Who among you, if given the chance, wouldn’t shit on Hillary Clinton, and do irreparable harm to our democracy, if it meant getting your very own skyscraper?

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer, entered a guilty plea in federal court today, saying that he’d lied repeatedly top members of both the Senate and House intelligence committees in 2017, when he’d testified in writing that the Trump organization had not been pursuing a real estate deal in Moscow during the 2016 campaign. Cohen told the judge that he’d “made these misstatements to be consistent with (Donald Trump’s) political messaging, and out of loyalty.” Donald Trump, as you may recall, was adamant both during the campaign, and after, that he had no dealings whatsoever in Russia. At a January 11, 2017 press conference, for instance, he said the “closest (he) came to Russia” was in 2008, when he sold a Palm Beach mansion to a Russian oligarch.

[If you’re interested, Slate has compiled a list of all the times that Donald Trump has denied having business interests in Russia, like in the tweet above, going back to the campaign.]

The truth is, Trump’s attempt to close on the Moscow real estate deal did not end in January 2016, as Cohen had previously told members of Congress, but continued through June, when it became apparent that Donald Trump would likely win the nomination. If fact, it went right up to the point when Wikileaks began dumping Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence. Here, from the New York Times, is some of the background on we learned today by way of Mueller’s court filings.

…In January 2016, according to Mueller’s document, Cohen had a 20-minute conversation with the assistant to a Russian official in which he sought Russia’s help moving the project forward. The next day, Felix Sater, a Trump associate identified in the court filing as “Individual 2,” wrote Cohen to tell him he’d heard from Putin’s office. Cohen made plans to travel to Russia, calling them off only on June 14, which happened to be the day that The Washington Post first reported that Russian government hackers had penetrated Democratic National Committee computers. At one point, Cohen and Sater were also coordinating with figures in Moscow about a potential Trump visit in connection with the project…

This, by the way, is the first time that Mueller has named Trump and Putin together in the same filing document. Furthermore, it’s the first time his team has publicly referenced the Trump Tower Moscow project. All of this is significant.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone who reads the news, of course. We’d known for some time that Trump had been pursuing a development in Moscow through his shady associates like Michael Cohen and Felix Sater, and it had been speculated by many that Trump had been offered the Moscow development in return for his work to delegitimize the Clinton campaign, and sow discord on behalf of Vladimir Putin and the Russians. Now, though, we’re starting to see it all confirmed. We’re starting to see how the pieces fit together, and how a decision was made, once it became clear that Trump was going to win the nomination, that they had to change course. [Trump and Cohen, we’ve recently learned, both had planned to travel to Moscow to attend meetings about the project. These plans were cancelled, however, when it became clear that Trump would win the nomination.]

What likely happened is that Trump, a grifter by trade, saw an opportunity to enrich himself during the Republican primary by beating up on Clinton on behalf of Putin and the Russians. His reward would be the tallest skyscraper in Moscow. And that was the plan. While he likely thought that he might win the Republican primary, he probably never dreamed that he could win against Clinton, and, to be honest, he really didn’t try that hard. He didn’t assemble a serious team. He didn’t really invest in any ground game to speak of. He just talked a lot, shooting from the hip, and being himself, which apparently resonated with quite a few reality-television-loving Americans. The goal was never to win, though. The goal was to beat the hell out of Clinton, cast a lot of doubt on the American electoral system, wreak some havoc, and cash in. Trump likely envisioned himself quietly playing golf come mid-November surrounded by the world’s best sex workers, and settling into the lucrative role of red state firebrand, delivering the occasional speech on how “Crooked Hillary stole the election,” and selling MAGA merch manufactured in China by the boatload. That’s not how it played out, though.

But, again, we pretty much knew all of this. We knew something was up from July 2016, when members of the Trump campaign changed the GOP platform relative to the Ukraine, and our suspicions were confirmed later in the so-called dossier of former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, but now, for the first time, we have actual proof from inside the Trump organization that our President was working with the Russian government up until he secured the nomination, lying about it to the American people, and conspiring with members of his inner circle to keep it hidden.

Here, for those of you who might be new to all of this, is something I’d written in July of 2016, just after the Republican National Convention, followed by a few excerpts from the above-mentioned dossier about Michael Cohen’s work in Russia on behalf of Donald Trump.

