Tuesday, November 29, 2005
from WBEZ in Chicago
Sinatra ~ This American Life
Of particular interest during this one hour show are the segments featuring Michael Ventura reading an excerpt from his novel The Death of Frank Sinatra (7.5 mins to 20 mins) and Gay Talese reading from his sublime Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, recently voted the best story Esquire ever published (38.5 mins to 48.5 mins).
The following link from WBEZ provides detailed info on the broadcast plus an audio link to an insightful interview with Michael Ventura, which didn't make the final cut.
WBEZ ~ TAL ~ Sinatra
Please note: these are Real Player audio files.
This wonderful article by Gay Talese originally appeared in Esquire magazine, April 1966. Gay Talese was credited by Tom Wolfe as the creator of "The New Journalism."
FRANK SINATRA, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk-rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra's four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday.
Sinatra had been working in a film that he now disliked, could not wait to finish; he was tired of all the publicity attached to his dating the twenty-year-old Mia Farrow, who was not in sight tonight; he was angry that a CBS television documentary of his life, to be shown in two weeks, was reportedly prying into his privacy, even speculating on his possible friendship with Mafia leaders; he was worried about his starring role in an hour-long NBC show entitled Sinatra- A Man And His Music, which would require that he sing eighteen songs with a voice that at this particular moment, just a few nights before the taping was to begin, was weak and sore and uncertain. Sinatra was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Sinatra it can plunge him into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, even rage. Frank Sinatra had a cold.
Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel -only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.
For Frank Sinatra was now involved with many things involving many people-his own film company, his record company, his private airline, his missile-parts firm, his real-estate holdings across the nation, his personal staff of seventy-five-which are only a portion of the power he is and has come to represent. He seemed now to be also the embodiment of the fully emancipated male, perhaps the only one in America, the man who can do anything he wants, anything, can do it because he has the money, the energy, and no apparent guilt. In an age when the very young seem to be taking over, protesting and picketing and demanding change, Frank Sinatra survives as a national phenomenon, one of the few prewar products to withstand the test of time. He is the champ who made the big comeback, the man who had everything, lost it, then got it back, letting nothing stand in his way, doing what few men can do: he uprooted his life, left his family, broke with everything that was familiar, learning in the process that one way to hold a woman is not to hold her. Now he has the affection of Nancy and Ava and Mia, the fine female produce of three generations, and still has the adoration his children, the freedom of a bachelor, he does not feel old, he makes old men feel young, makes them think that if Frank Sinatra can do it, it can be done; not that they could do it, but it is still nice for other men to know, at fifty, that it can be done.
But now, standing at this bar in Beverly Hills, Sinatra had a cold, and he continued to drink quietly and he seemed miles away in his private world, not even reacting when suddenly the stereo in the other room switched to a Sinatra song, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.
It is a lovely ballad that he first recorded ten years ago, and it now inspired many young couples who had been sitting, tired of twisting, to get up and move slowly around the dance floor, holding one another very close. Sinatra's intonation, precisely clipped, yet full and flowing, gave a deeper meaning to the simple Iyrics-"In the wee small hours of the morning/while the whole wide world is fast asleep/you lie awake, and think about the girl .."-it was, like so many of his classics, a song that evoked loneliness and sensuality, and when blended with the dim light and the alcohol and nicotine and late-night needs, it became a kind of airy aphrodisiac. Undoubtedly the words from this song, and others like it, had put millions in the mood, it was music to make love by, and doubtless much love had been made by it all over America at night in cars, while the batteries burned down, in cottages by the lake, on beaches during balmy summer evenings, in secluded parks and exclusive penthouses and furnished rooms, in cabin cruisers and cabs and cabanas-in all places where Sinatra's songs could be heard were these words that warmed women, wooed and won them, snipped the final thread of inhibition and gratified the male egos of ungrateful lovers; two generations of men had been the beneficiaries of such ballads, for which they were eternally in his debt, for which they may eternally hate him. Nevertheless here he was, the man himself, in the early hours of the morning in Beverly Hills, out of range.
The two blondes, who seemed to be in their middle thirties, were preened and polished, their matured bodies softly molded within tight dark suits. They sat, legs crossed, perched on the high bar stools. They listened to the music. Then one of them pulled out a Kent and Sinatra quickly placed his gold lighter under it and she held his hand, looked at his fingers: they were nubby and raw, and the pinkies protruded, being so stiff from arthritis that he could barely bend them. He was, as usual, immaculately dressed. He wore an oxford-grey suit with a vest, a suit conservatively cut on the outside but trimmed with flamboyant silk within; his shoes, British, seemed to be shined even on the bottom of the soles. He also wore, as everybody seemed to know, a remarkably convincing black hairpiece, one of sixty that he owns, most of them under the care of an inconspicuous little grey-haired lady who, holding his hair in a tiny satchel, follows him around whenever he performs. She earns $400 a week. The most distinguishing thing about Sinatra's face are his eyes, clear blue and alert, eyes that within seconds can go cold with anger, or glow with affection, or, as now, reflect a vague detachment that keeps his friends silent and distant.
Leo Durocher, one of Sinatra's closest friends, was now shooting pool in the small room behind the bar. Standing near the door was Jim Mahoney, Sinatra's press agent, a somewhat chunky young man with a square jaw and narrow eyes who would resemble a tough Irish plainclothesman if it were not for the expensive continental suits he wears and his exquisite shoes often adorned with polished buckles. Also nearby was a big, broad-shouldered two-hundred-pound actor named Brad Dexter who seemed always to be thrusting out his chest so that his gut would not show.
Brad Dexter has appeared in several films and television shows, displaying fine talents as a character actor, but in Beverly Hills he is equally known for the role he played in Hawaii two years ago when he swam a few hundred yards and risked his life to save Sinatra from drowning in a riptide. Since then Dexter has been one of Sinatra's constant companions and has been made a producer in Sinatra's film company. He occupies a plush office near Sinatra's executive suite. He is endlessly searching for literary properties that might be converted into new starring roles for Sinatra. Whenever he is among strangers with Sinatra he worries because he knows that Sinatra brings out the best and worst in people-some men will become aggressive, some women will become seductive, others will stand around skeptically appraising him, the scene will be somehow intoxicated by his mere presence, and maybe Sinatra himself, if feeling as badly as he was tonight, might become intolerant or tense, and then: headlines. So Brad Dexter tries to anticipate danger and warn Sinatra in advance. He confesses to feeling very protective of Sinatra, admitting in a recent moment of self-revelation: "I'd kill for him."
While this statement may seem outlandishly dramatic, particularly when taken out of context, it nonetheless expresses a fierce fidelity that is quite common within Sinatra's special circle. It is a characteristic that Sinatra, without admission, seems to prefer: ALL The Way; All Or Nothing At All. This is the Sicilian in Sinatra; he permits his friends, if they wish to remain that, none of the easy Anglo-Saxon outs. But if they remain loyal, then there is nothing Sinatra will not do in turn-fabulous gifts, personal kindnesses, encouragement when they're down, adulation when they're up. They are wise to remember, however, one thing. He is Sinatra. The boss. Il Padrone.
