Monthly Archives: May 2010

Get Ready to Laugh…

The Fun Starts in 10 Days…

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PUSH Lounge 20969 Ventura Blvd.

Woodland Hills, CA

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Will California Buy a Used CEO this Election Year?

How is it possible that in a post-Enron, post-Lehman Brothers, post-Wall Street Derivatives & Mortgage Meltdown, post-British Petroleum/Haliburton Oil Spill world – that Californians could consider handing the state’s highest offices to a couple of people whose claim to fame is that they were corporate CEOs?

Aren’t we well beyond false notions that “What’s Good for General Motors is good for the country”?

Hell, what was good for General Motors wasn’t even good for General Motors!

The elections in California this fall for Governor and U.S. Senator will test the appetite of the body politic for that old GOP/Chamber of Commerce pabulum that government works best if it is run like a business. Will working class voters still buy that snake oil from millionaires masquerading as populists? Does anyone really believe they want their government run like a business – when the primary purpose of a business is to make a profit? Protecting all of our citizens from crime, fires, unsafe drinking water, and providing us all with parks, roads, garbage removal, and a judicial system – none of that will ever turn a monetary profit. Our profit from the exercise of good government is a better life for everyone.

What have the corporate CEOs of the 21st century shown us so far in the first decade of the New Millennium about their concern for the welfare of average Americans struggling to stay afloat? How have they demonstrated their concern for the commons? How have they acted as stewards of the environment they exploit for profit?

The answer to these critical questions can be found in jacked-up credit cards rates, skyrocketing insurance premiums, continued pollution of the environment, turning banks into Wall Street gambling casinos making bad bets with our money – and, of course, corporate bailouts paid by taxpayers.

All the while, the CEOs that run these under-regulated rackets rake in mega-millions – taxed at a lower rate than the average fireman, cop, or teacher.

E-Bay CEO Meg Whitman and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina are cut from the same bolt as the rest of our modern corporate robber barons. And now, after having lined their pockets in the Great Post-Reagan Corporate Cash Grab, they think that a bit of faux feminism and tough but tired talk about balanced budgets and “runaway” spending will convince voters to put two foxes in charge of the henhouse.

The U.S. Senate race pits Senator Barbara Boxer against her likely adversary, Carly Fiorina. Sure, Fiorina looks good, sounds good, and talks tough – but she’s the worst kind of predatory corporate animal. And like so many corporate CEOs whose successful image does not match up with their actual performance on the job, Carly hopes to “fail up”. And, if California voters don’t take a close look at her history, she might even get away with it.

After the Hewlett-Packard board forced Fiorina to resign in the wake of a contentious merger with Compaq and falling stock prices, Infoworld put Fiorina on their 2008 list of products and ideas that were flops, calling her the “anti-Steve Jobs” for losing the goodwill of American engineers and alienating HP’s existing customers. In April 2009, the business web site Conde Nast Portfolio named Fiorina to their rotten roster of “The 20 Worst American CEOs of All Time” for her failed HP-Compaq merger and the sad but salient fact that HP stock lost half its value during her tenure.

Of course, when they booted Fiorina out, the HP board softened Carly’s fall with a golden parachute worth more than twenty million dollars. How’s that for fiscal conservatism?But you can be sure she’ll be an aggressive penny-pincher when it comes to pensions for public employees. For corporatists like Fiorina, public sector spending is always “wasteful” and “bloated”. Besides, Carly is the queen of off-shoring jobs. Maybe she can have our California road system — and all those nasty potholes — fixed by low-paid phone-bank employees in India?

And if that’s not enough, Ms. Fiorina was the top economic advisor to GOP presidential candidate John “the fundamentals of our economy are sound” McCain.

Oh yeah, and moments later, our “sound” economy crashed and burned like The Hindenburg.

The race for Governor will be a contest between Meg Whitman (and her mega-million dollar campaign war chest) versus that old Democratic stalwart, Jerry Brown. It’s frightening that the Democratic Party couldn’t find a sexier, more contemporary, inspiring, and charismatic candidate that Jerry Governor Moonbeam” Brown. But progressives can’t let their lack of enthusiasm for a retread like Brown lesson our zeal to keep Whitman out of the Governor’s mansion.

