SATURDAY JANUARY 18
I'm known for praising NYC. But not, I should say, unreservedly. So check this. Of all the issues that drive Big Apple inhabitants mad, Gridlock must bethe worst. Sometimes it just happens. And sometimes it seems pre-ordained, as with the current mass excavation around the Manhattan Bridge, which at night time is prone to create nightmares but without enough DoT organization to warn us precisely when they plan to ruin our plans.
Thursday night then, it's snowing, I've promised to meet friends in Manhattan, and my local subways don't easily connect to the East Village. I hail a taxi. It's only three miles: a hop over the East River. Usually gives change from ten dollars. And shouldn't take more than twenty minutes at tops.
This receipt proves otherwise. 84 minutes to go 3.3 miles. That's barely 2 miles an hour! Not to mention a shocking $25 with tip. Hands down, that's the slowest cab ride of my entire life. And I didn't even have something with me to read. (I took comfort in the fact I wasn't missing a live show or late for a DJ gig.) If anyone can beat this, let me know. But unless you were in one of the other taxis stuck on the bridge, whose three solid lanes of traffic were suddenly funneled into one narrow tight exit amidst the excavation, then I doubt you will.
FRIDAY JANUARY 17
THE IMPORTANCE OF SATIRE...AND THE RIGHT TO FREE THOUGHT
I railed on Wednesday about the atrocious state of American TV particularly late at night, just the time when it ought to get interesting. But then later that evening, at midnight to be precise, I came across one of the reasons to keep paying the cable bill: South Park, of course. If it seems ludicrous that we should be forced to rely on animated TV characters for some clear thinking and sharp comment, then bear in mind that we also rely on the cartoonists in the newspapers to boil the issues down to a simple image and a witty observation. So the fact that the best satire on American TV this last decade has come primarily from the Simpsons and now South Park, is not really surprising. And somehow the pearls of wisdom seem all the more appropriate when they're issued from the mouths of babes, young boys or even drunken old losers like Homer.
The first time I found myself laughing out loud after 9/11 was watching the South Park episode that dared to poke fun at both Osama Bin Laden and the American military. It was a wonderful reminder of the power of satire and the importance of free speech in a democracy. South Park surely stretches the First Amendment to its very limits: the episode I saw this Wednesday night tore into John Edward, the "psychic medium" who claims to bring back messages from the dead. Try this exchange for size:
Edward: "I'm a psychic."
Cartman: "You're a douche."
Edward: "But I hear dead voices in my head."
Cartman: "Then you're a stupid douche."
The funniest thing about the whole caricature? Until watching this episode of South Park, I had never even heard of John Edward. That's what you get for not watching TV in the first place.
Staying - and leaving on the subject of the media in all its blatant sensationalist glory, I'm genuinely relieved that Pete Townshend is being cut something of a break now that people are getting to study the facts. (And now that his 'A Different Bomb' essay of a year ago has been so widely distributed.) I'm sure it's not coincidental that a number of the more senior writers in the western media are probably Who fans who have long admired Townshend's emotional honesty and don't want to see a personal idol brought to his knees. I'm also sure that now that the story has moved from the hacks at the news desk to those who more proudly call themselves journalists, that much of the support is self-serving: as I wrote the other day, those of us in the media often find ourselves in unpleasant situations while researching stories, and we can't afford to let Townshend become a scapegoat for his indiscretions without acknowledging that we could be next. Here's a few examples of some of the more sensible features to have hit the web this week. Note that they hail from several continents.
(I should state that I am quoted in the Newsday story, which rather curiously, given my online musing yesterday, is titled 'Pete's no Pee-Wee.')
Most of these links were posted on a Who news group by the ever-diligent Brian Cady, who also hosts TheWhothismonth.com web site.
Finally, I'm not sure what point Jason Consoli was making last night at his Restricted night by playing 'The Kids Are Alright', 'I'm A Boy' and 'Pictures of Lily,' but they will always be three of my favorite songs in the world.
THURSDAY JANUARY 16
PETE AND PEE-WEE.
