Category Archives: NYC

Bromancing the Stone: Roger Stone dishes on Trump, Florida and political combat

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“They may call me a dirty trickster. I’m a real partisan; I’ve got sharp elbows. But there’s on thing that isn’t in my bag of tricks: treason.” Roger Stone has never backed away from a fight; indeed, he almost relishes starting them. Stone has been a human melee weapon, wielded to great effect in some of the biggest political brawls of the past half-century, dating back to his earliest years in the crucible that was the Nixon White House.

“1968 and 2016 were very similar, in many ways,” he says. “Just as leaders, Donald Trump and Nixon are similar. They’re both really pragmatists, neither is an ideologue, they’re both essentially populists with conservative instincts. … Both of them are very persistent, both of them had to come back from disaster.” The opposition is praying for further disaster, and they may well get their wish. To that end, Stone is one of several Trump affiliates under investigation for their dealings with various foreign nationals whose efforts helped facilitate Trump’s victory.

Stone’s newest book, “The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution” (Skyhorse Publishing) lifts its title from the seminal series written every four years between 1960 and 1980 by journalist Theodore H. White (1915-1986), a quintessential DC Beltway insider who is, no doubt, spinning in his grave as we speak. One can’t help but view this choice as high-level trolling of the first order, which is his forte.

The subtitle is cunningly phrased, as every conceivable meaning of the words “orchestrated” and “revolution” seem to fit in this case. Speaking of which, Stone’s book notes the crucial role of one revolution—that waged in the Democratic primary by Bernie Sanders—in helping foreshadow the future president’s. “In many ways, Trump and Bernie, they’re riding the same wave. Donald’s voters think these trade deals have fucked America, and Bernie’s voters think these trade deals have fucked America. … And also, new voters: Both Trump and Bernie Sanders attract new voters in the primaries. It’s just more people upset about the so-called ‘rigged system’. Bernie rags constantly about the corruption and the power of Wall Street; so does Trump. So I think they’re very similar.”

This similarity was noted early on, and was key to Trump’s victory, according to Stone. “In order to win, Trump had to win three of ten Sanders voters, and he did.” Despite being a nominal frontrunner, Hillary Clinton was burdened with a top-heavy hierarchical campaign, largely disconnected from political reality. For all her billions spent, that money was squandered on failed strategies and poor logistics, reaching a peak as Trump barnstormed battleground states in the closing days, while Hillary had already begun taking victory laps. The Clintons expended so much time and energy fending off the Sanders insurgency that they never really got a handle on what awaited them in the general.

“I think they made the exact same mistake as did Jimmy Carter,” says Stone, who worked for Ronald Reagan in 1980. “The Clintons misunderstood Trump’s appeal. They didn’t think that his simple messaging would be credible; they didn’t understand that Trump talks more like average people than elites. The underestimated both his skill as a candidate, they underestimated his skill as a communicator, and they underestimated his ability to land a punch.”

When Trump first declared for president in 2015, there was almost no one who thought the man had any chance at all—except for Stone, who had raised the very possibility as early as 1988, when he arranged a meeting between Trump and his earliest political benefactor, Richard Nixon. “It certainly seemed possible to me, but let’s recognize that I’m a professional political operative, and I had at that point nine individual presidential campaigns in which I’m playing a senior role as experience. Plus I’ve known Donald Trump for 39 years; I have a very keen knowledge of his management style, his style on the stump, so I understand a lot of the basis of his appeal. … Trump is a giant, and he ran against a lot of career politicians who were essentially pygmies.”

As usual, Florida was a decisive factor in the election, and Stone expects that to continue in 2018. “Florida has proven once again to be the ultimate purple state. It truly is a state that’s always competitive in a presidential race, and less competitive, leaning slightly Republican, in a non-presidential race. The Democrats in Florida, because they have been out of power in the legislature so long, and because they have (generally-speaking) not done well in local offices, they really have no bench. They are yet to come up with a candidate who is a viable candidate for governor. It’s WAY too early to try to determine how Trump’s candidacy will impact the Florida electorate; it’s an entirely open question. Trump could be exceedingly popular, if he sticks to his agenda and gets things done by the mid-terms, or he could be unpopular, theoretically, for any number of reasons. But in politics, a year is a lifetime.”

