Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Al Kooper's "Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock 'N' Roll Survivor" assumes that we're more interested in Al Kooper than perhaps we really are. Kooper is at pains throughout the book to point out that many rock histories are written without talking to people who were in the room, and that many inaccuracies are perpetrated as a result. Fair enough, and certainly Kooper was in a lot of interesting rooms. He's got a lot of good stories, but I get the feeling that he still isn't telling us everything he knows. In the early going it really is more of a history-- he goes into elaborate detail about the difference between the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway (the latter is where early 60's rock was written he tells us), and this is interesting and important to know. He is good on the business of selling songs in that period-- again, inside stuff that a lot of bios ignore. Once he gets rolling, though, Al Kooper looms larger in the narrative than Al Kooper ever did in rock'n'roll, and this distortion, perhaps inevitable in a first person narrative, has a sort of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" effect on the story.

The history of sixties and seventies rock that we get from Kooper more or less starts with "This Diamond Ring" (he didn't like the version Gary Lewis and the Playboys did, and later recorded it himself); his time with Dylan; The Blues Project; Blood, Sweat and Tears; "Super Session"; Mike Bloomfield; session work with the Rolling Stones on "Beggers Banquet" (that's Al on the French horn into to "You Can't Always Get What you Want"); Lynyrd Skynyrd; and The Tubes. There's a lot more, and just that list covers quite a bit of ground, but he spends nearly as much time discussing his various solo albums (quick-- name one) as he does on any of the other projects. I like "Child is Father to the Man" as much as almost anyone, I daresay, but as interesting and charming as it is, it is nowhere near as interesting or important as Dylan or the Stones. The book is a weird view of the period as a result of the fact that he insists on writing as much about "I Stand Alone" as he does, very nearly, about "Blond on Blond".

It would be more interesting, for example, to read more about the business machinations surrounding his departure from The Blues Project and Blood Sweat and Tears. The latter was formed, he tells us, with the explicit understanding that it was his band. How'd they fire him from his own band? (The "why" he shares with us-- they wanted a stronger singer.) Just about the only person in the book that he slams is Steve Katz, who worked with him on both of those ventures-- he is pissed off at Steve Katz, who most of the rest of us will have to look up. (It is important to Al that we understand that The Blues Project, which produced a couple of likable enough sides, and which I haven't thought about in at least 20 years, did not break up because he wanted the band to play "This Diamond Ring". Just so you know, that wasn't it at all.)

He spends some time on the deal the label had with Skynyrd, but doesn't mention the terms of his buyout-- long-time "Outside Counsel" readers already know more than he tells us, although the background is interesting.

Kooper gets to write a memoir because he played the organ part on "Like A Rolling Stone". None of the rest of it-- writing "This Diamond Ring", "Super Session" discovering and producing Lynyrd Skynyrd-- gets you a book deal, but Al makes the most of it. More Dylan stories would go a long way-- Kooper worked with him in the "Highway 61"/"Blond on Blond" period, and was on stage at Newport. The stuff he writes about this is fascinating, even though it is more about being Al Kooper playing in Dylan's band than it is about what Dylan is like. Kooper was also on the "Shot of Love" tour, and worked on the 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration show. More stuff about these things would be illuminating. ("Shot of Love" was where a lot of people got off the Dylan bus. All we really learn about this time was that Bob didn't go to soundchecks, and that it was Al's idea to play some older numbers to keep the audiences happy.) He seems to have feuded with Dylan, or fallen out for some reason, but he doesn't discuss it, and as a result we are deprived of whatever insight he might have about an artist that he has worked with for years-- maybe longer than anyone else, when you think about it. In the end the most illuminating thing we learn about Dylan is contained in a remark he makes about a television producer: "Michael Mann reminded me of Bob Dylan. They were both masters of intimidation, but both were sweethearts underneath it all. I decided to play a hunch and act toward Michael the same way I did toward Bob-- as an equal who did not feel intimidated by him."

