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Dead & Company at The Sphere in Las Vegas review

June 30th, 2024 · Grateful Dead, Music, Real-life Adventure Tales


Sphere & Laughing in Las Vegas


photo by Jay Blakesberg for Dead & Company


This is the Acid Tests … in a two-billion-dollar spaceship!

I’d been reading about The Sphere for years before it was ever built.  It sounded too wild to be true!  And of course I immediately thought how perfect it would be for the Dead to play there!  And play they did.  And play we did!

The Strip in Las Vegas is unlike anything else in America.  It’s like the old Times Square — but goes on for miles.  It’s Bourbon Street — but 50 stories high.  It’s the Grand Canyon of architecture and just as awe-inspiring to raft thru — except there’s hundreds of people passing every second and you’re not stuck in the same boat.

All the visitors to Vegas are in a great mood, as is everyone who works there.  It’s a party that’s just getting started, not winding down — and I mean 24-hours-a-day, 365.

Then add to that 20,000 Deadheads a night.  🥳

snapped a split-second before the house lights went out

The Dead action is concentrated in the northern part of the Strip — the (relatively) small area of the Venetian, the Mirage, the Flamingo & the Tuscany — where you couldn’t walk but a few feet without seeing some beaming sparkling fellow tie-dyed ‘Head.

I was not thinking about the music going in.  People were saying the band was on fire but I kind of dismissed it because I was going for The Sphere.  But boy — they have kicked up the tempos and intensity, and John Mayer is really taking Garcia’s foundation to new places.  They’re crackling, in synch, having fun, and pushing each other & the music Furthur.

The most unique Sphere-centric part of the show — and thus my favorite — is Drums, where they make the best use of the venue’s sound capabilities, sending the instruments spinning in a circle around the whole Sphere.  Plus, the visuals are working with each sound created on stage making graphic representations of the pulsating beats.  And then — this is when the haptic seats kick in and shake your pelvis so much women were having orgasms and men were spilling drinks!  😀


photo by Good Trouble— with the planet drum around Mickey
pulsating to the beats & sounds he, Oteil & Jay made

For the post-Drums ballad they simplify, no visual effects, just a giant B&W movie-screen-shaped image of the band, who were stage-lit like a jazz combo in the 1950s when Vegas began.  This was Duke Ellington … on the Millennium Falcon.

I found myself focusing on the four young guys — Mayer, Jeff, Oteil & Jay Lane — and how completely plugged into the music they are — and how their execution and innovative improvising is jazz level. 

And thinking how over the decades, one-by-one, the originals have dropped out, and their position filled by a top cat joining the ongoing experiment — the group absorbing and assimilating each new member.  It’s been organic and gradual.  And now weir down to two originals.  And the four new guys really are the band.

The show is called “Dead Forever” because these musicians (and the millions of others like them) are playing this music and taking it to new places, and will continue to do so “Forever.”  It’s not unlike how The Beatles’ music transformed into a new sphere with the Cirque du Soleil “LOVE” show for 18 years, performing (until July 6, 2024) just a mile from the Dead’s circus in Las Vegas.

photo by Good Trouble

The Sphere is the most technologically advanced entertainment venue ever built.  It projects an image from your feet to above your head, from turning left to turning right.  It’s all-consuming.  Imagine your living room high-def flatscreen filling all your walls and ceiling.  And with a really good band playing in the room.  😁

An IMAX movie is a great experience — but the Sphere is all around you.

photo by Jason Elkins

photo by Carrie Branan

Then add to it that the sound is precision perfect.  There’s 167,000 speakers pointing your way to hear precise sound.  It’s not about volume, it’s about clarity. 

This is a sacred church of music

Red Rocks is the greatest outdoor venue in America, and Radio City the greatest indoor — and the Dead pioneered both! — and now they’ve laid down the early gauntlet for what the futuristic Sphere can be.

photo by Stephanie Bystrak

I hope I live many more years to be able to experience what these visionary visual & musical artists come up with.  This is just the beginning.  As Bob Weir told Variety last week, “As we work with these folks, we’re going to try to get more dynamically involved with each other.  I think we’re only scratching the surface here.

The musicians are streamed three stories high in 16K resolution. (!)  I could read the time on John Mayer’s wristwatch and see how Jeff Chimenti’s fingernails are trimmed.  And their images were surrounded by swirling visuals as great as any psychedelic trip could conjure.

photo by Jeffrey Zoni

photo by Joseph Stone

This is the Acid Tests in the 21st century — where the liquid light gel projections pioneered in San Francisco in the mid-’60s progressed to.  In fact, they replicate a bona fide gel-glass light show at one point, looking like a liquid slide show from 1967, but it swirls from floor to ceiling — and can project multi-story close-ups of any musician in the middle of it.

photo by Anton Bodor

The band has been involved in this production for many months, and gawd-bless John Mayer for taking the lead role in the interface between the visuals and the music, as you can read about in this highly-recommended in-depth account of how it was created.  “This is sensory hijacking,” he said.  “And it’s very fun to be behind that mischief.”

In fact, the Bay Area band connected with their cinematic neighbor George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic to create the opening & closing sequences of a close up of their home at 710 Ashbury that pulls out to outer space before returning to the house at the end of the show.

I thought a couple months ago — “How long until the Academy Awards are held in this place?!”  Then the NHL (of all things) beat them to it, hosting their player draft there in June 2024.

This venue, by its very existence, is going to change how we experience live shows.

It’s not just a planetarium — it’s aurally designed as a concert venue.  And here’s the crazy thing — the 300 and 400 level sections are the best seats!  In every show you’ve ever been to, the seats closest to the stage were the most desirable.  In the world of the future — which is here now — the upper levels are the best seats in the house. (!)

I always said about the Grand Canyon — “No matter how big you think it is, it’s bigger.”  It’s the same thing here.  No matter how high your expectations . . . it’s going to exceed them.  Everybody was saying that online before I went . . . and they were right.

photo by Jason Elkins

I hope everyone I know is able to experience this.  As much as I describe it, or as many photos as you see or videos you watch, it’s not possible to get it until you’re in it.

If you don’t make it this residency, the Dead are gonna come back next year.  Or if there’s any band playing there you remotely like, make it a priority to go.  Concert ticket prices are insane now anyway, so you might as well go to something that is light years ahead of any other experience you’ve ever had.

Taylor Swift is also doing an amazing similarly long 3½-hour visually spectacular show — but it’s in a football stadium.  This is in a relatively small enclosed dome that’s designed specifically for visuals and sound … not football.

As I wrote mid-show — “How did we ever do concerts before?!”  😄

This changes everything.


photo by Mark Vallem




If you want to read more of my writings on the Grateful Dead and company —

I take you to a show at Red Rocks in 1982 in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac.

The cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac by Brian Hassett


Or if you’re into the Merry Pranksters and the Beat Generation — here’s How The Beats Begat The Pranksters & Other Adventure Tales.

Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, George Walker – The Beats and the Merry Pranksters


Or if you like that Cassady cat who transcended both — there’s On The Road with Cassadys & Furthur Visions.


Or here’s a whole section on this site of nothing but Grateful Dead articles and stories.

Or if you’re into wild trips in historic venues — check out this epic Adventure at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.




by Brian Hassett   —

Or here’s my Facebook page if you wanna join in there —

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Anne Murphy’s “Tripping With A Viper” about Neal Cassady

May 4th, 2024 · Kerouac and The Beats, Merry Pranksters


Beat & Prankster fans rejoice!

A new firsthand memoir has just been released of life with one of the Mount Rushmores of both the Beat Generation & the Merry Pranksters.  That doesn’t happen very often, and there aren’t many options left.

Anne Murphy (who later reverted back to her birth name Anne Marie Maxwell) was Neal Cassady’s primary girlfriend from roughly January 1962 — 18 months after he got out of San Quentin — through the end of his life (Feb 4th, 1968).  Although they spent a lot of time with Allen Ginsberg, and met Jack Kerouac in Northport in 1963 (and she remains one of the last living people who actually met Kerouac), these years were most notable for Neal teaming up with Ken Kesey, hanging with both the Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead, and being part of the Acid Tests, which Anne describes as “one gigantic continuous high.”  She called Neal “the psychedelic rapster,” and they were so involved they are actually listed in the program for the historic Trips Festival at the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco in January 1966.

Those of us inspired by those formative psychedelic years can still look forward to George Walker and Mountain Girl‘s memoirs — both of whom are great writers with vivid memories — but neither spent as much time with the person so central to the counterculture movements of both the 1950s and ’60s.

I first read this manuscript when I was living with Carolyn Cassady in England in 2012 and was riveted and jaw-dropped by its frankness and honesty.

Many appreciators of the Beat writers salivate over every new publication of their raw notebooks;  and those inclined towards the Acid Tests enjoy an imperfect looseness in their art.  This book, as published, by happenstance and good fortune, is a beautifully raw creation — perfectly reflecting the times, artists and artistry it brings to life.

