Release the Mueller Report

[Protesters gather along Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti to demand that the Mueller report be made public.]

Well, a few significant things have happened since we last talked about Attorney General William Barr’s decision to keep the 400-page Mueller report from Congress, and offer in its place a 4-page letter of his own, declaring not only that Donald Trump had been found innocent of having colluding with the Russians, but that he would not be prosecuted for obstruction of justice. You can follow that last link for the backstory, which includes the fact that Barr was selected for the position of Attorney General after sending an unsolicited letter to the Department of Justice explaining why, in his opinion, Trump could not, under any circumstances, be found guilty of obstruction, but, for right now, I’d like to focus on the following three developments.

1. Members of the Mueller team, who have remained incredibly tight-lipped about the investigation over the past 22 months, have apparently started talking about their displeasure with the way in which Barr has handled the rollout of their report. According to people familiar with the situation, the case for Donald Trump having engaged in obstruction of justice, for instance, was “much more acute than Barr suggested,” with the evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the President being both “alarming and significant.” Furthermore, it would appear that the report, while ultimately reaching the conclusion that Donald Trump could not be successfully prosecuted for having colluded with the Russians to win the 2016 election, does not completely absolve him. According to a story from NBC News today, the Mueller report includes “detailed accounts of Trump campaign contacts with Russia” and depicts a “campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation.” None of this, of course, was mentioned in Barr’s 4-page memo pronouncing the President to be innocent… Trump, for what it’s worth, is suggesting that the New York Times, which broke this most recent story, made it all up, and that people on Mueller’s team really aren’t speaking out.

2. We learned today that the 400-page Mueller report, as submitted to Barr, included non-confidential summaries for each section, which Robert Mueller had intended to be made public. Instead, however, Barr decided to release his own summary of the report, while, at the same time, refusing to release the summaries prepared by the report’s authors to even members of Congress. According to the Washington Post, the Mueller team had prepared these summaries “for the express purpose” of informing the public. As one official told the paper, they’d wanted for the report to be “shared in their own words — and not in the Attorney General’s summary.” And, this afternoon, Congressman Adam Schiff began asking why Barr had interceded. “It’s been my assumption that a 400-page report has an executive summary already,” Schiff said, “and so, of course, it begged the question, ‘Why did Barr feel the need to release his own summary?’” [I think we all know why, right?]

Barr’s office is now saying they couldn’t share Mueller’s non-confidential summaries, as every page of the report contained boilerplate language about confidentially. [You know this is bullshit, right?]

3. Barr, who had been given a deadline of April 2 to get the Mueller report to Congress, did not comply on Tuesday, triggering over 100 protests across the United States today, like the one in Ypsilanti noted above. While we don’t know how all of this will play out, one suspects that our newly emboldened Congress will have no choice but to subpoena Barr soon, as two weeks have already passed since the completion of the Mueller report, and we still don’t have a release date in sight. [There is no reason whatsoever that the report would need to be withheld from members of Congress. It’s true that the report would need to be redacted before being made public, but there is nothing precluding Barr from sharing the report with the members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, for instance. Nothing at all.]

Clearly, as House speaker Pelosi inferred earlier today, they have something to hide, and it’s amazing to me that more people aren’t in the streets… I could go on, but I need to stop thinking about this for a while. Here, though, for those of you who still want more, is a useful summary from Marcy Wheeler.

Now call your elected officials and demand that they fight to make the Mueller report public, OK?

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 100 Comments

The silent rattlesnakes of Truman Capote, and the hoax behind Hand-Carved Coffins

Late last week, I took a few days off from work and went to Chicago with the family. We visited friends, ate really good brisket, poked our heads into the small and dark apartment of Henry Darger, invested way too much time studying the habits of the longnose walking batfish, and spent Linette’s birthday seeing Hamilton, which, as it turns out, was every bit as terrific, inspirational and thought-provoking as we’d been led to believe. And, now, I’m finding it difficult to get back into the groove of writing. I know there are things I should probably mention, like the fact that Trump’s Department of Homeland Security just disbanded a group of intelligence analysts whose job it had been to track white nationalist organizations and other domestic terrorism threats, but I just can’t seem to find the motivation. Instead, I’m just sitting here right now, aimlessly jumping from rabbit hole to rabbit hole, looking for anything that might distract me for even a few minutes, so that I don’t get sucked back into the hell of political Twitter.

Right now, I’m watching 1975 footage of author Truman Capote telling Johnny Carson about a bizarre series of murders that began with a couple being done-in by a half-dozen rattlesnakes that had been injected with amphetamines. [“Could this have been where the record label Amphetamine Reptile got its name?”, I wonder.] Capote tells Carson in detail about how the rattles of the snakes had been cut away, making them completely silent, and how they’d been hidden inside the car of the victims, and how the killer then went on to kill other residents of his small midwestern town in various, equally-disturbing ways… When asked if this might be a case that Capote would consider writing about, the author told Carson that he’d already said everything he’d had to say about murder in his book In Cold Blood… Here’s their painfully slow, but very interesting exchange.

[It’s difficult to image that Capote, talking as slowly as he does, would ever be booked as a guest on a television talk show in the modern era. I mean, he probably wouldn’t be booked anyway, as authors and public intellectuals are no longer given the kind of mass media attention that they were several decades ago, but, putting that aside, there’s no way that any talk show guest in today’s environment would be given eight minutes to tell a single anecdote, regardless of how interesting the underlying elements might be. Americans just don’t have the same attention spans that they once did. Our brains have been completely rewired… We have become the rattlesnakes on speed.]

