Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Past Of Completion

They all got heavier. Heavy with fear. Heavy with sadness. Bloated by bad food and drink.

Each had reasons. Solid reasons. Genetics. Fate. Age.

His was more complicated. Or compromised. Or whatever he chose to tell himself in early morning dark.

Awake the voices clashed. An awful din. Asleep the vistas burst aflame, crashing like cheap props.

Asleep he embraced all scenarios. These were limited tales, bent into fractured shapes.

He couldn't fly. Couldn't float. Possessed no special powers. Death was constant, laughing.

Nothing cruel. Simply fact. How every story ends.

Deserted buildings. Broken glass. Soiled fabric. Torn scattered limbs. Dust of neglect clouding dying suns.

Run along beaches of blood. Rock towers rise, block escape. Music falls, fades.

It's familiar. Warm. Loved ones smile in the distance. The closest furthest away.

He knows better than to run beyond his reach. At times he'll make a break. Climb the rocks. Drag the sand. Create false openings.

Slammed against rubble. Breath sucked from lungs. Clothes stripped and burned.

Faceless women appear. Offer wet promises. Part of his punishment. Ignore them, the ache is profound. Devour them, his regret is complete.

Four AM sirens under his window. Guzzle what's left of the wine. Light up, inhale, cough out blue smoke.

The day is over before dawn. The rest is just killing time. Murder by the hour.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sexy Yule Log

Spending Christmas in NYC this year. First time since my kids were little. Now they're grown and wise to the cynical manipulations of the holiday market. But I still believe. In Santa? No. In Dusty Towne.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Letter To A Lost Friend

Christopher --

I hoped it wouldn't come to this. Writing to you after you've died. As you know, I've reached out to you since a mutual friend told me of your illness. Ceased my attacks and critiques. Not that I changed my mind about your pro-war position, but my feelings ran deeper than partisan rifts.

We never met again. Friends said it was because you were in treatment. Weak. Unable to talk. I know that's true. But maybe you simply didn't want to see me. I understand. All I desired was to look you in the eyes one last time and say thanks. So this will have to suffice.

I have more memories of you than you did of me, the proper balance, given our relationship. When you read my initial attempts to write political criticism, you were honest but encouraging. Made minor corrections while highlighting lines you liked. I can't tell you what that meant to me. When young writers seek my advice or input, I remember your generosity and offer them my own. I still hew to your belief that first thoughts are not best thoughts. That the best stuff must be dug out. You were right.

My favorite memories stem from those long nights and weekends in your and Carol's apartment. If I seemed star struck, I was. I couldn't believe you took me as seriously as you did. The two of us sitting at that long dining room table next to the kitchen. Me trying to match you drink for drink. Rookie hubris. You made it seem effortless, wreathed in Rothman smoke, longish hair tousled. We'd talk through the early hours, you more than me. I was happy to listen and learn.

There were the C-SPAN gigs. Twice you took me along, early morning, when neither of us had any sleep. In a DC cab as the sun came up. You'd click on your debate switch and your eyes became electric. Your energy was boundless. When I appeared on C-SPAN, I tried following your example. Disaster. Massive hangover on national TV. It still hurts to watch that tape. I think you kept me up that night to test my endurance. To see if I could hang. I made it. Barely.

You opened doors for me. Recommended me to Jonathan Larsen at the Village Voice when the Press Clips column was vacant. I felt I wasn't ready for that stage, but you did. Larsen went with Doug Ireland instead. No matter. There were other jobs.

You got me into Mother Jones. Your endorsement put me in the New York Perspectives editor's chair. That was vital to my education. It's where I really learned to write. It was through you that Tariq Ali and Colin Robinson read my work. Tariq later published Savage Mules. Belated thanks for that.

So many moments swim through my mind. Our physical feats competition on your building's rooftop. You teaching me how to properly cook salmon in your kitchen. The day we spent together at the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York. You introduced me to Norman Mailer and Norris Church, saying "And of course you know Dennis Perrin." We hung out with Dick Cavett and Ron Reagan, Jr. Made fun of Charles Krauthammer who sat in front of us in Madison Square Garden. We hit the reporters' bar and talked about how awful Bill Clinton was going to be.

