Friday, June 29, 2007

Shake It, Obi Wan!

Busy with various items, and my brain hurts, so how I wish I was a Dennis Potter character, my fantasy world exploding into a full-fledged musical number, with me dancing and lip syncing to old pop classics. Something along the lines of Ewan McGregor in "Lipstick On Your Collar", one of his early starring vehicles from 1993. Here are two fine extracts -- the first at the funeral of a co-worker, where McGregor fantasizes about wooing the dead man's widow, played by Louise Germaine. The second is also with Germaine, who clearly has moved on from her husband's death.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

REACTIONARY MEDIA CLOWN: We should extensively torture, then brutally slaughter all liberals, then grind up their corpses for use as insulation in God-fearing, flag-bearing homes across this great country.

CORPORATE MEDIA MOUTHPIECE: Wow! Do you really mean that?!

RMC: Of course! We are at war. You're either with us, or you're in the crawl space.

Later . . .

OUTRAGED LIBERAL BLOGGER: That was outrageous! How dare that Nazi call for liberals to be insulation! Why does the media tolerate such hate speech?! Our patriotism has been demeaned!

The next night . . .

CMM: Well, you certainly angered and offended a lot of people online with your insulation remarks last night!

RMC: Ha! That just shows what fags liberals are! And I was being nice! At least as insulation, liberals would be contributing to society instead of leeching off decent Americans to pay for their heroin and teen daughters' abortions!

A few moments after . . .

OLB: Has the media gone insane? Why do they keep showcasing this nutjob?! It's as if they're trying to boost ratings in order to raise advertising rates, or something! The fact is, liberals are the real American patriots, not lunatic rightwingers who hate this fine, upstanding country! For shame, corporate media, for shame!

And so on, and so on . . .

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Avert Thy Mind

People tend to hate and fear what they haven't seen. This is especially true when it comes to creative expression that touches on sensitive cultural or religious topics. Back in 1985, when Jean-Luc Godard's retelling of Christ's birth, "Hail Mary", opened in New York, there were numerous Catholic protesters praying for and haranguing ticket holders lined outside the theater. My friend Jim Buck and I watched all this unfold (we were poor, so this passed for free entertainment), as the faithful tried to shame those who wanted to see, as the ads promised, "one of the most controversial films of all time." They didn't get far, and if anything, annoyed and pissed off more people than they ever reached.

Jim then had an idea. He went up to several of the protesters and offered to treat anyone who wanted to see what they openly loathed. There were no takers.

"It won't cost you a cent!" Jim told them. "And this way, you'll know exactly what you're protesting!"

But they didn't want to know what they were protesting. Instead, they prayed for Jim, said some Hail Marys of their own, and when I made a sarcastic crack about the Pope's viewing habits, one woman threw holy water on me. If only I was quick and committed enough to fall to the curb and scream about how much it burned. But then, street theater was never my strong suit.

I was reminded of this after reading of a new play that opened in Tel Aviv, "Hebron", which dramatizes the ongoing cycle of violence in that West Bank city. Naturally, there are some Israelis who take issue with Tamir Greenberg's scenario, cleverly insisting that "Hebron" serves Hamas and is part of the "Palestinian propaganda machine [that] never rests." Or so says Susie Dym, a member of Irgun Matot Arim, a pro-settler/occupation group that is protesting the play. But has Dym seen "Hebron"? Of course not! She did, however, read the reviews, and that was all she needed to know what's really going on:

"The producers' intentions are clear. These are twisted people who ignore the facts and believe that the Palestinians are the most miserable people in the world. There's nothing wrong with weirdos, but here we're talking about weirdos who endanger the country and undermine its image abroad."

One might think that decades of occupation, imprisonment, land and water theft, and brutalization played a larger role in endangering Israel and undermining its global image, but these are weirdos Dym is talking about. And where there are weirdos, there is chaos. You don't need to actually see them to know that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Realm In Pocket

Another HuffPo effort is now up. I'll keep at it there until I achieve prominent, Marvin Kitman status!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bliss & Dazzle

While going through some old files, many of which I haven't seen in years, I discovered a forgotten passage from a pro-imperialist Brit writer who took immense glee in attacking Iraq. See if this rings any bells:

"It is beginning to look as if Saddam Hussein has given the West a chance once again to establish its unchallengeable preeminence in a manner impregnable at once to moral obloquy and military resistance. Not only will our arms have prevailed in a most spectacular fashion. So also will our ideals. Nothing is ever forever. Sooner or later the Third World will throw up other challenges. But if the [Iraq] war ends as it has begun, there can be no doubt who are the masters now -- at any rate for another generation. We have the laser beams and they have not. And the we who matter are not the Germans or the Japanese or the Russians but the Americans. Happy days are here again. Bliss it is in this dawn to be alive; but to be an old reactionary is very heaven."