For what it’s worth, the story that Capote shared on the Tonight Show wasn’t true. And he did eventually write it. It appears among a number of other essays in his long-awaited 1980 followup to In Cold Blood, Music for Chameleons… a book which the Atlantic recently called Capote’s best and most personal work.

The story behind the story is a fascinating one. It involves Capote, a hard-drinking author with a legendary fondness for cocaine, deep in depression a decade after the success of In Cold Blood, creating this literary work, which he called a “non-fiction account of an American crime,” from bits and pieces of stories that he’d essentially stolen from Al Dewey, the Kansas detective who is credited with bringing Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith, the killers at the center of the murder case detailed in In Cold Blood, to justice… Dewey, who had been looking for a book deal about the cases that he’d worked prior to the murders of the Clutter family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, apparently shared the stories with Capote, who then pulled them together into a composite, adding dramatic flourishes, and placing himself at the center of the action… Here’s short excerpt from a 1992 piece in the London Sunday Times Magazine about Capote’s hoax.

…Joe Fox was astounded. On his desk, this late autumn day in 1979, was a manuscript bearing the name of Truman Capote. Two months before, Capote had promised Fox a “surprise,” but Fox had been unimpressed: as Capote’s long-suffering editor at the New York publishing company, Random House, he had grown weary of his endless promises. Now Capote had delivered a manuscript to rank with his masterpiece, In Cold Blood.

Published 13 years before, Capote’s true-life account of the murder of a ranching family in Kansas had brought him literary acclaim, with status and royalties to march. Yet Capote had written nothing to match it since. He had supposedly been working on a novel, Answered Prayers, but for more than a decade Fox had watched deadlines come and go with nothing from Capote but a series of excuses.

The gossip-mongers of the literary world were proclaiming that Capote was burnt out, his sources of inspiration dissipated by alcohol and cocaine. Now Capote had confounded them all by delivering a sequel to In Cold Blood. He called it Hand-Carved Coffins, adding the potent subtitle: “A non-fiction account of an American crime.”

Fox started reading with mixed feelings, since it was not the long-awaited novel; but soon found it utterly absorbing. Like In Cold Blood its subject-matter was murder in the American Midwest. In 1970 a group of farmers had wanted to divert a river to irrigate their land but were opposed by a powerful rancher named Robert Quinn, through whose property the river flowed. A committee of townsfolk voted against the rancher by 8-1.

Over the next five years the committee members were murdered in a series of elaborate and gruesome executions. The first two victims were a lawyer and his wife. Climbing into their car one morning, they were attacked by nine huge rattlesnakes which had been placed inside overnight. The snakes had been injected with amphetamines to make them more aggressive and the victims’ heads had swollen and turned green, Capote wrote, “like Halloween pumpkins”. Victims three and four, a farming couple, were killed in an equally calculating manner. They were living in the basement of their ranch-house while the upper part was being rebuilt. The killer had sealed the entrance with concrete blocks and then set the basement alight, creating an inferno from which there was no escape.

Although the remaining committee members were now on their guard, the executions continued remorselessly. The fifth member, a rancher who drove an open-topped Jeep, was decapitated by a wire stretched at head-height across the road. The sixth, the town coroner, was poisoned; the seventh, a widowed teacher, drowned in a puzzling swimming accident. The eighth, the local postmaster, fled to Hawaii, while the ninth, who alone had voted for the rancher, was spared.

In a further macabre touch, most victims had been sent a miniature wooden coffin containing a photograph of themselves. What made Capote’s account all the more compelling was that the murders remained unsolved. Capote had become closely involved in the investigation, headed by a detective named Jake Pepper. Both regarded the wealthy rancher, Quinn, as the principal suspect but after spending almost nine years on the case Pepper failed to secure any solid evidence against him, eventually retiring in 1979.

Capote met Quinn on several occasions and once played him at chess. He too had to leave the matter unresolved, ending Hand-Carved Coffins by describing an enigmatic meeting with Quinn beside the river which had sparked the original dispute.

By the time he had finished reading, Fox had concluded that Hand-Carved Coffins was a tour de force. It also served as the perfect riposte to Capote’s critics, demonstrating that his years in the literary wilderness had been spent working on a new masterpiece…

While Al Dewey did apparently share a story with Capote about a rattlesnake that, after having had its rattle sheared off, was used as an instrument of death, there were no hand-carved coffins, and the author never played chess with the serial murderer. But Capote maintained until his death in 1984 that it was all true, and that he’d provided verification to 20th Century Fox, which, at that time, was developing a film version of Hand-Carved Coffins. He hadn’t, though, and the film project would eventually die. And, over time, it came to light that the whole thing had been a hoax on Capote’s part… an attempt on the part of an increasingly desperate alcoholic author to recapture the magic of In Cold Blood over a decade later, without anywhere near the same investment of time or attention to detail. [While Capote’s six years of meticulous work on In Cold Blood has been well documented, there’s no evidence of any real research having been done on Hand-Carved Coffins. The Sunday Times piece noted above goes into a lot more detail on this this, for those who are interested.]

