Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Compromise and Capitulation are Leading to Inevitable Failure

BY TIM MCMULLEN - DEC 17TH, 2009 AT 6:11 AM EST (3:30 AM PST—or "how I spent my vacation...")

This post is a reaction to a very reasonable comment by Lincoln Park Dem to a blog post by Matt Blankenship on the Democratic Blog . Both are excellent and thoughtful bloggers.

The heart of the comment states what appears to be a sad political reality: We need Joe Lieberman. Mr. Blankenship's response was, "We need him, but the simple fact is, we don't have him."

I agree—We might need Lieberman, but we don't have him. We haven't had him for many years. Of all the missteps Al Gore made, Joe was the biggest. Out of the box he was unelectable to a majority of democrats, and as for the independents, why settle for a "droopy-clone" Republicrat, when you could have an actual Republicant?

The eternal compulsion to compromise with the Liebermans and the Nelsons of the party is a failed strategy. We had a better chance of wooing rational, moderate Republicans than the unDemocrats of Lieberman's ilk. An immediate no-nonsense stripping of all of his senate clout would have sent a much stronger and more rational message to both sides. Instead of Lieberman begging for political crumbs from the powerful majority, the confused, cowardly, compromising Democrats are begging for crumbs from him.

Putting together strong, righteous legislation and then fighting tooth and nail for it is a much better strategy than the constant vote counting that gives away everything to big pharma, big banks, big insurance, and corrupt political frontmen before ever beginning to put together real legislation; it was the "devil's deal" and damned from the start!

There must be others, like Spector (even if they are opportunists or sometime hypocrites), who are truly disheartened by their own party's hijacking by the rabid right. Let's face it: people like Lieberman and Nelson may very well defect to the party with whom they now vote; why not match their defections by wooing defectors from the other side.

If we put forth honest, forthright legislation that might actually help the people rather than serve corporate interests, we might achieve a bullet-proof majority almost immediately. Instead, we get a Baucus committee that is evenly divided (thus instantly subverting the principle of majority rule), a procedure which abdicated integrity and principle for "non-partisanship" and which yielded a true gutting of all of the most necessary changes while garnering no honest support from the minority. It was a purportedly "principled" strategy that was not merely flawed but flat out stupid!

Even if the hard-line, liberal, effective, health-care reform legislation lost by one or two votes due to corrupt and disingenuous politicians and corporate funding, that media-proof, demagogue-proof, legislative majority would be much more likely to emerge in the next go round.

This red vs. blue, two-party myth does a great disservice to our country by creating "winners and losers" with a “defeat the other side at all cost” philosophy rather than a system that seeks "better for all" choices. Watering down legislation and hamstringing government so that it can't succeed has been a right-wing strategy since before the Reagan regime, but the last nine years have certainly proved that we are not better off when the economy is in the hands of the unregulated private sector. Despite this fact, most people feel helpless, and rightly so.

A huge majority of the people truly do want change. They know that they have been damaged, many irreparably, by the status quo. They have seen their government and their taxes be corrupted by the cynical redistribution of wealth and power to the amoral, immoral, and often criminal wealthy, while the workers' jobs, savings, and rights are decimated. Consolidation of media has fueled this disintegration while feeding a "know-nothing" worship of demagoguery in the guise of infotainment over fact-based reporting and rational, political discourse.

It is true that Obama may very well need this win to stay afloat politically. If the Republicans beat him on healthcare, they can prove his ineffectiveness and take away seats in the next election, thus eviscerating his political agenda and perhaps even defeating him in four years. We have every right to be afraid of these possibilities. But this destruction of Obama's agenda is what Lieberman advocated before the election! Obama's defeat is what he promised to the Republican convention! We need turncoat democrats like Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson or Bart Stupak if we want a corrupt, immoral, billion dollar boondoggle for the insurance industry while putting at risk millions of working class Americans and their rights to effective, affordable healthcare and family planning. Obama needs a win, but an empty win that has no real hope of improving the lot of most Americans, and which is therefore bound to be a political liability, is no win at all! In fact, it is worse than a principled, hard fought loss!

At this late date it would not be easy, but the President and the leadership might very well do better by going after a few moderate Republicans (including giving some political plums) and put back the true regulations and public programs that might just save our health system, rather than to continue down the road of capitulation, hand-wringing, and cowardice. The pharmaceutical and insurance companies have reneged on their pledges to stay out of the fray; their front men in the Chamber of Commerce have been ruthless; the Catholic Bishops and the evangelicals have been ruthless. Joe Lieberman has been ruthless. It’s time to play hardball. I have come to the conclusion that we would be better off rewarding Joe Lieberman's petty, arrogant, unscrupulous, hypocritical blackmailing by stripping him of every vestige of power in the Democratic caucus today, right this minute, and fight for what is right. It’s time to drop the fantasy of bipartisanship within the two-party structure and put forth the will of the majority, a majority that voted explicitly for change, especially in the arena of health care costs.