Speaking of Florida, 2018 will be the first year in nearly three decades in which the shadow of Jeb Bush will not be blanketing the states political landscape, and by Stone’s reckoning, you can thank Trump for putting our former governor into permanent retirement. “If Jeb had stayed in the race, and there had been another debate, Trump was prepared to say, ‘Jeb, the [FDLE] had over 22 individual tips about the 9/11 hijackers training in Sarasota; you seem to have done nothing with that information. Don’t you think you could have stopped the attack on America if you had actually done something?’ That was coming, and I think Jeb knew it was coming, and of course that’s all documentable. Only Trump would’ve had the courage to do something like that.”

Today, at 64, Stone is prepping for what may be his biggest fight to date, waged on behalf of his good friend, President Donald J. Trump, whose election was somewhat controversial, to say the least. Although Stone has not officially worked for Trump since last fall, he remains very much in the mix, as far as the president’s wider circle of advisors and adjutants. Indeed, the fact is that the very idea of Donald Trump as POTUS originates in the always-fertile mind of Roger Stone, who never stops thinking of new angles and novel approaches to shaking up the political status quo. Of course, a lot of folks really wish he would stop, but after last year, that seems unlikely.

Whereas most folks tend to get all shy and introspective when talk of subpoenas begins, Stone is embracing his opportunity to face off with congressional Democrats before a live, mainstream audience. Having served in the White House under presidents Nixon and Reagan, Stone is by no means a stranger in Beltway circles, but his appearance at the Capitol will mark, for many national observers, their initial introduction to a man that, without whom, everything would be different today.

Stone has still not appeared before Congress at press-time, but he has made no secret of his enthusiasm. “They dragged my name through the mud in a public hearing. Several statements made by members were just flatly incorrect, others were chronologically out of order, and still others were written in such a pejorative way that I must have the opportunity to take that language and re-tell it my way, and then bitch-slap the member for his partisanship. … Here’s my proposal: Waive your congressional immunity, so I may sue you, and we’ll let a judge and jury decide if you have slimed me. And you know they won’t do that.”

sheltonhull@gmail.com

March 28, 2017

 

Shifting Into Summer: john Shannon’s newest project debuts in Florida

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The Shift

Jack Rabbits

Thursday, June 11

“7th Direction” is an impressive debut EP from The Shift, a New York-based trio whose show at Jack Rabbits this Thursday comes at the end of their first-ever swing through the Sunshine State, amidst a tour that’s taking them from coast to coast. “The tour has been great,” says lead singer/guitarist John Shannon, writing in from the road. “Our starter went out on our van the other day in Alabama but luckily there was a bowling alley with a bar across the street from the mechanic.”

I’ve known Mr. Shannon for nearly a decade, having met through mutual friends at his old Brooklyn loft back in 2006. Our party watched “An Inconvenient Truth” at the Sunshine Theatre one night, with Questlove’s afro partially blocking the view. I first saw him perform a couple nights later, at Manhattan’s venerable Jazz Gallery, playing guitar in the sextet backing ace cellist Dana Leong; it remains one of the ten best jazz sets I’ve ever witnessed, anywhere. He was then leading his jazz group Waking Vision Trio, which put out a couple of excellent albums a decade ago.

From that first initial meeting through the week spent pacing the circles he runs in, he made an immediate and impactful impression on me, not just as a person, but as one of the most prodigious musical talents in a dense, dynamic scene that was then just beginning to be branded as the borough we know and love (and kind of envy) today. His current group, which includes bassist Ben Geis and drummer MJ Lambert, is his newest and most polished vehicle on a musical journey that has already taken him around the country, more than once.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1980, John Shannon’s released three albums under his own name: “American Mystic” (2008), “Songs of the Desert River” (2010) and “Time Was A Lie” (2012). Critics have compared his work to masters like Tim Buckley, Nick Drake and Paul Simon; the albums have earned praise in places like Rolling Stone, Minor 7th and Time Out NY. His credits include sideman work with Bob Reynolds, Ben Harper, John Mayer, James Maddox, Lauryn Hill and Hiromi Urehara; he’s also recorded with Gary Go and Sonya Kitchell, whom he also backed on tour, as well as composed music for the FX show “Louie”.

