Goodbye, Davy.

Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes, and I’m afraid it’s time for a goodbye again. – Billy Joel, Say Goodbye to Hollywood

In this life, no sooner do you finish saying goodbye to one person when another leaves too.

As I was writing my thoughts about Olympia Snow’s departure from the US Senate, I heard the news that former Monkee, Davy Jones, had passed. He was most famous, of course, in that way, as a Monkee, the heart-throb member of a TV-network-built poppy rock band that occupied its very own weekly show.

He’d also appeared on Broadway and on the English stage and the BBC.  Irony of ironies, because the Monkees were a deliberate attempt to cash in on the Beatles’ American success, Jones appeared with the Oliver cast on the Ed Sullivan show the same night the Beatles appeared.

Here is a short video of the Monkees playing one of their many hits, Daydream Believer. After the end of the Monkees experiment (1971), Jones went back to stage and tried film, coming to rest in nostalgic 1960s musical revues.

To his legion of devoted fans, Jones will forever be the adorable British mop-top boy who played with Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz, not the middle aged man who did Florida dinner theater.

Rest in peace, Davy.

Adio, Olympia. Goodbye, Civility.

Why does someone leave a safe Senate seat? If you’re Maine’s Olympia Snow, it might be because you’re good and sick of the direction American government is moving, or, more precisely, the way our elected officials increasingly behave while they conduct the public’s business.

She had first assumed elective office in 1973, a turbulent (think Watergate) yet more civil time in American politics. Officeholders from both parties talked and worked with each other, even in public, to get things done for the broad public benefit. There was general agreement about the necessity of a functioning government. And few, if any, candidates or officials called political opponents agents of Satan, or anything.

By the time Snow was first elected to the US Senate, in 1994, there had been some erosion of civility but, in general, senators behaved like the members of the ultra-exclusive club they were. The Clinton impeachment was a turning point, by all accounts. Things got nasty, got personal, went nuclear. It wasn’t enough to get your bills through, wasn’t enough to stop the other sides bills. You had to diminish your opponent.

Washington politics became fighting to the death.

These days, politicians aren’t only uncooperative, they’re openly hostile to each other. They insist their opponents’ evil with religious fervor. Yesterday, Olympia Snow, the senior senator from Maine, declared she’d finally had enough.

She will leave her seat in America’s highest deliberative legislative body, and leave the verbal bomb-throwing to others. I’ll miss her intelligence, rationality and civility. Her departure is a sign that our country is surrendering to its worst impulses.

Things I Miss: Playland-at-the-Beach

At Playland, on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, you could be a king for a dollar. You could hear the latest music. You could play ancient arcade games. You could ride a rotting old wooden roller coaster, take a ride in a diving bell, visit a creepy-wild fun house. You could eat things you couldn’t find anywhere else – It’s Its, for example, two oatmeal cookies pressed on either side of a slab of vanilla ice cream and dipped in chocolate (the ones you get these days in stores simply don’t compare). Or Mexican food at The Hot House. Later, after Playland fell, The Hot House moved to Balboa Street. Never the same.

All kinds of people went there. All kinds. Every time I went to Playland, every single time, and I must have gone there a thousand times, mind you, my mom told me to watch out for myself.

In the summer, my dad used to come home from work when it was still light out. He’d grab my brother and me, and a cigar or two, and out we’d go to Playland, just ten blocks west of our house. We’d always run into guys he’d known growing up. They’d be cops now, or bus drivers, or short-order cooks, but in the old days, they would’ve been my pop’s running buddies. Learned a lot about the old days in the city (and about who my dad had been as a kid) from listening to their stories.

In the really old days, way before I was even born, Playland had a wild nightlife, including a place called Topsy’s Roost, a sort of mash-up of chicken coop and big band club. Think you could find something like that these days? Don’t bother trying. You can’t.

People would go out to Playland as a quick escape, a hit of fresh sea air, a few laughs, a little fun, maybe forget their troubles for a little while. During the Great Depression, not the little-assed depression we’re having now, I’ve heard Playland kept a lot of people going when they were down at their lowest; I believe it.

It closed forever in 1972 to make room for condos, because that’s what our city needed, alright, was more condos. Here’s the plaque, beloved and irreplaceable Playland’s headstone.