Originally written in the 1990s, author Anne tried to get it published on & off ever since — and readers can be grateful it didn’t get picked up by one of the big publishing houses because they would have cleaned it up and sanitized it.  This is not air-brushed history — this is gushing confessional herstory.

Fortunately there’s a devoted cadre of Beat scholars seeing to it that this foundational work is being preserved and brought to new audiences.  Jerry Cimino and Brandon Loberg at The Beat Museum have been doing God’s work for decades sharing all things Beat with ever-evolving new generations.  David Wills has been publishing scores of important books and magazines through his Beatdom imprint.  Peter Hale updates the world on Allen Ginsberg’s connections to contemporary culture in weekly dispatches.  Charles Shuttleworth put years of work into bringing Kerouac’s Desolation Angels notebooks to life.  And Daniel Yaryan has been staging live shows and printing books and magazines under his “Sparring With Beatnik Ghosts” banner since 2008. 

Luckily for all of us, Daniel developed a relationship with the effervescent Anne, who’s still alive at 92, and still living in central California where all these adventures took place.

Here’s where it gets really serendipitous:  by the early 2000s, when Anne made another push to get the book published, she realized she’d lost the floppy disk that the manuscript was written on.  All that existed were print-outs, a copy of which I read at Carolyn’s.  If somebody other than Daniel had published it, they would have retyped it, cleaned up all the little typos and sold it as a regular book.  But this Daniel guy has a real visual sense, praise the Lord!  So, when he set about fulfilling Anne’s decades-long dream of having her memoir published, not only did he not retype it, but he printed the actual manuscript!  And not just any copy, he chose the one with Carolyn’s suggestions in the margins!

Then on top of that, just as Neal’s wife was a visual artist, so too was Anne!  The book includes a bunch of her sketches of her famous squeeze as well as a portrait of Carolyn.  Plus, the visual artist publisher created a bunch of collages and added photos reflecting and illuminating the subject matter.  The love poured into this publication is obvious on every page — a beautifully laid out memoir-meets-scrapbook of prosaic and visual delights.  He calls them “graphic intensifiers.”

Thus – harmonic to both the Beat and Prankster spirit, this book is a swirling collage of images and stories reminiscent of Kesey’s Jail Journal or Garage Sale or Arthur & Kit Knight’s invaluable Beat books — and like them is printed in the same large 8½ x 11 format.

And then there’s the sex

Neal Cassady was best known for his prowess in three things — words, women and wheels.  His words have been published in the Joan Anderson Letter, the Neal Cassady Collected Letters, and The First Third (which Anne helped type up).  And there’s plenty of descriptions of him driving.  But there’s never been a firsthand account of him driving a woman wild.  Jack’s, Carolyn’s and the Kesey/Babbs Spit In The Ocean Cassady books were all pretty PG.  The sex is always implied … not described.  Until now.

After reading the first hundred pages about her unabashed passion for passion, she starts to describe the famous Hell’s Angels party at Kesey’s place in La Honda.  For those who’ve read Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels and/or Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test there’s a memorable scene describing a Hell’s Angels gangbang in a back cabin at Kesey’s that night.  As soon as I read the first sentence about her being there, I was like — “No! … don’t tell me!! . . . ”  And sure enough — it was Anne!

The renown astrologer and sexology author Gavin Arthur, who was close friends with both the Cassady family and Anne, diagnosed her as “hyper-hetero” and “a promiscuous nymphomaniac” — something Anne not only doesn’t dispute but celebrates.  She writes at one point, “I lived for acid and orgasms.”

Wolfe & Thompson are two of the most acclaimed authors of last half-century, but now, finally, the world can read about the event they both described … from the woman’s perspective!

And that connects to one of the best aspects of this book — that it’s honest and open and raw — and from a woman’s point of view!

For a literary movement once thought to be the province of men, Anne’s antics can now be properly placed on the ever-expanding Beat Women’s shelf along with Carolyn’s Off The Road, Edie Kerouac’s You’ll Be Okay, Joyce Johnson’s award-winning Minor Characters, the Lu Anne Henderson interview book One and Only, Jack’s wife Joan Haverty’s Nobody’s Wife, Helen Weaver’s The Awakener, Diane Di Prima’s Memoirs of a Beatnik, and of course How I Became Hettie Jones

And Anne couldn’t be happier!

And speaking of happy & healthy women, running through this whole book from the first words of the opening Acknowledgments to the final Afterword, Carolyn Cassady is a gracious, forgiving, empathetic, kind and wise mother figure to her husband’s girlfriend.  Not only during the relationship, but over all the many decades afterwards, Carolyn remained a supportive friend to Anne, including helping her with this very book.

photo by Allen Ginsberg of the Cassady family in 1965
the two people with the biggest smiles are Carolyn & Anne (at the end)

These were the two women who had the longest-running relationships in Neal’s life, and they both knew they were in love with a cad.  Both their books both praise and demythologize Neal.

I once asked Carolyn if she was ever in love with a man the way she was with Neal, and in her late 80s it was an instant and emphatic “no.”  And decades after his passing, Anne reflects, “I never met another human being with Neal’s charisma and power.”

Besides inclusion on the Beat Women’s shelf, this book can now forever join On The Road, Visions of Cody and the Kesey/Babbs Spit In The Ocean Cassady issue as the most vivid firsthand portraits of an enigma who found himself driving Kerouac’s car and Kesey’s bus into the pages of history … and women into the throes of ecstasy.


Neal & Anne at a Kesey event in Oakland in 1966, photo by Larry Keenan


You can order the book direct from the publisher here.


Allen & Neal interview in City Lights in 1965 with Anne by his side


Neal at the wheel with Anne comfortably close, 1963, photos by Allen



Here are the books of my Beat Trilogy —

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac about first meeting a bunch of these characters at the historic 1982 Kerouac Conference in Boulder, plus a side-trip to the Grateful Dead at Red Rocks.

How The Beats Begat The Pranksters including George Walker’s description of how Cassady met Kesey at Perry Lane; hanging with Phil Lesh; On The Road movie premiers in London, Toronto & New York; and acid tests with the modern day Pranksters.

On The Road with Cassadys & Furthur Visions about adventures with Carolyn and son John; plus the shows for the 50th anniversary of Jack writing On The Road; and pieces about the Grateful Dead, the Power of The Collective and the transformational decade from 1945 to ’55.

Here’s a sample portrait from Hitchhiker’s of Jack’s first wife, Edie Kerouac Parker, and their mutual friend Henri Cru.

Or here’s a great story about Jack’s second wife Joan Haverty and Bill Cannastra’s loft where they met.


Here’s a funny light-beaming tribute I riffed to Carolyn for her memorial . . . 


Here’s the killer “Jack on Film” show at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in 2023 featuring clips & conversation about 17 different portrayals of the author on film or TV . . .


Here’s the “Jack at 100” show at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in honor of the man’s 100th birthday . . .


Here’s a great piece on The Power of The Collective from The Rolling Stone Book of The Beats performed at a collaborative festival on Long Island . . .



by Brian Hassett   —

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Eclipse Totality in Bronte Ontario

April 10th, 2024 · Real-life Adventure Tales





It wasn’t just a big-screen spectacular — it was a nail-biting drama!

An old brother of ’70s shenanigans flew from Winterpeg to my place in Southern Ontario because I lived on the Path of Totality for the 2024 solar eclipse.

We had invites to a big acid test weekend with a bunch of pranksters in the center of things in Indiana, but we were gonna have the killer corona right here.  We planned to drive the short hop to Fort Erie next to Niagara Falls to join up with my Bronte astronomer pal and his dozen telescopes, but the Niagara Region government decided to officially declare a State of Emergency last month (!) because of the eclipse, and then announced they were closing most of the roads in town right when it was gonna be the most fun time to visit there, so they were really spitting in the face of people who just wanted to smile, and that ain’t my kinda party.

My house in Bronte Village on the shore of Lake Ontario was right in The Path of Totality anyway, and the town graciously built a giant harbourfront park right in front of my house for just such an occasion, so there was no reason to sit in traffic or visit a place that doesn’t want us when we could just walk out the front door.

But the drama in this action movie started days before the opening credits rolled when all the weather forecasts were predicting overcast skies.  I was disappointed for my eclipse fiend friend who flew half-way across the continent to experience it, but he was Buddhisticly sanguine.  “It’ll be what it’ll be.” 

This did not sit well with this proactive Bill Graham Gets Things Done New Yorker, and I had a dozen different weather sites open searching for clear skies, including Astrospheric that my astronomer friends turned me onto cuz it specializes in cloud cover.  But about the only place nearby that was lookin clear was Vermont, and that ain’t really that near by.  We settled on the simple walk-out-the-front-door plan cuz Dr. Sanguine wasn’t pushing for the drive, and I was happy staying in my happy place.