In many ways, The Shift represents the present culmination of careers cultivated throughout the 21st century, a syncretic smash-up of the members’ traditional training, processed through years of long nights working club gigs in one of the most competitive commercial markets in the world. The album was recorded in less than a week, using a mixing board in Brooklyn that had once been used by George Martin to record the Beatles. Shannon writes the lyrics, while his colleagues build the music together.

The New York of their generation is simply not a place where you can last for long unless you’re good, and all three have put in practically a decade, ample time earn the confidence that comes through so clearly on the album. Shannon’s voice evokes nothing so much as mid-70s Robert Plant, while the clean, crisp tonality of the instruments gives it a prog-rock flavor, with the kind of tight, dextrous articulation that one would expect from three alumni of the Berklee School of Music—a school so prestigious that using the word “prestigious” to describe it is practically a cliché in music journalism. “It’s kind of a microcosm of the future music business when you’re there that seems to than move out into the real world—at least it has for me,”  says Shannon, who randomly encounters fellow alumni on a regular basis in his travels.

“If you know you have something strong, unique and a band willing to persevere,” notes Shannon, “you end up in more of a relationship/competition with time than with other bands. If you can use that inevitable pressure involved in the process of getting recognized to be more creative, resourceful and alive, then you are already winning.”

http://shiftwithus.com/

https://www.facebook.com/shiftwithus

http://www.johnshannonmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/john.shannon.9047

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shannon_(musician)

Book review: “The Squared Circle”

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The Squared Circle: Life, Death and Professional Wrestling, by David Shoemaker, aka “The Masked Man”. New York: Gotham Books/Penguin. 386pp, ill.

David Shoemaker’s The Squared Circle is only the latest entry into a literary market already well-saturated with books about professional wrestling. Most of these books have been hagiographical scribblings by ghostwriters, passing themselves off as memoir; these books are useful, given their access to the subject at hand, but they often fail to pass muster in terms of actual readability. Others have been written by outsiders, by fans and nominal wrestling “journalists”, some of whom are legit, while others are hacks who lucked into a small-press book deal.

Shoemaker’s book, however, is something of an anomaly within the genre—a full-length, hardcover book about wrestling published by a major imprint (or, at least, a subsidiary thereof) and handled with the sort of care that makes clear that, however bizarre and ridiculous pro-wrestling can be, the author retains real passion for a business that, frankly, makes no sense to the average person. In entertainment terms, pro-wrestling may be the ultimate niche market.

“This is a book about dead wrestlers,” he writes in the introduction, as if he’s offering the reader a spoiler alert for a pre-taped wrestling show that you personally attended. That is, there is no way to tell the story of professional wrestling over the past 30 years with any kind of historical accuracy without directly addressing the unprecedented wave of premature death that has befallen the business in that time, starting with that of David Von Erich in February 1984 and culminating with what the wrestling media now euphemizes as the “Benoit Family Tragedy” in June 2007.

Writing as “The Masked Man”, Shoemaker has done some of the most interesting writing about pro-wrestling in recent years, working mostly for Grantland and Deadspin. This book is not an anthology of that material; it’s rather takes a fresh look at a subject that has already been covered extensively from almost every conceivable angle. The fact that he manages to consistently generate new original insights speaks to his skill as a writer and, more important, his almost-intuitive grasp of what makes the business click. Shoemaker is at his best when explaining why certain characters resonated with fans as well as they did, breaking down their inner motivations and our own subconscious affinity with their message. Basically, he writes like someone who actually respects pro-wrestling; imagine that!

To say that The Squared Circle is a page-turner would be a gross understatement. Making the point more finely, it’s one of the more interesting wrestling books ever written by a non-wrestler. It has a good bit of new material that even seasoned fans will be unfamiliar with, but much of the stories spin around plots well-ingrained in the memories of casual fans from the ‘80s and ‘90s boom periods. Even so, Shoemaker renders all his information in a peppy, easy-to-digest style that, in itself, offers an object lesson in how the wrestling business has managed to achieve a new level of mainstream appeal that, while not as lucrative as in previous eras, is far more pervasive in the long-term, as well as the tragic price that so many stars paid for their success.