And everyone of us who wants these changes needs to speak out to family and friends, to everyone we know; we need to encourage the politicians who support our interests and chastise those who don’t. We need to counteract the hysterical distortions and lies that have undermined this effort for true reform. Money still talks on both sides of the aisle and even through the corrupt and biased media corporations—so we need to contribute as much as we can to the political organizations that can get the message out through the internet, through the mail, and through the media, and not end up wishing that we had not lost this opportunity!

The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy!

Seek Truth! Speak Truth!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Age of Outlaws and Desperadoes

After several weeks of asides in his blog, my cyber-friend, Bobby Jameson, picked up the story of his musical odyssey. His post speaks of working with Ben Benay and a group of musicians he gathered to cut four songs. This song, “Outlaw,” is the first of those four.

The following comment on his song focuses on the historical context and ends with a song that I wrote early in that time period:

This is a great video for a very fine song. The arrangement, the vocals, the recording are all outstanding. People who didn't live through it (and even many who did) may not remember the "outlaw" craze.

On the one hand was the late sixties, Texas-based, anti-Nashville country music of "cosmic cowboys" Michael Martin Murphey and Jerry Jeff Walker (both of whom were backed by The Lost Gonzos) followed by "The Highwaymen," a group comprised of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash. A compilation album of Willie, Waylon, Jesse Colter and Tompall Glaser called “Wanted: The Outlaws,” was the first country album to go platinum. Lee Clayton's song, "Ladies Love Outlaws," was a huge hit for Waylon and was also introduced to the folk/rock world by Tom Rush. Willie’s “Red-Headed Stranger,” from 1975, continued the cowboy/outlaw mythos. Ed Bruce’s “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” was also a major hit for Willie. A fairly successful country-rock group out of Florida called themselves The Outlaws (they are still performing).

At about the same time (1973) on the west coast, The Eagles released their “outlaw” concept album, Desperado, which included such songs as “Desperado,” “Outlaw Man,” “Doolin-Dalton,” and “Tequila Sunrise.” Their outlaw photo showed the Eagles and their buddies (and co-creators of the laid-back Southern California folk/country/rock sound) John David Souther and Jackson Browne.

Lest one assume that the cowboy/outlaw phenomenon was short-lived, it was over a decade after the “cosmic cowboys” hit the scene that the movie, Urban Cowboy, was released in 1980, around the same time that Bobby cut this song. His song captures that metaphorical image of the “contemporary cowboy/outlaw/musician” roaming the streets of a cutthroat town trying to find his way while knowing that he “can’t go home again.” This song has both a universal and a personal, autobiographical meaning.

It’s been a while since I have written one of these lengthy, analytical comments, but it feels pretty good (This one seems likely to make it onto my blog as well [obviously, it did!]).

I will end it with the lyrics to my own song, “Everybody’s Desperado,” written in 1973.

Everybody’s Desperado

Everybody’s singing “Desperado.”
Everybody’s thinking “Outlaw Son.”
Ridin’ rodeo—
Real Wild West Show—
Thinkin’ ’bout a life out on the run...
Dreamin’ ’bout a life out on the run...

Modern day cowboy
Got your boots on your feet
Your hat in your hand
And a hot dusty street
You’re lookin’...
You’re lookin’ for something
You ain’t about to meet

You can stand and stare into the setting sun
Dreamin’ ’bout a life out on the run...
You want to run, run, run, run, run...

Everybody’s singing “Desperado.”
Everybody’s thinking “Outlaw Son.”
Ridin’ rodeo—
Real Wild West Show—
Thinkin’ ’bout a life out on the run...
Dreamin’ ’bout a life out on the run...

Modern day cowboy
Got your boots on your feet
Your hat in your hand
And a hot dusty street
You’re lookin’...
You’re lookin’ for something
You ain’t about to meet

You can stand and stare into the setting sun
Dreamin’ ’bout a life out on the run...
You want to run, run, run, run, run...
But it’s already been done!

©1973 Tim McMullen All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 5, 2009

True Morality Versus False Morality—Raise Your Voice!

It's true that there are some in this country who would argue that women and blacks should never have been given the right to vote; there are others who think that if we were a bit more like the Taliban or other theocratic, authoritarian regimes, America would be a better place; however, for those living in the twenty-first century, the fear-mongering, distortion, and out right lies used by the religious and radical right to defeat marriage equality are an embarrassment to this nation.

Our penchant for hypocrisy in championing freedoms for the majority while oppressing those freedoms for the minority, as witnessed in Maine last night, are a travesty of justice and a victory for ignorance, prejudice, and superstition. Eventually, as with slavery, post-slavery racist laws, sexist laws, or anti-miscegenation laws, the unjust tyranny of the majority that continues to justify discrimination against same-sex marriage will be recognized as the offensive, unreasonable, ignoble injustice that it truly is.

