05 July 2007

Blues for Scooter Libby

Presenting a Youtube clip in honor of George W. Bush: Derek Lamson performing his song "I love mercy, not sacrifice." (Just for the record, the "honor" is my idea, not Derek's!) It turns out that George Bush really is a compassionate conservative after all. And, in his explanation for commuting Scooter Libby's prison sentence, his reasoning is both impeccable and damning:
I took this decision very seriously on Mr. Libby. I considered his background, his service to the country, as well as the jury verdict. I felt like the jury verdict ought to stand, and I felt like some of the punishments that the judge determined were adequate should stand. But I felt like the 30-month sentencing was severe; made a judgment, a considered judgment that I believe is the right decision to make in this case, and I stand by it. [from the White House Web site]
George Bush considered Libby's "service to the country"--which service basically consisted of doing what he was told. I'm a bit puzzled by the outrage displayed by Democrats and progressives concerning the commutation. Why should Libby serve time in prison for doing what he was told, if there will be no penalty for those who gave the orders? Why should Libby serve time just to make liberals feel better, or just to serve an abstract theory? His misdeeds are trivial compared to those who expect to do no time at all. (And Christians: When are you ever at liberty to advocate the denial of mercy?) Bush himself is the "decider"; it is his hands that are on the valves of the moral sewer that is today's American presidency.

In fact, Bush does more than extend compassion to the right background and the right record of service--he even provides affirmative action in employing them, as Paul Krugman writes in "Sacrifice is for suckers" ($elect):
Mr. Bush says that Mr. Libby’s punishment remains “harsh” because his reputation is “forever damaged.” Meanwhile, Mr. Bush employs, as a deputy national security adviser, none other than Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty to unlawfully withholding information from Congress in the Iran-contra affair. Mr. Abrams was one of six Iran-contra defendants pardoned by Mr. Bush’s father, who was himself a subject of the special prosecutor’s investigation of the scandal.
So don't slap Bush for commuting a prison sentence for a loyal insider; instead, demand that he extend his compassion to others who did what they were told and for that reason are now slogging through an impossible mission in Iraq--namely our soldiers.

If today's post is short, it's because I'm spending far too much time at the Waterfront Blues Festival while still trying to do justice to a full-time job. When the blues festival is on, of course sleep takes its proper place as a strictly optional luxury.

Yesterday I heard Alice Stuart perform on the Oregonian-sponsored Front Porch Stage, which is where I spend most of my festival time. Despite her interesting affiliations in blues and related music over decades (Wikipedia claims that Frank Zappa fired her from the Mothers of Invention over her alleged inability to play "Louie, Louie"), I have to admit that I'd never heard of her. I'm glad that was corrected yesterday. Her fluid and melodic guitar was refreshing.

Fiona Boyes was back at the festival. She was sensational four years ago on the Front Porch Stage, and for this visit she'd graduated to the main stage. She's a fine blues guitarist (and she's actually my favorite acoustic blues guitarist), but what makes her special is her witty delivery. I hope that this return visit means that she's getting better known. I have raved about her to the few Australians I know, none of whom have ever heard of her.

Then again, how many Americans have heard of Rollie Tussing? He won the local International Blues Challenge nomination last year, and was back again this year to rock the Front Port Stage with his slide guitar and his cigar box homemade four string whatzit. Mostly I don't favor guitarists who play fast, loud, and distorted, and sing with growly voices, but Tussing's performances are not mannered and show-offy, they convey a real love for the music. Check for yourself: his Myspace page has several good tracks on it, and a link to a Youtube clip.

Steve James and Del Rey perform together a lot, and you can tell. They've got incredible timing. They do a wonderful job of presenting old-time blues, but my favorite song from their set today was Chuck Berry's "Nadine"--practically a contemporary song compared to most of their material.

During these years I've been attending this festival, the Front Porch Stage (one of the smaller venues at the festival, but one with seating!) has really expanded my blues tastes. Musicians such as Del Rey and Steve James, Alice Stuart, Lauren Sheehan, Dylan-Thomas Vance, and others have demonstrated that Chicago isn't the only place with authentic blues.

But when all is said and done, when the guitar and harp and bass and drums power up in that old, piercingly familiar Chicago way, it's like nothing in the world. Thirty-five years ago I first heard this music live, when the James Cotton Blues Band came to Carleton University and shredded my eardrums (and those of my poor date, I think) with "Love Me or Leave Me," "How Long Can a Fool Go Wrong?" and "Rocket 88." And tonight I was very close to the front when James Cotton came onstage and eased into "How Long Can a Fool Go Wrong." This time he played it as an instrumental; he can't sing anymore as he used to, so others (notably Slam Allen and Tom Holland) have taken up this role. The whole set was excellent, and the crowd responded with enthusiasm.

James Cotton, according to the publicity, is in the 63rd year of his career. That makes him young compared to one of his special guests this evening--Pinetop Perkins, celebrating his 94th birthday during the festival. Pinetop joined James Cotton for two or three numbers, singing and playing keyboard. I made a video clip of one of the songs--I'll cherish that for a long time. Another veteran who joined Cotton this evening for a few songs was Hubert Sumlin--guitarist for Howlin' Wolf. The last time I heard Sumlin, he wasn't singing, either, but he did fine on vocals this evening. (Sometime I'll post a clip of the inimitable David Johansen doing vocals for Hubert Sumlin. He also performed that role for Sumlin in the concert film Lightning in a Bottle.)

So far, an excellent Waterfront Blues Festival, the 20th anniversary edition. Thank you, organizers! And to think that all this sonic ecstasy is actually intended to benefit the Oregon Food Bank!

John Boutte and Todd Duke WaterfrontBlu...

The "Waterfront" of Waterfront Blues Festival WaterfrontBlu...

Hubert Sumlin and James Cotton WaterfrontBlu...

Hubert Sumlin WaterfrontBlu...

Fireboat setting up the timed rainbow WaterfrontBlu...

Blind Boys of Alabama (who performed
"Down in the Hole," to my great delight)

Interesting clip with Chuck Berry, T-Bone Walker, and a drink.


Anonymous said...

I so knew you were there. Blind Boys set I kept looking around and looking around. Got to keep the Devil down in the hole,baby.
So sorry I missed you. Will you be doing any NWYM time this year?


Johan Maurer said...

Hello from Oakland! Yes, Judy and I will both be at most of Yearly Meeting. I'm on a panel at men's banquet, and Judy is speaker for women's banquet. We're on a Tuesday workshop panel, and we're being prayed for on the Thursday evening. Also, I'm doing an intro to Tuesday morning's business session based on the ten commandments of business meeting.

Sadly, the Blind Boys set was the last of this year's Blues Festival for me. I had to work all day Friday and spent Saturday and Sunday on a round trip to Woodland, Idaho.

Anonymous said...

Great pics of the Waterfront Blues Festival. That is one of my favorite Blues Festivals right now...perhaps I am a little biased because I am from Portland (great city by the way).