November 27, 2013

sheltonhull@gmail.com

Notes on Gannett layoffs, and the business in general…

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I just finished reading about the latest round of layoffs in the newspaper industry, in this case Gannett, arguably the most powerful media organization in America today. Props to Jim Romenesko for breaking the story, which is Brutal–just brutal. As a journalist based in Florida (where Gannett owns seven newspapers, three TV stations and four radio stations), I’ve watched in horror as this process has unfolded over the past decade.

This is the first generation of newspapermen who’ve proven incapable of doing business correctly. The number of veteran reporters, photographers, cartoonists, etc. laid off over the past decade could fill a medium-sized arena–and the papers and magazines they left behind are, in most cases, either shells of their former selves or just out-of-business altogether. A number of papers have installed pay-portals in hopes of increasing revenue, but that has the effect of limiting the size of their audience; even The New York Times, the greatest newspaper of all-time, is suffering, although it appears new editor Jill Abramson has done a really great job getting the “Old Gray Lady” back in fighting shape.

Consumers of media need to be more aggressive about using their power to make clear what they want from the product, and editors and publishers around the country need to grow some balls and stop playing a defensive game with new media. The web caught fire in the late-’90s, right as the old guard of print media management was exiting the stage; having weathered multiple storms in the post-war era, they might have managed the transition more effectively, but their replacements seemed to instinctively view the Internet as an existential threat to their operations. Around the country, editors and publishers alike were largely dismissive of the potential of “new media”, and the bias can still be discerned from their public statements. As a result, most papers did not begin to develop their digital game until it was almost too late–and once they did, the transition was handled badly, because their heart wasn’t really into it.

I’ve always likened the dynamic to that of the radio industry at the dawn of television. Many performers and executives for those networks similarly dismissed the new technology’s potential, and either refused to familiarize themselves with it altogether, or waited until it was too late. As a result, many careers ended, and several companies went defunct. But those who were open to the new technology, and made sincere efforts to acclimate themselves to it, ended becoming the people we now recognize as the pioneers of television; most of the top stars thus remained viable for the rest of their lives, and their families benefit from the royalties to this day. Likewise, print media outlets should stop thinking of the web as competition for the business, while engaging in counter-productive, reactionary decision-making, and instead start appreciating it as simply a powerful new tool to augment and enhance their business. Those who prove capable of doing this correctly will end up as the dominant forces in the media environment of the future–a future that may already be upon us.

Interview with Alessandra Altamura, author of “Music Club Toscana”

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Music Club Toscana: Music time stories, by Alessandra Altamura. Piombino, Italy: Edizioni IL FOGLIO. 192 pp. www.ilfoglioletterario.it

"Music Club Toscana" cover

It was mid-afternoon in late March when the postman’s knock interrupted my nap. (Being in journalistic exile leaves much room for napping, and other forms of self-reflection.) The package I signed for had ten stamps on it—five depicting the Terme Di Bonifacio VIII, and a row of five up top depicting the late singer Nino Reitano (1944-2009)—totaling 12.50 Euros, the equivalent of $16.07. Interesting: I hadn’t even opened the package yet, and I’d already learned something! That was to prove a useful omen.

Inside the envelope was a fresh new copy of the debut collection of 22 short-stories by Alessandra Altamura, an Italian-born literature teacher who turns 40 this November and graduated from the Liceo Classico Macchiavelli and the University of Pisa. The contents were pleasant, but of no surprise; I’d been waiting for it for a few days. Altamura, the author, had sent it off from her home in Lucca (near Pisa), in Tuscany in the great historic country of Italy on March 12. Two weeks days to travel across the Mediterranean, the European continent and the Atlantic Ocean seemed quite reasonable.

I was looking forward to seeing it for myself, and I was in no way disappointed. Music Club Toscana: Music time stories is a labor of love in the most literal sense; it combines her dual passions for music and her own native culture. Translated from the original Italian, the writing is vibrant and briskly-paced; the text moves fast over 192 pages. The book’s contents are like its packaging: smooth, compact and colorful. Speaking as someone who no longer makes regular practice of reading much fiction, I enjoyed the book immensely. After reading her book, I got the chance to briefly interview Ms. Altamura via email from New York City, where she arrived to begin her book tour last week.

SDH: How long did it take to write this book? Where did the idea come from?

AA: I wrote my book in a few months, less than one year, but I collected the material for these stories [over] my whole life. The idea comes from my love for music, especially live music. I have many friends who are musicians, also my brother plays the guitar. Other than that, music clubs are full of stories and characters.