…Just before the Republican National Convention, the Republican party released their new platform for 2016. The New York Times called it “the most extreme Republican platform in memory.” Among other things, according to the Times, this new platform outlined positions “making no exceptions for rape or women’s health in cases of abortion; requiring the Bible to be taught in public high schools; selling coal as a ‘clean’ energy source; demanding a return of federal lands to the states; insisting that legislators use religion as a guide in lawmaking; appointing ‘family values’ judges; barring female soldiers from combat; and rejecting the need for stronger gun controls — despite the mass shootings afflicting the nation every week.” This apparently came to pass largely because Donald Trump, who would go on just a few days later to accept the party’s nomination for President, didn’t push back. With one notable exception, Trump and his team, accepted everything that was suggested without debate.

According to Talking Points Memo, “The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump’s backing but because he simply didn’t care. With one big exception: Trump’s team mobilized the nominee’s traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine.”

That’s right. They didn’t push back against any of the retrograde domestic policies, but, curiously, they insisted that proposed wording about our need to arm the Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces be stricken, “contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington,” according to the Washington Post…

Now, here are those excerpts from the Steele dossier.

Seems like, once again, the information gathered by Christopher Steele was right on the money, doesn’t it?

For what it’s worth, the dossier also noted how the Trump team changed the GOP platform to be more Russia-friendly, saying that the Trump campaign did it in return for the Wikileaks dump of DNC emails, which, coincidentally, happened just before the Republican National Convention.

I’m sure there are some of you who don’t think any of this sounds like a big deal. Trump, after all, was still a private citizen at the time, and, if he wanted to conduct business in Russia, he had every right to do so. The thing is, as former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa said today, Trump lied about it, and, in so doing, he gave the Kremlin leverage over him, as they could have come out at any time during the campaign and exposed him.

One other thing to note. It’s extremely interesting that the Cohen plea happened today, not even a week after Donald Trump submitted his written answers, under penalty of perjury, to the Mueller team. We can assume that, in his answers, he flatly refused any real estate deal with the Russian government was pending. And, if that’s the case, Mueller can now file perjury charges against him. [Trump likely also said in his sworn statement that he didn’t know about the infamous meeting between his son and top campaign officials having met with Russian operatives at Trump Tower in New York City during the campaign. This too will likely be proven to be a lie.]

I could go on, but, as you can find this stuff anywhere, I’ll leave it at that for the time being. It is worth noting, however, that, as of today, the Mueller “with hunt” has brought charges against a total of 33 people, and it seems like, at long last, we’re headed toward some kind of resolution… But maybe I’m just reading too much into the fact that federal agents also raided the office of Trump’s tax attorney, Edward Burke, today in Chicago, kicking everyone out, and covering the windows with brown paper.

One interesting side note… Because of all of this happening today, Donald Trump has chosen to cancel his previously scheduled formal meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires this Saturday. [This doesn’t mean that the two won’t meet informally.]

So, yeah, it’s not exactly true when Donald Trump says that Robert Mueller has found no evidence of Russian collusion. There appears to be tons and tons of it.

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Obstruction in plain sight

I don’t want to blog tonight, as I’ve got it in my head the I need to watch the 1979 made for TV movie Murder by Natural Causes again, but, before I sign-off for the night, I wanted to mention that our President today retweeted an image showing the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, a man whom he appointed, behind bars, with a caption suggesting that he should be tried for treason, along with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. When asked by the New York Post why he’d tweeted a meme showing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein behind bars, Donald Trump responded, “He should have never picked a Special Counsel.” [It was Rosenstein, of course, who appointed Robert Mueller, the man who has, since being named Special Counsel, brought 191 criminal charges against 3 companies and 32 individuals, including Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, and Trump national security adviserMichael Flynn.]

I know, given the totality of the insanity that we’ve witnessed over the past few years, this may not shock some of you, but it is absolutely shocking… The President of the United States, consumed in scandal, just suggested that his Deputy Attorney General should be imprisoned for treason. I know Trump’s supporters will laugh it off, saying that it’s just Trump being Trump, but, had this happened under any other administration, Congress would unanimously be exploring avenues to impeachment.

During this same interview with the New York Post, Donald Trump, it’s worth noting, also said that a pardon for his former Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort, is “not off the table.”

Had Trump been caught on tape saying this to one of Manafort’s attorneys, it would be a scandal. People, quite justifiably, would be accusing Donald Trump of having attempted obstruction of justice. As it’s happening in plain sight, though… right out in the open… we apparently just don’t know how to respond. There’s just no model for dealing with something like this, as we’ve never seen it before. We’re in completely uncharted waters here… The President of the United States just announced to the world that he may pardon the man who prosecutors would like to be their star witness against him. What happens next? Does he wear a “Don’t Talk, Paul” baseball cap on Fox and Friends? And, if he did, would we respond, or would we just chalk it up to Trump being Trump?

