Banned in the U.S.A.

Bart Simpson

Today, March 7th, is the 26th anniversary of 2 Live Crew’s Supreme Court victory, which protected parodies from copyright infringement lawsuits. The song they parodied was Pretty Woman, by Roy Orbison. Freedom of Speech was honored. The Supreme Court ruled that parodies are covered under the fair use doctrine. Weird Al Yankovic and a host of comedians breathed a big sigh of relief.

In celebration, 2 Live Crew then recorded a parody of a popular Bruce Springsteen song which they called “Banned in the U.S.A.” Bruce didn’t sue them. Yay Bruce!

I loved the original, Born in the U.S.A., but I never heard the parody before today. Maybe you haven’t either, so here’s a link.

When you finish watching that clip, you might want to enjoy President Andrew Shepard’s speech from the movie The American President.



Then, to put it all in context read the words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This was so important, that it was the very first Amendment in the Bill of Rights, but the ink was barely dry when Congress passed the Sedition Act and President Adams signed it into law on July 14, 1798. Fortunately, that was quickly repealed, but Americans have always had to fight to keep this right to the free expression of controversial subjects. Comedians, musicians, and writers have led the fight, but it’s an uphill battle we all face.


The tough part, of course, is defending the right of free speech for those with whom we disagree, but that is the core of the Amendment. The only way for us to understand both sides of an issue is to listen to both sides of an issue. Unfortunately, most of us on the left are now glued to MS-NBC, while those on the right are joined at the hip to Fox News. I admit that I’m guilty. The Internet doesn’t help me, either. It records what I watch and then steers me to more like-minded material. Once in a while, I can watch a right-leaning comedian like Nick Di Paolo, but I still don’t watch Fox News.


The thing is that when we stifle free-speech we impede our chances of learning something new. I read yesterday about a government employee who got fired for his controversial ideas on handling the Coronavirus epidemic. He kind of suggested that, because 80% of cases are mild and many will show no symptoms, instead of strict quarantines, we should all mingle freely so that the epidemic could spread rapidly and then be over just as quickly. His main idea was that in the long run the virus was going to infect just as many people, but instead of the epidemic lasting for years and destroying businesses, it would just be a short time before things could get back to normal.


This sounds like a crazy idea, but I remembered back when I was a little kid. If either my brother or I caught something like measles, my mother, a nurse, would immediately tell the other one, “Go play with your brother.” This way both of us had it at the same time and she could take care of us both at the same time, instead of having to deal with two sick kids at two separate times. Instead of having the illness in the family dragging out for a month or more, it was all over in a week or two. Just look at how many large conventions were cancelled recently, and how the stock market tumbled. Imagine what will happen if this drags out for years.

So maybe there was some merit in the idea, even if it was a bit harsh and hard to swallow. The thing is that he was just expressing an idea, “spitballing” the problem. By firing the man, it, in effect, stifled any new thinking on how to handle the emergency. What good is a think tank, if it is limited to ideas that are only “inside the box”? The whole idea of brainstorming is to explore as many ideas as possible, even bad ones, in hopes of finding the best ideas.


People getting fired for expressing their ideas is not unusual, but it is wrong. Some ideas are terrible ideas, but in rebutting these ideas we might come up with some good ideas. Some ideas, like Nazism, are repulsive, but people should still be allowed the free expression of their ideas. I know that when I listen to someone with whom I strongly disagree, I try to pay closer attention to what they are saying, so that I will be able to present a better argument against them. Some ideas may be dangerous, but controlling ideas and punishing free thinkers is even more dangerous.


Long after his death, the spirit of Lenny Bruce still lives.


Peace & Love, and all of the above,


Baby You Can Drive My Getaway Truck


I’ve now been in my Lancaster apartment for almost a month, and little by little I furnished it.  All I was missing was my stuff.  That was all in two storage lockers back in New Hyde Park, NY.  My brother made a trip here and loaded up his car with some of my stuff, but there was still a mountain of it undisturbed.

It became quite obvious that moving it one carload at a time would take about 200 years.  So, I called Allied Van Lines and they gave me a quote of $2200, their absolute rock-bottom minimum.  $600 for the truck and $100 per hour for two men for 8 hours.  I estimate that the total value of all my stuff was less than $2,200, maybe about $2,000 less, so that did not seem like a good plan.


I called U-Haul and found that I could rent a truck in New York and return it in Lancaster for about $300.  That seemed like a much better plan.  The only problem is that I don’t have a driver’s license.  I have a New York State Non-Driver’s License solely for ID purposes.  At the request of everyone who had ever ridden in a car I was driving, I stopped renewing my Driver’s License back when Jimmy Carter was the President.  It is a move I have never regretted, until now.


I needed somebody to drive the truck, and most of the people I’ve met in town are barmaids, who would only go to New York, load a truck, and drive it to Lancaster if I held a gun to their head, and even then they might not do it.  Besides, the last time I had a gun was when I was in Boot Camp and they were trying to teach me how to defend the country.  So, that was out of the question.


