Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Everybody's Talkin'



Harry Nilsson


My favorite male pop singer has always been Harry Nilsson. Oh, there are plenty of others I like, but old Harry was really something special. If you're not acquainted with his work, please check out some of the tunes included along with this article. Like his incredible vocal range, his subjects and the captured emotions run an entire gamut from lost love to musings on UFOs. Nilsson liked to have fun with it and even during the midst of a sad, sad statement, often made fun of himself or the emotion he was using.

Harry Edward Nilsson III (June 15, 1941 – January 15, 1994), is usually referred to as Nilsson, an American singer-songwriter who achieved the peak of his commercial success in the early 1970s. He is probably best known for the hit singles "Everybody's Talkin'" (1969), "Without You" (1971), and "Coconut" (1972). Nilsson also wrote the song "One" made famous by the rock band Three Dog Night. He was one of the few major pop-rock recording artists of his era to achieve significant commercial success without ever performing major public concerts or undertaking regular tours.

He received Grammy Awards for two of his recordings; Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male in 1970 for "Everybody's Talkin'", a prominent song in the Academy Award-winning movie Midnight Cowboy, and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male in 1973 for "Without You."

Nilsson was born in Bushwick, Brooklyn in 1941. His paternal grandparents were Swedish circus performers and dancers, especially known for their "aerial ballet" (which is the title of one of Nilsson's albums). His father, Harry Edward Nilsson Jr., abandoned the family when young Harry was three.

He grew up with his mother Bette and his younger half-sister while his younger half-brother Drake was left with family or friends during their moves between California and New York, sometimes living with a succession of relatives and stepfathers. His uncle, a mechanic in San Bernardino, California, helped Nilsson improve his vocal and musical abilities. As well as his half-brother and a half-sister through his mother he also had three half-sisters and one half-brother through his father.

Because of the poor financial situation of his family, Nilsson worked from an early age, including a job at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. When the theatre closed in 1960, he applied for a job at a bank, falsely claiming he was a high school graduate on his application although he only completed ninth grade. He had an aptitude for computers, which were beginning to be employed by banks at the time. He performed so well the bank retained him even after uncovering his deception regarding being a high school graduate. He worked on bank computers at night, and in the daytime pursued his songwriting and singing career.


By 1958, Nilsson was intrigued by emerging forms of popular music, especially rhythm and blues artists like Ray Charles. He had made early attempts at performing while he was working at the Paramount, forming a vocal duo with his friend Jerry Smith and singing close harmonies in the style of the Everly Brothers. The manager at a favorite hangout gave Nilsson a plastic ukulele, which he learned to play, and he later learned to play the guitar and piano. In the 2006 documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?, Nilsson recalled that when he could not remember lyrics or parts of the melodies to popular songs, he created his own, which led to writing original songs.

Uncle John's singing lessons, along with Nilsson's natural talent, helped when he got a job singing demos for songwriter Scott Turner in 1962. Turner paid Nilsson five dollars for each track they recorded. When Nilsson became famous, Turner decided to release these early recordings, and contacted Nilsson to work out a fair payment. Nilsson replied that he had already been paid five dollars a track.

In 1963, Nilsson began to have some early success as a songwriter, working with John Marascalco on a song for Little Richard. Upon hearing Nilsson sing, Little Richard reportedly remarked: "My! You sing good for a white boy!" Marascalco also financed some independent singles by Nilsson. One, "Baa Baa Blacksheep", was released under the pseudonym "Bo Pete" to some small local airplay. Another recording, "Donna, I Understand", convinced Mercury Records to offer Nilsson a contract, and release recordings by him under the name "Johnny Niles."

In 1964, Nilsson worked with Phil Spector, writing three songs with him. He also established a relationship with songwriter and publisher Perry Botkin, Jr., who began to find a market for Nilsson's songs. Botkin also gave Nilsson a key to his office, providing another place to write after hours. Through his association with Botkin, Nilsson met and became friends with musician, composer and arranger George Tipton, who was at the time working for Botkin as a music copyist. During 1964, Tipton invested his life savings – $2500 – to finance the recording of four Nilsson songs, which he arranged; they were able to sell the completed recordings to the Tower label, a recently established subsidiary of Capitol Records, and the tracks were subsequently included on Nilsson's debut album. The fruitful association between Nilsson and Tipton continued after Nilsson signed with RCA Records – Tipton went on to create the arrangements for nearly all of Nilsson's RCA recordings between 1967 and 1971 but their association ended in the 1970s when the two fell out for unknown reasons. Whatever the cause, it was evidently a source of lingering resentment for Tipton, who was one of the few significant collaborators who refused to participate in the 2010 documentary on Nilsson's life and career.

Nilsson's recording contract was picked up by Tower Records, which in 1966 released the first singles actually credited to him by name, as well as the debut album Spotlight on Nilsson. None of Nilsson's Tower releases charted or gained much critical attention, although his songs were being recorded by Glen Campbell, Fred Astaire, The Shangri-Las, The Yardbirds, and others. Despite his growing success, Nilsson remained on the night shift at the bank.

Nilsson signed with RCA Records in 1966 and released an album the following year, Pandemonium Shadow Show, which was a critical (if not commercial) success. Music industry insiders were impressed both with the songwriting and with Nilsson's pure-toned, multi-octave vocals. One such insider was Beatles press officer Derek Taylor, who bought an entire box of copies of the album to share this new sound with others. With a major-label release, and continued songwriting success (most notably with The Monkees, who had a hit with Nilsson's "Cuddly Toy" after meeting him through their producer Chip Douglas), Nilsson finally felt secure enough in the music business to quit his job with the bank. Monkees member Micky Dolenz maintained a close friendship until Nilsson's death in 1994.