Like any good drama, the first sign of trouble appeared as soon as we entered the Theater of the Skies at 2:00 … only to find people leaving!  For all the folks still heading towards the harbour, there were as many walking away with their armfuls of chairs and blankets and coolers.  I pointed this out to Dr. Sanguine under the cloudy skies an hour from showtime, and he said, “Good.”  Huh?  “Culling of the herd.  There’ll be better seats for us.”

We went straight to where my astronomy brothers were safely ensconced in their nest of telescope tripods.  Always an optimistic bunch, I went straight to Sergeant Skies.  “So, what are we gonna see today?” I asked with a big smile to spark some buzz for Private Sanguine.  “Nothing.” reported the Telescope Telegraph, without so much as a comma.

I looked up at the white cloud cover.  “It’s not moving,” the sky expert told me.  This was not exactly the movie I’d been hoping to see for the last couple years since we first learned this star-studded premiere was coming.

We decided to go for a harbour walkabout, and I switched my focus from the big screen to the thousands of optimists still filling the theater.  There were families and friends and to my eyes a celebration of the diversity of humanity.  There were old folks sitting on their walkers and little kids running around below my knees.  There were turbans and toques, and bubble blowers and blanket bases.  There were tweens, teens and beauty queens, and parkas, plaids and prim & proper.  But mostly there were optimists — like an arena full of Leaf fans — all rooting for Team Totality.

While I was focused on the anthropological, ol’ Sanguine kept his eyes on the astronomical.  We saw the blue sky in the distant west, and the clouds were indeed moving above, but it didn’t look like this movie had time to play out to a happy ending.

Ol’ eagle-eyed Sanguine kept watching for any break in the clouds and suddenly yelled — “THERE IT IS!  I JUST SAW IT!” pointing at some pin-hole break in the white darkness.

The Pac-Man ball was eating the moon behind a curtain — and Sanguine got his glimpse — which of course made me jealous for missing out — but another bright spot was moving to the hot spot — and BOOM!  There it was!  Through a thin layer of clouds you didn’t even need your glasses to look at the bright white ball with a bite taken out of it!

With some remote hope of good things still happening, we headed back to the astronomers’ nest to cluster with the die-hards and their eyes to the skies.  One of them had a new high-tech Seestar telescope with a big video tablet that showed what it was capturing — mainly white noise — but if anything did happen he’d have a solar closeup.

We’d been there nearly an hour.  Our team on Earth had potted one lousy visual goal but we were mostly getting shut out with the game-clock ticking down.  Sanguine asked the time and I looked at my analog wristwatch — 3 minutes to 3 — with totality coming at 3:18.

Then BOOM!  It happened!  The sky opened!  And like a champion team down in the final minutes, we began to visibility score!  The whole field erupted in cheers!  The cardboard glasses came out.  All the time-filling chatter ended mid-sentence.  Ooos and ahhs and squeals of joy washed like waves through the lakeshore crowd.  Big baritones and tiny sopranos blended in a choir of ecstatic chaos.  Nothing else mattered.  The astronomers rushed to their eyepieces.  The hometown crowd cheered as the net opened up and the goals of the day were scored!  There was the half-eaten sun!  Two perfect circles bisecting — a quarter-million miles away our planetary offspring was having the better of the giant who always dominated the landscape.  For once the little guy was winning!

photo by Peter West

After the two-second glimpse earlier, the prolonged view was such a gift!  We all kept looking and we all kept cheering.  It seemed like it’d been going on forever, so I looked at my watch again to see how close we were to totality and it was only 3:01!  Two minutes of joy felt like two hours!

Sanguine sat beatific on his stool with a beam as big as the sun’s smile, and I went back over to the warmth of the astronomers’ nest and rested right next to Mr. High-tech’s video monitor.  The glasses propped on the top of my nose for looking up, but were narrow enough that I could look underneath at my fellow celestials.  The sky was spectacular, but people are my people.  I could simultaneously watch nature’s greatest show and nature’s greatest characters’ reactions — and also glance at one of our greatest inventions!  — the real-time high-def video monitor of the high-powered optical eye. 

The Pac-Man sun was disappearing — the packed park rejoicing — the pixel-perfect pictures revealing — then back to the top of the rotation — Boom Boom Boom!

The gasps and screams kept building as the sliver grew smaller and smaller and it really did feel like a sports crowd when the home team starts to pull out the win in the final minutes . . . or like a magnificent concert reaching crescendo.

And suddenly we were there — the last little diamond Baily beads (as we just learned they’re called) sparkled on the rim then disappeared — and POOF — real daytime darkness!  A “Dark Star” as the Grateful Dead sang it.  A full black filter perfectly filling the giant spotlight.  I happened to be looking under my glasses when the park lamplights suddenly turned on midday just like we were told they would. 
Everything the experts said would happen, happened — including the emotional.  I actually got choked up by the beauty and the moment — right there in a crowd of strangers.  There was the corona — there was the black ball in the center of the back light — there was the payoff — the golden goal victory in overtime!  Days and hours of a white sky blanket suddenly pulled back with minutes to spare!

Scientists enticed us with how animals would react — and I’m so happy I shared this with my favorite species!

Then the diamond ring effect appeared — the bright light gem on the edge of the circle ring — and what had seemed impossible only minutes before played out like a script from heaven — the dramatic tension and the glorious resolution we’d all been cheering for — something a clear blue-sky day could never deliver.  We waited, we believed, and we won!  The Cup came out, the home crowd cheered — the movie on the big screen had a happy ending!  The optimists’ faith paid off, the planning made perfect, and souls were empowered by seeking the glorious.

May we all remember forever how the sun can come out on the cloudiest of days.





Here’s a great related recent piece I wrote about the Bronte Astronomy group.


by Brian Hassett   —

Or here’s my Facebook page if you wanna join in there — 

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The Benefits of Biopics

March 30th, 2024 · Movies

The Benefits of Biopics



With James Mangold’s Dylan biopic currently shooting in New York with the Bobster’s blessing; and four different Beatle biopics greenlit for Sam Mendes;  and Michael Jackson’s cousin Jaafar playing the King of Pop in a coming Lionsgate production;  and Coleman Domingo directing, co-writing and starring in a musical based on the great Nat King Cole;  and Spiderman Tom Holland set to play Fred Astaire;  and Beautiful Boy director Sam Taylor-Johnson taking on fellow Brit Amy Winehouse;  and Selina Gomez’s set to play Linda Ronstadt in David O. Russell’s next film;  and Angelina Jolie has transformed herself into opera singer Maria Callas;  and Daisy Edgar-Jones’s playing Carole King in Sony’s Beautiful;  and Darren Aronofsky’s developing an Elon Musk biopic from Walter Isaacson’s biography;  and there’s a Scorsese-produced Jerry Garcia biopic in discussions;  and Variety reported on April 17th that Scorsese has a Sinatra biopic in the works with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead and Jennifer Lawrence as Ava Gardner, and they reported in late March that Jeremy Allen White is about to go from The Bear to The Boss in a biopic set around his Nebraska album;  and Oppenheimer winning Best Picture & more at the Oscars a couple weeks ago;  and Bob Marley: One Love blowing away box office expectations for the last month, it seems like a good time to talk about biopics.

‘Biopic’ comes from ‘biographical picture’ and dates to the birth of cinema.  Before that, Shakespeare popularized the idea of basing plays on real people and events (bioplays?)  As soon as moving pictures came along, the first filmmakers continued the tradition.  The great Georges Méliès made Joan of Arc in 1900, and Abel Gance made the first film using a triptych of screens with Napoleon in 1927.  When Bonnie & Clyde filled theaters in 1967, much to studios’ surprise, it signaled the birth of a New Hollywood.

By the early ’80s, Amadeus and Gandhi won Best Picture two year’s apart, and filmmakers have been crafting stories from real life ever since.  Schindler’s List, 12 Years A Slave, Malcom X, Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, The Wolf of Wall Street, Chaplin, Erin Brockovich, The Aviator, Capote, I, Tonya, The Imitation Game, Into The Wild, Catch Me If You Can, Bohemian Rhapsody, Dallas Buyers Club, Charlie Wilson’s War, Milk, Moneyball, Maestro . . . there hasn’t been a year in the last 50 when a biopic or two wasn’t in the Top Ten films of the year.

Judging by online discussions & reviews, the more a person is a fan of an artist portrayed in a biopic the more likely they are to hate the biopic.  Fans have their own movies in their head and don’t want to see some actor playing their hero.

I have the opposite reaction.  If I like an artist or genre, I appreciate basically any interpretation/recreation of the person or period — even if the script is a bit cliché or loose with some facts.  An engrossing biopic about someone I don’t know much about almost always causes me to go dig into more about their lives.  A dramatic portrayal with contemporary actors always raises the profile of the subject and brings awareness to new audiences.  Think of how Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis put the King in front of new generations, or Robert Downey bringing Chaplin into the modern era, or how the hand-painted Loving Vincent brought Van Gogh to life.

