The Man Who Sold the World

Michael Stipe:



David Bowie:–SJKVQQ


Over the last 24 hours, I have been inundated with videos of Trump and Stipe, with headlines about the most incredible audio from these men.

Trump managed to suggest that women who get abortions should be punished, and when the backlash was immediate and fierce, he backtracked and suggested that doctors who perform abortions should be punished, not the women who undergo the procedure.

Even abortion foes reacted strongly against Trump’s comment. John Kasich tweeted: “Of course women shouldn’t be punished for having an abortion.” This from a staunch opponent of abortions. Really? Since when have women who are pro-choice, much less suffered through an abortion, not been punished? Granted, the punishment is not prison or a fine, but the endless shaming and aggression against those who are pro-choice has always trumped (pun intended) compassion or concern or even curiosity about alternatives.

Whether Trump’s latest belch will affect his polling remains to be seen. After all, he’s the man who sold the world. He says what some think. He’s a zillionaire, so he must be the most capable and smartest in the world. He wrote The Art of the Deal. He’s bought and sold so much, you won’t believe how much. He’s the man who sold the world.
As all the media, social and anti-social, were broadcasting and posting Trump’s comments—about punishing women or physicians, the media was also sharing a rebroadcast (you-tube) of Michael Stipe, former frontman for R.E.M., singing a haunting cover of “The Man Who Sold the World”, by David Bowie. He performed it on The Tonight Show the other night, in advance of his “Music of David Bowie” tribute concert. His haunting rendition hardly conjures The Donald, but captures the personal searching for ourselves that Bowie’s version, and Nirvana’s unplugged version, also evoke. Yet, Stipe puts his own stamp on it, as did Bowie and Nirvana (Kurt Cobain, especially).

Art speaks truth to the human experience, and individuals find their specific identifications with a work of art. The style of Bowie’s 1970 song, and Nirvana’s 1995 Unplugged cover, and Michael Stipe’s 2016 rendition are each artist specific, yet the song seems timeless.

Demagoguery and hate are also timeless. There are always those who would sell the world for power. I couldn’t help but consider this song that was being posted everywhere yesterday in the context of the events of the day—namely, Donald Trump’s latest. The interesting thing about “The Man Who Sold the World” is that it is both the demagogue and us.

If the original intent of the song was to meet and “shake hands” with our “other” (lesser) selves, its meaning extends to a societal level. We not only have tremendous economical, social, religious, educational, cultural differences among us in the U.S., but we somehow have to shake hands and meet. We can’t merely sell the world and think we will continue to be successful.

I know that the man who sells the world, i.e. Donald Trump, is far from the guy Michael Stipe, Kurt Cobain, or David Bowie were evoking, but there is something quite amazing about The Man Who Sold the World. It is fitting that Stipe’s affecting rendition was being played everywhere the same day that Trump’s “punishing” comments were everywhere.

We passed upon the stair,
We spoke of was and when,
Although I wasn’t there,
He said I was his friend,
Which came as some surprise.
I spoke into his eyes,
“I thought you died alone
A long long time ago.”

“Oh no, not me,
I never lost control
You’re face to face
With the man who sold the world.”

I laughed and shook his hand
And made my way back home,
I searched for form and land,
For years and years I roamed.
I gazed a gazley stare
At all the millions here:
“We must have died alone,
A long long time ago.”

“Who knows? Not me,
We never lost control.
You’re face to face
With the man who sold the world.”

“Who knows? Not me,
We never lost control.
You’re face to face
With the man who sold the world. —David Bowie, first released in the US, Nov.1970


I just discovered Lulu (To Sir With Love)’s version of the song from 1974. Perhaps this version, albeit 1974 pop, is the most appropriate version. Women still feel face to face with The Man Who Sold the World. Of course, the more versions, the more we each recognize The Man Who Sold the World. We’re face to face with him.

