Wednesday, January 29, 2014


This article originally appeared in the 1.30.14 issue of Metroland.


Bearsville Theater

January 24, 2014

            Charles Bradley’s bio is something out of a storybook.  Homeless as a teenager, then itinerant, working as a cook and janitor for most of his life, discovered by Daptone Records in the early 2000’s while gigging as a James Brown impersonator in little NYC clubs, and then turned into an overnight sensation in his mid-50’s.  And he’s making the most of it.

            “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” and his 8-piece band turned the Bearsville Theater upside down Friday night with a generous 2-hour show of delicious retro-soul.  Bradley’s on the primal edge of Pickett / Redding / Brown-type soul shouting, lots of grunts and gravel, peppered with the occasional glass-shattering scream.  In that space, he’s an utter genius, and a happy one at that.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “love” used more times, and used more sincerely, by any person in a two-hour period.  And when he wasn’t manhandling the mic stand and testifying, he was demonstrating moves from the pure goofiness school of the dance: bad Elvis fake-karate moves, awkward spins and splits, robot-mime, funky belly-dancing, or just throwing his arms out and head back with a beautific smile.  This is a man who knows he’s blessed and loves what he does.  And it’s impossible to resist falling in love with him.

            This is the fourth Daptone act I’ve seen and the first one with a band that didn’t rub me the wrong way even slightly.  These guys killed it, from Muscle Shoals / Memphis slink, to rat-a-tat horn signatures, to sweet three-part harmonies, and even to the pitch-perfect absorption of metal (!!!) in their audacious cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes.”  Hats off to bandleader / producer / guitarist Thomas Brenneck for locking down the complete package.

            Local sparkplug Simi Stone opened the show, accompanied only by a keyboardist.  She’s an immense young talent, and her pipes and arrestingly honest stage presence overcame her somewhat pedestrian self-penned material.  Set her up with some tunes and watch out.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


This article originally appeared in the 1.23.14 issue of Metroland.

            So, did the President’s speech about NSA spying put your fears to rest?  Me neither.  I heard most of it in the car.  He sounded nervous, overly careful in his choices of words, and thoroughly unconvincing.  This from the guy who’s delivered, over and over, some of the most compelling speeches of our lifetime.

            What did he say?  It was kind of like this: we’ll have more “oversight” in section this and that proceedings (trust us, trust us!), we’ll have study groups look at scary things, we’ll have a secret public advocate attend secret court hearings and provide double-secret “oversight” (trust us some more!), and, maybe we won’t let the government hold all that surveillance data anymore, maybe we’ll leave it all with somebody in the private sector.  This last thingee, coming mere weeks after Target and a bunch of other big retailers admitted that their customer credit card data had been filched by folks using a program whipped up by a 17 year-old, does not make me feel safer.  Let’s outsource surveillance!  What could possibly go wrong?

            Obama failed to address the fact that his NSA henchmen had been caught bald-faced lying to Congress.  And while he acknowledged Edward Snowden, without whom this speech and the “reforms” it brings would not have happened, he refused to cut him any slack whatsoever.  So Snowden is still, in the eyes of the Feds, a rogue criminal, and not the whistleblower hero he so obviously is (NSA toady Rep. Mike Rogers, who has no more business being the head of the House Intelligence Committee than my dog Kimchi, was blabbing away on Sunday morning teevee that Snowden had help from the Rooskies, despite a total lack of evidence that this was remotely true).

            My go-to sources for this sort of thing, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, were surprisingly, albeit tepidly, positive following the speech.  Apparently expectations for any kind of change had been so low that the modest gestures approximating a call for reform generated some optimism.   Further to the left (over where it meets libertarianism), there were the predictable howls of protest about the wretched police state we find ourselves laboring in.  Normally, I’d dismiss these as the histrionic and narcissistic work of sad contrarians, except what these bohos were saying was pretty close to what I’ve been saying (or at least thinking) for a long time.  I highly recommend that you take the time to read Chris Hedges’ What Obama Really Meant Was... over at for a scholarly and comprehensive look at the historical and socio-economic forces that got us here.  Holy moly times 10. I used to think that I use the word “fascist” a little too much here.  Not anymore.  Fascist.  Fascist.  Fascist.

            The lack of meaningful change we can believe in is probably most evident in the lack of a firestorm from the NSA’s staunchest defenders, like the aforementioned creep Rep. Mike Rogers, various former NSA officials (who make fortunes from their NSA connections) or Rogers’ Democratic counterpart Senator Diane Feinstein, who has made one wacky statement after another about the propriety of the government’s unrestrained spying on its own citizenry.    Most recently, Feinstein went on Meet The Press and said that everything the NSA is doing is just fine because the NSA is so “professional.”  And she said it over and over again.  Professional!  Trust us! End of argument.  The mainstream press, as usual, gives the whole issue a pass.  You know the drill, there’s good arguments on both sides and it’s not our job to report the truth.  Next story.