Another thing I appreciate is how biopics can tell stories that documentaries can’t.  Even the most filmed people in history (thus the most famous) didn’t have cameras rolling when they were making life-changing decisions in a room with one other person.  We all know Dylan sang to Woody at his hospital bedside, but there’s no footage of it.  We know the astronauts went through hell in the capsule on Apollo 13, but when Ron Howard made the movie we could live it with them.  We know ‘Sully’ Sullivan landed the plane on the Hudson, but there weren’t cameras in the cockpit until Eastwood made the movie about it.

As Walk The Line and A Complete Unknown director James Mangold said recently, “The best true-life movies are never cradle-to-grave but they’re about a very specific moment.”

Two of the great history-changing moments at the intersection of politics and journalism — Watergate and the leak of the Pentagon Papers — were made as de facto biopics of Woodward & Bernstein and Bradlee & Graham.  Miracle wasn’t about hockey coach Herb Brooks’ whole life, but about the time he changed sports history beating the Russians with amateurs at Lake Placid.  Clint Eastwood’s marvelous Richard Jewel takes place only in the time he was accused of being the Atlanta Olympic bomber, but the intimate portrait reveals his whole life story.

That’s the challenge and beauty of a great biopic.  It doesn’t have to span birth-to-death, but rather can focus on one key event that shows the audience who the person is at their core.  Think of Spielberg’s Lincoln.  The movie takes place in only the last four months of his life, so we don’t see a portrayal of him being a prairie lawyer or debating Frederick Douglas — but we see those qualities in the person he became.

Basically all the great modern directors have worked in the genre including Scorsese, Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher & Bob Fosse multiple times, plus Coppola, Altman, Attenborough, Miloš Forman, Ron Howard, Ted Demme, George Clooney, Gus Van Sant, Danny Boyle and Tim Burton to name a few.  Biopics allow great filmmakers to tell great stories that are rooted in history, and explore rich characters audiences already know.

And speaking of “rich characters,” rock stars are that in multiple senses of both words.  😁  The highest-grossing biopic in history — up until Oppenheimer — was Bohemian Rhapsody with Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Freddie Mercury.  Baz’s Elvis was also a global smash, as was the wonderful Rocketman, of which Elton poetically said, “It’s not all true, but it’s the truth.”

One of the most accurate-to-their-subject biopics was I’m Not There about the enigma of Bob Dylan.  He’s inhabited more characters in his music career than most actors do their’s, so it was a brilliant bold choice for director Todd Haynes to have a half-dozen different actors portray him as entirely different people.  Cate Blanchett’s Dylan circa 1965 earned her an Oscar nomination and is one of the great biopic performances of all time.

And just like fame in music, for every Amadeus, Maestro or Ray hit, there’ve been multitudes who didn’t crack the Top 10.  Clint Eastwood’s Bird brought Forest Whitaker to the world but not many people to theaters.  Chadwick Boseman brought James Brown to life in Get On Up, as did Don Cheadle for the jazz legend in Miles Ahead, but neither were cinematic Milestones.  My favorite of the never-made-its was My Dinner With Jimi, the comic off-beat tale written by The Turtles’ Howard Kaylan about their sudden rise to fame and for a brief moment being the toast of the exploding music scene in London in 1967.

Biopics transport us to the personal spaces of historic or cultural figures we’d otherwise never get to see.  Once directors & actors commit to bringing a subject to life, they obsess with factual accuracy, often working with the person (if they’re still alive) or their families or the most well-versed historians.  When Morgan Freeman made Invictus about Nelson Mandela, the president’s longtime personal assistant thought it was her boss talking when the actor spoke and had to ask him to stop walking like Mandela so she could tell them apart.  Spielberg recorded the ticking of Lincoln’s actual watch for the scenes where Daniel Day-Lewis is looking at it.  Richard Brooks filmed In Cold Blood in the actual house where the murders took place.  You can read a person’s memoir or watch countless interviews or all the documentaries you want, but what none of them can do is tell the story from an objective point of view with every scene captured whether there was a camera there or not.

If somebody made a 2-hour biopic of your life, what scenes would be in it?  Which moments were the dramatic turning points?  Who were the key characters that changed the trajectory of your life story?  Your life is a movie as much as anybody else’s.

Filmmakers are storytellers.  Life is a story.  And cinema is the most complete way of telling one — from the script to the actors to the sets to the soundtrack.  Fictional characters are wonderful composts of human qualities, but only biopics work from an existing person or persons’ story, foibles and all, and are thus closer to the real human experience than anything else captured on screen.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game



Here’s a list and brief summary of 75 biopics that were pretty impactful and successful.  If you have some favorites that aren’t on the list yet, by all means please recommend.

Here’s my top 68 filmmakers and their films

Here’s tips on over 100 of the funniest Comedies.

Here’s all the times Jack Kerouac was portrayed on screen – which includes lots of variations on biopics from Pull My Daisy to Big Sur . . . 


Here’s the most complete collection of Beat Generation dramatizations anywhere online or in print.

Or here’s a nice riff on appreciating the artform of film.




by Brian Hassett   —

Or here’s my Facebook page if you wanna join in there —


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The Greatest Night in Pop movie review

February 10th, 2024 · Movies, Music

“The Greatest Night in Pop” is The Greatest Documentary About Collective Creation

The Greatest Night in Pop (Netflix, 2024) directed by Bao Nguyen, is a spectacular riveting colorful fun documentary about the behind-the-scenes making of We Are The World in 1985 with footage of everybody who was involved.  This is not only one of the best music documentaries ever made, it’s one of the greatest cinematic portraits of master artists collectively creating a masterpiece.

The documentary shows how this historic event was sparked by Harry Belafonte and coordinated by Ken Kragen, then led by Maestro Quincy Jones, with songwriters Michael Jackson & Lionel Richie writing “the script.”  Historic footage includes (in alpha order) Dan Aykroyd, Lindsey Buckingham, Kim Carnes, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Shelia E, Bob Geldof, Darryl Hall & John Oates, James Ingram, a bunch of the Jackson siblings, Al Jarreau, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, Kenny Loggins, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Steve Perry, the Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick & Stevie Wonder.  New interviews include Lionel, Smokey, Dionne, Bruce, Huey Lewis! Cyndi, Kenny Loggins, Sheila E., the studio engineer, and the super-cool vocal arranger Tom Bahler who Q first connected with in 1973.

There was a documentary crew capturing the whole thing on four video cameras.  The footage was first used to create the original award-winning song video and a 1-hour TV documentary in 1985 narrated by Jane Fonda, but the footage then sat in a can untouched for 40 years!

There’s great details about Lionel & Michael writing and arranging the song — and how Quincy was the guy who snapped them to it:  “We got the cast.  Now we need the script.”  There’s even footage of the demo they cut before they had most of the lyrics which was then sent to the incoming singers so they’d have a sense of the song.

Running through the whole doc is how Q was the director.  Everybody from Michael on down followed his direction.  If there wasn’t a Quincy Jones, this never would have happened.  He made the legendary sign taped up at the studio entrance — “CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR”  It’s amazing for any music historian who’s heard the tale for 40 years to see actual footage of it!  As somebody mentions, Quincy was the most respected musician in the world.  He’s got Bob Dylan and Diana Ross following orders, fer gawd sakes!  🙂  It’s such a goosebump-raising treat to watch him conducting the greatest all-star choir ever assembled.

And there were no ‘plus ones’ in the studio.  All of the stars had to leave their significant others and handlers outside.  There’s a cute shot of Billy Joel having to kiss Christie Brinkley goodnight.  And with only artists in the room, everyone bonded.  Once again — this was a Quincy directive.

The recording of the song was done after everybody left the American Music Awards.  That show ended at 8PM L.A. time, and by 10:00 everybody was in place on the risers at nearby A&M Studios.  As Lionel says, “It was one night only to get this right.”  They finally got the last solo vocals done and left the studio at 8:00 the next morning.

An interesting detail was how they had the enormous choir we’ve all seen in the video for the basic track and footage, then they recorded each of the solo lines afterwards, so half the choir was able to leave.  And it was amazing how Quincy, Lionel & the vocal arranger mapped out every solo line and matched it to a voice, with a mind to create aural contrasts and flow.  I never gave it much thought — just figured they filmed the whole thing then cut to different people in post-production.  But no — this was scripted down to the minutest detail — all put together in a couple of days.

There’s a great moment at the end of the initial full choir session where Quincy does a shout-out to Harry Belafonte for being the catalyst of the whole thing, then Al Jarreau breaks into an impromptu Day-O, joined in by the entire all-star choir singing their love to Harry.