Week End

Executive Action on Immigration

GOP indignation

Bringing on the litigation

It’s Friday in the Greatest Nation


Prepare for violence

After Grand Jury silence

Following Ferguson defiance

That’s this week’s guidance


America’s Dad

They say he’s a cad

No response was bad

After all he had


In the Mid East nightmare:

Beheading by Isis– as per their dare

Israel mourned those killed in prayer

How much more can humanity bear?


I even feel sorry for Buffalo

Where I lived several years ago

Folks are used to a few feet of snow

But six feet at once is quite a blow


It seems like more than just a week gone by

Since I cried from lovely Madame Butterfly

But the daily news dramas keep the supply

Of disgust and anxiety at a constant high


Perhaps a museum will be this weekend’s tonic

Or an outdoor concert, ideally symphonic

A cultural escape from that which seems chronic

And ever present in this age electronic



Maybe the weekdays make us embrace

Those whom we love and that which we chase

On weekends time moves at a different pace

To restore ourselves and create more space


As next week’s news and dramas unfold

We’ll concern ourselves with what we are told

It will seem more important than that which is old

But what counts is what we do with that which we hold

Making Change

What do cashiers have to do with The March on Washington? It’s probably not what you think.

As a child, I was regularly asked to walk to the neighborhood market a few blocks away to get some groceries for my mother. The grocers knew my family, along with many others in the neighborhood. Still, my mother taught me to always check the receipt (and give it to her), and she taught me how to make change. If the items totaled $17.45 and I gave the grocer (or cashier) $20.00, I had to know how much change I should get back.

As a young child, mental math (as we used to call it) was not my forte. In early elementary school we were taught math facts. We were drilled with flash cards. It was basic memorization of addition and subtraction, and then, multiplication tables, soon to be followed by short division flash cards. As one who never had a flair for remembering numbers or dates, or memorization at all, this mental math approach was arduous and mostly problematic for me. Yes, I did force myself to learn elemental math facts, but I was utterly turned off and avoided whatever I could. At least I did learn the basics. I learned that I had to subtract: $20.00-$17.45= $2.55.

But subtracting in my head (especially when I was quite young) was likely to lead to careless errors. So, my mother taught me how to make change. Essentially, she was teaching me that I could add instead of subtract. I remember struggling with the concept because I didn’t get that I was merely doing addition instead of subtraction. It just seemed like a magic trick that it all added up. Then, when I got the concept of counting back change from the total to the amount I gave, it was no longer like a magic trick–just magic in the way that something perfect seems magical.

Flash forward several years, and cash registers become calculators. Cashiers no longer  need to do anything but make sure that if the cash register says $2.55 change,  they can count the correct bills and coins. They do not have to figure out the change. For a generation now, cashiers have not had to do any math beyond counting what they are told to provide. On the occasions when I do make cash purchases, I am always dumbfounded that cashiers don’t (and often can’t) make change. They can’t figure the difference. There’s no human agency in making change; no critical thinking. I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much if cash registers are more efficient calculators than the people who use them, but I wonder about this ability (or lack thereof) to make change.

For me, the process of making change resonated more than merely knowing the numbers. That has always been true for me. It struck me this week as we have been commemorating the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,  that while August 28, 1963 marks the historic date, the processes of change inform how we make change. Noting the differences from where we started to where we are now is not sufficient if we are to be the ones who make change. We must understand the processes of change–of additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions, and miscalculations.

The March on Washington 50 years ago was historic for many reasons. Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream ” speech was pivotal, and remarkable, and truly one of the greatest pieces of oration in our history; but the peaceful participation by so many was equally historic and inspiring. Everyone who rallied at the mall in Washington was participating in making change, and inspired so many others to become agents of change. It is easy to just take the change that others make. It is easy to allow changes to be dictated by technology. It is more important, though, to be able to make change.

Live and Let Die

When you were young and your heart was an open book 

You used to say live and let live 

(You know you did, you know you did you know you did) 

But if this ever changing world in which we live in 

Makes you give in and cry 

Say live and let die 

What was originally the theme song to the  James Bond movie “Live and Let Die” in 1973  has more recently become not only a subculture in American society, but law in several states.

