New Ari Hest Release One of the Year's Best

The Fire Plays
Project 4 Records
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Ari Hest is the best thing to happen to baritones since the emergence of John Gorka. It must be the harbor waters—Gorka is from metro New Jersey and Hest from the Bronx. And Paul Simon, whose pen prowess Hest sometimes approaches, is from Newark. Go figure. Hest’s newest release—his twelfth since 1999—is a small masterpiece, a blend of solid hooks, poetic imagery, and soulful vocals. Among its many impressive dimensions is the ease with which Hest moves from a simple acoustic guitar backed melody such as “Concrete Sky” to a textured composition such as “Know Where,” a big arrangement offering with anthem-like lyrical tag lines. The lust arrangements come when Hest sits down at the piano and dips his keys into an instrumental potage that includes brass, strings, drums, and electric guitars.  But one of the things that struck me was how easily he shifts from a song that could be a late Billy Joel arrangement to stripped down Gorka-like songs that are just acoustic guitar and voice. And what a voice it is, husky and edgy one moment, and as soothing as caramel the next. Check out tracks two through six, a five-song sequence as good as any I’ve heard in some time. This is one of my favorite releases of 2012.  (You may have to wait until November 13, its official release date.)

Here are a few links: “The Fire Plays” (audio only): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8FUvA6cEfk

“All Because I Love You” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kS_4QiR1S9w


Lessons from Election 2012: A Baker’s Dozen

1. Time to toss the tea bags. The first lesson is that one can be conservative, but one cannot be stark raving mad. The Tea Party had its hissy fit moment in 2010, but it is what it is: a group of angry white folks whose passion is far greater than its collective IQ. The defeat of mouth-breathers such as Richard Mourdock (IN) and Todd Akin (MO) ought to serve as a wake-up call for the GOP. (Akin was so extreme he managed to make Claire McCaskill seem like a reasonable person!) Some Republicans are touting Paul Ryan for 2016, but he’s exactly the sort of extremist Republicans must avoid.

2. Morality is dead. No, I don’t mean that the nation has gone to hell in handbag. But votes for gay marriage, decriminalization of marijuana and similar ballot issues across the country show that social mores are changing and that old-style morality doesn’t have a lot of political traction any more. Single-issue voters can produce steam, but not fire. I’ve said for years that most Americans are de facto libertarians.

3. White people are just another voting bloc. Romney won a majority of both white men and women, but Barack Obama won more easily than pollsters predicted. It might help if pollsters left the lily-white suburbs to conduct their polls. Angry whites (see Tea Party) can make a lot of noise and they hold a lot of financial resources, but this isn’t 1956, and they can’t dictate elections any more. Whether whites like it or not, America is a multiracial, multicultural society and a candidate who can’t attract black, Latino, and Asian votes needs to practice concession-speech writing. Yes, roughly seven of ten Americans still identify as Caucasian, but quite a few of them are liberals and many are biracial or Hispanic. Any political contest that extends beyond a single (gerrymandered) district must appeal to a broad demographic swath.

4. The old-style media strikes out.  The pre-election polls were such an embarrassment that one suspects they were manufactured by media moguls for the sole purpose of creating a track event out of sack race. The old media has no clue on how to parse social media, cell phones, Facebook advocacy pages, and other such like. Polls varied widely in part because certain pollsters—will we ever trust Gallup again?—relied on mid-20th century sampling techniques. And old-style media looked really old on Election Night. The PBS crew was so grey that it could have saved money by broadcasting in black and white, and ABC’s Cokie Roberts looked like she was on life support. Ditto Bob Schieffer on CBS. As for Fox News, its broadcast was far livelier than its competitors in part because postmortems tend to be grislier than postpartums. But have you ever seen so many blow-dried white boys and dyed blond gals in your life? Fox needs to see # 3 above.

5. The kids are alright. The media said that young people wouldn’t turn out. It was wrong. Pundits must have been thinking about their own youthful Baby Boomer non-voting behavior. Nearly 20% of the voters were under 35. This Baby Boomer offers this observation to youth: you guys rock!

6. Go Mid and West, young man. The electoral map is clear—for all the hoopla about the Sun Belt, the Midwest and West reelected Obama. Forget those coiffed white girls from Cobb County, Georgia; if you want to win you need to press the flesh in Iowa, drink coffee in gritty Michigan diners, and say nice things about the Badger State. And while you’re at it, keep heading west. Colorado isn’t red anymore, and neither is Nevada. Democrats have an opportunity, if they play their cards carefully, to turn Hispanic Arizona into the next New Mexico. They might even recapture parts of Texas.

7. The Solid South isn’t. Republicans might want to bury the old Kevin Phillips/Lee Atwater playbook along with their tea bags. Obama won Virginia, was very close in North Carolina, and won Florida (again). Hey GOP—take down the Confederate flags because the Old South is starting to look new. North Carolina, for example, has a large number of Latino voters. Okay, the old Cotton Belt is still rock-ribbed GOP, but this election shows you can safely ignore the NASCAR South and pick off states whose populace knows it’s the 21st century.

8. Even a blind man can smell faux leather. Harry Truman once warned Democrats that if you gave voters a choice between a fake Republican and a real one, they’d choose the real one every time. Mitt Romney should have listened. In the end, Romney was exactly what Massachusetts residents who have seen his act said he is: a man with no real political center who says what he thinks people want to hear, not what he believes. Romney was a made-for-TV candidate who looked the part of president, but flip-flopped more than a seal on a water-slide. Who is Mitt Romney? Can anyone really answer that question?  

