A Message From DSO’s Rob Eaton


Regarding questions on Dark Star Orchestra’s revolving lead guitarists, rhythm guitarist and singer Rob Eaton hopped on one of the forums to let everyone know the status:

We are going through MAJOR changes and decisions, patience on the fans’ part would be a great help to us. Here’s what I can tell you at this point: Jeff [Mattson] will be on the next tour. He knows how we feel about him but he has things he needs to deal with and work out outside DSO. He was not able to commit to the April [tour] back in Nov when we asked him and thus we decided to see what Stu [Allen] has to offer. Stu is scheduled to perform the April tour and the April tour only. We will then be in a better position on who would be the best fit for the permanent guitar spot going forward. When we know what the future will be we will let everyone know but I would ask everyone to PLEASE let us work this out….. One thing I do know for certain is JK [John Kadlecik] will not be back playing with DSO so we have to make the right move for all of us going into the future.

I’ve listened to Jeff online and thought he was amazing. I’ll be seeing Stu in April here in L.A. and will hope that he is equally amazing and unique. Only time will tell. I’m looking forward to seeing Jeff on the following tour. I’ve yet to see him in person. Just keep playing, boys.

A Message From DSO’s Rob Eaton

Goodnight, Jean Simmons


The beautiful and talented actress Jean Simmons died today in Southern California after a long battle with lung cancer. She was 80. I grew up on the films of Ms. Simmons and have many terrific memories of her in so many different films and so many different roles it’s sometimes hard to keep track. Oddly enough, the films I return to most often are of a very young Jean Simmons: the Powell/Pressburger masterpiece BLACK NARCISSUS in which she played Kanchi, the exotic young Indian seductress, and David Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS, in which she played the desirable young Estella. Always stunning, Simmons never lost her beauty or her commanding presence. She continued to work right up till the end with her last role in the British film SHADOWS IN THE SUN released in 2009.

Sleep well…

Goodnight, Jean Simmons

Is America Worth Saving?


It’s a question I’ve asked myself many a time. In fact, I find myself asking it about the entire human race from time to time. And the answer’s always the same: I sure as hell hope so.

I’d like to believe that we can grow and mature, learn from our mistakes. But like children who never believe the lessons of their parents and have to find out for themselves, the hard way, we continue to shoot ourselves in the head and then complain that no one told us the gun was loaded.

Two days ago, Massachusetts voters shat on the memory of the late Ted Kennedy by not only choosing a Republican to take his still-warm seat, but possibly killing an already watered-down Health Care Bill that was Mr. Kennedy’s life mission and dying wish. Did this really happen? How quickly we forget the atrocities committed by the Bush Administration. The party and ideology that destroyed our economy by redistributing wealth from the middle-class to the wealthiest Americans and corporations while simultaneously throwing us into a trillion dollar war that we had no moral or social right engaging in. Every American soldier who lost their life in Iraq lost it for a lie. And there are over 3,000 of them. Not to mention the over 100,000 Iraqis killed in that same ongoing war. The American people were twice victimized. First by the 9/11 attacks, then by a president who took advantage of our fear and shock. And now we’re voting these people back into power? Really?

Apparently, it is quite a task for the average American to measure the effectiveness of a president like Obama who saved us from falling into the abyss of an economic depression. Perhaps it would have been better if we had fallen into that abyss so that Americans would then have some understanding of what Obama accomplished by pulling us out. But too many Americans don’t seem to be able to weigh what a massive accomplishment avoiding that depression was and is. Or how close we were to it and what that reality would have looked like. We are an undereducated, incurious lot. And we are easily led. Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Glenn Beck… They are all modern-day Joe McCarthys and legions of Americans are following them all over again.

