Monday, 24 June 2024

Arts & Life


I'm a little tired of the phrase “Back In the day.” However, for purposes of retrospective clarity, I'm going to use it one mo' gin.

Back in the day, at the height of their glory, when their stage productions cost somewhere near a million bucks, even the way Earth, Wind & Fire was introduced to the adoring throngs, was hugely melodramatic and mellifluous at the same time. (Yes, that sentence was rather long George, but I'm making a point here):

The stage is almost black. Suddenly, three crescendoing Eastern, metaphysical gongs in succession. Then, an invisible voice, shouting at the top of his lung capacity, "PRESENTING, EARTH, (dramatic pause) WIND AND (decrescendo as voice escapes the mic range) FIRrrie ... "

I was a witness to it at the Oakland Coliseum in the mid-70s. You can still hear it for yourself on the Earth, Wind & Fire, Gratitude album.

We didn't get the levitating introduction from Konocti MC Terry Montgomery, but things did go up from there at EWF's Friday July 6, 2007 set at Konocti Harbor Spa and resort.

The players took their places. The familiar, founding members, Verdine White on bass, Ralph Johnson, percussion & vocals and the "new" master conductor of the EWF auditory experience, Phillip Bailey on lead vocals, percussion and inherited kalimba (African thumb piano) mantle from co-founding leader, Maurice White, who records with the group, but doesn't tour anymore.

The new members are Bobby Burns on trumpet; Larry McKinley, piano; Reggie Young, trombone; Russian born Bobby Z, guitar; Greg Moore, guitar; John Perris, guitar; Gary Byas, sax; Kim Johnson, vocals; David Watworth, vocals and percussion; and Myron Kimble, keyboards and Music Director.

The band's set list was 17 songs:

  1. Boogie Wonderland

  2. Sing A Song

  3. Sun Goddess

  4. Serpentine Fire

  5. Kalimba Story

  6. Evil

  7. You Can't Hide Love

  8. Look Into My Eyes

  9. After The Love Is Gone

  10. Reasons

  11. Love's Holiday

  12. Got To Get You Into My Life

  13. September

  14. Groove Tonight

  15. Get Away

  16. That's The Way Of The World

  17. Devotion


Seventeen songs! Nonstop. No intermission. Phillip Bailey did at one point say, "Welcome to the second half of the show,” without missing a beat.

On his signature tune, Reasons, Bailey's soaring falsetto effortlessly segued into an ad lib scat, reminiscent of Judy Garland's Over The Rainbow. A seamless moment.

I marveled at how the band's tech/road crew seemed to get things done with choreographed precision. When a roadie handed Phillip a second bottle of juice, the hand off was done while Phillip played timbales with one hand.

Did I mention vocalist Kim Johnson? She sang like an angel and looked good doing it.

Trumpeter Bobby Burns smoked through a mean solo on Evil. Likewise saxophonist Gary Byas on Sun Goddess. Vocalist/percussionist David Watworth gave his timbales kit a rigorous martial arts workout with spinning kicks on the cymbals and other licks way to difficult for description. Always on time!

Did I mention Russian bred guitarist Bobby Z? Must be seen to be believed. From Russia with funk!

The set ran about two hours. The near-capacity crowd was on its feet throughout. EWF closed appropriately with their hit Devotion.

Two little tykes came out for the finale. I suspect they were Phillip Bailey's grandchildren. One of them held a play guitar which he wielded expertly as the band hit that last finale note. Then the children were picked up by Mr. Bailey and they waved to the crowd as they exited. As the chorus reads in Devotion:

Blessed are the children.



Thurman Watts writes about music for Lake County News.


I used to know this guy named John Hager. John was your typical frustrated musician-Columbia Records PR guy-songwriter who ran a record/tape store called Ludwig Van Ear in Milwaukee. I worked for him ferreting out the 1,342 ways a teenage boy could steal records or tapes there were no CDs then without looking either like he had a flashlight in his pocket or was glad to see someone/anyone.

There were lots of ways to do this and I still like to point out pilfered CDs to modern day frustrated musician-songwriter-record store owners especially if they're on Vanguard's street team.