Plus, like any great drama, humor is sprinkled throughout to keep the audience buoyant.  As Kenny Loggins recounts Paul Simon saying in the studio, “If a bomb lands on this place, John Denver is back on top.”

Or when Stevie Wonder’s improv singing next to Ray Charles, “I drank too much, I have to say, but you have to be driven home by me or Ray.”

And for anyone who loves the singing human voice — boy, are there some gem vocal isolation moments that’ll make you melt. 

Stevie Wonder & Quincy Jones coaching Bob on his solo

This is one of those documentaries where the beginning is as good as the climax, where after you know it, you can dip in at any point and the quality of the storytelling is equally as compelling.  And this could be up for a Best Editing Oscar.  It is really smart, vivid and creative filmmaking.

Bob and Quincy hugging after nailing Bob’s solo

Some other cool tidbits —

When Michael Jackson learned to drive a car, the first place he drove to was Lionel Richie’s house!

There’s a great story recounted about how Diana Ross asked Darryl Hall for his autograph!  Yes . . .  Diana Ross asked Darryl Hall for his autograph!  Then that kicked off everybody signing each other’s music sheets!  It’s so cool seeing all these mega-stars asking each other for autographs.

It was also cool to see how Journey’s lead singer Steve Perry was not only so highly regarded by his peers, but that he’s also seen helping some of them with their parts.  He was almost an assistant coach under Quincy.

There’s a great moment where Stevie Wonder is teaching Bob Dylan how to sing the line like Bob.  🙂  And there’s another great short shot of Quincy teaching Bruce how to sing his line.

As I submitted to IMDb — “The song Lionel Richie bangs out a cappella (starting at 10:58) when talking about writing We Are The World with Michael is Rule, Britannia! (a British anthem written in 1740) which Lionel follows with, “There it is.  There’s your template.

At the end of the doc they show a bunch of different live versions of the song being played over the years and I was a little stunned they didn’t include Bill Clinton’s historic first inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial which I was at in January ’93 featuring originals Michael, Stevie, Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers, Dionne Warwick, James Ingram . . . plus Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Melissa Etheridge, Reuben Blades, Stephen Stills . . . all with Quincy Jones conducting.  Kinda weird this didn’t get a 10-second appearance.

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

Here’s the actual song final video seen by billions worldwide  —

Here’s another excellent and related documentary on Netflix — 


Here’s my Master Movie Page with over 850 other great movies sorted by Auteurs, Documentaries, Music Movies, Dramas, Comedies, Movies About Making Movies, Movies About Politics, Trippy Movies and other cool categories.


by Brian Hassett   —

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Trump’s Losing his Mind

January 31st, 2024 · Politics

I hope everyone’s enjoying the heck out of the theater of the absurd that’s playing out on the national stage in the U.S.

Diaper Don is losing his mind . . . and the cameras are rolling. 

We’re all going to witness over the next nine months [and beyond] this guy spinning more and more out of control.  This is not like a novel or movie that resolves itself in a couple hours or days.  This is a Shakespearian dramedy — that’s gonna play out over months.

After him teasing us with a Greatest Hits of Crazy over the years — explaining how the Continental Army “took over the airports” or complimenting Frederick Douglass as though he was alive or encouraging the country to drink bleach to beat Covid — the “very stable genius” has kicked it into overdrive lately babbling incoherently multiple times a week for months now.

And what’s particularly fun in the dramatic comedic sense is that both Biden and Haley know exactly what buttons to push and are taunting him.  He’s already unhinged (to use Nikki Haley’s word) and every day another Jenga block gets poked out from under him.  He’s crumbling in slow-motion before our eyes.  And this is perfect dramatic justice because the best person to knock down trump, is trump.

In just the last few days he did a solid five minute routine on how Nikki Haley was in charge of the Capitol on January 6th, then surprised audiences with a new piece about pouring water on magnets to demagnetize them, and of course he still regularly plays his go-to hit about how he beat Obama in 2016 and is running against him now.

“Tightening the screws” comes from an 1800s torture device . . . and it’s happening to trump every day.

And he can’t weasel out of these judicial penalties.  He’s infamous for not paying his debts . . . but the New York fraud and E. Jean Carroll defamation judgements are not something he can skip out of.  The government simply seizes the money.

Trump is a terrible teleprompter reader . . . which stems from him not being a reader in general.  He’s borderline illiterate, as pretty much everyone who worked with him during his White House tenure said.  He simply doesn’t read.  So him reading teleprompters aloud is very difficult and he looks painfully challenged while doing it.

THEN . . . once he goes off-script is when he really reveals the cognitive decline — and prompts prosecutors in multiple jurisdictions to start taking notes.

He avoided getting on stage at the Republican debates because he can’t think on his feet;  and he’s boasted that he was going to take the stand and defend himself in all the recent trials — then when it comes time to do it he chickens out, or gets shut down by the judge in five minutes.

This guy’s in trouble.  And he can’t defend himself.  And he can’t hire competent lawyers because he’s burned every reputable law firm in the country for 50 years and nobody with any experience will represent him. 
You know that he even stiffed his old friend Rudy, who’s now broke & begging — you think there’s a lawyer in America who doesn’t know that?

Representing him in the E. Jean Carroll case was an attorney, Alina Hobba, who had literally never represented anyone in court in her life, and the judge had to repeatedly instruct her on how to behave.  At one point she started reading a document and the judge stopped her, asking, “What exhibit is this?” and she said, “I’m trying to get it in (the record).”  The flabbergasted judge told her she couldn’t do that, then said, “We’re going to take a break now during which you should refresh your memory about how it is you get a document into evidence.”

In the Maine 14th Amendment ballot eligibility case, a bunch of the motions filed by the trump team were done wrong and thus inadmissible.

In the New York fraud case his lawyers forgot to check the box to request a jury trial, and thus it’s a one judge decision.

This incompetence has been going on for months.  And these are the easy pre-season games.  The serious federal mandatory-jail-time cases are due ahead.  If this guy can’t pull off good lawyers now when he should be building his Dream Team . . . it does not bode well for his counsel ahead.

Also, it’s been pointed out that his inexperienced young woman lawyer bears a striking resemblance to his 10th wife Melania.  He hired a lawyer to represent him cuz he likes her face.  This guy’s dumber than O.J. Simpson.

And echo that with him saying that E. Jean Carroll was not his type — then in his video deposition he points to a picture of her and identifies her as his wife Marla Maples.

We’re going to see a continual decent of his sanity over the coming months, and it’s going to get worse with each passing day.


And then he brought up the “I.Q. test” again!  Somehow it’s never gotten through to him — he doesn’t have a friend who will tell him! — that that’s the world-famous industry-standard Montreal Cognitive Assessment test for dementia and brain injuries.  I was in the room when that exact test was given to my elderly mother to assess her cognitive abilities.  It was so hilariously embarrassing when he boasted about it back in 2020 — but he’s brought it up again on the trail in 2024 . . . and still doesn’t know it’s a test for dementia!


He’s more and more isolated in an echo chamber bunker.  Like his predecessor in Berlin, he’s surrounded on all sides . . . and the walls are closing in:  the financial fraud case that’s in the judge’s hands in New York;  the $83 + 5 million E. Jean Carroll judgements collection;  the NY DA Alvin Bragg hush money / election interference case;  the Jack Smith insurrection case;  the Georgia election interference prosecution;  and the stolen classified documents in Mar-a-Lago.

We’re all used to consuming movies or books in a number of hours — or now 60-second TikTok videos fer gawdsakes! — but this comedy-drama is going to play out slowly … no less vividly.  And just like the cult leader in Waco — where trump intentionally chose to launch his current campaign — this is gonna have one heckuva climax. 

The guy’s already losing his mind — and it’s only January. 

Buckle in!




Here’s a brilliant 2-minute video by The Lincoln Project using Fox and Trump’s own words to paint a portrait of his senility . . .

And the Biden campaign has made a new 1-minute ad featuring recent vivid examples of trump’s ongoing dementia . . .


And here’s a couple more minutes of the stable genius babbling his word salad in New Hampshire . . .
As Willie Geist observes, “If you watch any one of Donald Trump’s long rallies, if that was a member of your family, you would start talking about if it was time to check them in somewhere.”


And just for fun, here’s a brilliant on-point very funny “Closer Look” by Seth Meyers from January 29th, 2024 . .  .


Or here’s my 500 pages of political Adventures spanning 40 years and with 130 photographs if you like that sorta thing  . . .  with a cover photo from Obama’s first inauguration  . . . 


Here’s a real important piece to read and share — Things You Can Do Beyond Voting.

And here’s the wildly popular and widely praised riff — Why I Love Joe Biden.




by Brian Hassett   —

Or here’s my Facebook page if you wanna join in there —

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Why I Love Joe Biden

December 31st, 2023 · Blissfully Ravaged in Democracy, Politics


First of all, he’s an Irish leprechaun, and I’m very pro Irish leprechaun.