Okay class: who wrote this? I know it sounds like a certain imperial mouthpiece, but it's not who you think.

This was Sir Peregrine Worsthorne in The Sunday Telegraph, January 20, 1991. Who knew that ol' Perry would set the rhetorical tone for those who urged an invasion of Iraq in 2003? Or that his chest-thumping would be aped by the guy who predicted "a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention . . . The president will give an order. [The attack] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling . . . It will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation. And I say, bring it on"? And when I read Worsthorne's thoughts on Israel's land grab in 1967:

"[L]ast week a tiny Western community, surrounded by immensely superior numbers of the underdeveloped peoples, has shown itself able to impose its will on the Arabs today almost as effortlessly as the first whites were able to do on the Afro-Asian native in the imperial heyday."

I realize that my old mentor has not gone the Norman Podhoretz route, as I initially thought. He is much more in tune with Sir Perry, who, in the Final Days of the Nixon administration, continued to defend a discredited, corrupt and unpopular president until it no longer mattered. Another feature the two have in common.

Friday, June 22, 2007

New HuffPoo

The latest over there is now up. And nothing was cut!

Dig This

Digby, the much-beloved liblogger of the Kos/Atrios/Lake Dog On Fire crowd, delivered a speech recently at Take Back America, a conference for those liberals who believe there's a constitutional republic somewhere under the massive corporate boot that is America, and she, as we say in comedy, killed. Even The Nation ran Digby's text, and it has fast become a kind of manifesto for the '08 election and the seemingly inevitable coronation of Hillary. None of this is surprising. Online libs routinely employ political fantasy in their efforts to elect more Dems, regardless of what those Dems actually stand for in the real world. But what did surprise me was how taken my pal Jon Schwarz was with Digby's sermon. He should know better -- does know better -- but then, Jon weeps when reading "Watership Down." Such a sensitive soul has no chance in this rancid political environment.

Max Sawicky, on the other hand, saw Digby with clear eyes, and he continually shows that there are liberals who understand that this is a radical time, and that mush-mouthed pieties about "the American experiment" are not only useless, they are dangerous. If he keeps this up, Max will be must-reading once the Presidential Sweepstakes really gets rolling -- not that he isn't already must-reading, of course. For some reason, Max reminds me of Frank Zappa, with his mix of dry, sarcastic humor and direct political bite. But I believe Zappa was a Keynesian, so it's not an exact comparison.

While listening to Digby drone on and on and on about the wonders of liblogging, I felt like Joseph Cotten in "Citizen Kane", playing with his ripped program while enduring Susan Alexander's tin-eared opera singing. Then I had a vision of me seizing the stage armed with an AK-47, and forcing those present to listen to my speech:

"Hello, friends. Some of you may know me, but if you don't, you'll know me after tonight. I don't want to take up a lot of your precious time, but after listening to Digby's 6th Grade civics lesson, I feel the need to add my thoughts. And thanks to a rather loose interpretation of the Second Amendment [waves weapon], I get to do just that. Thank you.

"There's a film that I'm sure many of you have seen. It's called 'Network', and though it was first released about 30 years ago, there is much in it that remains very pertinent today. I'm thinking primarily of the scene in which the head of the corporation that owns the fictional network explains global political reality to his top star, who has urged his massive audience to protest and stop a financial deal between the US and the Saudis. As the character Arthur Jensen put it:

"'You think you've merely stopped a business deal -- that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. It is ecological balance. You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today!'

"'There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today . . . The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business.'

"Beautifully put, both by Paddy Chayefsky who wrote it, and by Ned Beatty who delivered it. And of course, the next Dem president will serve this enduring reality, especially if it's Hillary Clinton.

