Fri. Mar 1st, 2024

In 1973, or late 72, I started playing a local bar in Utica, NY called: The Barbershop, around New Years. Called “The Barbershop” because it was the former location of, you guessed it, a barbershop. Unless you count my little kid performances with some famous folks you might know, shows I barely remember, at Hootenannies in the late 50s, my first full time gig was in 71-72 in my home town: Big Moose, at The Little Fox. The Barbershop was my second regular full time gig: every Saturday, a paid for with “free beer” gig… at first. The owner had taken a tremendous risk reopening a bar that had been closed due to fights and drug deals, then kicking the infamous patrons out when they tried to return. He couldn’t afford me, but I liked the place so, as I told him, “What the Hell.”

Within a few months he started paying me. Perhaps it was due to my intense talent, but more than likely it was because I drank too much damn beer. I was costing too much. And sometimes, well let’s just say the third set was very short.

I was still playing there when Billy Joel’s The Piano Man was released as a single and I started playing it at the bar. As one regular said, “Hey! The Piano Man Plays a Martin guitar.” I still have it: a 1972 D18, in case you’re curious.

I swear, when I selected the song I didn’t know there would be any irony. I opened up my very first set with The Piano Man at The Barber Shop. But since I mixed my own songs freely in with whatever was on the radio at the time, every time I played it I was asked, “Did you write that for us?” I had to admit: Billy Joel. But there was more “irony” to the song than just a guitar player playing it. For those who know the lyrics get this…

At the Barbershop the bartender’s name was John. He frequently helped me with “a light” for my “smoke.” He confided in me he hated his job and wanted an acting career. We had a “Davie” who was still in the Navy. And one of my regular patrons was Paul who was into real estate, but wanted to be a novelist.

It’s those kind of ironies in life that seem to make living a fascinating endeavor, I suppose. Ironies like the same movement I was a part of in the 60s, and abandoned, has more power now than they imagined they might ever have back then. Oh, Buckley and Goldwater might have had more than a few wet dreams: to have a Conservative president (2), a Conservative Congress: from mid-90s until 2006. But having the kind of bullhorn only media oracles like FOX can offer, and the rest of the media joining forces with the FOX and few willing to hunt, or confront, the vile creature for its devious ways, extreme Right talking point goosestepping?

I doubt either Goldwater or Buckley imagined that.

Buckley fell off that wagon, several times actually… starting back when he and his brother decided it was time for Nixon to go. Goldwater stalked away from the bandwagon back before the GOP decided that defending your country was not worth it if defending your country included defending it with gays. Another irony is that the present movement is more like the most extreme of radical left in the 60s than those past tense movement icons: willing to do, say, anything to steal the national bullhorn, hold the national stage hostage; or storm it if for a moment they and their causes aren’t front and center.

I think your life being on the line and being sent off to Hell in the form of a jungle might have provided a hell of a lot motivation. And I suspect much of the Left these days is jealous, but unwilling to do whatever it takes to grab the ball back: even when it has been fumbled big time, Jon Stewart seeming to be a current exception.

No surprise: a few of the radical Right were once members of the radical Left. Treasuring the ability to beat on others more than whatever causes they espoused, they just switched to the side more willing to beat, kill, maim in a rhetorical sense… and occasionally, unfortunately, not so “rhetorical.”

In an evil, perverted, dishonest, oh so sick, way it’s consistent, I suppose. They’re into beat downs, not philosophy. To alter the old cigarette ad a smidge: they’d rather switch so they can fight some more. Not everyone into the anti-war movement was all that peaceful, or hippie-ish, though the contrast is stark. Seems a philosophical move to the right can carry with it extra incentive to nastier forms of violence.

They’ve “learned.” They’ve “fine tuned” their efforts, doing the extreme Left “one better.” Instead of planting bombs in toilets to go off late at night and calling in advance to vacate the building, they walk into churches in Knoxville, they drive fertilizer trucks fill with nitrate up to buildings in Oklahoma City, they tie gays to fences in Texas, murder medical personnel at clinics and they slice open the throat of a cabbie because he’s a Muslim.

Ah, “perfecting” the “art,” just like the Brownshirts perfected theirs.

I find it interesting that, for a while, the Conservative movement was, for all intents and purposes, somewhat shut down. This was during the time between Nixon and Reagan, the same time I played The Barbershop. I was shut down myself, not too long before Nixon lost his job through resignation. I “resigned” too. John, the bartender, left… probably looking for brighter fresnels to light his “stage.” The new bartender refused to pay me. I talked with the owner and he paid me. He promised to talk to the bartender. The bartender refused to pay me again, saying, “Nobody told with me.” I told the owner “one more time.” Well, you know what happened.

I have a few memories from The Barbershop…

When I played my biggest fan lived upstairs, which was otherwise empty as far as I knew. Sometime during the second set he would come down to watch. Hovering over my head. He? …was a bat. I always had a sense something I’d rather not be there was watching. I thought it might be an old girlfriend from the lake I lived on who drove me nuts with her “come, here, come here, go away” act.

No, it was a bat. And intuition told me to keep playing despite that awful, gut wrenching feeling. Even after I found out it was a bat. Intuition was right. The bat never bothered me, though a couple times I think I heard a squeal or two of “applause.”

Another memory…

My first girlfriend in college, Debbie, and I had just left. We were discussing politics, I believe. Surprised? To get her home I had to hook a left onto Route 5S and then a right. The discussion was pretty animated. After my left I looked at Debbie and said, “Look at that fool. He’s going the wrong damn way on 5S.” Back to the discussion. I looked up and we both screamed.