Second — he’s also an empath . . . as opposed to a sociopath.

As he likes to say in his Irish way — “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.”

He’s smart, hard working, Gets Things Done, and is a kind human being.

I love the way he teamed up once again with Nancy Pelosi — who have been serving in the Capitol since 1973 and ’87 respectively — and who together presided over the most progressive and productive Congressional term in decades in a House that had dwindled to just a 3 seat margin of error by the end of 2022.

Together, along with Chuck Schumer in the Senate, they passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that included:

the biggest infrastructure package for roads & bridges since Eisenhower put in the interstate highway system in the 1950s.  Driving around America last year I saw more roadwork going on than I’ve ever seen in my life;

the biggest investment in passenger rail in 50 years — $16 billion, which, besides trying to catch us up to the rest of the world, created 100,000 jobs;

the most impactful gun reform legislation since the assault weapons ban in 1993;

— brought high-speed internet to rural states — including those that voted against him by 2 to 1 — but he did it because it’s the right thing to do;

— the largest water infrastructure investment in the nation’s history including replacing all the remaining lead pipes;

— replacing old school buses with new American-made electric buses;

— began implementation of a network of high-speed Electric Vehicle chargers along all the major highways across America.

I love that on his first day in office, January 20th, 2021, he signed the order to have the U.S. rejoin both the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization after Twitler insanely withdrew U.S. participation from both.

I love that he keeps bringing the national governance discussion back to trump and the MAGA extremists’ attempts to deny election results.

I love that he pardoned everyone who had a federal conviction for marijuana possession and urged all governors to follow suit.

from the Biden campaign website – Nov. 2019

I love that he said he would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — and then did it.

I love how he’s the first sitting president in history to stand on a picket line, and Kamala is the first Vice President to ever visit an abortion clinic.

I love how he remained bullish on his former administration’s Obamacare program and reduced uninsured Americans by another 4 million people.  There’s now more people signed up for it than there ever has been before.

I love that his Inflation Reduction Act includes penalties for pharmaceutical companies if they raise prices more than the rate of inflation, and that Medicare can finally start negotiating for lower drug prices, including antibiotics, chemo drugs and blood thinners.

And that in the same Act he capped insulin costs for Medicare recipients at $35 per month, and he got the nation’s largest insulin provider, Eli Lilly, to drop the cost for everyone by 70%.

I love how his policies and these two majors Acts mentioned have created 800,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector alone and kept unemployment in the 3.5-7% range, the lowest in over 50 years.

I love that he picked 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to deliver “The Hill We Climb” to the nation at his first inauguration.


I love how he partnered with Barack Obama during his Vice Presidency and how they became a real team and true friends.


And just as a fun little aside — I love this difference between the Obama/Biden years and the vacuous black-hearted black hole that followed . . .

. . . and this somehow neglects to mention Bob Dylan, Yolanda Adams, The Blind Boys of Alabama, John Mellencamp and Natalie Cole who all performed at The White House Celebration of Music From The Civil Rights Movement in February 2010.

And speaking of music, I love how he’s instructed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to target the hidden & exorbitant fees charged by TicketMonster for concert tickets.  I’ve never heard any other president or candidate even bring up the subject, let alone instruct the FTC to investigate and put an end to it.

And in yet another example of Biden fighting for the regular person, he’s taken on banks’ $40 overdraft fees that only hit poor people when they’re the most vulnerable.  No other President in my lifetime has gone after this type of institutional “exploitation” (Biden’s word for it) of taking advantage of the little guy.

I love that he tried to cancel student loan debt — until the Supreme Court shot it down — and then immediately formed the Student Loan Relief Committee to work with the Department of Education to create a more targeted relief program — still being hashed out but expected to become a reality in 2024.

I love how he makes regular personal calls to regular people who’ve had tragedy befall them. 

I love how he picked a smart qualified Black woman to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency, and that appointed the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.

I love that the Inflation Reduction Act contains the biggest climate change reductions in history and has been applauded by scientists the world over

I love that under his & Nancy & Chuck’s guidance America has had the strongest post-Covid recovery of any G7 nation.

I love that he’s so pro NATO and has global relationships spanning decades and rebuilt alliances that the prior illiterate sociopath tried to destroy.

I love that he, along with Nancy and Hakeem Jeffries, have united the Democrat’s Congressional caucus.
Fun fact: Hakeem Jeffries has received more votes for House Leader than any person in history.  It’s because the House had to take 15 votes to finally get McCarthy into the job, and then the half-a-dozen afterwards that eventually led to Mike Johnson, but in all of them Democrats were united behind Hakeem, and because there were so many different votes taken, he has the distinction of receiving the most votes for Leader of any person in Congressional history.

I love that he has supported Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) from the 1970s through billions of dollars of support in his American Rescue Plan in 2021.

I love that he broke Obama’s record for the most votes ever received for a presidential candidate — 81,283,361.

I love that he’s been the Democratic standard-bearer over these last three years of election victories — including captaining the ship when Democrats prevented a red wave in the 2022 midterms.  And in fact in 2020 Dems won by bigger majorities in crucial swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.  The Dems also picked up a seat in the Senate, and flipped four state legislatures and two governorships — all this in a midterm year when the party in the White House always loses seats.

And that even in the off-year 2023 elections, Dems won the elected Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin, held the Virginia House despite more predictions of a red wave, and won Mayoral races in two of the reddest cities in the country, Jacksonville (Florida) and Colorado Springs (Colorado).

And as the former Republican strategist turned Lincoln Project founder Stuart Stevens pointed out, more young people enter the electorate every cycle, who strongly favor Democrats, and more old people (trump supporters) die out.  The more young people who are engaged and registered, the better it is for Democrats and democracy.


Enter: the Taylor Swift factor.  After she stayed silent during the 2016 election due to the attacks she was receiving from the trump-supporting / trump-like unhinged psychopaths kenye & kardashian, she finally spoke up in 2018 and is encouraging her fan base to be engaged.

Check out this riveting short documentary scene of her making the switch from silent to engaged: 

In Sept. 2023, one Instagram post she made caused a record-breaking 35,000 new registrations in one day.


I love how ‘on’ and focused and forceful he’s been since the end of 2023 and how he came out of the gate on fire on the third anniversary of trump’s insurrection.  I love how he’s playing to his passions and his strengths — democracy and fairness and treating people with respect.  Like a top musician on his game, he is in the zone and hitting the notes with conviction and precision.  Check this out if you haven’t . . .




No one can simply be a spectator or third party spoiler in 2024

There’s only one way to end the trump/MAGA nightmare and that’s for there to be an overwhelming win for Democrats over Republicans all across the board in 2024.

In 2016, third party voters were the difference in the swing states that trump won and gave him the presidency, including most prominently in Michigan, Wisconsin & Pennsylvania.

People on the left for whom the Democratic nominee was not perfect in their mind in 2016 and didn’t vote for her is how the insane racist sociopath was elected president in the first place.  That cannot happen again — because as you probably know the MAGGOTs have a whole 2025 Project in place set up by unapologetic Neo-Nazis like Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon and the Insurrection-in-Chief himself — and they know how to make sure there are zero checks on their unbalanced agenda.

Their 2025 plans include invoking the Insurrection Act from day one, allowing the president to deploy the military against civilians.  Trump’s efforts to remain in office after losing reelection in 2020 and his fetishization of Putin and other dictators around the world certainly point to him being unwilling to relinquish power after a second term.  As trump himself said in December 2020 when not accepting the results of the election, anything he doesn’t like “allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”  

This is a person who threatened the life of his own vice president when he wouldn’t disregard the Constitution to keep trump in office.  This is not theoretical — it is actual.  And his cult of authoritarian flunkies and enablers from Lindsey Graham in the Senate to Elise Stefanik in the House to Stephen Miller in his bunker have already assembled a cabinet of like-minded zealots to assume control the day trump would be sworn for a second term.

Again — this is not theoretical or fear-mongering — it’s being said publicly day after day, year after year, by sitting Senators like J.D. Vance, Josh Hawley, Tommy Tuberville, Marsha Blackburn & Rick Scott and House members like Jim Jordan, James Comer, Matt Gaetz, Chip Roy, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Nancy Mace, Paul Gosar, Scott Perry, Steve Scalise & Andy Biggs, and governors like Greg Abbott and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

This is real and happening. 

And you have to not only vote but be proactively encouraging everyone you know to be engaged and vote for the only person on the ballot who can stop this.



Furthur Reading

Yes, voting is essential, but it’s the bare minimum you can do.  Here’s a whole bunch of Things You Can Do Beyond Voting.

Check out my most recent book of political tales and insights — Blissfully Ravaged in Democracy — Adventures in Politics 1980–2020.

Here’s an excerpt from the book about meeting Joe Biden at the event pictured at the top of this story.