            If you’ve read this column much, you know that we like Obama over here.  A whole lot.  Which makes this privacy thing troubling, to say the least.  As a presidential candidate, Obama was emphatic that he would end the government spying on its own citizens, add transparency to the NSA, and do everything he could to restore meaning to the Fourth Amendment. This was all way pre-Snowden; there were reports of abuses of the law, of the NSA being a little to cozy with telcos, but this stuff was barely front-page news.  And as a former constitutional law professor, one would assume he knew what he was saying.

            So what happened?  If you’ve read spy novels or war history books, you know that there’s oftentimes good-guy clandestine things going on that can’t be made public, like when the US let the Germans bomb the bejesus out of some European cities during WWII, because to reveal prior knowledge of the bombings would betray intelligence sources needed for the larger war.  Did Obama flip because of things we can’t know?   That’s the root of the whole “trust us” deal, isn’t it? 

            Or did he just hit a bureaucracy / shadow government more powerful than the presidency, and lacks the power, or the will, or the balls to take it down?

Paul Rapp is an earnest IP attorney busily practicing near the NY/MA border who is enjoying the IFC show“Spoils of Babylon” way too much.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014


These articles originally appeared in the 1.16.14 issue of Metroland

Bettye Lavette
Helsinki on Hudson
January 11, 2014

            One of the many great things about Club Helsinki is its ability get folks to play who have no business playing a club.  Such is the case with Bettye Lavette, who while is often categorized as a blues singer, is to my ears one of the best soul singers on the planet.

            At once gracious, dignified, and profoundly raw and funky, Lavette and her ace four-piece band opened with a beguiling cover of the Beatles’ “The Word” (I didn’t recognize it until the very end) and then laid out 75 minutes of absolute magic.  Looking, moving, and sounding decades younger than her 68 years, she sings as though possessed, as if every cell of her body is feeling and interpreting every word, every nuance of her rich catalog.  As she said, “I’m more of a song interpreter than a mellifluous singer.” 

            And what interpretations... “Here’s a song that’s most commonly associated with Chevrolet pickup trucks” she deadpanned.  Half-way through the first verse of “Like A Rock” Bob Seger’s original faded entirely from memory.  Lavette may have well been doing an entirely different, and infinitely richer song.  She did back-to-back Neil Young tunes, “Everybody Knows This Ain’t Nowhere” (!!!) and a hushed, ethereal “Heart of Gold”.

            I saw her a year and a half ago and was struck that she sang nothing from her prolific early career—as she explained Saturday “I didn’t play those songs for a long time because you all didn’t buy them, so I figured you all didn’t like ‘em.  Then I realized I recorded them because I liked ‘em” and she proceeded to sing her bouncy, saucy 1962 single “My Man He’s a Lovin’ Man”.

            She ended the set with her epic version of the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me”, turning the blowhard standard into something gut-wrenching and profound (If you haven’t seen her Kennedy Center Honors performance of this, go to YouTube right now and watch it.  You’re welcome).  The entire room may as well have been one big goose bump.

January 12, 2014


            I could really just stop there.

            A couple years ago I caught Trombone Shorty opening for Bootsy Collins at the Montreal Jazz Festival.  I didn’t know anything about him.  At the time, I wrote “Trombone Shorty nee Troy Andrews is hands down the most incredible individual performer I have ever seen.”

            Now, everybody knows music writers have serious hyperbole issues.  Well, after seeing Shorty & band again Sunday night, I emphatically reaffirm the above ridiculous statement.  He really is.

            The young, killer band came out and laid down some killer metal-funk.  Sarge leaned over and said “I half expect to see Rob Halford come out on a Harley.”  Then Shorty comes skipping out waiving his trombone in one hand and his trumpet in the other.  And the games began. The show started at this intensity level way up there and then got more intense.  And more intense.  I’ve been to a lot of shows at The Egg, and I’ve never seen an audience there go this bonkers.  I’m talking apeshit bonkers here, a good three generations of folks going crazy, for the whole damn show. 

            Funk.  Blues.  Rock.  Classical.  Hip-hop.  Jazz.  Soul.  Nods to Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway.  Sometimes stacked up in a matter of seconds.  Sometimes all at once.  Staggering and mind-blowing.  And plenty loud.  Good loud!  Last time I saw him he did a circular breathing thing on the trumpet, holding a note for several minutes.  This time he did it on the freakin’ trombone...  That’s ridiculous.  Dude’s gonna hurt himself.

