Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: Annus Horribilis

As 2015 draws to a close and people post their self-congratulatory years in review on Facebook (Facebook helpfully offers to do this for you if you don’t), I would like to offer my own year in review.
This is the second holiday season in the last three years that I’ve been unemployed. (I’ve also been unemployed for two of my last three birthdays.)
I don’t think sufficient attention has been paid to the devastation that unemployment causes. In addition to the obvious financial repercussions, there are emotional ones as well, and not just for the person who is unemployed, but for his partner/spouse, friends and family. Unemployment is one of the top five causes of stress, along with the death of a loved one, divorce, moving and serious illness.1 I wish that even one of our millionaire-class of politicians in Washington was aware of this fact. I also wish that at least one of them knew how impossible it is to survive on unemployment benefits. But considering they voted against extending them five times2, I doubt that’s going to happen.
Needless to say, I’ve completely lost my sense of humor.
That can be a bad thing for a comedian.
Speaking of the year’s disappointments, how about the self-inflicted implosion of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign? At this point, I think the best we can hope for is that Hillary asks him to be her running mate. But that probably won’t happen. She’s probably looking for a “yes man.” Maybe Martin O’Malley?
And I haven’t even mentioned America’s record year of gun violence; the world’s record year of climate change; or Donald Trump’s record year of ignorance, vulgarity, racism and misogyny (along with that of the rest of the Republican party).
But 2015 hasn’t been all bad.
I produced (or co-produced) three comedy benefits: two for Bernie Sanders and one for the Mayor’s Fund for the East Village (for victims of the East Village fire).
And with all this free time, I’ve been able to do a lot of writing.
My blog is closing in on 15,000 page views. (I believe that’s what’s known as a “humble brag.”)
I’ve been doing a lot of reading, particularly rock star biographies (Grace Jones, Chrissie Hynde, Elvis Costello, The Beatles). I could probably write a doctoral thesis on rock stars.
I’ve been able to go to the gym during the day, when it’s less crowded, and pretend to hobnob with their celebrity clientele (Anderson Cooper, Mo Rocca) while they remain blissfully unaware of who I am.
But right now I’m too busy worrying about how I’m going to pay my rent next month (or the month after that).
In fact, at this point, the only thing that would make me feel better would be if someone offered me a job.
Then I could tell everyone who didn’t offer me a job to kiss my annus.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tony Bramwell: The Fifth Beatle?

In the pantheon of my cultural heroes, no person or group is greater than the Beatles. To the child that I was in the ’60s, they didn’t even seem human—they were like gods. The great accomplishment of Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles, by Tony Bramwell, is that it humanizes them.
That’s not necessarily a good thing.
Bramwell grew up in Liverpool, England where his childhood friends were neighborhood kids like George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and future Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Liverpool in the late ’50s and early ’60s comes across as an old-fashioned, close-knit community where everyone knew each other’s business and chance encounters with future stars were not uncommon. Thus it was, for example, that a young Bramwell found himself on a bus with Harrison, going to his first gig in Liverpool with the Beatles.
Geography is, indeed, destiny.
Bramwell had been planning on becoming a draftsman but, through a chance encounter with Epstein at his record store, wound up working for him and ultimately running a number of the Beatles’ companies. (Similarly, Epstein had no intention of becoming a manager, but basically fell into it after seeing the Beatles perform at Liverpool’s Cavern Club.)
As flesh-and-blood human beings, not everything we learn about the Beatles and their circle is flattering.
Epstein is a closeted homosexual who eventually dies of an accidental drug overdose (whether due to his being in the closet, the pressures of managing the Beatles, or both, isn’t clear).
John Lennon comes across as a bit of a jerk, having abandoned his first wife, Cynthia, and son, Julian, almost immediately after getting married. To be fair, even if the customs of the time didn’t dictate that he had to marry Cynthia after getting her pregnant, Epstein probably would have forced his hand in order to maintain the Beatles’ squeaky-clean image.
Speaking of which, the Beatles were hardly the “boys next door” their publicity led us to believe (nor were they an overnight success). They spent years performing all over England and Europe (most famously in Hamburg, Germany), enjoying the company of lots of women along the way, before making their American debut and, eventually, “settling down.”
But the person who comes off the worst in this book (no surprise) is Yoko Ono. She’s portrayed as a stalker who insinuates herself into Lennon’s life--while both of them are still married, no less. (The “stalker” designation is particularly disturbing when you consider how Lennon was murdered a few years later.)
After the Beatles break up, Bramwell works with a number of other record labels and artists, including record producer Phil Spector, a character as steely in his resolve to get his own way as Yoko (and who produced—some would argue ruined—the Beatles album Let It Be.)
There’s much vicarious enjoyment to be had in these pages from Bramwell’s tales of record industry excess, at a time when record sales actually meant something. Bramwell emerges as a potential “fifth Beatle,” perhaps as significant in his own way as Brian Epstein.
But the breakup of the Beatles near the end of this book is a loss for the book, for Tony Bramwell and, ultimately, for us.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Every Day I Write the Book

I’m not as big an Elvis Costello fan as I thought I was.
Mind you, I’ve always had tremendous respect for Elvis Costello as a songwriter. I’ve always thought of him as the Woody Allen of pop music—only more prolific.
But I’ve just finished reading Costello’s exhaustive (and poorly named) autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, and the result is somewhat anticlimactic.
I followed Costello’s career pretty closely through his Columbia years (and even then it was hard to keep up with his prodigious output), but then I kind of lost track of him.
He turned up again on my cultural radar a few years ago when he did an excellent talk show on the Sundance Channel called Spectacle.
Even now, I’m only scratching the surface of his accomplishments, because he also did a number of collaborative albums with other musicians, some acting work and some writing (including, obviously, this book).
All of this is covered in minute detail in Unfaithful Music, but, if you’re not a super-dedicated Costello fan, chances are you’ll be lost after the first few chapters.
The focus of the book is clearly Costello’s music rather than his personal life, which is fine with me. The most significant relationship in the book seems to be the one between Costello and his father, who was also a musician. The most touching scenes depict his father’s battle with (and eventual death from) Alzheimer’s. (By contrast, his 18-year marriage to The Pogues’ Cait O’Riordan is dismissed in a few short paragraphs.)
Musically, the biggest revelation in the book is probably how the piano part for “Oliver’s Army” was influenced by a similar piano part in Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” (Years later, he runs into Abba’s Benny and Bjorn quietly eating dinner in a Swedish café, one of many unlikely musical encounters that happen throughout the book.)
Given his enormous output, what this book really could have used is a discography. (Thank God for Wikipedia!) It also could have used some editing—or at least focus. It jumps around a lot. And, as another reviewer pointed out, if you don’t know the music, the lyrics—which are quoted extensively—tend to lose some of their power.
Unfaithful Music may be faithful to Costello’s music, but it leaves something to be desired as an autobiography.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Shit Just Got Real: The Reality of Today’s Economy