In these perilous times when we’re facing losing our democracy itself due to this authoritarian and his cult — it’s imperative that we Vote Blue No Matter Who.




by Brian Hassett   —

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Taylor Swift, the Grateful Dead and The Beat Generation

November 30th, 2023 · Grateful Dead, Kerouac and The Beats, Music


Why this Deadhead Beatnik Beatlemaniac loves Pop’s Princess


I’ve been into Taylor Swift since a New York Times profile in 2008 talked about her confessional songwriting and use of social media — at the time, MySpace.  (!)  Her second album Fearless was set to come out (and would go on to win Album of The Year at the Grammys), and she was still a teenager and thought of as a country singer, but I liked how preternaturally self-assured she was (similar to the young Beatles), and how she connected directly with her fans (like the Grateful Dead with their ticket sales and newsletters), and how she wrote so unapologetically autobiographically (like Jack Kerouac & Allen Ginsberg).

Since then she’s gone on to set new standards in live show production and attendance — something the Dead pioneered — and has created the closest thing to global Beatlemania since the originals.

And speaking of the Dead, the Eras Tour shows are clocking in at 3½ hours — longer than even Dead concerts, who are famous for doing the longest shows in music!

And it’s not just the popularity but the quality of the songwriting.  There’s no one alive who’s written more hits and hooks in the last 15 years than her — and she’s only 33 years old!

I love me some Hunter/Garcia and Bob Dylan and Lennon & McCartney, and Taylor just became the first of any of them (or anyone, period) to be Grammy-nominated for Song of The Year seven times!  The Grammys are voted on by the people who make the music we all listen to, and seven times in the past dozen years they thought she wrote one of the five best songs of the year.  The reason both the Dead and the Beatles are still part of culture today is because of their songwriting.  And Taylor Swift is one helluva songwriter.

And another thing about her songs and shows and public persona — she’s all about positivity and happiness and living a life of joy.  All You Need Is Love.  Sometimes some people get bent outta shape when she’s compared to The Beatles — but to my ears, I get the same feeling listening to her as I do from that band that first personified Love.  And it’s probably a big reason both were so popular in turbulent times.  

And then there’s how she treats her band and crew — something that made the news when she gave each of her truck drivers and other crew a life-changing bonus of $100,000 apiece.  The Dead were known to pay their ‘family’ crew significant salaries with benefits and basically include everybody in the profit sharing.  Allen Ginsberg was known for his never-ending philanthropy that often left him with less money at the end of the year than the people who worked for him.

I also love how she’s a dedicated workaholic — something else I admired about The Beatles and both Kerouac and Ginsberg.  Jack died at 47 and has over 50 different books in print;  Allen wrote over 500 poems and never stopped performing and teaching until his body finally wore out at age 70;  and The Beatles’ quality and quantity of output in a condensed time has never been equaled by anybody.

She says in the revealing Miss Americana documentary — “I’m only here because I work hard and am nice to people.”  And for all of us, no matter our age or field of endeavor, that is wise advice and solid motivation.

And then there’s the family aspect.  Taylor’s mom and dad have been supportively involved in every part of her career from the time they up and moved the family to Nashville when she was 14 so she could pursue songwriting.  She calls her mom her best friend.  She’s stayed loyal to her band and dancers, keeping many of them consistent despite changing genres album after album.  Jack and his mother were pretty inseparable his whole life, the Dead were famous for their ‘family’ of friends they stuck with since the ’60s, and the entire Beat Generation was based around a familial sense of camaraderie and support.

And speaking of Jack & Taylor’s closeness with their mothers — they’re also both pretty famous for their lifelong love of their cats.

Jack, his cat, and his mom

And one nice hardcore connection — Aaron Dessner (of The National) — who Taylor’s described as her “collaborator soulmate” and have co-written nearly 30 songs together, is not only a Deadhead but loves him some Jack as well, having scored & performed the music for the best film adaptation of a Kerouac novel, Big Sur.  

And it seems like every person who meets Taylor says how normal she is.  She’s been living in the white-hot media spotlight since she was a teenager, has over-the-top ego reinforcement, and enough money to indulge in every bad habit ever invented — but never once have we seen her make a mess of things — or even insult anyone.

Also like the Dead, as many music reporters have noticed, her fans self-create a giant all-day party in the parking lot around her shows — they call it “Taylor-gating” — and sell trade or ‘miracle’ handmade clothing and jewelry with each other.  Etsy reported that $3 million worth of homemade Taylor friendship bracelets sold in the summer of 2023 alone.  Just as the Dead scene grew organically by the fans creating their own customs and culture, Swifties have created a world by and for themselves.  Even the word ‘Swifties’ was created by fans.  And like ‘Deadheads’ a word was needed to be coined to cover their multitudes.  Their embrace of friendship bracelets that they make and give away to one another echoes how Deadheads would make and gift each other tie-dyed clothing and cassette tapes of live shows. 

And just as a funny–cool sidebar, the Swifties’ friendship bracelets first appeared when she made an Instagram post in 2019 wearing some, but they really kicked off in 2022 with the line on her Midnights album, “So make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it.”  When a new generation of Merry Pranksters gelled in 2014 with the 50th anniversary of the original psychedelic Bus trip across America, these next geners immediately started making and trading bracelets with friendly expressions and lyrics.  So, the Dead’s off-shoot family were already practicing the bracelet love several years before they began filling Swifites’ arms.


When the pandemic hit in 2020, I began an autodidactic Film Studies program and immersed myself in Get Out The Vote operations for Joe Biden, so music wasn’t front of mind.  Having not seen Taylor perform since the Netflix movie of the all-stadium Reputation tour in 2018, I tuned in for her Saturday Night Live appearance in November 2021 and was just jaw-dropped by her mesmerizing 10-minute version of All Too Well.  This was a whole new thing.


How could I not think about Dylan’s 11-minute Sad-Eyed Lady of the LowlandsAfter I recomposed myself, I posted about it to Facebook to let people in other time zones know not to miss it.  The bulk of my friends are Deadheads or Beatle freaks or beatniks so some were surprised I was raving about this pop star — but more fun was the discovery of fellow secret Swifties in my midst.  😄

This jaw-dropping performance really re-sparked my interest.  “Geez — what is this woman up to?!”  I’d heard a few songs from Folklore and Evermore that she created during the pandemic lockdown and could tell she was growing as a songwriter, but I was more into my Film Studies world and unless something was part of a movie it wasn’t gonna be on my front burner.

Then wouldn’t you know it — she wrote and directed a short film based around this All Too Well song!  Now we’re gettin somewhere!  😄


The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) even featured the film in 2022, and I discovered that she had actually become a director (!) having helmed all of her own music videos since 2019.  And man, does she know the artform!  Check this out —>


And Variety reported that she’s written a movie script and signed with Searchlight Pictures to make her feature-length directorial debut.  Searchlight is who made the recent Banshees of Inisherin, and Best Picture winners Nomadland, The Shape of Water, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave and Slumdog Millionaire.

And speaking of cinematic masterpieces, Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie’s Barbie was breaking records in movie theaters at the same time Taylor was rewriting the concert business.  My mother was a feminist before there was a word for it, and she passed it on to me, and in this era of toxic masculinity and women’s rights being taken away it’s so gratifying and empowering to see women (including Beyoncé) dominating two industries that have historically been ruled by men.

This woman has somehow created a fanbase that reflects the collective camaraderie of my favorite band, writes roman à clef songs like my favorite author and poet, and by 2023 at age 33 had manifested the biggest global musical phenomena since The Beatles.  And now she was becoming a filmmaker!

And in late-breaking news — she just became the first artist in any medium that Time Magazine named as their Person of the Year in nearly 100 years of making the distinction!


And she’s 33 years old.  And a solo woman artist.





Bonus Video Round

Here’s Seth Meyers on Howard Stern describing Taylor being the SNL host at age 19 and “what a force of nature she is” writing her own “perfect, fully formed” opening monologue as a song . . .


Then here’s the brilliant funny Monologue Song . . . age 19 . . . 


And then this is one of the most heart-wrenching things I’ve ever seen — documentary footage of her standing up against her own father and managers’ strong pushback about how she’s going to start speaking out politically  . . . 


And here’s a fantastic emotional 7-minute doc on Taylor & her fans made by Time for the Person of The Year award . . .


And here she is giving an inspirational speech for the ages — and for all ages — at my old alma mater NYU . . . 


And just for fun — here’s Dave Grohl telling the story of how Taylor “saved my ass” by playing a song at a party at Paul McCartney’s house . . .


And just cuz it’s funny . . .  this makes me laugh out loud every time — especially Leslie Jones . . .



Bonus Fun-Fact Lightning Round

Taylor Swift is the first living artist in history to have 5 different albums in the Billboard Top 10 at the same time.

She’s the first artist in history to hold all 10 songs in the Billboard Top 10.

She’s had 3 different #1 albums in 2023 alone.

