Announcement: Writing Commentary for No Depression

I am happy to report that I will now, on occasion, write essays, reviews, and commentary for the “journal of roots music,” No Depression.

In my inaugural contribution, I review the new record from Chicago-area Southern Rock band, The Righteous Hillbillies, and in doing so, appraise the value of pure rock ‘n’ roll.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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New Essay for Salon: Communicator-in-Chief

In a recent essay for Salon, I examine the presidential role of communicator-in-chief and offer a comparison of Barack Obama’s rhetoric and Donald Trump’s incoherent babble of bigotry.

While Obama attempts to delineate the complexity of the world, Trump reduces everything to its simplest form, and presents himself as the god-like solution to every problem.

Read the essay, and also note that my forthcoming book, Barack Obama: Invisible Man, will include significant analysis of Obama’s communicative style.

New Essay for Salon: Our United States of Fear

In a recent essay for Salon, I fight back against the culture of fear now dominant in the United States, paying particular attention to the hysteria surrounding college campuses. As an instructor at two different universities, I have never once seen any suppression of free speech, and I consistently find inspiration in my students. The data, largely unreported, confirms the veracity and universality of my experience.

Read the essay for a little sanity.

New Book – Barack Obama: Invisible Man

I’m excited to announce that Eyewear Publishing, based in London, will publish my newest book in December, Barack Obama: Invisible Man.

In my forthcoming book, I will analyze and interpret the presidency of Barack Obama by comparing him to the unnamed narrator of the Ralph Ellison novel, Invisible Man. It is my contention that, although the American people elected him twice, the country was unprepared for the reality of a black president. His victory was traumatic for much of the American public, and the country is yet to deal with the full implications of a black man in a White House.

The right wing distorted Obama into a monster, judging him according to a paranoia standard, while much of the left, operating under the belief that his policies would have the same revolutionary impact as his symbolic victory, distorted him into a messiah, judging him according to a purity standard. Few Americans were able to clearly see Obama as Obama – a man of flesh, substance, and bone, rather than a symbol, and a president capable of greatness, but also, like any president, full of flaws. Through their respective manipulations of Obama’s image and leadership, both the hard left and hard right rendered him invisible.

Both political polarities also set him up for failure, but in spite of unprecedented political and cultural opposition, Obama can claim an impressive record of accomplishment on his presidential resume. He must also face accountability for his failures. My book will explore the highs and lows of his administration.

I will also examine the cultural legacy of Obama. More elegant, calm, and rational than much of American discourse, he attempted to elevate public conversation, but for a variety of reasons, could not succeed.

Eyewear will publish the book in December, just in time for Obama’s departure from the Oval Office. Check back here for updates on the book, and in the meantime, continue to look for my essays on politics and culture at Salon.

I will also have more dates for my Words and Music: American Troubadours series soon. American Troubadours gives a live and interactive tour, featuring the brilliant musical accompaniment of singer/songwriter Kev Wright, of the American songwriting tradition,  with a particular focus on the songs of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp.

Stay tuned for more updates. 2016 will end with excitement.

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Does the Right Wing Hate America?

Hostile opposition to immigration, mockery of diversity, advocacy of theocracy, and now the nomination of a man who routinely calls America an “embarrassment” and “hellhole,” has led me to wonder if the right wing hates the America that actually exists – a secular republic and nation of immigrants.

I offer my conclusions in my newest essay for Salon.

We Must Shame Trump Supporters

In my latest essay for Salon, I fend off accusations of smugness and snobbery (fine, whatever) by examining the racist roots of the Trump movement, and celebrate the social tactic of shaming as the only viable tactic to defeat the strange coalition of white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and xenophobes who do not compose the entirety of Trump’s base, but are, without question, his most vociferous admirers.

Some naive leftists believe that the working class status of Trump supporters should immunize them against criticism and condemnation. There is no valid excuse or justification for bigotry, chauvinism, and ignorance. I will not defend or downplay racism simply because the racists are poor.

Read it here.

Jim Harrison, R.I.P.

The stillness of this earth
which we pass through
with the precise speed of our dreams
– Jim Harrison, Returning to Earth, 1977

When I announced to my mother the sad news of Jim Harrison’s death, she said, “He was your buddy.”

At first I found the comment odd. Although he was my favorite living writer, I had never met the man. My mother was not confused. She understood exactly what she was implying, and after a few moments of introspection, I was able to reach into the darkness of my own mind, and grasp onto the small piece of truth in my own experience as a person dedicated to reading and making sentences.

