Thursday, July 29, 2010

Peeling Hearts

A young friend overseas tells me she is again in love. There is pain in her news; she seems to need it, yet feels its brutal contours. I reply that youth is filled with such emotions, that she has yet to truly experience love's horror, that these are just test runs. Looking back on this bullshit response, I realize that my view of love is so twisted by life that projecting it on a younger mind is a disservice. She's smart, if deeply romantic. She'll figure it out, or not.

I know there's no "free" love, a tantalizing concept from my youth. However you define love, "freedom" has little to do with it. I've seen fear and hatred pass as love, emotional slavery as affection. Desperation also fuels images of love, for love is the highest emotion, and sometimes you must do whatever you can to reach it. In a country where freedom is barely understood, love is decidedly out of our grasp. Yet, as William Burroughs scribbled the day before he died, love is all there is. No wonder poets go mad trying to nail it.

What is love to me? Familiarity, acceptance, comity. The deep affection one has for one's children goes beyond love into emotional areas that few parents fully comprehend, assuming they're interested in their kids to begin with. Romantic love has always been a puzzle that age has yet solved, for different romances offer varied meanings. Lust has led me into loving arrangements that inevitably collapsed. There is love in nostalgia, memory. The new book delves into this, and I'm surprised by those feelings that have so far surfaced. Sadness and happiness blend and break apart, my aging heart yanked into long-dead worlds. I sometimes confuse wistfulness for love, but one nourishes the other, at least in my experience.

Part of The Project deals with these emotions, the connections we perceive but spend much of our time ignoring. Comedy is my means of translation; storytelling, too. I'm testing various moods and approaches in short sets, and while it might seem chaotic (and to a degree is), there is a larger narrative. Like romance, this too is a puzzle, though I think I have a better chance of finding where the pieces fit. We'll see.

Several years ago, in a vaudeville routine for Arianna's slave galley, I wrote:

"This plane of existence contains countless energies, a good number of which are unseen. You swim through them daily, perhaps unaware that they exist. But not only do they exist, they can be used to further one's consciousness, which, over time, can become a collective awareness . . . It's all interwoven. And the thing is, people know of its power. Whenever you express love for another person, or are part of an audience that appreciates a certain performance, or any activity that positively connects people, you get a taste of transcendence. Think about the feeling you have in those moments, then imagine living that way all of the time. It's do-able, trust me."

Is it? Let's find out.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Catch A Falling Empire

In a reasonably healthy society, the Wikileaks disclosure about US behavior in Afghanistan would raise political hackles, potentially threatening the government itself. And while the military and Obama's circle warn that Wikileaks is doing just that, in reality the state is in no danger from its subjects, the killing machine free to operate sans serious objection. Obama nodded to this amid the alarms, admitting that Wikileaks merely confirmed what those paying attention already knew. That this might stir wider dissent is an elite concern, but even they know there's little to worry about.

Obama is using Wikileaks to distinguish Bush's Afghan policy from his. Bush, as we know, wasn't serious about the Taliban threat to our existence, whereas Obama is playing for keeps, boosted by Congressional financial support. Some Democrats and liberals are opposed to Obama's brutal expansion, but they aren't quite as vocal as they were against Bush, for obvious partisan reasons. If Bush were overseeing what Obama says is crucial, I suspect most liberals would call for his impeachment, and rightly so. While there is anger and feelings of "betrayal," I've yet to see any prominent liberals call for Obama's head.

Despite this grim scenario, Wikileaks proves that dissent exists, that there are those committed to showing the Terror Wars in full color. The problem is that there's no real antiwar movement to take advantage of these revelations. Obama's PR offensive in '08 was extremely effective in deflating antiwar sentiments that thrived under Bush, which is why Obama received the elite support that put him into office. Comparisons to LBJ and Vietnam pop up, but unlike the populist Texan, Obama faces no citizen unrest, no mass marches on his doorstep. His public opposition is largely self-pitying white people lost in fantasies about Islamo-communist takeovers and related socialist nightmares. The crazier they act, the better Obama looks.

The Wikileaks clamor overshadowed a report in The Independent about the deadly after effects of the US assault on Fallujah. Infant mortality, cancer, leukemia, and birth defect rates are through the roof, tied to the use of depleted uranium, white phosphorus, and other weapons in freedom's arsenal.

When you focus on this horrid reality, it makes sense that major news outlets aren't creating a fuss about Fallujah, nor our political "representatives" who insist that Iraq is a success story. Denial or dismissal are the only mainstream options here. Taking responsibility for such war crimes would require political courage and personal morality of a kind rarely seen in present American life. For consumers, feeling bad about Fallujah doesn't alter their status, so why dote on such depressing news? Like everything else, Fallujah will fade from imperial view, to the degree it ever penetrated the national mindset.