9. Mud sticks.  Talk about fake! Americans say they hate mudslinging, but it’s not true. Barack Obama may have taught Democrats a lesson they’ve been loath to learn: define your opponent before that opponent defines you. How many voters repudiated Romney because they thought him a ruthless job destroyer, a tax-dodger, and an elitist who doesn’t care about half (okay, 47%) of the population? Answer: Just enough.

10. The ‘burbs shot a blank. After decades of ignoring inner cities and kissing butts in suburban malls, Democrats did very well in places like Akron, Milwaukee, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Manchester, NH. Suburbanites might not like cities, but more Americans live there than in gated communities or leafy suburbs.

11. Corporations are the Bane [sic] of our existence. Big money came from Fortune 500 companies—much of it aimed at defeating Obama. Small business is who actually employs Americans, not corporate giants. In fact, 52% of all employees work in firms with fewer than 500 employees. Many of those over 500 are employers such as schools, hospitals, and government agencies—not Bane Capital. Score one for Main Street over Wall Street. If, as the Supreme Court insists, corporations are people, many Americans have decided that they are the variety that sucks!

12. Big government works! Notice how many of the paranoid Big Government types shut their traps when Hurricane Sandy hit? Notice how FEMA came back to bite Mitt Romney in the butt? Notice the complete absence of Chris Christie in the waning days of the GOP campaign?  It’s oh-so-fashionable to decry government spending, but when the chips are down (corporate bankruptcy, bank failures, disaster relief, terrorist attacks), one doesn’t see private enterprise filling the gaps. Hurricane Sandy blew Romney’s anti-government screeds out to sea.

13. Enjoy gridlock? I hope so, because with the Congress divided and some of the most rabid tea baggers still in the House of Representatives, you’ll see more of it.


A-Rod a Broken-Down Sports Car

Time to unload damaged flash and get a Scion. 

Yankees manager Joe Girardi did the once-unthinkable during a postseason game against the Orioles–he pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning while down a run. As every sports fan knows, Girardi came up smelling like roses when Raúl Ibañez smacked a game-tying homerun off American League saves leader Jim Johnson, and then won it with a 12th inning blast off Brian Matusz. Girardi pinch-hit for A-Rod several more times (without success) before the Yankees’ season ended in Detroit.

Gutsy moves on Girardi’s part? Not really. Rodriguez hasn’t come close to driving a ball over the wall in quite some time. For those keeping track, his last homerun occurred on September 14 against Tampa. He hit a grand total of five since June. It’s time for the Yankees to face the inevitable–Alex Rodriguez is an unreliable sports car kept in the team garage for prestige purposes, not reliability.

Before anyone gets their back up, no, this is not another “Trash A-Rod” story. Rodriguez’s flamboyant personality, ego, womanizing, and admitted steroid use attract haters, but true baseball fans know that he has been one of the greatest talents ever to lace up cleats. This year’s postseason woes notwithstanding, if one consults the sabermetrics tool known as LIPS (late inning pressure situation), A-Rod ranks among the top 20 clutch hitters of all time. And, for heaven’s sake, the man has launched an astonishing 647 balls over enemy fences. He has been among baseball’s immortals.

Key phrase: “has been.” Remember when his agent, Scott Boras, justified A-Rod’s monster contract by promising that his client would break MLB’s all-time homerun record? A-Rod would have to hit another 116 to pass Barry Bonds. From where I sit, it’s increasingly unlikely he’ll even match Babe Ruth’s 714 for a share of third. He’ll need to crack 67 homers to join the Babe, one more than he’s hit over the past three years. If it takes him more than three years, he’ll be over 40, and therein lies the problem.

If Derek Jeter is a young 38, A-Rod is an old 37–a very old 37. It’s not his fault that he’s been injured, but this is what happens to aging sports bodies. To return to my sports car analogy, A-Rod is like a Jaguar, a high-cost high-performance vehicle capable of tremendous spurts of power. It also has the worst maintenance and repair record of any car on the road. Lots of guys want one. Some shell out over $100,000 and then wish they had spent $85,000 less and got the number one reliable car: a plain-wrapper Scion.

A-Rod might still flash occasional power and the Yankees had better hope someone else thinks so. General Manager Brian Cashman is well aware that his garage is filled with vintage Jaguars, Porsches, and Audis. He also knows that he needs to sell them before they go to the scrap yard so he can get some newer model Hondas and Toyotas. (As he knows that he’ll need to pay more to keep vintage Derek Jeter on the road.) It all begins with A-Rod. If C. C. Sabathia hadn’t been part of the package, A-Rod would be a Dodger by now. As it is, he’s a $30 million dollar drain on the budget–a guy who is statistically just the twelfth best third baseman in baseball, when he can even play the position.  Who’d you rather have these days, A-Rod at $30 million, or Chase Headley at $3.4 million?

A-Rod has been magnificent, but it’s time to trade down for several Scions. The Yankees might get lucky, as there is one natural suitor if the Bombers pick up about half of his salary: the Marlins. They only averaged 27,400 (18th in MLB) in a brand new ballpark and that’s sure to drop significantly next year unless something dramatic happens. To put it bluntly, a star attraction such as A-Rod might determine whether or not MLB has a regular-season future in south Florida. Who knows? Against less consistent NL pitching, A-Rod might even look like a Jaguar on occasion.