Under the Stand Your Ground law, a person who feels threatened has no obligation to retreat.

(Live and let die) 

Live and let die 

(Live and let die) 

Until recent years, the duty to retreat helped  define what “reasonable” threat meant. Stand Your Ground was seen as an extension of The Castle Doctrine, which allowed people who are threatened in their own homes to stand their ground in their own homes and defend themselves without having to flee their homes. Thus, with Stand Your Ground laws, the concept applied to one’s home has been extended, as long as one is engaged in legal activity.

What does it matter to ya 

When you got a job to do 

You gotta do it well 

You gotta give the other fellow hell 

But standing one’s ground, which of course has it’s place in certain contexts, has become a distorted cultural attitude across the country, as much as an atrocious law leading to the tragic death of an unarmed teen, Trayvon Martin, in the Zimmerman case.  We have stopped considering unintended consequences of behavior, speech, politics and laws.

You used to say live and let live 

(You know you did, you know you did you know you did) 

But if this ever changing world in which we live in 

Makes you give in and cry.

When did we become a culture of “Live and Let Die” ?

Sir Paul McCartney:

Leisure Suits

I was born in 1963, just before Camelot was obliterated. By the time I started grade school, sartorial splendor was becoming a thing of the past.  In the 70s, countering the culture largely meant wearing informal, poorly made, unflattering, and often, just ugly clothes.  Changing one’s appearances was meant to denote changing  one’s attitudes. Relaxed fit clothing (before we called a particular style of jeans “relaxed fit”) was supposed to reflect greater freedom, fewer constraints, undoing structures of culture, and a more casual attitude. Adults were uptight; youths were tuning in, turning on and dropping out, which meant building a new harmonious society. Imagine. Then came those horrific Leisure Suits. Even then, I thought they were hideous and silly. The worst part was that Leisure Suits were for dressing up. They didn’t look comfortable or flattering, and came to represent a cheap, synthetic, and middling culture; a culture that was apathetic and confused, low brow and lazy.

A generation later, our children have grown up with a more robust culture. While access to information and communication has been revolutionized in the last generation, there has also been a renaissance of leisure activities and accoutrements. The leisure business is enormous, and people invest great time and money into leisure activities. This has been a terrific boon over the last generation, not only economically, but culturally. Pursuing a leisure activity such as a sport or art is productive. For years I have cautioned parents about over scheduling their children. Children (and adults) need unscheduled free time, but pursuing a hobby or activity (beyond looking at a screen) on a regular basis can provide skills that may go beyond the activity.

When we find a leisure activity that suits us, we strengthen ourselves and can expand. There are all kinds of attributes to all sorts of sports and arts, but the activities themselves often become metaphors for us. I was a great swimmer as a young child, and enjoyed the competence and strength I felt in the water. Many  years later in college, I swam every morning, as it felt like the only way my thoughts could flow in order to write papers. I hardly go to the pool for a swim these days, but I’m very much a swimmer in other ways, and yes, still a lifeguard of sorts. I tend to dive into whatever I pursue. Somehow, I’ve been able to stay afloat, treading from time to time, but mostly propelling myself forward using all my muscles, along the surface of the tide. I was well suited to swimming, and swimming suits me.

Those who are well suited to their work are often quite successful. It’s not always easy to find work that suits us. We often think of work as effort, and leisure as effortless, but there can be joyful effort in both work and play.  Leisure activities are not only ways to  have fun, unwind and relax, but are often ways in which we can more fully realize ourselves and develop our strengths to use in various capacities.  Leisure suits!

reality shows

Reality shows us unimaginable forces. Tornados violently devastating towns, leveling neighborhoods for miles; teachers sheltering children from savage storms and at other times, from deranged  murderers; first responders rushing to save and assist victims; caregivers everywhere attending to needs great and small; love among family members and friends…..These are the images of reality that are continuously shown on our screens in the aftermath of dramatic events. They may be gripping events, and often seem unprecedented, yet it is the reality of the human responses that grips us. We may not know or understand all the facts that contribute to such absorbing incidents, but we have immediate and visceral responses to them. Sometimes those experiences are overwhelming or maddening, but often they are invitations to examine ourselves.

