I am typing again this morning. I don’t know where this is going. My thoughts run in two directions, trains of thought sharing a single track. As I enjoy my coffee, a collision is inevitable.
The wink and a nod that we give to pure evil is astonishing. It is us at our worst.
Bruce Springsteen’s new album, “Western Stars,” is a work of stunning beauty. It is us at our best.
This morning, while gazing out the living-room windows at the lush trees on our street, trees enjoying the summer rains that are flooding the homes and businesses just a short drive up Lake Avenue toward Lake Ontario, I’m reading about the billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein. A celebrity businessman who’s been arrested, charged with sex trafficking of minors.
Bill Clinton is a friend of Epstein’s. He reportedly ditched the Secret Service agents assigned to watch him and flew off on Epstein’s private jet, known as “The Lolita Express” for its passenger list that frequently included young girls. An unsupervised president with well-documented character issues soaring off to adventure with a pedophile.
Donald Trump also a friend of Epstein’s. He’s called Epstein a “terrific guy” and “a lot of fun.”
Clinton and Trump must have heard a thing or two about Epstein, many people have for years. But they dismissed it all with a nod and a wink.
Trump. Here we go again.
Our grifter president, using his position to scam the world for personal profit. Praising thuggish dictators who order the deaths of journalists, the trail of sexual assaults, filling important government positions with incompetent sycophants, putting children in cages, denying the evidence of science and the advice of experts who stand in the way of his personal agendas, gutting the environment, stripping women of the right to control their own bodies, the public policies enacted for political purposes rather than advancing our society, excusing the Russian cyber attacks on our democracy, ignoring the racism and misogyny and xenophobia that draw strength from his words, the tweets laden with hate and disdain for fact, the clear evidence of psychological issues, the lying, lying, lying.
All dismissed by his followers and a Republican Congress with a wink and a nod.
Let’s go back further, into not-so-distant history. George W. Bush’s administration lied us into two illegal wars, and all we have to show for them are 7,000 dead American soldiers, an estimated 210,000 dead civilians, some 10 million people who got in the way of this aggression and were displaced from their homes, and a United States that is now recognized as condoning torture and for imprisoning people for years without evidence or trial.
An average citizen who accumulated such a record of irresponsibility would be in jail now. In Bush’s home state of Texas, they might even execute him. Instead, with a nod and a wink, we allow him to exhibit in museums his retirement hobby of painting dogs and world leaders.
In my despair, I draw strength from music. This weekend, Springsteen’s “Western Stars.”
As with all great artists, Springsteen is not content with staying with what works. He is always searching for what fits the moment. The desperate young characters searching for love and a sense of place in his early albums are long gone. In “Western Stars,” the characters are searching for love and a sense of place. But not with desperation. With maturity and resignation to the fact that we’re not here to bend the world to our desires, but to live within it, among each other, among all of our faults.
I’ve heard the sound of “Western Stars” compared to the Laurel Canyon of the 1960 and early ’70s, where Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills and Nash roamed. Maybe so. But I also hear a psychedelic wistfulness, like The Walker Brothers’ elegant “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.”
There’s a lot of sun in “Western Stars.” Springsteen sings and plays guitar against a backdrop of lush strings and soaring orchestrations. It is a sound that reflects the bigness of the American West, a scale that reminds a man or a woman – or a billionaire pedophile or a lying politician – of our place here: We’re mighty small, compared to those western stars in the sky.
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