Weblog of Leland Rucker

Random header image... Refresh for more!

Here to There: Remembering Steven Fromholz


The two faces of Frummox: Dan McCrimmon (left), and Steve Fromholz

Steven Fromholz, one of Texas’ finest songwriters and the poet laureate of Texas in 2007, died Jan. 19 at the Flying B Ranch near Eldorado, about 40 miles south of San Angelo, Texas. Fromholz, who lived in the area, was heading out to hunt feral hogs with his girlfriend when a rifle in a case but unzipped at the bottom was being transferred from one vehicle to another. He was 68.

We’re going to remember Fromholz’s life and music on Sunday, Feb. 9 during a special Roots & Branches (9-11am MT KGNU 88.5 FM or kgnu.org), when I’ll be joined by Dan McCrimmon, the other half of a group that called itself Frummox, which is where I first picked up on the Fromholz story.

I can’t remember exactly when or where I was when I picked up an album called Here to There by Frummox. I do recall that it was already in the bargain bin. 1970 or 1971. Weird name for a group, I thought. Frummox? The cover was enticing — a big fella, about two sizes larger than life, with a young Buffalo Bill beard and haircut standing on the prairie in front of a mountain range standing tall and proud looking off into the distance. It didn’t look real, though; the mountains looked like the Tetons, and the whole thing looked like it had been Photoshopped, though this was decades before Photoshop.

On the back, with the desert as background in an equally altered photo, was another fella in a jean jacket, beardless, bespectacled and looking in the opposite direction of the Buffalo Bill guy. For me, it was the first outlaw album, first real Texas album, but before Willie and Jerry Jeff made Outlaw a movement and put Austin on the map as a music destination.

The cover drew me in, but what sealed the deal for me was a title on the back. “Song for Stephen Stills (High Country Caravan).” If a guy who looked like that wrote a song to one of my favorite songwriters whose first solo album was currently lighting up my Circle of Sound stereo system, I was willing to spend a buck to find out what he sounded like.

Ah, what I got for that dollar. It began a lifelong appreciation for Here to There, one that continues today. The record is a little schizophrenic with no real cohesive sound, but I can’t think of a better album about life on the plains of Texas or Kansas that also manages to capture that high country caravan feel of Colorado, too. As a guy who discovered Frummox out on the Great Plains and later made his adopted home in Boulder, Colorado, the album means even more. There is a reason for Here to There’s dual identity, and a connection to my adopted hometown, or more specifically a tiny community called Gold Hill, eight miles west high in the foothills, where Steven Fromholz, the bearded guy, was living when Here to There was conceived. We’ll find out more about that story on Sunday morning.

So I didn’t know anything about Fromholz or Dan McCrimmon, the guy with glasses on the back cover, at the time. The first song, “The Man With the Big Hat,” has always been one of my favorite go-to Roots and Branches songs, for shows about Texas, or storytellers, or travel. It’s a killer riff, killer song, and few have ever heard it. Gil and I have learned, recorded and performed a rough version of it when we got hot on the song. I have played it on Roots & Branches several times, on various shows about cowboys or Texas or traveling.

The album begins with McCrimmon, sounding like he’s in a bar in Arizona on a sultry summer’s day, setting up the song, which is about meeting a larger-than-life fella in a bar who tells stories of being a cowboy on the plains, “working for Wells Fargo and the coming of the trains.” It is recorded perfectly, with a crack band and a steel guitar, which back then was just beginning to tickle my fancy after hearing Stephen Stills’ playing the steel on Judy Collins’ version of Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon” and catching the Flying Burrito Brothers live in Lincoln, Neb., with Sneaky Pete Kleinow giving me an intense lesson in the atmospherics of that fabulous instrument that boggled my little brain.

The first song on the second side is called “Texas Trilogy,” and it’s a three-song pastiche of life in a real little town in Texas called Kopperl along the Brazos River in Bosque County. Its imagery and poetry were probably among the reasons Fromholz was chosen Poet Laureate of Texas for the year 2007. (Here’s Fromholz’s own story of how the Trilogy came into being.) Lyle Lovett recorded a great version of the Trilogy. One song, “Texas Legend,” was fodder for this Missouri kid.

Elsewhere, the song named for Stills was a great one, too. Michael Murphey recorded “High Country Caravan” for the Flowing Free Forever album a few years later, in 1976. During that tour Murphey stopped in Kansas City, appearing at Memorial Hall. It was one of the first times I got to go backstage, where I found Murphey to be accommodating and friendly as hell. I told him that I was working on “High Country Caravan,” and he handed me his old Martin, which I think he said he got from his grandfather — it’s pictured on the inside cover of Flowing Free Forever — and told me to sing it and he’d sing harmony. One of my favorite memories of the early rockcritter days.

And Here to There was one of those albums that I kept finding in the dollar bins. I bought as many copies for 50 cents or a buck as I could find and distributed them to friends and tried to push the album to anybody who would listen. It was just one of those records that I thought everybody missed and it was my duty to change that. There have been many of those over the years.

I followed Fromholz’s career sporadically. Though we never saw him in the many years we went to Austin for SXSW, Gil and I went up to the Gold Hill Inn probably 15 years ago and caught Fromholz, who lived up there back in the Frummox days. So did Stephen Stills, whose music company was conspicuously called Gold Hill Music. Fromholz said that night that he added Stills’ name to get his attention. He did, too, and wound up playing in his band for awhile. He also played on Rick Roberts’ solo record that he recorded in Boulder before joining Firefall.

