In the more than 60 years of rock, there may be no more fitting album title than Steven Van Zandt’s Rock N Roll Rebel. Originally released in 2016, the just released 13-disc expanded edition contains all of his solo albums between 1982 and 1999, as well as additional live material, four CDs of rarities and the landmark 1985 Sun City album Van Zandt led in putting together.
Van Zandt is, in every way, a rock ‘n’ roll rebel. Talk to him for an hour as I did and two things are abundantly clear — he believes as deeply in the power of rock and roll as he did when he was a teenager. As he says, “There’s nothing more effective than rock music connecting us together.”
The second thing is that Van Zandt, who is tremendously underrated as a political songwriter, is going to speak his mind. And oh baby does he have a lot to say, especially regarding the current administration.
” I’m hoping to save the Republican party this year. I’m hoping everybody can come out and vote every single Republican out of office, every single one from the local assemblyman to the mayors and governors and senators and congressmen and up,” he says. “Every single Republican needs to be voted out of office right now to teach them a lesson and say, ‘You guys better get it together. You want to qualify as a real American party then maybe you should start believing in democracy, equality, science, certain basic things . That’s how we define our country and I don’t know how you’re defining the country anymore, Republicans, but it’s got nothing to do with us. It has more to do with making Vladimir Putin happy or some white supremacists happy. But that’s not America.’ So I’m hoping everybody is united and really works very hard to make sure people are registered and can vote every single Republican out of office this year and then start again next year rebuilding a Republican party that makes some sense because right now they don’t make any sense, they might as well be a Russian asset collaborating with treason as far as I’m concerned.”
Unfortunately with the lack of discourse we have in this country at this point, the left is going to agree with Van Zandt and the right will call him names. But Van Zandt speaks from experience with the Republican party.
” My father was an ex-marine, [Barry] Goldwater Republican. So I understand that world very well, what real conservatives are and what they believe,” he says. “I never really agreed with a whole lot of it but I understand what it was. And this Republican party bears no resemblance whatsoever to that Republican party of my father or Barry Goldwater or what is defined as conservative.”
As Van Zandt himself wrote in arguably his finest political song, “I Am A Patriot,”
“And I ain’t no communist
And I ain’t no capitalist
And I ain’t no socialist
And I ain’t no imperalist
And I ain’t’ no democrat
And I ain’t no republican
I only know one party
And it is freedom.”
So when the aptly named rock and roll rebel speaks everyone should listen with an open mind and pay close attention.
Steve Baltin: What was the last show you saw before things shut down?
Steve Van Zandt: I was in L.A. right before things shut down visiting a partner school for our history curriculum, Orangethorpe. One of the most exciting days of my life actually, to see your 15 years of work actually happening before your eyes. Our main thing is arts integration into the entire school system and all of the disciplines. And from kindergarten to sixth grade there they have integrated the arts into every single class. It’s really exciting, man.
Baltin: How have you been handling all of this?
Van Zandt: I got busier than ever. The first two weeks was bliss (laughs). Everybody was in shock. So for two weeks it was like nothing happened. I really kind of enjoyed it I must say, circumstances aside of course. But now everybody’s figured it out. We’re all sitting targets. We’re no longer moving targets. It never would have happened if we weren’t forced to do it. But every once in a while it’s good to reflect and take a look at what you’re doing and what’s going on and just have the world stop for a minute. I wish it could happen more regularly for different reasons, but there are some positive things about it.
Baltin: Well especially since you were so busy before all this and there will presumably be both a Disciples Of Soul and E Street tour in the future when things open back up. So if things hadn’t slowed down would you have had time to put the box set together?
Van Zandt: I am using the time wisely to get out almost everything I’ve ever done, is coming out this year. And everything will be available in all formats — vinyl, CD, digital. Everything except the Summer Of Sorcery live album and DVD, which we pushed until May of next year because it was just getting too crowded. We’re anxious to get everything out and I’m producing a few records on the phone. And we made sure the radio show is continuing to work fine because most of that is done from home. Our music history curriculum was already online so that was cool. But in a way, yeah, we’re looking at E Street, we’re looking at Disciples Of Soul, things are gonna start piling up is the problem. Can only do one thing at a time, which has always been a problem for me. I really need to get back on TV also. I decided to dedicate these last three years to reconnecting with my own work, which I’m glad I did. It was important to do that. I really kind of abandoned it for 20 years, So it was really good for me spiritually to reconnect with my own life’s work and now to get it all out remastered, which I never had done before. So getting all that out is good. But looking ahead I’m not too optimistic, I gotta tell you the truth, about what’s going on here. I’m not sure there’s going to be any activity in ’21. I was hoping there would be. I’m still hoping there will be, but I don’t see it. We’re in a three-stage situation here, the first stage being everything online, which is what we’ve been doing. The second stage has to do with tests and the tests have to be fast and effective. And I’m talking about like four hours, not four days, not 14 days. So the testing that’s going on right now is a joke and it’s pathetic. And that is not really gonna enable anybody to go back to work, although they’re encouraging everybody to go back to work, which is I think a huge mistake. And evidence of complete incompetence on the part of our government. Now they’re telling kids to go back to school, which I think is a huge mistake. So we’re not gonna see audiences, I’m afraid, until the earliest, ’22 the way things are going right now.