All this said, Obama can certainly take a more definitive stand. Playing nice, it seems, gets little-to-nothing done. On the other hand, and I believe this is Obama’s logic, if we keep pushing our differing agendas in opposition to the other party, then we may find America in a damaging game of back and forth wherein one party is elected into office, disregards the other party’s beliefs and desires and forces its agenda no matter how severe (as the Bush Administration did from day one), and then the other party takes over again and reverses course until the first party takes control (again) and makes another u-turn. It’s a deadly circle that we could spin in for centuries without accomplishing a damn thing of consequence. Problem is, Americans only seem to respond to extremes. Subtlety is not taught in school and seems to float above the heads of many who miss the boat entirely and are lost and confused when someone points out what has been going on. They simply don’t believe it because they don’t have the tools to see it. We have societal and historical ADD. One year into the Obama Administration and hoards of Americans are already growing impatient and have forgotten the treacherous 8 years of lies, deaths and economic imbalance. Not to mention that we had a president on a religious Jihad all his own. From attempting to amend the constitution to conform to his Christian definition of marriage, to preemptively attacking Iraq in order to “erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

So as sad as it may be, it seems the only way forward is to either try and meet Republicans halfway, or make the firm decision to move forward regardless of their wishes while we still can; to get as much done now and hope some of it sticks through later administrations. The biggest problem with meeting Republicans halfway, it seems, is that they don’t appear to be interested. So far as I can tell, the game that’s being played is “oppose Obama at every turn.” The notion being that if Obama is truly successful at fixing our national health care disaster, then he will most certainly get re-elected. And perhaps another Democrat will come after him! And God forbid he should bring any of these wars to an end or actually strengthen the economy. Then the corporations and the high-powered bigwigs who live off the blood of the less fortunate won’t get what they so desperately want (and have grown used to). And those very powerful organizations and the people whose pockets they regularly line will suffer greatly. And they are not willing to let that happen. Even if that means denying the American people their basic rights or fulfilling their basic needs. Like health care.

So, these men and women and the corporations behind them scream foul and create illusions of collapse and spoil that strike at the hearts of our most frightened and ignorant until they take to the streets en masse spouting misconceptions and incredulous at the mere notion that someone might actually be attempting to better their lives. And the Independents who don’t believe in anyone but knew that they were tired of Bush start to tire of Obama as well until they’re voting us right back into the abyss we just barely managed to crawl out of. And then there’s the lazy Democrats who just don’t get themselves out there to vote or campaign with enough vigor or resilience. Or the Blue Dog Democrats who just seem to be Republicans under a different name.

Meanwhile, Obama is in danger of being neutered by asking us to rise to an occasion we simply may not be ready for. His attempt to bring the parties and American people together ends up looking to Democrats like he’s not willing to go the extra mile and really take on the forces at hand –essentially “just another politician”— and Republicans see it as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to pounce.

All the while, the world watches and prays that we, currently the most powerful nation in the world (with China fast on our heels), find ourselves in the midst of a growth spurt that finally moves us out of our infancy and propels us into the world of the mature and self-aware. In the meantime, we’re a nation that essentially still believes in Santa Clause, hopes he’ll show up, and then shoots anything that comes down the chimney.

Is America Worth Saving?

Exporting Hate & Terror In The Name Of God


Sounds like something one might accuse Al Qaeda of. But what if it were suggested the United States of America were on a religious crusade all its own? Last year, former French President Jacques Chirac told the world that, while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq, then president George W. Bush appealed to their common faith in Christianity during a private chat. According to Chirac, Bush stated:

“Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

While this is old news by now and a quote I’ve referenced before, it seems to have been one-upped by a recent report that weapons maker Trijicon has been supplying high-powered rifle sights to the U.S. Army and Marines with coded references to specific Bible passages. One such reference on the gun sights is 2COR4:6, also known as Second Corinthian 4:6 of the New testament:

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

These “Jesus-encoded” sights are being used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. Oddly enough, U.S. Military rule prohibits proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan. The whole notion behind this rule was to prevent any country or individual from claiming the United States was on a religious “Crusade.” Well… it seems some, including but obviously not restricted to the president who led us into those very wars, were, indeed, on a religious crusade. So where does that leave us now?

The American people were lied to about WMDs, our own CIA directly misled Congress, we defied the United Nations, we angered and alienated much of the world with that defiance, we resorted to torture tactics we swore we would never use, we engaged in a preemptive strike against another country for the first time in our nation’s history, and over 100,000 human lives have been lost that would not have been otherwise… At what point do Americans realize that the Bush Administration turned the United States of America into a rogue nation and desecrated almost everything we have claimed to stand for? And still I see people finding reasons to support that same administration, all the while professing that President Obama is attempting to destroy our nation, trying to make us a socialist country, a totalitarian country, even a fascist country.