It’s making me sad, reading about Capote’s decline, the addictions, the hair transplants, the cosmetic surgery, and all the rest of it… but it’s also kind of beautiful that, toward the end, he was able to pull off this incredibly ambitious last act by taking everything that he had at his disposal and using it create this piece of fiction posing as a legitimate follow-up to In Cold Blood. It reminds me of something that Orson Welles might have done.

update: An interesting addition from the comment section. This comes from Jean Henry.

“I spent some time in Greece when I was 17/18 in the company of a rich NY son of society, also on the lam. He was homesick and would tell amazing stories of Rose Styron drunk, sneaking into Studio 54 at 12, harassing Richard Nixon by making paper airplanes of his resignation speech and throwing them over a garden wall into his courtyard, etc. But his best stories were about Capote who, at the end of his life, would show up on Thanksgiving night, uninvited, declare himself lonely and friendless and then proceed to make up stories all night long.”

Posted in Art and Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

It Can Happen Here… The Q-virus spreads to Michigan

We’ve talked about the right wing Qanon conspiracy theory here before, and I’m not inclined to give any more of a platform to those among us who believe that an incredibly noble Donald Trump is valiantly fighting to free child sex slaves from a secret society of baby-eating globalists led by Hillary Clinton, but, when I saw this footage from the Trump rally yesterday in Grand Rapids, I felt obligated to share it… We live in truly terrifying times, folks. And I’m afraid that it’s not going to get better anytime soon. Even if we’re able to get Donald Trump out of office in 2020, we’re going to be dealing with the victims of Trumpism for the rest of our lives… For more background on the mental illness known as Qanon, I’d suggest episode 122 of the Reply All podcast.

Posted in Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 267 Comments

This History of the Monkey Power Trio… “1995: The First Hour”

For the past several years, I’ve been posting my detailed notes here about the annual meetings of my one-day-a-year pseudo-band, the Monkey Power Trio. I’m not sure why I started to do this, but it’s become yet another thing for me to obsess about. I sit alone in an airport every year, before heading home from wherever it is that we’ve recorded, and I start franticly writing, fearful that, if I don’t get to it right away, I may forget something of potential importance, like the fact that we fought over Cheez Its in Manzanita, Oregon or that there were 10 homicides in Baltimore the day we recorded there, or that I fell in a lake before a session in the suburbs of Atlanta and almost couldn’t pull myself back out. It shouldn’t matter to me that these things are recorded, as I know that no one, not even members of our own families, or, for that matter, other members of the band, are likely to care after I’m gone. Yet I feel compelled to record everything, as though what we were doing was of some historical significance… When a single group photo would suffice, I find myself writing several thousand words… I think, to a large extent, I do it out of fear. I worry about my ability to remember things, and I think, if I record them here, I’m somehow protecting these fleeting memories of mine. I might say publicly, as I’ve done in the past, that I’m doing it for future musicologists, but, really, it’s just for me. It’s kind of a hedge against getting old. And the impetus has grown more acute this past year, given that we’re all now in our 50s, and we’ve already navigated one significant health crisis within the band. Like it or not, we’re all beginning to fall apart.

Well, not too long ago, I went through the site archives and figured out that I started documenting these sessions in earnest beginning with our 18th day as a band, which was spent outside of Reno, Nevada, near Lake Tahoe. While I’d made the occasional reference to our annual sessions prior to that, that’s when I started to take the task of documentation more seriously. And, now, because I have OCD, I’m slowly trying to fill in the blanks about those first 17 days we spent together as a band, in an attempt to preserve what can still be preserved. And it’s proving to be really difficult. As much of this happened in the early days of the internet, and before there were cell phones with cameras, a lot of what transpired between us is just gone forever.

So, with all of that said, I’d like to dedicate this post to that first Monkey Power Trio session 24 years ago.

The first session took place in the basement of an apartment building in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, where my old high school friend and bandmate Dan Richardson was living at the time. Dan, after graduating from Rutgers, had moved to Ann Arbor to live with me and our mutual friend Matt Krizowsky. In 1993, though, after a few years of living together, and playing in bands, we all went our separate ways. I moved to Atlanta with Linette, Dan moved to New York, and Matt, after staying in Ann Arbor a little while longer, moved to New Jersey, where he lived with his brother while looking for a job. And that was the situation in the summer of 1995, when both Matt and I traveled into Brooklyn to see Dan, who was living at 131 Union Street.

And, really, everything beyond that is fuzzy. I remember it being warm. I remember that we ate really good pasta painted with squid ink. I remember getting into a little bit of a tussle on the roof of a building, and an audio tape being thrown to the street below. And I remember us being relatively close to one another in the basement, as we quickly made up and recorded songs. But that’s about it… Oh, and the band was smaller then. There were just the three of us. Over the next few years we’d grow to five. That first day as a band, though, we were a proper trio, crowded around a little tape recorder in the basement of 131 Union Street.

So, I decided to engage both Matt and Dan in a conversation, in an attempt to see how much we could piece together about that day back in ‘95… What follows is that discussion.

[note: The covers of this first Monkey Power record were all hand-colored. It had been stipulated that all exposed nipples would be pink. A few, however, made their way past Quality Control with non-pink nipples. If you have one of those, you might be sitting on a gold mine.]

MARK: Does any documentation of this first session exist, other than the record we pressed, that might help us zero in on when the session might have taken place, or what might have happened during the session? Do either of you have photos? I know that there was an audio tape of us talking — or at least of me and Dan talking — on the roof of a building, likely before the session, but, as I recall, Dan wrestled the tape away from me, and threw it into the night… God, it would be great if that tape still existed somewhere.