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With news of Manafort and Corsi having coordinated with Assange on the release of stolen DNC emails, Trump appears to have lost his fucking mind

This morning, at 4:30 AM, the President of the United States tweeted out the following about Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel appointed by the Department of Justice to look into, among other things, any coordination that may have taken place between the Russian government and members of his 2016 presidential campaign. “The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite,” Trump tweeted. “He is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System, where he is only looking at one side and not the other. Heroes will come of this, and it won’t be Mueller and his terrible Gang of Angry Democrats.” Mueller, of course, is a lifelong Republican, a decorated war hero, and the former Director of the FBI. And Mueller, it’s worth noting, was confirmed unanimously by Senate Republicans and Democrats alike when he was nominated by President George W. Bush to be the Director of the FBI in 2001. He is far from a partisan hack, and it’s telling, I think, that Donald Trump has come out so aggressively against him today, going on in subsequent tweets to call the Special Counsel’s investigation both a “witch hunt” and a “total disgrace.”

If you’re at all curious as to why our President might be saying such things about the man changed with investigating his campaign, and repeatedly noting, as Trump did today, the “supposedly stolen” emails of “Crooked Hillary Clinton,” I think I might be able to shed a little light on it for you… Following, to the best of my knowledge, are the main things that have transpired since the Thanksgiving holiday as pertains to the Mueller investigation. As this is extremely complicated stuff, I’m sure that I’ve missed things, and maybe even gotten a few things wrong. If that’s the case, just leave a comment and straighten me out, OK?

Most importantly, it looks as though Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who, this past September, had agreed to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” with investigators in exchange for leniency, violated the terms of his plea deal with the Justice Department. In federal court yesterday, attorneys working for Mueller said that Manafort had “breached the plea agreement” he’d reached with representatives of the Department of Justice by “lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters.” It would seem that investigators had known for some time that Manafort had been lying to them, but they allowed him to keep at it, building a perjury case against him that would likely keep him in prison for the rest of his life.

Shortly after this news was made public, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, in what sounded like a not-so-thinly-veiled message to the former Trump Campaign Chairman, went on CNN to say that the President has “been upset for weeks about what he considers the un-American, horrible treatment of Manafort.” [One suspects that Trump may attempt Christmas Eve pardon, but, as Manafort plead guilty to state crimes in New Jersey, New York, and California as part of his initial agreement with the Department of Justice, a federal pardon from the President may not help all the much.]

Well, today, things took another turn, with news breaking about one of the items that Manafort had allegedly lied to the FBI about. According to The Guardian, “Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign.” Assanage, of course, is the founder of Wikileaks, who publicly released the DNC emails stolen by Russian government hackers… So, if true, we finally have what appears to be confirmation of collusion between the Trump campaign and those who orchestrated the release of stolen emails intended to damage the Clinton campaign. It’s also worth noting that, according to multiple sources, Mueller knew that Manafort, after agreeing to work with prosecutors, was still communicating with Donald Trump through his attorneys.

So, to sum up, I think Theresa Searcaigh has it pretty much exactly right when she says, “Let me get this straight… Manafort lied to Mueller, who pretended to buy it, despite having proof, because he knew Manafort was secretly keeping Trump informed, ensuring his written answers would match the story… and now the written answers are evidence of collusion?”

But that’s not all that’s happening right now, though. While the hammer is about to come down hard on Manafort, we also have breaking news that emails apparently exist between right wing conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi and Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone about the above-mentioned Wikileaks release of DNC correspondences stolen by the Russians. According to court documents made public today, Corsi wrote to Stone on August 2, 2016, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.” [The “friend in embassy” is clearly Assange, who was living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London at the time.] Corsi, in another email, then went on to say, “Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke… I expect that much of next dump focus.” And that, by the way, is exactly the narrative that the Russian bots began pushing shortly thereafter. As you may remember, conservative readers of this site were even pushing it at the time, saying that Hillary Clinton was unfit for service due to a debilitating neurological condition that had been hidden from the public.

So, everything appears to be coming together for Mueller and his team of prosecutorial witch-hunters. Having already established that the DNC hacking was carried out by Russian intelligence officers at the direct request of Putin, it seems as though they now also know that Assanage, who made the documents public for the Russians, was in direct contact with multiple members of the Trump campaign team, coordinating the timing of these “drops” with the intention of killing Clinton’s momentum in the run up to Election Day.