I predict that this new era of true freedom and justice for our LGBT brothers and sisters will arrive surprisingly soon, but clearly not soon enough. Those of us who know that such discrimination is wrong must raise our voices against it. We must demand true morality and break the stranglehold of the false morality that is used to perpetuate injustice. It is important to remember that Christianity and the Bible were used to justify every one of the egregiously immoral laws listed above, and that each of those laws originally reflected the majority view.

Tell your friends, your social network friends, your local representatives, your senators, and President Obama that they must lend their voice to the fight for true freedom.

The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy!
Seek Truth! Speak Truth!
Tim McMullen

Only One Way (The AC/DC Sock-It-To-Me Talkin' Blues)
Dedicated to Anita Bryant and the Joint-Chiefs of Staff

I went down for some Florida sun,
Nothin' in mind 'cept to have a little fun.
Standin' on the beach—it's a beautiful day—
Lookin' all around for a place to lay.
Got my lunch packed—in my knapsack—
That's the day I found out why
They call 'em "Sandwiches":
'Cause of the sand which is
In the sandwiches.

Well, I lay for an hour
Gettin' hotter and hotter;
I decided I'd rather take to the water.
I swam on out, not payin' any mind
When a floatin' log come up an'
Hit me from behind.
I started drinkin'!
Then, I started sinkin'!
I had the unpleasant feelin'
I was goin' down
For the third time!

Then the lifeguard did what lifeguard's do:
He pulled me out,
But I was turnin' blue—
There was so much water
Where the air should be
There was only one way
He was gonna' save me
So, he did it!
Tipped my head back;
Pulled my tongue out
And proceeded to resuscitate me—
Mouth to Mouth.

After two or three minutes
I was breathin' again.
I opened my eyes and said,
"Thank you, Friend!"
When up marched a crowd of men and women
Not lookin' like they were goin' swimmin'.
They yelled, "Faggots!
Dirty, filthy maggots!
You'll pay for this lascivious display!"

Turned out it was some kinda' crazy crusade
Had 'em all riled up; they were really afraid.
Then the Orange Juice Lady began to pray:
"The Lord wants you to screw in just one way—
Missionary fashion—sex, without passion—
"Thank God, he's done quick,
Dallas (Jerry Springer) is on tonight!"

As they took us away, they spied a young couple
Who were gettin' it on, real lithe and supple
She'd pulled up her skirt;
He'd pulled down his pants;
There was no need to guess,
You could tell at a glance
They were fornicating—there in the sand—
Everybody gave 'em a great big hand
For humping each other The American Way!

Well, we both escaped, no thanks to them.
Now I'm real careful where I swim!
But I hear that Anita's headin' out West—
(Or Orrin, or Jesse, or Newt)
[Insert the demagogue of your choice]
...Not gonna' give those gays a rest!
Now, I don't mean to be blatant,
But could she/he be latent?
I mean, who else would raise up such a fuss?
Not us, would we? Would we?

When these voyeuristic busybodies finally relent
And sex is no longer a political event,
I hope things have changed to this extent:
We respect the privacy of mutual consent.

©1977 Tim McMullen
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Great Article on one of our greatest songwriters!


The article has some truly interesting insights, and I have nothing more to add for now. Soon, however, I will dedicate a blog or five to Jesse and his marvelous music.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"A Pretty Good Start" - Latest Birthday Song for Carolyn

As many of you know, each year I try to write at least a couple of songs for Carolyn. Several of my anniversary songs, "The Surprise" and "I Do," as well as last year's birthday song, "365." can be found on YouTube in the playlist, "Tim McMullen's Original Songs." This year's birthday song for Carolyn was performed for the first time at her birthday party. Thanks to my brother, Tucker McMullen, for videoing the event.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another Encounter with Maury and Jim

This completes my reminiscences about Maury Muehleisen
and Jim Croce. They were truly two of my musical heroes
as songwriters, guitarists, storytellers, and performers.

I wrote "Favorite Song" as an homage to the song style
of Croce and Muehleisen only a few months before the
the tragic plane crash that took their lives.

Favorite Song by Tim McMullen

Favorite Song

You may well become my favorite song,

With a beautiful form and a beautiful style.

Your words are enough to make me smile

And enough to make me want to sing along;

I haven’t felt that in a long, long while.

You may well become my favorite page;

So many-colored pictures scattered there.

Pout and giggle, shout and stare:

Challenging the feeble chains of age

With a gentle beauty I am pleased to share.


So often I have been so close to you—

Supposed to do what I’m expected to—

It’s likely you’ll not know this song’s for you.

You may well become my favorite star,

A little bit of heaven in my night.

If I wish I may, I wish I might

Thank you for just being who you are

And for chasing weary shadows from my sight.

Repeat Chorus, then repeat first line of each verse...

And I haven’t felt that in a long, long while.