So while the largest corporations in the States get fat on the blood of Iraq, including Trijicon who have a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corp and even more to the U.S. Army, America’s own citizens have been tossed into a deep recession. And the president who has managed to prevent that recession from becoming a full-on depression, all the while trying to repair a deeply damaged health care system that doesn’t care for its own, has come under attack as a man who is trying to destroy this country and everything it stands for.

At what point do we heed the lessons and shame of Joseph McCarthy and the fear that drove that man and his many, many followers? At what point do we face up to the fact that our country and its citizens were lied to, led astray? At what point do we, as a nation, choose to enter into adulthood and face our own demons? When do we, as Dick Cheney would call it, “Man-up”?

A recent hearing in the U.K. on that country’s involvement in the war in Iraq revealed that the U.S. was already discussing plans to invade Iraq less than a month after George W. Bush took office. This was, if you haven’t already figured it out, long before the 9/11 attacks. These plans are well-documented in the Downing Street Memo transcribing the minutes of a meeting between Tony Blair’s senior ministers on July 23, 2002.

That same recent U.K. hearing also reportedly revealed that Blair lied to the public when he claimed that Britain’s objective in the invasion of Iraq was ‘disarmament’ and not ‘regime change.’

Too bad we haven’t yet had hearings of our own on this side of the Atlantic. Maybe it would open some of those tightly shut eyes still mourning the loss of the good Christian president who so valiantly protected our nation through what is known as the Bush Doctrine which includes a policy of “preventive” war which held that:

The security environment confronting the United States today is radically different from what we have faced before. Yet the first duty of the United States Government remains what it always has been: to protect the American people and American interests. It is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of national power, before the threats can do grave damage. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. There are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD.

To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense. The United States will not resort to force in all cases to preempt emerging threats. Our preference is that nonmilitary actions succeed. And no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression.

But what is it we’ve actually done? According to the above-mentioned U.K. hearing:

In the public record, there is a large amount of evidence that vividly illustrates Bush’s long-standing intent to invade Iraq, Bush’s willingness to provoke Saddam Hussein into providing a pretext for war, the fact that the Iraq war began with an air campaign almost a year before the March 2003 invasion and months before Congress approved the war, Bush’s widespread attempt to crush dissent and manipulate information to justify the lies he used to start the Iraq war and the lack of planning for the aftermath of the Iraq war as well as the lack of a fundamental understanding of the Iraqi society.

To further illustrate then President Bush’s “mission” as he saw it, I quote a passage from his 2003 State of the Union address:

“Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.”

Unfortunately, men like George W. Bush never seem to understand that what they see as the “right” way for America is not the only way. I’m not saying all nations shouldn’t be free, I’m saying that we, America, do not have all the answers and it is beyond arrogant to assume we do. It is downright criminal to take that misguided belief and stake human lives on it. Especially when that belief is weighed down by religious conviction; by a man and an administration with little understanding of the culture, people and religions of the countries they are invading. Many great nations before ours have fallen in pursuit of the very same fallacious ideologies that drove Mr. Bush and his followers.

But how do you get a country and its people to follow along on such a path? Author Naomi Klein wrote in her book The Shock Doctrine that the Bush Administration exploited  a “window of opportunity that opens in a state of shock, subsequently followed with a comforting rationale for the public, as a form of social control.”

For any country to grow, it must take a cold, hard look at itself. It must ask the difficult questions. We have an opportunity now to start fixing the deep damage that was incurred during the Bush Administration and the 9/11 attacks on our country. Both victimized the American people. Neither wound is anywhere close to being healed. But in taking that deep look, we might find that we–as abhorrent a notion as it is–may have temporarily become our own worst enemy and the exporters of the very thing we claim to be fighting against.

