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Tiananmen’s Individualist

Tiananmen individualistWhatever his identity, the lone individual who stood against the state 25 years ago this Thursday (June 5) remains a man of inspiration.

The sight of one man standing alone against the tyranny of dictatorship – in this case Communist China – came to symbolize the crusade for freedom in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall would come down and millions of people would be liberated from slavery.

Sadly, as I suspected at the time, it was an interlude before new forms of totalitarianism would rise, spread and strike and destroy civilization across the globe. But this image of a single act of heroism, which took place during an uprising at Tiananmen Square in Beijing and to some extent took root in China, moves me still. Such heroes who stand alone against the state march on. Edward Snowden comes to mind. Though the West is, in its impending collapse, choosing to punish heroes as traitors, and celebrate, create (and, yesterday, release) anti-heroes instead, men like the one pictured here are exactly what the world needs now.

Barbara Walters

BWHaving grown up with broadcaster Barbara Walters, who is widely praised as a pioneering journalist and interviewer and is retiring, I have thoughts on her over 40-year career, which runs from her co-hosting The Today Show to appearing on her show The View.

First, it is true that Walters is dedicated to her profession and I think she is ambitious and there’s nothing wrong with that (I do not, however, think she is exceptionally talented). Second, she has endured from television format to format, despite a speech impediment and being one of the few females in a male-dominated field of endeavor, that’s a fact. Third, she is commercially successful; audiences like to watch Barbara Walters, from morning programming and light banter in the afternoon to her interview segments in evenings before the Academy Awards.

But Walters is best remembered for her mediocrity. She has accomplished next to nothing as a serious journalist. Her interviews are her best work, though even these are hardly penetrating or serious given the unprecedented access and acclaim she received to and from some of the most iconic artists and statesmen of the 20th century. The fact is that time and again Walters squandered uniquely golden opportunities to ask piercing questions of serious philosophical significance and she rarely ventured beyond the safe, warm personality issues and questions of the stereotypical feminine feature.

Her ascension in TV news coincides with the women’s liberation movement, when thanks to works by Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique) and Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) among others, including the fountainhead of entertainment for men, media magnate and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, the role of the productive woman in Western civilization was expanding. She cashed in on liberation as many did. Women were gaining ground in the marketplace and rightly so after Americans embraced the idea that women should be free to work, too, for their own happiness, not just to make ends meet or support the war effort. The working woman as a rational, selfish person became more acceptable during the 1970s self-help era, fed by Rand’s hugely popular literature of egoism, and Walters, who was professional and articulate, often seemed to be one of the best practitioners and examples.

Walters fell far short, though, seeking typically to elicit tales and tidbits from Communist dictators and legendary movie stars more than to challenge and demand to know answers. This approach, in turn, fueled her ability to gain ever more prominent, if lightweight, interviews, not a single one of which is memorable for having disclosed, demonstrated or illuminated something crucial and meaningful about human life and action. She infamously asked Katharine Hepburn what kind of tree she’d like to be when Hepburn said she’d like to be a tree (oak is the answer). She is said to have “humanized” her interview subjects but to my recollection she never got to any but the most salacious, fragmentary and fleeting parts of their lives and rarely for longer than a few seconds. She interviewed world leaders, heads of state sponsors of Islamic terrorism – before 9/11 – and dictators and to my recollection made not a single seriously lasting impression. Among her biggest achievements is a most-watched interview with the White House intern who performed fellatio with the president which led to his subsequent lies and impeachment and, in retrospect, distracted Republicans and Democrats from performing government’s most fundamental role, defense, leaving Islamic terrorists to execute a diabolical act of war.

Walters wrote a recent memoir in which she disclosed having an affair with a married man and U.S. senator who is no longer alive. She co-created a women’s talk show that she appears on which is known more for vapid back-biting and gossip and catty public spats between women. Her time at Today, 20/20 and ABC Evening News is forgettable.

Like Oprah, Barbara Walters has proven more proficient in promoting herself than in informing and enlightening her viewers. She has been accused of ingratiating herself in an opportunistic way to people she perceives as powerful, usually men, in order to advance her career which by any measure is a commercial if not creative success. I do not know whether this claim is true but having observed her for 40 years, interviewing some of the worst monsters on earth and the most skilled people of ability, I think she has very little to show for what she’s done which to me is driven by appearing intently interested without in fact being interested in what she is covering at all.