I should point out that the big record store in Milwaukee in those times of yore was called 1812 Overture. It was run by a concert promoter of whom a then Milwaukee Urinal writer once wrote: "There are two kinds of people in the world ... those who don't like Alan and those who haven't met him yet." Thus, Ludwig Von Ear and maybe even Camper Van Beethoven?

So to get back to my train of free association let me just say of John Hager's songwriting that he wrote at least one embarrassing but ultimately lucrative song, "Bet Your Sweet Bippy, I'm A Hippie." John hated that song but every time a royalty check came in he up and cashed it. Which is why you young whippersnapper indie rockers should hold on to your publishing. Even a song like "Bippy ... Hippie ..." can cover a lot of missing tapes and records and the now even more conveniently sized for stealing, CD.

But enough of John Hager, who I liked very much since he let me go out for hamburgers for the band Chase and carry Kris Kristofferson's guitar after a 24-hour folk concert in Madison, WI which had Earl Scruggs, Linda Ronstadt and the future Eagles, and Dave Von Ronk in it. Maybe I got to carry Kristofferson's guitar 'cause not only can't I remember the 60s, I'm plum rugged on the 70s as well.

Maybe Ty Hager was doing stand up in Tulsa where he is both from and got his start back then as a stand up actor/comedian funny ha ha guy but maybe not yet. You don't think Ty Hager and his music is funny, listen to him sing "Our Boy and Bubba" to Dr. Demento on the good Doc's radio show.

You can do this and more on Hager's where you can also hear and download four of the warped like a wombat tunes from his soon to be award winning someday CD, "Ty Hager Sings About Life And Girls (But Mostly Girls)." It will hit the big time or should hit the big time soon as Nashville stops kissing Roy Acuff's dead hinder parts and lets Ty play the real, first Ryman and use drums just like the Everly Brothers Phil and Don, Don and Phil did way back when when Roy don't allow no time keeping 'round here. Stream of consciousness; that's the words I was looking for.

The four streams of consciousness songs in question here are by Ty Hager and the Hagermen, his take off on William Hung and the Hungmen, only better. They are, in ascending or descending order: "Our Boy and Bubba," "Never Not," "No Habla Spanish Love Song," and Ty Hager's piece de resistance, "Seven Shallow Graves."

In a six foot under sort of a way, "Seven ..." tells the epic tale of the ghost of a Bob Wills type of guy who finds his good gal in his best friend's arms and puts her separate parts in "Seven Shallow Graves." Kids, don't try this with your uncle Ernie. "She was in my arms; She was in my brain; she was in my DNA ... Now, she's in 'Seven Shallow Graves." Yee hah!

"The part close to my heart is by my window in the back yard!" I don't know why but I feel a singalong coming on and all you gots to do is follow the bouncing body parts, the late (we think) Anna Nicole Smith is pointing out with her gold encrusted fingernails, y'all.

I love this guy. I really love him like Sally Fields on the Academy Awards and both his CDs, even the

2003 one, "Funny Ha Ha; Funny Strange," which his manager at Winthrop Records recently sent me along with a big bag full of kinda new Crack The Sky and John Palumbo CDs. I love however many of them there are now.

"Never Not" has yet another catchy singalong chorus: "I'm never not, never not, never not, thinking about you." Then there is "No Habla Spanish Love Song" in which Mr. Ty Hager Songs puts his Tulsa by way of Austin and on up to the bigtime in Nashville moves on Rosalita on the bus.

Seems he took Spanish in high school, but after exhausting that "memory bank," in about five minutes, there were still "six more hours to Kansas." He didn't know "Dust In The Wind" en espanol so it was time for the arm over the shoulder and possibly other body parts. They had "hablad all they could!" I forget the words from that chorus but my one Spanish brain cell does recall the word to yell if you're being pursued by a Mexican vampire down a long staircase. It's "Secorro! Secorro!" Repeat for emphasis and thank you, Senor Pena.