On that night up in Gold Hill, Fromholz had to perform another of his songs of which I am particularly fond, “Bears,” three times. Twice for the crowd and once more for one of the cooks, who didn’t get to hear it the first two times. He could have sang it again as far as I was concerned. He was gracious and accommodating as he told stories of his days in Gold Hill, as much raconteur as musician.

I have performed “Bears” in public many times, most notably in several towns around the state, when I would provide the opening act for a lecture tour developed and given by Billie through Sinapu titled “A Year in the Life of a Black Bear.” Love that last line: “They just don’t come no better than a bear.”

Sunday, we’ll remember the life of Steven Fromholz. Thanks to Dan McCrimmon for making this possible. He’s continued to play live, and he will on Sunday, and is a luthier in Littleton, Colorado. Check out his fine music and instruments here.

February 8, 2014   No Comments

Self Portrait, Rock Criticism and Me


With the release of Another Self Portrait: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10, there’s been yet more endless analyses of how awful Bob Dylan’s original Self Portrait album was. I have always been amused by the kerfuffle over this one.

Well, not always amused, I guess. I was 23 years old when Self Portrait was released in June of 1970. It was an exciting, strange time in my life. I can’t remember when I began actually subscribing, but I was beginning to read Creem, Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone pretty regularly. A bit later I started a fortnightly ritual: As soon as it arrived, I would roll up a joint and smoke it while I devoured Rolling Stone cover-to-cover.

I had also just bought (and devoured) a paperback copy of Paul Williams’ Outlaw Blues, the first book where someone else articulated the kinds of things I was thinking about the music that had helped changed my worldview. During the spring semester, for a Recent American History class, I had completed a twenty-page essay, titled A Compendium of Rock: The Medium And the Message, after a McLuhan book, The Medium is the Message, that was popular my last years in college. The paper was all about rock music and its importance to me and my generation.

My friends and I were beginning to use rock music as a filter through which we could see the world, enough so that we fancied ourselves a kind of karass, vaguely interpreting a notion from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, another popular tome of the time.

And I was in the midst of my exit from the Lutheran Church-Mo. Synod. I would last another year, through a teaching stint in Roselle, Illinois, that finalized my decision to leave. Crazy as it seems now, less than two years after I started playing guitar, I was heading out to make my way as a musician. That wouldn’t work out so well, and I was almost five years from first being published. And though I certainly wasn’t aware of it at the time, I was beginning to think like a critic.

I loved Self Portrait right away. And when I read the reviews, as we’ll see shortly, I was really pissed off. I considered a letter-to-the-editor but chickened out and wound up sending my thoughts in a letter to my friend Frank Kresen, who was in Japan at the time — he had joined the Prince of Peace Volunteers to teach English in Hokkaido. It accompanied a reel-to-reel tape of the album that I copied with some equipment I checked out at Concordia Teacher’s College in Seward, Nebraska. He replied, equally enthusiastically, that the album was a look at Dylan’s darker side as he interpreted the songs of others. But it was our little secret, because the rest of the world seemingly hated it.

Here’s the part of the letter where I write about Self Portrait, which I now realize is the very first piece of music analysis I ever wrote. Reading it again today, many of the elements (literary references, righteous indignation) that became, for better or worse, my style are all in there.

I was sitting here with Bob Dylan’s Self-Portrait and the new Rolling Stone review of it, written by the whole staff, who ripped it miserably. Now I’m reading the review of each song as it plays, listening with avid interest because Bob Dylan never ceases to amaze me. Paul Williams, in his book Outlaw Blues (which I got last week, a memorable work), quotes Dylan back in 1966: “I’ve stopped composing and singing anything that has either a reason to be written or a motive to be sung. The word ‘message’ strikes me as having a hernia-like sound.”

But the musical “experts” at the leading rock periodical still insist on looking to Dylan as the leader, the spiritual god to which we all must lay our alms for the wondrous word on what’s happening. And what say I? Leave the man alone, and accept him on his own terms. He loves country pie and Nashville skyline rags and he seems pretty happy, so why not enjoy him for what he is, and not what you want him to be?

The LP for me, then, is just what it portends to be, a self-portrait of a man musically. The cover tells the story, and the inside photos, including the session- and farm-locale shots, further reflect on Dylan’s tranquility. (Is that his farm he’s standing in front of?)

And the music? Well, for me it’s very pleasant, a pleasing change from a world that looks dismal indeed.

And poor Rolling Stone, they can’t believe that the mighty Allah can blow his lines. “Like a Rolling Stone” is a mess, they say. I disagree totally. So what if the words aren’t right? Dylan’s vocal is superb, and the Band is magnificent. But Greil Marcus is totally disillusioned. Man, can’t you just let it be?

“Living the Blues” is superb, much better than the Great White Wonder (ed. note, the very first bootleg album) version, good feeling and emotion. “Copper Kettle” is magic. Likewise “Belle Isle.” “Kettle” almost takes me back to old Missouri in 1800 and misty lakes and rivers before technology. “Belle Isle” is unusual for Dylan, a knighthood in flower song – maybe he read Ivanhoe or Sir Walter. The only song I really don’t like is “Early Morning Rain.” The vocal sounds lifeless.