Each album she releases breaks the all-time streaming record on Spotify, iTunes & Apple that she herself set previously, and in 2023 she was the most streamed artist on all three services and the most searched person on Google.

The week that The Beatles’ Now and Then came out and cracked the Top 10 — Taylor was holding the top *21* slots on Spotify the week the Fabs showed up.

And speaking of The Beatles, she did something only they have done, having an album at #1 for six weeks for four consecutive albums.

She writes all her own songs and is the first songwriter in history to be nominated for a Song of The Year Grammy seven times.

She wrote her first song at age 12, and was playing a 12-string guitar by 13!  She has a great story about how her music teacher at the time said she’d never be able to play a 12-string — so she immediately went and learned it and fired his ass.  😄

Ryan Adams recorded a successful track-by-track cover of Taylor’s entire 1989 album.  

With over 4 million concert tickets sold worldwide in 2023 alone, she more than doubles the next closest artist (her good friend Beyoncé) in both tickets and gross.  In fact, in just 8 months this year she surpassed the 5-year-long Elton John Farewell Tour as the biggest grossing tour of all time, bringing in over $1 billion — the first tour in history to cross the “b” line.  And she’s gonna double that by the time it’s over.

The 100-year-old AMC movie chain had their biggest single box office day in history the day her Eras concert movie tickets went on sale, and it’s now the biggest grossing concert film of all time.

She’s a self-made woman billionaire who earned it all by creating art.

And that’s not even getting into her voter registration efforts that led to the biggest single-day record for new registrations in history.

Or that in every city she played in America on the Eras tour she made massive donations to the local food banks.  When she played Levi’s Stadium in San Jose — where I saw the Dead & Company do one of their Fare Thee Well shows in 2015 — the food bank announced she donated “enough to feed 500,000 people every month for a year.”  Swift’s people did not announce the donation — they do it all on the QT — but when Second Harvest announced it they saw a 43% rise in donations because of the awareness she brought to the cause.

Or the $55 million in bonuses she’s given her employees.  Or that she immediately sent another million to the residents in Tennessee hit by the tornados in December 2023 — just as she’d done when one hit in March 2020.  Billboard magazine ran a piece in Dec. 2023 listing some of the other donations she’s quietly made over the years including another million to Louisiana flood relief, books to libraries, money to schools and animal protection & rescue groups and sexual assault services, and paying fans’ medical bills and student loans and back rent.

Or that the U.S. Federal Reserve cited her specifically as being a boost to the economy;  or that Attorney General Merrick Garland quotes her lyrics in conversation;  or that Barbara Walters famously said in her Most Fascinating People ABC special in 2014 — “Taylor Swift IS the music industry.”




Bonus Reading Round 

Here’s my single favorite piece I’ve read about her all year — “Discovering Taylor Swift” — by an obvious storytelling master of the written word, Paul Slansky.

Or here’s another one in Fast Company smartly comparing her to the Grateful Dead.

Or this is a great piece by a New York psychiatrist about how prominent Taylor is among her patients and how the songwriter is therapy for them the rest of the week when they’re not in session.

You may also like The Grateful Dead: Jack Kerouac Manifested as Music.

Or here’s an excerpt from my book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac that takes the reader to a show at Red Rocks amphitheater in the summer of 1982.

Or here’s a fun one — The Grateful Dead Played my 30th Birthday.





by Brian Hassett   —

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Jack on Film: Take 2 and Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (LCK) 2023 videos

October 31st, 2023 · Brian on YouTube etc., Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac, Interviews, Kerouac and The Beats, Movies

Jack on Film: Take 2 at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac


Here’s a YouTube playlist with great video of the entire Jack on Film show —



Here’s a riffing interview with WCAP in Lowell about all things Kerouac — and the new “Jack on Film: Take 2” show — with nearly a hundred photos telling the story —



Here’s the 2-minute teaser livestream tour of the beautiful Luna Theater a few days before the show . . .



Here’s the show-day afternoon Amramless Jam show with three 2-minute pieces including ‘Hearing Shearing’ from On The Road and the Ode To Jack, plus Mike Flynn riffing about “Jack on Film” in the outro  . . .



Here’s the opening of the afternoon show with Lowell Celebrates Kerouac President Mike Flynn doing a spectacular reading of the opening of Jack’s Old Angel Midnight followed by the great jazz poet and activist John Sinclair doing his poem blending the Beats and the Bebop musicians — “Brilliant Corners” — followed by his new (October 2023) tribute poem for David Amram — “Ou-Bop Sh’Bam, Amram, Amram.”



Here’s the YouTube livestream of the entire show including the interview with Big Sur director Michael Polish and all 18 films, TV shows and sizzle reels shown.

The description below the video contains blue time links where you can jump to all the film entries and subjects covered in the Mike Polish interview . . .



Here’s one minute from the following afternoon — our annual collective gathering at Jack’s gravesite in Edson Cemetery on the day after the shows end.  Grass and weeds always grow over Jack’s ground stone, and every October I trim it back to create a nice even organic frame around his marker.  Camera & creation by my “Jack on Film” co-producer Julian Ortman.



Here’s a Facebook photo album of the 2023 festival —



Here’s another riffing photo-filled interview with Mike Flynn from WUML where we cover Kerouac’s writing process and legacy, and the Beats’ connection to the Grateful Dead and the Merry Pranksters, as well as the Cassady family, and George Walker “Jack & Neal Ride Again” tour with George in the role of his longtime friend Neal —


Here’s a virtual documentary with words and pictures from the Billy Joel We Didn’t Start The Fire podcast series that covers all aspects of Kerouac’s life and legacy —


Here’s the bulk of the first “Jack on Film” show on Oct. 9th, 2022, via the YT livestream —



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September 18th, 2023 · Merry Pranksters, Music, Real-life Adventure Tales



photo by Christy Worsoe


Imagine, if you will, a place where music and love fill the air, and every person works for free to build a utopian kingdom.

Imagine a secret island hideaway whose location is only shared to people who’ve earned an invitation by a lifetime of good deeds.

Imagine a wonderland forest filled with fluttering fairies and giggling mystics who make magic happen with the tap of a wand.

Fantasylands do exist beyond fiction and films — where living breathing human beings practice the supernatural for the benefit of all.

I was invited to such a place and can confirm its existence if not its location.  I remember tall trees and a lake.  I remember wandering for hours through campsites so elaborate you’d think they’d been built over months, not in a day.  I remember multiple stages — from the base of a Yasgur’s farm-like natural amphitheater to hidden-away cabanas in the woods on the edge of cliffs with a dozen master musicians playing together in one-time-ever ensembles sharing Marley and Dylan and the Beatles and the Dead.

I saw an army of carpenters — not a one of them paid — building out of a love of creation a giant stage befitting a dream — then breaking it all down in one afternoon so we could scatter and leave no clue anyone was ever there.  I saw the best minds of my generation forging friendships out of thin air that change lives forever, and crafting art that changed perception in the present.  I saw costumes that coulda been in blockbuster movies, brought from a thousand closets, envisioned for a year, sown and woven together, from Dr. Seuss hats & lit-up umbrellas to painted feet & Gandalf staffs.

The first two hours, I walked around jaw-dropped, unable to speak.  I heard the best music ever recorded wafting over the lands from giant sound systems to homey campsites.  I met the friendliest people beaming like they’d just drank from the fountain of ecstasy and were sharing their joy breathlessly.  I spoke to the ghosts of Bill Graham and Jerry Garcia and they were just as ebullient as you’d imagine they’d be.

And if all this magic had a source, I noticed an inordinate number of Irish leprechauns seeming to be in charge.  The Irish — the poets — the pranksters of history.  The playful, the giggling, the masters of mischievous — the spinners of language and tellers of tales — the roaming mistrals of old playing songs in the present to collectives of children no matter their age.

I jammed with 90-year-olds and 9-year-olds and couldn’t tell the difference.  I talked old verities with teenagers and young music with seniors.  I saw a 12-year-old boy buy Abbey Road from a box of old albums and walk down the path staring wide-eyed into its cover like all us old-timers grew up doing.  I talked to people who long ago brought their young children to this . . . and now were there with their grandchildren.


Imagine a festival where every penny of the ticket sales is given to charities for kids with special needs — to help not only the children but their parents as well.

Imagine a festival where everyone from the rock star performers back stage to the front gate ticket-takers were equally as friendly — and equally paid not a cent.

Imagine all the people sharing all the work, living for today, and living life in peace.  You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.


Soundswell on the main stage — photo by Joel Werner



For another account of a euphoric festival check out my book Holy Cats!  Dream-catching at Woodstock ’94.

Or the annual Jack Fest — Lowell Celebrates Kerouac — also evokes the same love of humanity.

Or here’s the same kind of scene created by the Merry Pranksters in an undisclosed location in the Midwest.



by Brian Hassett   —

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