Barbara Walters ultimately traffics in trivia, faking sincerity every step of the way, leaving very little if any original reporting or interviewing that’s a first draft of anything let alone history. She is famous for being famous, paving the way for people like Kim Kardashian, or, for that matter, Megyn Kelly or Rachel Maddow, women who behave like shrews and harridans (Coulter, Malkin, Huffington) who appear to be passionate about news though in reality huff and puff and add very little to one’s knowledge of what happens or matters. Walters’ lengthy career represents everything shrill, shallow and vapid about today’s barely legal or existent free press.

Really, Barbara Walters is a pseudo-journalist. She at once plays into the stereotype of women as dim, opportunistic and emotionalistic or anti-conceptual and embodies the empty suit or airhead lampooned by cultural commentators. Sadly, especially for the American public which deserves an intelligent, honest and sincere examination of news, facts and newsmakers, Barbara Walters retires with enormous success and wealth and a blank track record. There are many unsung women in journalism who advanced the art of writing, reporting and broadcasting (the late Jessica Savitch, a Walters peer, comes to mind). Barbara Walters is not one of them.

Ogle, Scream or Overcome

Life in these United States is harder than ever. The widening gap between what the government-educated population in the welfare state believes to be possible and what is, in fact, possible inculcates what I regard as an unspoken, public anxiety manifested by physiological tension. Overloaded with debt and government controls, confused, tricked and violated by the lies, degradations and violence of the fascist New Frontier, we the people are like frogs in boiling water or kernels in a popcorn bag. One by one, people pop.

meltdown in Cobb County GAIt happened again last week in a town in Cobb County, Georgia. A FedEx employee doing address corrections on some packages told the press that she saw a 19-year-old man she said was a loader when she said she “heard a clink.”

“I looked to my left,” she said. “I saw him standing there and the knife was on the ground. He dropped his knife. He had an assault rifle. He had bullets strapped to his chest like Rambo. I mean he looked like he was heading into war. As soon as I saw him, I ran the other way. I ran and made sure that people upstairs were gone. He was in all black. I think he had a camo vest. He had an assault rifle and bullets strapped to his chest.”

It is easy to dismiss these attacks as criminal acts by the insane. But I think most of us know that these attacks are becoming more common and that it could happen to you and me and everyone in this uniquely combustible welfare state. Here, and only here, we live in a country founded on individual rights, land of the once-free and the climax of what it means to have inalienable rights: the single greatest creation of wealth in the history of man: the Industrial Revolution. Here, and only here, we live in a country that has turned on its own best premises and is destroying individual rights one by one. It stands to reason that here, and only here, in America, we will see the best of everything sour into the worst of everything.

Watching, or, conversely, evading, the news is to watch – or evade – part of reality. That what constitutes the news is becoming harder to figure compounds the problem but it’s no excuse to turn to sniveling comedy as a substitute, which amounts to burying one’s head in the sand, though I certainly understand the inclination to sneer at the world in its current state. Watch what happens, go ahead and look, really look, and learn from each catastrophe as much as you can. This is what a 22-year-old named Collin Harrison, a package handler who’s worked at the FedEx facility for two years and was there early Tuesday morning when he heard the screams, is starting to do. He told the media: “Me and another employer were talking about [the suicidal shooter, Geddy Kramer] and how he requested to take off Saturday, but his manager told him no. He took off anyway, and he didn’t show up this morning. We thought maybe he [would] just quit. I tell people on my other shift, one of these days a manager is gonna say that one thing to that one person and this is gonna set them off, and they [are] gonna come in here and start shooting, and that happened today.”

Yes it did. Given the nation’s current state, it will happen again and again, only it will happen more often (as I predicted when I wrote about suicide here) as we are attacked, controlled and/or collapse from within and as life gets harder. FedEx’s Harrison is right to have expected that any perceived rejection can set someone off track toward self-destruction and mass murder. Why? I think it’s because we are losing control of our own lives and because the loss of control – over property, money, health care, food, traffic, education, debt, travel, privacy and personal choices – is happening fast, it is happening totally and the total control is being imposed by the state which causes people to experience the onset with an inexplicable and overwhelming anxiety that builds and becomes exacerbated to deadly degrees.