OK, and here’s one more thing to consider. Republican Jeff Flake is planning to once again take to the floor of the Senate tomorrow, urging his fellow law-makers to bring S.2644, the bi-partisan legislation to protect the Mueller investigation, to a vote. And, it’s being reported this evening, that he might actually get his way this time, as his fellow Republicans really want his vote on their judicial nominees. As of right now, I’d say it’s unlikely, but, given these other developments, who knows… We might actually be at some sort of tipping point, where Republicans in the Senate feel as though they have more to gain than they have to lose by standing up to Trump and safeguarding the investigation. [If you live in a state with a Republican Senator, please call their office today and demand that they stand with Flake in supporting the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act. And tell your friends to do the same.]

And, meanwhile, as all of this is going on, we have Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff saying today that, when he takes over the House Intelligence Committee from Republicans on January 3, one of his first orders of business will be to unmask the blocked number called by Donald Trump Jr. at around the time of his infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives offering “dirt” on Hilary Clinton. It’s long been suspected that he called his father about the meeting, but, up until now, Republicans, who have controlled the committee, have refused to request the phone records.

So, yeah, I think it’s completely understandable that Donald Trump is losing his shit.

Oh, and I know I’ve used the image at the top of this post before, but this time I really mean it. We have to be close to the end now, right?

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A now-profitable General Motors, having been bailed out by the people of Michigan, repays them with massive layoffs and the shuttering of facilities in Hamtramck and Warren

Back in 2016, while on the campaign trail, Donald Trump made the following promise to Michigan’s automotive workers. “If I’m elected, you won’t lose one plant, you’ll have plants coming into this country, you’re going to have jobs again, you won’t lose one plant, I promise you that,” he said.

Well, General Motors announced today that, in spite of their recent profitability, they would soon be eliminating 15% of their salaried North American workforce, which comes to 14,700 people. And, making matters worse, the company also announced that factories will likely be closing in Michigan, Ohio, Maryland and Canada. The following background comes by way of USA Today.

…The Detroit-based automaker said it would end production by the end of 2019 at its Lordstown Assembly plant in northeast Ohio; its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant in southeast Michigan; its Oshawa Assembly plant in Ontario; its Baltimore Operations parts plant; and its Warren Transmission Operations plant in southeast Michigan.

Assembly plants are job juggernauts. GM has about 1,500 employees at the Detroit plant, 1,600 at the Lordstown factory and 2,500 in Oshawa.

The announcement comes ahead of next year’s contract talks with the United Auto Workers union, which could potentially lead to decisions to devote vehicles to those facilities.

But there’s a serious chance that the plants close for good.

CEO Mary Barra is seeking to reposition GM for a future defined by self-driving cars, ride-sharing networks and electric vehicles…

So, here in Michigan, we could be losing 1,500 jobs at the Hamtramck Assembly plant, plus an additional 335 at the Warren Transmission Operations plant, bringing the total to 1,835. This number, of course, does not take into account all of the jobs in the supply chain that feeds those facilities, or the jobs in the surrounding communities that will be lost when these factories close.

GM, it’s worth noting, is not doing this out of necessity. The company reported a net income of $2.5 billion, or $1.75 a share, this most recent quarter, based on sales of $35.79 billion, which were up 6% from the same quarter last year. As GM said in their announcement today, they are making these cuts not to get back into the black, but to “increase annual adjusted automotive free cash flow by $6 billion by year-end 2020 on a run-rate basis.” So these cuts, they’re estimating, will return an additional $6 billion a year to their shareholders.

It’s also worth noting that GM, a company that the American tax payers bailed out in 20011 to the tune of about $11.2 billion, announced no plans to shutter plants outside of North America. This fact, as you might imagine, didn’t exactly sit well with the United Auto Workers, whose members took significant pay cuts in 2011, when GM restructured in order to avoid total collapse.

UAW Vice President Terry Dittes had the following to say. “This callous decision by GM to reduce or cease operations in American plants, while opening or increasing production in Mexico and China plants for sales to American consumers, is, in its implementation, profoundly damaging to our American workforce,” he said. “GM’s production decisions, in light of employee concessions during the economic downturn and a taxpayer bailout from bankruptcy, puts profits before the working families of this country whose personal sacrifices stood with GM during those dark days. These decisions are a slap in the face to the memory and recall of that historical American made bailout.”