SDH: Are your characters all real people, all fictional, or a combination?

AA: Some characters are real, with their real names, some are fictional and some are a mix of reality and fantasy.

SDH: What kind of music do you like?

AA: The first story was born in a club in Florence where my friends usually play, then came all the others. In the book there are many kinds of music, because each person needs a different kind of music. Personally I prefer jazz, the great songwriters and in general a music that makes people meet and think.

SDH: Which of the venues did you visit first?

AA: I visited first the places closest to my town. Lucca, Pisa, Florence. Then I went to the farest, like Siena, Arezzo or Grosseto, just to have a complete vision for my book.

SDH: Which venue in the book is your favorite?

AA: My favorite venue and also my favorite story is the one that takes place at Le Murate, that was the prison of Florence before becoming a club.

SDH: Tell me a bit about the lady who translated the book into English…

AA: Shayna Hobbs is a friend of a friend, who lived some time in Italy and taught me English. Now they live in Georgia and they will host me after Florida. oh, this is a funny thing, because each story is translated from a different friend. So in English there are really many characters and voices. Then a lady read it to see if there were mistakes. Maybe there are still some mistakes, because we did all quickly when I was leaving to London, but the English version is a proof that my friends love me…

SDH: Do you plan to write more books? Have you decided on the topic yet?

AA: I think to write another book, with stories that take place all over the world. In fact I’m trying to travel and know better other countries.

SDH: Who are your favorite Italian musicians?

AA: My favourite Italian musicians are the big songwriters, who are also poets: de Andrè, Fossati, Guccini, De Gregori and others. I went to the concerts of many of them and I liked much, but I’m sorry, because I never listened to a concert of de Andrè, before he died.

[She will be at Chamblin’s Uptown, in downtown Jacksonville, on Sunday, July 21 to sign copies and give a presentation on her work. If you’re into travel literature or jazz, it’s well-worth checking out.]

sheltonhull@gmail.com

July 19, 2013

Gang War (1940) [a.k.a. Crime Street]

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Really grimy, even by Harlem 1940 standards. Not sure why this film isn’t a classic; it hits the marks like Brody in Japan. Star Ralph Cooper went on to become the long-time host of “Amateur Night” at the Apollo…

“Cast (IMDB): Ralph Cooper as Bob ‘Killer’ Meade; Gladys Snyder as Maizie ‘Sugar’ Walford; Reginald Fenderson as Danny (Meade’s chief henchman) (as Reggie Fenderson); Laurence Criner as Lew Baron (as Lawrence Criner); Monte Hawley as Bill (Baron’s henchman); Jess Lee Brooks as Lt. Holmes (as Jesse Brooks); Johnny Thomas as Phil (Meade’s driver); Maceo Bruce Sheffield as Bull Brown (as Maceo Sheffield); Charles Hawkins as Tip (Brown henchman); Bobby Johnson as Waxy (Baron henchman); Henry Roberts as Slim (Meade henchman); Harold Garrison as Slicum (Meade’s publicity man); Marie Bryant as Dance Specialty (uncredited); Willie Covan as Dance Specialty (uncredited); Louise Franklin as Phil’s Girl (uncredited); Halley Harding as Baron Henchman (uncredited); Ray Martin as Man in Bar (uncredited); Ernest Morrison as Gang Member (uncredited); Edward Thompson as Man in Courtroom (uncredited).”  

Notes on Gene Krupa: “Dial M For Music”, 1967

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May 11, 1937: Krupa sweats through his suit as the Benny Goodman band challenges Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Some estimates suggest that between 4,000 and 20,000 people went in, through and around the venue that night…

Multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu did epic work with Gene Krupa in the mid-’50s, following up from Charlie Ventura in the ’40s. Parts of this were in the old DCI VHS on Krupa (which, like the whole series, never went digital); so was the session with Sid Catlett on “Boy, What A Girl!” For some reason, after 20 years, the full videos of both find their way online, entirely unrelated–in this case, thanks to Shu’s children. Here Krupa, a devout Catholic, lays it down for some teenagers in Chicago, and basically does a shoot interview; truly essential stuff. He’s 58 here. If Krupa were a wrestler, he’d be Lou Thesz