Mellencamp: American Troubadour is Now Available!

My new book, Mellencamp: American Troubadour, is now officially available from the University Press of Kentucky, and all book retailers.

Salon recently ran an excerpt, and it is already receiving high praise.

Part biography, part cultural and sociological commentary—with a touch of hagiography/fan nonfiction thrown in—Mellencamp is almost a new genre. Masciotra’s observations, contributions, and asides are apt and diverse. Both Mellencamp’s work and the man himself are deeper than they appear, and this book really shores this up. — Susan Compo, author of Warren Oates: A Wild Life

David Masciotra writes with the precision and integrity and humanity of a great journalist, one whose word you can trust. He knows his subject, and his prose and reporting are always informed by the lights of compassion and decency. — James Lee Burke, author of Wayfaring Stranger

For almost 40 years, John Mellencamp has been forging a path through the thickets of the music industry, meditating on the connections between rock, soul, folk and funk. In the process, he’s established himself as a major artist whose work is sometimes obscured by the shadows of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. In this detailed, loving book, David Masciotra shines the light of his critical intelligence on the connections between Mellencamp’s life, his music, and the commitment to a deeper understanding of our shared humanity. — Craig Werner, author of Up Around the Bend: An Oral History of Creedence Clearwater Revival

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Commentary at Fusion – Anti-Gay Law in Indiana, Chicago Mayoral Race

The new media company Fusion, a collaboration between ABC News and Univsion, requested that I write about some issues particularly relevant to my region.

In the first, an essay on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I explain that the hideous and ridiculous anti-gay law was Governor Pence’s fumbling and bumbling attempt to ingratiate himself to the religious right for a presidential run in 2016. The entire controversy doubles as an indictment of the extremity of the Republican base, which rejected Pence’s predecessor, Mitch Daniels, from presidential consideration because of his comparably moderate record on social issues.

In the second, I offered an endorsement of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in the Chicago Mayoral Race.

New Essay at Salon – America’s Third World: The Marchers Have Gone, but Selma is Still Mired in Poverty

In a political reflection for Salon, I write about my trip to Selma, Alabama for the 50th Anniversary commemoration of Bloody Sunday. I went on a bus with staff and supporters of Rainbow/PUSH.

There were many beautiful and powerful moments that weekend, but my essay focuses on the political ugliness of widespread poverty and wicked inequality.

From the essay:

Washington, D.C., is the capital of American power, but the small town of Selma, Alabama, is the capital of American democracy. As long as one group of citizens could not vote freely and safely, America’s government, along with the idealistic claims it made, had no legitimacy or authenticity.

For its historical value and moral power, every American citizen should make a pilgrimage to Selma in an attempt to gain access to its inspiration and the courage of its martyrs and heroes. Such a trip would force Americans to confront the devastating disparity between Selma’s importance and its infrastructure. The disparity comes to represent the consistent American violation of its history, the betrayal of its people, and the inequality that undermines the victories of Bloody Sunday, and threatens to poison its future.

Read the rest at Salon.

New Essay at Patheos – Religious At The Back of The Bus: An Interview with Rev. Jesse Jackson

For Patheos‘  feature on the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma – the real birth of American democracy – I interviewed Rev. Jesse Jackson about his Christian faith, the history of the religion, and how he applies his own spiritual devotion to his political activism and civil rights leadership.

From the essay:

The central problem of American politics and culture predates the country’s existence by nearly two thousand years. It is the same conflict at the heart of a close cousin to the American experience.

Sitting in the office of Jesse Jackson, whose political activism and civil rights leadership often cause people to forget he was first and is still an ordained minister, easily becomes a church experience when he launches into a sermon. All I needed to do was remind him of the topic of our interview (religion in America), and he transformed his desk into a pulpit and my chair into a pew, giving a homespun homily connecting religion with politics, theology with culture, and the past with the present.

Read Rev. Jackson’s profound insights and the rest of the essay at Patheos.
<> on March 25, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.

New Essay at AlterNet: Why Libertarianism is a Childish Sham

In my latest essay for AlterNet, I expose how libertarianism is an exercise in conformity and childish delusions.