A good friend and former teacher of mine, Roger, recommended I read Harrison’s breakout collection of novellas, Legends of the Fall, when I was in college. Before I could make good on his wise advice, he called me; “Don’t buy the Harrison book. I just went to Borders and bought it for you.”

When I saw him a few weeks later, I did not realize that when he placed the book in my hand, he was not merely passing on a literary gift of excellence. My old friend was introducing me to a new friend.

Jim Harrison once said that he read more for “strength than pleasure.” With Harrison’s own novels and poetry, I found an abundance of both, and his hard-boiled beauty was much like an endless supply of life affirming water to continually help fill the reservoir of my spirit.

I read and reread many of his books, always seemingly able to alchemize his poetry and story into a centering force in my life. His words, as a writer but more importantly as a man, helped me get my bearings, and reminded me of what truly has value in a world too often eager to evaluate everything according to a commercial criterion. If there is one glimpse into reality a reader can consistently get from Harrison it is that life is for enjoyment, pleasure, love, and artistry. Any person who still registers a pulse must aggressively tackle all of the opportunities of life with gusto.

The cruel teacher of trauma inculcated this wisdom in Harrison. His father and sister died in a car wreck when he was in his late teens, and it was in the fog of his grief that he saw his own life clearly. He thought that if two people could be taken out of the world so arbitrarily, there was no point in not doing what you wanted to do. He did what he wanted for decades, making an invaluable contribution to American literature.

Like a true friend, Harrison challenged and comforted me, and in a bastardization of what Mikhail Bahktin called, “the dialogic of the novel,” I developed an internal discussion with Harrison, often drawing on that discussion in moments of tragedy and triumph, pain and pleasure, joy and confusion.

In 2010, following the publication of my first book, Working On a Dream, my mother invited me over to my parents’ home to celebrate. We toasted my marginal literary success with a glass of wine from an expensive French bottle that my mother bought because she read that it was Jim Harrison’s favorite.

My book was a hybrid of musical criticism and political commentary about Bruce Springsteen. It was vastly different from anything Harrison ever wrote, and not nearly as good, but with its publication I felt that I, at a minimum, acquired a ticket of entry onto the great ship of my imagination. Jim Harrison was one of my heroes in the captain’s quarters, and I was somewhere deep in the bowels, but I found great pride in the fact that I made it on board.

Harrison was my buddy, but a buddy of a different sort. I never met him, but he seemed like a man of madness. He ate madly, fucked madly, drank madly, wrote madly, but most of all, loved madly. He loved his family, his wife, his friends, his animals, and the natural world.

I can love a little fuller and a little deeper for having read his books.

I wrote about Jim Harrison’s series of novellas about an indelible and lovable character, Brown Dog, for the Daily Beast – “The Legend of Brown Dog: A Great American Hero Gets His Due.”

In an unlikely coincidence, my latest essay, published by Salon just a few days before Harrison’s death, is a review of his newest book – “Want To Reject American Puritanism, Workaholism, and Toxic Obsession with Stuff? Read Jim Harrison’s Books.”

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New Essay at Salon: Who The Hell Are These Trump Supporters?

In my new essay at Salon, which caught hell from conservatives and liberals, I review the data, and draw some logical and reasonable conclusions about Donald Trump’s supporters.

The conclusions are not pretty, but given what Trump has already done, and promises to do, to the United States, they are deservedly hideous.

Read the essay at Salon.

Interview with Dawn Porter, Documentarian, at AlterNet

In a new feature at AlterNet, I interview documentary filmmaker, Dawn Porter, about her important and moving new film, Trapped.

Trapped tells the story of abortion practitioners, and the women they serve, in Southern states where prohibitive regulations have all but stripped away the constitutional rights of women seeking reproductive health services.

Read the feature at AlterNet, and keep an eye out for the film, which is set to air on PBS soon.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone. This website has been static for the past two months, and I do apologize for my negligence.

I’ve been busy writing about everything from terrorism to the godfather of heavy metal, Lemmy Kilmister, at Salon and the Daily Beast.

Like everyone else, I too have written about Donald Trump. I’ve written about religion, economics, and politics, but also about more pleasant topics such as the aforementioned work of Motorhead, the literature of Gore Vidal, and the novels of Jim Webb.

The Daily Beast ran an excerpt from my book on John Mellencamp, while my book on Metallica has received press and great reviews from Consequence of Sound, Record Collector, Illinois Entertainer, and the Chicago Music Examiner.

Make sure to follow this space throughout 2016 for more essays on politics, culture, literature, and music, and for a major update on my next book.

Book Signing