"I quote from that film, not only because it speaks to us more strongly today, but because on Digby's site, she features the image of Peter Finch as Howard Beale, the man to whom reality must be explained. Yet, when Digby posts about 'reclaiming' America, she appears to genuinely believe that there is an 'America' that can be reclaimed. This is childish nonsense, and as I said earlier, dangerous, because it furthers the fantasy that keeps us locked into this fixed system, a system owned and run by those who do see the world as it actually is, and operate accordingly. We will never even begin to break free of this system if so-called 'progressives' insist on speaking a mystical language, one that can be and is regularly ignored by our rulers. By doing this, we are essentially policing ourselves for their benefit. We may not, in our lifetimes, seriously undermine, much less dismantle, the corporate stranglehold on the planet. But we sure as hell have no chance if we cannot even identify what it is that holds us down, and speeches like Digby's, while all nice and good, helps to keep us obedient and docile to this system.

"Digby should be writing greeting cards, not political speeches.

"Well, I see that the SWAT team has arrived, so I gotta split. You've been a great audience. Take care, and God bless."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Summoned By Voices

About a month ago, Bob Illes and Tom Kramer invited me on their radio show, "Funny Is Money", to talk comedy, and for the next 3 weeks, the recording of our exchange will air every night.

Bob was a staff writer for "The Carol Burnett Show", and has been an Executive Producer on numerous sitcoms. Tom, you may recall, was a writer and filmmaker on "Fridays", and has recently directed an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" for the upcoming season. I had a great time talking with the two of them, and have been asked to appear again in the near future.

The hour-long show starts each night at 9 PM Eastern, 6 PM Pacific. Go here, scroll down to the choice of players, click on one, and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

That Brittle Stasis

Quick rewind:

On the plane to NYC, I sat next to a serious looking young man, wire glasses, Michigan t-shirt, hardcover novel in his hands (didn't recognize the author). He kept checking his watch, looked around, went back to his book, then repeated the routine.

On one of his passes, our eyes met, and I said something innocuous to break the ice. Turns out the kid's about to enter his senior year at U of M, majoring in Middle and Near East studies, and is learning to speak and read Arabic.

"Well, that should come in handy, given where we're going."

"Yeah. I'm looking to get into the NSA."

Hoo boy! I hit the statist goldmine! Here's a kid, maybe 21, whose dream is to work for the National Security Agency. Only once before, back in the 80s, had I met someone like him, a young female acquaintance of an old friend of mine who had just begun to work for the CIA. Since this was during the Central American wars, I naturally called her out on this, and soon discovered that she knew very little about the mass murder her employers were overseeing at the time. This sent me into minor hysterics, and before long she and I were loudly trading insults in the restaurant we were in, near the Museum of Natural History. I confess I was quite cruel, going for her throat with everything I (then) had. She began to sputter, then cry, and quickly left the restaurant.

Another victory for The People! Viva Mí!

Well, age has mellowed me somewhat, so I had no interest in attacking this kid. Far from it, in fact. We talked about recent Middle East history, and he was pretty well versed (Juan Cole had been one of his professors). I took the discussion a bit deeper, getting into the tangled roots of Zionism, Palestinian nationalism, Ba'athism, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. While I didn't hide my feelings, neither did I pontificate, for I wanted to see how much the kid could take before he tipped his ideological hand. But he never really did. Seems the kid views the NSA as a straight career choice, few flags attached. Yes, he's going into the Air Force for a couple of years first; but there he'll become an officer, and once he's discharged, his path into the NSA will become much smoother. An Arabic-speaking Air Force vet working on translations? That's about as steady a gig as you can get these days. And I'm sure it pays well. Too bad it's in the service of endless regional war. But hey, you gotta go where the work is.

Now, where was I?

After the rooftop party, Smilp, A., and I went back to their place for the night. A. went to bed, and Smilp screened a documentary about "TV Party", the Manhattan cable access show that ran from 1978-82, hosted by Glenn O'Brien, a writer for Warhol's Interview. I'd only seen snippets of this show, as its run ended just before I moved to New York in the Fall of '82. But the boho mood and ramshackle downtown style of "TV Party" took me back to my initial days on the Lower East Side, where heroin was openly sold and used, everything was covered in graffiti, and people's tiny apartments doubled as performance spaces. The docu is really worth having, especially if you like free form television. Plus, the show featured Chris Stein of Blondie (along with Debbie Harry from time to time), David Byrne, Fab 5 Freddy, Klaus Nomi, Charles Rocket playing punk accordion, and a very young Jean-Michel Basquiat, who at the time went by the tag Samo, an aphoristic downtown graffiti artist. As one of the commentators put it, back then, you didn't need to be rich to live in Manhattan. Thanks to Giuliani, Bloomberg, and the many pigs in support, them days is long gone.