Yet as people such as Kramer in Cobb County lose control and choose to exit life and take others with them, and those such as Collin Harrison are left behind to hear the screams, check for corpses and carry away the wounded, dead and murdered, the people with the most control over our lives, the ones who throw the switch and activate new controls that end freedom in America – the politicians – feel nothing but contempt for the people over whom they assert and wield control. Indeed, they sneer, laugh and turn their noses up at the people’s suffering.

Laughing ObamaBy now, you’ve probably heard about the annual White House correspondents dinner, an event that has risen in stature in proportion to the rise of government intervention in our lives. Yet you may not have even heard about what happened in Cobb County, Georgia and, if you did, you’ve probably not heard as much about it as you surely will about the press mixing (I call it whoring) with politicians at the White House dinner, which is like a scene from The Hunger Games. What happened in Georgia, an extermination of human life at a center of trade in an increasingly common acting out of attempted mass murder, is emblematic of our times and crucially more important to know and understand than any gathering of New Left influence peddlers and those who grovel before them in the capital of a nation going bad, down and berserk.

Even politicians sense an inversion. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told the media that the White House dinner, presided over by the nihilist in chief Barack Obama, whom I call the Nothing Man, was an exercise in self-indulgence and nothing more, though he didn’t put it that way. Rep. Hoyer, in a rare moment of truth in Washington, said of the annual event: “Everyone ogles each other..[and] I’m always amazed when these actors and actresses come here and they want to meet us.”

I am well beyond being amazed that people of ability fawn over those who seek to enslave them. I am never past being disgusted by the spectacle. I am more aware than ever that neither the power-lusters and slavemasters nor those who sanction them are even a fraction as important as those decent, productive Americans who are slowly boiling and popping off, killing themselves and others in a blaze of misery. They are the ones we must reach, persuade and tend to with empathy and reason. The more biting the sneering becomes – brace for it to get worse as Letterman makes way for Colbert – the more tender, insistent and confident must we the people be in convincing one another to undo what’s being done to us.

 

Review: Summer Nights by Olivia Newton-John at The Flamingo Las Vegas

ONJSNFLVOlivia Newton-John’s first Las Vegas residency, inside the Donny & Marie Showroom at Caesar Entertainment’s Flamingo Hotel and Casino, is an intimate, poignant show she calls “Summer Nights”. The 20-plus song production premiered this week. I’ve met and written about Olivia over the years at various stages of her extraordinary career and, in Vegas for a conference, I wanted to see her new show before the grand opening.

The iconic star emerged looking and sounding fabulous. Stepping out in black and white, framed by the venue’s familiar pink, her understated stage presence is as relaxed, seasoned and elegant as the themes of her earliest hit records. After decades of recording, filming and touring, Olivia is a masterful artist, who, like Doris Day, never really gets the serious credit she deserves. With a refreshing emphasis on music, Olivia sang her most popular and audience-friendly songs and a few cover tunes. Her 45-date engagement runs through August.

In perfect tune on every song from “Physical” to “Have You Never Been Mellow”, Olivia clearly takes care of herself. Her voice, which still expresses her unique blend of struggle, strength and sweetness, achieves clarity in every song and clarity defines her superior vocal style. She moves with ease in simple, playful choreography that wisely lets the spotlight stay centered on the 65-year-old pop star. The skilled eight-piece band and spot-on backup singers play against a black and white stage design, which complements ONJ’s pronounced style. She kept banter light and humorous.

Xanadu soundtrack songs include the hits “Magic” and “Suddenly” and the show features luminous images from the 1980 picture, from movie publicity stills to clips of her film character, Kira, dancing with co-star Gene Kelly. “Summer Nights” includes themed segments for Grease (1978) songs (“We Go Together”, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee (reprise)”, “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One That I Want”) and a medley of Olivia’s early country recordings and hits, including “Country Roads”, “If You Love Me Let Me Know”, “Please Mr. Please” and “Let Me Be There”. The show’s title number, the boy-girl, tell-me-more ensemble duet from Grease, is a crowd pleaser. When the audience added its own pathetic attempt at the heavy sigh that was originally John Travolta‘s oh at the climax of the story in song, Olivia hilariously broke character and turned to the audience in mock horror, a brief moment of self-awareness which made the finale all the more satisfying for everyone in the room. “Summer Nights” employs a jovial, even raucous, sense of life. It’s hard not to have a blast when she’s singing about “good, Kentucky whiskey”, getting animal and places where nobody dared to go.