There aren’t places like it anymore. I wish there were; we’d all be happier and better off. Damn condos are ugly as hell, by the way.

My Funny Valentine, Many Ways

Some popular songs explode into our consciousness then disappear just as quickly. Big hits that are ubiquitous, then forgotten: a one-hit-wonder’s signature tune, theme to a hit movie, dance club favorite.

Others are more lasting. They’re seemingly born fully grown, fully realized, already familiar. Many artists might record it, seeking to explore the deep truth within the song.

Such is My Funny Valentine, by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Below, some examples from among the 600 artists known to have recorded versions of the song. I’ve included two by Chet Baker (one early in his career, one near the end) because he had such an obvious connection to it.

Enjoy and appreciate the song’s own genius, as interpreted by great artists.

Chet Baker, Torino, Italy (1959)

Etta James (date unknown)

Frank Sinatra, Capital Recordings (1953)

Miles Davis, Milan, Italy (1964)

Tony Bennett (date unknown) 

Chet Baker, Tokyo (1987)

Credit, Where It’s Due

Here’s a great story out of the world of major college athletics.

Matthew Dellavedova, who plays basketball for St. Mary’s (CA), was named a first-team Academic All-American this week.

In addition to carrying a 3.6 GPA and progressing toward completion of his college degree, he averages over 15 points and nearly 7 assists per game. He’s also an acknowledged leader on a Gael team that plays at a national level and currently leads its conference.

A while back, I wrote a piece about the disaster of big-time college athletics; it’s only fair to point out the positive side too.

Congratulations to Dellavedova, his coach Randy Bennett, and St. Mary’s.

Worth a Tear or Two

Do you know who this is? Her name was Marie Colvin. The eyepatch is no Halloween get-up; she lost the eye while covering a war. She was a journalist and she died this week trying to tell the world what’s happening right now in Syria.

She was a journalist, like Murrow, Cronkite, Sevareid, some others. She didn’t just go to government press briefings. She went out and got the story. Then she told it.

She was a journalist who put her life in peril to do her job the way it ought to be done, the way all serious journalists used to do it, the way some (very few) do it still. She thought the people of the world ought to know what’s happening. She believed, perhaps naively, that once knowing, we would care enough to do something.

These days, many of those appropriating the title “journalist” for themselves are either bald-assed propagandists…

trivia-seeking entertainers…

or do-nothing armchair pundits.

But that wasn’t Marie Colvin. She was a journalist. She died bringing us the story.

And her death, if not her story, might have gotten more attention but, hey, there are so many other things demanding our attention at this critical moment in history. For starters, it’s Oscar week and there are red-carpet looks to be presented and discussed.

Pitchers and catchers reported to Major League Baseball’s Spring Training.

And a newly adopted cat saved its new owner’s life.

No time now for serious stories about death and revolution.

But sometime down the road, if we’re at war with, say, Iran and the men and women in our armed forces are dying, don’t you dare bitch that the government lied to you, or that some conspiracy withheld information, or that you weren’t told. You were told, alright. You just couldn’t be bothered to pay attention – even when the person telling you died to bring you the story.

Gas Prices – The Big Secret

In California, pump prices of gasoline have gone up over 20 cents per gallon in just the past week. Analysts say a price of $5 per gallon, once unimaginable, is in clear sight by Memorial Day, the start of the traditional summer vacation driving season.

There’s a lot of useless and baseless presidential campaign rhetoric about the link between the administration’s energy policies and gas prices. Many people also hold very naive assumptions about the key determinants of gas prices: distance between the pump and the refinery, accidents and natural disasters, global terrorism, military conflicts, environmental regulations.

Of course, all of those factors do matter in determining gas prices, because they affect the cost of production. But even in sum, they’re almost marginal when compared with the most significant determinant of price.

Here’s the “secret” about the prices energy companies charge: there’s a demand curve for gasoline and it is very inelastic. No matter the price, within certain boundaries, Americans will consume a lot of gas. Profit-maximizing enterprises, like energy companies, will price at a level determined by consumer demand and willingness to pay. Rising gas prices indicate that enough consumers will buy enough gasoline at higher prices to ensure historic company profits.

And if that bothers you, don’t waste time complaining or, worse, pretending the answer lies in drilling more or easing environmental regulation.

The answer – the only answer – is to just stop buying.