I had seen something of this Sicilian side of Sinatra last summer at Jilly's saloon in New York, which was the only other time I'd gotten a close view of him prior to this night in this California club. Jilly's, which is on West Fifty-second Street in Manhattan, is where Sinatra drinks whenever he is in New York, and there is a special chair reserved for him in the back room against the wall that nobody else may use. When he is occupying it, seated behind a long table flanked by his closest New York friend who include the saloonkeeper, Jilly Rizzo, and Jilly's azure-haired wife, Honey, who is known as the "Blue Jew"-a rather strange ritualistic scene develops. That night dozens of people, some of them casual friends of Sinatra's, some mere acquaintances, some neither, appeared out side of Jilly's saloon. They approached it like a shrine. They had come to pay respect. They were from New York, Brooklyn, Atlantic City, Hoboken. They were old actors, young actors, former prize fighters, tired trumpet players, politicians, a boy with a cane. There was a fat lady who said she remembered Sinatra when he used to throw the Jersey Observer onto her front porch in 1933. There were middle-aged couples who said they had heard Sinatra sing at the Rustic Cabin in 1938 and "We knew then that he really had it!" Or they had heard him when he was with Harry James's band in 1939, or with Tommy Dorsey in 1941 ("Yeah, that's the song, I'll Never Smile Again-he sang it one night in this dump near Newark and we danced ..."); or they remembered that time at the Paramount with the swooners, and him with those bow ties, The Voice; and one woman remembered that awful boy she knew then-Alexander Dorogokupetz, an eighteen-year-old heckler who had thrown a tomato at Sinatra and the bobby-soxers in the balcony had tried to flail him to death. Whatever became of Alexander Dorogokupetz? The lady did not know.
And they remembered when Sinatra was a failure and sang trash like Mairzy Doats, and they remembered his comeback and on this night they were all standing outside Jilly's saloon, dozens of them, but they could not get in. So some of them left. But most of them stayed, hoping that soon they might be able to push or wedge their way into Jilly's between the elbows and backsides of the men drinking three-deep at the bar, and they might be able to peek through and see him sitting back there. This is all they really wanted; they wanted to see him. And for a few moments they gazed in silence through the smoke and they stared. Then they turned, fought their way out of the bar, went home.
Some of Sinatra's close friends, all of whom are known to the men guarding Jilly's door, do manage to get an escort into the back room. But once they are there they, too, must fend for themselves. On the particular evening, Frank Gifford, the former football player, got only seven yards in three tries. Others who had somehow been close enough to shake Sinatra's hand did not shake it; instead they just touched him on the shoulder or sleeve, or they merely stood close enough for him to see them and, after he'd given them a wink of recognition or a wave or a nod or called out their names (he has a fantastic memory for first names), they would then turn and leave. They had checked in. They had paid their respects. And as I watched this ritualistic scene, I got the impression that Frank Sinatra was dwelling simultaneously in two worlds that were not contemporary.
On the one hand he is the swinger-as he is when talking and joking with Sammy Davis, Jr., Richard Conte, Liza Minelli, Bernice Massi, or any of the other show-business people who get to sit at the table; on the other, as when he is nodding or waving to his paisanos who are close to him (Al Silvani, a boxing manager who works with Sinatra's film company; Dominic Di Bona, his wardrobe man; Ed Pucci, a 300-pound former football lineman who is his aide-de-camp), Frank Sinatra is Il Padrone. Or better still, he is what in traditional Sicily have long been called uomini rispettati - men of respect: men who are both majestic and humble, men who are loved by all and are very generous by nature, men whose hands are kissed as they walk from village to village, men who would personally go out of their way to redress a wrong.
Frank Sinatra does things personally. At Christmas time, he will personally pick dozens of presents for his close friends and family, remembering the type of jewelry they like, their favorite colors, the sizes of their shirt and dresses. When a musician friend's house was destroyed and his wife was killed in a Los Angeles mud slide a little more than a year ago, Sinatra personally came to his aid, finding the musician a new home, paying whatever hospital bills were left unpaid by the insurance, then personally supervising the furnishing of the new home down to the replacing of the silver ware, the linen, the purchase of new clothing.
The same Sinatra who did this can, within the same hour, explode in a towering rage of intolerance should a small thing be incorrectly done for him by one of his paisanos. For example, when one of his men brought him a frankfurter with catsup on it, which Sinatra apparently abhors, he angrily threw the bottle at the man, splattering catsup all over him. Most of the men who work around Sinatra are big. But this never seems to intimidate Sinatra nor curb his impetuous behavior with them when he is mad. They will never take a swing back at him. He is II Padrone.
At other times, aiming to please, his men will overreact to his desires: when he casually observed that his big orange desert jeep in Palm Springs seemed in need of a new painting, the word was swiftly passed down through channels, becoming ever more urgent as it went, until finally it was a command that the jeep be painted now, immediately, yesterday. To accomplish this would require the hiring of a special crew of painters to work all night, at overtime rates; which, in turn, meant that the order had to be bucked back up the line for further approval. When it finally got back to Sinatra's desk, he did not know what it was all about; after he had figured it out he confessed, with a tired look on his face, that he did not care when the hell they painted his jeep.
Yet it would have been unwise for anyone to anticipate his reaction, for he is a wholly unpredictable man of many moods and great dimension, a man who responds instantaneously to instinct-suddenly , dramatically, wildly he responds, and nobody can predict what will follow. A young lady named Jane Hoag, a reporter at Life's Los Angeles bureau who had attended the same school as Sinatra's daughter, Nancy, had once been invited to a party at Mrs. Sinatra's California home at which Frank Sinatra, who maintains very cordial relations with his former wife, acted as host. Early in the party Miss Hoag, while leaning against a table, accidentally with her elbow knocked over one of a pair of alabaster birds to the floor, smashing it to pieces. Suddenly, Miss Hoag recalled, Sinatra's daughter cried, "Oh, that was one of mother's favorite ..."-but before she could complete the sentence, Sinatra glared at her, cutting her off, and while forty other guests in the room all stared in silence, Sinatra walked over, quickly with his finger flicked the other alabaster bird off the table, smashing it to pieces, and then put an arm gently around Jane Hoag and said, in a way that put her completely at ease, "That's okay, kid."
On September 1, 72 hours after Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans, the Associated Press news wire flashed a nightmare of a story: “Katrina Evacuation Halted Amid Gunfire…Shots Are Fired at Military Helicopter.”
The article flew across the globe via at least 150 news outlets, from India to Turkey to Spain. Within 24 hours commentators on every major American television news network had helped turn the helicopter sniper image into the disaster’s enduring symbol of dysfunctional urbanites too depraved to be saved.
Golfer Tiger Woods spoke for many of us on September 2 when he remarked, during a tournament in Boston, that “it’s just unbelievable…how people are behaving, with the shootings and now the gang rapes and the gang violence and shooting at helicopters who are trying to help out and rescue people.”
Like many early horror stories about ultra-violent New Orleans natives, whether in their home city or in far-flung temporary shelters, the A.P. article turned out to be false.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Saturday, November 26, 2005
witness for the prosecution, Paul Schrader:
"Star Wars was the film that ate at the heart and the soul of Hollywood. It created the big-budget comic book mentality".
the serial killer franchise is now the prime suspect in the Death of New Journalism
Robert S. Boynton in the LA Times:
"The 1977 appearance of "Star Wars" on the cover of Rolling Stone suggested that, from then on, most magazines would function as little more than "press organs for movie stars." The journalistic form with which writers like Wolfe chronicled postwar consumerism eventually succumbed to it."
Read more here.
Once you add Tim de Lisle's allegations to the Lucas rap sheet
#36 --"The Rebirth of Corn" -- is a beaut:
"When all was said and done," Peter Biskind wrote in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (1998), "Lucas and Spielberg returned the 1970s audience, grown sophisticated on a diet of European and New Hollywood films, to the simplicities of the pre-1960s Golden Age of movies ... They marched backward through the looking-glass." And life followed art. First Reagan, then George W Bush returned American politics to a set of simplicities, corny, infantile, reassuring and often fictitious."
and factor in Anthony Lane's complaints
What Lucas has devised, over six movies, is a terrible puritan dream: a morality tale in which both sides are bent on moral cleansing, and where their differences can be assuaged only by a triumphant circus of violence. Judging from the whoops and crowings that greeted the opening credits, this is the only dream we are good for. We get the films we deserve.......it takes a vulgarian genius such as Lucas to create a landscape in which actions can carry vast importance but no discernible meaning, in which style is strangled at birth by design, and in which the intimate and the ironic, not the Sith, are the principal foes to be suppressed. It is a vision at once gargantuan and murderously limited, and the profits that await it are unfit for contemplation.
you start to wonder why the Star Wars supremo hasn't been excised from the showreel of history by a cyborg editor from the future.