DAN: I had one photo of us right outside of the Smith Street subway station. It would be the only documentation of that session that I know of, besides perhaps a cassette recording somewhere of the session in the basement… OK, I found the photo.

MARK: Very cool. I don’t remember having seen this before. Do we just happen to all be looking in different directions, or did we stage a douchey band photo on purpose, knowing that we’d be putting out a record? And who would have taken this? Did either of you have a camera? Could it have been Al? [note: Dan had a roommate by the name of Al at the time.]

DAN: I remember staging it as a douchey “band photo”. Now, all I can think about this photo is that we look thin. And kind of filthy.

MATT: I didn’t own a camera at the time. As for the cassette of the session, I had a copy with all the multiple takes of the songs, but I just looked and it’s not with my other MPT cassettes of early sessions.

MARK: OK, I reached out to Al, who now lives in Zurich, and he thinks that he must have taken this photo. “That must have been me,” he said. “I definitely remember the four of us walking along Houston Street during the day. I also vaguely remember you going into a shop that sold Japanese/Korean pop stuff.” I know the place he’s talking about. They sold videos and toys. Matt used to get stuff there. Was it called something like “Kim’s”?

MATT: Yes. He’s talking about Kim’s Video, which had several locations in Manhattan. I wasn’t a regular shopper there until I moved to NYC in October of ‘95.

DAN: I found another photo — an actual photo from the basement!

MARK: I guess I would have taken this one, but I don’t remember having a camera at the time. Is it possible that someone else was with us? Maybe Al again? Or maybe I just snapped this shot with a camera of yours, Dan. Or maybe I had a camera that I just can’t remember. I was taking photos for Crimewave at the time, so I guess I must have had one… Matt’s wearing the same shirt that he was wearing in the earlier photo, but it looks like maybe you’ve changed, Dan. So maybe the two photos were taken different days.

MATT: It looks to me like Dan is wearing the same dark green shirt in both photos, but it looks brighter in the subway photo because of a flash.

MARK: OK, I can accept that interpretation.

DAN: I still have that guitar. Other than that, I really don’t remember any of this stuff. I’m not sure about anything.

MARK: Do you know who Matt and I are? Do we look familiar to you?

DAN: Vaguely. You’re both older and fatter, though.

MATT: The first photo looks like it was taken at President and Smith, near Dan’s place, not on Houston, as I think Al was suggesting. Maybe we went shopping Friday with Al, though, before we went drinking. But the subway photo is after the session in Brooklyn, which, I believe, was on a Saturday.

MARK: I’m curious. How do you know the photo was taken after the session, and not immediately beforehand? That first photo does look like it was taken in the evening, though, doesn’t it?

MATT: Dan and I appear to be in the same outfits. And, as we seem to be in agreement that the session took place prior to October, I would have still been living in New Jersey. So, I wouldn’t have able to make multiple trips to Brooklyn. And there’s no reason we would have gone to the subway unless someone was going to use it. I also have a backpack strap over one shoulder, so I believe I was departing to return to New Jersey, after we recorded.

MARK: Dan, do you remember when Al moved in with you on Union Street? And do you remember him being there after our session?

DAN: I have no idea.

MARK: I wish we’d had someone like Brett Kavanaugh in the band, keeping detailed notes on a beer-soaked calendar… OK, I’m going to write to Al again, and see what more he can tell us about our band’s history. I see from LinkedIn that he’s now a “VP for Knowledge and Records” at some company, so maybe he kept a diary, or something… In the meantime, can you remind me how you came to be living on Union Street, Dan?

DAN: I was living with an art student named Daniel Hughes in NYU housing before I moved out there. When our NYU lease ran out, Dan and his friend, the sculptor David Simon, found a place in Brooklyn, and invited me to move there as well. We paid some mob guys a deposit, and tried to build walls for bedrooms inside of this loft-type space.

MARK: And Al moved in when one of those guys left, or the four of you all lived there together?

DAN: I think that Al moved in after Dan Hughes moved out.

MARK: OK, just got word from Al that he thinks he moved to Union Street in the Spring of ‘95, and that he remembers my visit that weekend “really well.” So far, the only thing he’s shared is that he remembers us going to an Italian grocery, where a guy asked me what kind of cheese I liked, inspiring the MPT song, You Like-a the Cheese, on that first record? I have no memory of this, but it sounds plausible… Do either of you remember that?

MATT: No.

DAN: No, but the guys who worked in that neighborhood did sound just like you sound in the song.

MARK: You Like-a the Cheese, I think, will go down in history as the song most reflective of our ethos. Agree? Disagree?

DAN: It’s one of the least musical and most like a prank phone call, so yes.

MATT: Disagree, but it has a better chance than Fatty Rocks.

[note: We apparently wrote-out the lyrics for this first record, and included them inside the cover. You can see some of them here, along with the comment, “Listen to those wheels click as lyrics are written on the spot.” A larger version of this image, and the one facing it in the inside cover, can be found here and here.]

MARK: Over the years, when asked about our origin story, I’ve told it incorrectly. I’ve said that, on the spur of the moment, we’d grabbed whatever instruments we could find, going into the basement of the apartment building that Dan was living in, to make a record. And that’s how I remember it having happened. In a recent conversation with Matt, though, he pointed out that we must have planned it, as he would have brought his saxophone with him from his brother’s house in New Jersey, where he was living at the time. Do either of you remember having conversations prior to the session, and how we came to decide that we should record?