Next morning, I bid Smilp and A. adieu, then went down to Soho to drop my bag at the art gallery where my close friend Tim works. Tim was the Best Man at my wedding, was with me the morning my son was born, and together we closed more than our share of bars. So whenever I'm in town, we always hook up.

Tim had to work until 7, after which he would meet me uptown for a gathering of more friends. When I arrived at the gallery, I noticed it was in the same building where Michael O'Donoghue lived as a starving writer in the mid-to-late 60s. I immediately mentioned this to Tim, who thought it was such a strange coincidence that it gave him goosebumps. While researching "Mr. Mike," I came to this building several times, but the whole place was then shuttered up, so I could never get inside to look around. Imagine my delight when I could finally see the place where O'Donoghue wrote and imagined "Phoebe Zeit-Geist." Several people had told me how the loft was laid out, and I'd seen a few photos (which are in my book), and they didn't lie: the apartment was your classic cold water flat, with long, warped wooden floors, a tiny kitchen and adjoining bathroom. It was easy to picture a young O'Donoghue living there at a time when Soho was pretty much deserted. I snapped a few pix on my cell, thanked Tim for letting me in, then walked to the West Village to meet another dear friend for lunch -- Steve G.

I've known Steve for nearly 20 years. He used to do volunteer work at FAIR, and always had something significant to add at our weekly political meetings. Like me, Steve's self-educated, a working class intellectual who's incredibly perceptive and smart, and who possesses a wicked sense of humor. After lunch, he and I took the 2 Train out to Park Slope, Brooklyn, the last neighborhood where the wife, kids, and I lived before moving to Michigan. I hadn't been there since the move, which occurred during a traumatic period in our lives, and I wondered how I would feel walking down 7th Avenue once again. It was a weird sensation -- most of the stores and businesses from that time are still there, and I felt like a ghost floating through the past, experiencing once again the dread and anxiety of those brutal, final days in the city.

Steve suggested we walk over to Prospect Park. It was a beautiful, sunny day in the low-70s, and like 7th Ave, the park brought back all kinds of feelings, mostly wistful. We strolled past the baby playground where I used to take the boy before he could walk, and it was still in good shape and being used by another generation of parents. We then ended up on a bench under a tree, and chatted about various topics while watching kids romp around, a group of teen girls text messaging en masse, seniors walking and talking in Hebrew, and dogs chasing balls, leaping up to make a catch. Whatever anxiety I had soon vanished, and I allowed the whole park to swallow me up.

Later, en route to our evening gathering on upper Broadway, Steve and I spent some quality time in Central Park, snagging a bench next to the toy boat lake just off 5th Ave. I hadn't felt so relaxed in months. A saxophone in the near distance played as kids sailed their boats, parents pushed strollers while their children pushed tinier strollers, couples held hands, strikingly beautiful women strode by, and people walked their dogs. Just to our right, a performance artist portrayed a living statue as numerous tourists took pictures of her. Against this lush backdrop, with the sun filtering through the trees, Steve and I began to talk about comedy and film, then discussed Godard's work. As we chatted, a very attractive, 20-something woman sat next to Steve. She smoked a cigarette and appeared to be in a tense mood. Each time Godard's name came up, her head snapped in our direction. Finally, when I said something about Godard's cinematic capabilities, the woman jumped in with a deep French accent.

"Of course Godard is capable! He is a great filmmaker!"

For the next few minutes, Steve and I exchanged thoughts about Godard with this intense French woman, who somehow thought we were denigrating the director. But before the conversation really gelled, the woman looked at her watch, said "I must leave now!", sprang up and headed toward 5th Ave. And that was that.

Have I mentioned how much I love the city?

