Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Crumbs Near The Trail



"He'll end the war."

"No he won't. He's in no position --"

"He'll bring honor back to our country."

"Great. That's all we need. More honor."

"Why are you here?"

Excellent question. One I asked myself when working at Kerry/Edwards headquarters. What the fuck am I doing here?

Some friends supported Kerry out of Nader Regret/Guilt. They swallowed the fiction that Nader ruined our pristine nation, was to blame for everything from the invasion of Iraq to acid reflux, so they had to atone by working for a pro-war corporate stiff like John Kerry. While I felt zero guilt about voting Nader, I did want to defeat Bush/Cheney in 2004, and Kerry was the only candidate who could do so.

Still, it was tough for an old political fuck like me. I'd worked on campaigns when most of these white boy operatives were mewling babes, so receiving instructions from them required patience and whatever humility I possessed. But when they talked policy, imitating George Stephanopoulos from "The War Room," feet propped on desks, braying into phones, barking orders at volunteers (who surprisingly took it), I'd engage a few over coffee, gauging their political takes.

As the above exchange suggests, they subscribed to symbolism, myth, and the desire to win at all costs, regardless of political reality. While I tactically agreed with Kerry's need to win, I remained aware of his imperial status and place among our managerial class. Such sentiments drew sarcastic grins: "imperialism" indeed. What outdated horseshit! President Kerry would reorder the nation along more progressive lines, just as Al Gore would have had Ralph Nader minded his own business. They seemed to believe that with each election, the system itself changed, subservient to the personality of the new president. The notion that Kerry would sweep into the White House and dismantle the very machinery that put him there comforted these young Democrats. It was their fantasy revolution.

In the end, I was no better; in some ways, worse. I was on their turf expecting them to consider my twisted thoughts. They behaved precisely as they should've behaved, and would've behaved whether or not I was present. The conceit that I could broaden their perspectives while phone banking was egotistical and dumb. It spoke more to my personal frustration than to any real political opening or opportunity.

Despite winning a massive amount of votes, Kerry lost, Dem partisans claiming that Ohio was stolen and that Kerry should protest. If Ohio was indeed rigged in favor of Bush, then no surprise. Fixed elections are decidedly All American. That Kerry would question the system that nourished his privilege was absurd. Al Gore showed how the game was played four years before. This left many liberals scratching their heads, but did little to radicalize them. For at bottom, they trusted a privately-owned political system to occasionally do the right thing, whatever that was. In their case, elect "better" Democrats.

By the time of my Kerry diversion, my enthusiasm for the Afghan war quickly ebbed, helped by my opposition to the Iraq invasion and various antiwar sources. It was like waking from a Dali-esque nightmare, my insane warbling floating in cyberspace, popping up as a snapshot of my earlier bloodlust. I mended several friendships nearly severed by my rhetoric, then looked for an outlet to sort through and make sense of the voices crashing in my skull.

A journalist friend in New York suggested starting a blog. My wife agreed, tired of my ranting and stomping around the house. "You're a writer," she reminded me. "So write."

So I did.

NEXT: Emerging from the muck; class warfare à la carte.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Century Smell



The Twin Towers branded the Twin Zeros. As those buildings collapsed, America's bent mind twisted further, allowing the Bush/Cheney gang to go wild. Those early days now seem like fever dreams, no scream of vengeance too violent, no theory about lessers too extreme. It was a happy time for sadists; lucrative too, if played right. Many did and still do, though the 9/11 war dance lost its prime heat years ago.

Not that war dances are passé. As our empire fades, the steps get increasingly frantic, a mosh pit of imperial frenzy and confusion. The steady beat is gone. It may return should some lunatic action occur. But it won't boast the same clarity of 9/11. That cherry's been popped. From here on, we're used terror whores.

If we'd been attacked by a civilized resistance, one not invested in chaos and mass suffering, we might have learned something about our murderous conduct and how it affected those on the receiving end. Unlikely given our arrogance, but possible. Instead, we were attacked by those as venal and superstitious as a great number of us, fanatics devoted to violence and control. They spoke a kindred tongue, saw nothing wrong with slaughtering civilians. We called their predecessors freedom fighters, back when their cruelty drew Beltway applause. To say the irony was lost on most Americans is obvious, but nonetheless true.

It certainly was lost on me early on. After the initial shock subsided, the vengeful Hoosier within took shape. All the violence I'd witnessed, all the beatings I'd endured did little to stop this crazy rube from eating fire. I've written before of my mental and emotional breakdown. It remains a truly frightening period of my life. For the better part of a year, I howled with the pack, lusted for death. I hadn't felt such ferocity since boot camp, shooting targets with an M-16, blasting open tanks with a LAW. I'd get drunk and feel my spine sizzle as I blew apart jihadists in my head. It was a psychotic release, fueled by despair and anger over my deepening exile.