 Today I applied for food stamps. Shit just got real, as the kids say.
On the plus side, the food stamp process has gotten a lot better since I first walked into an HRA office years ago and walked out without even filling out an application. (At the time I thought I’d rather starve to death than go through that degrading process. Fortunately, I got a job a few weeks later.) Ironically, the food stamp program has gotten better by getting rid of a lot of people who work for the food stamp program and replacing them with machines. (I’m sure Republicans would love that!)
I also emailed my entire LinkedIn network again, asking for information about job leads, for at least the sixth time in as many months. I would guess that at least 80% of my LinkedIn connections have never responded to one of my emails ever (not even to say “Stop emailing me!”). I don’t know if that’s because they don’t have any job leads or they’re just too embarrassed to refer someone to their company because they don’t like working there themselves.
Now I know that many (if not most) people consider LinkedIn a joke, but the only way I’ve found a job for the last 19 years has been through personal referral. And that’s the crucial point here: It’s virtually impossible to find a job nowadays without a personal referral.
That’s because it’s virtually impossible to convince a complete stranger to hire you, no matter how qualified you are or how well your job interview goes (assuming you’re lucky enough to even get a job interview). It seems like most HR people are more concerned with keeping the “wrong” people out than letting the “right” people in.
This is why I also just got rid of all the “recruiters” in my LinkedIn network. Because they’re absolutely useless. All they do is send you want ads and then send out your resume when you respond to them. I can do that myself, thank you very much, I don’t need your help.
I think we need to get real about the reality of today’s economy.
I keep reading in the news that the economy is doing great and that unemployment is at a new low. But what the news always fails to mention is that the reason the unemployment rate is at a new low is because people have given up looking for work and dropped out of the workforce.
The labor participation rate (the percentage of working-age people who are actually working, and what we should be measuring) is at an all-time low.
I’ve also noticed that a large percentage of the people in my network are “self-employed” (which we all know is a euphemism for unemployed) or “consultants.”
And a lot of the older workers with whom I started my career are now retired.
So let’s get real about the reality of today’s economy. It’s the only way we’re ever going to see any real improvement.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Old Navy is Shit Crazy

If Gap is crap1, then Old Navy is shit crazy. And by that I don’t mean that they’ve lost their marbles (although that’s also entirely possible), but that the quality of their merchandise and the manner in which they sell it is shit. (OK, technically, I suppose I should say shitty, but I’m trying to maintain some rhythm here.)
I just got back from one of Old Navy’s stores in New York City, where I was looking to buy some long-sleeve waffle-knit T-shirts. (I’m not a big shopper. I like to joke that I shop like a straight man. But my current long-sleeve waffle-knit T-shirts have so many holes in them, I could be mistaken for a homeless person.)
No biggie, right?
So I went to their Chelsea location, thinking they would have a large selection of smalls (i.e., my size), and what did I find? Nothing but XL and XXL (because, apparently, everyone who shops there is morbidly obese).
Plus, the shirts were 50% cotton and 48% polyester (and 2% spandex) because God forbid anything at Old Navy should be made out of a natural fiber.
And, of course, they were made in Vietnam. (Consider, for a moment, the irony of that statement. If you didn’t think Vietnam won the war before, then surely you must now, because now they’re making crappy clothing and sending it back to the United States for us suckers to buy. OK, so they’re making it in sweatshops, but still…)
Nevertheless, there was a line out the door to buy this garbage.
Now, mind you, Old Navy has had some of the most entertaining commercials on television. Their current commercials feature Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein of Portlandia fame. (Consider, for a moment, the irony of that statement. Alternative heroes Armisen and Brownstein are hired to lend indie cred to the largest clothing company in America.)
And therein lies the problem.
I would guess that 5% of the cost of any item at Old Navy is spent on manufacturing and the other 95% is spent on marketing.
But that’s true for pretty much every product in the United States.
Which reinforces my argument that America is indeed a Third World Country2, where the 1% shop at luxury stores and the other 99% are relegated to the Third World crap sold at First World prices that is Old Navy.
If you really want to buy top-quality, American-made clothing at reasonable prices, I’d highly recommend walking across the street and going to Dave’s New York, a decades-long New York City institution. (I used to shop at their original location on Fifth Avenue.) The only problem with Dave’s is that it’s often so crowded with European tourists, it’s sometimes hard to find sales help. (For the record, I did go to Dave’s before I went Old Navy, but their long-sleeve waffle-knit T-shirts were a little too utilitarian for my needs. I may not have the gay shopping gene, but I am still gay!)
But for jeans, socks and underwear (not to mention outerwear that even at Dave’s has gotten a little pricey, but is still cheaper than at most other New York stores), Dave’s is my go-to Army Navy store.
Fuck Old Navy.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Love-Hate Relationship: Homeland vs. The Affair, Part 2

The Affair has become the show I love to hate: I’m just hate-watching it now.
This show should have just lasted one season and called it quits. I think what happened was that the show was surprisingly renewed after its even-more-surprising (and undeserved) Golden Globe win for Best Drama and the producers suddenly had to scramble to find writers, so they hired every playwright in New York. (How many writer/producers does this show have?)
To be fair, Ruth Wilson, who won a Golden Globe for her performance as Alison, does do a good job (considering the material she’s been handed), and I was loving Joanna Gleason when she appeared as Noah’s publisher. But most of the time I’m embarrassed for the actors (especially Dominic West as Noah), given the cringe-worthy lines they have to say.
One of my pet peeves (and one of the signs of the writers’ desperation) is the number of times they use the word “fucking” on the show (as an adjective, not a verb). Now, I like the word “fucking” as much as the next guy, but we’re not talking about a life-and-death situation with ISIS here, we’re talking about whether or not you get the summer house in the divorce settlement.
I think the low point for me came when Maura Tierney was dancing around her bedroom in her lingerie, drunkenly singing along to some music. What indignities Ms. Tierney has had to go through this season (the actress, not just her character)! Ms. Tierney is an attractive woman, but I think her character’s a little too old to be behaving like her bratty teenage daughter. She’s a divorced woman with four kids, for God’s sake!
And, speaking of immature behavior, how about Noah’s night of cocaine and attempted illicit sex with his publicist while his wife is in the hospital having his baby? These plot twists would strain the credulity of even the most rabid soap opera fan!
Last night’s episode (the first to forego the gimmicky “he said/she said” format, which just made most episodes twice as long as they should have been) ended with Cole burning his house down while Alison was in the hospital.
Homeland, on the other hand, has gotten better and better. Granted I only started watching last season, but I didn’t see how they’d be able to top that (and I had a lot of company).
We just had another one of those episodes where the suspense was so high, you could barely watch: Carrie Mathison’s CIA supervisor, Alison (another Alison!) is revealed as a spy for the Soviets while her former colleague Quinn is being used as a guinea pig by Islamic terrorists to test sarin nerve gas.
Then, when Alison and her Soviet co-conspirator are finally captured by the CIA (after hiding out in a Soviet safe house), she spins the story around to make it look like she was just bringing in the Soviet agent herself.
There are only three episodes left of both shows, but I don’t see how Homeland can get any better or The Affair can get any worse.