In a moment of unusually apt timing, the Village Voice this week runs as its cover story an article entitled The Persecution of Pee Wee Herman, in which it details how the former childrens' TV star came to be charged with possession of child pornography. As with the Pete Townshend case, one's initial reaction is of revulsion and horror, until one studies the facts. In this particular case, Herman (born Paul Reubens) is known to be a collector of vintage pornography, quite a big business in the collectors' market and certainly not illegal in most States across the USA.
Following a complaint, later dismissed, police raided Reuben's home in 2001, and carted off 30,000 items from his 100,000-strong collection. They spent nearly a year analyzing them, and ultimately concluded there was no case. That was until the Los Angeles city attorney, who has been campaigning vigilantly (and rightly) against child pornography, took up Herman's case, honing in on what Voice writer Richard Goldstein calls "a few dozen photos that could be contraband today, though they were quite legal when they first appeared" in magazines in the 50s and 60s. Reubens has subsequently been charged with "possession", though it's quite possible that in such a large collection as his, he has had neither had time nor inclination to study everything he's acquired over the years.
Reubens is an easier target than Pete Townshend. Several years ago he was convicted for masturbating in a porn cinema. It was a victimless crime, but inappropriate enough for a child TV presenter that his show was canned, and his extensive merchandise operation all but shut down. In public eyes, Pee-Wee is already a pervert, and despite all likely arguments as to the prior legality of the photos (the law, writes Goldstein, was changed in 1982), and even as to whether he knew he actually owned them, his defense is going to have a hard time getting beyond the judge or jury's preconceptions about his character.
The commonality between Reubens and Townshend is surely one of intent. The argument could be made (and no doubt will be made in court, if both cases go that far) that neither man intended to possess illegal images. (Most US statutes, writes Goldstein, include the word "knowingly" to protect those who inadvertently access child pornography.) For Reubens, this may not wash. With Townshend, there is absolutely no evidence as yet, nor even a police assertion, that Townshend even went so far as to download illegal images.
Why then, could Townshend have committed a crime? Because, if I've read my news and opinions correctly the last few days, the two countries' laws differ on one vital distinction. In the States, you have to be in possession of 'child pornography' to be charged; in an internet case such as Townshend's, you would have to have downloaded photographs and stored them to be found guilty. (As, for example, was the case with Gary Glitter.) But in the U.K., merely accessing the images is considered a crime. Townshend's apparent revolt at what he saw (as discussed in his Internet essays) may yet prove irrelevant - because he broke the law simply by looking at them. And in the same way that Reubens is already considered a pervert for his prior sexual offense, Townshend is probably never going to get over the fact that he supplied his credit card to an infamous web portal. In admitting to having done so he has, essentially, confessed his guilt under British law.
Not surprisingly then, there's been a lot of online discussion these last few days as countless UK-based Internet users are recognizing that they too have broken the law while surfing the web, or by accepting e-mails from across the Net. The British pornography laws have always been among the most draconian in the West, and are extremely difficult to enforce in this Internet age: for example, I'm personally convinced that the easy access to sexually explicit images on the web is responsible for the fact that hardcore images such as were illegal, or certainly inaccessible, when I was a child in the UK, are now regularly found on "the top shelf".
I digress, as always. I don't have the time or resources right now to enter into a bigger discussion about British sexual mores. But I might at least posit the question as to whether the historically renowned sexual repression in the UK (i.e. the 'No Sex We're British' ethos) plays into the population's dubious international reputation for kinkiness and perversion, and its clearly hypocritical delight in sexual scandals, particularly of the rich and famous. (I will offer two reference points as starting points for a bigger discussion, though. Chapter Ten, 'Meet The Wife,' of the book "The English" by Jeremy Paxman is as informative as it is entertaining. The art exhibition, The Victorian Nude, which just left the Brooklyn Museum of Art, proved more disturbing. Based on what I saw there, you could have locked up half the British painters of the Victorian era for paedophilic instincts. And yes, Lewis Carroll's photographs were particularly suspicious examples.)
