This really is "Radio Nowhere"


We note, happily, that the Senate Commerce Committee advanced the bipartisan Local Community Radio Act (S.1675). Co-sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), this critical legislation could help bring hundreds of local, Low Power FM (LPFM) radio stations to cities and suburbs across the country, here. This reminds us of a story, run on Fox News of all places, that "Clear Channel has sent an edict to its classic rock stations not to play tracks from 'Magic' ... no new songs by Springsteen, even though it's likely many radio listeners already own the album and would like to hear it mixed in with the junk offered on radio." Here. One might say this is political. After all, Magic has been the number one-selling CD for two of the past three weeks, and clearly nobody is selling more tickets on tour. Clear Channel is a yet another right-wing, jingoistic media company, and Bruce has made his and the record's anti-Bush, pro-free speech political message explicit on the tour. Then again, it's more likely our society's typical age discrimination. The Fox piece also notes, "There is no sign at major radio stations of new albums by John Fogerty or Annie Lennox, either. The same stations that should be playing Santana's new singles with Chad Kroeger or Tina Turner are avoiding them, too." Anyway, it's yet another argument against media concentration, as if we needed more ...

So this is funny but also important. Among the books on tape to which I've recently been listening are Pattie Boyd's memoir, Wonderful Tonight, which is two CDs, and Eric Clapton's Clapton, which is five CDs. Both are abridged. (I plan to fill in the Clapton parts with the actual book, I swear.) Anyway, what's funny is the competing renditions of Clapton's inspiration for writing what is probably his most annoying song ever, "Wonderful Tonight." Boyd, who couldn't stop with having inspired George Harrison's "Something" and also of course, "Layla" -- which still gets my vote for greatest rock song ever -- explains the song in a straightforward, lovey-dovey, "didn't I look wonderful that night to Eric" fashion. It's barf material. Clapton, on the other hand, tells a far more credible story, in which his girlfriend (or wife, I forget when it happens) won't stop changing her clothes and is making them incredibly late for a party. She keeps asking how she looks, and he keeps saying, "Wonderful, wonderful, now can we please get the **** outta here?" It's both a commentary on the differing ways men's and women's brains work, but also on the elusive quality of truth -- and, therefore, the silliness of the conceit of objective journalism. On the other hand, it's also an argument against people who say, thoughtlessly, it's never all right to lie. In When Presidents Lie, I noted -- against the advice of my editor, who thought it sounded sexist -- that any man who answered "yes" when, waiting to go to a dinner party, your wife asks, "Does this dress make me look fat?" -- even if it does -- is simply an idiot. The Clapton audio book is read by my friend, the great actor Bill Nighy. Pattie reads her own book. Both are on Random House Audio.

(Having finished them, I am onto the audio version of Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs, which is happily unabridged, and also happily read by Arthur Morey, who is really good at this. Since it's really long -- good, but long -- I occasionally break it up with parts of the three-CD Stephen Colbert book on tape, which I'm told is different than the book, but I've not had a moment to open that up. Russo is also a Random Audio book, but Colbert is from Hachette audio. I think it's great, but I worry about Mr. Colbert's campaign, because ...)

Truth is, the Stephen Colbert "candidacy" becomes a distraction only if the press allows it to. And the sad fact is the press already has allowed it to, because the press literally drives itself to distraction on the campaign trail. That's not an unfortunate side effect of the process. That's the goal. Read more here.

My friend Tom Tomorrow, the genius.

From TomDispatch:

When it comes to America's oily history in Iraq, there is just about no backstory -- not in the mainstream anyway. Even at this late date, with the price of crude heading for the $100 a barrel mark, Iraqi oil is -- well, not exactly censored out -- just (let's face it) so darn embarrassing to write about. In fact, now that all those other explanations for invading Iraq -- WMD, freedom, you name it -- have long since flown the coop, there really is no explanation (except utter folly) for Bush's invasion. So, better to move on, and quickly at that. These last months, however, TomDispatch has returned repeatedly to the subject of oil, the invasion, and the Bush administration as a reminder that history, even when not in sight, matters.

