Levon Helm, drummer and singer of The Band, passed away from throat cancer last week. The outpouring of love directed his way over the last week, from every corner of the world, was remarkable. His family did an interesting thing too; they told the world before he died that he was in his final stages of battling cancer. About twenty-four hours after I’d heard the announcement of his declining health, reports came in that he’d passed away.
We were sad, but not surprised. Then the eulogies began. One remembrance I heard read on the radio, from Elton John, moved me to tears. It had never occurred to me that his song, “Levon,” was inspired by Levon Helm. Well it was, and not only that; Elton John’s son’s middle name is Levon too. So it’s fair to say he revered the guy. And with reason; Levon Helm made music that made you move and made you feel. It made you wince.
It made you say “Turn that shit up.” And to think that the nasty, brilliant drums AND that gutsy, forlorn voice that sounded like it bubbled up out of the Mississippi mud was coming out of ONE dude - Mr. Levon Helm - is something that inspires and depresses musicians forty-plus years after he showed up on the scene.
I don’t need an excuse to listen to The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down;” I listen to it all the time anyway. But the thought that the man who brought that song to me, and to you, would be joining its narrator, Virgil Caine, in the Great Beyond, made me crank it many times, good and loud, by myself and with my family in the days before and after Helm passed. I might have been listening to it when he died.
It felt good to hold my one year old son and move to that song and see him smile. At the same time, it made me sad, as always, to hear Virgil sing about his brother who was killed at age eighteen in the Civil War. One thing that always struck me about that song (which, it must be stated, was written by one of The Band’s other geniuses, Robbie Robertson) is that it immediately puts you in the shoes of a Southerner at the close of the Civil War, and you are extremely sad when you learn that Virgil’s brother, a confederate soldier, is dead. He was killed in a war that nearly destroyed our nation; in a war that killed more soldiers than every other war the United States has fought before and since, combined. The lyrics of the song are few and they’re quite simple and they put you right there in the barren Tennessee dirt with hungry Virgil and his wife and they make you care about what Virgil cared about.
I was born in Boston in 1977, a century and a quarter after Virgil, and a thousand miles north of him. About as far above the Mason-Dixon line as you can get, geographically and ideologically. But I love Virgil. I mourn his brother. His brother didn’t own slaves and neither did he. They didn’t own them because they were poor. But Virgil’s brother fought for the Confederate Army because he was a healthy eighteen year old who didn’t have a choice. Then, as the song tells us, “a Yankee laid him in his grave.”
This song is so useful to me because, in addition to its empiric beauty, it’s one of the more effective works of art I’ve ever encountered at putting its listener in a pair of shoes he’s not used to wearing. When I put on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” it turns me immediately into a bereft young Tennessee farmer who’d fill a company of Union soldiers full of lead to bring my big brother back to help me out on my farm and be my friend.
Back here in 2012, I have a sister I love dearly and it would be a delight to wade into hail of gunfire to protect her. You probably have a sister or a brother you’d do the same for. It’s what siblings do, or would do, for each other.
This all makes me think of the civil war taking place in our country today. To be accurate, it’s a civil cold war or sorts, though I believe it exacts a toll on our nation’s soul that is far steeper than the more famous and studied cold war that took place between the United States and the Soviet Union. I’m talking about the acrimony that our government and media, and the corporations that support them, stir up between regular folks like you and me. It’s there every day, but it reaches a fever pitch during our poisonous and ever-lengthening election seasons. We’re told by CNN or FOX News that you can either be a Democrat or a Republican; half of us need to be one and half of us need to be the other and we must define ourselves by our desire to crush, subvert or absorb the other one. An “us and them” mentality is foisted upon us. It doesn’t matter what side you’re one, as long as you pick one. It is critical to the success of this illusion that we remain trapped in that struggle, actually hating each other, while our highways and railroads fall apart, health care costs skyrocket, the national average body mass index balloons, and schools shuffle toward bankruptcy.
It is INSANITY to believe that what FIFTY PERCENT of Americans want is bad, wrong, or destructive to the country and its citizens at large. If that were true, the country wouldn’t be here anymore, or it would resemble a Cormac McCarthy novel, and it wouldn’t be All the Pretty Horses.