Then again, maybe The Terminator did work his robotic magic (after the let-down of Aliens vs Predator, finally a franchise fusion to savour!), Lucas really ended up on the cutting room floor, and we're merely components of a worst-case -- what would have happened if Lucas had lived? -- simulation?
Friday, November 25, 2005
I wanted to know how Hank Shocklee, and his Bomb Squad co-conspirators, came to fashion such strange soundscapes. So I Googled straight to the heart of the matter:
Listen to Hank Shocklee, from Public Enemy's Bomb Squad, the most formidable crew of sound engineers working in the '80s: "We don't like musicians, we don't respect musicians.... We have a better sense of music, a better concept of music, of where it's going, of what it can do." For "wall of noise" practitioners like Shocklee, the goal was all about organizing sound--all kinds of sounds--into new constructs. Music in the conventional sense was just one building block among others--a found object that could be filtered into the mix, not unlike a shard of newspaper print pasted into a Merz collage by Kurt Schwitters.
Read more at
Princes among thieves: sampling the '80s - hip hop music
"I used to go missing a lot...Miss Canada, Miss UK, Miss World."
"I blew hundreds of thousands of pounds on wine, women and song - the rest I just squandered."
"In 1969 I gave up alcohol and women: it was the worst 20 minutes of my life."
"I was in for 10 hours and had 40 pints - beating my previous record by 20 minutes" (following a blood transfusion after his liver transplant).
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Inbetween gin & tonics, gin sidecars, and too many gin martinis, we blethered about the Business of Pleasure, the Art of the Bartender, and most intriguingly, the Science of the Spirit.
In return for directing him to our dear Eugene's Jacuzzi, he gently guided me towards researching how molecular gastronomy is bleeding into molecular mixology... As yet, I feel I've failed to find a resource to furnish you with - outsida deep-linking to some messageboard - that offers a crystal understanding or clear example of what it is I'm trying to investigate.
Anyway, suffice to say that Hervé This, Heston Blumenthal, and Hal McGee are just some of the "Gastronaut" Poster-Boys we need to pay attention to. Y'see, since the 19th Century, great men have been whispering about the application of chemistry to the art of cookery, but only recently has the future curve of the cocktail been coming under serious scientific scrutiny.
Indeed, it seems it won't be too long before we're ordering mintless Juleps, cigar-flavoured Malts, and nitrous oxide Negroni's - the miniBar at Café Atlántico is amongst those already offering gin sans sloe - so I'm wondering where we stand on this, Mr Ionesco, and how much we already know?
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Shades of Hunter S. Thompson ... I am cruise-controlling through the Mojave desert having been dispatched by Artforum to cover a potentially dodgy event called "Chance: Three Days in the Desert," described by its creator Chris Kraus as "a philosophical rave and summit meeting between artists and philosophers, chaosophists and croupiers, mathematicians and musicians," and archly located at a resort casino forty miles south of Vegas. Obviously chosen for its "post-modern" kitsch value, Whiskey Pete's turns out to be both too cheesy and not cheesy enough. The locals populating the casino floor are too real, too degraded to deliver the cultural leveling and free play of signifiers the creators hope for. Indeed, my first encounter with absurdity at "Chance" occurs when I sign in and receive a hospital bracelet which, I'm told, "must be worn at all times for identification purposes." Looking across the crowded casino, I spot every "Chance" attendee instantly, as if they were decked out in Vegas neon. The demographic rift between the slot jockeys and the art trash separates us like oil and water.
After a fair amount of eyeballing from the hotel staff, who seem to regard us as space aliens, we make our way into the auditorium that will serve as the locus of the conference. DJ Spooky kicks things off at three in the afternoon with a surprisingly loud "illbient" mix that would have gone over better at 3 A.M. Flattened by the noisy wash, described by Spooky as a mix of "water sounds," I could only appreciate the performance from the befuddled perspective of the hotel bartenders in the back, who are clearly stunned by "Chance's" opening salvo, a far cry from casino regulars Ronnie Milsap and Captain & Tennille. In the aftermath of Spooky's set, Hong Kong artist Shirley Tse takes the stage to deliver a lecture on plastic in her native city, drawing on the monolithic metaphor of plasticity to examine both kitschy consumer products and the mutated, polyglot identity of postcolonial Hong Kong. Dressed in a plastic miniskirt and turquoise fishnet stockings, she receives a wolf-whistle from some male attendee, an act so anachronistic in this milieu, it's almost refreshing.
After this decidedly modern blast of chauvinism, it's back to pomo territory, with a somewhat tiresome lecture on chaos theory by self-described "Venice Beach roller blader, healer, and spiritual seeker" Marcella Greening. The lecture is troubled by the hand-wringing earnestness that plagues most thinkers with one foot in the New Age and the other in a Rollerblade. I nearly doze off. That night, Beat poet Diane di Prima reads some of her work, seeming out of place among all the chaosophists and cybersleaze. Di Prima is a relic from another era, clearly on display here to lend a kind of folksy credibility to this disembodied cocktail party. Following di Prima's no-frills reading, the lights dim for transsexual professor Allucquere Rosanne Stone's way-off-Broadway performance theory, which, for all its showbiz glitz, turns out to be one of the most substantial offerings of the weekend.
The highlights of the performance are its low-ball moments - rewritings of "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "The Lady Is a Tramp," thoroughly vamped and camped up by Stone, whose booming alto recalls Ethel Merman. Cole Porter's classic is recast as a love song to guest of honor Jean Baudrillard, becoming "I Get a Kick out of Jean B," which, while failing to scan, gets many laughs and embarrasses the pants off Jean B himself, who is trapped in his seat near the stage by a hot spotlight. Turning the spot back on herself, Stone subverts the ultra hep and undeniably het Sinatra standard by singing "That's why the Lady is a Trans" to the delight of all repressed gender-benders in the audience. This is new, I think to myself - lounge theory. Perhaps old theorists will never die, they'll just double-bill themselves into oblivion at the Flamingo with Englebert Humperdinck.
Saturday belongs to the Chairman of Debord himself, the inimitable Baudrillard, who, having won $100 from a slot machine the day before, seems prepared to address the conveniently ambiguous concept after which the conference is named. He first appears in the morning, introducing a Butoh dance troupe (whose marriage of herky-jerky traditional dance and modern business suits rather alarmingly suggests Night of the Living Dead). English is clearly something of a struggle for Baudrillard. Is there anyone more French than this man? He's got it all: the diminutive height, the wine-and-cheese paunch, the nose, the self-rolled cigarettes. And then there's the accent. Reading a prepared speech about Butoh that repeatedly mentions "primordially obscene bodies," Baudrillard sounds remarkably like Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau - every utterance of the word "bodies" comes across as Clouseau saying "birdies." That night, after detours with a Wall Street "chaos trader" and Calvin Meyers, a local Native-American activist whose painfully moving talk on the destruction of his lands by the US government is somehow cheapened when I spot him later in the cashier's line with a slot bucket in his hand, Baudrillard returns to deliver his paper on "chance."