That leaves "Our Boy And Bubba," since I already covered "Seven Shallow Graves." Bubba is black. Ty Hager and his then POSSLQU U.S. Census term for person of the opposite sex sharing living quarters had a little baby they named Bubba. But daddy Bubba was POSSLQU's "friend you told me was gay ... You and me is white; Bubba's black; and once you've been with Bubba, you ain't never going back."

Put this man on your iPod. He also wears American Gothic t-shirts a lot which means he could do for Grant Wood what the late Kurt Cobain did for Daniel Johnston. He sent me an email too after his manager told me he did believe Ty Hager and I lived on the same planet. I think it's Tralfalmador where we both hope to locate Montana Wildhack and put her on our respective CDs or music cricket portfolios.

Ty Hager, his music and his new partners in that side project he's working on, The Weisenheimerz, are the best thing since John Prine and Martin Mull sat down on a Martha's Vineyard lawn and sang a duo version of Mr. Mull's blues about a poor rich man.

E-mail Gary Peterson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


No, George W. Bush has not committed an impeachable offense by saving Scooter Libby from jail time. The action is a perfectly legal presidential prerogative, although, as some have charged, it may be a quid pro quo to stop Libby from spilling Dick Cheney's beans on the savaging of Valerie Plame.

However, those who want to pursue impeachment will find much support in “Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush And Cheney”.

Authors and editors Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips have gathered an impressive body of arguments for impeachment, from writers including Greg Palast and Dahr Jamail. The foreword is by historian Howard Zinn, who writes “the present campaign for the impeachment of George W. Bush has the possibility of going beyond the previous experiences (of impeachment) by calling into question the fundamental thrust of American foreign policy, the class nature of national politics, and the corporate domination of the culture.”

Loo is Associate Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona. His specialties include polls, public policy making, social movements, media and criminology. His recent article, "No Paper Trail Left Behind: the Theft of the 2004 Presidential Election," has received wide acclaim.



Phillips, director of Project Censored, is Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University. He is known for his op-ed pieces in the alternative press and independent newspapers nationwide, such as Z Magazine and Social Policy.

The book opens with 12 reasons why Bush and Cheney must be impeached, starting with stealing the White House in 2000 and 2004 for outright voter fraud. Loo goes into detail on those reasons, listing 19 “extremely improbable or outright impossible things” you must believe to have faith Bush won the 2004 election in the normal way.

Authors Steve Freeman and Joel Bleifuss go into a lot more detail, about 240 pages worth, in their book, “Was The 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?: Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count,” also from Seven Stories.

Freeman, a Ph.D. in organization studies from MIT's Sloan School of Management, is a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Organizational Dynamics, where he teaches research methods and survey design (a domain that includes polling). He has received four national awards for best research paper of the year on four different topics in three different fields.

Bleifuss, a journalist of 23 years, is the editor of In These Times; he has had more articles cited as one of the Top Censored Stories of the Year by Project Censored than any other journalist.

Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush And Cheney, by Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, introduction by Howard Zinn. Seven Stories Press, $17.95 (trade paper)

Was The 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?: Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count, by Steve Freeman and Joel Bleifuss. Seven Stories Press, $17.95 (trade paper)

E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



A reasonable question to ask: whatever happened to the brilliantly manic Robin Williams, sharp-tongued with his acerbic wit? The answer won’t be found in his latest film, “License to Wed,” which serves him up as an oddly creepy minister where his comedic talent is based on his unhinged mental state.

The sign of a weak script is that Williams’ Reverend Frank is often reduced to spouting clichéd double-entendres that are meant to be funny, but more often produce a groan-inducing feeling of discomfort at hearing such words emanate from a man of the cloth. It’s bad enough that the minister is an obnoxious character, but he also has an annoying young assistant (Josh Flitter) who is described as a “minister in training.”

In any event, “License to Wed” isn’t all bad, and that has more to do with the objects of Rev. Frank’s hellish boot camp for young couples on the verge of matrimony.