But “The Mighty Quinn,” “Minstrel Boy,” and “She Belongs to Me,” all from the Isle of Wight, are very alive and well, thank you. But I suppose Greil Marcus can’t stand mistakes, damn perfectionist.

The Nashville cuts (that is, the country songs that Dylan didn’t write) are great in their own way. I’ve grown to like that kind of music.

So, Mr. Dylan, I say bravo, good job, thanks for giving me some joy. Greil Marcus — go to hell. Try to enjoy some good country music. Don’t impress us with your criticism.

Many years later, in 2002, I wrote a review of Self-Portrait for Stereophile magazine’s annual Records to Die For section. The deal is that you get 100 words each to describe two of your favorite albums — records to die for. For that year I chose a Doug Sahm live disc and Self Portrait.

The only real problems with Dylan’s most misunderstood and unheard album are the timing and the title. Were it released as The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 in 2002, it might not have dismayed critics and confused most of the rest of his audience. Dylan has long claimed it was his response to unauthorized, bootleg recordings, and that description fits — from the scattershot sequencing to the wildly eclectic repertoire. Given the current Dylan penchant for unpredictable covers in his live show, mixing up country ballads, folk standards and contemporary favorites and a sprinkling of his own songs seems downright rootsy. Most interesting is that except for his voice, Self-Portrait isn’t much different from his onstage act today. What goes around comes around. Self-Portrait takes us full circle.

I rest my case.

September 4, 2013   No Comments

‘Legs Shut Up’: The Most Fun I’ve Had Watching the Tour de France


Jens Voight is the heart and soul of the Tour de France.

This is our tenth Tour de France — we began watching in 2003 on the day when Lance Armstrong, after a crash by the leader Joseba Beloki, took a shortcut to get back on the road and continue the Tour — and there are so many reasons I love watching this event.

We saw Armstrong’s victories and endured his bike attacks on mountain finishes and competitors and his nasty verbal attacks against anyone willing to tell the truth, as we all began to figure out that yes, despite his vociferous denials, despite his fight with cancer, he was doping, which finally came to a head with his confession last year and the final realization that all the riders we had been watching for years had been cheating, with almost no chance of interdiction, for many years.

And so we fans have been holding our collective breaths, waiting for the dope hammer to fall again. This year, so far, no riders have been accused of anything and there have been no positive tests. Blood profiles have become common — first championed by Boulder team Garmin and its CEO Jonathan Vaughters — and riders know that they can be caught, if not today, then next year or the one after that.

And, I believe, the generation coming up, without the teams promoting their drug use and the code of silence finally broken, is a generation that isn’t into doping. Perhaps we’ll be disappointed again, but I don’t think so. Winner Chris Froome has been questioned, incessantly, about whether his performance this year has been enhanced. He released his data for analysis, and it was deemed within normal limits. I’m sure we’ll see more statistic checking in the coming months.

Let’s remember Froome wasn’t questioned last year when he led Bradley Wiggins to the yellow jersey and many, myself included, thought that he looked stronger than the winner. He was the overwhelming favorite coming into the race, and he has proven himself time and again. He was hardly put in a spot of real bother throughout. So give him credit — he stayed with his attackers and often took on his competitors at crucial moments high in the mountains to prove his superiority and team strength. Team Sky’s tactics and his final attack at the top of Mont Ventoux over the rising star Nairo Quintana, was one for the ages, an ascent so difficult that Froome required oxygen after he crossed the finish line. We will not quickly forget that moment when he overtook Quintana and soloed to the end.

Seriously give it up for Richie Porte, who played lieutenant to Froome as Froome did for Wiggins and Team Sky last year. This guy, wearing mostly an almost silly grin behind his white sunglasses, led Froome up steep, winding mountain passes, fell back a couple of times and still managed to come back with the main contenders near the top of the climbs. Had he not lost serious time on one stage, he might have made the podium himself.

Give it up for Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez, two of those new names that have no connection to past and wound up on the podium with Froome. Both exceptional climbers, they will be a lot of fun to watch in the high passes for the next few years.

Big kudos to the sprinters. The green jersey competition went to suave Peter Sagan. Mark Cavendish’s reputation as the fastest of his generation is well-deserved, and he is now tied with Bernard Hinault in second place in the all-time standings for Tour stage wins, but he has serious competitors: giant Andre Greipel, Sagan and powerful Marcel Kittel, who won four stages and clipped Cavendish and Greipel at the line on the Champs-Elysee in Paris on the last day, are all worthy competitors. The green jersey battle might even be better next year. To that end, Cavendish reportedly has gotten Mark Renshaw, his favorite lead-out guy, to join the Omega Pharma squad.

Give it up for Alberto Contador, who was just outclassed by Froome, and he knew it. Contador did everything he could with a strong Saxo/Tinkoff team to dislodge Froome, but in the end was overtaken by Rodriguez and Quintana for the podium positions and ended more than seven minutes behind. This year he looked more like an outlier than a contender. He said in an interview Saturday that he would skip the Vuelta, which he won last year, and concentrate on how he can regain the form he’ll need to beat Froome (and Quintana and Rodriguez). He’s got some work to do.