Once again, I'm short on conclusions. This is all just throwing information into the air and seeing where it lands. There's an interesting post on the Forum by Scat, who appears to have been following Pete Townshend's online writings for longer than me, and with a certain trepidation, "waiting ... for the other shoe to drop" as he puts it. I can only reiterate what I wrote on Tuesday, that this time round, Pete won't be able to change his story. Let's keep fingers crossed then that he's telling the truth.
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 15
MORE OF THE SAME OLD SAME OLD...
The e-mail hardly stopped coming and the phone barely stopped ringing yesterday, with some people sharing their views on Pete Townshend's arrest and others approaching me to ask what the hell was going on. The latter camp was almost exclusively based here in the States, which thankfully didn't participate in the British media witch-hunt of the weekend but which as a result instead reduced the whole story to very simple, and potentially misleading, statements about Pete's arrest. At least in the UK, the sheer scale of the scandal has ensured that Pete has been allowed to have his say, in public, and independent thinkers have been able to draw their own initial conclusions as a result. Here, the short news bursts seem more prone to assume his guilt, even if they're only doing their job and reporting the facts as they currently stand.
Someone over at the Forum suggested that Pete might have deliberately used his credit card "to bring heightened attention to that which he so passionately addressed in 'A Different Bomb'" (Pete's essay of January 2002 of which I quoted yesterday). I'm not sure that Pete was thinking that many steps ahead. But it's worth looking at another brief essay he published in August 2002, and which has also been archived online. He starts by noting that the FBI had given Scotland Yard "the names and addresses of 7,000 UK citizens who provided credit card information to a U.S. sex site which - they say portrayed illegal, underage subjects." Apart from the proviso "they say", there's no indication that Pete considered himself one of those 7,000 citizens under investigation, about which I can't draw a logical conclusion. But then he writes the following, which suggests that maybe he'd been delving into this whole unpleasant issue on a more intellectual basis than any of supposedly investigative journalists who've been hounding him.
"The very nature of 'E-Com' is to collect money via credit card. That is expressly a 'First World' business run predominantly by Western banks and with profits commissioned by Western Internet Service Providers. There is no reason I can see that this should be allowed to go on where sex-sites are operating outside the laws and accepted moral criteria of
the West. Am I wrong?"
No, he's not. And it's an extremely important point. We can investigate and 'out' all we like any number of teachers, police, rock stars, and MPs who hand over credit card details whether or not they know what they're getting for their money. But until we come down on those who profit from the truly illegal and immoral (and remember this scandal is about child pornography and abuse, not about 'consenting adult pornography,' of which I'm a staunch defender), then it's the usual case of finding scapegoats for sensationalist copy rather than tackling the problem at its more troubling source.
On that note, who ever would have thought I'd one day praise an editorial from the Sun newspaper in the UK? Still, follow this link for yourself and see if you disagree. (Jane Moore raises the matter of the unsubstantiated rape allegation against Paul Weller, something I was trying to work into yesterday's piece but couldn't find space.)
Staying with negative commentary for a moment longer, I spent half an hour late last night attempting to relax in front of the television. Talk about a miserable experience. Naturally, the BBC World News is a veritable trove of pessimism beginning with the horrific stabbing murder of a British policeman during a Manchester-based arrest of suspected terrorists in the 'ricin' case, and continuing with its usual slanted attitudes towards the USA and Israel. Over on the usually witty Jon Stewart show, Michael Moore was allowed to suggest that September 11 was a "military attack" by the Saudis. As with all conspiracy theories, I ask, so what would the conspirators gain from the conspiracy? The USA is the biggest purchaser of Saudi oil, and its military presence has ensured the country's security (especially when Saddam Hussein came knocking on the border from Kuwait back in 1991), all while ignoring the nation's institutionalized sexual and religious discrimination. Under these circumstances, what would possibly be the Saudi government's purpose be in starting a war against its prime benefactor? And even if it had done so, then hasn't that war backfired, what with all the necessarily negative subsequent publicity against this horrible oil-rich State? Hate the Saudi leaders all you want and I'm right up there with those who do - but back your allegations with some proper theory.
Michael Moore also enjoyed a well-intended rant against SUVs and the wasteful American culture of over-consumption. I only wish Jon Stewart had dared point out that a third of Americans are obese (something that sets a particularly negative impression in the rest of the world) and followed it by asking when Moore plans to walk it like he talks it, set a positive example, and actually lose some of his vast body fat.