These events become the stuff of history, and therefore lessons. The truths of these events– the forces preceding the events and the forces of the events, as well as the aftermath, become the stuff of art.  In the meantime, we watch and listen to images of reality that force us to imagine what we would be; what we could be; what we should be.

On days like today, reality shows us the art of living.

Future Tense

It used to be that the future was exciting.  Of course, that was in the past. Now, in the present, yesterday’s future, we fear the future. Whether it’s: terrorism, nuclear obliteration, the next super-bug, or super-storm; climate change, crushing debt, or no more jobs; politicians who don’t stand for us, corporations who speak over us, horse meat and hormones, or unriching education, we are growing increasingly more tense about the future.

We have ample evidence today that we have many issues to tackle.  Even more disconcerting, is the rationale against tackling issues. We see how seemingly intractable so many problems have become. People across the political spectrum have dug in their heels, and have been most concerned with ideological purity and political power. Instead of climbing mountains, or even seeing that shining city on a hill, we’re staring down fiscal cliffs. Cynics have divided us into makers and takers (although I’m not sure everyone would agree who’s who). Hope and change became nope and same. Everyone is disgusted and fearful.

Despite the reality upon which our fears are based, we are becoming blinded by the fear. When teaching History to high school students, I remind them of other periods when the world seemed like it was about to end, or at least had turned very dark. When they can imagine their grandparents’ world, and that life continued, and the future included their lives, they can begin to shift their perspectives.

History is a great teacher. So too are the arts. The combination is most effective in conveying ways in which humans have confronted issues and experienced difficulties and forged new ways to shape lives and communities. I encourage teachers to include paintings and music, as well as dance and theatre in their History classes. I also encourage a fusion of History with Math and Science, and of course integrating the arts in those classes as well. Perspective is important in each subject (and in life), and is easily exemplified in the arts. Students in Language Arts classes learn perspective (person) in grammar and literature (through character and voice). Education is not merely the accumulation of facts. It is in fact to enrich (not unrich) our lives; to broaden our perspectives.

As a nation, we have been struggling with accountability in education. Students are assessed; teachers are assessed; and schools are assessed. I’m not sure that our assessments are  actually geared toward improving education, despite the good intentions. Moreover, the focus on those assessments as the determiners of future status for students, teachers, and schools, has created greater tension and a more limited education.

Given the many challenges that we must meet in our schools, our communities, our politics, and in all aspects of our lives, it is easy to be cynical and fearful. When we are fearful, we shut down possibilities. When we nurture our creative instincts, we begin to think in the future tense, creating possibilities and improving  what was started.

That Tone of Voice

Those eyes…..That voice……

If I asked you who told us to fasten our seat belts; It’s going to be a bumpy night, would you hear that line in a gravelly woman’s voice? Would you see those great big piercing Bette Davis eyes? You can practically hear a biting comment from looking at her eyes.

Gregory Peck’s rich, soothing baritone voice, one of the most easily identifiable, is also inextricably linked to his performance as Atticus Finch in the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  His voice became associated with warmth and justice, as he portrayed several characters  who represented our best angels and defended democracy. As an actor, he performed in an array of roles. Some, including Josef Mengele in “ The Boys From Brazil”, were the antithesis of his heroes, but Gregory Peck and his voice were primarily associated with benevolence, moral conscience, strength and intelligence on screen and off.

Riddle me this: What post-war actor-comedian appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show doing his impersonations and political sketch comedy the same episode The Beatles first appeared on the show? Frank Gorshin, aka The Riddler on the campy Batman television show, developed a  comedy career as an impersonator of fellow actors and of politicians. His voice was other voices. Impersonation was a popular staple of stand-up comedy in the 1960s and 1970s, and while it is still part of many a comedian’s repertoire, the emphases of comedy have changed. Still, Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin remains one of the great impersonations. It was a brilliant replica of the sound of Sarah Palin’s voice, as well as her vocal tics and mannerisms. Like Gorhsin’s and other comedic political impersonations, political voices as well as vocal qualities are showcased and accentuated.