And let’s hear it for Alejandro Valverde, who came to the tour in great form to win and lost the race in the strangest and most fascinating flat stage I ever watched. There were some chances for enterprising teams to take advantage of the wind in Stage 13, and both Belkin and Omega Pharma (who we found out later had planned this the night before) took out Argo Shimano’s Marcel Kittel in an initial burst of speed at just the right moment on the course, and Saxo Tinkoff and Contador were able to gain almost a minute on Chris Froome and Team Sky nearer the end of the stage with the same tactic. Unfortunately, during the first attack, Valverde had a flat tire, there was no team car close and lost enough time to blow his chances to win the tour as a result. He wound up supporting teammate Quintana the rest of the Tour.

Even more unfortunate was Pierre Rolland, who decided to go for the king of the mountain jersey. He attacked again and again to try and catch up with Froome, whose late mountain attacks early on put him ahead. He finally overtook Froome’s point total during the first climbs of Saturday’s stage. But all his efforts were to no avail, as Quintana swept him and the field on the final mountain ascent, for which he got 50 points and the polka-dot jersey.

Give it up for Cadel Evans, who won three years ago and, as he did last year, was unable to keep up with the top climbers. By the end, he admitted he was happy to just finish the Tour, and the former champion might, if he returns, come back as support for TeJay Vangarteren, the new BMC hopeful for a possible Tour victory in the next few years. Vangarteren had a frustrating, up-and-down tour that he almost salvaged with a stage win before Christophe Riblon blew the field on the second climb of L’Alpe d’Huez at the end of Stage 18.

The commentating team seemed stronger than in recent years. Phil Liggins was sharper than he has been in recent years, and Paul Sherwen, except for his incessant obsession with Andy Schleck (we all wish Schleck well in his recovery, but Sherwen was super effusive and repetitive in his praise), offered his usual counterpoint. Of the rest, Scott Perino, who rode the Tour on a motorcycle and provided up-to-the-moment coverage from behind the peleton, did the best job.

Give it to the Tour organizers, who really outdid themselves this year making each stage as difficult as possible for the riders and as exciting as possible for the fans. The roads around Corsica were dangerous in the first three days, always a twitchy time in the peleton, and there were a fair share of major crashes. Several times, it appeared that it was far more dangerous than it should have been, with too little space for too many bikers heading for a tiny point in the distance. Most sprint finishes demanded that teams help the sprinters over tricky little hills and small mountains. The two climbs up L’Alpe d’Huez to end Stage 18 were an inspired bit of the torture and ecstasy of the tour.

And really give it up for Jens Voight, easily my favorite rider of all time, and — who knows? — this might be his last tour. He seems able to capture the whimsy as well as the rigors of bike racing, and he’s a tough guy. Who can forget a few years back when he skidded on his face after crashing going downhill, taking him out of that tour? Or, after an epic struggle to lead a teammate to the top of a mountain, seeing his legs go wobbly 50 meters from the crest of the climb? Or last year when he quipped that he could see Canada from the top of Independence Pass during his stage win in the U.S. Pro Challenge here in Colorado? Oh yeah. He also is the one person who says he didn’t dope during the EPO era that I believe. He took off on a splendid breakaway on the penultimate stage that failed but gave us at least one last look at the emblem of what makes the Tour de France so enjoyable. And you know he was saying all the way, “Legs, shut up.”

July 22, 2013   No Comments

Waging Heavy Neil


I was at Oskar Blues in Lyons the other night, and an acoustic quartet performed an exquisite version of “Harvest,” introduced by the singer asking, more than once, “what does this song mean?”

I felt a little like that after finishing Waging Heavy Peace (Blue Rider Press), a generous, rambling slog through the peculiar brain of Neil Young, filmmaker, model train guru, hater of mp3 sound, lover of old Cadillacs, and, oh, yeah, one of the foremost songwriters and singers of his (my) generation, and the author of “Harvest,” which he doesn’t explain.

I have read a lot about Young and listened to countless hours of his music, and, back in the rockcritter days, alternately praised and thrashed him over the years. (Full disclosure: I’m a big enough fan that I once wrote a column “The 15 Worst Songs Neil Young Ever Wrote.” And here are a couple of recent reviews of Denver shows, at Wells Fargo Arena in 2007 and Magness Arena in 2009.)

But Waging Heavy Peace just tickled the shit out of me, all five hundred often repetitive, desultory pages. Young is obsessive, impatient, curious, difficult and impulsive, often at the same time. He ambles through his life like a locomotive through one of his massive, museum-quality toy train layouts on his California ranch. He writes with great passion of trying to gain perfection in the way model trains slow as they climb hills, of the power of sound and intricacies of his electric guitars and amplifiers, of the biomass fuel that will allow all those old Cadillacs we’ll be driving around in to get 100 miles to the gallon or his Pono sound system that he argues will give digital music the same power as analog vinyl album once did. And yeah, he shares a few stories about the music he made that all of us carry in our DNA by now.

Given the meandering style and day-to-day detail in the book, I’m guessing there was no editing involved. If you’re expecting a chronological dissertation or explantion of his songs, you might be disappointed. “If you are having trouble reading this,” he even warns at one point, “give it to someone else.”

His arguments about sound quality and how digital files fail listeners are persuasive, even if their frequency makes them begin to sound like commercials. But this issue particularly bothers Young. “I can’t go anywhere without the annoying sound of mp3s or some other source of bad sound grating on my nerves and affecting my conversations,” he writes. “I will not rest until the impact has been made and Puretone (later Pono) or something like it is available worldwide to those who love music.”