I had taken a new cleaning job with a small company owned by members of the John Birch Society. The owners were friendly enough, keeping to business and not politics. The office walls, lined with posters calling for a Christian nation, said plenty. After a month of kicking ass part-time, they gave me several commercial buildings to tend. I embraced my emerging status as cleaner extraordinaire -- not hard to do, since most cleaners do a really shitty job. If I couldn't get a writing gig or book deal, I'd make money with the Birchers. So began several lost years, every day the same, at the bottom of society's heap.

I connected with a few guys who knew nothing of my recent past. I kept it that way. What was there to say? My publishing access was dead. So I worked at first with Dontrell, whose story I shared over a year ago. Then I was paired with Will, a fiftysomething ex-Marine who had operated a field radio in Vietnam. Will was a first-rate cleaner, someone I didn't need to correct or clean after. He loved to talk. He'd tell strange war stories, like strangling a large swamp rat that attacked him on patrol. Will acted out the narrative with crazed expressions, laughing hysterically, punching my arm. Other times he'd be depressed, recounting personal failures in his life. We rarely talked about the present war, assumed each shared the other's view.

Will was also a serious boozer. He occasionally showed up buzzed, but the effects of his drinking were usually seen the night after. Once he came in with a splint taped across his nose.

"What the fuck happened?"

"I got really fucking lit last night and fell on my face."

"You trip?"

"Naw. I was standing in my living room and fell down. Took awhile to get the blood out of the carpet."

Will passed out and SPLAT broke his nose. He thought it was funny. His bruised, swollen face smiled. He didn't call in sick, did his standard fine job. Later, he popped two beers as we leaned against his pick up. We guzzled them down as if dying of thirst.

"Ah man," Will said, smacking his lips. "That tastes sweeter than pussy right now."

I didn't know about that. But the beer made standing in an empty rural parking lot more bearable. Two raccoons jumped from a dumpster as I looked to the clear night sky. I was uncomfortable being comfortable with this dismal existence. As far as I was concerned, the 21st century could fuck off and die.

NEXT: War fever breaks; life amid the lazy daft.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Double Naught Spy




At least the Iranian people know how to bring it. Facing a corrupt clerical racket, those who risk being shot, beaten, arrested and tortured understand the meaning of direct action. Statists don't like direct action. It means they're losing their grip. Thus they show their brutal hand more openly, hoping to buy time, but recognizing that there's only one way their rule can slide.

Here in freedom's swamp, such impassioned public actions are unthinkable, especially against Obama. Oh, smatterings of hurt children stomp their feet, hold their breath, and cuss at the dinner table. But the notion that they'll ever put their asses on the line, clogging streets, confronting cops, occupying government buildings, making life miserable for our managerial class is laughable, that is, if you find overfed acquiescence funny. A nitrous mask certainly helps.

And so this miserable decade closes, far worse than it began as more lunacy gallops into view. Americans can hide from it to a degree, or pretend to. As reality rages around us, our diversions and fantasies accelerate, mutate, fissure, explode. Fear is evident but inarticulate. Cooking shows increase audience share as more and more people escape into endless food porn. Violent sideshows abound. The empire is crumbling and there is no going back. Instead of following the Iranian example and putting our owners on whatever notice we can muster, Americans drift along, seeking sunshine in sewers, convinced that if all else fails, they can vote the bastards out, or send them strongly-worded emails.

How did it come to this? Too tangled a question to fully address here. I've long felt that such deterioration was inevitable, given American history from at least a century ago. But this week I'm focused on the first decade of the 21st, one that when I was a kid seemed from another dimension, with flying cars, moon colonies, teleportation, and those little sandwiches eaten by astronauts in "2001," bursting with chemically-enhanced futuristic flavors in the cold frontier of space.

What did we get instead? Removing our shoes before boarding aging planes, where we're not allowed to use the toilet, the air vents, the food trays, keeping our mouths shut lest any vocal calibration be construed as a dire threat to our fellow passengers, if not to the nation itself.

If you love police states, then this is your golden age.

For me, the decade began in failure and exile to southeastern Michigan. It was a very dark period, a wife and two children in tow. American Fan, conceived and sold at the height of my hubris, was released as I started to scrub toilets and lug garbage. I appeared on numerous sports phone-in shows, weathering abuse from fans who found me unfair to the millionaire jocks they revered, then laced up my work boots for another janitorial night shift. Positive reviews in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and USA Today only deepened my despair as HarperCollins dumped the book they inherited and despised.

A friend who knew Michael Moore tried to get me a producer/writer gig on "The Awful Truth," briefly lifting my spirits before fizzling out. This same friend then began working with and advising Ralph Nader's presidential campaign, alongside Moore and Phil Donahue. As I heard and read about Nader's effect on the disenchanted, galvanizing those sick of the status quo, I got inspired. I was asked to write Nader's Top Ten list for his Letterman appearance, which I happily did in a blazing all-nighter. I attended a SRO Nader rally in Ann Arbor, further heartened by a possible break from the rigid corporate duopoly.