Baltin: Where did your interest in music and politics intersect?
Van Zandt: It all began interestingly enough with the first sentence in Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” for me. “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine,” kind of a fun line you can make of it as you will. Second line: “I’m on the pavement thinking about the government.” “What, thinking about the government?” Whoever thought about the government, that was a radical idea Bob Dylan introduced. From there it became part of the DNA of rock music and the rock era. The rock era became a wonderful way to communicate between us in our country and between countries. Suddenly we could talk to people in different countries without going through our government for the first time. And that was something rock music encouraged.
Baltin: Talk about how the ’60s influenced the ’80s activism and leading that into the rise in music activism today.
Van Zandt: The basic difference is you have a regime right now that is so upfront in their criminality that it almost feels redundant to talk about it, As opposed to the ’80s, for instance, when I was at my most active writing about what was going on. My motivation was to write and explain to people because it was invisible. It was all behind the scenes. You had the front of this happy grandfatherly cowboy in Ronald Reagan making everybody feel good. And all of these crimes are going on behind the scenes. I thought, “We gotta point the light where right now there is only darkness in terms of the international criminal behavior of this administration.” But now you got an administration that brags about putting kids in cages as a way of stopping immigration and they lost a couple of hundred kids. There’s no need to explain what’s going on anymore, it’s so obvious. And now we have troops going into Portland, which is what everybody feared would happen. Now we’re seeing the beginning of literally a civil war. And in between November and January look out because I fear we could literally be in a literal civil war by then. So it’s good people are talking about it and obviously are very united. I think it’s important right now…I’m not a big fan of the party system, but I do believe if we’re gonna have a party system you need at least two functional parties. And we don’t have two functional parties right now. We need to come out in enormous numbers, undeniable numbers physically and try and overcome what is a real fight, not to mention the Russian hacking, which is going on now. Mitch McConnell refuses to stop it. He is an absolute traitor to this country, refusing to stop it.
Baltin: What does rock music mean to you?
Van Zandt: I dedicated the last 20 years or so to making sure this endangered species called rock music survives. I turn on the radio one day and I’m like, “Man, we’re in trouble.” So I started a whole new radio format, two radio formats really: one for rock music and soul, Underground Garage, and Outlaw Country for country-leaning stuff. But that’s why I started my music history curriculum, the radio show, my record company. Everything I’ve been doing the last 20 years is to basically make sure that this endangered species called rock survives. Why? Because it is the best form of communication I think that we’ve ever had. Music is the great common ground to begin with and it’s a wonderful, wonderful way of communicating between people emotionally. Music communicates emotionally first. But we’re finding it to be the most effective way of teaching kids in school, especially kids who have Attention Deficit Disorder. So we use music for teachers as an effective way of communicating with kids right now. That’s why we have 30,000 kids registered and we just went public with it last year. So there is something about rock music and its various hybrids like hip hop; sometimes it wanders in the pop world, country world with people like the Chicks. But there is something about rock music in general that communicates very effectively. Without it I think it’s going to be a lot more difficult for us to reach each other and communicate with each other. Even with social media now, which is wonderful and can be very effective, it also can be very dangerous cause there’s a lot of weird stuff going on there too. But there’s nothing more effective than rock music connecting us together.
Baltin: What can be done to change things globally?
Van Zandt: I’ve been so blessed these last three years, the most productive three years of my whole life artistically. But more than that we toured the whole world, man, and there are problems in Australia, Indonesia, Hungary and Poland. Brexit in England is a disaster. All of these walls being put back up, all this nationalism, isolationism, extreme religious beliefs taking over countries. All of that is bad. It’s all bad. Our goal in life should be global unification. Isn’t that what life’s all about? And that’s the trajectory we kind of had been on since World War II more or less up until now. And now the opposite is happening. Everybody is pulling back, isolating, and the walls are going up. And we gotta stop it right now and get back on track.
In 'Boys State,' American politics in a teenage microcosm – EverythingGP
“Boys State” may sound like a mere mock government exercise, but the film finds in Boys State a microcosm of American politics, one that frighteningly reflects much of the tenor of today’s Washington and, in other ways, counters our more cynical grown-up government with stirring idealism. “Boys State” will give you both hope and fear for America’s future.