The title even refers to his battle against bad sound quality. When someone asked him if he was waging war on Apple, he said no, but he was waging heavy peace.

In a sense, Young’s is testament to the notion of being able to control your own life. All of us want to do that, but few have the option to actually make it happen. “I will use my own money when I shouldn’t because I hate waiting,” he writes. “That may be why I spent so much money and built so many things. I just like to do it myself. I hate waiting for approval, because I have my own Approve-o-Meter. It works like a charm.”

But what I really admire about Young is his sense of nostalgia, his respect for the past and his absolute devotion to his family, his collaborators, his friends, and his infatuation with trying to make things better for himself and others. He writes warmly and openly about long-time collaborators he has lost along the way, especially Danny Whitten, Jack Nitzsche, Ben Keith and David Briggs. I knew of his model-train obsession and association with Lionel, but his stories of building a transformer so that his son Ben, who has cerebral palsy, could run a model train are more moving than any of the revelations about the music.

“I accept that I cannot have every dream come true at once. Life is too shoet for that,” he writes.

That doesn’t mean he won’t stop trying.

March 6, 2013   No Comments

Another Great Book About What Happened on 9/11/01


Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in custody at Guantanamo.

Much has been said and written about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which even has its own feature film. But about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who actually planned and executed the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001? Not so much.

That’s what makes Terry McDermott and Josh Myer’s The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed> such a compelling read and major addition to 9/11 history. It tells the story of the loose terrorism network that finally hooked up KSM and bin Laden, and the decade-long search by a few intrepid FBI investigators to track down the man who conceived and carried out the attacks before they happened. KSM was finally apprehended in 2003 in Pakistan and, after being tortured by the U.S. on numerous occasions, is incarcerated in Guantanamo Prison in Cuba.

I’m not trying to lessen Osama bin Laden’s part of the story. He was the kingpin, providing money and logistical support to a plan brought to him about blowing up iconic American buildings, and his part of the story is told elsewhere, in Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower and several of Peter Bergen’s books about al Qaeda.

But KSM, whose nephew, Ramzi Yousef (aka Abdul Basit), planned the 1993 bombing of the WTC,  and then spent more than a decade crisscrossing the globe hatching plots of mayhem and death in far-flung places (thank him every time you remove your shoes because of the Robert Reid attempted footbomb, among other plots, including one to blow up several jets simultaneously over the Pacific in 1994.

KSM came to bin Laden and al Qaeda with the crazy idea of taking down the World Trade Centers using airliners as bombs. The book explains how they conspired to pull it off, but as it makes clear, KSM wasn’t actually an al Qaeda operative or member, just a like-minded terrorist whose interests coincided with al Qaeda’s at a critical moment.

The book provides plenty of evidence of the stupendous inefficiency the various agencies involved in American security displayed in the years leading up to the attacks. At one point, they came within a few minutes of apprehending KSM in 1996, and then he disappeared for seven years.

As always, I invite any of my friends who suspect or believe that 9/11 was an “inside job”  to read this book. We still don’t have all the answers, but books like this are beginning to provide a better understanding of what happened that day. More on my views about 9/11 Truth here.

January 21, 2013   No Comments

Toking in the New Year in Colorado


Governor John Hickenlooper signed Colorado Amendment 64 less than a month ago, and as 2013 begins, two marijuana social clubs, one in Denver and another in Del Norte, have opened, member’s-only places where adults can consumer marijuana with other like-minded individuals.

Details on private clubs – the amendment is quite specific in not allowing public consumption – will be forthcoming as the legislature takes up rules and regulations of marijuana this year. But until then Robert Corry, an attorney who is credited with helping push the legislation through, and Paul Lovato, who owns the White Horse Inn in Del Norte, assume that as long as it’s private and no sales are taking place, for now it’s legal. Details at the Denver Post.

In other news, the Dacono City Council shut down its dispensaries and forced owners to mulch their product, but it will take up the issue in its meeting Wednesday. The council might decide to rescind the ban or put the reopening issue to a public vote. More here.

UPDATE: The White Horse Inn in Del Norte closed after opening on Dec. 31 for a couple of hours to enjoy the distinction (especially in the media) of being the first pot shop to open. His landlord didn’t approve — the lease began Jan. 1 — and  owner Paul Lovato was forced to close. He told media that he might open again after the rules for shops are in place. Full story here.

January 1, 2013   No Comments

About Pot, the Feds Have a Scheduling Problem


4-20-11, CU campus Smoke-Out. CU spent $278,000 to try and end it in 2012.

Much of the problem with marijuana is its current designation as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. The government’s persecution of marijuana goes back at least to 1935, when the newly created Bureau of Narcotics, needing some narcotic to fight, created a campaign of disinformation intended to make people believe that pot was directly related to crime, violent behavior, insanity and sexual deviance. Which led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which considerably restricted the usage, distribution and production of cannabis products. (For much more on the government vs. marijuana back in the 1930s, here’s John Lupien’s master’s thesis on that subject.)

But it was the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 that codified the War on Drugs, President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell’s misguided plan to stamp out psychotropic drugs in the United States.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy says that the government will spend about $15 billion this year trying to keep people from smoking marijuana. 15 billion dollars. Multiply that by 40 years, take into account that marijuana is easily available to anyone in America who wants it, and you have a policy of utter failure. (I get these numbers from the Drug War Clock, which uses government figures.)