MATT: I’ve never remembered it as a spur of the moment decision. Even if it occurred after I’d moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, I would have had to have brought my instruments from my apartment to Dan’s. One thing I’m sure of is that I had a hangover during the session because we’d gone out drinking the night before, probably with the usual NYC Newtonian group. We may have made a decision to play/record then, if I was already living in Brooklyn. If I was in still in New Jersey, though, we would have had to have discussed it even earlier. [note: Newtonian here would be an adjective referring to a group of high school friends from our days in Newton, New Jersey, who had relocated to NYC, and not fans of Sir Isaac Newton.]

DAN: I think Matt must be right here. He would not have had his instrument at my place for any reason except if we’d planned it ahead of time.

MARK: So, based on everything we know so far, it sounds like the session happened prior to October, before Matt was living in the Brooklyn, which would mean that we’d pre-planned it before I came out from Atlanta for my visit… I’m pretty comfortable with this, and I don’t think we need to do any more digging to help us pinpoint the date of the session any more precisely, but I think it’s worth noting that, in the first photo, there’s an Olde English 800 malt liquor ad behind us, and that Matt’s wearing a Demolition Doll Rods shirt, while I’m wearing a shirt that I’d gotten in Atlanta, when I saw K. McCarty perform the songs of Daniel Johnston. That’s one of Daniel’s drawings on the shirt. K. McCarty’s album of Johnston covers, Dead Dog’s Eyeball, came out in ‘94. I guess I could write to her and ask when she played Atlanta on that tour, if we wanted to hone in a little more closely on the date. Or, maybe, we could find out when Olde English started selling in cans.

MATT: I got my DDR shirt in 1994 while I was still in Michigan. Subway ads run for several months. I don’t think the shirts or ad will provide any way to pinpoint the date.

MARK: OK, going back a bit, prior to this session, we hadn’t played together since we all lived together at 502 Catherine Street in Ann Arbor, right? And that would have been the Summer of 1993… At least I seem to recall having moved away from Ann Arbor shortly after graduating, and, from doing a little research, I see that commencement was May 1. So, when would we last have played together as Prehensile Monkey-tailed Skink? [note: Our band in Ann Arbor, with Bulb Records founder Pete Larson, was Prehensile Monkey-tailed Skink.]

MATT: You didn’t move away from Ann Arbor until the lease ran out towards the end of August. I have a flyer for a Skink concert on June 3, 1993. [note: I think this was the concert running the same night as a show by The Restroom Poets for which Mark made a fake version of their poster with a different date. Fun times.] The last Skink show was at Sunday Bulb Sunday on August 8, where Andy Claydon filled in for Dan because he had left for grad school at NYU. I don’t remember if there were other concerts after the June 3 show, but we would have played together at the house through July.

MARK: What? Andy was in Skink too? Fuck, I don’t remember that at all… When we get done with this, we’ll need to do an oral history of Skink.

MATT: Andy was in the band for that one night only. There were four Bulb acts at The Blind Pig: Couch, Skink, The Monarchs, and Cornelius Gomez, which Ricky must’ve come back to town to play in. I think Pete set it up, but without knowing that Dan was leaving town.

DAN: I never knew that Andy filled in for me at a Skink show. Fascinating.

MARK: OK, I reached out to Andy. Here’s what he says. “I played guitar on three songs, but mostly I played drums while Pete played guitar,” he told me. Then he added, “I do remember several shows, though, where Greg played drums while Pete sang.” So, was Greg Hughes in Skink too? I’m learning so much about my own band’s history. This is great.

MATT: I don’t remember playing with Greg at all. That may have been before I joined Skink, or there were a few times Skink played The Lab, and I wasn’t there because I had to work.

MARK: OK, I asked Andy to clarify about Greg playing drums for us, and it sounds like, from what he recalls, Greg would jump in and play drums on occasion while Pete was running around, singing Alright, which seems plausible to me. “I can’t remember if he played on other songs,” Andy said. “It always seemed pretty impromptu.” I can definitely remember some interplay between us and the Monarchs on stage, but the details are fuzzy…. Back to Monkey Power Trio, did we have the whole “we’ll record once a year until death” pact worked out before we had that first session, or did we just decide on that after we got done recording?

MATT: I think it was after, but I don’t have strong memories on this topic.

MARK: I have a really vague memory of walking down a Brooklyn street and agreeing to it. I’m assuming it was after the session, and we were happy with the results. I also remember walking to get handmade, squid ink pasta. Maybe this was that same walk.

MATT: I don’t remember this, but it would explain why I didn’t stay longer with you and Dan, as I was still a vegetarian at the time, and wouldn’t be eating squid ink pasta… If I’m right, and you and Dan were dropping me off at that subway stop for me to make my way back to New Jersey in that first photo, you could have gotten pasta afterward. The store where you got it, if I’m thinking of the same place, is close to there.

DAN: I remember that we came up with the idea to do it once a year soon after we recorded that day. The squid ink pasta was from a place only a few doors up from my apartment. Specifically, it was ravioli painted with squid ink stripes. Delicious, and super cool-looking.

MARK: Does anyone remember how the name of the band came about? Did we come up with it at the session, or was it later… after the session, when we were sending the tape off to be pressed?