© 1973 Tim McMullen

All Rights Reserved

This is a track from my CD, I Could Write You a Song, produced by Tim Clott and I. The song was recorded by Bino Espinoza.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Support Leahy and Conyers attempt to "Bust" the insurance monopoly

This is the letter that I sent to my representatives concerning the Health Insurance industry. It was in support of bills that Senator Leahy and Congressman Conyers have introduced to fix a glaring error in the oversight of health insurance companies. Visit their site at:


The last five paragraphs are from their "stock" letter; the rest is mine.

The unconscionable profits of America's health insurance companies are crippling the economy and driving hundreds of thousands into bankruptcy.

One of our good friends has just recently been forced to sell her home, a home which had been fully paid for by her and her husband over the last thirty years. Both had worked diligently their entire adult lives. They had each retired with excellent pension plans (railroad retirement), and medical insurance. They even worked together overseeing a storage facility several days a week, just for fun.

About two years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. He was a tough, positive fighter, and they tackled his malady head on. However, within a year, they were informed by their insurance carrier that they had "exhausted" their coverage. Our friends and their employers had been paying for this coverage their entire working lives, but within a year or so, it simply ran out. In order to continue the therapy that his doctors had prescribed, our friends had to re-mortgage their home.

Despite all their efforts, about nine months ago the husband died, and his wife, now on a fixed income, cannot repay the loan. This was not some spurious real estate or stock market speculation; this was not some outrageous, unproven medical chicanery; this was not some hopeless case in which they foolishly threw money down the drain.

Our friends had to "hock" their home, and now she has to give up that home, simply to pay for the regular medical treatment which the insurance company stopped paying because they had reached the company's self-imposed (and non-negotiable) payment limit.

It is hard to imagine that this insurance practice is not patently fraudulent and, therefore, criminal, but because of the unregulated nature of the industry, it is perfectly legal. Congress bears great responsibility for such occurrences. In many ways, Congress is at much at fault for these human tragedies as are the conscienceless, morally corrupt, for-profit insurance companies.

The McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945 exempts health insurance companies from the antitrust regulations that apply to nearly every other industry, rules that protect consumers from anti-competitive business practices like price-fixing.

Passing health care reform with an effective public option is one key way to promote competition in the health insurance marketplace, but we must also eliminate this unjustified and unnecessary antitrust exemption currently enjoyed by insurance giants.

That's why I urge you to support the Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act, S. 1681 and H.R. 3596.

This legislation, which has been introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy in the Senate and Rep. John Conyers in the House, will eliminate the outdated insurance industry antitrust exemption, and force health insurance companies to compete fairly -- like virtually every other business in America.

Thank you for supporting S. 1681 and H.R. 3596.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Another One-Sided Conversation with Maury

Twenty-five years after writing "Second-String Songman," I decided to put together a collection of Maury’s songs, including all the songs from Gingerbreadd, plus Maury’s song, “Salon and Saloon” that Croce sang on his last album and other Croce songs that seemed clearly influenced by Maury’s songwriting style. I decided to look for a picture to put on the cover of my cassette, and I stumbled across a fan site, Jim Croce: The Tribute Page, by Tom Orrechio. The group had just had a twenty-fifth anniversary “gathering” to honor the passing of Jim and Maury. They had visited Maury’s grave; they had met with members of the Croce and Muehleisen families; they had met with the duo’s producer, Tommy West; and they had passed the guitar around playing songs by or about Jim and Maury. Suddenly, I realized that here was a group that might actually appreciate the song that I had written twenty-five years earlier.

I posted the lyrics to my song and its accompanying intro, and I immediately received a request to show the song to the Muehleisen family. A few days later I received a lovely letter from Maury’s sister, Mary, thanking me for the song and saying that they would really love to hear it. Unfortunately, I had never made a recording of the song; however, my desire to allow Maury’s family to actually hear my song impelled me to try to record it. I went to Bino Espinoza, the husband of Sandra Espinoza, our high school choirmaster. A couple of years later, Bino won an Emmy for sound engineering. We recorded two songs, “Second-String Songman,” my song about Maury, written, in part to emulate Maury’s “A Song I Heard,” and “Favorite Song,” which I had consciously created to have a Croce-Muehleisen feel. These two recordings were the impetus for recording the rest of my album, I Could Write You A Song, recorded and produced by my best friend, Tim Clott. Tom Orrechio then put the song on his website; a year or so later, when Mary created her webpage for Maury, she also included the song.

I offered this reminiscence to the Jim Croce fan site—Jim Croce: The Tribute Page. http://www.jimcrocefans.com/

Someone asked the website forum “if anyone had ever seen Jim and Maury perform. What follows is my answer.

I had the opportunity to see Jim and Maury perform only once. They came to the LA area in '71 or '72 and played in a theatre in the round; the circular stage actually rotated during the entire performance. Having played in a lot of different venues myself during that time (but never on a revolving stage), I'm guessing that it was a slightly strange experience for them, especially since Jim's form of storytelling and performing was so intimate. A constantly moving target must have been slightly disconcerting....