Some of the albums from Derek Taylor's box eventually ended up with the Beatles themselves, who quickly became Nilsson fans. This may have been helped by the track "You Can't Do That", in which Nilsson covered one Beatles song but added 22 others in the multi-tracked background vocals. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney held a press conference in 1968 to announce the formation of Apple Corps, Lennon was asked to name his favorite American artist. He replied, "Nilsson". McCartney was then asked to name his favorite American group. He replied, "Nilsson".


Aided by the Beatles' praise, "You Can't Do That" became a minor hit in the US, and a top 10 hit in Canada.

When RCA had asked if there was anything special he wanted as a signing premium, Nilsson asked for his own office at RCA, being used to working out of one. In the weeks after the Apple press conference, Nilsson's office phone began ringing constantly, with offers and requests for interviews and inquiries about his performing schedule. Nilsson usually answered the calls himself, surprising the callers, and answered questions candidly. (He recalled years later the flow of a typical conversation: "When did you play last?" "I didn't." "Where have you played before?" "I haven't." "When will you be playing next?" "I don't.") Nilsson acquired a manager, who steered him into a handful of TV guest appearances, and a brief run of stage performances in Europe set up by RCA. He disliked the experiences he had, though, and decided to stick to the recording studio. He later admitted this was a huge mistake on his part.

Once Lennon called and praised Pandemonium Shadow Show, which he had listened to in a 36-hour marathon. McCartney called the following day, also expressing his admiration. Eventually a message came, inviting him to London to meet the Beatles, watch them at work, and possibly sign with Apple Corps.

Pandemonium Shadow Show was followed in 1968 by Aerial Ballet, an album that included Nilsson's rendition of Fred Neil's song "Everybody's Talkin'". A minor US hit at the time of release (and a top 40 hit in Canada), the song would become extremely popular a year later when it was featured in the film Midnight Cowboy, and it would earn Nilsson his first Grammy Award. The song would also become Nilsson's first US top 10 hit, reaching #6, and his first Canadian #1.

Aerial Ballet also contained Nilsson's version of his own composition "One", which was later taken to the top 5 of the US charts by Three Dog Night and also successfully covered in Australia by John Farnham. Nilsson was also commissioned at this time to write and perform the theme song for the ABC television series The Courtship of Eddie's Father. The result, "Best Friend", was very popular, but Nilsson never released the song on record; the original version of the song (entitled "Girlfriend") was recorded during the making of Aerial Ballet but not included on that LP, and it eventually appeared on the 1995 Personal Best anthology, and as a bonus track on a later release of Aerial Ballet. Late in 1968, The Monkees' notorious experimental film Head premiered, featuring a memorable song-and-dance sequence with Davy Jones and Toni Basil performing Nilsson's composition "Daddy's Song." (This is followed by Frank Zappa's cameo as "The Critic," who dismisses the 1920s-style tune as "pretty white.")

Nilsson's album, Harry (1969), was his first to hit the charts, and also provided a Top 40 single with "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City" (written as a contender for the theme to Midnight Cowboy), used in the Sophia Loren movie La Mortadella (1971) (US title: Lady Liberty). While the album still presented Nilsson as primarily a songwriter, his astute choice of cover material included, this time, a song by then-little-known composer Randy Newman, "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear". Nilsson was so impressed with Newman's talent that he devoted his entire next album to Newman compositions, with Newman himself playing piano behind Nilsson's multi-tracked vocals. The result, Nilsson Sings Newman (1970), was commercially disappointing but was named Record of the Year by Stereo Review magazine and provided momentum to Newman's career. The self-produced Nilsson Sings Newman also marked the end of his collaboration with RCA staff producer Rick Jarrard, who recounted in the Nilsson documentary that the partnership was terminated by a telegram from Nilsson, who abruptly informed Jarrard that he wanted to work with other producers, and the two never met or spoke again.

Nilsson's next project was an animated film, The Point!, created with animation director Fred Wolf, and broadcast on ABC television on February 2, 1971, as an "ABC Movie of the Week". Nilsson's self-produced album of songs from The Point! was well received and it spawned a hit single, "Me and My Arrow".

Later that year, Nilsson went to England with producer Richard Perry to record what became the most successful album of his career. Nilsson Schmilsson yielded three very stylistically different hit singles. The first was a cover of Badfinger's song "Without You" (by Pete Ham and Tom Evans), featuring a highly emotional arrangement and soaring vocals to match – recorded, according to Perry, in a single take. His superb performance was rewarded with Nilsson's second Grammy Award.

The second single was "Coconut", a novelty calypso number featuring four characters (the narrator, the brother, the sister, and the doctor) all sung (at Perry's suggestion) in different voices by Nilsson. Also notable is that the entire song is played using one chord, C7th.

The third single, "Jump into the Fire", was raucous, screaming rock and roll, including a drum solo by Derek and the Dominos' Jim Gordon and a bass detuning by Herbie Flowers.