Afghanistan is supposedly the graveyard of empires. If true, then ours is currently digging its own. One can only hope. Until then, we continue to create graves for countless others, ruining the lives of their survivors. Given the evidence, our imperial demise will doubtless be a a loud, messy, destructive one. Then again, we're Americans. How could it not?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pferd Lachen

Hi all. As you may have already guessed, I'm taking a little time off from the blog to focus on some offline projects. But I'll return very soon. Until then, here's a funny, philosophical reworking of Quick Draw McGraw, Mr. Ed's armed, animated cousin, by humorist and writer Merrill Markoe. Who knew that Hanna-Barbera cartoons were existential wastelands?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Midsummer Blog's Scream

It's hot and I don't feel like writing. Not blog posts, anyway. I've been working on The Project, sketching out stand up bits that I can riff on and develop into longer sets. But that's pen and paper, which I still love. Tactile, sensual, direct. Crossing out lines, writing in margins. Kerouac wrote novels in pencil, but I prefer the glide of ink. When it cooks, everything flows. Beautiful.

I've also returned to the book I set aside for the stage. I now realize The Project encompasses spoken and written words, and I finally got over the rigid approach to the book that flustered me early on. The stories, memories, encounters, reactions, ecstasies, depression, terror, love, and sadness -- it's all in me. I don't need to create a line. Meditate, release, transcribe. Some of the stuff bobbing to the surface has surprised me, a happy bonus of the process. When I write about politics, surprise is nowhere in the mix. Just tedium. Thankfully, there are younger, more energetic go-getters itching to battle the machine. It's all yours, friends.

I once knew that itch, intimately so. Examples of my condition litter the Web. But there's a lot of offline work and correspondence that you'll never see, boxes filled with clips and letters. One box I recently scoured through contained most of my exchanges with Noam Chomsky, from 1988-'91. Noam's letters were, on average, two to three pages long, typed and single-spaced. Dense paragraphs on MIT stationary. Re-reading these now brings back younger me, the smell of aged paper making that time tangible. How inspired I was back then. What an education. Noam's generosity still moves me. Even his critiques of my early pieces make me smile.

Those early pieces are rough to read today. I was all over the place in style and tone, with more than a few sentences jumping the rails and crashing into walls. But I must remember that younger me had no training as a writer: he just wrote, wrote, wrote. That Perrin had many bad habits and a tendency toward obscure usages and needless flourish. He tried too hard to prove that he belonged.

As Updike maintained, you unlearn writing as you progress. Ideally, external bullshit drops away in the search for your real voice. But this was back in typewriter days; when stuck for a word or phrase, you stared off into space in concentration. Computers and the Web have decidedly slashed concentration rates. Basic sentence structure is a mystery. Spelling is out the window. Numbers and single letters now pass for words. And few seem to mind, much less notice. Idiocracy is closer by the day.

This is but an aging man's lament. Still, happiness and creative fulfillment remain. What does that mean for this space? Who the fuck knows. I only write the damn thing. You want a seer in the bargain?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cluttered Office Antics

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Show Off

The NYC trip is canceled. One of those things. I'll be back very soon. Until then, I'm all yours Michigan!

Here's a curious piece. After Jean Doumanian's SNL implosion in 1980, NBC replaced her with network executive Dick Ebersol. SNL went on a month-long hiatus for quick repairs, then returned with O'Donoghue as head writer, or Godhead, as he preferred. Chevy was brought back to remind viewers of the original show, complete with first season Weekend Update set.

This is right after John Hinckley tried to kill Ronald Reagan. You'll recognize Laurie Metcalf, who later won Emmys for her work on Roseanne. Metcalf had been hired from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre to be in the SNL cast. But after this show, a writer's strike put SNL on summer vacation, and Metcalf was not invited back. Too bad.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On With The Show

Off to NYC and gig-a-rama. I'll file reports from the front as needed, perhaps some video as well, if I can bribe some young comic to do the camera work. A few act like YouTube auteurs, insisting that their vision be realized. Then they go on stage and do eight minutes on rim jobs. Whatever it takes to get the shot. I'm flexible.

Tuli Kupferberg joined Harvey Pekar yesterday, a one-two punch to bohemian literary America. As with Harvey, I met Tuli in the FAIR office, very early in FAIR's existence. I spent a lot of time on the floor, cutting out news articles for our files. Tuli was friends with Martin Lee, but was friendly with everyone, including lowly me. I had no idea who he was, but was intrigued.

I began watching him spar with reactionary callers on Coco Crystal's live Manhattan Cable access show. He and Coco smoked weed on camera, read anarchist poetry, sang songs. Tuli also contributed cartoons to Downtown, the East Village weekly where my first political writing appeared. More recently, Tuli delivered regular YouTube messages, to which I subscribed. I can't imagine being 86, much less doing bits. But Tuli was a life force.