            Shorty took a number of solos on his horns that were complex, sophisticated, and stunning.  He sings like an angel.  He’s got the coolest moves: his James Brown shimmy- turned-moonwalk was one of many bring-the-house-down moments.  He was generous with his shaggy, muscular band (drums, bass, guitar and two saxes) who all got plenty of star-turns and who were, to a man, on time.

            The show ended with the entire band bashing out a huge second-line beat on the drumset.  It was stupid, fun, and oh so funky.

Thursday, January 09, 2014


This article originally appeared in the 1.9.14 issue of Metroland.

Edward Snowden and the NSA.  For years I’ve been writing about the privacy train leaving the station, but even at my most cynical I couldn’t have imagined how bad things had become.  And though the Snowden leaks have been happening for months now, I haven’t taken them up here until now.  Why?  Because the issues are too dense and I’m lazy, that’s why!  My go-to source for this sort of thing, the fantastic site Techdirt, has been chronicling the whole messy affair in excruciating detail, so excruciating that I’ve skipped over most of the posts because they made my head hurt.  Arcane laws, double-secret laws, secret memos, secret courts, secret lawyers, redacted documents, long expositions on the nature of metadata, urgh, spare me.  Let’s talk about evil record companies instead!

            But things are hitting critical mass.  Entire countries are mad at us for spying on them, at least they try to act mad until it’s disclosed that they spy on other countries, too.  The NSA and other administration officials have been caught repeatedly lying to Congress and to the press.  In the last couple of weeks, two federal courts looking at roughly the same issues have come to polar opposite conclusions regarding the constitutionality the NSA’s domestic spying program.  Meantime, the New York Times last week called for the Obama Administration to provide “some form of clemency” for Edward Snowden, the guy who leaked (and, apparently, continues to leak) the information that exposed NSA’s shocking and nefarious activities, and who is currently living in exile in Russia.

            There’s so much here that it’s hard to know where to begin, so let’s start with the recent court decisions.  In December, a federal judge in Washington DC found that it was highly likely that NSA’s mass collection of our phone records violated the 4th Amendment’s guarantee of freedom from unreasonable searches.  The judge shot down many of the government’s laughable arguments about things like how the plaintiffs lacked standing because they couldn’t prove they’d actually been spied on, how the mass collection of phone records legal because it was similar to the old pen register surveillance technique cops have been using to track individuals (one individual at a time) for years, and how the program had in fact stopped terrorist attacks (it hasn’t).   The decision is cleared-eyed and logical.  It describes the government’s spying program as “Orwellian.”

            Then, last week, a NYC federal judge came to the opposite conclusion.  The decision opens with a discussion of impact of the 9/11 attacks, and then goes on for page after page uncritically repeating, like a mynah bird, the government’s factual claims and legal arguments.  He relied on things like the claim that NSA’s metadata program could have prevented the 9/11 attacks (which is simply untrue), that the NSA doesn’t abuse its surveillance powers (it does), that no one who is innocent has been harmed (which is irrelevant), and that only a tiny number of people have been spied on (a claim that the DC judge demolished in one paragraph).  One wonders if the NYC judge even read the DC judge’s opinion.  One wonders if the NYC judge read anything but the government’s brief.

            In any event, both decisions are being appealed, and it’s likely that one or both cases ends up at the Supreme Court.  Meantime, the NSA’s mass collection of data continues unabated.

            What’s at stake here is, course, your privacy, of which you currently have very little.  Your phone today is more complex, more versatile and more revealing that your phone was even five years ago.  You use it more, and you use it differently.  If the government jacks into your phone, even just taking the most basic metadata, the government knows a whole lot about you.  And if your argument is “well, I haven’t done anything wrong so I don’t care” I pity you, and suggest you move to North Korea with Dennis Rodman.   And if your argument is “marketers already know what I do online who cares if the government tracks my calls”, I say this: the marketers track you to present to you opportunities to buy stuff they know you want; that’s not why the government is tracking you.   Nobody knows why the government is tracking you. 

            The clownish shills for the NSA, including lawmakers from all over the political spectrum, warn ominously that if we limit NSA’s reach, even a little, we’ll open ourselves up to more terrorist attacks.  There’s no proof of that whatsoever, but even if it were true, it’s nonsensical.  There will be terrorist attacks in the future.  Period. The question is how much of our freedom do we give up to try to stop them?  Hey, if every person in the Country were assigned a full-time government chaperone maybe we could stop terrorism altogether! 

            And yes, Edward Snowden is a hero.  None of this would be happening if it weren’t for him. Let him come home.

Paul Rapp is a local intellectual property attorney who suggests you go see Trombone Shorty this weekend.