2.10.2009

Me and Dick

Thoughts on Dick Cheney

I have a complicated relationship with former Vice President Cheney. On one hand, I'm appalled by his disregard for the suffering of the victims of his abhorrent disregard for human dignity and the Constitution. On another hand, I'm fascinated by what factors in one's life lead someone to a worldview like the one he enjoys -- was there a fall from grace? Was he an idealistic and ambitious young man tainted by a long immersion in a political and corporate culture of corruption and greed?

Another side of my take on Cheney is pity. This is one of the most hated men in US Political history. He lives a life totally surrounded by a security detail ready on a hair trigger to throw themselves around him, run him to a car and stuff him in a bunker somewhere. He's survived multiple heart attacks. Now, he can't go to Vermont, as the local police are authorized to arrest him on sight for indictment. He's a father of a gay American who had to suck it up and stand back as his party and president derided her lifestyle as damaging to America.

My friend Matt grew up in Wyoming and said he used to go to the Cheney's ranch for big barbecues when he was little. Apparently, an inflatable astro-jump was involved, so at the very least, it sounds like deep down, he's a man who knows how to party.


The Gloaming

When I was working as a studio engineer at SF Soundworks in San Francisco, I got a chance to work with Josh Davis, (better known as DJ Shadow) on some remixes he was doing for Radiohead and Keane. The Radiohead mix was a reworking of the track "The Gloaming" from Hail to the Thief. Josh had taken a George Bush speech from when he had been making rounds trying to sell the war and edited out everything except words like "terror" "terrorism" "Iraq" "chemical weapons" "weapons of mass destruction" and the like. they were reordered and rhythmically placed throughout the track. The most impressive thing that many people don't notice is that all the clips are from the SAME SPEECH.

I did some assisting for Count (obscure trivia: he got his big break as a drummer for Deep Blue Something, performers of mid-90's hit "Breakfast at Tiffany's"), who was Josh's main engineer and it was the first track I ever worked on that I heard on the radio. DJ Shadow and Radiohead are probably the artists that influenced me the most and affected my decision to get into playing and producing music the most, so to be able to bring up a fader and have Thom Yorke's vocals or DJ Shadow's drum samples come up was a huge thrill. I had to dampen down my fanboy-dom with Josh, but I think he found me out when I would ask him about unreleased tracks he did with Zach De La Rocha, or an old Solesides production.

Josh is a smart dude and in summer 2004, conversations would naturally drift towards politics and the election. He was frustrated with the antiwar movement and that the Dems had somehow fielded a
stooge like Kerry. I could see why he gravitated towards a track like "The Gloaming" to remix. The feeling of impending doom was definitely in the air as Iraq fell to pieces and we were lined up for at least another four years of war.

After the track was done, I didn't think much about it for a few months until we had a party at the studio during the AES convention. I was walking around talking to people like Geoff Emerick, Chuck Ainley, and other geeky icons, and got to see Stephen Jenkins of Third Eye Blind, who possibly has the worst reputation of anyone I ever met in the music industry, as he dropped his custom Ducati motorcycle off the curb to a chorus of laughter from people on the surrounding balconies and roof. I was hobnobbing with D-list celebrities when I ran into Count and Josh, who had come with the fresh vinyl pressing of the Radiohead remix. Count had scored one for me and I still maintain that it's the best picture disc ever pressed, one of my most prized records from the whole experience surrounding it:

Radiohead - The Gloaming (DJ Shadow Remix)



A Brush with the Penguin

In 2005, Dick Cheney was the featured speaker at a Congressional campaign fundraiser for Brian Bilbray, a Republican congressman from San Diego while I was working in the AV department of the Sheraton Harbor Island there. Certain people who worked at the hotel were asked not to come in. Phone lines were monitored. I was tasked with overseeing the setup for the rooms in which he would be speaking. In one room, before his main remarks, he was to meet with the candidate and several heavy campaign donors. The room was tiny, about 20 feet square with a ring of tables in the middle for 13 attendees. "VPC" as he was commonly referred to, did not want to strain his voice, even though the room was small, so he needed a microphone. He also didn't want it to be weird that he was the only one with a microphone, so everyone at the table got a microphone. It was bit like the scene in 12 Monkeys where Bruce Willis' character is talking to the review board in prison with a huge screen in his face showing the face of the man speaking right in front of him. VPC requested Fox News on in the green room, Sprite (diet), and coffee (unsurprisingly, he drinks it black). Later the the day, when I came to collect the equipment, I saw a pad on the table with some written notes. Five words "Fannie May, Freddie Mac -- Solvency?" I swiped the Dick and Lynn Cheney name placards from their seats and me and Elisabeth ate dinner at home that night with them in front of us.

Security was tight that day. Coast Guard boats patrolled the harbor, snipers staked out the roof and balconies, mounted police stood on the lawn. The armored caravan of limos and SUVs stood at the ready when I approached the hotel. I caught wind of alternate escape routes, and secretly parked armored sailboats in the marina. The bomb squad was there with dogs. I parked and walked up to the service entrance. I was spotted and questioned by a cop. I just said I worked there and he let me in. I didn't present ID of have my name tag on, so that was a bit surprising. I was just happy that I didn't get tased.

The main lunch he was speaking at was an interesting affair. Hard-line anti-immigration xenophobes assailed against illegals and those that would come and take American jobs. Ironic that at least 25 percent of the staff that worked on his event commuted on the bus from Tijuana every day and probably 75-80% of the staff in the hotel were of Mexican descent. Bread and butter were pre-set on the table, people spreading with coffee spoons. No butter knives could be set, lest they be too tempting for a would-be assassin to hurl at the armored 300+ pound podium that we had lifted up on stage. I learned that they travel with VPC and the president everywhere and have their own code names like "Blue Goose" and "Ladybird".
When we set up the room, we worked with the Secret Service and White House communications department. They had us pull a panel from the airwall so there would be a hidden exit behind the drape that was closer to the decontamination room they had set up. A spare closet in a nearby hall was emptied out, a hose was run to it and hooked up to what was described to me as a portable survival bubble. If there was a biological attack, he could be thrown in there, stripped naked and hosed down, safe in his filtered bubble, while I assume everyone else in the vicinity fell to ground, foaming at the mouth. I pictured a confused housemen walking the halls filled with slumped attendees and agents, finding a naked and soaking wet Dick Cheney shivering alone in a bubble in the dark hall closet.
His address was unspectacular and wasn't the type of thing that would change anybody's mind on any particular issue. Mostly just whipping everyone into a frenzy of fear and faux outrage while accusing critics of a lack of patriotism. The lighting, which was requested at the very last minute, was a bit on the dark side, and the pictures from the event (see left) gave him a sinister, shadowy look that I thought was a good representation, especially from the man that post-9/11, spoke about how our operatives couldn't be constrained by rules and needed to work "on the dark side." I came very close to asking him to sign my DJ Shadow picture disc, but in one of the more boneheaded things I've done, neglected to do so.







1.10.2009

Lookout Interwebs!

So this is my first post on my new blog. I've been a pretty heavy consumer of blog content for a few years now and am at a point that I'd like to put something out into the world, even if it's small personal observations that no one else will read. I'm tinkering with the format, so expect few changes over the coming weeks and with any luck, I'll be posting semi-regular music reviews with MP3's.

Happy 2009 to you all and I look forward to hearing some feedback on my new endeavor.

Mike