According to the act, Schedule I substances must include the following characteristics:

1) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.

2) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.

3) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

I won’t argue point one today except to say that any drug has a potential for abuse. Marijuana’s is less than most. How about another cup of coffee? And “high potential” is completely subjective. No one has ever overdosed on pot.

But with a host of studies suggesting marijuana’s medical benefits and 19 states (including the District of Columbia, which proves that Congress and the Justice Department can’t even control it in their own district) allowing medical patients to purchase and consume cannabis for pain or symptom relief, marijuana’s current status seems ready, if nothing else, for a second look.

This story has been told before, but let’s not forget the circumstances of marijuana’s Schedule 1 status. The Controlled Substances Act was aimed at the marijuana/LSD menaces Nixon and Mitchell perceived, much as the Bureau of Narcotics had 35 years earlier. Remember, the hippies were running wild and naked and fornicating all across America with blunts of the dreaded reefer sticking out of their mouths.

Anyway, Nixon dispatched a former Pennsylvania governor, Raymond Shafer, to study pot abuse in America and come up with some “wink, wink” proposals. Shafer’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse took the charge seriously and recommended the decriminalization of marijuana for adults in small amounts. It’s a document worth perusing. Here’s one paragraph that, given all the surveillance over citizens these days, all Americans should ponder. “The criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate,” the report states. “The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

Nixon and Mitchell roundly rejected the findings and put pot in Schedule 1, right up there with heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, mescaline, Quaaludes, peyote and psilocybin. Cocaine, because of its limited medical use, got a Schedule 2 classification, considered by the federal government to be safer than marijuana. Even before the commission’s report was released, Nixon told Shafer he would only embarrass himself and that they would pay it no heed. Read about this and other hallucinatory Nixon conspiracy theories involving marijuana, homosexuality, communism and Jews in this Gene Weingarten Washington Post column.

Now, 42 years later, two states, for starters, in November called the Justice Department on its bullshit hypocrisy. Given the mood of the electorate and, happily, the lack of concern today’s younger generation has for legalization, we won’t be the last.

So instead of Gov. Hickenlooper seeking “clarity” on marijuana from Justice – a truly laughable notion in itself — he should be asking why marijuana continues to be listed as a Schedule 1 drug when cannabis is grown and sold for medical uses in almost forty percent of states, including his own and the District of Columbia.

December 14, 2012   No Comments

On the Day Pot Becomes Legal, It’s Reefer Madness Again in Boulder


Bike rack, Table Mesa and 40th Bus Stop, Boulder, Colorado. (Leland Rucker)

Bruce Springsteen put it aptly at his Denver concert last month. “I understand that Colorado just underlined its Rocky Mountain High.” The word’s getting around about our state, the budding Amsterdam of the American West.

On Nov. 6. about 55 percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which allows anyone over 21 years of age the right to have an ounce or six plants of marijuana for personal use.   Even glowing-red El Paso County came out for decriminalization, though just barely. Voters in Denver and Boulder overwhelmingly supported the amendment and were mostly responsible for its passage. Today, December 10, 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the amendment into law.

Colorado voters in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana for patients with approved cards in Colorado. But it wasn’t until the spring of 2009, following a Justice Department edict that said that the federal government wouldn’t interfere with state marijuana laws, that Colorado erupted in a crescendo of craziness and reefer madness.

Under a volcano of optimism, entrepreneurs – old pot dealers, mom-and-pop businesspeople, everybody, it seemed  – got into the legal medical business. Legislators, caught off guard, for whatever reasons, didn’t deal with state regulations for months, leaving it to local jurisdictions to deal with an onslaught of dispensaries, grow operations and card-carrying patients. Cities reacted in various ways. Some banned dispensaries outright; others, like Breckenridge, completely decriminalized pot within its boundaries.

That crazy period is well documented in Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America’s Most Outlaw Industry, a great book by Greg Campbell, a Ft. Collins journalist who writes of getting a medical marijuana card and growing six plants in hopes of selling to dispensaries amidst the craziness.

Now Colorado has legalized pot, which brings up more than a few grams of questions and even more reefer madness. First, it puts the federal government on notice that more and more of its citizens, even those who don’t smoke pot, are sick and tired of the hypocritical Drug War rat hole down which billions of our tax dollars plunge each year criminalizing the act of smoking a plant anyone can grow and Grandma now uses to ease her chronic pain. Unless President Obama’s Justice Department decides to revisit marijuana’s current Schedule 1 status, the passage of Amendment 64 might ignite a hell of a states’ right battle.

The Obama administration has followed its predecessors, waffling on its pledge not to interfere in states that have approved medical marijuana. Locally it has issued cease-and-desist orders to dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school, even if they were in local compliance. It recently reminded Washington state, which also legalized pot in November, of its Schedule 1 status.

Attorney General Eric Holder has not replied to requests from Colorado congresspeople or Gov. John Hickenlooper, for clarity, perhaps because, when it comes to the Feds and marijuana, there is no clarity, no common sense and no science involved in its decision-making process. For seventy-five years marijuana has been demonized by its Schedule One classification, and for forty of those years the federal government has waged a so-called drug war, with our tax dollars, incarcerating mostly poor and minority pot smokers while allowing the marijuana market in the United States to grow into perhaps the nation’s largest agricultural product. Make no mistake; pot is far more ubiquitous and easy-to-find today than it was in when the government began waging war on it.