He's careful to give credit to just about everyone, and he is interesting when he gets going on music production. He doesn't spare himself, and deserves props for that. The section on kicking Percodan, while hardly as harrowing as a page of Art Pepper's book, is honest, and he takes the responsibility for the failure of his first three marriages without being dramatic about it. The section on his draft physical is worthy stuff, and one of the few passages in the book that looks outside of the music biz to talk about life in that period. Probably the most valuable thing about the book, though, is the insight it provides into what a tough way of life working in the music biz really is. Kooper has made a lot of money for a lot of people over the years, but he himself has really had to scuffle at times notwithstanding his skills and his reputation. He seems like a nice guy-- a nice Jewish kid from Queens. And the photographs are terrific.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Just because I was first doesn't make this Observer article wrong-- Howard Dean was had the right strategy, and if he hadn't become the target of mockery he'd have been a stronger candidate than Kerry. Dean was a target of a press that was still in a swoon over Bush, and yes, I'm thinking of St. Tim Russert in particular. You want to know why television journalism is a dying media? Consider the last eight years.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

One of the things that I like about judging moot court is that it gives you an advance look into the issues that the real courts are dealing with. Unless you follow the Supreme Court a lot more closely than most people the tendency is not to notice what cases the justices accept, so when the decisions are made we don't really have the background on them which might put the law in better context. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick does a great job of covering the arguments, the Times is okay too, and Nina Totenberg is also good on the big cases, but for realling getting into the nitty-gritty moot court is great. Last March I was importuned into judging the Herbert Wechsler National Criminal Law Moot Court, and had a chance to consider the arguments for and against capital punishment for child rape. Now, three months later, I feel like I'm in a position to say that the Court got this one right. Not surprisingly it was a 5-4 close call, but I'm fine with that.

Something that seems notable to me about this decision is that it gives the lie to all the talk we've been hearing about how the Roberts Court is different. This is a 5-4 split that looks exactly like the 5-4 splits we've been seeing for years. There is nothing subtle or nuanced about this decision-- it is not like the Indiana voter ID decision, with a "liberal" Justice joining the majority in order to craft a "moderate" decision. This is clear-cut stuff: Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito have no problem with capitol punishment; Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens say nay. It is hardly surprising that Kennedy wrote for the majority-- a guy who looks to comparative law for guidance is hardly going to take the position that the Saudi Arabian penal code is an apt model for American jurisprudence.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Although a bit too Brit oriented, I thought this piece on books that haven't survived their time is provocative. "This was an interesting, if not entirely scientific, exercise. For many, it provided the opportunity to wallow in what we might call antinostalgia; the shaking of the ageing head and the muttered “My God, were we stupid enough to fall for all that claptrap?”. Like remembering you’d once purchased a Uriah Heep record, or sported three-button high-waisted Oxford bags with a cheese-cloth shirt." Robert Pirsig, John Fowles belong there-- I wonder when the last time was that someone read "The French Lieutenant's Woman"?-- but I'd argue against including Philip Roth or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There is a time in one's life to read Herman Hesse-- miss it and you'll never go back. You'll never miss it, and you'll probably never go back, but I'd say that Hesse is as timeless as teenage existentialism, and therefore not properly on this list. In the comments someone mentions Lawrence Durrell-- couldn't agree more, "The Alexandria Quartet" is as dated as spats. (Via Bookslut.)

My summer read at the moment is Al Kooper's reminiscence. I'd thought it was serialized in Rolling Stone back in the day, but it must have just been excerpted, because there is a ton I haven't seen before. There's a lot less Dylan-- the story about sneaking into the "Like a Rolling Stone" session, Newport, Forest Hills and a Hollywood gig, then the Hawks want in, and Al plays some sessions and gets involved with the Blues Project. Kooper is an engaging writer, and although he loves being a musician what he is best on is how the music biz worked in those days.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I rode by the stable on my way home from the City Honors Bike Trip. There was a woman standing across the street with a petition to save the stable, so I signed it, but I have no idea what is proposed. As you can see there is little left beyond the facade, and even that is much more badly damaged than is often shown.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Last evening I had a meeting down by Kleinhan's, so I took a moment to ride my bike past White's Livery on the way. As it happens I was only familiar with the back of the building before this, but these past few days this formerly obscure structure has been the topic of a fair amount of discussion.

The building is in much rougher shape than the photographs at Buffalo Rising and elsewhere suggest. The story I get from a former neighbor is that years ago the owners wanted to develop the property into apartments, but that the neighbors blocked city approval of the plan due to parking concerns although the actual issue for many was privacy. Behind the stable there are three or four cottages, off the street, accessible only by a footpath, with a gate at the end. The occupants of the cottages, which are charming (and have included some interesting people over the years), didn't want the windowless rear of the building to be modified to look out over their yards and houses.

As for privacy, it is a city neighborhood. There'll be less privacy now, with a big open lot where the structure was. It is hard to know what else the building might have been used for. An office building would have presented the same parking issues, and the same privacy issues, for that matter-- you have to figure that people are going to want more windows than the horses were prepared to settle for. It is also not well situated for an office building-- it is smack dab in the middle of a residential block, with nothing else of a commercial nature around anywhere. We may well be heading back to a horse-based transportation infrastructure, but this building isn't going to survive that long, so it's original use is probably out as well.