Rather that rebelling, libertarians conform to the worst and most dominant aspects of American culture. Rather than acting as a political movement, it is actually the expression of an anti-political impulse.

From the essay:

As much as libertarians boast of having a “political movement” gaining in popularity, “you’re not the boss of me” does not even rise to the most elementary level of politics. Aristotle translated “politics” into meaning “the things concerning the polis,” referring to the city, or in other words, the community. Confucius connected politics with ethics, and his ethics are attached to communal service with a moral system based on empathy. A political program, like that from the right, that eliminates empathy, and denies the collective, is anti-political.

Opposition to any conception of the public interest and common good, and the consistent rejection of any opportunity to organize communities in the interest of solidarity, is not only a vicious form of anti-politics, it is affirmation of America’s most dominant and harmful dogmas. In America, selfishness, like blue jeans or a black dress, never goes out of style. It is the style.

Read the rest at AlterNet.

New Essay At Truthout: A Day With Jesse Jackson and A Look At the Failures of American Capitalism

I recently had the pleasure and honor of spending Jesse Jackson’s birthday with the civil rights leader and his staff.

Following him from event to event at Chicago’s poor public schools, and discussing a wide variety of issues, gave a perfect demonstration of the layers of discrimination and obstruction that exist in American culture.

Jackson said that “we must have the courage to reimagine our struggle.” The reimagining requires that we see the layers at the lowest level, but also the highest level in corporate America and the world of high tech.

Read it here.

New Essay at Salon: You Don’t Protect My Freedom

Easily, my most read and controversial essay is criticism of how idolatry of the military prevents American culture and politics from acknowledging and addressing the important issues of sexual assault within the military and a war friendly foreign policy.

Calling every troop and veteran a “hero”, and ending the conversation there, is inaccurate – even though some are heroes – but also irresponsible. The conversation must continue to include questions about the culture within the military that allows for one third of all women serving to suffer sexual assault, and the politics of the American government that, in the words of Gore Vidal, a World War II veteran, keeps us at “perpetual war.”

Thousands of people who sent me hate mail and death threats, along with the commentators of Fox News, attacked me, without actually reading the article, for “hating the troops.” Such a slander is pure nonsense.

Read it and find out yourself.

New Essay for the Daily Beast: Cornel West’s Disappointing Decline

For many years, one of the most important influences in the development of my thinking and writing was Cornel West. Many of his early books, along with the experiences I had watching him deliver moving and provocative lectures, were essential to the cultivation of my own political perspective, sense of cultural engagement, and philosophical framework.

Over the past few years, however, West has transformed from an intellectual into a celebrity, and in doing so, he has fallen into the American media trap of relying on slogans, recycling soundbites, and regurgitating a greatest hits of his analytic history. He’s also told obvious lies about major figures. For example, claiming that President Obama “cussed him out” in front of dozens of witnesses, none of whom have ever come forward to confirm West’s account. West claims the incident happened after Obama’s address to the National Urban League a few years ago. It seems that if the President of the United States cussed out a public intellectual in front of journalists and witnesses, someone besides West would have noticed.

My latest essay for the Daily Beast tracks West’s decline, focusing primarily on his new book. Black Prophetic Fire, West’s new collection of interviews, is a strange and sad culmination of his metamorphosis from philosopher to television personality. He offers little depth on any subject he tackles in the book, often criticizes people without supporting his critique with evidence, and praises people because he knows them personally. The concept of the book is brilliant, and if it were better, it would serve as a wonderful introduction to one of the world’s most important traditions – the radical African American improvement of American democracy, resulting in immeasurably important contributions in politics, law, literature, theology, sociology, art, and philosophy. Unfortunately, West doesn’t seem to take the project seriously.

My essay gives a detailed account and analysis, and you can read it here.

The response to my essay has been fascinating. First, I know West has gained great popularity, but I had no idea that, as he acquired fame, he has become a secular god. Staggering amounts of people sent me emails of such anger, I could almost picture them foaming at the mouth as they hit the “send” button. Most interesting about these emails, is that none of them actually mounted a defense of West against the reasonable points I make in my essay. Many resorted to attacking me personally, and many others offered only vague arguments for West’s activism, which I myself praise in the article.