Friday, November 20, 2015

While You Were Sleeping

While everyone has been preoccupied with the possibility of a terrorist attack in New York (although the government says there’s no evidence to indicate such an attack is imminent), there was another headline in the New York Times that I found even more disturbing:
“Half of New Yorkers Say They Are Barely or Not Getting By, Poll Says”1
Let that sink in for a minute.
That means that four million people are struggling to survive in New York City, the richest city in America.
I’m one of those people.
Once again I find myself “between jobs,” and it’s not for lack of trying to find one.
In the last three months, I’ve answered over 400 want ads. (I have to keep track of them in order to continue receiving unemployment benefits, so I didn’t just pick a number out of the air.)
Why, you may ask, are you having so much difficulty? Isn’t the economy doing great?
Well, let’s examine the reasons.
Since 2006, when I was laid off from my last long-term position (which was still a contract position, but at least back then my company was able to commit to a yearly contract), my industry—educational publishing—has been decimated by two factors: technology and outsourcing. The company that employed me in 2006 is one-quarter its former size. Most educational publishing companies are now skeleton operations with most of the “heavy lifting” (i.e., real work) being “outsourced” (i.e., done in India by people making a fraction of American wages).
In this new reality, most of the jobs that are available are either temp, contract or freelance. And since unions are now practically non-existent, workers have no leverage to ask for better.
Simultaneously, the process of getting a job has itself become more complicated. Whereas previously, a job interview would have been sufficient to assess a candidate’s skills, it’s now common practice to have to undergo one or more phone interviews, and perhaps even a video interview, before getting an in-person interview.
A lot of the most common methods that used to be able to land you a job (by which I mean answering want ads and going to employment agencies) simply no longer work. Any want ad—for even the most undesirable job—is guaranteed to elicit at least a few hundred responses in a city the size of New York. (Again, if you think I’m making up numbers, just go to LinkedIn, which will tell you how many people have applied for a job. And that’s just on LinkedIn!)
Human resource departments either don’t have the time or don’t have the ability to do the actual work of finding out whether or not someone is qualified for a position, so anyone who isn’t an exact match for the job description is simply eliminated. (Of course, sometimes that position has already been filled internally or the position itself has been eliminated. They never tell you why you didn’t get a job.)
So-called “temp agencies” have become nothing more than payroll companies. The only function they serve is to provide companies with a steady stream of “non-employees” for which they don’t have to offer health insurance.
Like temp agencies (a misnomer, since no one can really “choose” when they want to work), “permanent” employment agencies and recruiters have also become useless, since any company (or individual, for that matter) can simply go to LinkedIn and find anyone they want. The only “service” these companies provide is sending you even more want ads, which, of course, anyone can find himself.
Oh, and one more thing:
There is rampant age discrimination which is difficult to prove and almost impossible to prosecute. With the exception of upper management positions, most companies are simply looking for the cheapest person they can find, and that tends to be a recent college graduate, not someone (like myself) with years of experience.
So that leads me back to terrorism.
I think these attacks in Paris—as horrible and tragic as they are--have thrown a real monkey wrench into this presidential campaign. Of course, we've been through this before, but the Republicans are predictably amping up their war rhetoric, and even Hillary Clinton was on TV yesterday hyping her plan to deal with ISIS.
What this means is that the economic situation of New Yorkers—and all Americans—will continue to deteriorate, corporations will continue their complete domination of this country, and we will very likely find ourselves in yet another war. 


Friday, November 13, 2015

Patti Smith’s Memory Train

 Patti Smith’s M Train is a love letter to writers and the romance of writing. It is also a memorial of sorts to lost people, places and things: her husband, her brother, a café in the West Village, a beloved coat.
But for me, the most refreshing thing about this book is the way Smith comes across as a real person. She has a routine: she goes to the aforementioned West Village café every day (the Café ’Ino, no longer there, for you stalkers), orders her black coffee, brown toast and olive oil, and proceeds to read and/or write. 
She’s also a fan of TV detective shows. (The Killing, Law & Order and CSI are just a few that get a name-check.) I love this about her because it makes her tremendous accomplishments seem to be within the grasp of ordinary mortals like myself. Reading about how she pieces together her life—both creative and otherwise—from a combination of concerts, readings, interviews, etc., helps demystify the process for me.
I also enjoyed reading about her travels and the importance she gives to certain cultural icons (Genet, Rimbaud, Mishima, etc.). A lot of her travels consist of bringing certain things—a stone, some beads, etc.—to the graves of these icons and bestowing them upon their gravesites. You have to admire someone who would go to such great lengths for a symbolic gesture!
I think the strongest chapter in the book deals with Hurricane Sandy and its affect upon the Rockaways, where she buys a bungalow just before the hurricane strikes. As someone who had to abandon his own apartment during that hurricane, I can certainly sympathize.
I guess what I’m saying is that I love Patti Smith because she doesn’t come across as some remote, unreachable “rock star,” but as an authentic, living, breathing artist, one that I have actually seen a few times on the streets of New York City.
One of my favorite things that I read about Smith saying (albeit not in this book) is “Just do the work.” And in this book, she does just that, giving us a glimpse of her daily life, her thoughts, and her philosophy.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Slave to NOBODY’S Rhythm, Bitch!