The talk is classic Baudrillard - rhetorically challenged, relentlessly circular, rambling yet loaded with discrete, quotable epigrams. Again, he braves English. The Clouseau factor is in full effect. The words "chance," "destiny," and that old warhorse "the real" drift by frequently in the obfuscatory haze. I'm not sure anyone in the audience truly understands what he's talking about. After an hour or so of rapt, respectful silence, it's over. On to "the party," which consists of several forgettable bands and no dancing. There is, however, a renewed focus on the music when Baudrillard, now decked out in a gold lamb blazer with mirrored lapels, mounts the stage to front an impromptu avant-noise combo. He looks uncomfortable. With a cheat sheet in hand, he begins to recite a criminally pretentious poem called "Motel Suicide" in French as the band skronks away behind him. Dressed in a Whiskey Pete's waitress costume, Red Crayola vocalist Amy Stoll ululates the lyrics back at him in English. The poem consists mainly of the refrain "suicide ... suicide moi," which Baudrillard gamely repeats, over and over again, between lengthy pauses and occasional glances at the lyric sheet. During the pauses, I imagine thought balloons over his head, containing phrases like "Why am I here?" and "Is this good for my career?" This goes on for nearly half an hour. Baudrillard is a real trooper.
The next morning, at a press conference, I ask Baudrillard what gets him out of bed in the morning, given the disappearance of the real and what have you. He responds, in French, "curiosity," then adds something about confronting the indifference of the world. This indifference is nowhere to be found at "Chance," where he commands the type of reverence generally accorded to demigods. In this context, though, Baudrillard is indeed a demi-god, having descended from the Mount Olympus of Theory (Paris, France) to grace his disciples with his presence. And I must say, given the performative absurdities he endured, he brought off this divine visitation with some measure of panache. Since Foucault, there has been an unspoken trend in academia towards transforming the professor of theory into the rock star. Ultimately, "Chance," for all its excesses, was a frank admission of this desire, and its logical conclusion. And as all rock stars eventually gravitate towards Vegas, where they enjoy a kind of cryogenic afterlife, I suspect Baudrillard came to this Valhalla of simulacra to rehearse his lounge act.
Copyright 1997 Artforum International Magazine, Inc.
There may never again be a year in Jean Baudrillard’s life quite like 1999. Baudrillard, the French philosopher, is best known for his theory that consumer society forms a kind of code that gives individuals the illusion of choice while in fact entrapping them in a vast web of simulated reality. In 1999, the movie “The Matrix,” which was based on this theory, transformed him from a cult figure into an extremely famous cult figure. But Baudrillard was ambivalent about the film—he declined an invitation to participate in the writing of its sequels—and these days he is still going about his usual French-philosopher business, scandalizing audiences with the grandiloquent sweep of his gnomic pronouncements and his post-Marxian pessimism.
Earlier this month, he gave a reading at the Tilton Gallery, on East Seventy-sixth Street, in order to promote “The Conspiracy of Art,” his new book. The audience was too big for the room—some people had to stand. A tall, Nico-esque blond woman in a shiny white raincoat leaned against the mantelpiece, next to a tall man with chest-length dreadlocks. A middle-aged woman with red-and-purple hair sat nearby. There was a brief opening act: Arto Lindsay, the onetime Lounge Lizard, whose broad forehead, seventies-style eyeglasses, and sturdy teeth seemed precariously supported by his reedy frame, played a thunderous cadenza on a pale-blue electric guitar.
Baudrillard opened his book and began to read in a careful tone. He is a small man with large facial features. He wore a brown jacket and a blue shirt. (Some years ago, he appeared on the stage of Whiskey Pete’s, near Las Vegas, wearing a gold lamé suit with mirrored lapels, and read a poem, “Motel-Suicide,” which he wrote in the nineteen-eighties. But there was no trace of the lamé Baudrillard at the Tilton Gallery.)
“ ‘The illusion of desire has been lost in the ambient pornography and contemporary art has lost the desire of illusion,’ ” he began. “ ‘After the orgies and the liberation of all desires, we have moved into the transsexual, the transparency of sex, with signs and images erasing all its secrets and ambiguity.’ ”
The martini's perfection is deceptive because of its near-inevitability. Every aspect of the cocktail manifests its individual degree of perfection, so we are hardly surprised (that is, not as much as we should be) when it all comes together so elegantly. Gin, originating in the Low Countries and elevated to iconic status in Britain, forms the foundation of this quintessentially American drink. The basic white grain spirit is enlivened by the slightly exotic flavors of juniper and other botanicals. It's everything you want in a foundation: solid and agreeable, perfectly transparent without being empty or boring. Dry vermouth, a fortified wine that is quite acceptable as a separate aperitif, but only reaches toward divinity in its role as a secondary ingredient against the gin. And the olives, suggesting a touch of the Eastern Mediterranean, adding a worldly spiciness and lush green roundness to the austerity of the cocktail.
Hip-hop, hibbit to the hibbit to the hip-hip-hop and you don't stop …
The moment this strange incantation bubbled up through urban airwaves in October 1979, the genie was out of the bottle. This was the vocal lead-in to the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," a 12-inch single that became a freakish commercial phenomenon within weeks of its release on a then unknown independent label, Sugar Hill Records. Its peak sales of more than 50,000 copies per day would have been impressive under any circumstances, but there was a greater significance to this 15-minute-long monster hit: it was the first full-fledged rap record, and as such the catalyst for what would arguably become the cultural revolution of our times. Rock creationists can debate long and hard about which records heralded the advent of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s; recorded hip-hop began with a stark and solitary statement: "Rapper's Delight."
Friday, November 18, 2005
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Monday, November 14, 2005
There is Quiet Street. On the bus, on our way to play sports on Randalls Island or Wards Island (depending on the season), we cross the first leg of the Triborough Bridge. Before we get to the Triborough, there is Quiet Street. It is 124th, or 126th. Maybe 120th. I can't remember. The bus turns right off 3rd Avenue, and we must be silent. We are schoolboys, grades 7, 8 and 9, and we are as loud and shitty as you would expect. It's a comfortable bus, a coach. Luggage racks, armrests that fold back and forth into the seat, a toilet in the back. No video screens. It's the early eighties, and Mr. von Schiele or Mr. Trauth is standing up front by the bus driver, flexing his immense forearm. Mr. Trauth stutters. Mr. von Schiele's first name is Per. We turn right off 3rd Avenue and everyone shuts up. We look out the windows. Someone once threw a rock at us on this street, and now we call it Quiet Street and we don't talk. Nick and I created a sign language. I can't remember if we did it because of Quiet Street, but it seems unlikely that we'd learn how to communicate with our hands just for one block.
There is the diner on Montague Street, where Beth and I order grilled cheese. It's our place. Happy Days Diner, sunk into the street, full of irritable waiters and bad food. It's next to a newsstand, and it's got tables outside, but I've never seen anyone sitting at them. I write a poem for Beth that mentions the bright orange cheese of Happy Days, and the fact that she calls the subway 'The Metro'. A euphemism, I call it. But she's like that, sweet like that. She is from Boston, not Washington.
There is the corner of 91st and Park. I stand on the front steps of Brick Church with my choir and sing carols as Carnegie Hill's Christmas trees light up in unison. We are golden-throated, I assure you. I sing weddings and funerals for hire. I am bluff tonight, familiar and smiley with my choir mates. It's Christmas soon, and I am special in front of everyone's eyes, and the air is crisp on my skin. It makes me feel confident. There will be a party afterwards.
There is the therapist's on 82nd Street. I get to skip out on work for this, take off at 2:30, get stoned quick in the park maybe, and head for her office. She finds me deeply attractive, and she's baffled by me. She's not smart enough, of course, to make this worthwhile, but it's a thing I'm doing. I enjoy discussing my thoughts and feelings. It amuses me to impress her with my complexity. I like pacing outside her building, too, smoking a cigarette. Her window's right there, and I wonder if she ever looks at me before our appointment. Lots of young women are out at this time with their dogs and their children. I've had trouble walking lately. I'm aware of every step I take, and I'm aware that you're aware, and the anxiety of performance is hobbling me. I'm a little shaky. I tell her about it. When the time comes for me to end the relationship, after a year of twice-a-week meetings that were, from the outset, futile, I am regretful but firm. After I close her office door for the last time and make my way across her vestibule, I hear her scream in frustration.