Meg Whitman is a carefully packaged product, rolled out in a glitzy multi-million dollar promotional campaign – but voters should reject her like New Coke.

This ersatz woman of the people, has an annual salary of $2.19 million — but her eBay stock ownership has probably made her the first female billionaire created in the Internet age. Of course, we don’t really know ho much money Meg has. We can guess, however, that given the zillions she’s spent on TV ads so far, she probably is a billionaire. Great. Just what we need in California: a billionaire CEO deciding that we’re “wasting” too much money on public education, public parks, public heath, and all those pesky environmental and workplace safety standards that “drive business away”. Given her corporate-friendly priorities, no doubt Meg would help California win the national race to the bottom.

Whitman graduated from Princeton in 1977 and went on to Harvard, where she earned a master’s degree in business administration. But she still manages to join her GOP brethren, like the cranky old guy she’s smooching in the picture below) in casting progressives as “elites” who are out of touch with mainstream America. Whitman worked her wa up the corporate ladder, from Procter & Gamble, to Stride Rite, Florists Transworld Delivery (FTD), and Hasbro, where she successfully re-launched the vintage toy, Mr. Potato Head.

Alas, when she tried to help Mr. Potato Head get elected as President in 2008, she met with less success. (I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist.)

Of course, it was Meg Whitman’s success at eBay that earned her fortune and fame. She oversaw eBay’s initial public offering of stock in ‘98 and helped eBay become a great success. That’s true. And after making corporate history by helping to promote and expand this revolutionary new way for people get rid of things they don’t want by selling them to others – she’s hoping sell herself to California voters.

But Meg Whitman is something we don’t want. GOP fiscal policy is founded on one thing: what’s good for corporate America is good for the country. Whitman buys into that because she’s a thoroughly corporate creature. She didn’t devote herself to public service: she made money. She turned a profit. Government was something that often got in her way.

Would that government would have gotten in British Petroleum’s way. Or Enron’s way. Or Lehman Brothers’ way…

Don’t be fooled, California. Republicans and Corporate CEOs don’t give a damn about average working Americans, and progressive, egalitarian values are anathema to them.

Ignore the flags and the ads. We don’t need the GOP-CEO mentality in the Senate or the Governor’s mansion. We need leaders who put people above profits.

Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown have proven their commitment to putting people first.

They may not be the flashiest product on the shelves this year, but they’re reliable.

Shop wisely this election year.

And if the Republicans can’t sell Meg Whitman and  Carly Fiorina to California voters this year — they can always put Meg and Carly up for sale on eBay. Just ask Meg: it’s a great way to get rid of stuff you don’t want.

Finally, just for fun — a loving look back at “Governor Moonbeam”…


Filed under Politics

Rockmes @ SPACE: Making the Kids Jump!

(Photos by Paul Barrosse, Suzy Crawford, Ronny Crawford, Richard Henzel, Mark Wohlgenant and Tom Kalicky)

From the band’s inception, the motto of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation has been “Make the kids jump!” We put that slogan on posters, t-shirts, record covers, and even on our own custom-painted Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars back in the day. But on Monday night, May 17th at SPACE in Evanston, Illinois, “Make the kids jump” became more than a motto: it became a reality for a whole new generation of young rock & roll lovers. To see so many teenagers and young adults dancing so fervently that night in a garage music mosh pit was a vital, unexpected shot of Rockme renewal.

But I’m getting ahead of the story…

As I reported earlier, the far flung members of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation gathered in Evanston on Saturday, May 15 to rehearse for our gig at SPACE (the Society for Preservation of Art and Culture in Evanston) that Monday night. Our sax man, Thomas “The Iberian Wolf” Larson, who recently moved with his family to Madrid, traveled the farthest. Our keyboard whiz, Steve “The Decider” Rashid, who lives in Evanston, didn’t have to go anywhere at all. In fact, we were invading his studio, Woodside Avenue Music, for our rehearsal. Lucky Steve.