Locally, Stan Garnett and Mitch Morrissey, district attorneys for Boulder and Denver counties, announced they would drop all pending marijuana possession cases, while Weld County D.A. (and fierce opponent of Amendment 64) Ken Buck said he would prosecute people up until, well, today.

Boulder’s city attorney, Tom Carr, who was voted out of the same office in Seattle at least in part because of his anti-marijuana policies, recommended the city not allow dispensaries because the window for the state to write its regulations and the city to start issuing business licenses is only a few months away and asked a two-year moratorium before revisiting the situation. No less than Nobel laureate Eric Cornell denounced Carr’s actions, quickly seconded by former City Council member and County Commissioner Paul Danish. Wisely, current council members reminded Carr that 2/3 of the voters in Boulder approved Amendment 64 and that perhaps he should revisit his current thinking.

And then, University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, in a bizarre email sent to alumni late Friday night, wrote that he personally had worked to oppose the passage of Amendment 64 and suggested that the university might lose a billion dollars a year in funding because of its passage, an astounding claim. “The glaring practical problem is that we stand to lose significant federal funding,” Benson wrote. “CU must comply with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which compels us to ban illicit drugs from campus.”

Benson generally keeps his opinions to himself, but he is the guy who authorized CU to spend more than $278,000 to try to stop the 4-20 Smokeout at CU in April. Congressman Jared Polis, in effect calling Benson a liar, pointed out that the university already has banned illicit drugs from the campus and that the amendment’s passage has nothing to do with CU funding. Local entrepreneur and CU donor Brad Feld called for Benson to retract his comments and leave his personal agenda out of CU-alumni communications.

There is more of this kind of lunacy ahead. Even Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64 before its passage. Who knows what mischief our Republican friends in the state House of Representatives might already be cooking up to subvert Amendment 64 in the legislature’s next session?

All of this is just a reminder that, even here in our broad-minded enclave next to the Flatirons, a significant minority of people with significant power, for whatever reasons, don’t want to see marijuana regulated like alcohol in Colorado. Look for more insanity as reefer madness gives way to the fear of a stoned planet.

December 10, 2012

December 10, 2012   No Comments

Miller No Longer Racing Through the Dark


Want to know why cyclists dope? It's all here. So is the story of how David Millar found redemption after being banned from the sport he loved.

David Millar is a Scottish professional cyclist who was arrested by French authorities and confessed to illegal doping in 2004. After serving a two-year ban, he returned to cycling in 2007 and now races for the Garmin-Cervélo team based here in Boulder, Colorado.

His memoir, Racing Through the Dark, came out last year, but it didn’t really catch my eye until all the latest revelations about doping came to light when Lance Armstrong decided against fighting drug charges and facing a long line of witnesses who testified before the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, essentially admitting his guilt (though still denying it, of course).

It’s easily one of the best books on professional sports you’ll ever read. Millar’s story is in so many ways compelling. A gifted young athlete who loved to party, Millar’s first drug experiences came with sleeping pills, an addiction those who ride the peleton easily find, given the rigors of life on the road and riding more than 100 miles every day for three weeks. Millar came into the sport staunchly anti-dope, and if you want to understand how that attitude changed and how and why riders do drugs to compete, it’s all here.

Like most athletes, Millar got into the sport because he was supremely athletic and it was fun to compete. He became a star and team leader at an early age, winning stages in the Tour de France and other major races. His team, Cofidis, expected him to compete and win. As it became his “obligation,” injecting vitamin concoctions (called recup) after races to recover from three-week tours escalated to signing up with certain “doctor/trainers” with whom you would prepare for big tours by shooting Erythropoietin, or EPO, a hormone that occurs naturally in the liver that produces red blood cells. EPO is used by skiers, endurance runners and extreme athletes, but it has been especially prevalent in cycling. Eventually that activity landed Millar in a French jail cell.

Racing Through the Dark exposes the complete hypocrisy of professional cycling teams, most of whom end their obligation to the drug culture by having riders sign a form that promises they won’t dope. When any are caught or confess, the teams wash their hands immediately of the stench. The buck stops with the athlete. This is the same hypocrisy we see in professional sports in the United States. Just this week Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced that even though Melky Cabrera is serving a 50-game drug-related suspension, he could still win the National League batting title if his percentage is the highest.

That’s why Millar signed with Garmin, the American team started in 2007 by Jonathan Vaughters, an admitted ex-doping cyclist whose ambitions as a team owner to clean up the sport coincided with those of post-dope Millar. Vaughters’ radical ideas, spurned by much of the cycling establishment in Europe, include drug-testing his own athletes regularly to create blood profiles.

So far, it’s worked pretty well. Garmin-Cervélo fields one of the most competitive teams in the sport. It includes other riders who, like Millar, doped back in the day and are devotedly clean now. One of them, Tom Danielson, lives in Boulder and, post-dope, is again among the world’s top cyclists. Another, Christian Van de Velde, won the Tour of Colorado last month.

There are those who say that the past is done, and there is no need to return to it. But as Millar makes clear, cycling (or baseball, or all other sports) have to face the truth before it’s able to move on.