As for why this is happening now, GM CEO Mary Barra said that the company needed to do this in order to be “lean and agile,” so that they might “lead in autonomous and lead in electric vehicles.” And I suspect there’s quite a bit of truth in that, as ride-sharing platforms and the emergence of autonomous fleets are going to change the very foundation of the automotive business. [All of the automakers are attempting to transition from “car makers” to more broad “mobility” companies, but they’ll all still trying to figure out that that means.] With that said, though, one suspects there are other contributing factors at play… not the least of which is simple, straight-forward greed.

Here are just a few things to consider when thinking about today’s announcement.

First, as a result of the GOP’s corporate tax cut last year, GM says they’ve already benefited to the tune of $157 million. When Donald Trump and the Republicans sold this tax cut to the American people, they assured us that American companies would reinvest the money in their people and facilities. This tax cut, they told us, would, among other things, keep manufacturing jobs in America. They did not. And GM today joined the long list of U.S. companies that, having received these tremendous handouts from the government, turned around and laid off their workers, opting instead to pass the benefits of the tax cut along to their shareholders.

Second, it wasn’t just announced today that these five facilities would be closing, and that over 14 thousand people would be losing their jobs. It was also announced that, despite the talk about wanting to be a leader in the electric vehicle space, GM would be discontinuing its electric vehicle line, the Chevy Volt, shifting emphasis back to trucks and SUVs. Would this have happened if the current administration had taken climate change seriously, and kept the Obama administration’s fuel efficiency standards in place, instead of scrapping them, and doubling down on fossil fuels? I’m not sure. One suspects, however, that it contributed. [Asked earlier today by reporters about a new report issued by 13 federal agencies about the dire economic impacts of climate change, Donald Trump replied, “I don’t believe it.”]

Third, it couldn’t have hurt, I imagine, that Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel have already cost GM an estimated $1 billion.

Fourth, if I had to guess, I’d say that GM also chose to do this now, as they’re getting ready to renegotiate with the UAW next year, and it strengthens their position if their American factory workers know the company they work for doesn’t give a shit about them, as they can build vehicles much cheaper in China and Mexico.

I’ve yet to see what, if anything, our incredibly courageous Michigan Senators have to say about this, but Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is speaking some serious truth today. [2,500 jobs are being lost at the Lordstown, Ohio plant, which you can see in the photo at the top of this post.]

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68 hours in Manzanita…. The Monkey Power Trio’s 24th day as a band

The weekend of October 20 marked the 24th meeting of my one-day-a-year pseudo-band, the Monkey Power Trio. For those of you who might not be familiar with our origin story, it all began back in 1995 with a promise between old friends one hot, summer afternoon in Brooklyn. Without much in the way of any real planning, we’d decided to make a record. We gathered whatever instruments were at our disposal, and we made our way into an unlocked basement storage room in a Carroll Gardens apartment building [131 Union Street], where we proceeded to scream and beat on things while an old cassette recorder whirred away, suspended in front of us from a string tied to a sewage pipe. The result was a 7″ record, which we decided to call The First Hour, acknowledging the fact that we’d agreed, shortly after finishing, to meet up and do the same exact thing every year until the point when only one of us was left alive, creating extemporaneous noise over beers with no practice, forethought, or concern as to what people outside the band might think of it. And, against all odds, we’ve stayed true to our word for 24 years now, despite the fact that, every year, it becomes exponentially more difficult for the five of us to get away from our real-world obligations, put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies, which have grown more extreme over time, and express ourselves creatively… This year, we elected to meet in Portland, and drive out to the small Oregon beach community of Manzanita.

WHY MANZANITA… Generally speaking, we like to do things as inexpensively as possible, which usually means that we go where we can stay for free, whether it be at the vacation home of someone’s family friend in Lake Tahoe, or the basement of a bandmate who lives in the soulless exurbs of Atlanta. Occasionally, though, we all chip in and rent a house for a few days, like we did the year before last across the street from that liquor store in Baltimore, or a few years before that in a Cleveland neighborhood, where we thought we might find some inspiration at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or a few years before that in Jackson Hole, where we knew someone with a truck who promised that, if we came his way, he’d not only set us up with an inexpensive place to stay and record, but drive us around in search of large, wild animals. Well, this year, when an opportunity opened up to stay for free at a house along a relatively desolate spot on the Oregon coast, we jumped at it. While we generally like to be in proximity to restaurants, bars, museums, and other things that we might draw inspiration from, there’s something to be said for saving money. More importantly, though, it just seemed like a year for quieter introspection, given that we’re all of an age where we’re starting to contemplate the grim reality that awaits us.