MATT: You and Dan discussed names after I had left, and I didn’t participate. MPT was the best of the choices. One of the others involved Krebstar 3000, or something similar, which reflected your obsession at the time with The Adventures of Pete and Pete.

DAN: I’m pretty sure that Mark came up with the name somehow. No clear memories.

MARK: I think we liked the fact that the “Monkey” part of the name harkened back to Prehensile Monkey-tailed Skink. And, given that we were just making small, off-the-cuff songs, I think we saw some humor in referring to ourselves as a “power trio,” like Cream or the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

MATT: I remember the main reason I liked it was the other suggestions sucked, and I didn’t have anything better to offer.

MARK: OK, so, at some point, we went into the basement, giving ourselves 1-hour to come up with enough songs for a 7” record… Did that one hour include setup time as well, or were we really just in that basement room for an hour?

MATT: I don’t think this 1-hour time constraint actually existed. I’m pretty sure we recorded for longer than a hour. You may have said “The First Hour” in the title of the first record, but I don’t think it proves anything. And setup time would have been minimal: Dan finding a place to plug in his guitar, me getting my sax ready, you selecting junk to beat on, and finding a location for the boom box to record everything. I have a memory of the boom box on a beat-up paint-splattered stepladder, and that seems to be verified by the photo above.

DAN: Yeah, you’re making up the one-hour constraint in hindsight. There was no timekeeping involved.

MARK: It wasn’t a long session, though, was it? I mean, it seems to me that we just walked in, beat on stuff and screamed for a while, and then just walked out? I don’t remember working on anything very hard, or really writing songs. I mean, we could have tried a second take once or twice, but that was pretty much it, right?

MATT: We tried a few second takes on some songs. I think we probably did 3 hours, 4 max.

DAN: I’m guessing it was about 2 hours and 35 minutes. I don’t remember doing songs more than once.

MARK: Does anyone remember what I was beating on? I remember there being a space heater or something, and maybe a big metal thing that was used for mixing cement. I don’t believe there was anything approaching a real drum, though… just a few metal things that I pulled to be within striking distance.

MATT: I think one of the objects was an old sink.

DAN: I’m pretty sure one of the objects was a support pole, or maybe a pipe. You can see them in the photo above.

MARK: Did I have drumsticks, or was I beating on these things with pieces of pipe or something? I remember there being drumsticks, but I could be wrong about that… Did we maybe buy drumsticks the day before?

DAN: I could have had drumsticks lying around.

MATT: I think it was drumsticks. They may have been old ones from Ann Arbor, saved by you or Dan.

MARK: Dan, was that room in the basement where you used to do laundry?

DAN: No, it was a basement room that I’d never been in, I believe… See, I can’t even recall where the hell I did laundry back then. I don’t remember doing it in the apartment, or at a laundromat in that neighborhood.

MARK: Judging from the stain on your shirt in the first photo, maybe you didn’t do laundry at all.

DAN: I do hate doing laundry.

MARK: Does the original recording of the entire session exist? I think we just let it run for the whole time, without stopping between songs, right? I’d like to hear the whole thing.

DAN: Matt said he couldn’t find his copy, and I don’t have one. I think it’s been lost to the sands of time.

MATT: I don’t think we just let the tape run.

MARK: Did I draw the artwork for the record that same day, or did I do it later, upon returning to Atlanta? Given that it’s just printed on white paper, I suspect I just printed them at Kinko’s, and then colored them by hand.

MATT: We didn’t decide on the band’s name the first day. And you did the artwork later, around when we pressed the record, which took some time. Back then we had to have the songs remastered to DAT to submit to the record press, I think we hired someone to do that.

DAN: I took the cassette to some guy’s apartment in the East Village. He had a cassette-to-DAT setup, and made the copy. I think he even bobbed his head up and down to some of the catchier tunes.

MARK: So, when we went into the basement, did we know that we were going to end up pressing a record, no matter what we did?

MATT: I don’t remember, but apparently yes.

DAN: I think, having learned from Pete Larson that you can just put any old shit out on a record as long as you pay United Record Pressing, we had the idea that we’d do a record. I don’t really remember if we had the idea of making it before we went into the basement, during our time in the basement, or upon leaving the basement, though.

MARK: I liked this phrase we used in our marketing of that first record. “Your band might call this a good first practice – we called it a record.”

DAN: I like that phrase too. I also like the fake record review from Music Music magazine. The first cover is still one of the best.

[note: This is the back cover of “1995: The First Hour,” a larger scan of which can be found here. As it says, “This was a good place to start, there are actually some pretty good ideas for songs here.”]

MARK: Do either of you have any memories of the session itself? I can kind of remember hitting things, and yelling… and I have a vague recollection of the room… but that’s about it.

MATT: Pretty much the same vagueness.

MARK: Is this the session when we did the song Honcho, or was that a later session?

DAN: Yes, we did Honcho at this session.

MATT: We did at least two takes, and they were both bad. It was just you reciting titles, followed by, “These are magazines!”

MARK: This session also had the lyric “Hawaii Five-0 is a TV show”… There were seven songs on that first record; Baby Eyes, The Theme from the Film: “Daddy, What Was Monkey Power?”, Jehovah’s Shit List, October Throughout History, Kling Kling Bang Bang Pop, and You Like-a the Cheese? Anything specific about any of these songs that you’d like to have recorded for posterity?