Not to be. The Democrats spent more time undermining Nader than attacking George W. Bush, with whom their national ticket had much more in common. Liberal friends in DC and NYC lectured me on the goodness of Gore and the steadiness of Lieberman, whose names they proudly slapped on their lapels and car bumpers as a sign of their forward thinking. In the end, Nader imploded, Gore/Lieberman stumbled, and Bush/Cheney used whatever leverage they had in prolonging then snatching the election. Gore/Lieberman accepted the theft and urged their supporters to surrender as well. Instead of telling the ticket to fuck off and engaging in grassroots action, liberals blamed Nader for their every woe, a much easier, less stressful alternative to getting off their asses and fucking shit up.

Then came that Tuesday in September 2001. Fucking shit up took on fresh savage meaning. Madness spread everywhere, including to my anonymous corner where I dumped used mop water, bleach burning my eyes. That stinging sensation was just beginning.

TOMORROW: Perpetual war state blues; sonata for forgotten servants.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Chestnuts Are Roasting




Know what's fun? Replacing nativity scene Baby Jesus dolls with Sesame Street Muppets. There's a brief shock, then acceptance by most onlookers. If not the Son of God, then a familiar, lovable character will suffice. This year, I've favored The Count, a homage to contemporary vampirephilia. Not a peep of protest. The ACLU needs to change tactics.

As I move into performance mode, which has increased the amount of time I talk to myself, I ponder the previous year and smile. I've had more lucrative seasons, but they weren't as dramatic and absurd as 2009. In fact, this whole decade has been a twisted medicine show of the spirit, and starting Monday, I'll provide a week-long review of the 00s. Personal, political, creative, insane -- it'll all be there. I'll roam the fire-lit den in smoking jacket with pipe and martini, recounting the last ten years as Lionel Hampton tickles the vibes, and Lenny Bruce pops champagne corks for some up-and-coming starlets.

One highlight I anticipate in '10 is the (still scheduled) 30th Fridays reunion in LA. There was a hint of that in the recent season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Fridays' vets Larry David, Michael Richards, Larry Charles and Bryan Gordon pulled it together one more time. So in that spirit, here are some holiday bits from the December 18, 1981 episode, hosted by Beau Bridges.

By this point, Donny and Marie Osmond were pretty played out, their Hawaiian Punch spots notwithstanding. Still, they were fresh enough to slap one more time, and I suspect this piece was written by Bruce Kirschbaum, whose first TV writing gig was the Donny and Marie show. If so, I'm amazed he was so gentle. And I love John Roarke's Bob Hope. Like Dan Aykroyd's Nixon, Roarke's Hope was more inner essence than uncanny impression.



Here's a holiday film that was perfect for the Reagan era, especially the ending.



Speaking of Reagan, here's his first Christmas in the White House, after Fridays' opening credits. There was a tendency back then to portray Reagan as a child-like idiot. Many people still couldn't believe that the man was elected president, so they let him have it. Not that it did much to tarnish his image or lessen his popularity. Reagan facing a Black militant was a common Fridays theme.



And while this piece has nothing to do with the holidays, I include it anyway. I like the use of movement and stage hands, giving the sketch that live TV feel.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Inglourious Sadests




In Monty Python Speaks, John Cleese showed his age:

"I feel very out of tune with the audience. I go and see something like 'Pulp Fiction' and, frankly, it appalls me. Most of it is dialogue tricks which had been explored by Harold Pinter thirty-five years ago; the structure did not strike me as being clever as it did everyone else; and the content seemed to me (and to an awful lot of my generation) as the product of a sick mind."

Cleese said this in 1999, when I would've respectfully disagreed with my comedy hero. I dug Quentin Tarantino, one of the few directors whose films I'd see on opening weekend. Tarantino spoke a pop culture language I understood intimately; we were raised on much of the same schlock, which informed our creative mindsets. Having loved kung fu and gangster movies as a teen, I connected with Tarantino's operatic violence. To me, Tarantino was as pure a specimen of popular American cinema as Martin Scorcese. Not as gifted, but in the conversation.

I still enjoy a lot of Tarantino's work, but age, shifting perspectives, and some conservative mellowing have softened the thrill I once got from his improbable fight scenes. Pulp Fiction now feels very contrived, static, almost a self-parody. I prefer Volume 2 of Kill Bill, mostly for David Carradine, an icon of my early years. But Inglourious Basterds is something else again. Two things struck me about it: in many ways, it's Tarantino's most mature work to date; in other ways, it expresses some of the vilest sentiments I've seen in a film.