When all of this started, and we made our “every year until death” pact, none us really considered the fact that, one day, we’d be gathering to record either soon before, or just after, the funeral of a bandmate. And, this year, that thought was very much on our minds, as one of us had recently been diagnosed with cancer. As it turns out, it seems to have been a very treatable form of cancer, and we’re told that, now that it’s been removed, he doesn’t even have to go through chemotherapy, which is awesome. We didn’t know that when we met, though. [His surgery was a week after this year’s session.] All we knew when we met for this year’s session was that this might be the last time all five us would be together. So there was a lot of drinking chardonnay while walking on the beach, and talking about wills between games of Scrabble. Not exactly what we signed up for as kids back in Brooklyn almost a quarter century ago, but, as they say, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Here, for those of you who might be interested, are a few photos from the trip, along with my abbreviated notes. I know it’s unlikely that anyone reading this will care, but, with my memory starting to fade, I think it’s important to document these things… just in case my children ever start to show and interest.

BIGGEST LAUGH OF THE WEEKEND… I’ve just started listening to Pete Holmes’ podcast, and there’s a question that he poses to guests from time to time. “When did you laugh the hardest?,” he asks. For me, I’m almost positive, it would be this time in high school, when, sitting in the library, I started laughing, and just couldn’t stop. I can’t remember what it was that my friends and I were laughing about, or which friends were with me, but I remember the direction that I was facing, the shape of the table in front of me, the chair that I had to pull myself back onto, and the fact that, no matter how hard I tried, I just could not stop convulsing with laughter. I’ve often thought, if it’s true that your life flashes before you when you die, I’d like to see that scene again, and hear what it was that was so damn funny. When considering the totality of laughing fits I’ve had in my life, I suspect nearly half of them have been with members of Monkey Power, most of whom I’ve known since 9th grade, with huge percentages also going to my old Shadow Art Fair crew, and my fellow zine publisher Jeff Kay. [Come to think of it, a small Monkey Power Trio laughing fit was even captured on tape back in ’95, during that historic first session. If you’re interested, you can actually hear it. Did’t people laugh funny a quarter-century ago?] At any rate, this year was no exception. I had an uncontrollable laughing fit on my first day at the house, just minutes after walking through the door.

Matt, Dan and Mike had arrived in Manzanita the day before I arrived to buy groceries and set things up at the beach house, and Dave, who lives in Portland, had stayed behind to pick me up at the airport and drive out to meet them the following day. [While everyone else was flying into Portland, I was at a work event here in Michigan, trying my best to ignore the text messages about how much fun I was missing. Speaking of which, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here, but I also came in late to our session in Reno about ten years ago, and remember getting a photo sent to me en-route of a few bandmates at a craps table, jumping for joy with fistfuls of money, flanked by attractive young casino employees, who they’d somehow talked into playing along. This time, they just sent photos of themselves eating what looked like pizza and ice cream, which, I guess, is like the old man version of attractive young women.] After hugging Matt and Dan, I went to wake Mike, who was sleeping upstairs on a couch, as old men tend to do after a few drinks. Well, as he lay there, with his eyes covered from the sun with his baseball cap, he demanded that I hand him a box of Cheez-Its that they’d bought the night before. And that’s when things began. And I’m sure it won’t sound funny when I explain it, but, as I haven’t laughed so hard in a year, and since I suspect I’ll want to be reminded of it later, I’m going to do my best to record it here.

OK, I’m not going to attempt a play-by-play, but it started with me tying a Cheez-It to a piece of string, removing my shoes, and tiptoeing over to dangle it in front of Mike’s nose as he lay semi-conscious on the couch, and it ended with Mike, a former professional baseball player, chasing me around the room, as I attempted to stuff every one of the Cheez-Its into my mouth before being caught. Again, I know it sounds stupid… two 50 year old men fighting over Cheez-Its… but I laughed my ass off, and it’s a memory that I’ll cherish. Here’s a photo, taken by Dan, who I know probably thought that I’d either have a heart attack, or choke to death, as I stuffed fistfuls of Cheez-Its into my mouth while laughing so hard that I was gasping for air.