“The film is an unvarnished depiction of what we encountered,” says Moss. “And that includes the horrifying but also the profoundly moving and the uplifting.”
Boys States are run throughout the country by the American Legion, along with corresponding Girls States. Some notable names — from Bill Clinton to Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh to Mark Wahlberg — have gone through the program. Moss and McBaine were unaware of Boys State before reading a 2017 Washington Post article about a first in the program’s history: Texas voted to secede.
The filmmakers sensed they had found a prism through which to view the changing nature of civic discourse in the U.S. following the election of Donald Trump. Paul Barker, then Chairman of the American Legion Texas Boys State, was impressed by McBaine and Moss’ previous film ( “The Overnighters” ) and figured a documentary could expand the program. He had one suggestion.
“When kids are 17-years-old, sometimes their mouth gets ahead of their brain,” says Barker. “But you have to see that as part of a learning process. My only caution to them was to let the needle run.”
The filmmakers, who shot the 2018 program, expected juvenile behaviour and got it. The boys, not irrationally, enact a statewide ban on pineapple pizza. But Moss and McBaine were less prepared for the emotional ride of watching some of the students find their voice.
Foremost among them is Steven Garza, a liberal-minded son of Mexican immigrants. He’s more reserved than many of his fellow high-schoolers. In an overwhelmingly white and largely conservative mass of boys, Garza stands out. Yet his underdog campaign gains momentum, rising on his own idealism and his ability to connect straightforwardly with others.
“I came out even more idealistic,” says Garza, now a 19-year-old studying politics at the University of Texas, Austin. “I knew that I could run a campaign as a brown person, a progressive person and have conservatives vote for me. Even if they didn’t believe everything I stood for, they believed that if I was elected that I would work with them to come to agreements.”
“We’re a lot closer than most people think and a lot closer than the people who are actually in Congress are,” says Garza.
The Texas Boys State, like the national political system, is a skewed representation. It’s a program that, as Moss says, “has a foot in the 21st century and a foot in the 1950s.”
Barker readily grants the film has been cause for reflection for the program. The huge imbalance in diversity, he says, is something that may take a cultural shift for the organization to change. (Field offices of the American Legion interview students from across the state and pluck one or two per high school.) A Peoples State, with boys and girls, has frequently been considered but isn’t happening anytime soon.
“They can make a better effort to create an outreach or recruitment program that reflects the growing diversity of Texas,” says René Otero, one of the few African American students seen in “Boys State” and the film’s most gifted orator. “I didn’t feel protected as a student of colour. If you want to engage people in civics, you have to show them that the people who need civics the most — the oppressed — have the power to engage.”
Otero departed jaded from the experience and disinterested in politics. His place, he feels now, is outside the system. He wants to be activist and an educator.
“I’ve been around a lot of white folks before but not THAT many for seven days. It felt like I had to conform to a different space. I was trying to figure out how to change and twist myself up,” says Otero. “But being forced to self-advocate was a beautiful lesson in developing my agency as a person.”
There are smear campaigns and reckless gambits of self-preservation in “Boys State.” Abortion rights are wielded as a political tool. Robert MacDougall runs on a pro-life platform but acknowledges in a private interview he’s pro-choice. “Sometimes you can’t win on what you believe in your heart,” he says. Federalist Party chairman Ben Feinstein, a Ronald Reagan acolyte who lost his legs to meningitis, in one scene cribs from what he calls “the Trump playbook.”
“It was chilling to hear Ben — who we really love as a person and is complex — invoke Trump,” says Moss. “That was a question for us. Are young people internalizing the norms of behaviour that we see? Of course they are.”
But they are also forging their own conceptions of government. The film’s primary subjects have stayed in touch since 2018 and attended Sundance together. Some of their views have since aligned, some still diverge. But they all respect each other. Talking — and filmmaking — has brought them closer.
“Collectively as a group is how we’re going to change this country,” says Garza.
McBaine and Moss aren’t done with the program. When the pandemic passes, they plan to document Girls State.
“It’s not a sequel,” says McBaine. “It’s a sibling.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
Chris Evans hopes to shield democracy with politics website – CKPGToday.ca
“This was born out of the same reason I do what I do on Twitter. You want to try and help. You want to try and use the platform that you’ve been given the right way,” Evans said. “And this felt like it could cast the widest net because it actually removed my personal politics and just tried to offer information to people who may want to participate.”
The site is divided into three sections. One includes three Republicans and three Democrats answering questions about broad long-term issues like immigration, climate change, student debt and gerrymandering. The second allows politicians to upload solo messages about hot topics like Trump’s executive orders or TikTok ban. And a “counterpoints” section highlights moderated interparty debates: Should schools reopen during the pandemic? Should the government require mail-in voting?