I was wrong about Grace Jones.
When I first heard that she had written her memoirs, I glibly remarked, “I can’t imagine Grace Jones reading a book, much less writing one!”
Now that I’ve finished reading the memoir that she did, indeed, write (with some help from Paul Morley), I not only have more respect for Grace Jones, I have a new interest in and respect for Jamaica (the country in which she was born) and maybe even a new-found spirituality (which should not be too surprising, given that Jones is the daughter—and grand-nieceof a bishop).
Despite her reputation as a diva (which she devotes an entire chapter to debunking), Jones comes across in this book as an intelligent, artistic and strong woman who is always in control of her career.
After a strict religious upbringing by her grandparents in Jamaica, Jones moved to Syracuse, N.Y. at age 12 to join her parents, who had already settled there. She then escaped that marginally better existence, to start her career, first as a model in New York and Paris, and then internationally as a singer and actress.
The book takes us through the many relationships—both personal and artistic—Jones has had in her career, from her long-time collaboration with the artist Jean Paul-Goude, who masterminded her concert film, A One Man Show; to Chris Blackwell, the head of Island Records (Jones’s first record label); to Trevor Horn, who produced “Slave to the Rhythm.” It also shows her many influences, which range from the Japanese clothing designer Issey Miyake to the artist Keith Haring.
The book’s other revelation is how “normal” Jones is: she’s usually in a relationship; after a brief experimentation with LSD and cocaine, she eschews drugs (“try everything once” is her philosophy); and her favorite pastimes are watching tennis and doing jigsaw puzzles!
The news media have focused on one of the later chapters in the book, in which Jones accuses many of today’s female pop stars—Lady Gaga, Madonna, Beyonce, etc.—of riding on her coattails. But who could blame her?
Long before Madonna ever donned a crucifix or Lady Gaga a meat dress, Jones was defying gender roles and creating performance art. As she relates, she never wanted to be famous for the sake of being famous, she was merely being who she was.
And who she was—and is—is a performer who is still more original than any of today’s manufactured “divas.”

Saturday, October 24, 2015

On the Death of Anita Sarko

 This morning I awoke to the news that Anita Sarko, a DJ who worked at such New York clubs as Mudd Club, Danceteria and Palladium, killed herself.
I didn’t know Ms. Sarko, but I used to go to these clubs in the early ’80s and probably heard her deejaying.
Once again I was confronted with a strange feeling of grief over someone I didn’t know, but felt like I did. I also felt a need to express my grief, but I was worried it might seem like I was using someone else’s death to talk about myself (which, perhaps, I partly am). But I also felt it was important to say that sometimes people you barely know can profoundly affect your life—sometimes just for what they symbolize—without their even knowing it.
As it happens, I had to go to the post office on Canal Street this morning to pick up some mail. I can’t walk down a street in Manhattan anymore without being assaulted by a rush of memories, of people and places that used to be. Around the corner from the post office was the first club I ever went to, the Rock Lounge on West Broadway, and not too far below Canal Street was, of course, the Mudd Club. Now there’s an enormous high-rise towering over the post office, completely out of scale with the neighborhood, just as there’s now a high-rise down the block from where the Mudd Club used to be.
There was a line in Michael Musto’s touching obituary on Facebook1 that shook me to my core. “She couldn’t find creatively satisfying work and worried about her career, feeling that various projects had reached an absolute dead end for her…she found that nothing clicked, since employers were looking for recent college grads, not old-timers with history and personality.”
Could this perhaps be my future, too?
I posted a link to Musto’s obituary on my Facebook page and one of my friends recalled that Sarko used to deejay at a bar called the Lismar Lounge in the East Village. I struggled to place the bar (which was right around the corner from where I used to live on East 4th Street), so I Googled it and found an article about it2, which also mentioned the now-defunct 99 Records and a performer named G.G. Allin, who also passed away—could it be?—22 years ago! (That’s another hazard of getting older in the age of the Internet: any memory can send you off to Google in search of your lost past, until you disappear down a nostalgic K-hole, to use a drug term that was popular in the ’80s--or was it the ’90s?)
Maybe it’s my imagination, but when I hear the drunken club-goers outside my apartment now, there seems to be an air of desperation to their behavior. They know that they’ve already missed out on what was arguably New York’s cultural zenith and that their future looks even more depressing. They think that today’s New York of chain stores and suburban safeness is fabulous because they’ve never known anything else.
That’s what I meant before about someone symbolizing something. And that’s what Anita Sarko symbolized for me: the pre-chain store, pre-safe New York of unlimited possibilities.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless Life

Chrissie Hynde is the living embodiment of punk rock’s “DIY” (“do it yourself”) ethos: a non-writer who wrote for the NME (and has now written a memoir called Reckless); and a self-taught guitarist, singer and songwriter who became the lead singer, principal songwriter and rhythm guitarist for one of rock’s seminal post-punk bands: The Pretenders.
While the writing in Reckless veers between amateurish and literary, the voice is unmistakably Hynde’s: brash, in your face, and unapologetic—much like punk rock itself.
Two things struck me while reading this book. One is how much you can get away with when you’re young and cute (especially if you’re young and cute in London in the ’70s). The other is the unique position occupied by women in rock: able to trade on their gender in this male-dominated world, but also vulnerable because of that gender. Hynde pretty much admits to being raped (or, at least, sexually abused and/or beaten) in the course of her journey, as Cyndi Lauper did in her memoir, and Madonna did in a recent interview.
It’s a miracle Hynde survived, let alone thrived!
Her ascent to rock stardom thus reads like either a series of incredible coincidences or something on the order of divinely preordained destiny.
She arrives in London with no money and no prospects and, in short order, meets Nick Kent, a writer for the NME, which results in her landing a writing gig there, despite her lack of credentials.
In a similar fashion, on a return trip to London, she winds up meeting Pete Farndon, James Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers, the other three quarters of The Pretenders. (It turns out that Honeyman-Scott was actually living next door to Hynde at one point, and she overheard his guitar playing without knowing who it was.)
She also hobnobs with such future luminaries as The Clash, the Sex Pistols, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and his girlfriend, designer Vivienne Westwood (working in their clothing store was one of her many odd jobs), Iggy Pop (with whom she has a memorable dalliance), Ray Davies, John McEnroe, John Belushi, and many more.
All of this is heady stuff.
But, in predictable Behind the Music fashion, it all comes crashing down once the band gets a taste of success and fame. Shortly after their second world tour, half the band—Honeyman-Scott and Farndon—die of drug-related causes.
Reckless is a tale of fulfilling your wildest dreams and having them turn into your worst nightmare.
And still carrying on.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sue Mengers as Metaphor