I don’t think I ever told this story here, but I once worked at a hotel in Kentucky, where, on occasion, they hosted World War II reunions. The attendees, I think it’s fair to say, when they got together for these things, acted like children. I have distinct memories of octogenarians running through the halls with giant novelty condoms on their heads, and making silly voices outside the rooms of their friends, only to shuffle off quickly to hide, attempting to stifle their laughter. I guess, when you’re friends from a relatively young age, that kind of shit just never ends.

THE RECORDING SETUP… The house had two floors. We slept, ate, and hung out on the top floor, and we spent our recording day on the ground floor, with Matt playing his wind instruments in a bathroom, Dave playing the drums in the garage, and Mike, Dan and myself in a little living room space. [I thought, for a good deal of our car ride from Portland to Manzanita, that Dave had somehow acquired the drum set of Hasil Adkins, but they were actually borrowed from Jody Bleyle, formerly of the band Hazel. I think he must have thought that I was a super huge Hazel fan, the way I was going on about how cool it was that he’d somehow managed to get them for us.]

Again, I know this won’t matter to anyone outside the band, but there were two relatively big advances this year in terms of setup. First, we were able to use FaceTime, or something like FaceTime, to communicate with Dave, who was locked up in the garage, pounding on the drums. He’d put some kind of distortion filter on it, which warped his face when he leaned forward to change the levels on his computer (Dave did all of the mixing in the garage too), but it was cool to just look up at the LED screen next to me to have a conversation with him. I don’t think that it’s something that we’d want to do again, as it’s more fun when we’re all together, even if the sound suffers, but it was interesting in that it demonstrated, at least to me, that we could be headed toward a time when one of us, perhaps incapacitated for health reasons, might be able to participate remotely by way of live feed. Hopefully it never comes to pass that more that one of us is bedridden at a time, but who knows what the future holds… And, second, I discovered that an ironing board makes a great stand for my notebook and megaphone. Again, I know this won’t matter to anyone, but I want to remember for next year… Here are a few photos.

As the most technically skilled person on the team, Dave does almost all of the technical work on the days that we record. He sets everything up, records everything, and mixes stuff on the fly. This is why, on the “hand” of Monkey Power, he’s the thumb… As I wrote about 20 years ago, when we last updated our website, “The thumb, opposable, brings with it tools and the ability to use them.” And that’s Dave, who also chips in equally for booze, even though he doesn’t really drink. He is, in short, the perfect bandmate… the one we all want to live to be in the final two. [While all the other guys in the band are old high school friends of mine, Dave is someone I met in college, when I was about 21, when a mutual acquaintance suggested that we share an apartment in Ann Arbor.]

That’s Matt, sitting in the bathroom, behind Mike. He’d open the door between songs, when he wasn’t paying his various wind instruments, or taking a nap. [Dave played some trumpet this year, but otherwise all the wind instruments were played by Matt.] Matt, for what it’s worth, usually plays sequestered off somewhere from the rest of us, as his mic tends to pick up the sounds of other, louder instruments. This isn’t an issue when we record parts separately, but, when we’re all making up stuff on the fly, playing together, it makes mixing the tracks almost impossible. So it’s not that he’s in the bathroom because we don’t love him. We do.

Yes, Matt somehow got three crumhorns past security this time.

That’s Dan on the right, standing alongside the ironing board where I did my work. We didn’t make use of the fireplace, but we probably should have. In the past 24 years, I don’t think we’ve yet had a session around a fire. We should probably do that… This year, it would have been super easy to carry an acoustic guitar and a flute down to the ocean, build a fire on the beach, and try to come up with something. I tell myself that, if we were younger, we probably would have. The truth is, though, we probably wouldn’t have. I remember, several years ago, when we were going to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, suggesting that we go into the bathroom and record a track of us harmonizing the morning of our session. Great idea. But no one wanted to do it. And that includes me.

I have no idea what I’m doing with my hand. It looks like I’m doing some kind of Señor Wences impersonation. If memory serves, this was me screaming dance instructions to a non-existent audience for our song “The Sand Flea,” which you may hear four of five years from now, once the record finally comes out. [The last record we put out, The Ballad of Christian Wolfcock, got us caught up to 2015, so we now have a backlog of just three sessions that need to be released.]