So many people have paid tribute to the great movie critic Roger Ebert, who succumbed to a lengthy and incredibly difficult battle against cancer the other day. I am among those who listened to him from the 1970s on, and was enriched by his voice as an intellectual, as a movie lover, and as a human being of incomparable fortitude. Ebert lost the ability to use his anatomical vocal chords, but his voice was never silenced.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton spoke at the  Newsweek/The Daily Beast’s Women in the World conference. Her speech was a call to action: “Let’s keep fighting for opportunity and dignity.”  Let’s keep fighting for freedom and equality. Let’s keep fighting for full participation and let’s keep telling the world over and over again that, yes, women rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights once and for all.”

Hillary Clinton, who “found her voice” in New Hampshire in 2008, has always been a voice for human rights, and specifically women’s rights. Whatever your political opinions, she has made audible the voices of those we can not hear.

Artists do the same. Consider Picasso’s Guernica. One of his most famous paintings, Picasso’s Guernica shows the horrors of war and the untold suffering inflicted upon civilians as well as soldiers. The painting helped to bring the Spanish Civil War to the world’s attention, and has since become an anti-war fixture, as a reminder of the tragedies of war anywhere, any time. Picasso’s voice was clear.

 Guernica, 1937 by Pablo Picasso

One of the most powerful voices to encapsulate African-American Southern Baptist culture (and history) is told through the entire body. Alvin Ailey’s iconic Revelations is not only still enjoyed as magnificent dance, but as an expression of profound grief and absolute joy. The work was autobiographically inspired (as finding and using our voices always is), but it speaks to universals from a historically and culturally specific time and place using African-American spirituals, gospel songs and  blues. Because Revelations is a dance piece, it’s physicality makes the piece immediate and eternal, as bodies in motion give voice to powerful emotions.


In honor of those old actors whose birthdate was yesterday, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, and Frank Gorshin, we salute them and their voices. We grieve the loss of Roger Ebert who lost his ability to use his vocal chords, but never lost his voice.

We’ve become frustrated with the noise of politics, but there are still voices of reason and justice–even in politics. But the arts are often the most articulate and inspiring of voices. Listen (and watch) for those inspiring voices, and use your voice not for shouting or vilifying, but for educating and creating peaceful possibilities.

Same Opportunities Means Differences, Creativity, and Change

Our society talks a lot about diversity, but we talk about diversity as multi-colored or multi-gendered sameness. On the one hand, we want the same opportunities for everyone regardless of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, economic status…..etc….On the other hand, we get stuck on what we mean by the same opportunities. Too often we focus on the sameness rather than on the opportunities.

The last couple of generations has seen a revolution in civil rights, and access to education and jobs. Millennials have been more color blind than their predecessors, partially because they grew up exposed to more racial and cultural diversity than their parents and grandparents did. They also grew up in a culture of gender equality (or as some would attest, post -Feminism).  This is not to suggest that racism and sexism and other bigotry does not exist; it does, but the culture at large has wandered through the desert for 40 years, and has transitioned to a new normal that is much more fully integrated by race and gender than at any previous time in history. There are still some firsts yet to come, and more diversity is necessary, but the idea that schools and workplaces, much less any place, should look the way they did a couple of generations ago, is anachronistic and stunting our progress. Millennials  have also shown their distinction as civil birth-rights with their ease and support of marriage equality. They schooled their elders on both sides of the political divide, that marriage equality is a civil right. We’ll see when the elders on the Supreme Court ultimately get it. Millennials seem to be most entrenched in same opportunities.

One of the (fairly recent, historically speaking) civil rights laws that many Millennials may not have been aware of was the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA 1990). Like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination based on race, religion or sex illegal, the ADA of 1990 protects against discrimination, in this case, based on disability. The power of these civil rights laws is the inclusion of so many who were previously excluded (and worse). The cultural impact is even greater: We have access to so many more gifts and gifted individuals who are different from us! It is equal opportunity for variety–not sameness. The more difference the better!