 Have you ever read a book and actually been sad when the book ended? That’s how I felt when I finished reading the deliciously entertaining and gossipy new biography Sue Mengers, Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent by Brian Kellow.
Why was I was so affected by reading about the life of someone who, in her own words, was nothing more than a little pisher? Because (of course) she wasn’t a little pisher, that’s why.
For those of you under 35, let me give you some background.
Sue Mengers, as book’s title says, was Hollywood’s first superagent. But, more importantly, she was Hollywood’s first superagent during what I consider to be the greatest period in American film history: the seventies.
Let me explain why this is so.
The seventies were a period that occurred after the collapse of the studio system (roughly, the end of the sixties) and before the era of the blockbuster began (signified by Jaws and, later, Star Wars). This meant that Hollywood's writers, directors and actors were free to create some of their most brilliant movies: Network, Midnight Cowboy, Taxi Driver, Nashville, Chinatown, The Last Picture Show, etc. (I could go on, but Peter Biskind has already written an excellent book about this time called Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-and-Drugs-and-Rock ’n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood.)
Sue Mengers was an interesting person and this is an interesting book because she was a mass of contradictions: someone who could be warm and funny one minute and cutting and sarcastic the next. She was indelibly shaped by two traumatic events in her life: her distant relationship with her overly critical mother and the suicide of her father when she was a child. This is what, I presume, made her the attention-seeking overachiever she eventually became.
Sue Mengers lived for what she called her “twinklies” (meaning her star clients) and, particularly, Barbra Streisand, with whom she had a spectacular falling out when a movie Mengers’s husband directed and Streisand starred in (Jean-Claude Tramont’s All Night Long) bombed at the box office.
By the time she was 54, Mengers was essentially retired. Although she would later sign a three-year contract with William Morris, she had already done her best work.
The New Hollywood was typified by bottom-line M.B.A. types like CAA’s Mike Ovitz, people who were essentially bean counters and didn’t espouse the schmoozy, dinner party lifestyle that Sue Mengers practically invented.
A few years ago, Mengers’s larger-than-life persona was captured on Broadway by another larger-than-life performer, when Bette Midler portrayed her in the play I’ll Eat You Last by John Logan. (The fact that Midler wasn’t nominated for a Tony Award for her performance is one of the most egregious omissions in Broadway history.)
From the perspective of 2015 chain store-and hipster-laden New York City, Los Angeles in the 1970s seems like an impossibly glamorous time and place and Sue Mengers seems like an impossibly glamorous character. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The New Normal

Paddy Chayefsky must be spinning in his grave. Because he predicted the collapse of American civilization 40 years ago. Only he underestimated our depravity. Because now we’re shooting people on live TV.
But don’t expect anything to change. If an entire classroom of children being slaughtered didn’t change anything, and a Congresswoman being shot in the face didn’t change anything, this isn’t going to change anything, either.
Because the N.R.A. has our country by the balls.
Because as much as many people are convinced that gun violence is out of control, that’s how much the other side is convinced that we’re trying to take their guns away.
So you better get used to there being a new mass shooting or some similar atrocity happening every week. (And isn’t that precisely what’s happened?)
We’ve already talked about the easy availability of guns and the lack of mental healthcare in this country, and that’s a good start, but I’d like to raise another issue that hasn’t entered the conversation yet. And that’s the collapse of our economy and our social safety net.
Because in many of these cases where already unstable people are pushed over the edge, there’s been some economic cause.
In this latest instance, it was some guy who lost his job at a TV station. But just last week, some guy walked into a federal office building in Soho and shot an innocent security guard because he lost his job twenty years ago.
Who are all these people we’re calling “terrorists” (both foreign and domestic) but people who have been economically disenfranchised?
I’m not condoning their actions. These people are nothing more than common criminals who are trying to elevate their senseless actions by attaching it to a so-called “noble” cause.
But it would be a mistake not to examine the underlying factors so we can perhaps understand them and try to prevent such things from happening.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Death of the American Workplace

This past weekend the New York Times did a front-page exposé about the working conditions at Amazon, the biggest company in America. It talked about such things as Amazon’s forcing women who just had a miscarriage to report for work the next day, making people work in a 100-degree warehouse with no air conditioning while ambulances were stationed outside, and encouraging employees to report on coworkers’ shortcomings, even if they had to make them up. It seems to have caught Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos by surprise. As news of the article spread like wildfire, Bezos was quick to issue a mea culpa and say that he was shocked that such things were happening at Amazon.
But who are we supposed to believe? The new, warm and fuzzy Jeff Bezos, whose employees are apparently so happy they do cartwheels down the hallway? Or the Jeff Bezos who perfected the art of undercutting his competition by selling products at a loss in order to gain market share? And who removed all of Hachette's books from Amazon's website in order to force them to pay Amazon a higher percentage of their sales?
How about all the Amazon employees quoted in the Times article?
For anyone who actually works for a living (or has had to look for a job), this article was no surprise. The American workplace has become a race to the bottom at least since President Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers. This has been followed in more recent times by union buster (and possible Republican presidential candidate) Scott Walker demonizing public employees and cutting their pensions as governor of Wisconsin.
In fact, the last 35 years have been an object lesson in how corporations collude with Republicans to apply downward pressure on wages.
And they’re succeeding spectacularly!
During the last 35 years, most people’s wages have either been stagnant (when adjusted for inflation) or have actually gone down!
Not only that, but benefits that were once taken for granted are now increasingly hard to come by at all.
Health insurance? Not when there’s Obamacare (which, of course, you have to pay for yourself).
Vacations? Not when you’re a freelancer.
In fact, an entire industry has sprung up for the sole purpose of allowing companies to get around those pesky benefits. It’s called the temp industry. (And you thought they existed to find people jobs!)
You see, when you’re a temp, you’re not even technically an employee of the company whose computer you’re using 35 hours (or more) each week, you’re an employee of the temp agency. And, as such, you’re not entitled to any benefits. (Some temp agencies do offer benefits, but you usually have work for them for longer than the typical assignment lasts. And if you’re working for a company that long, why aren’t you an employee of the company?)
You can also be let go at any time, for any reason, with no notice.
Try asking a member of Congress to work under those conditions!
In a kind of sweet revenge, though, the temp agencies are now finding themselves being “outsourced” as employers can go directly to LinkedIn to hire people.
But that doesn’t change the poor conditions endured by many workers today.
For example: There has been much debate recently over the $15/hour minimum wage for fast food workers. That comes to $31,200/year, based on a 40-hour work week. But one study has shown that in order to maintain a “middle-class lifestyle” in New York City, one needs to make $75,000/year. I’m not talking about living in the lap of luxury, I’m talking about being able to afford things we used to take for granted: a smart phone, cable TV, a two-week vacation and eating in a restaurant occasionally.
And that’s if you’re single. God forbid you have a family to support! No wonder people who work at Walmart have to go on food stamps!
Our country has become a victim of what’s come to be known as “quarterly capitalism.” That is, doing whatever is necessary to make your quarterly profits look good to investors. (And this usually means getting rid of workers, because that’s the easiest way to boost your bottom line.)
Remember how companies were supposed to use their record profits to create jobs? Instead, they used it to buy back their own stock and pay their executives even higher salaries and bonuses (even when their companies did poorly).
As Labor Day approaches, it’s more important than ever that we rebuild the labor movement in order to address some of the serious injustices in our workplace that have occurred over the last 35 years.
And on Election Day next year, we need to elect Bernie Sanders as president. He’s the only candidate who understands the huge income inequality that exists in our country and isn’t afraid to do something about it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bette Midler, Gay Marriage and the End of Gay Culture