David Letterman and Jay Leno were both astoundingly unamusing, while the BBC News was followed on public TV, as it has been since I think I moved here, by Are You Being Served? (Is there not a single other British comedy of the last 30 years that could possibly be aired in its place?) VH1, once a music station, was scraping the barrel with an 'Outrageous Moments in Quiz History' (only to bleep out the infamous wife's answer that I assume was 'In the Arse' or 'Up The Bum' to the question 'Where's the place most unusual location you've ever felt the desire to get it on?'). And God knows what kind of reality show MTV was broadcasting, but I can assure you there was no music involved. Bill O'Reilly was ranting away on Fox News as he always does, and lame comedies were dominating almost every other channel except Moneyline on CNN, which dared to discuss the North Korean crisis with an air of intelligence. Overall, though, the old adage that if you treat people like morons then they will behave like morons was never better proven.
And so to other subjects. The following would be amusing if it wasn't so pathetic. My thanks to Geoffrey for sending me the Associated Press story about the 56-year old Millwall hooligan, convicted for his part in the riots that took place while I was in London last spring. (And which some younger Millwall fans assured me had nothing to do with the club and everything to do with the local elections taking place that night.) There's no link unfortunately but try this: "A 56-year-old Millwall fan became Britain's oldest convicted soccer hooligan Monday when he was jailed for five years for kicking a police horse. Raymond Everest, a former match steward at the club, was caught laughing on closed circuit TV cameras after attacking a horse following Millwall's game against Birmingham City on May 2. Hundreds of fans rioted outside the New Den Stadium after Millwall lost 2-1 in the division one semifinal playoffs. In all, 157 police officers and 26 police horses were hurt."
Tattoo watch. I was particularly impressed by this bodywork; photo taken at the Interpol show last week. Meat Is Murder was one of several catalysts in my own journey to vegetarianism and almost 20 years later, I've stuck by it.
I've had to bite my tongue a bit the last few years while enjoying my red wine with people who love nothing more than to align it to equally red meat. That's not why I haven't posted a wine review for the last few weeks: there are plenty tasting notes piled up from the holidays awaiting a spare moment and an appropriate new record for me to link them to. In fact, I get a lot of comments from people who love the iJamming! blend of music and wine, so this might be the right time to plug Jamie Goode's Wine Anorak web site. Jamie's a passionate Man City supporter who loves his wine but who also finds time to talk about the magical effects of snow on Twickenham Green in between his tasting notes and football commentary. And not only does he like much the same wines as me but he seems to have better access to the good stuff. Stop by and tell him I sent you.
TUESDAY JANUARY 14
PITY PETE? OR PITEOUS PETE?
A week ago, the worst I could have said of Pete Townshend was that he had waited for John Entwistle to die before finally deciding to record a new Who album. (And as I think about that accusation, worded the way I just did, his behavior does indeed seem callous.) But now that Pete's been arrested on suspicion that he downloaded "paedophile" images from the Internet, there's so much that's worse to say about Pete and the media in the UK are saying it with typically shrill voices.
I don't have any contact with Pete Townshend. I can't claim to know him any better than any one else who's listened to and loved The Who's music over the years. Yes, I wrote a book about Keith Moon, but it was ultimately concluded without interviewing Pete, whose help in the project was tacit. I did interview Pete a couple of times for Jamming!, but that was many many years ago. All of which is to say that I'm following this story like most of us through the media.
It's perfectly clear, however, that the media is allowing sensationalism to trump research. To my mind, this is one of their routine "witch hunts" in which they flock to attack an outspoken and rich rock star and gleefully bring him down to the gutter, where they themselves reside. And if that seems like an overly strong leap to Pete's defense, allowing that he has admitted to using a credit card to access the American-based child pornography portal at the heart of this scandal, then it's also because I understand there's a vast difference between knowing "the truth" (which I don't) and relying upon the sensationalist front page tabloid reports (which I refuse to).