The interrogation scenes, where deception and dissent are hunted down, are first rate. Here Tarantino takes his time, allowing the tension to simmer. The scene set in a cafe basement feels naturalistic and real. You know it won't end well, but the performances and mood are so seductive that you drift to its climax. Scenes like this make Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs look like claymation. Tarantino's artistry has decidedly evolved. So rich are these scenes that when we shift to the mind-bending violence, it's as if Tarantino couldn't hold it in any longer, ordering his characters to go batshit on his behalf.

Now, I know that Basterds is a knock-off of the WWII film genre, set in an alternate universe, not meant to be seen as docu-drama. And Tarantino would tell me to loosen up and accept the violence for what it is. But given some reactions to the film, I'd say that there are plenty of people who not only accept the violence, but revel and find meaning in it.

Eli Roth, who plays Donny Donowitz, the bat-swinging Bear Jew, called the film "kosher porn. It's something I dreamed since I was a kid." Reports of various screenings suggest that Roth's cinematic dream is widely shared. Basterds is also a smash in Israel. An Israeli blogger, David, observed:

"What proved most unsettling, more than the scalpings and crushed skulls via baseball bats, was the audience reaction at the screening. A good percentage of the sold-out crowd consisted of teenage Israelis and young American, religious students apparently studying here for a year.

"Whenever another Nazi got his just reward, the crowd broke out in lustly cheers as if Alex Rodriguez had just hit another one out of the park. I know they’re heartless Nazis, but I felt like I was at a Kach rally."

At the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, there were similar reactions. During a post-screening panel discussion, Rabbi Jack Moline

"proffered that the Jewish people have become mired in thought for so long that the idea of physical redemption has been lost. The saying 'two Jews, three opinions' comes to mind on this point. As the concept of Talmudic discourse has proliferated, especially in the wake of the Holocaust (Why did this happen to us? Is it our fault?), Jews may have lost the instinct of revenge, which Moline points out is in fact a basic human instinct. The film provides that for a generation of Jews who view the holocaust in a new light. 'Inglorious Basterds' represents a voice for that generation."

It seems that no one really questioned Rabbi Moline's reasoning. The idea that Jewish people, specifically Israelis, "may have lost the instinct of revenge" would be news to Palestinians and Lebanese, as well as to Jewish dissidents and peace activists. That it took Tarantino's barbarous fantasy to give voice to a more vengeful Jewish generation should raise eyebrows if not serious inquiries.

Ethnic and religious concepts about vengeance aside, making Hollywood Nazis the brunt of such barbarism is a simple method to elicit righteous applause. They're genocidal monsters, right? So hit them even harder while laughing at their agony (which the Basterds do, sounding like Clockwork Orange Droogs beating the old drunk under a bridge). Yet I wonder if audiences would express the same glee if Tarantino made a Palestinian Basterds film, using the same scenario.

"We're gonna be doin' one thing and one thing only: killin' Zionists."

I suspect the panel discussions would become a lot more serious and somber.

ON THE QT: Reader/friend Michael H. sent me this link, where Tarantino talks about watching Basterds with an Israeli audience:

"So now, in Israel, I’m watching the film, and we get into the theater sequence. And literally, not when Hitler gets killed, but when you hear Shoshanna’s voice say, 'This is the face of Jewish vengeance,' the whole theater just erupted in applause. I think there were two guys that started it, but everyone jumped in. And you know something? It was violent. It was scary. There was violence in that cheer. It wasn’t like cheering Indiana Jones. There was something bloodcurdling about it. I don’t want to overstate it, but there was an edge to it. There was violence in it . . . there was blood in the air, which was wild. It was a wild thing to experience. It was a great experience, and it was real.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dissolve Into Air



When Jake and Elwood Blues took their act onscreen, they left behind a thriving, coke-fueled franchise. SNL's fourth season was its most popular to date, and naturally its growing fan base expected more of the same. But TV is a cruel lover, indifferent to audience needs. After four years, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were done with SNL, refusing to go through the paces one more time. The show's enthusiasts would have to get high and laugh without them.

In those innocent, pre-internet days, news of such a major defection traveled slowly, if at all. I'm sure plenty of SNL viewers were shocked to find Belushi and Aykroyd missing from season five's premiere. I certainly was. I had no clue that the show's stars bolted for Hollywood. So when the cast credits began with Jane Curtin and Garrett Morris, I thought, man, this is gonna blow. And for the first few episodes of that season, SNL more or less did.

Unavoidable. Four years of accumulated chemistry vanished, something not easily replicated. Aykroyd and Belushi took with them the Coneheads, Samurai, the Olympia "Cheeseburger" Cafe, and the Blues Brothers. All established icons. All audience favorites. SNL had elevated these characters and catchphrases, only to be left with a massive hole in its rotation.