Not long after this, Steve and I met up with Doug Henwood and Beth Renaud at the back of an old Irish pub on Broadway. I hadn't seen Beth since our days as copy editors at Billboard, and she looked great, as did Doug, who is clearly lifting weights in defiance of how radical economic writers are supposed to appear. Pints of Harp began filling the table, and soon we were joined by Louis Proyect, Steve Rendall, Isabel MacDonald, who is FAIR's new Communications Director, Liza Featherstone and her and Doug's baby boy, Ivan, and finally Tim, with my bag in tow. It was a fine, funny gathering, with various conversations occurring at once. This is what I truly miss about New York, for I don't have anything like it here in Michigan, apart from my meetings with Juan Cole, that is. To say that I savored every moment of that evening would be understatement.

After several hours, the gathering broke up, and we said our goodbyes. Tim and I grabbed a cab to the East Side for a nightcap at American Trash, then back to his place where Tim's wife Suzy had graciously set up my bed. Suzy's about to deliver their first child, but she's as energetic as ever, and one of the sweetest people I know. It was the perfect ending to the perfect day; and the following afternoon, I flew back to Michigan, smiling at everyone I met along the way. To see me smiling a lot these days is rare, but that's what New York brings out of me. It will always be home.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wigwam Swamis In The Main Frame

What's left of Palestine is a living hell, with Israel poised to assault (yet again) Gaza. Iraq continues to explode and burn. We're now blasting religious schools in Afghanistan, killing children in the process of our noble effort to win hearts and minds in this Great Struggle. Plus, I've got a HuffPo post to write, so it seems trivial if not distracting to report on my trip to NYC over the weekend. But I had a really good time, and given what other topics are immediately at hand, you'll forgive me for beginning the week with that.

First, I'm not giving anything away by saying how much I miss the city. Yes, it has changed -- a lot, all in favor of the rich and well-connected, and there are more tourists than ever before, which clogs the sidewalks with people who don't know how to city walk, looking at maps, staring up at the buildings, and the rest. But the pulse still burns as it did in my day, and it takes me all of five minutes to tap right back into the main vein.

My pal Smilp and his beautiful girlfriend A. picked me up at LaGuardia, then whisked me to lower Chinatown, just under the Manhattan Bridge. Smilp insisted that I try a noodle shop that he recently discovered, a hole in the wall with two tables and a short dining counter. Business was brisk. We squeezed in and ate a spare but filling meal of homemade noodles and greens in a hot pepper sauce. Smilp didn't exaggerate: it was the best Chinese food I'd had in years, much better than the bland, rubbery crap they serve in Michigan (you'd be better off with La Choy at home). The cramped kitchen was right next to us, pots clanging, steam hissing, orders shouted out in what I guessed was Cantonese. The front door was open, and just above the steps raced countless pedestrians, visible only from the knees down.

I was in my element.

We dropped A. somewhere near midtown, then Smilp drove over to Chelsea so we could tour some of the many art galleries there. Most of the paintings at various spaces left me cold, as they seemed derivative of Basquiat, Rauschenberg, and Stella. But there were some interesting and engaging pieces, most especially at the Anna Kustera Gallery. I particularly liked Adham Faramawy's video installation, "The Six Organs," and Ju$t Another Rich Kid & Stuart Semple's "Teen Dream Chaos." The latter, which you can see here (scroll down), is dense and very detailed, with each piece of a teen girl's bedroom strategically placed, right down to the scrawls on a crumpled newspaper featuring a passed out Lindsay Lohan. Then there was Stuart Semple's "Kurt Lied," which I would love to have hanging in my office -- that is, if I was rich enough to throw $25-large at the thing. Unlike most of the other patrons, whose elegant clothes immediately announce their wealth, Smilp and I were rumpled, scruffy, and clearly not in any financial shape to even fantasize about buying a painting or sculpture. Yet, this didn't stop Smilp from acting as if we were rich, eccentric types, and he would ask each gallery owner how much this or that piece cost.

"$125,000, sir."

"I see," Smilp replied, rubbing his chin as if actually contemplating a purchase. "Has anyone else made a bid?"

"A few. But as you can see, it's still here."

"Hmm. Yes, well, we may be back for this soon."

"Very good, sir. Thank you."

It was all I could do to remain in character.