THE SONGS… There was at least one pretty good song this year. We worked hard on it. Or, at least, hard by our standards, meaning that we did more than one take of it, and worked on it for an hour or so. I can’t remember exactly what it was about, now that a few weeks have passed, but I remember having liked it. There was also the dance song, which I mentioned earlier, which was inspired by a walk along the beach the night before our session, where we were beset by small, dense clouds of sand fleas. Again, I can’t remember the specifics, but the dance, as recall, involved my yelling commands like, “scratch your ankles,” and “hop to the ice-cold water.” There was also a song about jellyfish, and what antisocial dicks they are. As always, we fed off what was given to us. And, this year, the universe gave us lots and lots of sand fleas and jellyfish. The jellyfish off the Oregon coast, as least the weekend I was there, were really amazingly colorful. [They were really purple.] And, of course, we sang about death. I don’t want to listen to the recording right now, but I can recall saying “contemplating the abyss” a few times.

THE NAPPING… By my count, three of the five of us fell asleep while recording this year. This, again, is something that we hadn’t bargained for when we started this, as we certainly weren’t taking naps mid-session when we were 25. For what it’s worth, as one of the nappers, I can tell you that it’s pretty awesome to just wake up and find that an entire song’s been written, and that you just need to get yourself off the couch for a few minutes to yell nonsense… As I don’t want to share photos of us sleeping, here’s the lovely view out the window.

OTHER STUFF… In addition to the music, the Scrabble, and all the talk about wills, there are probably a few other things worth noting, if only so that, years from now, those of us who remain can read over them and pretend to remember. Here they are, in no particular order. One – I don’t know how it came to pass, but two new nicknames were bestowed this weekend — “Pantless” and “Low Sack.” For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure those nicknames weren’t earned at the same time, but I suppose it’s possible. Two – There’s legal weed in Oregon, so a couple the guys availed themselves of that. For what it’s worth, I didn’t. I also didn’t drink much. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I think I’ve finally come to learn that the hangover the day after isn’t worth the incremental effect of the additional drink or two the night before. Three – I learned a lot about divorces, and the court system as it pertains to alimony and the like. [Two of us are now divorced.] I also learned a lot about cancer of the appendix. Four – I walked the beach several times. The night that we recorded, Dan and I walked down to the ocean, which required cutting through someone’s yard, at about 4:00 AM. It was really lovely, as the night was incredibly dark, and the stars were super bright. [During most of the day, it was foggy, like on Skull Island.] I recall that we identified a few constellations. I wouldn’t know it until a few days later, but, had we gone out earlier, we would have seen an meteor shower. So I guess you can add that to regrets, along with the fact that we didn’t have a fire on the beach. Five – We only went out to eat once while in Manzanita. We walked a few miles to a place where we ordered scallops. They were good, as I recall. Six – Matt and I walked the mile an a half into town for groceries one morning, and Dan, who had apparently finished off the mayonnaise the evening before, was insistent that we get more, to the point where I started to think that he might have an addiction issue. I texted him this picture from the store. Before cell phones, I would have had to buy all of this mayonnaise for the joke to work. Now, though, thanks to technology, I just had to snap a photo and put all but one back on the shelf.

THE REST OF THE STORY… Matt and Dan were the first to fly back home. I’d decided to stay a day, as there were some things I wanted to check out in Portland. And, Mike, apparently in no hurry to get home, decided to stay as well. So Mike and I crashed with Dave, his significant other, whom I like very much, and their six year old daughter, who I’d yet to actually meet. She was smart, funny and bright, and many laughs were had. [As all three of the remaining members of Monkey Power suffer from bad backs, we had to take turns carrying her down the street for dinner that night… Collectively, we make one good dad.] And I just hung out on my own for a little while, driving around to three different restaurants that I’d wanted to check out, and sneaking around McMenamins properties, looking for inspiration. [Now that I’m technically a developer, given that some friends and I own a commercial building, this is how I spend my vacations.] I also hit the World Forestry Museum, where I learned about efforts to build high-rise developments from wood, and the Oregon Historical Society, where I took this next photo. Oh, and I also hiked for a couple of hours in the mountains outside of Portland. [note: I really like Pear Hawthorn trees.]

As I’m not quite sure how to end this, here’s a little something I wrote a few years ago about these annual sessions of ours, followed by a photo of us on the beach of Manzanita.

Standing there, in front of our microphones, like it or not, we have to confront the fact that our minds aren’t working as fast as they once did, and that our ideas aren’t quite as sharp as they once were. It sucks, but that’s life. And, if nothing else, I think this little project of ours is a reminder that we should enjoy the time we have left with one another… Listening from year to year, in these tiny little audio snapshots, you can literally hear us collectively breaking down like a space capsule upon reentry. And it’s actually kind of beautiful… if you can get beyond the sadness.

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