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February 22, 2011

Conversation on the trail to rock stardom

SCRANTON, Pa. _ It was a cool, sunny morning in late February, and we were tooling down Interstate 81 in the silver pickup.

The snow was wet and heavy, like a soggy blanket with a few bald spots where withered grass and muddy leaves poked through. Spring was coming fast, which I regretted because we were on our way to buy a sleigh.

Uncle Chet shook his head, keeping his eyes on the road. "Better get ready to use this thing by next weekend," he said.

"I know," I said.

"Should have done this last fall," he chided.

"I couldn't find one," I said. "Not one that looked like Santa might be driving it."

"Or Mrs. Claus," he said.

"I'm going to get that song on YouTube," I said. "These days, you need video to sell audio, and you know I wanna be a rock star."

"In your 60s," he said.

"Yes," I said.

"What are you going to pull this sleigh with -- your dogs?" he asked as he lifted his coffee cup out of the holder.

"The tractor or the four-wheeler," I said. "I don't know how heavy it is. We'll experiment when we get home. Then I'll find reindeer costumes for you and Bruce, outfits for Santa and Sheila, and we'll shoot."

"Have you asked Sheila yet?" he asked.

"Sure," I said, drawing a deep breath, sinking back into the seat and exhaling, "almost four years ago."

He glanced sidelong and said nothing. We continued southeast, leaving Pennsylvania for northern New Jersey, sailing through pockets of overpopulated countryside.

"Should be there in less than an hour," Uncle Chet said, consulting the dash clock. He turned on the radio and searched until he found NPR, which was reporting on the latest Republican campaign to kill public radio and TV.

"Doesn't surprise me; they want to kill everything we jointly own," Uncle Chet said. "They want to kill the commons in America, divide it up among the billionaires. They want the Statue of Cheney in New York Harbor and Murdoch Monument in Washington, D.C. They want us to drive down the Exxon Thruway to the Halliburton Parkway and cross the Sam Walton Bridge into the borough of Goldman Sachs.

"Republicans stand for unlimited private wealth and nothing else. They work for that coterie of super-rich, right-wing megalomaniacs, and all the rest is window dressing," he said. "They've got the best liars money can buy, the biggest hypocrites in office and you can't show me a vote where they ever helped working people because they're too busy helping themselves.

"They don't want public radio because they don't want an informed public, which would promptly kick them out of office," he said. "They want to herd everyone to Fox, leave you no alternative to propaganda about how the billionaires who've shipped our jobs to China, and their millionaire lackeys need another tax break."

"Maybe you should turn off the radio," I said. "Take your news in doses off the Internet like I do."

"Oh, you're in trouble, too," he said, "because House Republicans are trying to kill net neutrality, drive up the price and steer traffic to big corporate sites. Then when you turn off the TV because you know Fox is lying, you'll find Limbaugh, Malkin and O'Reilly online, mouthing the same tripe." "I may have to go back to reading books, writing music," I said.

"You know, if it wasn't for net neutrality, you'd have no way to sell that song," Uncle Chet observed. "The way it is now, you can put this video out there and some corporate mega-studio can put out a similar song, and the better product will make it.

"But if they get their way, and the Verizons and Comcasts of the world are able to channel searches, control the Web the way they run TV, you can be sure you'll die a pauper, your song unheard."

"Then step on it," I said. "We're going to be on YouTube by March."

Cooperstown bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit

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