After the galleries closed, Smilp and I drove to the Upper West Side to attend the newcritics party that was the main reason for my visit. He dropped me on Broadway and went to find a parking space. As I walked around, waiting for his return, I noticed a pair of very shapely legs on a small woman striding with purpose, talking loudly into her cell. She looked vaguely familiar from behind, so I walked past her and quickly glimpsed as I did. And lo and behold, it was The Nation's editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. She appeared to have some kind of technical problem that wasn't being addressed, which gave her voice added edge. I'd only met Katrina once before, at a Nation party in the Village ages ago, and that didn't go all that well, so I turned and strolled southward, where Smilp soon joined me.

The party had already commenced, with several clusters of people chatting on a rooftop overlooking the beautiful Manhattan skyline. I had not met nor knew any of these people personally, so it was nice to actually place a face with their respective blog. The host, M.A. Peel, dressed in a Sixties-style/Twiggy-ish jacket, introduced us to a few other bloggers before leaving us to circulate. After some small talk, I went to the open bar for a beer, then stood at the edge of the roof's wall, soaking in the dusk-framed skyline. As Woody Allen put it in "Manhattan", I don't care what anybody says about the city -- it simply knocks me out every time I'm there.

I fell into a few interesting conversations, from the suit-and-tie-clad Tom Watson (with whom I didn't clash over our stark positions on Hillary), to the earthy Kathleen Maher. Lance Mannion and I spoke briefly. But for me, the real juice came when I joined Maud Newton and James Wolcott for an extended dialogue about blogs, the rightwing, publishing, agents, among various other topics. Maud was fighting a bad cold, but she was a very amusing and energetic conversationalist. Jim was great to talk to, and unlike many people at Manhattan cocktail parties, he actually listens to what you have to say, which, given his place in the magazine/blogger world, means a lot. It was a genuine delight to have met them both, and I look forward to more conversations with them in the future.

That will have to do for today. There's much to catch up to on the home front, so I'll finish my little travel report tomorrow. Aloha.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ignore That Screaming Man On The Corner

Blurfing, as my friend and spiritual adviser Jon Schwarz likes to put it, will be light to non-existent over the next few days. I'm off to NYC to see some old cronies and meet, in person, various, prominent libloggers at a gathering on the Upper West Side.

I love that part of the city, not only because I lived up there several times during my New York years and retain many fond memories (some bad ones, too), but most especially because many American reactionaries hate and see it as foreign, anti-American turf. Of course, the majority of these trogs probably haven't set foot on upper Broadway, walked down Central Park West as the leaves are turning in the Fall, tasted the smoked fish at Barney Greengrass' Sturgeon King store, or drank and played pool at numerous old dives that reeked of spilled booze and mildew, most of which I'm sure aren't even around anymore.

I'll take that over an All American strip mall in the Midwest any day.

So, barring some in-flight insanity, I'll rejoin you either on Sunday, or at the latest, Monday.

I leave you with a YouTube request from an old Army buddy of mine, now living out west. It's Seinfeld in the HBO series "Oz", from when he hosted "SNL" in 1999. Enjoy, Steve.

And from me, here's Gilda Radner's screen test for the original "Saturday Night", from August, 1975. You'll hear the voices of Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, and Lorne Michaels, all trying to throw Gilda off. But she handles it with the easy going style that was singularly hers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Is That A Gun In Your Mouth, Or Do You Need Corrective Surgery?

People are still talking about "The Sopranos", which, after a scan of today's headlines, is completely understandable. Hell man -- let's spend the rest of the summer talking about Tony and the gang.

I'm pressed for time this morning, since I'm going with my son's class to the local water park (yes, the same place we went to last year). But here are two satirical takes on "The Sopranos" for your edification and general amusement.

The first comes from this past season of "SNL", featuring host and former cast member Molly Shannon's character Sally O'Malley. I've always liked Shannon's work, even though she has maybe two comedic moves. It's her energy and commitment to the performance that's impressive, and this sketch shows her in fine form. Fred Armisen's Paulie Walnuts is pretty good, too.

But for sheer, straight-up, hold-your-sides laughter, nothing beats "Mad TV's" classic, edited-for-broadcast-television version of "The Sopranos". Will Sasso's Tony is magnificent, and Debra Wilson does a fine Dr. Melfi as well.

Monday, June 11, 2007

HuffPo: No! No!

Well, it didn't take long to find my Huffington Post parameters. This morning I was informed that the below post was inappropriate, since it's "not clearly satire." Personally, I don't know who would confuse it for a straight take on Iraq's ceaseless misery, but that's the fun of submitting your work to others -- they see it in completely different terms! That is, if they see it at all. So, it's back to the blank page for something more in tune with the HuffPo vibe. Until then, here it is, for what it's worth.