I’ve long suspected that most of the people who comment on essays on the internet do not actually read the essays. NPR has conducted experiments that confirm my suspicion, but my essay on West offers pretty devastating evidence. Many people who leave comments make statements that are directly refuted by my article. Space and time don’t permit me to leave every example, but I’ve selected a few comments that represent dozens more of their kind, and I’ll show how quotes taken from my essay contradict the comments.

So you’ve bought into the “How dare anyone criticize Obama!!” silliness, eh? Please, tell me how his criticism of Obama’s increasingly center-right, non-transparent, dishonest, flip-flopping administration lessens in any way Dr. West’s “intellectual chops?”

“Black Prophetic Fire aims to serve an important purpose in an era when there is increasing pressure and lucrative rewards for black leaders to follow the Barack Obama-Deval Patrick-Cory Booker model by moderating, moving to the center, and after gaining power, governing as a soft Democrat…The ascendancy of black leaders to the White House, the Senate, and governors’ mansions, contrary to the assumptions of conservatives and moderate Democrats, does not nullify the need for a Black freedom movement that furthers the march of icons West identifies in his new book. Mass incarceration, vicious educational disparities and segregation along racial lines, police brutality, and lack of opportunity for economic mobility among the black poor do not cause less pain, break fewer hearts, or magically vanish because Barack Obama became president. Critical and radical thinkers like Cornel West are necessary to confront an America too quick to fall into the cultural blindness and political complacency of “post-racial” mythmaking.”

In other words. The author likes West when West agrees with the author.

“For historical and political reasons, the concept of Black Prophetic Fire is excellent. It’s the delivery that’s awful.”

This is a stupid attempt to smear a great scholar.

“The publication of West’s most popular book, Race Matters, in 1993 demonstrated that he was one of the best cultural critics in American political debate. He could combine compelling elements from sociology, philosophy, and economics to present a challenging, but fascinating account of American race relations, democracy, and popular culture. During the height of the hideous Bush years, West brewed the same intoxicating tonic with Democracy Matters, and in doing so, gave beleaguered leftists the intellectual space to make sense of the Bush-Cheney nightmare of international aggression and domestic regression, and enough spiritual nourishment to inspire hope for a better day in American politics. West has also offered essential examinations of the essence and importance of African-American Christianity in Prophesy Deliverance!, his first book, and Prophetic Fragments.”

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I could go on like this with several more examples. Disagreement with my ideas and analysis does not bother me. I welcome debate and discussion, but comment sections on websites seem to empower the insane, shallow, and overly emotional. It is for this reason that I applaud Ta-Nehisi Coates for often forbidding comments on his essays. If people are going to angrily attack writers for their written work, the least they can do is read that work.

 

 

New Essay for The Daily Beast on Noam Chomsky

In a new essay for the Daily Beast, I use the release of a new retrospective of Chomsky’s work as an opportunity to appraise his intellectual contributions and political activism. It is impossible to overstate the importance of Chomsky as a public intellectual, and his importance in my own development. The few criticisms I have of his analysis fall under the sizable shadow of his brilliance and bravery.

Read the essay here.

New Essay for The Daily Beast: The Unsung Heroism of Jesse Jackson

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of enjoying a two hour conversation with a hero of mine, Jesse Jackson.

I told Jackson that the work he did, along with Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and others, not only freed black people in the United States from a brutal system of apartheid, oppression, and exploitation (work that continues), but also saved me – a white man born in 1985 – from inheriting the role of occupier, oppressor, and executioner. Albert Camus wrote that people must aspire to live as “neither victims or executioners.” The “Parks-King-Jackson” injection of freedom and justice into American democracy empowered all people to enjoy such aspiration.

In my new essay for the Daily Beast, however, I do not write about the civil rights movement, but the electoral extension of the civil rights movement – the Presidential Campaigns of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and ’88.

Important and liberating, Jackson’s campaigns deserve much more attention and celebration than the Democratic Party – often ungrateful – and the mainline media – often stupid and destructive – gives them.

In my new essay, I’m happy to, I hope, begin the reversal of such an ignorant trend.

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