Here's Tuli on Coco Crystal's show. Just to give you a taste.

And here are The Fugs, for whom Tuli wrote countless songs. Dig Tuli's dance moves. Not even a bikini-clad Goldie Hawn showed such commitment.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar

There are friends of mine who knew Harvey Pekar much better than I did. Yet whenever I've mentioned Harvey to them, we usually shared the same information. Harvey seemed the same to everyone, regardless of proximity. Of course, certain personal attributes are not widely shared, but in general, Harvey appeared to my friends the way he appeared to me: honest, funny, down-to-earth intelligent. And now he's gone.

I knew Harvey for a brief time toward the end of my stint with FAIR. His wife Joyce was working on a project with a FAIR staffer, so Harvey hung around the office, browsing the political magazine rack. I immediately recognized him from his Letterman spots, where Harvey subverted Letterman's "weirdo" guest segment while still engaging the audience. I told him how much I enjoyed his appearances, as well as his comic, American Splendor. Harvey grumbled that national TV exposure did little to sell his comic.

"But Harvey," I replied, "If it wasn't for Letterman, I wouldn't have known about American Splendor."

Harvey smiled and shrugged.

We later walked around Chelsea, talking about comedy and politics. Harvey was direct and unpretentious. He had an encyclopedic mind, riffing off facts and memories like the jazz musicians he wrote about in Evergreen Review. Harvey didn't know me at all, yet he was extremely generous and encouraging. When we discussed Letterman, I told Harvey that I too was from Indianapolis, and had grown up watching Letterman do the local weather. I'd also been submitted as a writer to his NBC show, and had one of my pieces used on-air without payment or credit.

"You should write about him," suggested Harvey.


Harvey put me in touch with a friend of his at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. I pitched an op-ed article about Letterman's corporate comedy and relationship with NBC's parent company, GE. It was bought. Just like that. The Plain-Dealer published it with little revision. Doubtless it was read in Letterman's offices, all thanks to Harvey.

We didn't speak much after that. When I heard he got cancer, I wanted to phone him, but for some reason didn't. I learned about Harvey's recovery through mutual friends, enjoyed the film made about him, and followed him online. I'm sorry we never spoke again, but remain happy that we once shared ideas and laughter.

You were a true artist, Harvey. You will be missed.

IN DAVE'S CRAW: Here's Harvey grilling Letterman over GE, unhinging him in the process. This might have been a regular feature, Piss Dave Off, though I doubt few could've matched Harvey on that front. He knew Dave's pressure points.

ALSO: Lou Proyect shares his memories of Harvey.

AND: Barry Crimmins adds his insights.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Funny Like Me

As I prepare for another week of stage diving in NYC, I feel a spiritual need to share whatever comedy wisdom I've acquired over the years. Three things to remember:

1) This is not a complete list. That would take more thought and work, and I simply can't spare the energy, what with my new stage persona where I fly over the audience on wires. I thought this direction would be easier than it is, but it's not. Sore armpits are the least of it.

2) This is not to be taken literally. If a budding comic follows any or all of my suggestions, I'm not legally responsible for the results -- unless they're financially lucrative. Then I'll want my cut, and if necessary, will strip you of all assets to get it. You'll be ruined. Is 37 percent worth so much pain?

3) Have fun! We're here to entertain!


Most comics ask the audience how they are, if they're in a good mood, etc. This surrenders your power from the get-go. The audience should be your comedy slave, and they need to be reminded of this first thing. Look for the weakest person near the stage, then hit them in the head with the mike. This establishes who's on top. If you misjudge and the so-called "weakest" person is a hockey player, bodyguard, or drunk Marine, then hit yourself with the mike. It stings, but it's better than having your teeth knocked out.


Oh god yes. No matter how "conceptual" or "elevated" one's act, jokes about masturbation, anal sex, ass-to-mouth, barely-legal group action and lactating MILFs are your ace in the hole, so to speak. At the first sign of audience boredom or indifference, whip these out. They don't even have to be that funny. Crudeness has its own comedy logic.


How can you tell jizz jokes without profanity? Didn't you read what I just said? Fucking pay attention!


Well, what about it? You're gonna have to be more specific than that.


Whoa! Dial it back, professor! Who are you -- Campbell Brown?


If by "political" you mean farting, then yes, people get political jokes.


Hey, you came to me! You don't like my advice, fine! Go bother some ventriloquist.


Good! See if I fucking care!


Jerk off!


Eat me.

This should get you started! Good luck and remember, laughter and the ability to carry ten times our own weight are what separate us from ants. Have a great set!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Time's Prop Arrow

They have perhaps at no time ceased, but that will never be known, they are, after a while, so easily lost: and one hears them once again with a quiet sort of surprise, that only slowly becomes the realization, or near certainty, that they have been there all the while.