Sadie (Mandy Moore) and Ben (John Krasinski), both of whom seem kind of innocent and even klutzy, meet in cute fashion at a Starbucks, and after a seemingly too-short period of courtship decide to get married. Coming from an upper class background, Sadie nevertheless appears firmly rooted in reality, which is more than you can say for most of her family. Her divorced sister Lindsey (Christine Taylor) is hopelessly bitter, and her dad (Peter Strauss) is a stiff, pompous windbag who likes the sound of his own voice. The others are mostly alcoholics.

The affable Ben has an Everyman quality about him, as he goes about his normal routine of pleasing Sadie and still hanging out with his best buddy (DeRay Davis), who’s eager to offer advice regardless of its merits. Sadly, Ben will be put to a great test when Sadie decides that for family reasons she wants her wedding to take place in the church where Reverend Frank presides.

However, the wedding can’t take place until Ben and Sadie pass the “wedding class” conducted by the deranged reverend. After just one session, Ben should have had the good sense to call the whole thing off or insist on another venue for the nuptials. But then, Sadie’s family is a bit intimidating.

So the heart of this movie, aside from the inept development of any romantic chemistry, is the increasingly strange tasks to be accomplished in order to secure the Reverend Frank seal of approval. The first rule is an insistence on abstinence, which is oddly enforced by Reverend Frank sending his young henchman on a covert mission to plant a bugging device in the apartment Ben and Sadie share.

To measure compatibility, the minister insists that couples engage in full-blown disputes to see how they reconcile their differences. Then to assess parental skills, Ben and Sadie must care for twin robotic babies who throw tantrums and have bodily functions at the most inopportune moments.

It’s creepy enough that Reverend Frank and his minion are voyeurs spying on the most intimate details of a relationship. The ultimate insanity, however, is when Reverend Frank insists that Sadie drive a car in heavy traffic while blindfolded and with Ben giving directions.

At some point, you can’t help but wonder why the lovebirds don’t simply refuse an absurd assignment. Of course, then the filmmakers would be at an even greater loss on how to salvage a few more laughs from a plot line on an inevitable collision course.

Amidst all the physical humor, sex and bodily function jokes, pratfalls, and even humiliating situations, there are some laughs. “License to Wed” may not always be blissful comedy, but there is some humor in the film even though Robin Williams seems on a mission to undermine some of the comedic elements. Perhaps fitting for a movie using some character actors from TV’s “The Office,” the funniest scene goes to the hapless fellow in the marriage class who’s desperate to save a plate of potato skins.

Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.


Al Gore's “Assault on Reason” is a valuable overview of our political degradation, with its “politics of fear; secrecy, cronyism and blind faith.”

It will be especially valuable for anyone who hasn't kept up with alternative news sources for the last several years, or for those who wonder why the mainstream media gives us so little investigative reporting.

One of the most astute media critics I know is Carl Jensen, Ph.D., the founder of Project Censored, a former reporter, professor emeritus at Sonoma State University (and my former husband). He comments “Gore lays the blame where it rightfully belongs, at the feet of the media, led by the persuasive 30-second television spot. This is a 'must read' for anyone who read 'An Inconvenient Truth' and wants to know how it happened. It's a censored message we haven't heard from the announced candidates for nomination for president.”

Much as I admire Gore's passion for educating us about environmental issues and global climate change, it isn't news that his passion would have been helpful in his presidential campaign.

In more non-news, Gore tells us that corporations have gained too much control over our lives, globalization has its downside, political campaigns have become too expensive and too superficial, and the Internet is a powerful force in media.

The book and I got off to a bad start with the introduction, which has a lot of information about the effects of television on the brain. It's valuable information and has been since Jerry Mander's “Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television” was published in 1977.

Gore has longed for an open Internet and helped start, where viewers can post their own videos and an irreverent lot they are. He writes “The Internet has the potential to revitalize the role played by the people in our constitutional framework.”

Sure. So do the people, in town hall meetings and other face-to-face encounters. Come to think of it,if you'd like some original thinking on most of Gore's topics, why don't you just pick up Mander's books?

  • Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (1977)

  • In the Absence of the Sacred (1991)

  • The Case Against the Global Economy And For a Turn Toward the Local, with Edward Goldsmith (1996)

  • Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples' Resistance to Globalization, with Victoria Tauli-Corpuz(2006)


THE ASSAULT ON REASON, by Al Gore. Penguin Press. $25.95



E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




In returning to his “Die Hard” role of iconic NYPD Detective John McClane after a long absence, Bruce Willis gives hope to aging, balding men everywhere as he appears not to have lost a step on his game.

Of course, Willis, who’s nearing the age to qualify for senior discounts at Denny’s, is buff and ready for action, looking more in shape than physical trainers half his age.

“Live Free or Die Hard,” the fourth installment that amps up the action to a new level of explosiveness, tests our hero’s endurance with the kind of butt-kicking challenges that would foil mere mortals, and Willis delivers a tough comeback performance that makes him the Rocky Balboa of the police force.

Having exhausted much of the action formula with more conventional plots and standard-issue villains, “Live Free or Die Hard” ups the ante with a grander scheme that taps into the more contemporary fears of cyber terrorism.

While the film should be faulted for its politically correct tilt with its choice of terrorists (again, a couple of them speaking French), there’s something deeply rewarding about pitting a blue-collar guy from the analog world (that would be Detective McClane) against a bunch of high-tech baddies operating at such an elevated plane in the digital world that they put the best techno geeks and computer hackers at risk.

The film begins with McClane coping with his estranged college-age daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is none too pleased that he’s giving her putative boyfriend a third-degree interrogation.

As if this family conflict wasn’t enough trouble, McClane is handed the absurdly routine assignment of picking up young hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) for questioning by the FBI. Then all hell breaks loose when a band of assassins rolls out a full-scale assault on Matt’s apartment, right at the very moment that McClane is picking up his charge for a quick trip to Washington, D.C.

It’s not giving away any real surprise to inform you that Matt is one of a group of cyber geeks slated for extermination because the villains commanded by the sneering, sniveling Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) want to get rid of the few computer geniuses who could conceivably unravel their diabolical master plan.

Gabriel and his minions spare no effort to come after McClane and Matt with all the traditional firepower they can muster. The bad guys don’t want anyone to thwart what the geeks call a “fire sale,” which is apparently cyber talk for shutting down the entire computer and technical infrastructure of the United States, including all financial networks, utilities, transportation and government systems.

Since McClane hardly knows email from regular postal service, he is forced into an unlikely alliance with his geeky sidekick Matt in a quest to tap into the nerve center of the terrorists. This puts the odd couple on a road trip to West Virginia to get the reluctant help of master hacker Warlock (Kevin Smith), whose base of operations happens to be his mom’s basement. However, they spend most of their time running around Washington, D.C. and its suburbs, especially as the Capitol goes into full meltdown mode when the villains trip up the city’s transportation grid, turning the streets into carnage.

True to the franchise’s heritage, “Live Free or Die Hard” is a straight-ahead action ride, where the thrills and stunts never stop. To be sure, the action is completely over-the-top and frequently preposterous, but it matters little since this thrill ride is a pure adrenaline rush.

In an explosive freeway chase sequence, a Harrier jet in full pursuit fires upon and virtually destroys a big rig while portions of the freeway keep collapsing. A sedan hurtles through the air toward McClane and Matt, only missing them when it bounces off passing cars. How about the patrol car that McClane propels skyward like a fiery missile into a helicopter?

The straight-up best fight scene involves McClane in a vicious close-quarters fight with Gabriel’s nasty henchwoman Mai (Maggie Q), as they trade punches and kicks inside a car dangling vertically in an elevator shaft.

This fourth “Die Hard” doesn’t ask for much critical thinking, otherwise the whole premise would crumble from its outlandishness. What matters is that Bruce Willis is in a fine fettle as he wisecracks and busts chops. With his sardonic wit and fierce physical behavior in full form, his McClane character always rises to the occasion when the job becomes personal.

The film’s revenge element only seems to enhance Bruce Willis’ most capable handling of the full-blown action that “Live Free or Die Hard” requires.

Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.



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