Though this longtime fan missed hearing Olivia perform songs from Two of a Kind, Back with a Heart, Soul Kiss, Grace and Gratitude and The Rumour, the show is a musical journey from “I Honestly Love You” (1974) to ONJ’s Brazilian-influenced Gaia anthem “Not Gonna Give Into It” (1994) and more, so it is understandable why certain songs didn’t make the final set list. Whatever one’s favorite moment or song from the remarkable career of Olivia Newton-John, some of the most powerful performances in “Summer Nights” are her covers of “Cry Me a River”, “Over the Rainbow” and the stirring rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s layered “Send in the Clowns” from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music. The mystery of what moves us in music is of course enormously complicated, so each member of the audience will be touched in some unique way by Olivia’s incredible range in theme, technique and life experience. But you will never think of Olivia as a mere pleasant voice or source for fun pop diversion from the past again. Here, she delivers a rewarding sample of why she is the best.

The impeccable performance – expect stark staging, not glitz ala Cher or Celine Dion – stems from ONJ’s status as a true pop music diva who has earned every dollar; she was an opening act for Charlie Rich at the Las Vegas Hilton in the summer of 1974, worked with Don Rickles, Eddie Rabbit and other Vegas acts, so Olivia knows the boulevard’s demands and strikes the proper tone for a show that combines glamor and ability. Her 40th year return to performing in Las Vegas, this time in headline residency, is a triumph.

The fact that Olivia recently lost her sister, Rona, to cancer, makes the charitable part of this production especially meaningful. In 1992, Olivia was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her personal thriving led her to create a partnership with the Austin Health and the creation of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre (ONJCWC) in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Olivia donates a portion of the $68-$249 ticket price to the ONJCWC, which provides comprehensive services for cancer treatment, education, training and research as well as a dedicated wellness center.

Who:: Olivia Newton-John

What: Summer Nights

Where: The Flamingo Las Vegas

When: April through August

How Much: $68 to $249

New Music Interview: Henry Jackman

HJCATWSRead the new interview I recently conducted with Captain America: The Winter Soldier composer Henry Jackman on The New Romanticist. In this exclusive interview about America’s top movie, a Marvel Studios picture which exceeded expectations to earn $96 million in the opening weekend, Jackman talks about the meaning of music for film, whether he sees man as heroic and whom between Captain America and Captain Phillips, another title character from the last film he scored, he would prefer to have as a dinner guest.

This is one of my most free-wheeling interviews – we went into overtime – and, besides The King’s Speech composer Alexandre Desplat and Grammy-winning songwriter Melissa Manchester, who co-wrote a song for The Weinstein Company’s Dirty Girl with Mary Steenburgen, it offers a closer examination of the creative process of telling stories through motion pictures. I hope readers enjoy the new interview as much as I did.

Speaking of music, I am still enjoying what I listen to on CD and iTunes, from James Blunt, Stevie Nicks and Elton John to Avicii, and newly remastered or released recordings by the great conductor Arturo Toscanini. I am also working on an exclusive new series of interviews with one of my favorite artists, Melissa Manchester, who is making a new, crowdfunded album (her 20th!) of the great American songbook with new tunes she wrote and appearances by classic jazz and pop artists. I’ve been privileged to attend recording sessions for the new work and I am excited. This week, I am planning to attend a preview of a new, live show, Summer Nights, by another favorite artist, Olivia Newton-John, at her residency at the Donny and Marie Showroom in the Flamingo Las Vegas. Olivia also has a new record, which I plan to review. New music from legendary artists and for enjoyable movies (and my writing teacher Leonard Peikoff just announced an amateur jazz performance at OCON in Las Vegas this summer) should make for more good tunes throughout the year.