Those who visit Townshend's web site know that he has written regularly about both the dangers of Internet omnipotence and the horrors of child pornography. A full year ago, he wrote a particularly personal essay about the suicide of a close friend who was abused as a child. In it, he talked openly of having come across the most disturbing images of child pornography after entering the words "Russian orphanages" and "boys" in a search engine while doing some philanthropic research. Pete concluded his essay as follows.
"The subconscious mind is deeply damaged and indelibly scarred by the sight of such images. I can assure everyone reading this that if they go off in pursuit of images of paedophilic rape they will find them. I urge them not to try. I pray too that they don't happen upon such images as did I, by accident. If they do they may like me become so enraged and disturbed that their dreams are forever haunted."
(Pete's site has occasionally been down since the scandal broke. As I write, you can access his essay in pdf form from his web site here. If Pete's site is down, you can still access the essay from this mirror site. The words are the same on both web sites.)
Now I don't know about you, but the way I interpret these words, as written a year ago, is that they offer a legitimate argument and defense against any accusations that Townshend is a paedophile or that he views paedophile images for entertainment. I am surprised that the newspapers that have thrilled so much at Pete's arrest have not bothered to conduct the barest research that could lead them to such an essay unless they're suddenly scared that they may find themselves viewing illegal images the moment they log onto Google and type a few harmless words. (As a journalist, I'm fully aware that research sometimes leads us to places we don't want to be. And that we only know we don't want to be there once we've been there. It's an obvious if awkward vicious cycle.)
Of course, the above doesn't explain why Pete consciously used his credit card to access the Landslide Promotions Portal; his own defense is that he was again conducting research, this time for his autobiography. (He believes he was abused as a child by his grandparents and that the repressed memory surfaced in Tommy and other works.) Whether the credit card use came before or after the 'Russian orphanages' experience of which he wrote could prove quite important; if it was the latter, then he would appear not to have heeded his own warnings. I trust that in time, the legal system will be allowed to work effectively and the "truth" will out, and if Pete was stupid enough to hold on to certain images without calling in the law, then he'll pay a price though the likely permanent damage to his previously eminent standing would seem to me quite costly enough. Until then, I prefer to believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty, even no, especially - in cases like this where our gut reaction is of total revulsion.
What really gets me here is the double-standard that allows Pete to be 'outed' and others to stay anonymous. I remember, from growing up in south London, the famous case of the Streatham brothel run by Cynthia Payne, about which the movie Personal Services was later made starring Julie Walters. It's long been my understanding that when the police raided the brothel, they found a number of supposedly upstanding citizens engaging in all manner of kinky activities and that these various judges, MPS, police and the like managed to keep their identities hidden. Perhaps that's fair, as I'm a firm believer that what goes on in private between consenting adults is entirely up to those individuals.
The reason paedophilia offends us so instinctively and viscerally is for the very simple reason that it does NOT involve consenting adults, but instead, the use of co-erced and often kidnapped children whose lives are destroyed by the experience if indeed the children are not destroyed once their usefulness has been expended. It should be an international police priority to round up and punish the perpetrators of the abuse, and also of those who would then profit from such activities. In addition, we (a big collective "we" as an international society) should be constantly researching ways to deter those who would care to view such images for personal and/or private pleasure.
But if we're going to engage in a witch hunt, and reveal the identities of those accused even when evidence suggests that, if anything, they're vocal campaigners against that very crime, then let's be consistent. It's been widely reported that two ex-Ministers, both of them current Labour MPs, are also among those whose credit cards were used to access the Texas-based paedophile portal at the heart of this storm. Why not name them? It's also been stated that 50 policemen are included among the 6500-odd British citizens whose credit card details the FBI passed on to Scotland Yard. Most of those remain unnamed too - although one exception is Detective Constable Brian Stephens, who just happened to be part of the team investigating the abduction and murder of two young girls in Soham last year, a crime that shook the British nation. How many other policemen, those whom the British taxpayers employ to protect their children, are also living double lives, turned on by the prospect of having or viewing sex with children even as they are being paid to investigate the murders and abuse of children?
