is the phenomenon that is peculiar to boomers: Watching rock stars, who made it big in their teens and 20s, still plying their craft, no matter how silly they look. I saw the Stones play Shea Stadium in ’89 and it was fun; being outside with some friends, drinking beer and joking around, with all the old hits as sort of a backdrop. But watching Mick Jagger prance around like he was 20 made me cringe, and that was 10 years ago. It certainly wasn’t like the ’72 show at the Garden, when the group was extraordinarily vital and Stevie Wonder was the warmup act.

So, the three of us were shooting the breeze and Paul McCartney’s name came up as an example of a pop star who just recently has taken a nosedive. McCartney had done pretty well in the looks department until recently: No doubt his wife’s premature death has made his face sag faster than it would’ve. Our guest said, “Yeah, McCartney’s out of it, drinking too much, he might as well be Ringo!”

We all laughed, and I knew that this, too, a throwaway comment, was peculiar to boomers. If anyone under 30 had been in the room, he or she most likely wouldn’t have had the instant recognition—Ringo!, a household name—that the three of us did. Andrey Slivka, say, at 27, might’ve furrowed his brow for 30 seconds, and then said to himself, “Of course, they’re talking about Ringo Starr, the drummer for the Beatles.”

That led to the inevitable debate of McCartney vs. Lennon, and it’s my view that Paul (especially since John was murdered) got the short end of the stick. Sure, most of the music he’s made since 1970 has sucked; so did Lennon’s. The canonization of the latter, tragically martyred, tends to be the lefty opinion. Somehow, throughout the years, McCartney is seen as some kind of free-tradin’ Republican, which isn’t at all accurate. In the final analysis, both did their best songwriting—like Jagger and Keith Richards, Bob Dylan and for that matter, skipping a decade, Elvis Costello—in their 20s and early 30s.

In the same realm, I found Francis Davis’ piece on Dylan in the May Atlantic Monthly mildly interesting, even though the ostensible purpose for the essay is a review of Dylan’s Live 1966, the “Royal Albert Hall” concert finally released last year that’s been written about by almost everyone on the planet, even that pup Jacob Weisberg. I agree with Davis’ contention that “Dylan altered the course of popular music more fundamentally than even Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, or the Beatles,” a statement that’s bound to rankle the likes of John Podhoretz and Robert Christgau. And the following shot at the coolest comet in the 60s is just perfect: “‘My weariness amazes me,’ Dylan tells us in ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ one of the songs that he performs during his solo acoustic set on Live 1966. Everything about himself does, and this has always been to his detriment as an artist.”

But aside from a few factual goofs—“Positively 4th Street” didn’t appear on Highway 61 Revisited, and Dylan’s book of gibberish, Tarantula, was written in the mid-60s, even though it was released in ’71—I have a few beefs with Davis’ essay. He falls into party line that Dylan’s voice wasn’t top caliber, completely untrue, and that other artists who covered his songs came up with better versions. Van Morrison indeed was brilliant on “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” which he recorded with Them, but it doesn’t touch Dylan’s original. And while Jimi Hendrix doesn’t have a song in his discography that compares to his cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” it, too, doesn’t compete with the masterpiece from John Wesley Harding. Davis also all but dismisses Dylan’s work before Bringing It All Back Home, a serious mistake, considering that songs like “One Too Many Mornings,” “North Country Blues,” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” hell, even though it’s been forever compromised by advertising, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” were written before he strapped on that electric guitar.

And Davis’ conclusion, bringing readers back to 1998, is just laughable, but I suppose an important point for an obvious liberal. He writes: “The sixteen House Judiciary Committee Democrats who voted as a bloc against impeaching Bill Clinton included three women, five African-Americans, and one openly gay man—a representation that would have been unthinkable at the time of Iwo Jima or Normandy. Perhaps none of this has much to do with Dylan, yet it goes a long way toward explaining why his music and that of others in the 1960s holds greater than nostalgic fascination for those of us who grew up with it. Whatever was at issue in the music for its original fans remains at issue, however irrelevant Dylan himself has become.”

I’m sure that Dylan would be appalled by reading those words, considering that he made a big deal out of being no generation’s spokesman and could even be a Republican himself today.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


04/2/99: T.J. Walker’s The Man!: A Former Clinton Disciple Repents
04/23/99: Baseball and Politics
04/21/99: Sharpton’s Nostalgia Trip Is a Bust: The Backlash Is Immediate
04/16/99: Notes From A Baltimore Hick: Pressing My Nose Against the Window
04/14/99: The Bush JugGoreNaut Continues; Send Sharpton to A Rwanda Fat Farm
04/09/99: John McCain’s Moment
04/07/99:The Media Flips: It’s No Longer "Just About Sex"
04/05/99: The Gore Republic Gets Dressed Up. So What?
03/29/99:Louder Than Bombs: Jetlag and English Manners
03/26/99: Hollywood’s Horror Show
03/24/99: Black Ops Mark Vietnam War, Class War & the POW/MIA Issue
03/19/99: The Wealthy Survivor
03/17/99: Clinton’s a Broken Man: The GOP’s Huge Opportunity
03/12/99: Like Father, Like Son: New Hampshire in Another Era
03/11/99: Who is Dorothy Rabinowitz?
03/10/99: It’s George W.’s to Lose
02/26/99: Springsteen Ain’t No Chopped Liver; Vanity Press Musings
03/05/99: This Must Be the New World: The Mainstream Is Left Behind
02/26/99: Hillary, Juanita & Rudy Kazootie; First Baker, then Rich and Soon Lewis
02/24/99: The New Yorker Takes the Local: Mister Hertzberg Strikes Out; A Search for the Clemens Upside
02/19/99: The Howell Raines Conspiracy
02/17/99: History Lessons: An Immigrant’s Advice
02/12/99:The Man Who Owns the World
02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton’s Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of ’98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving’s the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr’s Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar’s: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1999, Russ Smith