There is the northwest corner of 19th and 5th, catty-corner from my office. I lean against a building and smoke a cigarette. An SUV full of young black men drives by. They're hanging out the windows. "YOU stand THERE," one of them calls out to me, pointing authoritatively. I give him the finger and say "Fuck You!" cheerfully, a wide smile on my face. They pull over at the southwest corner of 19th and 5th and leave their hazards on. There are four or five of them--big, healthy gents. They surround me. They would like for me to apologize. I try to explain that it's ridiculous for them to tell me to do what I am already doing, but they don't want to listen. Eventually, in a tone I have carefully modulated to be sarcastic enough to spare my pride but not so sarcastic that I will get punched in the face, I say I'm sorry.
There is Union Square. Jane meets me in the park at lunchtime. She is much younger than me, and has spent the day being admired by men. She says, "Boy, all you need to do is wear a tight skirt!" and I want to hit her for being coy. She asks about Beth. I shrug. I am driving her back to Vassar. We will spend one night in a wood-paneled motel room in Poughkeepsie, and then she will put on crappy jeans and a loose t-shirt and disappear.
There is Fort Greene Park, where scores of dogs run off their leashes in the mornings before 9. I cut across the grass and worry vaguely that I am stepping in their shit. Dogs do smile. It's painful to see them each morning, chasing each other, looking back to check that their people are watching. I am going to work in my worn shoes, hair wet with gel, and I am full of dread.
Jed Palmer originally published at 3quarksdaily
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Mainstream commodification of alternative culture hardly seems noteworthy these days. While it may be infuriating to see corporations routinely boost their profits by mining rebellion from the fringe and repackaging it for the middlebrow, how are you going to stop TimeWarner, short of taking over its Manhattan offices and hauling the suits off in tumbrels?
Instead of spewing bile, Vanderbilt sociology professor Richard Lloyd takes a different tack on the subject: Just how does this culturally aware fringe create and live in their own spaces outside of the mainstream? His engaging but sometimes unfocused study, Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City, takes as its subject Chicago’s West Side neighborhood Wicker Park—stomping ground of aspiring artists and musicians, not to mention hungry real estate agents and journalists looking for an easy local color piece. His goal? To “make sense of the role that the new bohemia plays in the context of flexible, global capitalism.”
Fortunately for the reader, this involves Lloyd—a University of Chicago graduate student in the ’90s—schmoozing scensters in a lot of coffeehouses and bars. While his approach provides a welcome sprinkling of color in what could have been a tedious economics slog, it also means Lloyd spends a fair amount of time listening to bartenders bitch about how Gold Coast yuppies and Schaumburg suburbanites don’t know how to act or tip.
Lloyd’s historical portrait of Wicker Park is spottily interesting, but likely slow going for anybody who knows the area even slightly. Once a European melting pot, the neighborhood became mostly Polish during the Depression before attracting waves of Mexican and Puerto Rican immigrants in the ’60s. After spiraling down due to white flight (and the disappearance of industrial jobs), Wicker Park began to turn around in the ’80s when artists seeking cheap rents and easy access to public transportation started moving in, grooving on the gritty character memorialized decades earlier by Nelson Algren. By the ’90s, music industry scouts were luring away neighborhood acts like Liz Phair, while art galleries and coffee shops opened at an alarming pace.
Lloyd crisply illustrates the neighborhood’s epochs though the dramatic history of the nondescript building at 1934 North Avenue: A dressmakers’ sweatshop in the early 20th century, it became a storage facility in the ’70s, then fell into disrepair in the ’80s, haunted by addicts and dealers. The space was occupied from 1989 to 1998 by Urbis Orbis Café, a classic hipster hangout remembered nostalgically by interviewees, then an antique shop and finally, in 2001, by the cast of MTV’s “The Real World,” whose members were treated to memorable demonstrations by locals irate at the mass media invasion.
Why were they so upset? Because Wicker Park had evolved into a “bohemia”—a state of mind/geography that in theory can hardly co-exist with mainstream capitalist society. For an example of bohemia in the classical Parisian sense, Lloyd references Balzac’s quip that bohemia is “a stimulating interlude until the chance for real work arrives.” Current-day bohemia is somewhat different: For all the lip service anti-capitalist viewpoints may be given in such alternative outposts, they are in fact capitalist enclaves producing not widgets or services, but culture. MTV didn’t show up for the coffee. They literally came to consume the cool—a phenomena detailed in depth by Lloyd’s fellow alums in The Baffler.
The New Aesthetocracy 2: Joel Kotkin ~ Uncool Cities
From London and Berlin to Sydney and San Francisco, civic authorities agree that the key to urban prosperity is appealing to the "hipster set" of gays, twentysomethings and young creatives. But the only evidence for this idea comes from the dot-com boom of the late 1990s—and that time is over.more here
The world’s great cities face serious, even catastrophic problems. Terrorists have planted bombs in London’s Underground and bus systems. Floods have wiped out New Orleans, and fires incinerated scores of impoverished Africans living in crowded, seamy Paris apartments.
Everywhere—from New Orleans to London and Paris—the middle classes, whatever their colour, are deserting the core for safer and more affordable suburbs, following in the footsteps of high-tech industries and major corporations.
Yet rather than address serious issues like housing, schools, transport, jobs and security, mayors and policy gurus from Berlin and London to Sydney and San Francisco have adopted what can be best be described as the "cool city strategy." If you can somehow make your city the rage of the hipster set, they insist, all will be well.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Though he made his name writing formula action movies (Lethal Weapon, 1987, The Last Boy Scout, 1991, The Long Kiss Goodnight, 1996) for hack directors (Richard Donner, Tony Scott, Renny Harlin), Shane Black has always produced scripts with a distinctive flavour. Once the hottest screenwriter in Hollywood, famed for his massive pay cheques, his star has waned since the infamous flop of The Long Kiss Goodnight; the last film he scripted, A.W.O.L. (1999), was barely even released. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang marks not only his comeback as a writer, but also his debut as director. In many ways, it's a compendium of existing Black-isms: a central buddy relationship, ingeniously foul-mouthed wisecracks, scuzzy low-life humour, sadistic torture/interrogation scenes, and preposterous action climaxes. Having used up three permutations of the black-and-white duo in his three best-known films (white cop/black cop; white private eye/black athlete; white CIA assassin turned housewife/black private eye), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang tries something different, teaming Robert Downey Jr's Harry Lockhart, a petty criminal turned actor, with Val Kilmer's Perry Van Shrike, a gay private eye turned Hollywood studio adviser. As always, it's the laugh-a-minute repartee of this odd couple that drives the movie far more than the ridiculously overly complicated plot, of which this review's accompanying summary barely scrapes the surface.
Directing his own script with a budget of $15 million - small change for producer Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon, The Matrix) - Black has unprecedented freedom to make the movie he wants to make. Instead of A-list stars throwing their weight around, he has the laid-back central trio of Downey, Kilmer and newcomer Michelle Monaghan, whose relaxed interplay is the film's main attraction. And he can take more risks, whether with Perry's homosexuality (surely a first for a leading man in a Silver production) or the bitter satirical asides and self-referential gags that pepper the script.