Nilsson followed quickly with Son of Schmilsson (1972), released while its predecessor was still in the charts. Besides the problem of competing with himself, Nilsson was by then ignoring most of Perry's production advice and his decision to give free rein to his bawdiness and bluntness on this release alienated some of his earlier, more conservative fan base. With lyrics like "I sang my balls off for you, baby", "Roll the world over / And give her a kiss and a feel", and the notorious "You're breaking my heart / You're tearing it apart / So fuck you" (a reference to his ongoing divorce), Nilsson had traveled far afield from his earlier work. The album nevertheless reached #12 on the Billboard 200, and the single "Spaceman" was a Top 40 hit in October 1972. The follow-up single "Remember (Christmas)", however, stalled at #53. A third single, the tongue-in-cheek C&W send up "Joy", was issued on RCA's country imprint Green and credited to Buck Earle, but it failed to chart.


Nilsson's disregard for commercialism in favor of artistic satisfaction showed itself in his next release, A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (1973). Performing a selection of pop standards by the likes of Berlin, Kalmar and Ruby, Nilsson sang in front of an orchestra arranged and conducted by veteran Gordon Jenkins in sessions produced by Derek Taylor. This musical endeavor did not do well commercially. The session was filmed, and broadcast as a television special by the BBC in the UK.

1973 found Nilsson back in California, and when John Lennon moved there during his separation from Yoko Ono, the two musicians rekindled their earlier friendship. Lennon was intent upon producing Nilsson's next album, much to Nilsson's delight. However, their time together in California became known much more for heavy drinking than it did for musical collaboration. In a widely publicized incident, the two were ejected from the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood for drunken heckling of the Smothers Brothers. Both men caused property damage during binges, with Lennon trashing a bedroom in Lou Adler's house, and Nilsson throwing a bottle through a 30-foot-high hotel window, or so the story goes.

To make matters worse, at a late night party and jam session during the recording of the album, attended by Lennon, McCartney, Danny Kortchmar, and other musicians, Nilsson ruptured a vocal cord, but he hid the injury for fear that Lennon would call a halt to the production. The resulting album was Pussy Cats. In an effort to clean up, Lennon, Nilsson and Ringo Starr first rented a house together, then Lennon and Nilsson left for New York. After the relative failure of his latest two albums, RCA Records considered dropping Nilsson's contract. In a show of friendship, Lennon accompanied Nilsson to negotiations, and both intimated to RCA that Lennon and Starr might want to sign with them, once their Apple Records contracts with EMI expired in 1975, but would not be interested if Nilsson were no longer with the label. RCA took the hint and re-signed Nilsson (adding a bonus clause, to apply to each new album completed), but neither Lennon nor Starr signed with RCA.

Nilsson's voice had mostly recovered by his next release, Duit on Mon Dei (1975), but neither it nor its follow-ups, Sandman and ...That's the Way It Is (both 1976), met with chart success. Finally, Nilsson recorded what he later considered to be his favorite album Knnillssonn (1977). With his voice strong again, and his songs exploring musical territory reminiscent of Harry or The Point!, Nilsson anticipated Knnillssonn to be a comeback album. RCA seemed to agree, and promised Nilsson a substantial marketing campaign for the album. However, the death of Elvis Presley caused RCA to ignore everything except meeting demand for Presley's back catalog, and the promised marketing push never happened. This, combined with RCA releasing a Nilsson Greatest Hits collection without consulting him, prompted Nilsson to leave the label.

Nilsson's 1970s London flat, at Flat 12, 9 Curzon Street on the edge of Mayfair, was a two-bedroom apartment decorated by the ROR ("Ringo or Robin") design company owned by Starr and interior designer Robin Cruikshank. Nilsson cumulatively spent several years at the flat, which was located near Apple Records, the Playboy Club, Tramp (nightclub) and the homes of friends and business associates. Nilsson's work and interests took him to the US for extended periods, and while he was away he lent his place to numerous musician friends. During one of his absences, former The Mamas & the Papas singer Cass Elliot and a few members of her tour group stayed at the flat while she performed solo at the London Palladium, headlining with her torch songs and "Don't Call Me Mama Anymore". Following a strenuous performance with encores on July 29, 1974, Elliot was discovered in one of the bedrooms, dead of heart failure at 32.

On September 7, 1978, The Who's drummer Keith Moon returned to the same room in the flat after a night out, and died at 32 from an overdose of Clomethiazole, a prescribed anti-alcohol drug. Nilsson, distraught over another friend's death in his flat, and having little need for the property, sold it to Moon's bandmate Pete Townshend.

Nilsson's musical work after leaving RCA Victor was sporadic. He wrote a musical, Zapata, with Perry Botkin Jr. and libretto by Allan Katz, which was produced and directed by longtime friend Bert Convy. The show was mounted at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, but never had another production. He wrote all the songs for Robert Altman's movie-musical Popeye (1980), the score of which met with unfavorable reviews. Nilsson's Popeye compositions included several songs that were representative of Nilsson's acclaimed Point era, such as "Everything Is Food" and "Sweethaven". The song "He Needs Me" featured years later in the film Punch-Drunk Love. Nilsson recorded one more album, Flash Harry, co-produced by Bruce Robb and Steve Cropper, which was released in the UK but not in the US. From this point onward, Nilsson increasingly began referring to himself as a "retired musician".

Nilsson was profoundly affected by the death of John Lennon on December 8, 1980. He joined the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and overcame his preference for privacy to make appearances for gun control fundraising. He began to appear at Beatlefest conventions and he would get on stage with the Beatlefest house band "Liverpool" to either sing some of his own songs or "Give Peace a Chance."