Needless to say, Jim and Maury's performance was nothing short of amazing. I have seen hundreds of acoustic performers—pretty much every major folk performer who hit LA from 1965 to 1985, and anyone of significance who has come through since then. But Jim and Maury's performance is still vivid in my memory after 35 years. Jim's stories and introductions were awesome. Not until I saw Cheryl Wheeler perform in the mid-nineties had I seen anyone offer such an inspired mix of trenchant story telling and brilliant song writing.

Croce's persona on stage was both hilarious and spellbinding. However, when they began to play, Jim's identity was merged into Maury/Jim, the wizard songsters. Jim was a very good guitar player with a strong baritone, fun and interesting; Maury, however, was pure magic. He was everywhere in the song: rhythm, lead, syncopation, percussion, and incredible harmony vocals. Put simply—he was mesmerizing. Then, Jim would launch into the next intro, and Maury would sit, quietly bemused until the next downbeat when his flying fingers would reassert his remarkable authority in the musical mix.

Despite the billing, watch any of the videos, and you see that Jim and Maury sat side by side. They were a duo, a dynamic duo if ever there was one. The lack of acknowledgement on some of the Croce releases notwithstanding, it is quite clear that Jim and Maury regarded themselves as musical partners whose aesthetic empathy surpassed any that I have ever seen. Not even David Lindley and Jackson Brown, David Bromberg and Jerry Jeff Walker, Jesse Ed Davis and Taj Mahal had that perfect a connection.

The only guitar player I have ever seen who might have matched Maury's intuitive complement to his partner was Brownie McGee with Sonny Terry. His hands never stopped. He really didn't play chords at all, or rather, he played bass runs, lead runs, and constant chord progressions intermittently throughout a song. Maury is the only other guitar player that I have seen who had that intuitive, eclectic approach to completing a song. (This may seem strange and self-serving, but if you heard him, you would agree—the only other person I have ever heard with that kind of full-service sound was my younger brother, Tucker McMullen, when he played with Bob Ward and the Cigar Band in the late 70's, and his inspiration clearly came from David Bromberg, Amos Garrett, Jesse Ed Davis, and especially, Maury Muehleisen).

It would be nice to have the opportunity to see more of Jim and Maury's work, and perhaps more footage will be uncovered in the future. Also, I add my voice to those hoping that Maury's album will again become available. Though always regarded as a jewel, my vinyl recording is not as pristine as I would like.

Hopefully this little reminiscence hints at the wonder that was Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My "One-Sided" Conversations with Maury

Second String Song Man
(For Maury Muehleisen)
Second string song man
Beautiful back-up band
Playing his heart out
For a part of the game
Singing the harmony
Stringing the melody
Seeing a small piece
Of another man’s fame
Nobody knew his name
Seems like quite a shame
Sang like an angel
Wrote like a demon
Held me against my will
And left me dreamin’
Sang about a song he’d heard
And never heard again
I know the music’s haunted me
Just like it haunted him
The singing of a friend
Will never end
He’d play those haunting melodies
Whispered fingers fly
He sang so high
Chorus, then Repeat First Verse
Second string song man
Beautiful back-up band
Playing his heart out
For a part of the game
©1974 Tim McMullen All Rights Reserved

In 1973, I wrote a song entitled, “Second-String Songman.” The title, as I am fond of doing with my titles and lyrics, is a triple-entendre. It made reference to a lead guitarist’s use of the B-string as a significant tool in his repertoire as well as the acknowledgement that the accompanist often is overlooked in favor of the front man; finally, it made specific reference to the fact that many backup musicians are also very talented song writers, singers, and musicians in their own right, but that they are seldom fortunate enough to have that talent recognized.

I wrote that song with several players in mind; one obvious one was my brother, Tucker McMullen, a brilliant and innovative guitarist who was playing with Bob Ward as a part of Bob Ward and the Cigar Band. However, the specific reason that I wrote that song at that time was out of a deep sense of personal loss that I felt upon hearing of the death of Jim Croce.
I was a huge fan of Jim Croce, but I was a bigger fan of his unknown accompanist, Maury Muehleisen.

In my book, Tim McMullen: Aged Fifty Years (A Life in Song), I had a chapter called “The Dear Departed.” It included a number of songs that I had written about lost loves, lost friends, lost lives, but it included four songs that I had written emulating or in honor of performers who had died.
When I got to my song, “Second-String Songman,” I had already spoken about the personal impact of the passing of my musical heroes, Phil Ochs and Townes Van Zandt. The next passage is one that I wrote for Jim Croce, but especially for Maury.

Yet another homage to a dead singer-songwriter. But unlike Phil Ochs and Townes Van Zandt, who had at least achieved some notoriety and a strong fan base, Maury Muehleisen was a true unknown. He put out one album on Capitol Records in 1970 entitled Gingerbreadd. It sold very few copies, but I, who buy everything that looks interesting (and this had David Bromberg and Eric Weissberg playing on it) bought it and instantly fell in love. He had a very sweet, delicate voice; he had an intricate, finger-picked guitar style; and he wrote such strange and interesting tunes that I was just knocked out by it. But there was no follow-up album and no news about him. Nothing.