Buffalo is far from unique in its resistance to change-- what makes this city unusual, I think, is that the reactionary mentality is so frequently what prevails. The ultimate result is decay, rather then renewal. There are a number of reasons for this-- the declining population base means that (a) there is less pressure to change; (ii) scarcer resources to bring about change; and (3) the population is old, and conservative. There is a history of bad choices which brought about bad results. People are afraid to make more bad choices, and so make none. Leadership is in short supply-- there does not seem to be a vision of Buffalo that anyone can agree on. Instead of planning on what to become, the population here is instead consumed by nostalgia.

One of the things that makes this particular episode interesting is that it is happening in a part or the city where all of this is still somewhat unusual. There are neglected, decaying old buildings everywhere in Buffalo, of course but it only gets attention when it happens in white, affluent neighborhoods- and those are pretty much the neighborhoods with the clout to block development. An interesting paradox, when you think about it: the desirable neighborhoods for development are the ones that are most likely to resist it, and the best equipped to resist it as well. Meanwhile, east of Main Street, the buildings just fall, like trees in the forest.

It's a pity. The building would have been an attractive apartment conversion. Instead it has been falling apart for years, a roost for pigeons, and no doubt other vermin as well. It is sweet that the neighborhood wants to save it now, although it is worth noting that nobody is stepping up with their own money to do it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I've been a Willie Randolph fan for a long time, and I was thrilled when he was tapped to helm my Metropolitans. For years Willie was the African-American coach that got interviewed when teams needed to make it look like they hadn't already decided on some white guy, and it has to have rankled. Joe Torre's tenure as Yankee skipper meant that he wasn't going to be promoted in-house anytime soon, so it must have felt pretty sweet for the Brooklyn-born Randolph to get the call from Flushing Meadows. The Mets were making a lot of good calls-- they were spending money on exciting players, and doing a lot of the things that you'd wish the Yankees would do.

And then they fell apart. Part of it was that, in the inevitable way of these things, they were suddenly struck old. I really don't know what the other parts were, but when a team folds the way the Mets did down the stretch last season someone is going to take the fall, and it isn't usually going to be anyone on the roster. If Willie had been the manager of a lot of other clubs he'd have been done at the end of last October. Maybe the Mets looked around then and didn't see anyone they liked better, and decided to stand pat for the time being; maybe they gave him the benefit of the doubt and decided to to see how things played out this season. They went out and got some more (old) pitching, but it didn't help, and now Willie is out.

Here's the thing-- if I'm Willie Randolph, I'm pretty justified in seeing race as an issue that pretty much underlies everything. It doesn't seem to me that the decision to fire him was race-based-- he got fired under the same circumstances that would get just about everyone except Gene Mauch or Tommy Lasorda fired. But having had his shot, if Willie doesn't find his way to the end of another team's dugout bench in a year or so, I'd say he'd be justified in thinking that race was still in the picture. He has taken a team to within one game of reaching the World Series-- even if that doesn't mean job security, it should mean that he will be an attractive candidate for another owner to consider.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Oh, and Happy Bloomsday!

Al Kooper's "Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock 'N' Roll Survivor" was serialized in Rolling Stone when it came out, so I never picked up a copy. It's back in print, and I won't let it get away twice-- without question it's the best rock'n'roll memoir I've ever read, perhaps because Kooper has the wit to realize that the things he's seen, and the people he played with are far and away more interesting and important to the reader than he is.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My roadtrip reading this past week was Brendan Gill's "Here at the New Yorker", his 1975 memoir about his time at the magazine. I was an undergraduate so long ago that getting into law school was by no means a sure thing. It was competitive, (only two other people from my graduating class went on), and it made sense to at least think about alternatives. In my naivete I entertained notions of pursuing graduate studies in each of my majors, and one area I thought I might be interested in becoming expert in was the oeuvre of The New Yorker. I thought then, and I continue to believe, that the influence of that publication was profound and far-reaching, and it might have been an interesting project. Mercifully I was called to the bar and the world was spared, but during that time I read quite a bit about the writers and editors and hangers-on that inhabited the place. I had not read Gill's book, though. The reviews suggested that it was grumpy, and that it was filled with a lot of payback, and although Gill had been at the magazine as long or longer than anyone, and had, by his count, written more for it than anyone, I was put off. (In fact, at his death in 1997 he was one of the only writers to have worked with all of the editors the magazine