We then went to HBO Studios where you were to debate John Podhoretz on Comedy Central. It was a live show. You said "fuck" several times. Moderator Al Franken told you to stop. You replied, "I thought I was allowed to say whatever the fuck I wanted!" The segment ended early. The night was just beginning.

When I pissed off Noam Chomsky, sharing with you something he wrote to me privately, you spoke to Noam and straightened it out. I was thoughtless. You were selfless. You helped me many times like that. When I asked for a blurb for Mr. Mike, you didn't hesitate. When we saw each other at readings or signings, you always hugged and kissed me, cigarette ash falling on my shoulder. "So good to see you, dear boy! Care for a drink?" I never refused.

I'm sorry we fell out. That was never my intention. I simply didn't understand your reasoning. It felt false to me. When I reminded you of forgotten statements that undermined your pro-invasion arguments, you didn't deny them. You just got shitty with me. Pulled rank.

When I wrote Obit for a Former Contrarian in 2003, you reacted as if I stuck a shiv in your gut. You emailed me from Kuwait, demanding that I confess to planting the story in New York Post's Page Six. I told you the truth. I didn't. But you wouldn't believe me. From there it grew worse.

You later feigned little knowledge of me. The same tactic that Sidney Blumenthal used on you. Why not? It works. But mutual friends told me different stories. One wanted to set up a debate between us. Carol thought it was a good idea. You were horrified by the suggestion. Spoke of my betrayal. You never got over that Obit piece. Thing is, that piece is filled with love and respect for you. Severe criticism, too, but couched in whatever affection I had left.

You were wrong, old friend. You endorsed and pushed for all manner of imperial violence. Your glee over Fallujah blew my mind. After all you had written, roasting imperial toads with scathing wit, you were in the end no different than them.

Yes, I wrote harshly about this. To you personally, on my blog and at Huffington Post. For a moment I considered taking it all down, out of respect for your passing. But the old Christopher would blanch at that. And he would be right.

In your collection For The Sake of Argument, you wrote this to me: "For Dennis -- close reader, meticulous viewer, who answers back to the consensus. With warm fraternal greetings, Christopher." In No One Left to Lie To, you penned, "Dennis is a good man. C.H."

I'd like to think that somewhere inside of you, these sentiments remained. I'll never know. But many positive sentiments about you remain in me. Some friends have mocked me for this, but they didn't know you as I did.

So long, Christopher. I'll never forget you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bert Schneider

Anyone who shoved Vietnam up Bob Hope's ass on an international stage is okay by me.

When Hearts and Minds won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1975, co-producer Bert Schneider dispensed with standard showbiz thanks. Instead, he read a telegram from the head of Vietnam's Provisional Revolutionary Government delegation to the Paris peace talks.

Dinh Ba Thi conveyed "greetings of friendship to all American people," eliciting applause, boos and hisses. Francis Ford Coppola thought this was a beautiful gesture, especially in the wake of massive US violence in Vietnam. But Bob Hope was incensed and had Frank Sinatra read a statement deploring Schneider's behavior.

Hope had been Hollywood's biggest war booster. His annual Christmas specials from Southeast Asia tried to paint Vietnam in 1940s colors. But each year, Hope's message grew dimmer. His early upbeat commentary became sullen, resigned. To have some hippie producer celebrate American defeat while waving an Oscar was too much for Hope. He shot back, but history muffled its effect.

That was perhaps Bert Schneider's final victory. Up to Hearts and Minds, Schneider was New Hollywood's main engine. He, Bob Rafelson and Steve Blauner (BBS) produced Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show, Drive, He Said, and The King of Marvin Gardens. After producing Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven in 1978, Schneider faded from view.

The revolution in American film that he helped foster succumbed to mall movies directed by Spielberg and Lucas. But for such a brief window, Schneider got a lot through.

Schneider not only saw potential in underground narratives, he created the space for their development. He found an audience hungry for relevant films, open to experimentation in mood and structure. Business was conducted in weed-scented air. But when Schneider pulled rank, he did so decisively and without apology.