I have the wonderful good fortune to be a dyed in the wool Yankee married to a beautiful hillbilly woman from the South. I am doubly blessed to have a career that involves traveling around the country, meeting people from every walk of life. And God damn it if this place isn’t exploding with wonderful people. I know because I’ve spoken to them, touched them, and when they’re not looking, sniffed their hair. Am I supposed to have a meal, or a conversation, or share pictures of our kids with someone in Greenville, Mississippi or Portland, Oregon, have a great time and some laughs, and then “unlike” them and designate them a mortal enemy after they reveal who they voted for in 2008? According to political strategists or news producers, literally yes. But, as luck would have it, I’m a human being, and that’s impossible. The Republican candidate for President isn’t a human being. Neither is the Democratic candidate. Neither is your Senator or Congressman and neither is the chairman of the board of the company that made your cellphone. There might be a real person in there somewhere, but we’ll never know them. High, high up near the top of their job description is the responsibility to their handlers and donors to keep you and me suspicious of each other, envious of each other, and angry at each other.
The more they can get us to sign on to the lie that the plumber in Sacramento has different wants, needs and desires from the opthamologist in Lexington, Kentucky, the more secure their position is and the more money and power that will come their way. And baby —> it’s a Lie. That plumber in California wants food on the table, a bed to sleep in, and safety and security for their kids. After that’s taken care of, a job to report to in the morning and a little dough in the bank come next. After that, it’s all gravy. And that eye doctor in Kentucky wants the same things, to the letter. And the color of the necktie on the guy they voted for, or the radio station they listen to in the morning has right around nothing to do with whether or how they get those things. Introduce that plumber to that doctor at an airport or in the stands at a baseball game and they’re going to like each other and have things to talk about. They’re different, but they’re the same. The pernicious illusion that what is bad for one of them could be good for the other one needs to be destroyed. Or it’ll destroy us.
I can’t speak for Levon Helm or Robbie Robertson (or Sammy Davis, Jr., in whose Los Angeles home they converted into a studio to record “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,”) but those gentlemen made a work of art that reached out across the decades to me and made me feel love and empathy and kinship with someone who I would’ve thought was different than me in the past, but that I now know isn’t. And if I’m like Virgil, than you are too, and you and I are even closer to each other. And whether you like it or not, (and you better get to liking it) you depend on me and your neighbor more than you do a pundit or a lobbyist or the CEO of BizKorp. And we depends on you. So let’s get some Golden Rule going up in this bitch.
“I think most of the responses have been incredibly positive. There have only been a couple of people who took any issue with it, but anytime most people are positive, there are some people — just out of boredom — who will write the contrarian review because who wants to read only good reviews?”
The Harper Government has announced that it will be closing a maximum security prison in Ontario, and a medium security prison in Laval, Quebec. The Government claims this is due to a decrease in prison population and are closing these institutions as a cost cutting measure. The remaining inmates will be transferred to other institutions.
So that looks pretty good on them, doesn’t it? Harsher sentences for crime, a falling prison population, and cutting costs. It appears the Government is doing everything right.
However, Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Madeleine Meilleur, said that Ontario prisons are already housing federal inmates because federal facilities are out of room.
So, why is the Harper Government closing two of Canada’s largest correctional facilities when they’re sending federal inmates to provincial institutions? Simple: Symbolism.
They’re making it look like they’re closing down the largest prisons because the population is down, when in fact they’re expanding other facilities, forcing the provinces to absorb federal inmates (plus the associated costs), and increasing the number of inmates who are double-bunked.
The SunNews jerk-offs are jerking-off all over this which adds to the Conservative’s base’s thinking that this government has been doing something worthwhile, instead of just creating a series of elaborate PR stunts.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: The Harper Government is destroying this country.
I am traveling to sanctuaries across the country to photograph animals that are elderly or at the end stage of their lives. I began this series shortly after I had spent a year in New Jersey helping my sister care for my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. When my mother got ill, I made a conscious decision to not photograph her. However, caring for her had a profound impact on me and I knew the experience would influence my photography. Shortly after I had returned from New Jersey, I encountered a blind elderly horse that was living on a relative’s property. I was mesmerized by this animal and spent the afternoon photographing him. After reviewing my film, I realized I had found a project that would enable me to sift through my feelings around my mother’s illness.