Bassist Rush Pearson came to the rehearsal equipped with set lists and color-coded index cards for each song we were thinking about playing. We gave Rush a lot of grief for his color code – guys in bands love busting each other’s balls – but everyone was secretly glad that someone was paying attention to the details. And, boy, was Rush on top of the details. He took the organizational bullet for all of us – and managed to survive. And thanks largely to Rusty and his index cards, we managed to arrive at just about the perfect number of songs for our two sets at SPACE. (Sorry, Emilia, but we couldn’t squeeze in “I Forgot”.)

After our long day of rehearsal at Woodside Studios, the band was invited to a party at the Evanston home of our Northwestern classmate, Katie Tabor and her husband Sam Fishkin, who’s also an NU alum.

One highlight of the Tabor party was a screening of “Max & Helena” a beautifully shot short film starring one of the band’s best buddies (and yes, another NU classmate) “Fat Dave” Silberger. The other highlight of the evening was meeting so many children of our Northwestern pals. At our age, many of our kids are well into their teens and, in some cases, they’re college age. They’ve grown into real people. Interesting people. It was a pleasure to see so many of them gathered in one happy place, enjoying each others’ company and making it seem as though they thought their parents’ old Rockme pals were interesting, too. (Little did we realize we’d just met the core of our Monday night mosh pit.)

On Sunday morning, the singers in the band met for a vocal rehearsal at Steve’s house. With Brad Hall strumming an acoustic guitar, Steve, Casey “Casemo” Fox, Brad and I worked through vocal arrangements for such Rockme classic as “I Fall in Love Everyday”, “Surf”, “I Wanna Be There”, and new Woodshed @ Woodside CD tunes like “Hitchin’ A Ride” and “Steve”. This sweet sounding, harmony-laden, easy-on-the-ears musical interlude inspired the idea that our next reunion should be “Rockme Unplugged”. With Riffmaster playing lead on a ukulele. (Just kidding. About Riff and the ukulele. We’re serious about the “Unplugged” idea.)

After vocal rehearsal, we took a trip to the Ukranian Village neighborhood on the west side of Chicago to meet he rest of the band at a rehearsal studio called Fabsound, owned and operated by an Eastern European native named Fabien. Fabien’s spare, cramped studio, built in the basement of his turn-of-the century house, reminded me of the basement room that the Romanovs were ushered into by the Bolsheviks. And a glance at how close I would be to Riffmaster’s amplifier in this confined space triggered fear that I was doomed as well. But, despite the fact that we left with our ears ringing, Fabsound turned out to be a fab place for us to focus on nailing our two sets down.

The band in the alley outside Fabsound after rehearsal.

Fabien and "Bubba" George McClellan snap the band in the alley.

Beefma & Wolf: The Tom Tom Horns

On the day of the gig, the vocalists met at Woodside Studios for a quick harmony brush-up before the whole band came together to rehearse a few songs with Tom “Beefma” Kalicky”, my old high school pal and bandmate, and a member of The Rockme Foundation back when the band was young.

We hadn’t played with Tom for years, but his familiar baritone saxophone was soon adding the big bottom to “Young Boys & Girls”, “Surf” and “Louie Louie” — just as it did in the days when all of us but the Riffmaster had a full head of hair.

Arriving at SPACE for our sound check we were greeted by our friend, fellow musician, bon vivant and impresario, Stuart Rosenberg, one of the SPACE partners. Stuart showed us around his magnificent facility, but there was little time to absorb it all. Melissa Etheridge had just performed a WXRT radio sponsored event in the room that afternoon, and we would have scant time for a sound check. We were soon on the stage, knocking out several tunes for the engineers at the soundboard before the doors opened at 7:30 for our 8:00 show.

That's my daughter Emilia on keys (at left).

At 8:00, the room was already getting packed when I got onstage to introduce our opening act – MORI and the Moonwalkers. It was a particularly moving moment for me because the keyboard player in the band is my own daughter, Emilia Barrosse – and, like Emilia, the entire band is made up of Northwestern students. As Mori Einsidler led her group through their tuneful, rocking 3-song set, it was a moment for Rockmes (and many Rockme fans) to reflect on our own roots as classmates and friends at Northwestern, and to appreciate how the next generation is carrying the music forward. The kids are still driven to pick up guitars and play – nearly 6 decades after Elvis electrified American youth, and 46 years after The Beatles came to our shores to shake up “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the nation’s entire social order in the process.