After a long hiatus from the studio, Nilsson started recording sporadically once again in the mid to late 1980s. Most of these recordings were commissioned songs for movies or television shows. One notable exception was his work on a Yoko Ono Lennon tribute album, Every Man Has A Woman (1984) (Polydor); another was a cover of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" recorded for Hal Willner's 1988 tribute album Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films.

In 1985 Nilsson set up a production company, Hawkeye, to oversee various film, TV and multimedia projects for which he was involved. He appointed his friend, satirist and screenwriter Terry Southern, as one of the principals. They collaborated on a number of screenplays including Obits (a Citizen Kane-style story about a journalist investigating an obituary notice) and The Telephone, a comedy about an unhinged unemployed actor.

The Telephone was virtually the only Hawkeye project that made it to the screen. It had been written with Robin Williams in mind but he turned it down; comedian-actress Whoopi Goldberg then signed on, with Southern's friend Rip Torn directing, but the project was troubled. Torn battled with Goldberg, who interfered in the production and constantly digressed from the script during shooting, and Torn was forced to plead with her to perform takes that stuck to the screenplay. Torn, Southern and Nilsson put together their own version of the film, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in early 1988, but it was overtaken by the "official" version from the studio, and this version premiered to poor reviews in late January 1988. The project reportedly had some later success when adapted as a theatre piece in Germany.

In 1990, Hawkeye floundered and Nilsson found himself in a dire financial situation after it was discovered that his financial adviser Cindy Sims had embezzled all the funds he had earned as a recording artist. The Nilssons were left with $300 in the bank and a mountain of debt, while Sims served less than two years and was released from prison in 1994 without making restitution.

In 1991, the Disney CD For Our Children, a compilation of children's music performed by celebrities to benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, included Nilsson's original composition "Blanket for a Sail," recorded at the Shandaliza Recording Studio in Los Angeles.

Nilsson made his last concert appearance September 1, 1992, when he joined Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band on stage at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada to sing "Without You" with Todd Rundgren handling the high notes. Afterwards, an emotional Starr embraced Nilsson on stage.

Nilsson suffered a massive heart attack on February 14, 1993. After surviving that, he began pressing his old label, RCA, to release a boxed-set retrospective of his career, and resumed recording, attempting to complete one final album. He finished the vocal tracks for the album with producer Mark Hudson, who has the tapes of that session.

Nilsson died of heart failure on January 15, 1994 in his Agoura Hills, California home. In 1995, the 2-CD anthology he worked on with RCA, Personal Best, was released.

Nilsson is interred in Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park

Nilsson married Sandra McTaggart on October 24, 1964. They divorced in 1966 (one stepson).

Nilsson married Diane Clatworthy on December 31, 1969. They had one son, Zak Nilsson. Nilsson and Clatworthy divorced in 1974.

Nilsson married Una O'Keeffe on August 12, 1976 to whom he was married until his death on January 15, 1994. They had six children: Olivia, Ben, Oscar, Annie, Beau, and Kief Nilsson, and three grandchildren.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

How Many Times Have I Told You?


I haven't watched network television in 20 years. You see, in the beginning, I just had better things to do after work, like go to the gym or play music or read, or maybe even build something. Naturally, there are always chores to do as well, and I'd rather listen to music while I wash the dishes than try to watch television. Television is a waste of time. It's a habit I developed as a kid. Watching cartoons for hours on end, or sitting with the parents in front of Lawrence Welk, Hee-Haw, and Bonanza on Saturday nights. High cultural stuff when you think about it. NOT. In fact, not only is TV useless, I would rank it right up there between binge drinking and addiction to plastic surgery.

You see, you can't control what they're putting into your head when you choose to let network programmers decide what to show you. And believe me, the people and corporations who own the networks and the cable companies definitely have an agenda. Furthermore, that agenda has nothing to do with encouraging you to exercise your rights as an individual.

Think about this: Have you always believed everything they tell you on the news? Why would you believe whatever they say when you know they can manipulate images with fancy computer programming and hired actors? They've got more money than the Federal Reserve (heck, they probably own the Federal Reserve), so they can buy off anybody they need to. Here, sign a contract to never reveal the truth, say a few words into the camera, and we'll pay off your mortgage and give you a bonus every month for the rest of your life. And you believe the talking heads simply because you think they wouldn't lie to you? Oh come on, get a clue, they lie about everything.

Here's some good advice, free of charge: Give up your television habit. Stop watching that crap.

Listen, I know it’s hard to conceptualize giving up Ellen or Oprah or those CSI re-runs once you’ve developed relationships with all the characters. What will sick days be like without Jeopardy? I know, right, it's mind boggling.

I’ll admit that television has the power to educate us about how the founding fathers were actually just a bunch of pasty old slave owners, and that television can teach us deep truths about our feminine sides and even help us bond with co-workers over last night’s shocking plot turn.

But you have to trust me on this -- you’d still be better off without the idiot tube telling you what to think.

Here’s why:

1. Let’s start with the most obvious point. It’s costing you money. What's the range for a monthy cable service? Let's say, $20 to $100 every month. If, starting at 25 years of age, you cut out cable and put the money ($900+ a year) into a Roth IRA with an average return of 7%, by age 65, you would have more than $190,000. Maybe you should throw in the $250 you would pay for a new TV every few years too!