In order to achieve a sense of intimacy in these portraits, I spend several hours with the animals I photograph and I try to visit them multiple times. Depending on the animal, I may spend an hour or so simply lying on the ground next to the creature before I take a single image. This approach helps the animal acclimate to my presence and to my equipment and it allows me to observe the animal without being focused on picture taking.
I am creating these photographs to gain a deeper understanding about what it means to be mortal and to exorcise my fears of aging. I have come to realize that these images are self-portraits, or at the very least, they are manifestations of my fears and hopes about what I will be like when I am old. My intention is to take an honest and unflinching look at old age and I want these images to inspire others to become aware of and to engage with their own attitudes toward aging and mortality.
Mitt shuffled along the corridor; cold, scared, and alone. The sight of people wearing dirty clothes frightened Mitt; the smell of sweat offended his nostrils so much, he sought refuge by holding his tie to his nose; his face and body began to feel a little damp, and this worried Mitt. “Why is it so hot?” he wondered. “Why are my armpits wet?”
A younger man began approaching him. Mitt Romney liked this man immediately, for he wore a William Fioravanti suit. “Dad,” the man said. “Where have you been? We’ve been looking for you.” Mitt did not hear the man speak as he was lost in a flashback of earlier, when he wandered into the break-room and overheard employees talking. A woman had been telling a co-worker about her trip to Walmart over the weekend to buy house paint. “Ha! Ha! Buy your own paint?!” He had yelled at them.
The man led him to a big, noisy room. Mitt did not like this big, noisy room because it smelled like paint and humidity. “Where’s the AC in this place?” Mitt wondered. Two men approached Mitt. He did not like the two men, for they wore cheap, off-the-rack suits. ”Mitt, we need you to read this proposal to the board out there, okay? You just have to read these pages and look out into the crowd once in a while. The board thought it would be fun to dress up like factory workers, so don’t be scared of them. They aren’t real workers, Mitt. Just the board. Read these words to them and then we can leave,” one of the men told Mitt. “Why are my armpits wet?” Mitt asked the man.
They directed him to walk through the curtain that divided them from the awaiting crowd of factory workers.
Is anyone else having problems with seeing other people's posts on their dashboard?
Looking through the list of people I follow I’ve noticed a few who update regularly but I haven’t seen their posts on my dashboard for months. Further, a few people who follow me have sent me messages letting me know my posts haven’t been on their dashboard.
"… and as I’m stepping off the plane, I see Cheryl and the kids, and I just break down. Up until that point the whole situation hadn’t really hit me yet," Jeff said.
"That is an incredible story Jeff," Kelly said. "We are all so happy that you’re alive and okay. We were all so worried sick." Everyone agreed. Jeff smiled and, through tears, mouthed "thank you".
"The last steak is yours Jeff. Welcome home buddy," I said.
Later, while everyone was getting their shoes on to leave, I realized that I almost forgot one important thing.
"Oh, before I forget," I said. "The steaks weren’t on sale and a little pricey, so Mike, Kelly, Brandon, Kim, and Isabel, you owe me 20 dollars. Jeff, seeing how you actually ate two steaks, you owe me 40."
Look, we both know why you’re here. You’re here because you lay awake at night, staring at your husband and wishing he was more like me. In fact, you wish everyone was more like me.
No? Well, what is it then?
Is it the fact that I am mysterious, charming, and have literally millions of billions of dollars? Is it that you need to know not only who I am but also what I am? Well I’ll tell you what I am honey, I’m anything you want me to be. I’m a French guy from Paris, Je nay say pa or whatever. I’m an eccentric billionaire and I’m going to pay these construction workers to bulldoze this social housing complex. I’m a man who can please any lady, any time — but please, don’t ask my ex-wife Susan.
Not that either? Well tell me, pudding pie, why are you at what would be my front door if I didn’t tear it off and throw it at the kids who play skateboards?
You’re here to issue a summons to whom? No I’m sorry, you must have the wrong address. I think I know Alan Harris and he is an out of control maniac. I clearly have my act together and therefore wouldn’t have any reason to be sued. The door? That was a joke. It’s at the door maker being re-varnished.
Excusay moi, madam? Je nay say English. Pardon moi, merci!