Then, one day, I looked at an album by newcomer Jim Croce, and I saw Maury’s name on it. I bought the record and found another brilliant songwriter in Croce. Later, I read the story. When Maury’s album came out, his producers, Cashman and West, introduced him to Jim Croce, and convinced Croce to tour with Muehleisen as his accompanist, but the tour failed to raise any real interest in the record. When Croce got his big break, their roles were reversed, and Maury played behind Jim. Suddenly, his long, curly hair with Dutch-boy bangs and his fluid guitar style became instantly recognizable as “that guy behind Croce.” His style of playing and writing did, indeed, have a huge influence on Croce.
When Jim Croce died tragically, and the world mourned a hero they had just started to know (many of his hits were posthumous), Maury Muehleisen, his faithful “back-up band,” died in the plane crash with him, but the loss went all but unnoticed. It seemed like quite a shame...
(This is also dedicated to another great back-up guitarist, Jesse Ed Davis, 1948-1988).

Honoring Two Musical Giants on the Anniversary of a Tragedy

Today marks the 36th anniversary of the loss of two musical giants, Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen, in a tragic plane crash. I wrote this on the guest page of the marvelous site created by Maury’s sister, Mary Nowak, at http://www.maurymuehleisen.com

Dear Mary,

Your wonderful dedication to your brother's life and talent has allowed so many—family, friends, fans old and new—to share an inkling of what a remarkable musician and person Maury was. Maury and Jim are famous not because of their fate, but because of the incalculable contributions they made to the hearts and minds of millions through their unique music.

This day is the anniversary of a tragedy, a sad reminder that very bad things happen to very good people, but it is also a reminder of how fleeting life is for all of us and that the way we live our lives makes a difference in this world. Jim and Maury's friendship, collaboration, musical vision, and legacy set a high standard for lives lasting three times as long. Today is a day to inspire us to have our mark in the world, however modest or grand, be a positive force in the world.

Thanks, Mary, for your love and dedication; thanks to the many who visit this site and share their love and admiration; and thanks, especially, to Maury and Jim for the inspiration—Thanks for saying, "I Love You," in a song!


I will follow this post with several posts about the marvelous Maury Muehleisen.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ants, Antipathy, Antagonism, and The Vinegar Man

After sharing a brief story about feeling sorry for having to kill a fusillade of attacking ants, and then quoting a verse from “Six-Year Drought” by James McMurtry, Craig Bickhardt (Ninety-Mile Wind blog—see “My Blog List” below right) said:

“Sentimentality is wrung out of this and left to evaporate on the parched earth. McMurty’s lines are as hard and pitiless as the Texas plains, and yet they still touch something pulsating with life inside. I bet he sees his struggling ants and sheds no tears for them.

While I hold McMurtry's standard in the highest esteem and wouldn't change a word of it, I suppose I’m just a sucker. I’ve flirted with sentimentality all of my writing life, and maybe I’ve even crossed the line sometimes. The truth is it’s damn hard not to cross it if you feel any pity at all for the world.

Softer art for harder times? Probably won't fly. Yet we must feel something in order to be human. There must be emotion when it is warranted, and there is indeed a perceptible difference between emotion and sentimentality even though it sometimes takes a microscope to see it. After all, it’s our compassion that keeps the human race going, and we don’t want to lose that.

In the writing we can err both ways. On either side of the good, observant narrative there are pitfalls; effusiveness or stolidity. The line between is walked with a cold eye and a warm heart.”

©2009 by Craig Bickhardt

What follows is my comment:

Sentiment in the defense (or pursuit) of art is no vice! Okay, it can be...but I would make the distinction between pathos and bathos—between sentiment and sentimentality—between moving and manipulative. My guess is that for the clever, story-song teller, a certain kind of self-imposed restraint is necessary to prevent a powerful and moving story from becoming a maudlin mess.

Last time I shared my Gogi Grant story, this time I offer one of the earliest poems that I remember being moved by. I found it in a hard cover book of poems "for children" that my parents had bought for me when I was about seven. It had the typical Stevenson poems and those by Edward Lear and Eugene Field, but it also had poems by Thomas Augustine Daly in Italian dialect ("Two 'Mericana Men—about immigrants and stereotyping, and "Leetla' Giorgio Washington" with a clever twist on the cherry tree story) and one of my all-time favorite pieces, "The Vinegar Man" by Ruth Comfort Mitchell. I still use these pieces with my students and have done so for going on forty years.

The Vinegar Man

The crazy old Vinegar Man is dead! He never had missed a day before! 

Somebody went to his tumble-down shed by the Haunted House and forced the door.
There in the litter of his pungent pans, the murky mess of his mixing place,
Deep, sticky spiders and empty cans with the same old frown on his sour old face.

"Vinegar—Vinegar—Vinegar Man!