2. You’re keeping up with fictional Joneses. Hanging out with rich people makes our own lives seem poorer. So, if you’re watching TV, you’re basically hanging out with rich people–especially if your shows of choice are “Sex and the City” re-runs, “Gossip Girl” or any of the various cities and their Housewives. It’s easy to come to believe, like Carrie Bradshaw, that Manolo Blahniks are necessary for every woman, and you may decide to make it happen for yourself with the help of your credit card. Bad news. Fictional TV characters don’t pay rent or have student loans—and they certainly never go into debt as a result of their actions.

3. Television makes you covet things you never knew you needed. It’s not only the trashy, politically correct, morally bankrupt shows we watch that influence our lives. By age 65, the average American watches two million commercials–commercials that are designed to make your life seem dull in comparison to those of the shiny, happy people cruising around in Lexuses. U.S. companies invest $70 billion each year in television advertising and they must be getting their money’s worth. If you’ve ever found yourself craving a cheeseburger with a cold soda, perhaps you might consider removing commercials—and the craving for said cheeseburger– from your life.

4. Guess what? Life is more fun without TV. I know a lady who hasn’t watched TV in 20 years, and she’s living proof that cutting TV cold turkey will improve your happiness. Since college, she’s become a certified yoga instructor, picked up Italian and become an advanced Argentine tango dancer (while also becoming proficient at salsa, merengue, ballroom and swing). She makes almost all of her presents every Christmas, cooks dinner on weeknights that she doesn’t go out, regularly attends concerts and still finds time outside of work to blog three to six times a week and dance the weekend away with friends. She can also, depending on her schedule, work her way through a book per week.

On the other hand, the average American watches 35.6 hours of television a week. That’s a full-time job! What would you do with over 30 extra hours a week?

5. Television is cramping your social life. Watching TV is not an inherently social activity, even if you’re watching it with someone. Sure, you’re sitting in the same room, but instead of learning about each other and really bonding, you’re exchanging quips about reality-television freakouts between commercials.

If you feel deprived because you're missing the Stupor Bowl or Rowdy Rhonda beating some poor girl senseless on pay-per-view, you can always go out to watch them, or, find a venue on the internet (most of the time for free if you're clever about it.).

6. Television will keep you from your sleep. The average American gets a little less than seven hours of sleep on weeknights, but wishes he could get more. Just cutting one hour of TV a day is enough to make up the difference. How many times have you sat up until the wee hours watching something when you knew you had to get up early the next day? Sleep is essential for performing at your best at work. In fact, researchers have compared running on little sleep to being drunk. Even the wildly successful Arianna Huffington makes sleep her first priority. More success comes from more sleep … and less TV.

7. Did you know TV can make you fat? Of course you knew that. It's common sense. Females who watch three to four hours of TV a day have almost twice the prevalence of obesity. I'll bet the same goes for guys who plant themselves on the couch during football season. Not watching TV could bring two other health benefits. First, it can give you time to cook dinner, which is good for your waistline and your wallet. Second, it may give you a long life: Sitting too much actually shortens your life span, so after a day at the office in front of the computer, the last thing you should do is fling yourself on the couch for five hours. Instead, use that time to hit the gym, take a walk or even wrestle with your dog (or toddler).


Do yourself a favor. Cancel your cable account and use your TV for a computer monitor. Read a book. Take a walk. Reconnect with family and friends. I guarantee it will transform your life in a good way.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Hells Angels


The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) began as a post-World War II motorcycle club initially formed by a group of veterans looking to ride their motorcycles, hang out, drink beer, and have fun. The organization has grown radically since the early days and is now incorporated as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation.

The Hells Angels website says that the name was suggested by Arvid Olsen, a vet who had served in the Flying Tigers' "Hells Angels" squadron in China during World War II.

According to Sonny Barger, founder of the Oakland chapter, early chapters of the club were founded in San Francisco, Gardena, Fontana, as well as his chapter in Oakland, and other places independently of one another, with the members usually being unaware that there were other Hells Angels clubs.

Other sources claim that the Hells Angels in San Francisco were originally organized in 1953 by Rocky Graves, a Hells Angel member from San Bernardino ("Berdoo") implying that the "Frisco" Hells Angels were very much aware of their forebears. The "Frisco" Hells Angels were reorganized in 1955 with thirteen charter members, Frank Sadilek serving as President, and using the smaller, original logo. The Oakland chapter, at the time headed by Barger used a larger version of the "Death's Head" patch nicknamed the "Barger Larger" which was first used in 1959. It later became the club standard.

The Hells Angels are often depicted as free-spirited, iconic, bound by brotherhood and loyalty. Most often these days, they are depicted by the media and law enforcement as violent and nihilistic. Ironic in that we could also ascribe those characteristics to many law enforcement types.

The club became notably prominent during the 1960s counterculture movement in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury scene, as well as London, England, and other places where it played a visible part at many of the movement's seminal events. Original members were directly connected to many of the counterculture's primary leaders, such as Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, Timothy Leary, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Mick Farren and Tom Wolfe. The club is also well-known because of "Gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson's riveting book, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966).

The Hells Angels are classified by law enforcement as one of the "big four" motorcycle gangs, along with the Pagans, Outlaws, and Bandidos, and contend that members carry out widespread violent crimes, drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods and extortion and are involved in prostitution as well. Club members assert that they are only a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who have joined to ride motorcycles together, to organize social events such as group road trips, fundraisers, parties, and motorcycle rallies and that those crimes are the responsibility of the individuals who carried them out and not the club as a whole.

