Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Regular Guy


In college I was chairman of the Student Activities Board. A decade later, a couple of friends and I started an indie punk label in San Francisco-- the late 70s. From there I was hired by Warner Bros to run their Sire Records label and ended my music business career as president of Reprise Records. Over those years I "walked around" with a lot of celebrities: Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Nicks, each and every Ramone, Joni Mitchell, The Clash, the Jefferson Airplane, the Sex Pistols, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, Morrissey, Brian Jones. Yeah... I got some stories, but not today. I learned a lot about people by seeing the interactions between larger-than-life celebrities and people who admire-- or don't admire-- them. And that spotlight on these people... whoa: INTENSE. And I've wound up "walking around" with some political leaders too-- when I was just a child, JFK, later his brother, RFK, for whom I worked as an elevator operator one tragically cut-short summer. Later a wide array from Bill and Hill to people I-- and others-- really admire, like Alan Grayson, Ted Lieu, Howard Dean, Ro Khanna...

But Sunday, I had a Madonna-like experience with a very un-Madonna-like and very unlikely "celebrity." Randy Bryce is an iron worker, cancer survivor and single dad. He's also a committed progressive and a union organizer in southeast Wisconsin who got fed up with the job his congressman is doing. And his congressman is Paul Ryan, speaker of the House and less than 2 months ago Randy was thrust into local and national prominence beyond anything he could have imagined. He's handling it well-- very much the way Jimi Hendrix did when I was hanging out with him in the Village when we were both kids and later in Essaouira in Morocco. Cool, calm, collected... sincere, authentic, unaffected.

Sunday Randy came over to my place to get ready for his appearance at Politicon where he was on a panel about Latino political engagement. (Until Sunday only his friends were aware his birth father was Mexican-American.) Before we left for Pasadena, we stopped by a neighbor's house after they had gotten home from church. Jim Keltner is one of the most famous and accomplished drummers alive. Jim's also a modest and unassuming regular guy-- half Latino from Oklahoma-- who is very much like Randy. His wife, Cynthia, mentioned that Jim has been a union musician since they first met when they were high school sweethearts. Jim wanted to give Randy one of his trademark DW snare drums-- autographed-- as a way for raising some campaign funds. (You'll be hearing more about that drum in coming weeks, believe me.) There was instant rapport between Randy, Jim and Jim's wife and son; very comfortable.

And then it was on to Politicon. I already had an idea about what was likely to be coming because I had heard from a number of Blue America-endorsed candidates the day before when Randy was at a PCCC event in Washington. Everyone said the same thing-- he was "a star" and, more important, an inspiration. Everyone wanted their photos taken with Randy. I used to see that all the time with Morrissey. And everyone wants their photos taken with Bernie and with Elizabeth Warren. But Randy hasn't been elected to anything yet; he's a candidate. Oh man, is he ever going to be freshman class president in the next Congress! Not that he knows there's such a thing yet.

When we got to the panel room it was pretty empty-- just a few chairs filled. I mentioned to Randy's campaign manager that the Politicon folks should make an announcement that @IronStache is in the House and about to speak. They sent a text to all ticket holders. Within, maybe 90 seconds, people were streaming into the room and soon every seat in the auditorium was taken and people were standing along the walls. People don't always understand the power of celebrity-- a power greatly enhanced when it's intertwined with the kind of authenticity Randy exudes.

After the panel, dozens of people wanted to say meet Randy. Some wanted selfies with him-- especially other candidates-- and some wanted to wish him well or give him some advice or share their personal stories. He was the picture of genuineness and grace. How does he do it? It's who this guy is. I took at least 30 photos for people of them and Randy that they could show their friends and post on Facebook and Instagram. I couldn't bring myself to pose for a picture with him anymore than I ever "posed" for a picture with any friend. Instead, I posed for a picture with satan.

Randy named this photo "yin and yang"

There were also congressmembers and senators and state and local officials there. I didn't see crowds around any of them. Most just walked around unmolested with a staffer or two accompanying them. On some level, it was almost embarrassing. In June when he announced his campaign Randy had 7,000 twitter followers. Sunday he had just passed 130,000. There were more than a few people who had tears in their eyes when they got up to Randy to quietly tell him their own-- usually health-related-- story. He's an empathetic man; people are drawn to him.

Afterwards Latino Victory president Cristobal Alex had a meet-and-greet for Randy, a wonderful, comfortable family-like get together across the street from Politicon. Some guys making a film about the rise of authoritarianism in America had been following David Frum around Politicon. When I introduced Frum to Randy-- Frum was duly impressed and as excited as a fan, if in a slightly more sophisticated way-- the producer of the film asked if he could film a few minutes with Randy. Randy was OK with it and the crew showed up at the Latino Victory Project shindig. Afterwards they asked if they could fly out to Racine and follow him around WI-01 and do more filming.

An old friend of mine and his campaign manager David's, Eric Hogenson, who helped elected Chris Larson to the state Senate in Randy's district years ago, went to dinner near Eric's house at a new restaurant called Out to Sea on Holly in Old Town. The food was delicious and the service professional, impeccable and friendly. After we paid the check, the waiter walked up to Randy and said, "Bury that fucking Paul Ryan... for all of us." We were all stunned. David asked, "How did you know?" The waiter said he'd watched the video on YouTube. You read that piece about creating a brand the other day? If not, now might be a good time to do just that.

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At 6:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is the devil? Carter Page? Why was he there?


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