DAN: No.

MATT: I wish we could still write with brevity.

MARK: Wait a second… If we have a song called “Daddy, What Was Monkey Power?” I guess we must have named the band before the session, right?

MATT: I think we came up with the title long after, it’s an instrumental. We did not name the band before the session.

MARK: It’s been so long since I’ve listened that I didn’t even remember it was an instrumental.

DAN: You can listen on our website, Mark.

MARK: Thanks… Anything else for the historic record before I seal the time capsule and we forget about this forever?

MATT: Is that a promise? You’re not going to ask the same stuff about this again 10+ years down the line?

MARK: I do have a tendency to keep going. I was interviewing someone last night for my History of Zines project, and he said that being interviewed by me was, “like fighting a hydra.”

DAN: This document is 21 pages long! I keep feeling like this is some shitty homework assignment.

MARK: OK, I should note that this little oral history exercise of ours has been pretty heavily edited, in that I removed about five pages of us debating as to the exact timing of the session, trying to determine if it had taken place in August or October of 1995. Ultimately, Matt produced a copy of my old zine, Crimewave USA, where I’d published an article titled “The founding of the Monkey Power Trio,” which I had absolutely no memory of. In it, I say that we recorded “after” filling up on the above-mentioned squid ink pasta, and that we did this on my last day in the City, during a trip that, it would appear, began with our friend Rob’s August wedding in Princeton. Oh, and this article also mentions that the record went to press the day that OJ Simpson was acquitted of murder, which would have been October 3, 1995. So apparently I stayed in New York for a week or so, as Rob’s wedding was likely on a Saturday, and we recorded the following Saturday, right?

MATT: It would have been a Saturday. I think you had pasta after the session. If it was before, I probably wouldn’t have been hungry anyway due to the hangover. The article said we had planned the session ahead of time. It also said Dan came up with the idea that we meet up every year for the rest of our lives before the session. It doesn’t specify when Dan came up with that, it might have been while you two were walking in Brooklyn during your trip.

DAN: I agree that I came up with the idea.

MARK: And, during this week in New York, I also went to a taping of Geraldo’s television program, tried to leave a copy of Crimewave with the Jehovah’s Witnesses at their world headquarters, and sat in on the recording of an excerable Rush Limbaugh special called “Sometimes You Just Gotta Laugh”… right? I’d originally thought that I must have come back again, but I guess I did it all during this one week. I apparently used to have a lot more energy.

DAN: I do remember going over to The Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witnesses’ headquarters) to try to hand whomever answered the door a copy of Crimewave. For some reason they didn’t want it, and didn’t find any humor, or irony, in the situation.

MARK: OK, so I flew from Atlanta to New Jersey, took the train out to Matt’s brother’s place, stayed there for a night, then caught another train to Princeton for Rob’s wedding, and then I headed into New York, where I think maybe I stayed with both Dan and Anne (Shapiro), doing all the stuff I just noted, before we recorded the following Saturday. Does that sound right?

MATT: That sounds about right. I don’t remember if you came to my brother’s place directly from the airport. I suspect you might have stayed a night or two in NYC beforehand, you might have flown to LaGuardia or JFK. There was no train stop at Newark Airport at that time, you would have had to take a taxi to the NJ Transit train station, if you were coming from NYC you could take a PATH train there. In the issue of Crimewave you mention sighting performance artist Gene Pool in his can suit outside Nancy Whiskey bar during a drinking night that started at Jaycox Coal. That was probably the night before the session. I remember meeting Al for the first time at Jaycox Coal. I thought it was later but August sounds plausible. And we would have walked down Houston Street to get to Nancy Whiskey after Jaycox’s 2-for-1 Happy Hour special ended. And we had several beers’ head start before Al arrived, so that’s why he remembers it better. [note: For those of you looking to retrace our steps, and capture some of the magic, Jaycox Coal, as 12 Avenue A, is no longer in business. Nancy Whiskey, however, is still at 1 Lispendard in Tribeca.]

MARK: While we’re on the subject of drinking, it’s also worth noting that, according to the liner notes on the record, there wasn’t much beer consumed. On the back cover, it says, “The worst part is that we weren’t even drunk.”

DAN: I noticed that. Probably drank too much the night before.

MATT: I think we eventually had a couple beers but we definitely started sober and didn’t get drunk.

[note: As of right now, there are four items that are ready to go, in case anyone with deep pockets would like to put together a traveling museum exhibition on “1995: The First Hour.” Dan still has the guitar. Matt and Mark still have their t-shirts. And the tape player that the whole thing was recorded on has just been rediscovered.]

COMPLETED PAST SESSION NOTES: For those of you who haven’t yet had your fill of Monkey Power history, here are the other session notes that have been completed thus far.

2012: Lake Tahoe, Nevada
2013: Jackson Hole, Wyoming
2014:Cumming, Georgia
2015: Cleveland, Ohio
2016: Cumming, Georgia
2017: Baltimore, Maryland
2018: Manzanita, Oregon

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, Monkey Power Trio, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Barr memo isn’t the Mueller report

I wanted to hold off on posting anything about the Mueller report until we actually had it in front of us. It’s looking now as though that may be several weeks away, in spite of the fact that members of the House voted unanimously to make it public. It would appear as though the White Hose doesn’t want it to come out anytime soon, regardless of what Trump may say in public. While he may say, “Let people see it,” when asked by the press, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others have been working feverishly behind the scenes to block its release, knowing that, until it sees the light of day, and people can read for themselves what Mueller has written, they can keep yelling “total exoneration” without fear of being fact-checked.