Yet such sudden change held serious comic potential. Many of the show's writers hated recurring characters, and here was a chance to reimagine SNL while it maintained a large, loyal audience. Losing Aykroyd was the greatest obstacle to overcome, his precision and presence, while not as intense as earlier years, remained singular, peerless, powerful. Belushi, on the other hand, had been phoning it in for over a year. Once he achieved stardom, his craft was strangled by celebrity and all the distractions and poisons that came with it. Belushi did SNL a creative favor by leaving, his descent accelerating amid LA's wild palms.

Faced with the the duo's absence, Lorne Michaels took a subtler route. The sole cast addition was Harry Shearer, a founding member of The Credibility Gap and collaborator with Albert Brooks. Shearer possessed Aykroyd-like intensity and played fast-talking pitchmen with the same energy and precision. But Shearer's writing wasn't as otherworldly as Aykroyd's; he stayed closer to his targets, creating believable, accessible situations that he meticulously parodied. Here, Shearer was perhaps closest to Don Novello, whose Scotch Boutique sketches the year before touched on the dramatic. But overall, such attention to detail distanced Shearer from the rest of SNL's writers. He was outside looking in, never fully blending with a deeply-entrenched staff.

Watching "SNL: The Complete Fifth Season" in sequence reveals not only Shearer's isolation, but how the show struggled to regain its balance. There were inspired moments, experiments in style and tone ("The Mystery of Toad Island" one of my favorites, where inbred villagers mutate into human toads, complete with expanding throats). There were also many retreaded concepts and reliance on what old favorites remained: The Nerds, Roseanne Roseannadanna, and Father Guido Sarducci received familiar applause, welcome reminders of the show's recent past.

In addition to Shearer, Michaels promoted several writers to featured player status, betting that this would fill most of the show's evident gaps. All it really did was highlight SNL's weakness that year. Paul Shaffer emerged as a reliable performer, shining in a number of sketches, some of which he helped create. But as good as Shaffer was, he and the other featured players merely made Aykroyd's and Belushi's ghosts loom larger.

Bill Murray and Jane Curtin stepped into the breach using every trick they knew. Murray began the season in an angry monotone, his demeanor short-tempered. He apparently wasn't thrilled being left to carry the show's load, and this is clear early on. But as the year progressed, Murray's stranger, playful side surfaced; by mid-season he was at full strength, delivering the finest work of his SNL career.

Curtin never lost pace. From the first season on, she was the show's steadiest force, in many ways its spine. Curtin could do and did whatever she was asked. Her steadiness paid off in the fifth season, where she finally spread her wings. Unlike Laraine Newman, who became thinner and muter, and Gilda Radner, whose energetic outlines were beginning to fray, Curtin seized her moment. It may have come too late, but it's a pleasure to watch all the same.

The fifth season touched on two political events: the upcoming 1980 presidential election, and the American hostages in Iran. With Aykroyd gone, Jimmy Carter became a rumor. For some reason, Lorne Michaels decided against recasting Carter, the most logical choice being Harry Shearer. This made it SNL's oddest election season, where an incumbent president, facing political mutiny at home and crisis overseas, was kept completely off-screen. Laraine Newman's Rosalynn Carter appeared instead, the premise being that she could move about while her husband was hunkered down in the White House. What might have worked for a few shows grew strained over an entire season. In that year of all years, you wanted to see how Carter was holding up. A lot of satirical potential was missed, the majority of it falling on Ted Kennedy.

Murray's Kennedy was the main political target that season. As his intra-party challenge to Carter eroded, Murray showed Kennedy's increasing desperation, pleading to a New Hampshire audience to support him simply because they share the same New England accent. Of course, there were Chappaquiddick jokes galore, some of which elicited shocked groans from the audience (as did a related joke by Shearer as Tom Snyder, saying that Kennedy was "an only child"). If one's political fortunes are determined by how SNL treats you, then Ted Kennedy had no chance whatsoever. He was the show's second Gerald Ford.

The Iranian hostage crisis inspired less pointed humor, for fairly obvious reasons. National tension, frustration, and anger about being an "impotent" country didn't leave much room for savage parody. The Ayatollah Khomeini served his role as all-purpose devil, an easy target, guaranteed to get a response. But there was a general hostile mood to anything Middle Eastern, Arab or Persian that season. Again, no surprise. SNL has long flirted with, when not succumbing to anti-Arab racism. In the fifth year, one premise really stood out in this regard: The Bel Airabs.

A take-off on "The Beverly Hillbillies," The Bel Airabs tells the story about "a man named Abdul/a poor Bedouin barely kept his family full/ and then one day he was shootin' at some Jews/ and up through the sand came a bubbling crude." The Asad family, newly rich through oil, settle in Bel Air and display the same backward customs and behavior as the hillbilly Clampetts. Threats of violence, amputation for attempted theft, and bribing a federal agent make up much of the Asads' character. But the real prize goes to Gilda Radner's Granny who, wearing an abaya, jumps and screams in gibberish that's supposed to be Arabic.