But though Black has said this is the first of his screenplays to reach the screen without studio interference, for all its laughs the finished product does not seem in any way more personal, mature or coherent. (And for my money, The Long Kiss Goodnight was funnier.) On this evidence, he's a confident director of actors, but his main talent still seems to be as a writer of jokes and set-pieces. (Harry's unexpected audition, when he blunders into a casting session while on the run from the police, is a particular gem.) Left to run riot, Black's mannerisms risk descending into self-indulgent clever-cleverness. After the Sunset Blvd. opening, in which Downey's jaded narrator is filmed from beneath the surface of a swimming pool, the homages come thick and fast: chapter headings are borrowed from Raymond Chandler novels, the plot is lifted (with credit) from a pulp 1941 thriller by Brett Halliday, while the characters make constant reference to a fictional fictional (sic) detective named 'Jonny Gossamer'. Despite its scurrilous, up-to-the-minute in-jokes about Drew Barrymore and Colin Farrell, the film seems doubly old-fashioned at times: like a 1980s pastiche of a 1940s thriller, complete with a big-band score and animated credits that seem to have strayed in from the 1960s.
Most television dramas play with the question "what if?" NBC's "West Wing" revels in "if only...."
Sunday's live presidential debate was the quintessence of wishful writing. Two intelligent, principled candidates tossed aside debate rules and went at each other full throttle on live television, debating everything from immigration and energy policy to foreign debt relief.
They didn't discuss abortion, however, because in "West Wing" World, even the Republican nominee is pro-choice.
Now in its seventh season, "The West Wing" lost much of its original magic when its creator, Aaron Sorkin, left and took the series' screwball comedy wit and intellectual sophistication with him. The show still has banter and worldly references, but at its height in its first few seasons, even tiny bits of dialogue were three-dimensional, providing a joke, a subplot and a policy point all at once. Mr. Sorkin's successors do not think and talk as fast as he did, and neither do the series' characters. "West Wing" aides retain their idealism, however, a sense of civic purpose and honor that is made palatable with wisecracks and personal pratfalls.
The world hates us, and even Americans deplore the sorry state of political discourse in their country. But only the uninformed or disingenuous complain about the quality of American television. It has a variety and breadth that no other nation can match. For every offensive reality series or inane daytime talk show, there are comedies and dramas that reach far higher in a single episode than most movies or Broadway shows.
Critics complain that the new stage version of "The Odd Couple" is no match for the 1970's television series. Sitcoms, meanwhile, have moved on to "Will & Grace" and "Arrested Development" and "My Name Is Earl." HBO has taken over where Hollywood gave up, taking a chance on everything from Gold Rush prospectors on "Deadwood" to the maximum security convicts of "Oz." HBO took a huge gamble on "Rome" and has stuck with it despite a lackluster start.
Public television may seem demoted and demoralized, but it still burrows deep into important topics commercial television addresses fleetingly, if at all. Tonight on PBS, a "Frontline" report, "The Last Abortion Clinic," gives a lucid picture of how the anti-abortion movement in states like Mississippi has worked so many hurdles into local laws that abortions are almost unattainable for poor women.
When it began in 1999, "The West Wing" proved that audiences could become enthralled by Congressional committee reports and tracking polls. It was a smart bet. Americans may not vote in high numbers, but they know the material, if only through the osmotic power of 24-hour cable news shows, C-Span cameras and Internet saturation.
ABC's copycat version, "Commander in Chief," is just as topical, sometimes maliciously so. (Last week, President Mackenzie Allen was greeted at a hurricane disaster area by grateful victims and a Florida official who said, "Thank you for acting so quickly on the disaster package.") "Commander" is not as clever or convoluted as "The West Wing," but it taps into the same appetite for a cleaned-up realpolitik - the government we wish we deserved.
Even now, "The West Wing" still offers an intriguing tension between ripped-from-the-headlines politics and a dreamy romanticism about leadership. Just as the Bush White House was bracing itself for indictments from a real-life special counsel investigating a national security leak, Josiah Bartlet's staff was awash in subpoenas from a special prosecutor investigating a national security leak. On the NBC version, the leaker turned out to be Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), who broke the law to save lives (astronauts trapped on the International Space Station).
One of the endearing fictions of this television series is that White House officials are not motivated to leak for petty score-settling or political intrigue.
Sunday's debate posited that presidential candidates, once unleashed, can think on their feet and disagree without resorting to cant. To lend verisimilitude, a real journalist, Forrest Sawyer, was tapped to play the moderator; he looked believable but a bit self-conscious, perhaps because he is one in a growing pool of television anchors without news shows. (The episode's sole sponsor, American Express, recruited Ellen DeGeneres to do backstage ads that were far more implausible, but at least in a low-budget, C-Span way.)
Over all, the debate reflected the political planks of Hollywood writers more than Washington politicians: the moderate Republican, Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), made a free-market pitch for the Toyota Prius, a hybrid car favored by moguls and movie stars. His rival, the Democratic nominee Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), took an extraneous jab at the Bush administration; there is no Iraq war on "The West Wing," so it was a bit odd to hear Santos pledge, "I will never go to war for oil."
Religion and culture wars are a common topic on "The West Wing." In one recent episode, the Santos campaign manager, Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), refers to the Bible-friendly theory of "intelligent design" as "creationism in a Groucho mask."
Yet even "The West Wing" is careful about the tinderbox issue of abortion, keeping pro-life sentiment at a safe remove. In the writers' imaginary world, a pro-choice Republican could win his party's nomination and privately dismiss evangelical Christian lobby groups as "those people."
A recent episode had Vinick assuring a Christian lobbyist that he would appoint anti-abortion judges if elected, and then assured his staff he was fibbing. That campaign subplot edges close, but not too close, to the current debate in Washington, where the Senate is weighing how the confirmation of Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush's nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, would affect Roe v. Wade.
And that is why public television still has a mandate. "The Last Abortion Clinic" is not nearly as entertaining, but it separates fantasy from an issue that hovers beneath many television dramas and will soon be decided by the Supreme Court.
In the fall of 1991, an unusual song found its way onto the radio. It was called “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” and was performed by a Houston hip-hop trio called Geto Boys. A slow, mournful plaint, “Mind” relied on long, harmonically complex guitar samples—a departure from the short horn bursts and rapid drums then dominating hip-hop. If the song had an antecedent, it was the blues, not music you might have heard in a disco. Geto Boys—Scarface, Bushwick Bill, and Willie D—had deep, unmistakably Southern, voices and their lyrics didn’t celebrate or protest anything. “Mind” is an unsettling song, its opening couplets freighted with anxiety: “At night I can’t sleep, I toss and turn. / Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies being burned. / Four walls just staring at a nigger. / I’m paranoid, sleeping with my finger on the trigger.” For several months, “Mind” was on the radio all the time. Then Geto Boys—and Southern hip-hop—seemed to disappear. In the fourteen years since “Mind” was released, the band has showed up again on the Billboard pop charts only twice, most recently in 1996.
Now Houston hip-hop is back, enjoying a musical hegemony that happens only occasionally in pop. Not since Nirvana made Seattle the capital of grunge, in 1991, have a city, a sound, and a significant chart presence been so closely linked.
Monday, November 07, 2005
We are a small and dedicated organisation based in Baltimore, USA. Our aim is the ‘resurrection’ of actresses from the Golden era of silent cinema.
To do this we are securing a large body of quality genetic material from a variety of sources which is subjected to rigorous testing to ensure its validity. Samples range from small tissue and blood samples to full bones and several preserved organs.