Luckily my next turn off was quick: no one was hurt except my pride and a lot of angst. The discussion was so animated I had turned left too soon; I had turned into the right lane: the wrong lane.

Sometimes I make intuitive choices well, despite girlfriends who drove me bats, or actual bats, I continued to play, The Piano Man on my Martin and sing. Sometimes I don’t make such choices all that well: there are always consequences. But politically, since the 1980s, I can’t help but think…

We’re in the wrong damn lane.


Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
©Copyright 2010
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved

By Ken Carman

Retired entertainer, provider of educational services, columnist, homebrewer, collie lover, writer of songs, poetry and prose... humorist, mediocre motorcyclist, very bad carpenter, horrid handyman and quirky eccentric deluxe.

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RS Janes
13 years ago

I don’t think Buckley or Goldwater would be appearing on Fox News these days, nor on any of the rightie radio shows. Buckley would have thought them stupid and classless (and I think he did write something I’m too lazy to Google to that effect), and Goldwater would have been appalled at the lies and distortions, not to mention the departure from his idea of honest conservatism, as his son Barry Jr has confirmed.

You’re right about the far-left types like David Horowitz, who was once a strident Communist and is now a fire-breathing neocon who wants to purge our schools of all but far right teachers, and uses Marxist-Leninist-style condemnations and arguments to try and get his way. The far-left and far-right are very similar in always wanting a fascistic govt. crackdown on whatever group or notion they happen to dislike, and banning the speech of those with whom they disagree. The personality of the radical extremist is remarkably similar between the fringes of both sides, but I would take exception to this part of your article:

“When it comes to the “not so rhetorical:” they’ve learned, fine tuned their efforts. They did the extreme Left one better. Instead of planting bombs in toilets and calling in advance to vacate the building, they walk into churches in Knoxville, they drive fertilizer trucks fill with nitrate up to buildings in Oklahoma City, they tie gays to fences in Texas, murder medical personnel at clinics and they slice open the throat of a cabbie because he’s a Muslim.”

What the fringe right-wing elite does today is take advantage of lunatics to perform such horrible acts; at least the radical left of 40 years ago committed violent acts on their own hook, and suffered the consequences.

At any rate, good piece, Ken. Do you still play “Piano Man” these days? 😉

RS Janes
13 years ago

I used to watch Buckley’s ‘Firing Line.’ Although I didn’t often agree with him, he was articulate and usually knew what he was talking about; he also had a dry sense of humor.

In the years since his loss in 1964, and after Nixon’s perfidy, Barry Goldwater gradually ‘adjusted’ his conservatism somewhat — by the ’80s he was more critical of the right, especially the Christopublicans, than of the left. Ironic that the man who is credited with being the father of modern conservatism wouldn’t be welcome in the Republican or Tea Party these days. I think it was Pat Buchanan back in the late ’60s who said something to the effect of, we tried to win ‘clean’ with Goldwater and lost big, so now we’ll have to go ‘dirty’ if we expect to win a conservative Republican majority. And that’s what they’ve been doing ever since — going dirty — and they still can’t win ‘clean.’

RS Janes
13 years ago

Well, there are at least 14 in the WI state legislature. That’s a start. Perhaps other Dems will get the message that if they lose the unions, they’ll lose elections. That might put the fear of god in them.

RS Janes
12 years ago

There may be a ‘tipping point’ here with the Wisconsin demonstrations and the Koch bros. involvement that is even being reported by the MSM. In Egypt, it’s been said the rise in bread prices initially touched off the revolt against Mubarak; here it might be the overreaching of Walker and the Republicans that does it. We won’t know if it’s really half-full or half-empty until the next election.

Ana Grarian
12 years ago

Re: Wisconsin.
When the Dems left the state I felt that they should have stayed and fought. Then I saw what the Repugs did in the WI assembly. I am hesitant to use the label, Repug, but in this case they really were repugnant.
I am hoping what is going on in WI is a wake-up call to many – but then I’m not getting my news from FOX.

RS Janes
12 years ago

Ana, if the state senate Dems had stayed, even a couple of them, the GOP would have had a quorum and been able to jam through any legislation they desired. This isn’t like the US Senate where one senator can filibuster and hold up the vote; all the Repugs needed was a couple of Dems to pass Czar Walker’s giveaways to his corporate backers and kill the public employee unions. The Dems could object and be ignored, but that’s it. Their only option was to leave the state — if they stayed, they wouldn’t have had anything to fight with.

RS Janes
12 years ago

‘Rahmbo’ is going to be the Second Coming of Richie Daley. He’ll be privatizing the city’s services and resources to the detriment of the public, just like the Little Daley did. Maybe when mounds of garbage are piling up in the alleys when Waste Management can’t turn a profit by picking it up, and we’re paying tolls to use roads that used to be free access, and it’s impossible to park anywhere without feeding a credit card into an inconveniently-placed meter, the citizenry will wake up. I hope I’m wrong, but Rahm is a DLC Dem to the bone.

RS Janes
12 years ago

We used to have regular parking meters in Chicago, one per space, and you could park most places for a quarter for two hours, except in the heart of downtown. (Overnight parking, from 9:pm to 9:am, was mostly free, BTW.) Then Richie Daley sold off the parking meter concession to a private firm. The first thing they did was get rid of the old parking meters and install kiosks on every block that took dollar bills and credit cards as well as quarters and you got a receipt to put in the window of your car to prove you had paid to park in a space. The second thing they did was double the price of parking and, in some areas of downtown, you can’t park at all now — you have to go to a parking lot that charges a $12-$14 minimum, even if you’e only there for 20 minutes. I don’t think this is going to stop under Rahm, even though most citizens are fuming mad about this parking meter fleecing.

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