One can say this is simply a turn on Irene Ryan's Granny, who behaved in a similar fashion. But given the political period in which The Bel Airabs aired, it's clear that the shrieking Arab stereotype was there to provide a racial thrill, a release of anger towards those towelheads holding American hostages. There is no way SNL would portray an Orthodox Jewish woman screaming Hebrew gibberish. If all ethnicities were equally trashed in this manner, then fine. But studying SNL's timeline, Arabs and Persians are treated much differently than other satirized tribes. The Bel Airabs were but the first explicit example of this tendency.

Interestingly enough, the best hosts in the fifth season were not SNL favorites like Steve Martin, Eric Idle, and Elliott Gould. Older, established pros like Bea Arthur, Ted Knight, Burt Reynolds, Strother Martin, Kirk Douglas and Rodney Dangerfield brilliantly hit their marks, providing some of the best, funniest moments of that year. The musical guests were eclectic, with bands like The B-52's, The Specials, The Roches, and Blondie bringing newer sounds to a hippie/arena rock audience. David Bowie's three-song set on the Martin Sheen show remains one of the more conceptual efforts in SNL history.

Writer Jim Downey has said that SNL's fifth season was its bravest. It certainly was its most unusual, gaining steam as the year wore on, culminating in the final show of the original era, May 24, 1980. At the end, host Buck Henry stands with the cast, some smiling, some solemn, holding hands, swaying slightly to the closing piano strains. "Goodnight, and goodbye," Henry says. Music swells, the cast exits home base for the last time, a close-up of Studio 8H's "On Air" sign flickering off, officially ending SNL's golden age. I remember feeling sad while watching this live, part of my youth passing with it. Little did I know that the replicants were coming to turn SNL into television's undead.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Losing True




Cruelty comes easily. Anger a given. Rage too expensive to spend. But I find my moments, seize openings.

It helps to have the shit kicked out of you early on. Adults with fat fists, kids with no conscience. Take it in the gut, the ribs, all over the face, back of the head. It's almost lyrical, a song you know. Steady rocking beat. You tap into it faster than you expect. Seasons you for the long ride.

I learned to take a punch from the jump. Was born with two black eyes. Tried to enter the world ass first. Turned around by cold tongs. Bruised the fuck outta my blue-pink skin. No medical slap needed to start my breathing. I emerged screaming, and haven't really stopped.

The last time I got popped was by a woman. Twin shots in the jaw. She was pissed, deservedly so. I drove her mad. She rarely spent her rage, but when she did, the sky opened with coins. I didn't hit her back. Didn't bother to block her blows. I wanted to hear the music again, songs to make me smile.

I keep going back to that building. Smashed walls, smeared windows, wires hanging from broken ceilings. It's usually in the city near the water. Sometimes in a field, parking lot weeds, dogs digging through debris. It feels like home, barren but warm. I see no one, say nothing. Sun lights the dust. Food wrappers crunch under foot. Dried shit in the shadows. A draft blows through broken frames. I smell the street, torn coats on drifters.

Flying must get boring awfully fast. You'd have to wear a coat to keep from freezing. High winds would sting your eyes. Birds are territorial. And if you're not bulletproof, what's the fucking point?

Viewing love as weakness means they've won. They rely on your surrender. How much more will you give back?

Monday, December 14, 2009

120 Minutes Of Moi

Appeared on Roseanne Barr's and Johnny Argent's radio show yesterday afternoon. I was to discuss current events with Johnny for about 40 minutes or so, but Roseanne asked me to stay on for her hour to talk about contemporary comedy. So I did, for the good of the nation, of course.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Terminal Stage




More shouts to Barack Obama for vindicating yours truly, not that this will be recognized or lead to lavish cash prizes. Timing is key in our fevered culture, and my error was to state the obvious a year in advance, while most danced amid clover with HOPE-sparkled eyes. Now that "betrayed" stragglers are getting into the act, the fates have shown me a different path, one that leads to spotlights and mikes.

This makes karmic sense. This is how it began for me. Without my early stage experience, which veered all over the road, I never would have had the nerve to opine politically, at podium, on radio and TV. It's one thing to offer jokes and bits that may or may not fly; it's another universe to critique the system and its imperial policies, especially to those enriched by it.

When I began to debate politics and media, I was scared shitless. I felt like a tourist, a poseur. What gave me the right to mix it up with Ivy Leaguers and those with government connections? I prepared like a lunatic. Spent months in the NYPL on 40th and 5th, reading, Xeroxing, memorizing. Bounced ideas off (when not irritating) my FAIR colleagues. I went into battle armed with what I could hold, though early on, I sometimes engaged those I was not ready for.

Rob Owen was one. I appeared with Oliver North's contra courier on Barry Farber's late night talk show on WMCA New York. I'd done Barry's show several times before, arguing with the likes of Cliff Kincaid of the proto-fascist Accuracy In Media and National Review's Richard Greinier. But they, like Barry, were agreeable reactionaries, Kincaid more so off-mike than on. Rob Owen represented a deadlier level. Unlike stateside propagandists, Owen was directly involved with the contras in Honduras, a staging ground for terrorist attacks on Nicaraguan citizens. The man had serious blood on his hands. This realization deeply frightened me.