James Agee
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Accident, synergy, karmic alignment, or a random moment in fleeting time: hearing Jack Benny's radio show from the 1940s was an unexpected but beautiful surprise. Over a year ago, a friend in LA sent me several CDs filled with Benny's brilliance, and I stored them in my iPod and forgot they were there. Last night during the blue collar gig, the strains of "Love in Bloom" filled my head as Don Wilson introduced Benny and special guest Fred Allen. My mood instantly lightened, and not even the yuppie narcissists I clean after could sully the feeling.

Benny and Allen played a bad vaudeville team begging for work; and while naturally funny (seasoned with Benny cracking up on mike to Allen's ad libs), it tied right into the vaudeville mindset I've been in for the past week. In The Jazz Singer's DVD set, there's a bonus disc featuring vaudeville acts filmed on the Vitaphone soundstage in the late-1920s. For many, it was probably the largest audience they ever reached, with a few exceptions, like George Burns and Gracie Allen, who do their well-known-at-the-time "Lambchops" routine. Their timing is subtle and sharp, polished by countless performances before god knows how many audiences. Burns and Allen are a delight to watch, even if some of their jokes are from another world. For me, that adds to the pleasure.

These vaudeville acts spoke a lost language and moved at a different speed. Not slower per se, though compared to today's CGI mindfuck they're practically in marble. They possessed a casual energy that crackled when needed, but eased back into set-ups and exchanges with no trace of effort. The comedians were especially adept at this, gliding from puns to slapstick to songs, their timing fluid and intact throughout. There's also a lot of fake bumbling and acting like sorry amateurs who belong nowhere near a stage. Again, this is all precisely rendered, establishing a form that Albert Brooks and Andy Kaufman later made their own. I don't know of any contemporary comedian who does this, as phony badness might be seen as the real thing. Too much "reality" programming has killed it off. People prefer their shit to be genuine, not conceptual. The essence of democracy.

This isn't nostalgia. All of these acts predate me by decades. But my love of and appreciation for performance, primarily comedy, places me right inside their world where I can almost touch the scenery and smell stale cigar smoke. These energetic ghosts pay me no mind as they repeatedly go through their paces. To some that may sound like hell, but for these performers, as long as there's interest, they have a steady engagement.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hidden World

Jean Stevens, a 91-year-old Pennsylvania widow, dug up her dead husband, propped him on a couch in her garage, and spent idle hours chatting away with his corpse. Stevens did the same with her late sister, applying make-up and perfume to her decaying body.

"Death is very hard for me to take," confessed Stevens, after a relative mysteriously ratted her out.

Lynch. Buñuel. Hitchcock. Jerry Lewis. Pick your director. You can't go wrong, regardless of script. There's a political analogy here as well: a delusional need to insist that something dead is alive and interested in your thoughts. Obama liberals and Teabaggers unite. Dunno who would helm that film, but I'd tap M. Night Shyamalan. Not only are his visions congruent with present political conditions, the guy doesn't get enough chances to realize his potential.

The smell of death around the house. Reminds me of deep summer days in rural Indiana. I made seasonal friends as a kid, invited into old farm houses and trailers by those I met biking or playing hoops. There was no air conditioning, just small electric fans stirring humid air, windows open, musty curtains billowing to the sound of TV game shows. Elderly people sat quietly, fully dressed despite the heat, giving off a faint rotting scent mixed with mildew and warped wooden floors. There's a reason why kids of my generation played outside.

I always found scenes like this haunting, appealing. A weird level of reality I could taste but never fully know. I'm sure this reality still exists in forgotten, ignored areas of vast American life.

Whenever I drive through Indiana in summer, I see those rural houses, those trailers sitting on un-mowed plots of land, possessions littering the yards, dogs lying in the shade. Yet I rarely if ever see the people themselves. Satellite dishes provide a wider range of daytime TV, to which many are no doubt glued. But most everything else seems stuck in time. Only the inhabitants know where the bodies are buried, or sitting, depending on personal need. The hot summer breeze blows regardless.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

For The Survivors

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Rockets Red Guerre

As Americans celebrate God-given freedom and anti-terrorist patriotism by drinking excessively and blowing shit up, here are some liberty-inspired posts you may have forgotten or perhaps never read. So enjoy, wipe away a tear or two, and remember: They hate us for our NASCAR.

A brief, informative visit with the rail-splitting emancipator.

An appreciation of reactionary Hollywood.

Patriotic films for your Netflix queue.

And two videos that have been optioned by Micronesian interests which must remain anonymous for contractual reasons.

The first is a love letter to our next sexy Mrs. President.

The second, a 4th of July warning to those punks in North Korea.