Bob Schwartz

Music: Something/Anything by Todd Rundgren

Two kinds of older pop music. Some you never want to hear again. Some that you never want to stop listening to, because it has qualities that make it—not to sound cliched but here it goes—timeless. Timeless doesn’t mean current, just music that transcends currency.

If Todd Rundgren was just a producer, he’d still be an all-time great, by producing distinctive albums that sold millions and millions (Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re an American Band or Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell), by producing albums that were critical darlings (XTC’s Skylarking), or by influencing generations of artists.

But he isn’t just a producer. Beginning in 1967 with his first band Nazz and later as a band leader and solo artist, he has shone as a song creator and performer. Never more notably than with his 1972 double album Something/Anything. It is stuffed with tracks, a some of them less than perfect and maybe skippable after a few listenings, but many others gems of songwriting and production. Also, since it includes studio outtakes, you can hear just how much fun is being had.

Following are just a couple of tracks, including his re-recording of the first Nazz hit from 1968, Hello It’s Me. Pay attention to how these are models of songwriting and production. Then listen to the whole album.

Note that even though he has been eligible for the Rock Hall since 1993, his induction in the class of 2021 was just announced a few weeks ago. The too frequent irrelevance of the Rock Hall (still second to the irrelevance of the Grammys) is not worth spending time on. Just listen and enjoy.

Cowards? Republican Senators who skipped town instead of voting on the January 6th Commission

The Senate vote on debating creation of a commission to investigate the U.S. Capitol insurrection on January 6th was 54 Yes and 35 No. It needed 60 Yes votes to move forward, so it was defeated. Even though Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told them to vote against it, six Republican Senators did the right thing and voted Yes.

But wait, you might say. 54+35=89. Aren’t there 100 U.S. Senators?

You are correct. There may be good reasons to head home for the holiday weekend and miss the vote. Two Democrats—Patty Murray of Washington and Kyrsten Sinema—did so. But we should concentrate on the nine Republican Senators. It is certain they would have voted No, so the result would have been the same. But by being absent, they will not have to defend that unconscionable and indefensible No vote.

In other words, unless there is a really good excuse—not “I had a Memorial Weekend barbecue to attend”—they are very likely cowards. If you’ve watched Republican politics for the last few years, you are not surprised.

Here is the list of Republicans who missed the vote:

Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)
Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
Mike Braun (R-Ind.)
Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)
James Risch (R-Idaho)
Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)
Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)

Note that Senators Blunt, Shelby and Toomey are retiring and will not run for reelection in 2022. These three could have thrown a bone to core American values, to the integrity of the Constitution and the U.S. Capitol (where they work), and allowed the investigation to go forward. Instead it appears at first glance that they chickened out. The remainder of the Republican Senators who refused to show up are not even running again for at least almost four years.

Why are Republicans so adamant about blocking an investigation, either by voting No, or in this case, by leaving town? It is obvious that some elected Republicans were at least knowledgeable about the planned insurrection in advance or enabled its furtherance. If a bipartisan commission found that evidence, it would not be helpful. If it is discovered some other way, at least the Republicans can dismiss the findings as partisan, unreliable and tainted. That’s why obstruction or running scared are the best strategies.

Paul Ryan joins the Republican civil war. Democracy will take all the help it can get.

I am not a fan of Paul Ryan. He was once Speaker of the House. He was once a candidate for Vice President on the Mitt Romney ticket. He lost the speakership. He lost the election. I am glad any time he is at a distance from the levers of power.

Yet he now belongs to a small and hearty band of Republicans who are trying to rescue the party from its devolution into indecency and inhumanity. So far, a very small band and not notably hearty. Still, since the Republican Party is a growing and dangerous force in American life and democracy—sort of a virus—we should accept any help we get in curing it.

Paul Ryan, despite being ideologically anathema to me (see Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand), is actually a pretty smart guy, known as a policy wonk.

Which leads to my muted optimism. Maybe Paul Ryan is standing up against the dominant Trumpist forces because it is the right thing to do. But I think he is more calculating and ambitious, and believes that eventually—not soon or soon enough but eventually—conventional and traditional Republicanism will be back, and he will have a place in it.

He is after all an acolyte of Ayn Rand, who believed that unbridled selfishness is the path to optimal outcomes. In this case, if Paul Ryan’s attempted return to relevance makes a crack in the current malevolent Republican monolith, let him have at it. Right now, American democracy needs all the help it can get.