 This has been a historic week. In the same week the Supreme Court upheld both Obamacare and gay marriage. And in the same week, after not having been to a concert at Madison Square Garden in two years, I saw two gay divas there: Bette Midler and Morrissey. (The last concert I saw there was that of another gay diva, Lady Gaga.)
Bette Midler’s concert was an emotional show for both of us. For her, it was a triumphant homecoming after a long career. But it was a homecoming for me, as well.
I’ve been following Midler’s career for at least 35 years. The last time I saw Bette Midler in concert was on Broadway in 1979, and that was an emotional story in itself. On the same day, I attempted to see both All That Jazz, Bob Fosse’s career-defining autobiographical movie, and Bette Midler’s concert on Broadway. In between the movie and the concert, I made the fateful decision to eat at a questionable steakhouse on 59th Street and got so sick, I had to be hospitalized. Being both a rabid Midler fan and a rabid cheapskate, I went back to the theater where Midler was performing the following week to use my standing room ticket, hoping that the box office attendant would take pity on me and not notice that my ticket was for a different date. I’m happy to report was I was successful in my effort to see Midler’s show (which was filmed for the concert movie Divine Madness) and, to this day, it is the only time I have ever stood to see a Broadway show.
So now you know why I have such an emotional attachment to Bette Midler. But that’s only part of the story.
I also went through a “Bette Midler period” during my high school/college years, a period when I was struggling with my sexuality. It’s almost laughable that I embodied every gay cultural stereotype in the book (I also went through a Barbra Streisand period around this time and was already an avid theatergoer). Yet the last person to figure out my sexuality was me.
Fast forward 35 years and I’m sitting in Madison Square Garden with a predominantly heterosexual audience for Bette Midler's current show. I wonder how many people in this audience know that Bette got her start performing at the Continental Baths (with Barry Manilow as her accompanist). I’m sure most of them know her from films like Beaches and The Rose.
So now we have marriage equality and that strong identification that gay men of my generation had with female singers (and they were almost always female) like Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand (and Judy Garland for even older gay men) seems almost quaint. Sure, other female singers have come along—Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry—and they all have loyal gay followings, but something is missing.
In today’s New York Times, there was an excellent article1 about everything that has been lost with the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage and a reference was made to what writer Andrew Sullivan called “the end of gay culture.”
It talked about (among other things) the increasing irrelevance of gay bars and the annoying phenomenon of straight women holding their bachelorette parties there (one of the pet peeves I talk about in my comedy act). Lisa Kron, author of the Broadway show Fun Home, talked about the special thrill she got from feeling like an outsider and how that spawned a whole genre of gay art.
Now that we’re “just like everyone else,” I can’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia and a certain sadness.
So if you see my crying at tomorrow’s Gay Pride Parade, it will be for all of the things we’ve lost as well as for all of the things we’ve won.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Spandau Ballet Comes Home

Spandau Ballet at the Beacon Theater

Spandau Ballet’s concert at the Beacon Theater was something of a homecoming for both of us. They hadn’t played in New York in 32 years and I hadn’t seen them play in New York in 34. At first I was worried that the concert couldn’t possibly live up to their American debut at the Underground, a show so impossibly glamorous and exciting that Tina Turner was in the audience.
But Spandau Ballet has grown from the synthesizer-based club anthems of their debut album, Journeys to Glory, to the radio-friendly mainstream pop of their international megahit “True.” They’ve also gotten better as musicians.
The show got off to a bumpy start (for me at least) because they were playing a lot of new material, and a lot of it sounded to me like—I hate to say it—“easy listening” music. (The fact that there were quite a few empty seats in the balcony at the start of the concert didn’t help, either.)
But then they did a medley of songs from Journeys to Glory and that’s when they hit their stride. Some other new songs followed, interspersed with hits like an acoustic version of “Gold” and a powerful “Chant No. 1,” as well as an impressive drum solo from John Keeble during an instrumental version of "Glow" that proved he has real chops.
The concert ended with the obligatory performance of “True,” a full-band rendition of “Gold,” and “Through the Barricades,” another “True”-like power ballad.
This show, in conjunction with their new documentary, Soul Boys of the Western World, should prove to doubters that they are, and always have been, more than just five pretty faces. In addition to having one of the best male vocalists in pop music in Tony Hadley, they are, all of them, real musicians.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Night with Spandau Ballet