When Owen arrived, he seemed like an average suburban guy, not out of place at True Value on a Saturday. He brought along a burly man -- friend, bodyguard, personal assassin/food taster, I didn't really know. When we were all introduced, the burly man kept glowering at me, weird smile on his face. I felt like I was being sized up. Owen, when not talking, closed his eyes and rubbed his temples as if suffering a migraine. He paid no attention to his sidekick who was paying extra attention to me.

At one point, our discussion landed in Cambodia. Why, I don't recall. But I do remember Owen, during a commercial, leaning towards me and hissing, "And I suppose you think that American B-52s helped create the Khmer Rouge?"

"I think it's agreed upon that carpet bombing created the conditions for Pol Pot's rise, yes."

"Yeah?" Owen's eyes widened. "Well, that's BULLSHIT!"

Owen literally spat that out while burly man snickered as if it was the funniest thing he'd seen all day.

This dude's nuts, I thought to myself. I'm in way over my head. Why did I leave comedy again?

Fortunately, Martin Lee, with whom I worked at FAIR, showed up, albeit a half hour late. Marty was more experienced with the American far right than I, and settling in he gently, firmly picked Owen apart. I retreated and left early, embarrassed that I'd thrown in the towel. It was a tough but fruitful lesson. In a sense, Owen popped my political cherry. After him and his pal, I never feared another opponent, especially when debating Israel/Palestine, where I encountered some truly crazy motherfuckers.

So, my early stage experience nourished my political debate years which strengthened my present state of mind. At 50, I crack wise anew, eager to see how it goes. If I bomb, so be it. After being around those who advocate bombing poor people, a silent stage is positively life affirming.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Clubhouse Fun



Alone since the scandal broke, Tiger Woods' carnal appetite has turned inward. Here Woods tries to seduce his right arm.



In retrospect, it was Woods' own hubris that led to his current problems. Not even President Obama was spared Woods' graphic descriptions of his numerous sexual conquests.



Fellow golf pro and sex magnet John Daly came to Tiger Woods' defense, confessing his own indiscretions, most recently with Sarah Palin.



Tiger Woods also apologized to his corporate sponsor Chevron, for tarnishing the company's admirable efforts in Nigeria.



Few have benefitted more from the Woods scandal than Jay Leno, or so the rumor goes, as Leno has gone missing for months.



When told how much this scandal would financially cost him, Woods displayed immediate remorse.



A moment later, Woods returned to form, showing a gallery of party hostesses his favorite playing position.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Best Distraction




God bless Tiger Woods. Without his current scandal, we might have to focus on Afghanistan, and that won't do, not under a president with whom liberals are upset, but remain loyal to in the deepest sense, hopeful that Obama will eventually, if reluctantly, reveal his inner-humanitarian, even if it takes another term to find it.

For the moment, Tiger has relieved us of that, though I think that as a celebrity of color, he offers Obama a juicy example to follow. Because there's no doubt that Obama is a prime pussy magnet -- all ages, all types, alone or in groups. A conga line of willing mistresses.

You kidding me? JFK's ghost weeps over Obama's pussy potential. Bill Clinton pushes his dick between his legs in shame. Hell, Obama could get Bill to rim him with a reach-around under a fireworks display. That's how much power our beloved president has. But does he use it? Fuck no. He'd rather sublimate his sexiness by expanding the Afghan abattoir. Worse, he's the one doing the sucking, in this case, corporate cock. Obama's allowing his career guide him rather than the reverse. Some people you simply can't help.

Tiger clearly had no problem in this department. He embraced his power and employed it accordingly. That's what mega-rich celebs do. That's why so many Americans envy and wish to live among them. You can, in theory, get away with pretty much anything. But it seems that Tiger's eyes were too big for his bed (and his couch, his bathroom, his entryway, his hat closet . . .). Plus, when you have it all like Tiger does, envy and hatred ensure a hard fall. Given the number of women he fucked, I'm amazed he avoided detection this long. As Michael O'Donoghue once told me, being rich is one thing, but screw being famous. This merely puts you in the crosshairs, fresh carrion for the culture to ravage.

What does this all mean? Fuck if I know. I just watch these spectacles from my humble perch, trusting that our owners haven't completely lost their minds, setting the sky aflame. All else is lumpy gravy.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Radiohead

Appeared on KPFT's Inner Side show last night. Click on 248 and hear what the fine people of Houston had to endure. Also, I did the show in the dark in my briefs, if that helps.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

This Magic Moment

Don't know why, but this seems perfect for the current political mood.