The Hells Angels utilize a system of patches, similar to military medals to denote rank and experience. Although the specific meaning of each patch is not publicly known, the patches identify specific or significant actions or beliefs of each biker. The official colors of the Hells Angels are red lettering displayed on a white background—hence the club's nickname "The Red and White". These patches are worn on leather or denim jackets and vests.

Red and white are also used to display the number 81 on many patches, as in "Support 81, Route 81". The 8 and 1 stand for the respective positions in the alphabet of H and A. These are used by friends and supporters of the club, in deference to club rules which purport to restrict the wearing of Hells Angels imagery to club members.

The diamond-shaped one-percenter patch is also used, displaying '1%', in red on a white background with a red merrowed border. The term one-percenter is said to be a response to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) comment on the Hollister incident, to the effect that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens and the last 1% were outlaws. The AMA has no record of such a statement to the press, and call this story apocryphal. Yeah, right.

The book Gangs, written by Tony Thompson (a crime correspondent for The Observer), states that Stephen Cunningham, a member of the Angels, sported a new patch after he recovered from attempting to set a bomb: two Nazi-style SS lightning bolts below the words 'Filthy Few'. Some law enforcement officials claim that the patch is only awarded to those who have committed, or are prepared to commit, murder on behalf of the club. According to a report from the R. v. Bonner and Lindsay case in 2005, another patch, similar to the 'Filthy Few' patch, is the 'Dequiallo' patch. This patch "signifies that the wearer has fought law enforcement on arrest". There is no common convention as to where the patches are located on the members' jacket/vest.

In order to become a club prospect, candidates must have a valid driver's license, a motorcycle over 750cc and have the right combination of personal qualities. Generally, the club excludes child molesters and individuals who have applied to become police or prison officers which is another sore point among law enforcement.

After a lengthy, phased process, a prospective member is first deemed to be a "hang-around", indicating that the individual is invited to some club events or to meet club members at known gathering places.

If the hang-around is interested, he may be asked to become an "associate", a status that usually lasts a year or two. At the end of that stage, he is reclassified as "prospect", participating in some club activities, but not having voting privileges while he is evaluated for suitability as a full member. The last phase, and highest membership status, is "Full Membership" or "Full-Patch". The term "Full-Patch" refers to the complete four-piece crest, including the "Death Head" logo, two rockers (top rocker: "Hells Angels"; bottom rocker: state or territory claimed) and the rectangular "MC" patch below the wing of the Death's Head. Prospects are allowed to wear only a bottom rocker with the state or territory name along with the rectangular "MC" patch.

To become a full member, the prospect must be voted on unanimously by the rest of the full club members. Prior to votes being cast, a prospect usually travels to every chapter in the sponsoring chapter's geographic jurisdiction (state/province/territory) and introduces himself to every Full-Patch member. This process allows each voting member to become familiar with the subject and to ask any questions of concern prior to the vote. Some form of formal induction follows, wherein the prospect affirms his loyalty to the club and its members. The final logo patch (top "Hells Angels" rocker) is then awarded at the initiation ceremony.

Even after a member is patched-in, the patches themselves remain the property of HAMC rather than the member. On leaving the Hells Angels, or being ejected, they must be returned to the club.

The Angels are very possessive about club logos and stories abound concerning pretenders who are eventually persuaded to stop portraying themselves as club members when they actually aren't.

The club is not a racially segregated organization by design. Sonny Barger stated in a BBC interview in 2000 that "The club, as a whole, is not racist but we probably have enough racist members that no black guy is going to get in it".

The truth is, there are some black Hells Angels, notably Gregory Wooley, a high-ranking member in Montreal who was the bodyguard of Hells Angel boss Maurice Boucher (labeled a white supremacist by the media). Wooley became the first black person accepted into the Montreal charter in the 1990s and later became a Hells Angel leader who tried uniting street gangs in Quebec after Boucher was imprisoned.

In another interview with leader Sonny Barger in 2000 he remarked "if you’re a motorcycle rider and you're white you want to join the Hell's Angels. If you black you want to join the Dragons. That's how it is whether anyone likes it or not." Tobie Levingston, who formed the black motorcycle club East Bay Dragons MC, wrote in his book that he and Sonny Barger have a long-lasting friendship and that the Hells Angels and Dragons have a mutual friendship and hang out and ride together.

In an article about motorcycle rebels in the African-American community magazine Ebony, the Chosen Few MC stated that they see no racial animosity in the Hells Angels and that when they come into Chosen Few territory they all get together and just party. A Hells Angel member interviewed for the magazine insisted there was no racial prejudice in any of their clubs and stated "we don't have any negro members" but maintained there have not been any blacks who have sought membership. At one point in the 1970s the Hells Angels were looking to consolidate the different motorcycle clubs and offered every member of the Chosen Few MC a Hells Angel badge, but the Chosen Few turned down the offer.