The only other person I know in town is Joe Becker, the guy who sold me most of the second-hand furniture that I now possess.  They deliver for free, and I noticed he had a lot of different guys working for him.  I asked him if any of his employees would like to earn a few bucks by driving a U-Haul from New York to Lancaster.  He told me he didn’t have any guys working for him.


“Who are those guys who help you make deliveries?” I asked him.


He told me that whenever he needed help he called the men’s shelter in town and there was always somebody who would deliver a couch, a bed, or any other piece of furniture for a pack of cigarettes.


I asked him to call the shelter for me and see if there was anyone willing to take the trip with me for a carton of cigarettes.


Duane volunteered, but he wanted cash.  He didn’t need cigarettes, because he rolled his own.  I thought that meant he smoked pot, but he explained that he gets a pouch of tobacco and 200 rolling papers for $7.00.  Wow, the head shops sell packs of 25 rolling papers for $2.00, and that doesn’t even include anything to put inside the papers.  Far out.


I asked Duane how much he wanted to do the job.  Duane wanted $100.  Not per hour.  $100 for the entire job.


I hired him so quickly, I almost forgot to ask him if he had a license.


So, on Saturday, Duane and I took the Amtrak train to New York.  He’s originally from Philadelphia.  He’s 42 years old, but when the train went past his old neighborhood, he looked out the window like a kid in a candy store.


From Penn Station we took the LIRR to Jamaica and then hopped in a cab to go to the U-haul place.  Paperwork completed we headed for my storage sheds.  I had a 10 by 5 shed and a 5 by 5 shed.  It took us 3 hours to empty the contents of the big shed.  By that time the truck was filled to capacity.  So, we left the smaller shed for another day, got some chicken to go at KFC and headed for Lancaster.


We got on the Cross Island Expressway and the sign said “No Commercial Vehicles.”  We weren’t sure if our U-Haul was a commercial vehicle but we decided to get on.  It was bumper to bumper.  We crept forward for the next hour and only managed to cover a few miles.  We made it to the Belt Parkway.  We had a great view of the traffic jam ahead because we were in a truck and the only other vehicles on the road were cars.


Around this time, we figured that we might be in a commercial vehicle.  Since traffic wasn’t moving anyway, we decided to get off the parkway and take the service road.  Once there, we pulled up alongside a tow truck and asked his opinion.  “Is this a commercial vehicle?”


“Oh yeah,” he responded.


So, we weren’t supposed to be on the Parkway, but that’s how Mapquest had routed our journey.  We asked the tow truck driver how we could get this commercial vehicle to the Verrazano Bridge.


He told us that we had to take Linden Blvd, all the way across Brooklyn to the BQE and that would take us to the Verrazano.  He even led us to Linden Blvd.


Do you have any idea what it’s like driving a fully loaded truck all the way across Brooklyn on Linden Blvd.?   Neither do I, because before we knew it we weren’t on Linden Blvd. anymore.  We must have zigged when we should have zagged, and we took a tour of Brooklyn that lasted two hours.  Finally, when we asked another motorist for directions to the Verrazano Bridge, she took pity on us and led us to it.


So, we took the Verrazano to the Outerbridge Crossing and were headed to the New Jersey Turnpike.  The top row of a sign said, “NJ Turnpike.”  The bottom row probably said “Right Lane Only,” but it was obscured by bushes.  We missed the turn, and just barely missed the car in the next lane when we tried desperately, but unsuccessfully, to get over to the right.


It was nearly 10 p.m., we were lost again and headed away from the New Jersey Turnpike.  I started humming a song by Bruce Springsteen.  You know it.  It’s the one with the line, “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”  Duane didn’t see the humor, and it looked like he wanted to drive off a cliff.


“This hasn’t gone as planned,” I said to him.  “So, I think it is only fair that I double what I said I’d pay you.  I throw in a pack of real cigarettes, too.”


I think he would have preferred a cliff to the pay raise, but by then he had managed to get us back to the Turnpike, so he was happy again.  “You don’t have to do that,” he said.


“Oh, no.  I insist.”

We got to the Pennsylvania Turnpike without any problem, and we managed to get to Lancaster without any more problems.  Well, we had one problem.  By this time the shelter was closed and Duane wouldn’t be able to get in.


“Why don’t you stay at my place, and we’ll unload the truck in the morning?


That worked for him.  We got to my place, opened up a box of vintage wine and before too long, we were both able to look back on the day and find it funny.  We stayed up until 4 in the morning laughing about our tour of New York and Long Island.


The next morning, neither of us felt like unloading the truck, so we went down to the shelter with a few packs of cigarettes and quickly found plenty of guys willing to unload the truck for us.


So now I have most of my stuff, a story for my web page, and a new friend in town.  All’s well that ends well.


Peace & Love, and all of the above,