Spandau Ballet at IFC Center
It’s hard to imagine now how revolutionary Spandau Ballet were when they burst onto the music scene in 1981. Their new documentary, Soul Boys of the Western World, makes a case not just for Spandau Ballet but for the entire “New Romantic" scene from which they came.
Set against the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher, the miners’ strike and the economic turmoil that surrounded England in the early ’80s, the film shows how Spandau and other “hair bands” revolutionized not just music but also fashion, at a time when magazines like The Face dictated what people wore.
Can you imagine a band in 2015 wearing what Spandau’s Martin Kemp himself described as a “Bedouin” outfit? Neither can I. (One of the interesting things about the movie is to see the way not only Spandau Ballet’s music but style evolved as they became more mainstream: from jodhpurs to suits by the time of their megahit “True.”) There were several times when I was watching this movie (and also when I watched the excellent documentary David Bowie: Five Years), when I said to myself, “This could never happen today!”
As Spandau songwriter Gary Kemp put it in a Q&A after the movie, things were more “mysterious” then (i.e., before the Internet) and the band was often accused of being elitist because people couldn’t get into their shows. (“They were full,” he explained.)
Listening to the music with fresh ears on the theater’s great sound system, I was reminded of what an integral part of Spandau’s sound the drums and bass were (as well as the synthesizer). There was something erotic about their music and something homoerotic about the band itself, and not just because they were all so good-looking.
I still can’t wrap my mind around supposedly heterosexual male singers not only dressing in outrageous clothes and hairstyles but also wearing makeup, yet many did (in Duran Duran and Human League, to name just two examples). Sure, there was a gay element to the club and music scene back then (Boy George, Marc Almond from Soft Cell), but there were also straight guys like Human League’s Phil Oakey wearing eyeliner and lipstick. I can’t think of any straight male singers who would do that now.
The movie follows the usual rise and fall of music biz bios: overwhelming success at a young age, followed by diverging career paths (the Kemps acting in The Krays) and family life interfering with touring, as well as battles over royalties.
But I’m happy to report that by the end of the movie the band has reconciled and no one has died of a drug overdose.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Watching comedies these days can be stressful.
Whether it’s Louie or HAPPYish or the new movie While We’re Young (which I haven’t seen yet, nor know if I want to), there seems to be a recurring theme of generational warfare.
In last week’s episode of Louie, Louie encounters a young Asian female store owner at a Broadway Panhandler-type home goods store. When she refuses help him buy some copper pots because it’s near closing time, they get into an argument during which she accuses him of being angry at her because he’s middle-aged and, therefore, not her target customer, while she’s only 24 and already owns her own business. Louie eventually admits that she’s right and she sends him on his way, not caring about the lost sale.
On HAPPYish, a middle-aged ad exec played by Steve Coogan goes into a rage because his new, young Swedish overlords insist he revamp one of his campaigns using social media. As Coogan points out (rightly, to my middle-aged mind), “Why would I want to follow Pepto-Bismol on Twitter?” (Pepto-Bismol apparently thought this was amusing rather than offensive, because they did indeed sponsor a post on Twitter following this episode.)
These comedies tap into a pervasive fear in our society, where corporations have essentially “won” the war with unions, jobs are nonexistent, and baby boomers and millennials are fighting over the few that are left.
Meanwhile, over on Mad Men (granted, not a comedy), SCDP has just been acquired by McCann Erickson and on Nurse Jackie (not really a comedy, either), the fictional All Saints Hospital has just been sold to developers so it can be turned into luxury condos. (Sound familiar, St. Vincent’s?)
No wonder nobody’s laughing!
It seems that if you want to actually laugh at a comedy, you either have to watch a traditional, three-camera, live studio audience sitcom like Hot in Cleveland or Seinfeld. Not coincidentally, both Cleveland (which harks back to the ’90s in terms of style) and Seinfeld (which was actually filmed in the ’90s) carry an air of nostalgia for the relatively carefree Clinton years.
I think the one exception to this rule and, in terms of actual laughs, the funniest comedy on TV today is Silicon Valley. Granted, some credit has to go to the show’s writers and actors, but I think there’s also an underlying comfort factor involved because we know that, no matter how bad things may get for these characters (who work in the highly paid world of high tech), they will eventually land on their feet.
After all, it’s Silicon Valley’s world. We just live in it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why the East Village Matters to Me

I may live in Nolita now (and have lived there for the last 28 years), but it was my first seven years in New York City, living in the East Village, that formed my identity as a New Yorker.
Between 1980 and 1987, I lived in eight different apartments in the East Village and Lower East Side. (Yes, I had to move, on average, once a year. Which is why I’ve been in my current apartment for 28 years. That and the fact that it’s rent stabilized.)
My first apartment in the summer of 1980 was on 14th Street between Second and Third Avenue, next to the Metropolitan, a notorious porno theater. At that time 14th Street was so dangerous, I used to take the subway to Astor Place and walk to 14th Street.
Then I lived on East 4th Street between First and Second Avenue, directly across from the basketball court (where I used to watch John Lurie play basketball) and the Ninth Precinct (as seen on Kojak).
Next up was East 10th Street (between First and A). I lived in Steve Buscemi’s old apartment (I used to get his mail) next to the Fun Gallery. I wound up subletting that apartment to finance a trip to London (I was young and stupid) and was never able to move back in.
Hence my brief stays on 13th Street (between First and A), where I was mugged for the first time, and East Third Street (between B and C), where I was followed down the street by a drug dealer who tried to start a fight with me. Let’s just say I didn’t stick around long enough for him to succeed!
Fourteenth Street (between Second and Third, again!) was next. I lived in an abandoned building that was turned into an artists’ squat. One day I came down the stairs to see that my landlord had decided to renovate. I could see the first floor storefront through the floorboards of my living room!
That led to East Seventh Street (between B and C), where I lived in a de facto sex club and didn’t come out of my room for an entire year. (I used to eat all my meals at 7A.)
Last, but not least, was Norfolk Street (between Houston and Stanton) where my upstairs neighbor used to blast his stereo and have orgasms that sounded like he was laughing. (I could hear him through the vents in my bathroom.)
But there were good times, too!
The East Village is where I went to my first gay bar (The Bar, on Second Avenue and East Fourth Street).
The East Village is where I had enough Polish food to last a lifetime. Kiev, Veselka, Odessa, Leshko, Christina, Teresa, Lillian (the three sisters!), Orchidia, Baltyk, I went to them all. I ate at the Kiev so often when I first moved here (particularly their challah French toast), I once got a phone call there. (Their cashier at the time, who now lives in my neighborhood, is one of my oldest acquaintances.)
The East Village is where I went to the Pyramid and saw RuPaul before he became “RuPaul.”
It was where I went to Wigstock every Labor Day until it got too big for Tompkins Square Park (and eventually too big for New York City).
It was where I went to LaMama and Theater for the New City and P.S. 122.
So it should come as no surprise that when I heard there was a fire in the East Village that took two lives, injured 22, and destroyed three buildings, I was devastated.
Unlike those selfie-taking idiots on the front page of the New York Post, I studiously avoided going to Second Avenue and Seventh Street, not only because I didn’t want to get in the way of emergency responders, but because I was afraid of how emotional I might get.
Nowadways, my connection to the East Village is as a comedian doing open mics at places like Klimat, the Phoenix, and Otto’s Shrunken Head.
You can take the boy out of the East Village, but you can’t take the East Village out of the boy.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