Young Sonny Barger
The HAMC acknowledges more than one hundred chapters spread over 29 countries. Europe did not become widely home to the Hells Angels until 1969 when two London chapters were formed. The Beatles' George Harrison invited some members of the HAMC San Francisco to stay at Apple Records in London in 1968. According to Chris O'Dell, only two members showed up at Apple Records, Frisco Pete and Bill "Sweet William" Fritsch. Two people from London visited California, "prospected", and ultimately joined. Two charters were issued on July 30, 1969; one for "South London" - the re-imagined chapter renewing the already existing 1950 South London chapter - and the other for "East London", but by 1973 the two charters came together as one, simply called "London". The London Angels provided security at a number of UK Underground festivals including Phun City in 1970 organized by anarchist, International Times writer and lead singer with The Deviants, Mick Farren. They even awarded Farren an "approval patch" in 1970 for use on his first solo album Mona, which also featured Steve Peregrin Took (who was credited as "Shagrat the Vagrant"). The 1980s and 1990s saw a major expansion of the club into Canada.

A list of acknowledged chapters can be found on the HAMC's official website.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The State Is Closing The Gap


Attention America's Suburbs: You Have Just Been Annexed
by Tyler Durden

It’s difficult to say what’s more striking about President Obama’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation: its breathtaking radicalism, the refusal of the press to cover it, or its potential political ramifications. The danger AFFH poses to Democrats explains why the press barely mentions it. This lack of curiosity, in turn, explains why the revolutionary nature of the rule has not been properly understood. Ultimately, the regulation amounts to back-door annexation, a way of turning America’s suburbs into tributaries of nearby cities.

This has been Obama’s purpose from the start. In Spreading the Wealth: How Obama Is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities, I explain how a young Barack Obama turned against the suburbs and threw in his lot with a group of Alinsky-style community organizers who blamed suburban tax-flight for urban decay. Their bible was Cities Without Suburbs, by former Albuquerque mayor David Rusk. Rusk, who works closely with Obama’s Alinskyite mentors and now advises the Obama administration, initially called on cities to annex their surrounding suburbs. When it became clear that outright annexation was a political non-starter, Rusk and his followers settled on a series of measures designed to achieve de facto annexation over time.

The plan has three elements: 1) Inhibit suburban growth, and when possible encourage suburban re-migration to cities. This can be achieved, for example, through regional growth boundaries (as in Portland), or by relative neglect of highway-building and repair in favor of public transportation. 2) Force the urban poor into the suburbs through the imposition of low-income housing quotas. 3) Institute “regional tax-base sharing,” where a state forces upper-middle-class suburbs to transfer tax revenue to nearby cities and less-well-off inner-ring suburbs (as in Minneapolis/St. Paul).

If you press suburbanites into cities, transfer urbanites to the suburbs, and redistribute suburban tax money to cities, you have effectively abolished the suburbs. For all practical purposes, the suburbs would then be co-opted into a single metropolitan region. Advocates of these policy prescriptions call themselves “regionalists.”

AFFH goes a long way toward achieving the regionalist program of Obama and his organizing mentors. In significant measure, the rule amounts to a de facto regional annexation of America’s suburbs. To see why, let’s have a look at the rule.

AFFH obligates any local jurisdiction that receives HUD funding to conduct a detailed analysis of its housing occupancy by race, ethnicity, national origin, English proficiency, and class (among other categories). Grantees must identify factors (such as zoning laws, public-housing admissions criteria, and “lack of regional collaboration”) that account for any imbalance in living patterns. Localities must also list “community assets” (such as quality schools, transportation hubs, parks, and jobs) and explain any disparities in access to such assets by race, ethnicity, national origin, English proficiency, class, and more. Localities must then develop a plan to remedy these imbalances, subject to approval by HUD.

By itself, this amounts to an extraordinary takeover of America’s cities and towns by the federal government. There is more, however.

AFFH obligates grantees to conduct all of these analyses at both the local and regional levels. In other words, it’s not enough for, say, Philadelphia’s “Mainline” Montgomery County suburbs to analyze their own populations by race, ethnicity, and class to determine whether there are any imbalances in where groups live, or in access to schools, parks, transportation, and jobs. Those suburbs are also obligated to compare their own housing situations to the Greater Philadelphia region as a whole.

So if some Montgomery County’s suburbs are predominantly upper-middle-class, white, and zoned for single-family housing, while the Philadelphia region as a whole is dotted with concentrations of less-well-off African Americans, Hispanics, or Asians, those suburbs could be obligated to nullify their zoning ordinances and build high-density, low-income housing at their own expense. At that point, those suburbs would have to direct advertising to potential minority occupants in the Greater Philadelphia region. Essentially, this is what HUD has imposed on Westchester County, New York, the most famous dry-run for AFFH.

In other words, by obligating all localities receiving HUD funding to compare their demographics to the region as a whole, AFFH effectively nullifies municipal boundaries. Even with no allegation or evidence of intentional discrimination, the mere existence of a demographic imbalance in the region as a whole must be remedied by a given suburb. Suburbs will literally be forced to import population from elsewhere, at their own expense and in violation of their own laws. In effect, suburbs will have been annexed by a city-dominated region, their laws suspended and their tax money transferred to erstwhile non-residents. And to make sure the new high-density housing developments are close to “community assets” such as schools, transportation, parks, and jobs, bedroom suburbs will be forced to develop mini-downtowns. In effect, they will become more like the cities their residents chose to leave in the first place.

It’s easy to miss the de facto absorption of local governments into their surrounding regions by AFFH, because the rule disguises it. AFFH does contain a provision that allows individual jurisdictions to formally join a regional consortium. Yet the rule leaves it up to local authorities to decide whether to enter regional groupings — or at least the rule appears to make participation in regional decision-making voluntary. In truth, however, just by obligating grantees to compare their housing to the demographics of the greater metropolitan area, and remedy any disparities, HUD has effectively turned every suburban jurisdiction into a helpless satellite of its nearby city and region.

