Jeff Spevak, Writer

Welcome to a Chronicle of Culture.

Category: Crime Page 1 of 4

Epstein is dead. Long live Epstein.

I’m not sure if this photo is real. But the evidence suggests the sentiment is real.

I can’t stand it, anymore. My quiet Sunday morning is ruined. My head is going to explode.

Jeffrey Epstein, multi-millionaire serial pedophile and sex-crime ringleader, committed suicide. Zero evidence has been presented to suggest he was murdered. Zero evidence has been presented that a dead body was substituted for Epstein, and at this moment he is flying to his private Caribbean island. To say otherwise is to ignore the fact that undoubtedly dozens of people – including doctors and too many prison officials to be bribed – are in on the conspiracy.

Imagination is a great thing. It helped Sherlock Holmes solve many crimes. Who would have thought the demonic ghost haunting the moors of Baskerville was actually a dog painted with phosphorus? But there are no such dogs roaming the hallways of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

We must always go to where the evidence leads. To do otherwise is frivolous. It can be fun, even. But then we encounter moments when imagination creeps into the realm of dangerous rationalization.

This week, we’re once again debating guns, following three high-profile mass shootings. Rather than addressing what’s obvious – guns being used as conflict arbitrators – we’re hearing imaginary nonsense about how murder sprees are a mental-health issue (As if other countries with few mass shootings don’t have schizophrenics and manic depressives). Or how video games led to these shootings (As if other countries with few mass shootings don’t have video games). It takes a lot of imagination to block out the inexcusable hate that this week’s killers felt for their victims.

We’ve seen a lot of imagination at work on immigration. Last week I was talking to a Republican who insisted that separating children from their immigrant parents at the border is a longstanding policy. It is not. Re-writing history takes some imagination, but mostly it’s lying. Barack Obama’s immigration policies contained specific language aimed at keeping families intact. It is a Trump executive order that snatched children from their parents and put them in cages. Defending cruel policy utilizes the same imaginative rationalization that led Trump to claim during the 2018 elections that the caravan of Central American refugees heading for our southern border, people fleeing poverty and the threat of death, were actually violent, disease-ridden gang members.

And once the election was over, the caravan magically… disappeared.

Imagine that.

Conspiracy theories, offering different levels of threat to Americans, that have been thoroughly disproven: 9/11 was an inside job. Obama was born in Kenya and his birth certificate is fake. The Holocaust didn’t happen. And the Hillary Clinton all-you-can-eat buffet of Benghazi, her unsecured email server and how she ran a child-sex ring out of a pizza restaurant. We can add to that pile aliens at Area 51, the moon landings were fake, extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids called “Annunaki” are secretly ruling humanity. And Paul is dead.

Oh, sure, rampant corruption of officials is easy to imagine in this age of a Trump White House. This morning, the current president of the United States re-tweeted a conspiracy rumor suggesting former president Bill Clinton is complicit in murder – again with zero evidence. It demonstrates once again that Trump and his administration, and the adoring acolytes who hide their corporations’ profits in offshore accounts or paint “TRuMp” on the sides of their weathered barns, have careened through the guard rails protecting law and functional society.

The evidence is conclusive. Epstein’s dead, he killed himself. If anything, today’s Epstein conspiracy talk sheds light on the incestual level of corruption to be found among the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Rats finding comfort, and protection, in each other’s company.

Distraction allows them to escape. We must stay focused. What is the true conspiracy? Conspiracy theories thrive without light. The most-dangerous ones feed on lies.

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A world of trouble, saved by Springsteen

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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Ryan, you couldn’t have done it without us

Ryan Adams.

An often-repeated story about Ryan Adams has him playing a solo acoustic show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Someone in the audience is repeatedly shouting a request: “Play Summer of ’69!” Adams ends up storming into the audience, finds the guy, hands him two $20 bills and tells him to leave.

“Summer of ’69,” of course, is a pop hit by Bryan Adams. And a pop hit unworthy of Ryan Adams, apparently.