An Open Letter to Bill Maher

Dear Bill,
I’ve been a faithful viewer of your show for the last few years and I usually agree with what you have to say. However, during last night’s show you mentioned (yet again) how well the economy is doing and, as evidence, pointed to the following facts: the unemployment rate is down, the stock market is up, GDP is up, and the deficit is down. These facts may be true but these facts don’t tell the whole story.
Yes, the unemployment rate is down but that’s because a large number of people have stopped looking for work and have dropped out of the labor market. These people are not counted by unemployment statistics.
Furthermore, what kinds of jobs are being created? They are mostly low-wage jobs, part-time jobs and/or temporary/contract/freelance jobs without benefits. They are mostly in the service sector (i.e., low-wage jobs), as this article in The New York Times points out ( The same article also points out that wages only went up 0.1% last month, continuing a pattern in which real wages haven’t budged for decades.1
The GDP has also been discredited as a measure of economic well-being in a number of articles, including this one (
As I write this, New York City’s subway system is scheduled to raise their fare yet again (despite the fact that service has deteriorated to an all-time low2), dealing yet another blow to the middle class. But how would you know that? You live in Los Angeles and probably haven’t used public transportation in decades.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to see you constantly defending Obama’s economic policies and to see Republicans arguing (however disingenuously) on behalf of the middle class.
I’d be happy to go on your program any time to give the point of view of real people dealing with real struggles, rather than these professional pundits who “live inside the bubble” (as you’re so fond of saying).
Paul Hallasy

Friday, March 13, 2015

An Open Letter to Elizabeth Warren and/or Bernie Sanders: Part 2

 Last week I wrote a post in which I urged Elizabeth Warren and/or Bernie Sanders to run for president because I had just paid my rent and barely had enough money left over to make it to my next paycheck, even though I work full time.
Well, I made it to my next paycheck (on less than $20 a day, I might add), paid my utility bills and a few credit cards, and was left with barely enough money to get through the week again!
When someone working full time has to worry about how he’s going to survive until his next paycheck, there’s something seriously wrong with this country. And I’m not even talking about fast food or retail workers, here. I’m talking about someone with a white collar position, something that used to be known as a good job.
This past weekend I had a one-hour phone conversation with my brother. Even though we come from opposite ends of the political spectrum—I’m a liberal Democrat and my brother is an Independent (although his views tend to skew Republican)—we both agreed that the middle class is getting screwed.
Thing didn’t get this way by accident, they were legislated by rich people and organizations in order to maintain their positions of power.
What do you think Obamacare is? A law written by the healthcare industry for its own benefit.
Similarly, in perhaps an even more egregious example, Citibank wrote the Wall Street giveaway that was approved by Congress as part of the budget last year.1
And, of course, it’s not just the healthcare industry and banks that write their own laws. Every industry has lobbyists on Capitol Hill who write laws and then submit them to Congress for approval.
Meanwhile, unions—the only organizations working on behalf of the other 99% of Americans—have become nearly nonexistent.
Just recently, Wisconsin became the 25th state to pass a “right to work law,” a piece of legislation that weakens unions.2
Additionally, whatever’s left of the so-called “safety net” we have in this country—from unemployment insurance to food stamps—has been decimated by Republicans.
This is why we need Elizabeth Warren and/or Bernie Sanders to run for president. Because the American middle class is becoming the American poor.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

An Open Letter to Elizabeth Warren and/or Bernie Sanders: Please Run for President

I’m sitting here in my rent-stabilized apartment on a winter Saturday reading the newspaper and surfing the Internet because I can’t afford to do anything else.
Despite the fact that I’m working full time (35 hours a week), despite the fact that I’m bringing lunch to work every day and cooking all my meals at home, I can’t afford to do anything because I just paid my rent and I’m literally counting the days until my next paycheck.
I should perhaps add that my current salary is the same as it was in 2008, despite the fact that the rate of inflation alone in the last seven years has been 15.3%1. Despite the fact that, in the last seven years, my rent has gone up 21%, my phone bill has gone up about 500% (because you now need a smart phone in order to function in modern society), my cable bill has gone up about 50% (because you also need a high-speed Internet connection), and the MTA is about the raise their subway fare yet again.
Despite all that, my salary has stayed the same.
And that’s assuming I’m lucky enough to even have a job, because (as I’ve gone from one temporary job to another) I’ve been unemployed for half of the last two years and may soon be unemployed again.
And yet, everywhere you look, people say the economy is doing great.
On the front page of today’s New York Times2 is the headline “After a Bounce, Wage Growth Slumps to 0.1%.” But all you ever hear about from President Obama (and even liberal commentators like Bill Maher, who should know better but doesn’t, because even he’s a millionaire) is that the economy is going gangbusters.
While “employers may have increased their payrolls by 295,000 workers in February,… job growth…was heavily concentrated in the service sector” (read low-paying jobs). And wage growth rose “only 0.1 percent.”
But the only debate you hear about in Washington is whether or not Janet Yellen, the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, should raise interest rates.
How is that even a debate? And why aren’t we debating how we can create more jobs and raise wages?
The only people in Washington who have addressed this issue in even the slightest way are Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
We, the struggling middle-class of America, who have seen our standard of living decline for the last 30 years (at least since President Reagan took office and created the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the American people: “trickle-down-economics”), desperately need one or both of you to run for president, to reverse the downward slide that has been our reality since 1981.
And, while you’re at it, you might want to do something about the disastrous Citizens United decision that has sent our country hurtling towards plutocracy. Because, also in today’s New York Times, is an editorial about how Jeb Bush’s “fundraisers have reportedly been instructed not to ask megadonors to give more than $1 million each this quarter.”3
I could go on, but other people have written at great length and better than I have about how rising inequality in this country is a threat to our democracy. I would start by making Joseph Stieglitz’s The Price of Inequality4, Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth5, George Packer’s The Unwinding6, Barbara Garson’s Down the Up Escalator7 and Matt Taibbi’s The Divide8 required reading for every American. (I could throw in Thomas Piketty’s Capital9, for good measure, but it’s unreadable.)
But how are Americans even supposed to know how fucked over they’re getting when they’re working overtime or several jobs just to pay their bills?
Because, of all the great injustices inflicted upon this country by the Koch Brothers and their ilk, perhaps the greatest is this: the fact that in today’s America, there’s no time or energy left over for anything except survival.