I suppose I needn't have been. It is full of gossip, much of which is mean-spirited, although he at least had the class to reserve the cruelest anecdotes for the deceased-- for the living, and particularly for William Shawn there is mostly fawning praise. Gill writes as though the reader must certainly be familiar with his work, and I suppose anyone who would read a book like "Here at the New Yorker" would be, but as a literary figure I think it is probably safe to say that this is the work he'd most likely be remembered for, rather than any of the seven other volumes listed on the flyleaf. I recall his writing about architecture, but you could put a gun to my head and I couldn't tell you anything about his film or theater criticism. He was sort of a utility infielder at the magazine, it seems to me, and the sense I got of what he was like personally was that he was likable enough, if he liked you. Although his mother died when he was young, he was nevertheless the child of privilage, a doctor's son. Yale, and a Bonesman, which means that although he'd probably be interesting to have a drink with, he'd have been unlikely to have me over to the Century Club to do so.

The book itself is a curious thing. Nearly 400 pages long, it is anecdotal and discursive. It's methodology seems to be to take up in turn as many people-- editors, writers, artists, what have you, relate a little story about each, and then move on to the next. It does not hang together as well as a New Yorker article does-- it is almost like 400 pages of "Talk of the Town" writing, only not really as good. I've read probably as many of the other memoirs about the magazine as anyone-- I think I've read them all now-- and there was dish here that was new to me, but none of it was particularly illuminating. It wasn't deep dish, let's put it that way, and it would not have been very useful to me in my long-ago abandoned project.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Background on how the cover of Blood on the Tracks was shot and processed. (Via Dreamtime.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I had a mediation with this guy a month ago.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Listlessly scrolling around the dial these past few nights I came across a couple of artists I hadn't thought about in a while. The first was James Taylor-- it's funny to think about how he was once just about as big a name as there was in the biz, and then dropped off the table. I understand why rock critics hate him-- his aw-shucks whiteboy schtick isn't very rock'n'roll, but I can't hear, "Now the first of December was covered with snow/And so was the Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston" without getting a little chill. I was totally sucked into the show.

Something similar happened a couple of evenings later when I tuned into Van Morrison on an edition of Austin City Limits. Morrison looks like he swallowed Marlon Brando, but he can still belt it like really nobody else. Taylor's show was just Sweet Baby James and a keyboard player, but Morrison was fronting a big band-- three singers, one of whom doubled on trumpet, a couple of guitars, pedal steel.... They swung like crazy, and his material, much of which was new to me, was terrific.

Monday, June 09, 2008

What I think is the saddest part is that people are still in denial about the energy crisis that we're in. I hear folks say all kinds of dumb stuff about energy costs, but my two favorites are, “It’ll go back down,” and “They’ll come up with alternatives to oil.” As to the first, there is no basis for believing that. Oil is a non-renewable commodity, and the demand for it is increasing. The price of oil fluctuates somewhat, but it has never really gone down-- you can't remember dollar gas unless you are my age, and if you are my age you remember that it was a big deal when pumps had to be fitted to accommodate gas prices over .99¢. They are fitting out pumps to accommodate three-figure fill-ups now. Energy costs are like anything else-- they don't go down unless demand goes down.

As for the second, if they invented solar cars tomorrow, what would change? Would you file the VIN off your car, take the plates off and walk away? Would you expect that your car would have any value towards a trade-in?

This is the crisis that has been coming since the 70’s. It is strange that we don’t recognize it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I'll take Holland in the Euro Cup. I like Rumania's song, though.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

I am troubled and puzzled by the idea that some HRC supporters are having a difficult time coming around to supporting Obama. Although I found her platform and her record profoundly flawed, and although she has been a disappointment as my senator, the idea of Hillary Clinton is not something I have a problem with. As I said in the early going when ol' Bill ran the first time, my biggest problem with Clinton was that sooner or later I was going to vote for him. In that race, as in 1988, I voted for the African-American candidate, and although I am not the sort of person that believes that people should wait and take their turn (that would make me a Republican), I do think it is worth noting that it has taken a while for both African-Americans and women to develop the sort of electoral bench strength that's necessary to produce successful national candidates.

The Jessie Jackson comparison is useful, I think, because both Senator Clinton and the Reverend Jackson came to the national stage through channels outside the conventional ladder of elected office. Both are highly polarizing figures, with charisma and appeal that is equaled only by the extent to which they are disliked by their opponents. Say this for Jessie's supporters, though-- they understood that although history might have passed their guy by, their interests were best served by turning out and supporting the candidate who stood for the interests and principles they had in common. The African-American voter knows who gets punished when a vote is cast, or not cast, to punish the Democrats.