One of the cultural remnants of the ADA however, has been the seeming pathologization of so many previously “normal”, if unpleasant, phases of life and dispositions. It became beneficial for many parents to have their struggling kids tested and identified as having some sort of disability in order to get an IEP (Individualized Education Plan).   The IEPs are a reasonable first step, but are often not adhered to, and are difficult for teachers (and parents) to manage. The upsurge in disabilities is partially due to a new recognition of disability. At the same time, school systems have been decreasing arts and recess, and adding testing and uniforms, and earlier school times–all counter to enhancing individual academic, intellectual,social and emotional growth. Being more aware of disabilities and ways to manage them has been a great leap forward; but we must be careful not to create a culture of disability/pathology where everything is a problem that needs medicating in an environment that doesn’t allow for different rates of development, and uses inappropriate measures of assessment and  notions of success.   I spent years parenting and teaching in a culture that on the one hand suggested pathology was everywhere, but where there was also little interest in creativity or in diverse kinds of education. Perhaps there would be less pathology if more diversity of human nature were encouraged and nurtured. Diversity is more than skin deep. It is more than racial and gender orientation. To assume that everyone can be educated the same is small minded, at best. Sometimes, the real opportunities lie in diverse learning institutions and workplaces.

For Millennials who have grown up to expect opportunities for all, they are discovering a cruel economic situation that demands creativity. Creative thinking (and work) is not merely for artists.    Any strides that we have made in Civil Rights and educating, and having people become more included and productive, has come from a break from the status quo; from sameness to opportunity. Learning institutions and workplaces must continue to evolve to include more diversity of individuals (inside and out). Perhaps that will mean a shift in scheduling and organization from one that no longer supports what is truly a more diverse population and a creative culture.

Right of Spring

As an arts and education activist– a culturalist– I am always delving into how traditions and cultural symbols and expressions reflect our ideas and ideals, as well as inspire. This week many celebrate Passover and Easter, and recount the ancient stories of slavery to liberation, sacrifice and resurrection. Families and friends feast on foods and participate in rituals that evoke these tales, and seek relevance to our own struggles. We have  the opportunity to celebrate the newness and beauty of the nature and culture of Spring.


Aside from religious rituals of Spring, I was thinking about other cultural expressions, and of course Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” sprung to mind. For those not familiar with the music, it hardly evokes images of Spring. The music is harsh and, although interesting, is almost the opposite of the way we like to think of Spring as crocuses, chirping birds and fluttering butterflies. Similarly, the ballet, originally choreographed by Nijinsky, was initially poorly received as the dances and dancers were contrary to audience notions of beauty and grace or the loveliness of Spring. The music and ballet (and also Matisse’s “Dance” that was painted around the same time as Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”composition) recalled elements of paganism in an avant-garde approach. Their modernist works upended cultural notions and referenced paganism as a means to pushing cultural boundaries. If Spring was about transformation and (re)birth, the birth of modernism transformed cultural sensibilities (in frightening geo political ways as well). This modernism is over a century old.


We often think of Modern as new, but what is the new Rite of Spring? We still have much to transform.  A couple of years ago, the world watched as uprisings across the Arab world gave rise to what was coined the Arab Spring. There was hope and possibility in the air that dictatorships and harsh rule and economic inequalities would be transformed , and that Democracy would ensue.


As of this writing, the Supreme Court is examining the legal implications of gay marriage. At this moment in our history, it seems as though public opinion is far ahead of the Court on gay marriage. In previous eras, the Court created the legal paths for civil rights, and cultural attitudes had to adjust to the legal reality. Now, we have a different situation: The Supreme Court is wrestling with the right to marry after the cultural shift toward marriage equality for gay couples. This is the Right of this Spring. Now we need new cultural arts compositions to reflect our new ideals and inspire the next generations.