We intend to work closely with science organisations to perfect safe and reliable human duplication techniques. We are already in discussion with several studios interested in becoming parents to these new stars of old.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Warren Bass of The Washington Post reviews The Next Attack:
"We are losing," warn Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon on the opening page of The Next Attack . In this chilling new book, they argue that the United States has, in the years since 9/11, frittered away more time than it took to win World War II: The Bush administration has plunged into a war of choice in Iraq that played into Osama bin Laden's hands and produced "an extraordinary amount of wheel-spinning" instead of shoring up America's domestic defenses. Meanwhile, the public's attention has wandered, and the jihadist movement has weathered the loss of its Afghan haven and recast itself into new, more supple forms. "Even in his most feverish reveries," the authors write, bin Laden could not "have imagined that America would stumble so badly."more here
To be sure, Benjamin and Simon are not models of Olympian detachment; they served on Richard A. Clarke's counterterrorism staff in the Clinton White House and gave low marks to the Bush administration's pre-9/11 record in their first book, The Age of Sacred Terror (2002). But the current volume, which bristles with evidence and expertise, should give even the most ardent partisan pause. Indeed, anyone who cares about putting al Qaeda out of business should make time for this book -- especially in Washington, which is both the headquarters of the fight against bin Laden and one of his prime targets. Written in clear and credible prose, The Next Attack is one of the most helpful, challenging goads to serious discussion of terrorism in recent years.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Cook cites 50 Cent's reaction to Kanye West's criticism of Dubya's handling of the New Orleans disaster:
“I think people responded to [Hurricane Katrina] the best way they can,” 50 told ContactMusic.com. “What Kanye West was saying, I don’t know where that came from.” Instead, 50 said, “The New Orleans disaster was meant to happen. It was an act of God.”
Cook concludes: "Maybe Chuck D can sit 50 down on his knee, and tell him about one of the greatest MCs ever: W.E.B. DuBois."
On the upside, even if Chuck's brand of polemical, politicized rap took a direct hit from the "guns, hos and money"-fixated Republican rappers, a few vital signs persist.
On the downside, Hot 97 ( WQHT, at 97.1 FM), the most listened to hip-hop/rap station in NYC, pulled the plug on underground hip-hop artist Boots Riley of The Coup's "World Can't Wait, Drive Out the Bush Regime" promo for the 11/2 Union Square demonstration against the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration’s policies. Listen to Boots droppin' some real political science here.
Suffice to say, Boots has his critics Stateside:
Michelle Malkin of Capitalism Magazine reckons Boots should be hangin' with bin Laden:
I'm sick of America getting a bad rap from miserable "artists" like Boots Riley. He belongs in a capitalism-free cave in Tora Bora, spewing his "poetry" around an al Qaeda campfire. But I'm even sicker of Riley's cultural defenders in the elite media. Sept. 11 brought home the lesson that vile ideas have bloody consequences -- no matter how "daggone funky" they may sound to mush-headed music critics. We continue to ignore the intellectual enablers of anti-Americanism at our peril.
Lakshmi Chaudhry ~ Babes in BushWorld: Raunch culture offers good old-fashioned pleasure, Republican style
Just before the Republican National Convention came to town in 2004, New York newspapers were buzzing with rumors that the city’s high-priced prostitutes and strippers were gearing up for “one grand old party.” The reports quickly gained currency, for no one had problems imagining randy GOP types forking over $100 dollar bills in the dark of the night to be serviced by acquiescent, uber-sexualized women—the same women likely to be condemned as moral degenerates on the convention floor the next morning. This is, after all, what passes for sexual abandon in a conservative world—the kind of “Good Old-Fashioned Pleasure” a San Diego escort agency was touting when it changed its name to “GOP” during another such convention eight years before.
For the past five years, Americans have been wallowing in this quaint version of sexual pleasure, defined by skimpy thongs, stripper poles, porn boobs and faux chick-on-chick action. In a Bush World where commerce is king, it is all-but-inevitable that the dominant image of sexuality is that of a woman on sale. In her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, New York magazine editor Ariel Levy describes the new-old female sexuality that lies at the core of “raunch culture”: “A tawdry, tarty, cartoonlike version of female sexuality has become so ubiquitous, it no longer seems particular. What we once regarded as a kind of sexual expression we now view as sexuality.” As an L.A. workout guru specializing in “Cardio Striptease” blithely tells her, “Stripping equals sex.”
“ I thought Larry was a bookhound. Cruisin’ ‘round town in a beat down caddy, riffin' on a bohemian vibe. You know these cats: from up in the Village, NYC to North Beach down in Frisco, they’re surfin’ on Coltrane and Camus. Hangin’ out with pro skirt and palookas, snow birds and stoolpidgeons, panhandlers and party people. Writing everything down in their damned notebooks. "Notes from the Underground" they call it.”
“You’re tootin’ the wrong ringer, Daddy O. Larry’s a solid gone john with a horn. “Dr. Sax” to the max. But Jack’s still the mack in the sack. Larry keeps his sax in the back of of his soft-top cadillac. Jack’s been up front blowin’ his horn since the day he was born. He’s always packin’ heat, hardwired to the street, keepin’ his shit sweet, tight to the beat. I gotta get back to the leader of the pack this black.”
The club was tucked away in the middle of Nowheresille. The cab driver spat us into the deserted streets of boarded-up shops and rundown ramshackle residences like an oxygen-gulping diner urgently expelling a fish bone from his throat.
Inside the club: red velvet drapes, conspiratorial booths. Bare red lightbulbs and slashed leather seats. Bordello-themed decor with traumatic distress built in as design feature. A single neon letter S flickers at the back of the small stage. A fitful beacon, a spasm of white light spilling through smoke-shrouded conversation. Dig that hipster vibe: conversational riffs like swingin’ solos spiralling upwards from bedrock buzz . Cigarette smoke and conversation wove around eachother like suspicious women talkin’ about the same punk. Pimps, pederasts, players, private eyes (Ellroy’s guys) pushers, Puerto Rican homeboys with platinum albums and movie deals. Fly girls, fall guys, flipsters, hipsters, flim flammers and gang bangers, film school students discussing showreels. Bohos, hobos, Noho bozos, Soho pros with joes in tow, joe blows workin’ that mojo. Voodoo chicks, hoodoo skirt teasin’ cheap tricks, Hollywood producers toutin’ new flicks, “me too” glitterati, old school literati, new techno illuminati. Zoot-suited pachucho cats with two-tone shoes and pimp hats.
Bill Burroughs in a private booth with some fag. Talkin’ out of his ass as usual. Frank Booth is sippin’ Pils, inhalin’ helium and talkin’ all that jazz with F.Scott Fitzgerald’s rotting corpse.
On stage a Latino percussion trio: Beatnik-brushed bongos blending subtly with syncopated jungle jazz juice freshly squeezed by hipster discophile. This cat’s flippin’ 45s like burgers at a barbecue. Polyrhythmic beat alchemy prelude to top-of-the-night treat.
Dean Stockwell ambles on stage, croons a number from his “cocktail music for psychopaths” back catalogue. Then it’s bill toppin’, finger poppin’ Larry Ferlinghetti’s combo swingin’ hard like Prima’s cats on heat. Hard-boiled hipsters hangin’ lean, diggin’ the scene on benzedrine. Larry’s got his own Keely in tow. Annie Mae was a beauty back in the day, but that day sure wasn’t yesterday.
who fought a title fight
he forethought to win.
A knock out defeat leaving him
swarmed by experts and
warmed-to by anchors alike,
in a nineteen month ago manner –
he later described as an ‘accident’ –
on a televised Novembered night.
Ear on a loop he regrouped,
and won through
in a tougher test,
giving him the home
but non-domestic opportunity
to pin an intercontinental belt on his chest.
One he sized up and ultimately seized.
Sotto retractors relieved.
Our kid’s reputation remade.
bright in the shade.
Amazing Alex Arthur
cut a fine figure
in the bigger picture
of the gym
underneath the chin
of the Seat
banked by the meadow,
and the Dykes of Dumbie
with their fellows
- like the long room
at Meadowbank Stadium.
With two yellow T-shirts,
and power in either of his eight pound gloves,
I saw a flicker of the love this lad has
for the toe-to-toe
And he was all peppered
cause this stud
hits 16 stone bags with a
attacking the maize sack
with uppercuts and hooks
He didn’t say a word,
either to me,
or my in-man Bugsy.
It was like,
Foot movements going
forward and back.
for his killer will only.
He looked so broad and strong and hungry,
like a guard dog
let off the latch.
His quietly wise trainer nodded approvingly,
they seemed much more than more than attached.