Exporting Hate & Terror In The Name Of God

Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL Director’s Cut Comes To Criterion Blu


Finally! After a short run in New York last year, Ang Lee’s Director’s Cut of his amazing film RIDE WITH THE DEVIL comes not only to Blu-ray on April 27, but via the discerning folks over at Criterion. This is exciting news, indeed!

RIDE WITH THE DEVIL was all but lambasted by critics, dumped by its studio and, as a result, ignored by audiences in its initial 1999 release. But it has found many a fan since then. For the record, I saw RIDE opening weekend and was dumbfounded by the negative critical reviews for a film I thought was as good as anything Lee had directed previously. I have been a diehard fan ever since and have taken every opportunity to show this uniquely engaging film to anyone who would watch.

Not having seen the Director’s Cut yet, I cannot speak to its full merits, but I do know that I will be buying the Blu-ray regardless. This cut extends the film from its original running time of 138 minutes to a full 160.

Here is Criterion’s synopsis of the film:

With this new director’s cut, Ang Lee reconstructs his original vision for his Civil War epic, Ride with the Devil, an intimate, harrowing look at a country torn in half, told from a daringly unorthodox perspective. Set in 1862, during the Kansas-Missouri border war, the film stars Tobey Maguire as Jake and Skeet Ulrich as his friend Jack Bull; they join the Confederate-sympathizing Bushwhackers after Jack’s father is killed by marauding members of the abolitionist Jayhawkers. But Ride with the Devil is also the story of their unusual ally Holt (an astonishing Jeffrey Wright), who’s fighting for the South despite being a former slave. A rumination on identity and loyalty, both political and personal, Ride with the Devil is a provocative challenge to preconceptions about America’s bloodiest conflict.

And here are the Disc’s Features:

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION:

  • New director’s cut of Ride with the Devil, featuring thirteen minutes of added footage
  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Ang Lee and director of photography Frederick Elmes (with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
  • Two audio commentaries, one featuring Lee and producer-screenwriter James Schamus and one featuring Elmes, sound designer Drew Kunin, and production designer Mark Friedberg
  • New video interview with star Jeffrey Wright
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Godfrey Cheshire

You can pre-order this DVD or Blu-ray from the kind folks at Criterion HERE.

Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL Director’s Cut Comes To Criterion Blu

DSO In Flux


It’s always a bit scary to watch a band you love lose its lead guitarist and move through several new ones as it tries and find its new footing. And so it currently goes with Dark Star Orchestra. With the loss of lead guitarist and founding member John Kadlecik to Further (Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s new band), DSO snatched up Donna Jean and the Zen Tricksters‘ Jeff Mattson. I was concerned as John’s shoes were gonna be hard, nay near impossible, to fill (hell, the shoes John was filling were as tough as any and he did them justice). To my surprise and ecstatic delight, Mattson slipped right in with DSO as if he had been there all along. Perhaps not quite as nuanced as John had been, but damn impressive nonetheless.

Stu Allen

So no sooner had I bought tix to see DSO‘s new incarnation, than the band announced yet another lead guitarist for the spring tour to take over Mattson’s short-lived slot. What? This was not good news, to say the least. I mean, how many times can you fill these very large shoes and hope that they fit somewhat snugly and don’t just fall off mid-stride?

I don’t yet have that answer.

DSO‘s new guitarist, Stu Allen, has certainly filled big shoes before. In fact, the same shoes John Kadlecik filled. Only in a different incarnation. Allen has been the lead guitarist for Jerry Garcia’s namesake band JGB with keyboardist Melvin Seals. And having listened to some of their work, I have to say, I’m pretty impressed. Allen also heads another Grateful Dead tribute band called Front Street.

Less impressed.

While not a bad band by any stretch, they do not capture the energy that DSO has conjured up. So what will happen when these two forces meet to create something entirely new? We’ll just have to wait and see. There’s enough to suggest it might just be the perfect match. Or it may fall short of the mark. The bar has been set quite high, after all.

So I will listen and post here as DSO‘s spring tour starts. And I will keep my fingers crossed and my heart and mind open. And hope this new phase of the journey doesn’t wear out those old shoes anytime soon.

Here’s a bit of Stu Allen with JGB:

And with Front Street (with the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzman sitting in as the second drummer):

DSO In Flux