Scandal sells. That's indisputable. And there's nothing more salacious for the media than bringing a public icon to his knees, especially for engaging in immoral and/or illegal sexual activities. The last few years have seen Elton John and George Michael survive such scandals, and Gary Glitter and Jonathan King go to prison for them. Pete Townshend is a particularly tempting candidate to follow in their wake. Quite apart from his lyrics and interviews, which have often served to deliberately aggravate and antagonize, he's a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, who has also admitted to homosexual relations. Alcohol consumption and homosexuality are legal in the UK; heroin abuse is not. Pete has been vocal about his involvement all these activities and those who have loved him for his music have been encouraged by his honesty, even when it has been inconsistent.
I suspect that if Pete will be brought down by anything, it will be by that famous inconsistency, the artist's natural desire to be elastic with the truth which in his case has frequently been stretched beyond credibility. In addition, Pete has often spoken out without thinking through the effects of his comments, causing considerable hurt along the way. This time round, he's going to have to stick to the facts as the law understands them, and consider the long-term implications of every word he utters. But until such time as he's proven guilty, I'd encourage everyone to research what evidence as is currently on offer, and not allow scandal and sensationalism to destroy what's left of his life.
MONDAY JANUARY 13
FOLLOWING THE MONEY TRAIL
If an offer seems too good to be true, that means it usually is. What to make, then, of this news that the American music industry is ready, willing and able to give you a $20 rebate as a legally-enforced apology for over-charging you during the 1990s? If your response is, Where do I sign up? Then the answer is, Here. And if it seems like too much hard work to fill out an online form for a measly Andrew Jackson (you probably made that $20 back with free downloads these last few years, didn't you?), then here's a better reason to do so. If over 8.8 million of us sign up, our pay-out slips below the minimum of $5 each and the $44 million settlement will go to "public entities and nonprofit organizations in each state to promote music programs." That $44 million may still be less than the golden parachutes Warner Brothers Records awarded to outgoing label bosses Robert Morgado and Michael Fuchs each during the label's mid-nineties meltdown, but it's money I'm sue the non-profits and public entities would welcome.
And further notice that big business can't fool all the consumers all of the time comes with the likely and welcome prospect of legislation to investigate the "anti-competitive behavior by radio/concert giants," most specifically the dreaded Clear Channel, which in city after city across America, owns the major radio stations and the major venues. In a worst case scenario, this means that an artist's agent has to accept a certain booking fee from Clear Channel the promoters, based on the knowledge that it's beholden to Clear Channel the local radio station to play its music and ensure good ticket sales. But how does music get on the radio these days? Well, no one wants to use the payola word but independent promotion firms are doing better than ever and if ticket sales remain low, Clear Channel the promoters can always cover its losses by using the significant leverage of its local Clear Channel owned radio station, and demand record company advertising for the show. After all, which record company wants to alienate a market's biggest radio station and its biggest concert promoter which just happens to be the biggest of each in the next market over, and the next, and the next. By comparison, the likes of pioneering rock'n'roll promoter and DJ Alan Freed were mere hustlers and at least they were blessed with genuine love for the music from which they profited.
JANUARY 6-12: Interpol in concert, Tony Fletcher's Top 10 Albums and Singles of 2002, More on Joe Strummer and The Clash, Fever Pitch and Bend It Like Beckham.
DECEMBER 31 2002 -JAN 5 2003: A tribute to Joe Strummer, Radio 4 live on New Year's Eve
DECEMBER 25-30: NO POSTINGS: ON VACATION
DECEMBER 16-24: Metro Area, Breakbeat Science, Sting makes Wine, New York Downtown redesigns, Keith Moon anecdotes, Campbell's jokes.
DECEMBER 9-15: Tiswas, pledge drives, The View from Up North
DECEMBER 2-8 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Weekend Players and Snow Lit Piano Bars)
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FOR JUNE 29-JULY 5 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup Final, John Entwistle's legacy, The Who's decision to carry on, the meaning of July 4)
FOR JUNE 22-28 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Dr. John, Doves, Mermaid Parade, John Entwistle's death, Timothy White's death, Clinic Firewater and Radio 4 live, The Who's decision to carry on)
FOR JUNE 15-21 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Liars live, GiantFingers, the Big Takeover)
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