Sociologist and Iraq watcher Michael Schwartz, in his latest magisterial piece, reminds us that the deeper you drill into history, the more likely you are to find that gusher you're looking for. Even the leading Democratic candidates for president, while insisting that we have to stay in Iraq to "maintain our influence" in the region, can hardly bring themselves to mention Iraq's fabulous oil reserves.

"Why then did the U.S. invade Iraq? Why is occupying Iraq so 'vital' to those 'national security interests' of ours?" he asks, and adds: "None of this makes sense ... if you don't take into account that, as former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz once put it, Iraq 'floats on a sea of oil' and if you don't consider the decades-long U.S. campaign to control, in some fashion, Middle East energy reservoirs. If not, then you can't understand the incredible tenaciousness with which George W. Bush and his top officials have pursued their Iraqi dreams or why -- now that those dreams are clearly so many nightmares -- even the Democrats can't give up the ghost."

Beginning with Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first "oil for protection" agreement with the Saudis during World War II, Schwartz takes us through the rise of OPEC, the "Carter Doctrine," the creation of Centcom, the first oil wars, and finally the Bush "unipolar" moment, and the logic that lay behind "regime change" in the Middle East.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Rob Tomshany
Hometown: Tulsa, OK

One more notable version of ''The Jazz Singer,'' possibly seen by more people than one or two of the other versions you've listed, is the great Tex Avery cartoon ''I Love to Singa'' from 1936. In this one the conflict is almost purely aesthetic, with a stuffy classical musician trying in vain to suppress his offspring's jazzier inclinations. The title song came from Al Jolson's then-current film ''The Singing Kid." (And good luck finding it!)

Name: Jim Carlile
Hometown: Burbank California

Hi Eric,

I have a feeling that the reason "The Jazz Singer" became the first talkie feature has a lot more to do with circumstance rather than any underlying psychology. Here's what Jack Warner said about it:

"It is ironic, I think, that 'The Jazz Singer' qualified as a talking picture only because of a freak accident. Sam (Warner) was supervising the song recording when Jolson, in a burst of exuberance, cried out, 'You ain't heard nothing yet, folks. Listen to this.'

"Jolson had often used these words on the Broadway stage as a sort of trademark, and when Sam listened to the phrase on playback he realized that the singer's speaking voice could have a shattering wallop." ('My First Hundred Years in Hollywood,' 1964, p. 177)

Warner's not always reliable, but this story makes sense, since Vitaphone had already done a good number of musical shorts at the time, and Sam was supervising the film. The play had been a big hit with Jessel in the role, and there was a race among the other studios to see who could come up with an adequate playback technology that could cope with longer films. Warners took the first shot because they had a workable system and a good proven musical property right at hand.

Name: Edward Furey
Hometown: New York

Jewish characters, if not themes, began to turn up again openly in World War II films, which pointedly made little of them.

Even though John Garfield is in the picture, playing a gunner named Winocki, who may or may not be Jewish, the "Air Force" B-17 crew included assistant crew chief Weinberg, played by George Tobias. As I recall, we learn his son has been killed in action, either at Pearl Harbor or in the Philippines. Various other characters with obviously Jewish names turn up other pictures. In a service for the dead in "Action in the North Atlantic" Humphrey Bogart mentions "Able Seaman Morris Goldberg."

Stories generally revolved around a bomber crew, fighter squadron, PT Boat, submarine, tank or infantry platoon, in which representative American types fought side by side. Except for blacks, with the rare exception of "Crash Dive" where the sub's cook joins in a commando raid and gets off a rare joke at the expense of the whites, when he tells Tyrone Power and the rest blackening their faces that he's the only natural born commando, to good natured laughter all around.

But with that exception duly noted, there was almost always an obviously Jewish character, often a Dodger fan, both in and of the crew, fighting side by side with the Texan, the Kid, the Iowa Farmboy, the Romeo, the Tennessee Volunteer and Joe College from New England.

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