What makes it odd this time is that Obama was utterly respectful of HRC. True enough, the way she was treated by the media was disgraceful. I'd say that some of that was attributable to the fact that the media has never been particularly kind to the Clintons, but you can't say that Obama was sexist. I'd say that he was running a campaign that was premised first and foremost on the idea that we need to get past those fights, and while I understand that for the women who are passed over for promotion, or are sexually harassed, or are just tired of being treated like 3/5ths of a person that may be hard, I'd say that the reason this African-American candidate was able to accomplish what he has was because, in part, he had the Rev. Jessie come before him. The next woman will have it easier, and if we don't know who that is yet, well, in 1988 Barak Obama was working for the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization on Chicago's South Side. It is strange and ironic that the culture of the United States, founded on enunciated principals of fairness, equality and justice has actually been a history of civil oppression and bigotry. I wish it weren't true, but some notion about the perfectibility of our society makes me a glass half-full kinda guy. A profoundly flawed woman candidate for the Democratic nomination lost. I've seen flawed candidates win and lose, and now, maybe, we have moved past race and sex as being viewed as drags on electability. As I write this it seems like it-- HRC will be remembered as a woman candidate, but she lost as a Clinton, and both of those are positive developments, I'd say.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Dylan endorses Obama.

Well, you know right now America is in a state of upheaval. Poverty is demoralising. You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor.
"But we've got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up...Barack Obama.
"He's redefining what a politician is, so we'll have to see how things play out. Am I hopeful? Yes, I'm hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to."
He added: “You should always take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future."

I wonder what Obama's favorite Dylan side is. He seems like he'd be into "John Wesley Harding".

15 Republican Rumors about Barack Obama.

"10. He’s never around when Frozone appears."
(Popdose is indispensable.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Submitted without comment. (Found on No Smoking in the Skull Cave.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Howard Dean's leadership of the Democratic party seems to have accomplished several subtle goals-- and if the Beltway insiders are whining, maybe what that tells us is that they still don't understand what Dean has set out to do. First, for the first time that I can recall, every primary has been contested, and every primary has mattered. Dean believes that the future of the Democratic Party must be a 50 state future-- that we can't go on conceding states. Both Obama and Clinton have campaigned everywhere, and this can only benefit grassroots Democrats, particularly in a year like this, with Democrats poised to take some congressional seats that have been in Republican hands for a generation. Pundits are talking about how the fractious primary has damaged the top of the ticket; Dr. Dean knows that the top of the ticket can take care of itself, and that it is on the local level where the Democrats need to build. By staying in the race to the end HRC has, I would say, actually helped the long-term prospects of the Dems.

Second, he has managed, so far, to impose party discipline on the DNC, without looking heavy-handed. The "compromise" that emerged over the weekend was brilliant, and keeps both Michigan and Florida in the fold, where they need to be.

Dean has managed this without self-aggrandizement, because he knows it is not about him. It never was, really. When he ran four years ago he did so out of a commitment to the programs and beliefs that had been traditionally Democratic, that appeared to have been abandoned by the party. I'm sure he was as surprised as anyone that he had that sudden surge in popularity-- it always seemed to me that what he was trying to do was bring the mainstream back towards the sorts of social, economic and foreign policy programs that made people like him-- and like me-- Democrats in the first place.

He's a smart guy, Dr. Dean, and a committed guy. After all the shit he took, he could have decided to go home to the Green Mountain State, and washed his hands of the whole mess. Instead he decided that the Party could still be saved, and that saving it was still the best hope for the country. He took on the thankless job at DNC. He could have turned that into a cult of personality-- others have-- but he didn't. Instead, in the face of constant snipping, he found a way to take back a majority in Congress, and it looks like he is going to be able to shift the tint of the country as a whole. I hope someone remembers to thank him.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Bo Diddley beat is so primal that it's a little odd to think of it as having been invented, but it was, and it's inventor died today.

Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” Johnny Otis’s “Willie and the Hand Jive,” Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” The Who’s “Magic Bus,” Bruce Springsteen’s “She’s the One”, U2’s “Desire”-- think about the songs that Bo Diddley didn't get credit for writing. “I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob,” he said 2003. Big props to The Clash, who had him open for them on their first US tour. Bo Diddley was one of the inventors of an American art form. Thanks, Bo.

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