The truth is, the President has not been “totally exonerated.” Far from it… While it’s true that Special Counsel Robert Mueller did deliver his final report to the Attorney General William Barr, no one outside of Barr’s office has yet to read it. And all that any of us have to go on right now is Barr’s four-page summary of the report’s findings, which, by the way, includes the following quote from Robert Mueller; “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

So, “total exoneration”? Not really… With that said, though, it would appear that Mueller’s team will be issuing no further indictments. Furthermore, it would appear as though Mueller did not feel as though there was enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that members of the Trump administration “conspired or coordinated” with the Russians in their now well-documented efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. This, of course, doesn’t mean that members of the Trump team didn’t court the Russians, and go so far as to set up meetings with them when they promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, and later lie about said activities. It would seem, however, there wasn’t ultimately enough, in the opinion of the Special Counsel, to secure a conviction.

And this is why we need to see the Mueller report, in which, we’ve been told, the Special Counsel and his team have laid out the evidence on both sides. [Write to your elected officials and demand the report be made public.] While it may be true that, in the end, there wasn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction, that doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve to know, for instance, what happened at the 2016 Republican Convention, when the Trump team changed the Republican Party platform to be more Russia-friendly. Clearly something was going on, and the American people have a right to know.

For what it’s worth, I don’t have reason to believe that Barr has purposefully misstated Mueller’s findings in his four-page summary. I do, however, think that, as a Trump appointee, he very likely stated things in such a way as to look more favorable for the President… thus giving members of the administration an opportunity to get ahead of the report, saying, for instance, that it definitively shows “no collusion,” when, in fact, it likely goes into great detail concerning the many unreported, and lied about, contacts between members of the Trump team and the Russians. [Let’s all remember that Barr got the role of Trump administration Attorney General by sending an unsolicited letter to the Justice Department essentially arguing that a sitting President of the United States cannot, by definition of the law, obstruct justice.]

If you want to get into the minutiae of what we’re seeing unfold, I’d encourage you to consult the Lawfare blog. Before you head over there, I just want to share a quote from former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who just appeared as a guest on the most recent episode of Pod Save America, which went into quite a bit of detail on why Mueller seemingly refused to weigh in on whether or not Trump obstructed justice. “Bob Mueller was punting to Congress because he didn’t want to make this ultimate decision,” Bharara said, “and Bill Barr came off the sidelines, caught the ball, and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown for Trump, which is not what Mueller was expecting.”

There are a lot of questions to be asked here… I can understand how it might be difficult to define and prosecute collusion, but why did Mueller just lay out the facts and punt to Congress on obstruction of justice, when other Special Counsels in the past have offered prosecutorial direction? [Firing James Comey for refusing to stop the investigation into Russian interference seems to be a pretty clear-cut case of obstruction.] Why did Barr step in to announce that he had determined there was “not sufficient (evidence) to establish” that Trump had committed obstruction, when it wasn’t his place to do so? [“The whole point of the special counsel was to (mostly) take the investigative and prosecutorial decisions away from the Trump appointees,” said Gregory Brower, a former top FBI official.] And, as Quinta Jurecic asks in The Atlantic, “To what extent was Barr’s decision —- and, for that matter, Mueller’s —- shaped by Barr’s aggressive view of the interaction between presidential authority and the obstruction statutes, under which an action definitionally cannot be obstructive if it is authorized under Article II of the Constitution? To what extent did that view mean that Barr wrote off presidential conduct that the FBI worried might be both obstructive and a benefit to Russia -— such as firing James Comey as FBI director?”

OK, so have you got all of that… Mueller demurred on obstruction. Barr usurped the role of Congress, announcing that charges wouldn’t be brought. And Donald Trump immediately went running into the stands, high-fiving people, screaming about “total exoneration” and the “very, very evil” and “treasonous things” that his enemies had done to him.

And it’s that last part that bothers me the most. As much as it bothers me to see Donald Trump taking this ridiculous, fictional victory lap, I don’t have any doubt that he’ll eventually be held to account for his actions. What concerns me is that, in the meantime, a lot of very bad things might happen. Today, emboldened by Barr’s letter, the Trumpists aren’t just demanding that the President be given an apology, but they’re saying that the people who supported the Special Counsel’s investigation should be made to pay a price. They’re calling for Democratic Representative Adam Schiff to to be removed from the House Intelligence Committee, and for new Department of Justice investigations to be be opened into Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the FBI. And they’re taking the opportunity to go after the press for “getting the Russia story wrong,” and demanding that they stop interviewing people who didn’t enthusiastically wave the “no collusion” banner over the past two years. Furthermore, they’re going on the offensive legislatively, again pushing for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and announcing the transfer of $1 billion from the Pentagon budget to the construction of Trump’s southern border wall… I could go on, but suffice it to say that we’re in for one hell of a fight, folks.

I should add that I’m under no illusion that the Mueller report will save us. While we deserve to know what it contains, and why the Special Counsel refused to make a determination as to whether or not Donald Trump had engaged in obstruction, I think it’s pretty clear that, if we’re going to defeat Trumpism, it’s going to have to be at the ballot box in 2020. No one else is going to do this for us.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 106 Comments

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