We can see this, because the final version of AFFH includes much more than just the provisions of the rule itself. The final text of the regulation incorporates summaries of the many public comments on the preliminary rule, along with replies to those comments by HUD. This amounts to a running dialogue between leftist housing activists trying to make the rule more controlling, local bureaucrats overwhelmed by paperwork, a public outraged by federal overreach, and HUD itself.

Read carefully, the section of the rule on “Regional Collaboration and Regional Analysis” (especially pages 188–203), reveals one of AFFH’s key secrets: It doesn’t really matter whether a local government decides to formally join a regional consortium or not. HUD can effectively draft any suburb into its surrounding region, just by forcing it to compare its demographics with the metropolitan area as a whole.

At one point (pages 189–191), for example, commenters directly note that the obligation to compare local and regional data, and remedy any disparities, amounts to forcing a jurisdiction to ignore its own boundaries. Without contradicting this assertion, HUD then insists that all jurisdictions will have to engage in exactly such regional analysis.

Comments from leftist housing activists repeatedly call on HUD to pressure local jurisdictions into regional planning consortia. At every point, however, HUD declines to demand that local governments formally join such regional collaborations. Yet each time the issue comes up, HUD assures the housing activists that just by compelling local jurisdictions to compare their demographics with the region as a whole, suburbs will effectively be forced to address demographic disparities at the total metropolitan level (e.g., page 196).

When housing activists worry that a suburb with few poor or minority residents will argue that it has no need to develop low-income housing, HUD makes it clear that the regulation as written already effectively forces all suburbs to accommodate the needs of non-residents (pages 198–199). Again, HUD stresses that the mere obligation to analyze, compare, and remedy demographic disparities at the local and regional levels amounts to a kind of compulsory regionalism.

HUD’s language is coy and careful. The Obama administration clearly wants to avoid alarming local governments, so it underplays the extent to which they have been effectively dissolved and regionalized by AFFH. At the same time, HUD wants to tip off its leftist allies that this is exactly what has happened.

At one level, then, the apparatus of formal and voluntary collaboration in a regional consortium is a bit of a ruse. AFFH amounts to an annexation of suburbs by cities, whether the suburbs like it or not. Yet the formal, regional groupings enabled by the rule are far from harmless.

Comments from housing advocates (pages 194–197), for example, chide HUD for failing to include a mention in AFFH of the hundreds of federally-funded regional plans already being developed by leftist activists across the country (the “Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant” program). These plans entail far more than imposing low-income housing quotas on the suburbs. They embody the regionalist program of densifying housing in suburb and city alike, and they structure transportation spending in such a way as to make suburban living far less convenient and workable. HUD replies that these plans can indeed be used by regional consortia to fulfill their obligations under AFFH.

So a city could formally join with some less-well-off inner-ring suburbs and present one of these comprehensive regionalist dream-plans as the product of its consortium. At that point, HUD could pressure reluctant upper-middle-class suburbs to embrace the entire plan on pain of losing their federal funds. In this way, AFFH could force the full menu of regionalist policies—not just low-income housing quotas—onto the suburbs.

There are plenty of ways in which HUD can pressure a suburb to bend to its will. The techniques go far beyond threats to withhold federal funds. The recent Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project has opened the door to “disparate impact” suits against suburbs by HUD and private groups alike. That is, any demographic imbalance, whether intentional or not, can be treated by the courts as de facto discrimination.

Just by completing the obligatory demographic analysis demanded by AFFH—with HUD-provided data, and structured according to HUD requirements—a suburb could be handing the government evidence to be used in such a lawsuit. Worse, AFFH demands that suburbs account for their demographic disparities, and forces them to choose from a menu of HUD-provided explanations. So if a suburb follows HUD’s lead and formally attributes demographic “imbalances” to its zoning laws, the federal government has what amounts to a signed confession to present in a disparate-impact suit seeking to nullify local zoning regulations. With a (forced) paper “confession” from nearly every suburb in the country in hand, HUD can use the threat of lawsuits to press reluctant municipalities to buy into a regional consortium’s every plan.

Regionalists consider the entire city-suburb system bigoted and illegitimate, so there are few local governments that HUD would not be able to slap with a disparate-impact suit on regionalist premises. It’s unlikely that any suburb has a perfect demographic and “asset” balance in every category. All HUD has to do is decide which suburban governments it wants to lean on. With every locality vulnerable to a suit, every locality can be made to play the regionalist game.

Leftist housing activists worry that AFFH never specifies the penalties a suburb will face for imbalances in its housing patterns. These activists just don’t get it. A thoughtful reading of AFFH, including its extraordinary “dialogue” section, makes it clear that HUD can go after any suburb, any time it wants to. The controlling consideration will be politics. HUD has got to boil the frog slowly enough to prevent him from jumping.

It will take time for the truth to emerge. Just by issuing AFFH, the Obama administration has effectively annexed America’s suburbs to its cities. The old American practice of local self-rule is gone. We’ve switched over to a federally controlled regionalist system. Now it’s strictly a question of how obvious Obama and the Democrats want to make this change — and when they intend to bring the hammer down. The only thing that can restore local control is joint action by a Republican president and a Republican congress to rescind AFFH and restrict the reach of disparate impact litigation. We’ll know after November 8, 2016.