It was super featherweight good.
And only once he’d skipped off onto rope,
did he say “Dope” or was it “Dude,
if you can hit that floor-to-ceiling thing twice, I’ll give you a tenner.”
(It was all I could do to coo,
“Champ, I don’t have a tenner!”)
Cut to British and Commonwealth prizefight night, when it was up-close and mostly won by a wee feint, followed by a fight dictating upstairs straight-jabbing right. He finished Craig Docherty, his one time Kuala Lumpun team mate, with a harm's-length left to the body, and the broken nosed Glaswegian thinking man’s thug, was towelled dry by his cornermen before English ref Richie Davis pulled the plug. I went home knowing that I’d witnessed, both inside and out of the ring, a new phenomenon in professional sport. Not only that, but there was a whole backstory to it too. The phenomenon, to be crude, was the hectic experience of actually being there. I highly recommend it. For me, it was an electric atmospheric interpretation of the Marquis of Queensberry’s language, and all who seem to seek it. The air was mixed with more than the expected St Tropez tans and Ellnet hairspray, it was underplayed by the bums off seats banked tirade which welcomed me to the safer stalls away from the long, short and tall of Tourettes Alleyway. From the bleechers came the panel-beaten preachers proclaiming some unmentionable Mancunian present – the one who put a 1 in Arthur’s L column – to sit down or go getz to fuck. Per capita, the defamatory flames from all sides were also aimed at Docherty’s insides. From ringside, things were escalating quickly, and I was fast getting myself beside. I was terrified, alright. Let’s not pretend it was anything but a baptism of fiery unfamiliarity. And though at first I was thinking candidly not to look at anybody more than momentarily, my buddy Brodie later admitted to feeling without parity, “I’m a civilian, get me out of here!” For amid the central belt posturing, and besuited jostling was the closest to an offshore theatre you could imagine, with lines of actors and stern reactors all wound up ready to fight. For what it’s worth, Arthur secured his 17th paid ranks knockout in nine class rounds. His 20th professional contest saw him regain the Lonsdale he’d foregone, and claim the Commonwealth crown to try on. If Docherty was the thinking mans thug, Arthur was the action mans handsome lug. The thudding bass drum versus the cool snare beat. Docherty, with his straight-ahead style started the faster, but a broken nose bust disaster, and from then on his white shorts told the story. About 24 minutes later, a cracking left hook downstairs, and panic – not resignation – but maybe a realisation shocked across Docherty, whose system simply couldn’t cope. He was finally out of depth and no longer in control. Until that point, the self-styled ‘Hot Property’ was a picture of an exercise in will. He had been no match for Arthur’s pace, power and poise, and yet he was bravely impressive until, just before the flooring blow, I could here Owen Smith, Arthur’s trainer and corner man, go, “Straight right hand, feint with the left. Jab to the body, straight to the head.”
Nearly four months later,
and I find myself
back in the testosterone zone.
With the week-old
advent of boxing
back on ITV,
Arthur was matchmade with
the European Champion,
for his CV.
With a sideways glance to the
referee, the fight was almost on
and I was back out my seat.
The homewtown fighter started off with a flurry of impressive punches. His defence and style having been ring fenced and filed under “J” for joy to watch. The sullenly stiff-necked Sinitsin looked something south of five foot seven, appearing every bit the villainous henchman. From the outset, it was always going to be Arthur – who looked like a charming world champion on the make – to parade the higher aesthetics. And he looked so athletic when he danced onto the canvas removing the towel from his brow with a biting jerk of his neck. He was part working it, and part Dick Turpin to class. The Muscovite, in his third reign as European champion, a title he has held for six years, and on and off for the last ten years, cut a meanwhile sight. At the weigh-in, Arthur scaled a comfortable 9st 3lbs 12oz - two ounces heavier than Sinitsin – before saying, “I don’t have an ounce of fear going into this fight,” and from the first bell, he showed how good he is on his feet, and behind a tight guard, he caught Sinitsin up the stairs repeatedly, he got him really hard. His authorative jab became the fight dictator. His physical advantages and swiftness of foot, mixed intensities and socking hooks, meant he could dominate his man from outside. By round three, Arthur seemed free to control the middle of the ring. That was until his teak tough opponent let go an eyeopening immediate sting. There was an audible gasp as the gash made a hash of the rhythm the fight had taken on. Fortunately, cuts man Terry Edwards earned every penny of his fight fee with adrenaline stemming the flow of our kid's blood. In round four, normal service resumed, and no longer consumed, the Scot backed up the Russian roughhouse, who was no match for the textbook shot picking A-cat who made the veteran wrestle in clinches like a mouse. The pleasant lad had expected to be trod upon and elbowed from the cunning, phone booth slugging, Kremlin-assed son. But a headbutt and a second cut – Arthur would later require five stitches, two on port, three for starboard – seemed to articulate the desperate level to which the Sickle could descend. But unperturbed by the close quartered second third, Arthur upped the tempo and got stronger, and was as dazzlingly good as his word. “Like a shiny bullet,” my moll ordained, as his stand up, well honed skills, piercing left, and perpetual motion drills, made the centre ring AAA domain. From there he unleashed his full fistic armoury, work rate and variety, and yes just like a bullet he made Sinitsin blink, at which point the reigning champion was ultimately slain. With a powerfuelled left, he put the Russian on the deck late in round twelve to add an exclamation mark to the triumphant closing bell. Arthur is definitely maturing, and far more equipped to progress on the world stage than he was in the past. With a tighter defence and a heightened head between the ropes, the good ship of featherweight champions are awaiting to take him to task. But after two or three mandatories, he’ll be paired with either Morales, Peden or even Barrera for the WBC. Then maybe lightweight, who knows. But London’s calling, certainly. So maybe ITV2 will make sum money. And the monkey will be sold. After the fight I spoke to Edinburgh’s last world champion, the very Ken Buchanan, who was dressed resplendently in tartan waistcoat and dickie bow, with delicate spectacles bridging his boxers nose, barely concealing a sparkle in his eyes and creating something of a retina corrected halo. What a hero. “Alex threw a lot of good punches tonight which he missed. And I’d said to him before the fight, ‘Choose your punches,’ but he went after him a wee bit. Though he worked him out pretty quick, and as soon as he did, he controlled it.” With signed something safely back in hand, I wandered about the relative lack of body punches our kid pared compared to the Docherty contest, when Sir Ken sagely nodded, “You never fight the same fight twice.”
So what next, then?
And after that?
he couldn’t help
but loom a smile,
while I caught the air
and got the feeling that
he was coming full circle,
sure-fire world champions
do come around twice in a while.
The publication of Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson in 1990 announced the arrival of a new intellectual voice. That work — with its startlingly immodest ambition to “demonstrate the unity and continuity of western culture” — embodied what has come to be seen as Paglia’s hallmark style: deep erudition (the aesthetics of ancient Egypt, for example) expressed in hugely entertaining prose, peppered with apothegms and judgements that brook no dissension (“Unlike older scholars, some of us find King Lear boring and obvious, and we dread having to teach it to resentful students.'').
If a thread connects Paglia’s first book with her subsequent prolific output both in scholarly publications and contributions to newspapers and journals (notably as a columnist for the online Salon and contributing editor at Interview magazine), it is a commitment to the idea that Art is important. Although Paglia is as comfortable discussing the meaning of Madonna as she is explicating an Emily Dickenson poem, she doesn’t buy into the postmodernist credo that artistic judgment is hopelessly culturally and sociologically distorted and shouldn’t even be attempted. A caricature of this stance might be to say that appreciating bubble-gum wrappers deserves the same expenditure of brainpower as that accorded to Renaissance frescos. The Paglia line, however, seems to hold that although we can guiltlessly enjoy popular culture on its own terms, the canonical works still demand our unironic homage.