Pepper for a tongue! Pickle for a nose! 

Stick a pin in him and vinegar flows! 

Ketchup—and—chow-chow—and—Vinegar Man!"

Nothing but recipes and worthless junk; greasy old records of paid and due;
But down in the depths of a battered trunk, a queer, quaint valentine torn in two.
Red hearts and arrows and silver lace, and a prim, dim, ladylike script that said,
(Oh, Vinegar Man, with the sour old face!) 
"With dearest love, from Ellen to Ned!"

He pickles his heart in” a valentine! 

“Vinegar for blood! Pepper for his tongue!
Stick a pin in him and” once he was young! 

"With dearest love" to the Vinegar Man!

Dingy little books of profit and loss (died about Saturday, so they say),
And a queer, quaint valentine torn across…torn, but it never was thrown away! 

"With dearest love from Ellen to Ned" "Old Pepper Tongue! Pickles his heart in brine!" 

The Vinegar Man is a long time dead: he died when he tore his valentine. 

Ruth Comfort Mitchell

Yes, it verges on sentimentality, that little catch in the throat, but the wonderful juxtaposition of the older narrator recalling his own childhood voice and then merging the two into an adult recognition of a tragic life suddenly revealed (a little like Kane's "Rosebud"), stays well on the right side of the line. The complex interplay of internal and end rhyme is also masterful as are the alliteration and the parenthetical caesura (the matter of fact, "died about Saturday”) that pulls it back to the harsh reality.

When I heard Danny O'Keefe's "Valentine Pieces," from his second album, O'Keefe, It evoked a very similar feeling, except that it was written in the first person, and the hurt was more immediate:

"The valentine pieces litter the floor of my room...
I should go get the broom..."

I’d say, keep your art ever to the fore, and the sentiment will take care of itself!

PS: I got so carried away (as usual), I forgot about the ants. I think you have inspired me to make my first posting of one of my short stories on my blog. It is a cautionary tale about a man with feelings about killing ants that are very similar to yours (and whose feelings, of course, mirror my own). I'll let you know when it's posted; you might get a kick out of the "similar minds" experience.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Teddy's Legacy—Taking Back the "L" word—A response

MarieDNC posted a fine piece called "On Sticks and Stones and Mincing Words..." on the Democratic Party Blog. What follows is my comment—

Dear MarieDNC—

You make excellent and important points. When Rush Limbaugh first began gaining traction, my phone machine message recited the definition of the word "liberal" and made the declaration that we need millions more, not less, of them (I don't mean to diminish your sentiment; I really do think that the lowly phone message can be a powerful tool for pithy, philosophical or political statements to friends and strangers).

You also tackle the absurd subversion of language and ideology that has execrated socialism, and you have succeeded in identifying the root cause of its defamation, ignorance.

In many ways, this country was founded on socialist principles, before such an ideology was articulated as an "ism." The idea that community mattered, and that one was not alone in this world, were the underpinnings of many of the various societies that sprang up. And the idea was manifested in community activities from barn raisings and church socials to tithing and civic zeal.

This social conscience and social duty was, of course, mixed with a spirit of rugged individualism, due in part to the nature of the wilderness being faced. However, individualism and independence were not generally equated with personal aggrandizement. In fact, aristocratic wealth and abusive greed were most vilified. America's first great literary artist, Washington Irving, wrote, with vicious glee in "The Devil and Tom Walker," of the greedy and miserly; he made the point that all the wealthy businessmen, religious hypocrites, slave holders, and money lenders were the Devil's people and doing old Scratch's bidding.

It was not really until the mid-1800's with the slaveholding aristocracy, quickly followed by the late 1800's Robber Barons and the rise of "Big Business" that we began to get the mantra of "free market capitalism" being perpetrated on the public (Thoreau's brief foray into "anti-government" sentiment notwithstanding).

Even the conviction that business could do whatever it wanted and that government had no right to interfere was never seriously entertained by the populace, and worker's movements began to emerge almost immediately to counter the abuses of economic power. After relatively few years of unfettered industry, another Teddy, Teddy Roosevelt, ushered in the "square-deal" and its recognition that business must be controlled. His populism was replaced with boosterism and Coolidge's "The business of America is business," followed very quickly by the great depression and our relapse into "socialism," i.e., that the government and business have "social" responsibility, with FDR.

The rabid zeal of the "new" free-marketers was fueled by Ronald Reagan's myopic anti-communism, and therefore, his natural affinity for Milton Friedman's despicable philosophy which claimed that any hint that a corporation has any social responsibility is SOCIALISM. The deregulation wave started under Reagan and perpetuated by both the Democrats and the Republicans has clearly lead us to our current series of economic debacles.

We must reintroduce the principle of "principles" in our public discourse and in our solutions to public problems. The socialism of "social good" must be resurrected. The frustration that offered Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama as alternatives to "business as usual" and the "hope" that propelled Obama into the presidency need to be empowered to take back our language from the double-speak of right-wing think tanks and "death (panel) squads" and demand that our politicians care more for the public, for their true constituents, than for the conscienceless, corporate criminals bankrolling their next run (too harsh? Nope, too true!)