Which leaves us with the elephant in the room. In a sense, he already has, and I’m not suggesting he go all Oprah on us, but Lance Armstrong needs to stop living the lie everybody knows about now. Armstrong is a legitimate hero for many people, me included. Billie and I started watching cycling in 2003 after watching a particularly memorable Armstrong moment when he carried his bike across a field to catch the other riders after the stage leader, Joseba Beloki, slid and fell on the hot pavement. His books on his battle with cancer are inspirational, powerful works, and his organization is a bulwark in the fight against that disease. It takes nothing away from any of that for him to finally tell the truth and move on.

September 21, 2012   No Comments

Seeing God in Municipal Auditorium


This photo was taken from the Folly Theater building at 12th and Central, where I worked on a renovation project 1977-79. (KC Public Library)

I was forwarded the Scotty Moore website (Moore was the guitarist for Elvis Presley), which included a page with information about Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. Presley and Moore played there in May 1956, and the page includes a wealth of post cards, photos and information about the building itself. (Thanks to Mike Webber for the forward.)

Reading it brought back a flood of memories on this Labor Day. Built in 1934 as part of a ten-year plan to bring the city up-to-date, Municipal Auditorium, by the time I first began showing up, was only 20 years old. Its art-deco style, subtle lighting and quiet elegance really impressed me, and I loved going there. Some of the other buildings created at this time, including the Jackson County Court House, City Hall and the Power and Light building, are equally mysterious and enigmatic. Another thing I liked about the Auditorium was that it wasn’t built on a flat surface. Standing at Wyandotte and 14th Street, it looked like it had been built into a hill to the north. You couldn’t tell from the inside, but you certainly could from the outside.

I can’t remember the first time I was there, but it was probably a large church event. I remember being in the Main Arena, which seated 10,000, and our local Lutheran choir joined with dozens of others to raise our voices to heaven – it was incredible.

As a child, I also went there for the special Philharmonic concerts for kids in the more intimate Music Hall. I really loved these. It’s where I found out that a hymn I knew as “What Child is This?” was based on the traditional English song “Greensleeves.” The melody haunts me to this day. Another time the power went off during the performance, and the Phil, undaunted, just kept on playing, something I wouldn’t see again until Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns pulled the same trick at Parody Hall in the early 1980s.

Billie and I caught a couple of Barnum & Bailey shows there, before we stopped doing the circus-as-entertainment thing. The arena was large enough (the blog says it was 92 feet floor to ceiling) to hold even the gigantic tank that a horse jumped into during the finale of one show, or the guy shot out of a cannon at another one as well as the many trapeze and high-wire acts that dazzled us.

The arena has an interesting ceiling lighting arrangement. This was the late 1950s, when nuclear paranoia was very real. When the sermons or services would fade into the background, I would stare up and imagine people above the ceiling, watching us from their perch. You know, the people who run the world only we don’t know it. And this was before psychedelics.

The interior of the Auditorium is drop-dead gorgeous. (KC Public Library)

The Moore site includes a photo of a concert by Louis Armstrong Nov. 7, 1964, that I attended. I had escaped Kansas City to attend St. Paul’s Lutheran High School down the new I-70 in Concordia, Mo. Our class took a field trip to Kansas City that Saturday, and we somehow got free tickets at a Katz drug store downtown. Sitting high behind the stage, we watched the musicians in their dressing rooms (which were just partitions) smoking and laughing in between songs. I thought they were smoking cigarettes at the time, but after learning more about Armstrong, I’m sure it was probably something else.

“Hello Dolly” had made #1 in March, and he sang it three times that night, something I wouldn’t see again until almost 12 years later, when Willie Nelson did “On the Road Again” three times July 23, 1976, in the Arena with Tompall Glaser and the Flying Burrito Brothers as opening acts.

Other memorable concerts there included a special British Invasion reunion in July 1973, with the original Herman’s Hermits line-up as headliners with the Searchers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Gerry & the Pacemakers and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. I remember they looked so old. Good acid. Good time, and I thought again about the people who control us all above the ceiling.

Blue Oyster Cult did a great show in January of 1978, with Black Oak and a third act, Millionaire at Midnight, who turned me in the direction of the burgeoning local music scene. I was forced to review Foghat/Bachman-Turner with Judas Priest opening. Ugh. The first time I saw Jethro Tull there, people were celebrating Independence Day by throwing fireworks. The second time, when I gave my ticket to be seated, I was told that the seats “didn’t exist anymore.” He wasn’t kidding; all the seats were pushed back and it was an early mosh pit out in front of the stage.

Neil Young brought his Time Fades Away tour to the Arena with Linda Ronstadt in 1974. Riverrock and Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band opened for Jerry Lee Lewis in the Arena on May 4, 1979. When he asked rhetorically at one point, “who’ll play this old piano when I’m gone,” a woman right behind us stood up and said, “Nobody, killer, nobody but you.”

The last time I was there was in the early 1980s to see the Kinks. Beginning in 1974, they had became an annual attraction at Memorial Hall and the Uptown Theatre. But that particular time they almost sold out the Arena, and I saw a younger generation, the children of the Kinks’ original fans, singing along with every song. Absolutely wonderful.

They were with Arista at the time, and I was friendly with the rep, who was traveling with the band. After the show, in the dressing room, Ray said, “I want to meet the obituary editor and music critic,” and we talked for a couple of minutes. I always hoped he would write a song about the obituary editor who wrote about rock and roll. So far, he hasn’t.

September 3, 2012   No Comments