The site is intended to educate, not advocate, Evans says. It’s built without incentives toward extremes. There are no view counters, like or dislike buttons, or comments sections. Some of the videos are fact-checked by an outside group.
“The reason for doing this site is to combat the proliferation of misinformation,” Evans said in an interview from his home in Boston. “A lot of the misinformation out there comes from individuals who have created these platforms and they pull snippets of information to places and create a narrative. And it’s a lot of conjecture. And you hope that the elected officials who are in office are the ones trying to cut through that.”
Evans, whose uncle served in Congress as a Democrat for a decade ending last year, says he and Kassen had to push hard to convince Republicans to participate. The 39-year-old actor had thrilled liberals early in Trump’s term, calling the president “Biff” and a “meatball.”
Kassen said Evans’ reputation left the pair with “a hill to climb” as the pair visited offices around the Capitol pitching their vision of an impartial online venue: “Our hard work and his charm allowed us to keep going. But for sure, there was a lot of bias against us because of that.”
Evans says he’s been pleased to see Republicans uploading more “daily points” videos to the site than Democrats in recent weeks.
As he prepares to potentially film a Netflix spy movie in January, the self-described “news junkie” says he’s tuned out the presidential campaign temporarily to focus on A Starting Point. His social media is mostly benign these days.
“It’s a measure of efficacy. How can you be of most good, of most service?” Evans said. “This site feels to me that it could have a broader impact than anything I could do on my individual Twitter.”
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ryanwrd
Ryan Pearson, The Associated Press
Science and politics tied up in global race for a vaccine
“To be the first one out of the block with a coronavirus vaccine would be a real — pardon the pun — shot in the arm for the Kremlin,” said Timothy Frye, a political science professor at Columbia University who specializes in post-Soviet politics.
Russia is not alone in viewing a vaccine in this light. China, where the virus first emerged, has also raced to make progress on a vaccine. A state-owned Chinese company is boasting that its employees, including top executives, received experimental shots even before the government approved testing in people.
President Donald Trump, whose handling of the coronavirus pandemic has put his political fate in grave jeopardy, is hoping to get credit for his administration’s aggressive push for a vaccine, ideally one that arrives before Election Day in November.
It’s far from clear at this point whether Putin has beaten Trump to this medical milestone.
Putin said the Health Ministry gave its approval after the vaccine, named “Sputnik V,” underwent the necessary tests. He said one of his two adult daughters had been inoculated. “We should be grateful to those who have taken this first step, which is very important for our country and the whole world,” he said.
No proof was offered and scientists in Russia warned that more testing would be necessary to establish it is safe and effective. Nonetheless, officials said vaccination of doctors could start as early as this month and mass vaccination may begin as early as October.
Scientists around the world have been cautioning that even if vaccine candidates are proven to work, it will take even more time to tell how long the protection will last.
“It’s a too early stage to truly assess whether it’s going to be effective, whether it’s going to work or not,” said Dr. Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton.
It was also too soon to dismiss the Russian claim out of hand.
The country, though economically dependent on the export of natural resources, does have a history of achievement in science, medicine and aerospace — including becoming the first to put a person into space, in 1961.
“It is possible that they concentrated and could do this,” said Daniel Fried, a retired senior U.S. diplomat. “I’m not scoffing at it, but it doesn’t mean that the Russian economy is advanced.”
A vaccine would be the kind of significant achievement that would elevate Putin at home and in the international community.
“They would love to be able to claim credit because the first country to develop the vaccine will gain enormous prestige,” said Fried, a former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs who is now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.
It’s also possible Russia had help. The U.S., Britain and Canada l ast month accused hackers working for Russian intelligence of trying to steal information about a coronavirus vaccine from academic and pharmaceutical research institutions.
In any case, the public is eager for a vaccine as global deaths from the virus surpass 730,000. Some say they would even welcome one from Russia, provided it passes muster with the Food and Drug Administration, which approves vaccines used in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends who should receive them.
“I can’t take it anymore. I’m getting crazy,” said Fernanda Henderson, as she strapped her infant into a car seat at a park in the Maryland suburbs of Washington for a break from quarantining at home. “I don’t think the CDC or the FDA would approve something that is not going to work.”
But to Vesna Jezic, a 79-year-old native of Croatia and immunologist who was taking her grandchildren to the same park, the suspiciously fast progress on the vaccine announced by Putin was reason to be doubtful. “You can imagine we don’t trust anything that comes from Russia,” she said.
The Russian president may face similar doubts at home. Frye noted a 2018 Gallup Poll that showed the former Soviet countries have some of the highest rates of anti-vaccination sentiment in the world.
“If it turns out not to work, it would be a real black eye,” he said.
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