After “Bubba” George McClellan’s elaborate and inspired Dragnet-Peter Gunn influenced introduction, the Rockmes took the stage – and the rock and roll party was on! SPACE was jammed with hundreds of rocking revelers on a Monday night. It would be impossible to list all the great friends who came out to share the evening with us. The only frustration that night was not having the time to personally let each of them know much we appreciated that they came, they saw, they rocked. And paid the cover. In fact, it went so well at the box office that SPACE invited us back to play again next year.

Suzanne Plunkett and Bea Rashid on the dance floor. (Note the guy with the earplugs at left.)

Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner. (The main reason for that guy's earplugs.)

The best thing about our wonderful crowd was that they DANCED. There’s nothing that drives a rock and roll band to perform at its best than a happening dance floor – and SPACE was not so much a concert venue that night but a crowded, crazy, sock-hopping dance hall. And there were a lot of young people, high school and college students, filling out that dance floor.

The next generation was also at work off the dance floor. Our Rockme logistical coordinator, great friend, and, of course, fellow NU alum, Terry Barron, brought his teenage son, Taidgh, with him from New York to share the adventure. But enterprising young Taidgh was not content to just listen to the music – he sold the music: moving a remarkable number of “Rockme All Stars” and “Woodshed @ Woodside” CDs. Taidgh was recently named the Rockme Retail Merchandising Coordinator. I tell ya, that kid is going places!

Back on the dance floor, the greatest moment for me, and for entire band, came late in the second set – when we realized that the large group of young people that commanded the first few rows on the floor were getting more and more into it with each song, passionately singing along with me every time I jumped off the stage and offered them the microphone. The kids sang just about as much of “I Saw Her Standing There” as I did.

Then, at one incandescent moment, the kids all started jumping up and down in a simple but dynamic dance that we who remember the late 70’s punk rock scene would call “pogo-ing”. The kids were, quite literally, jumping! Eureka! We had made the kids jump – and thus honored our motto.

There could not have been a better way to end a memorable weekend of friendship, nostalgia, family, and rock and roll renewal.

See you all back at SPACE next year.

Mark Wohlgenant's Rockme SPACE collage.

And stay tuned for more news about “Rockme Unplugged” and our grand plans for the “Rockme Iberian Tour.” How do you say, Make the kids jump” in Spanish?

A shot from Richard Henzel's perspective.

The Tom Tom Horns. Gotta love Beefma's pink Stetson.

Rockin' Ronny Crawford: the beating heart of the Rockme Foundation.


Filed under Art, Music

Rockmes Get Ready…

The members of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation gathered from across the country at Steve Rashid’s Woodside Avenue Music Productions in Evanston, Illinois on Saturday, May 15 to rehearse for our gig at SPACE in Evanston this Monday.

I’m happy to report that the band was in fine form, and knocked out such ancient Rockme classics as “It’s a Mystery”, “Valentine’s Day” and “Love” – and newer tunes like “Steve” and “Hitchin’ a Ride” (from the “Woodshed @ Woodside” CD, recorded in April, 2008.)

Everyone in the band is looking forward to the gig at SPACE (The Society for the Preservation of Art and Culture in Evanston) – so, if you’re in the Chicago area, be there on Monday night May 17th.  For tickets, go to:

Brad Hall & Mr. Mo. (Photo and photo above left by Rockin’ Ronny Crawford)

We’re pretty excited to be following artists like singer-songwriter Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine go away today…”) and Men at Work’s Colin Hay (“Who can it be now?”).

See you Monday night, if you can be there.  But if you can’t be there on Monday night – close your eyes and listen very carefully. You can probably hear emanations from Riffmaster’s Fender guitar anywhere within a 2,000-mile radius.

Bubba George McClellan likes what he’s hearing. (Photo by Rockin’ Ronny)


Filed under Art, Music