I've always liked this film, and think it ranks with the first two Godfathers. I prefer Redux to the original, which was Coppola's intended cut. Much dreamier, surrealistic, beautifully lit, framed and shot. I can't think of a more original American war film. Eastwood's Flags Of Our Fathers haunts me, and I like the look of Jarhead. But Apocalypse Now occupies its own terrain. And to think that initially, Coppola, George Lucas and John Milius planned to shoot it in Vietnam on 16 millimeter while the war was still raging. That Apocalypse wouldn't have had the visual poetry of the eventual film, but it sure as fuck would have been immediate.

Will there ever be a trippy movie about our present imperial wars? Something that will endure and be a reference for wars yet to be waged? Here's hoping that some young film students/geeks are popping Afghan tabs, minds exploding with terror, music and color. Our dying empire deserves no less.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Told You So




Oh, the liberal scorn I received just over a year ago. I was cynical, nihilistic, unrealistic, a Republican operative, a Naderite dead-ender, possibly even racist. Readings were cancelled. Several liberal reviewers backed out, refusing to engage me or my book. As Publishers Weekly put it, my book was "a combination of self-righteousness and puerility." Michael Bérubé, speaking on behalf of the entire planet, added, "[N]othing’s gonna be good enough for ol’ Dennis . . . 135 percent of the rest of the world is really, really looking forward to seeing the U.S. elect a President Obama. Billions and billions of the world’s people . . . and all of 'em unable to pierce the veil of illusion and see through the machinations of the corporate duopoly. It’s a shame, really."

So true. How dare I piss on billions of beautiful hopes and dreams!

That's okay. I hold no grudges. This is America, after all. Now that liblog threads are filled with critiques you can find in my book, I feel somewhat vindicated, but remain saddened. More death is on the way, more tax dollars down the corpse-clogged drain. Acknowledgement is only the first step. We have countless miles to go.

If you missed out on "Savage Mules" the first time, or wish to send a copy to that Dem-in-denial on your holiday shopping list, there's no better time to buy. If you dislike Amazon, there are other places to order "Mules." I get a minor kickback from Amazon, but I'm willing to sacrifice that for the good of our glorious nation.

To be fair, I did receive a few nice notices.

"'Savage Mules' is a cracking read . . . it might make sense to buy two copies, as I rather suspect that this book would make a perfect present for any stroppy or rebellious teenagers of your acquaintance, given that it’s full of the sort of fascinating and embarrassing facts about the political history of the USA over the last hundred years that would be more or less guaranteed to light a firework in any high school civics class."
Daniel Davies, Crooked Timber

"Dennis Perrin’s 'Savage Mules' [is] a slashing attack on the Democratic Party so badly needed in a time when so many false hopes are now invested in the party of 'peace' and 'progress'. 'Savage Mules' is a pithy, sharp and funny survey of Democratic presidencies (and failed bids) going back to Woodrow Wilson that takes no prisoners."
Louis Proyect

"'Savage Mules', Perrin’s 2008 catalogue of Democratic party misdeeds, fuck-ups and rank hypocrisy, deserves a broad audience . . . so long as Perrin continues roasting sacred animals, and literally kicking high-rolling apparatchiks’ asses, he should count himself, and we also should count him, among our treasures. A rare thing in these times, truth. And a rarer thing is one who will tell it, as he sees it, and challenge those who disbelieve to prove him wrong."
Steve Marlowe, Chapati Mystery

"As far as I'm concerned, Dennis Perrin has contributed the masterwork in the scholarship on the Democrats' strange relationship with militarism. 'Savage Mules: Democrats and Endless War' tackles the historic dichotomy: a hawkish left that occasionally tries to brand itself as spiritually opposed to war. 'Savage Mules' is a brilliant rant, really -- it traffics in hypocrisy and rides the wave of Perrin's evident anger and stylish writing. If somebody's pissed off about this, I'm glad it's Dennis, a gifted weaver of the tale."
Tom Watson

"As an antidote to US election fever, this sourly funny little bomb of a book kicks over the ashes of past Democratic warmongering and corruption . . . Perrin is a pummellingly energetic phrasemaker, and his evocation of the immanent odour of smugness at the liberal-bloggers' convention YearlyKos is deliciously horrible."
Steven Poole, The Guardian (London)

"[A] few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading 'Savage Mules'. It is quite unlike anything else I've read on the Democrats. To take one example, LBJ is described as a 'blood-caked jackass' who 'made Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy look in comparison like the provincial amateurs they were'. I like this. Every liberal luminary is thoroughly trashed in a similar way, and one gradually gets the impression that the Democratic party is more of an extended crime dynasty than a party of progress."
Richard Seymour, Lenin's Tomb

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Get Ear Plugs

Here's the Bill Cunningham radio show link promised on video below. Click on "12/1/09 Hour 2 -- Are Democrats Warmongers?" and enjoy. While you still can.

Get Stuffed