In the years since, the incident has been cast as a humorless rock star overreacting to a disrespectful, possibly drunk, fan. In a piece he wrote for The New York Times, Adams – Ryan, not Bryan – confessed that the incident left him so scarred that he had to go into therapy. And, perhaps in an effort to address this demon, Ryan Adams has since played “Summer of ’69” a few times at shows. Why, in one those moments of synchronicity that convinces you there is a God, and he has a sense of humor, the two men even share the same birthday, and Ryan has said he emails Bryan birthday good wishes.

I understand. One thing our artists share with the rest of humanity is they come in all flavors. Ryan Adams is one of the sensitive ones. Maybe that’s why I own a couple of his albums. I like the artists whose introspection spirals into self-flagellation.

But, I guess I won’t be buying Big Colors, the Ryan Adams album that was scheduled to be released in April. The Capitol Music Group, which was to distribute the album, will no longer do so. Adams has lost a couple of sponsors, radio stations are dropping him from their playlists. That’s in response to more than a half-dozen women having accused Ryan of manipulative behavior and harassment: Musicians that include Phoebe Bridgers, Courtney Jaye and Karen Elson. Or musicians who have confirmed he’s capable of such behavior: Jenny Lewis and Liz Phair. Accusations that include dangling career-enhancing promises in front of them in exchange for train-wreck relationships that have even included him threatening suicide. The accusers include his ex-wife, Mandy Moore, herself a musician who you may recognize from the television show This is Us. And there is one woman who says she was 14 when she first began trading sexually explicit texts with Adams. The FBI is supposedly looking into that one.

Adams denies the accusations, but does admit, “I am not a perfect man.” Yes, he’s confessed he’s had drug issues. And – just guessing here, I’m not a doctor – psychological issues. Yet in sharing his sensitive side with us, through song and his New York Times confessional, it doesn’t occur to Adams that others around him may have vulnerable psyches as well.

So this news goes hand-in-withered-claw with R. Kelly, the hip-hop artist who has been accused of having sex with an underage girl. A grand jury was seated Monday to hear the charges. And there is Forever Neverland, the documentary featured at the recent Sundance Film Festival. It airs stories by men, young boys at the time, who claim they were sexually assaulted by Jackson at his fantasy-driven ranch, Neverland.

Actually, this isn’t news. We’ve been hearing unsettling stories about R. Kelly for years. Stories, even, that he kept women as prisoners. And while I haven’t seen Neverland, I’m pretty confident that I know that story. Jackson owned massive amounts of child porn. And something else I read about a few years ago, a story that didn’t get much attention: After Jackson’s death, besides the child porn, investigators also found animal-torture videos. According to experts in child abuse, that kind of thing is a device used to break down a child’s resistance against his or her victimization.

Add to these the sordid side of the film world, and accusations of sexual harassment or abuse against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen.

I suppose you could call me a hypocrite because you can no longer find the music of R. Kelly and Michael Jackson, and now Ryan Adams, in my music collection. They have been purged. Yet I have an album by the old Western swing bandleader Spade Cooley, who beat to death his estranged wife. I have records by Son House and Lead Belly, bluesmen who did time jail time for killing people. And some by Jerry Lee Lewis, who married his 13-year-old cousin. Maybe it’s the passage of time that allows these crimes to fall into the category of curious history.

But maybe, I just feel differently about a guy like Ryan Adams because it’s coming from my time, a moment of which I’m in charge.

None of these supposedly modern-day men have been found guilty of anything. But there is an air of entitlement here: People of power preying on the weak, whether you’re talking movie moguls or funny uncles. Or reality television stars who somehow stumble into the White House.

How do they get away with it?

They have our permission.

“Ryan had a network too,” Bridgers wrote on her Instagram account. She dated Adams, she says, until his “obsessive and emotionally abusive behavior” brought an end to their relationship. “Friends, bands, people he worked with. None of them held him accountable. They told him, by what they said or by what they didn’t, that what he was doing was okay. They validated him. He couldn’t have done this without them.”

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