One last point, as much as I enjoyed your posting, I do think one point of clarification needs to be made. When you put down that plastic card, and the pharmacist hands you your prescription, it wasn't free! I know that you know this, but I think in these times, it's important to not allow our thinking to be assailable, even on nit-picking grounds. A social solution is not "free," but a system that recognizes health care, for example, as a right rather than a privilege, is eminently more equitable and, ultimately, more efficient, than the "for-profit," market-driven, "our client is the enemy of our profit" system that we now have in America.

To honor both Teddy's, two of the greatest statesmen America has ever known and two men who exemplified the meaning of the word LIBERAL, we must increase our efforts to accomplish justice in this country and the world.

The greatest threat to democracy is hypocrisy!
Seek Truth! Speak Truth!

Tim McMullen

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rules for the First Day of School and the Rest of Your Life

Thanks, Paula. I actually had a great day. I got to listen to me talk (which if you've read any of my blogs or comments or seen my videos, you can tell I love to do) and played stuff and read stuff that made them laugh...and hopefully think.

I spend one minute on my class rules, which I argue are actually rules for success in school...in sports…in work...in relationships...in life.

There are only six;

Common Sense
Self Control

They are easy to understand, but hard to consistently execute.

And I only have a few Things That They Have to Learn to do better than they do at present:

Think—Read—Think—Listen—Think—Talk—Think—Write—Think! That's it!

Some would find it hard to believe and others would find it appalling, but I truly don’t care what they end up thinking as long as they end up with the tools and the willingness to figure out what it is that they actually think and understand why they think it.

My Class Slogans and Posters
I have a nice 13”x19” Epson printer, so they look pretty cool—
(All the images are mine, as are the slogans, unless otherwise noted):

Why be Normal? (a bumper sticker in the 70’s—
but it was mine before I saw the sticker)

The Trouble with Normal is it Always Gets Worse! (Bruce Cockburn)

Their Brains Were Small So They Died! (from a song by Mark Graham)
Ignorance is Weakness—Knowledge is Power! (Tim McMullen)

Face It—Ignorance is NOT a Marketable Skill! [Fox News not withstanding]
(Tim McMullen)

Envy is Ignorance…Imitation is Suicide (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Trust Thyself! (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Tomorrow is Forever and Forever is Now! (Tim McMullen)

Don’t Be Afraid! (Tim McMullen)

The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth! (Tim McMullen)

As I said, I had fun. I hope the students enjoyed their day as well.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Setting the Standard, Being the Standard Bearer, Rejecting Standardization

This was intended as a response to a comment that Craig Bickhardt made on my previous blog post, but blogger wouldn't take it (maybe it was too long). As I was composing it, I realized that it would be my new blog post, so here it is.

Craig, thanks for commenting.

Speaking of keeping in touch with the past, tomorrow I have a new Junior English class that I have not taught in about fifteen years; i.e., before the "standards" movement. It's supposed to mean that kids meet certain standards, but what it really means is that curriculum is standardized (read, teacher proof). I have spent nearly forty years designing my own curriculum, and since it is American literature, much of it is in the public domain, so about seventy percent of what my American Studies Honors students read and work with is a list of stories, poems, and essays that I have personally organized to help them make sense of American literature, history, art, and philosophy.

I guarantee that my curriculum is far superior and more cogent than the haphazard and piecemeal textbook designed to address "standards" and not the story of American storytelling and thinking.

So, tomorrow, I am reviving an introductory unit that I used to do with my freshman (fifteen years ago). It is comedians on education:
the brilliant Gallagher, with his analysis of the absurdities of the English language and the stifling of imagination and innovation through "education": "We go to school to learn to communicate and they tell you to sit there and shut up!"; George Carlin on being the class clown; an excerpt from a Woody Allen movie in which the model child and other of his ten-year old classmates explain where they are now twenty-years later; and Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci with his "Five-Minute University," everything you will remember from college five years after graduating. Finally, they will read Robert Fulgham's "Everything I needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten."

They will actually take brief notes on the main point of each of these pieces, then they will write a brief reflection about any one or more of the points made in any of these pieces and what they think school and education actually means in their lives.

I know that I promised to use your blog and song, "The Real Game," on the first day, but I am waiting a day or two before I go even further and challenge the carefully honed, corporate constructed, Jerry Springer, Big Brother, American Idol, Faux News fantasy world of "reality-shows" and ask them to examine reality. It's not really in the textbooks either, but I have found it in your blog, and I will be sharing it in the hopes of preventing a "failure of imagination generation."

Oops, now I'm going to be late for work. I said that I would probably be laying off on the blogging and the videos once school started, but it hasn't happened yet. Oh, well, like I said, kids (and reality) don't get here until tomorrow.