He gave Dennis Hopper tremendous freedom to direct Easy Rider. As Hopper flirted with a four-hour bike film, violently resisting any changes, Schneider stepped in and cut Easy Rider down to a releasable length. Hopper protested, yet there was nothing he could do. Hopper's then-wife Brooke Hayward observed, "Bert was the heroic savior of that movie. Without him, there would never have been an Easy Rider."

Heroics aside, Schneider could be loathsome. According to Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (and its accompanying documentary), Schneider was a drug-fueled egomaniac, given to rants and emotional abuse. There was nothing revolutionary about his success.

Alhough he mocked his capitalist status, gave money to the Black Panthers, helped hide Huey Newton and Abbie Hoffman from the FBI, Schneider remained in his prime a Hollywood power broker. Since his father, Abraham, ran Columbia Pictures, Schneider was familiar with the role.

For me, it was Schneider and Rafelson's creation of The Monkees that still resonates. (Paul Mazursky claimed authorship of The Monkees, saying that Schneider and Rafelson stole credit for the idea from him and partner Larry Tucker. But, aren't ideas like butterflies free?)

Yes, The Monkees were Beatles knock-offs. True, some of their music stretched bubble gum to the snapping point. Yet Raybert, Schneider and Rafelson's production company, assaulted mid-60s television with jump cuts, social satire, long hair, and loud music. They fused French New Wave with documentary pacing, live action cartoon energy with media self-awareness. It may look tame now, but The Monkees rattled TV conventions. It wasn't like any other show.

In their second and final season, The Monkees dropped the laugh track, pushed their sound into new areas, setting in motion their destruction. This literally came to a Head in 1968, as Schneider and Rafelson, with help from Jack Nicholson, deconstructed The Monkees as a money-making distraction. Shallow, corporate, lacking in weight.

"You say we're manufactured/To that we all agree/So make your choice and we'll rejoice/In never being free" sang Davy Jones, just before the infamous footage of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan shooting a Vietcong suspect in the head. A girl's scream is heard, but it's in reaction to The Monkees taking the stage, not to the barbarism just shown.

You'd be hard pressed to find any manufactured teen brand since that juxtaposed war crimes with pop diversion. But then, none of them were produced by Bert Schneider. Imagine the film he'd make for Justin Bieber.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sugar Pop

Been traveling a lot of late. Nothing exotic. Post-divorce responsibilities and settling into a new city. Have some heavier posts in mind as I slip into the holidays. Until then, there's always my Twitter feed and Nancy Sinatra.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nazional Pastimes

Sports gazers are bitching again about the BCS. As expected, LSU will play Alabama for college football's national championship. That Alabama already lost to LSU this season and didn't win its conference made no difference.

The Crimson Tide is a bankable brand. A known commodity. Oklahoma State, which has an identical record as Alabama and did win its conference, had no shot. Even if OSU had gone undefeated, there would be numerous voters who'd still pick Alabama over the Cowboys.

In a season marred by the Penn State rape scandal, SEC favoritism is the least of college football's worries. It seemed odd that Penn State kept playing after its franchise coach was fired, its school president forced to resign. But too much money would be lost, so the harshest penalty has been to banish the 9-3 Nittany Lions to the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas.

Come next season, maybe fans will believe that it was all a bad dream, an aberration, and we can get back to pouring money into corporate sports as the Constitution provides.

I was never crazy about college football. But at least the BCS is open about its avarice, the building of super conferences an honest expression of current power arrangements. The punch line -- that it's all about student athletes -- ceased being funny ages ago. It's still trotted out, but few bother to notice much less react.

Pro football is losing me as well. Cynics may point to the Jets' subpar season as the cause, but this is a long time coming. Ultra-violence is part of it, though for years this didn't bother me much. You can't enjoy the NFL without brain-rattling hits.

Mostly it's the nationalist/militarist tie-ins. The assumption that NFL fans naturally support imperial war and the pomp that sells it. This has grown worse every year, culminating in a Nuremberg rally called the Super Bowl.

The punch line -- that it's all about supporting the troops -- ceased being funny ages ago. It's still trotted out, but millions continue to love and applaud it.

The Occupy movement has clearly softened me. A generation that rejects violence in favor of justice fucks with one's football jones. That is, unless the Jets somehow make it to Nuremberg Indy. One more rally before renouncing the Reich, or Madonna at halftime if the game's a rout.