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Monday, November 28, 2011

Country Music in the White House

Last Wednesday’s PBS special Country Music: In Performance at the White House offered exceptional performers, exceptional songs, exceptional musicianship. For anyone who sniffs at country music, it underscored that we only cheat ourselves by ignoring the best in a musical genre—any genre. The performers—Dierks Bentley, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, the Band Perry, James Taylor, and others—captivated a packed East Room, including Barak and Michelle, who sat front-row center and frequently appeared  on camera enthralled by the music.

Steve Earle (Not Invited); Lauren Alaina (Invited)

Those images may have resonated with a viewer demographic of independent voters who might make a difference at the polls next November. As the concert rolled out, this blogger fantasized: Wouldn’t it be the cat’s pajamas if Steve Earle and the Dixie Chicks appeared among the invited musicians? Both, after all, were fellow travelers with Mr. Obama in their opposition to the run-up and wonder years of the Iraq War. Both received death threats and hate mail; Dixie Chick records fueled hefty bonfires.

Lyle Lovett (Invited); The Dixie Chicks (Not Invited)
 Don’t blame Obama, though, for leaving them off the performers list during an election year. Steve and the Chicks may exemplify Profiles in Courage, but they’ve been preternaturally divisive with voters from the heartland. Still, if you have any hopes of seeing them play the East Room by 2016, electing a Republican offers no prospect. In the spirit of the greatest American Yogi, a second Obama term with its political flexibility is the only fork that you should take.

Steve Earle in The Wire (a Barak Obama favorite)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is There No Horizontal in NoHo?

For several months, benches alongside Northampton, Massachusetts' Hampshire County courthouse and the upscale Hotel Northampton have sported bolt-reinforced wooden dividers. With all the sophistication of a middle school shop project and evocative of urinal partitions, these contrivances—in one of America’s most avowedly liberal small cities—have one underlying purpose: to keep the homeless and other consumers from embracing horizontality. There’s a warm air grate near the Hotel Northampton; combine that with benches that allow for stretching out, and you’ve got a magnet for the homeless, observes a life-long Northampton townie and student of the city’s infrastructure.

No magistrates at the bench.

The partitioned benches also offer a behavioral nudge, enticing the horizontally disposed to real deal benches across Main Street in Pulaski Park. Chez Pulaski captures Northampton at its win-win giddiest, with its warren of benches in an enclave set back from the city’s frolicsome and commercial pursuits.

 Pulaski Park: A safer haven?
(photo: wmshc_kiwi's photostream)
Town Hall Northampton, October 2011
Photo by Garson Fields

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On the Grid?/Off the Grid?

On November 1—36 hours after the electrical grid went dark for  90%+  of the Pioneer Valley—this blogger—ensconced in Amherst, Massachusetts—pledged to begin all conversations with the greeting: “Are you on the grid or off?” As the week progressed and the grid played hard-to-get for 50% of the Valley’s captives, the salutation grew terser with “On the gird or off?” and finally the skeletal “On or off?”

“On the gird or off?” almost always evoked private revelations from friends, strangers, and everyone in between.  “We’ve substituted one network for another--a face-to-face network grounded in community for the grid,” observed a friend.  “Losing it has been harrowing, but we’ve connected on a deeper, communal level.”

Above all, “On or Off? elicited stories—tales of tree branches penetrating bathroom walls and bedroom ceilings; sagas of  resentment and grid envy by homeowners who looked out their  windows to view well-lighted homes a street away.

During lunch at my university’s Campus Center, I met a retired professor and his wife who had moved into the center’s hotel when the grid went down. Still without juice five days later, they vented frustration toward the town manager, who lived a street away from their home. Known for his integrity, he had by all appearances exerted no leverage to move his neighborhood up Western Mass Electric’s grid restoration chain. “You should see the pot holes on his street,” they complained. “No special treatment if you live in his neighborhood.”

On Wig & Pen’s own street, two neighbors—both liberal and self-reliant—took different approaches to the challenge. The first (with a wood-burning stove) welcomed it as a camping opportunity. Not to be outdone, his next-door neighbor rigged up a gas generator to his furnace and outlets. Regrettably,  neighbor #1  had little patience with the generator’s incessant clatter.  Climate change from fossil fuels, he griped, had probably been the underlying cause of the storm. Now, he lamented, his neighbor was powering his generator by burning gas and causing noise pollution to boot.

Finally, the story of a friend, who after three days without heat, threw himself upon the mercy of his ex-wife, who had just regained the grid. “For two days, I slept okay on her couch, which had once been our couch,” he confessed. “But after day one, her superiority became insufferable.” Determined to make good without her help, he resolved to find a warm companion at the Moan & Dove, a local bar. After two swift rejections, he struck up a more promising conversation.  “Everything was clicking. We were both fans of Anne Rice and  Dave  Matthews. And we didn’t like camping. But then the bottom fell out--She wasn't on the grid."