UPDATE: But before we get to the big laffs, HuffPo has been very nice about their rejection of this piece. Not their cup of Flavor Aid, it seems. I simply must take a different tone when dealing with these topics. They did run my "Sopranos" post, which is one of 378 posts there about the same thing. If only I can find a scratch 'n' sniff angle to make mine stand out more. Until then . . .


The New York Times reports that Iraqi college graduates are looking to flee their country just as soon as they can. As one departing student put it, “Staying here is like committing suicide.”

Now that's progress! Thanks to us, Iraqi college students not only can contemplate suicide just like American students, they have several options before them. Why swallow a handful of pills when you can just stand on a street corner and wait for the next car to explode?

Yes, it's another victory for sassy Lady Liberty.

And don't think that those uppity, elitist, secular college professors are getting off scot free. To date, over 200 Iraqi professors have been killed, with countless more kidnapped by various sectarian groups.

Education expert and finder-of-Islamocommie-bias David Horowitz hailed this turn of events in the snooty Iraqi academy.

"Professors who are out of touch with their students, or use their position to advance personal agendas, face immediate reprisals in Iraq," asserts Horowitz, picking at his scalp for lice. "If only we had that kind of accountability at Berkeley or Brow -- gotcha, you treasonous little bug! Say hello to my Freedom Crush!"

Like their American counterparts, Iraqi college students enjoy the recreational pastimes that come with higher education. One favorite is Spring Break The Country Into Warring Factions, where if you actually get out of Baghdad in one piece, you have to do a shot -- to the head.

"Under Saddam, if you kept to yourself and stuck to the books, you'd get a degree and perhaps a decent job, either in Iraq, or better, overseas," says Ibrahim Saleh al-Abdul while sweeping up shell casings near a university quad. "But today, anything's possible. You can begin the day majoring in science, and by lunchtime, pleading for your life on some jihadist website. In liberated Iraq, you are limited only to the degree that you are out-numbered or out-gunned."

Iraq's Class of '07 has set the bar high for those underclassmen who remain in school, or remain alive. And for those who are graduating from Babil University, just south of Baghdad, commencement brings a special treat: a send-off from Christopher Hitchens himself.

"I can't tell you how excited we are to have Mr. Hitchens speak at our graduation," exclaims Sabeen Shatah, straightening her new black veil. "Of course, he won't physically be here, and he sent a DVD of him on some American TV show, so he won't be speaking directly to us, either. But the fact that he took the time to mail the DVD means more than I can say. I just wish Mr. Hitchens were here so we could personally thank him for all he's done for Iraq!"

Another friend of Iraq, the pop star Kid Rock, recorded a special graduation song for Iraqi students: "Baghdad Bling (Rollin' In Da Green Zone)," which has enjoyed immense popularity.

"Get movin' before the bullets fly
And swing that bling, make jihadis cry
They can't hang wid Kid I-Rock
Coz I takes what's mines, barrel and stock
Punk ass Shiites and pussy Sunnis
Blast yore balls back to th' boonies
That's how Kid rolls when he's Iraq-in'
Baghdad bling for da awe and shockin'!"

"It's like Kid Rock has read our minds," says Kahil el-Jabir, a former pharmacy student turned professional knife sharpener. "It's amazing how well you Americans know us!"

Amazing? Not really. We simply understand the universal desire for freedom and know how to make it happen. Consider it another graduation gift, Iraq Class of 2007! The party's only just begun . . .

Bada Bye

The longer a TV series runs, the tougher it is to end. I can't think of a Last Show that was at all satisfying, that tied together loose ends, that left me feeling wistful or wanting more. "M*A*S*H", "Cheers", "thirtysomething", "Seinfeld" -- none of these shows ended artfully or even memorably. Each in its own way was overstuffed with references and characters from earlier periods, and at times looked like pre-emptive cast reunions. And with syndication, you really wonder what's the point of a Last Show, since endless reruns keep a show's characters and familiar plotlines alive.

I prefer a show to end without warning, leaving everything up in the air. "My So-Called Life" did that, against the wishes of the producers, of course, as they clearly thought that a second season was coming. But ABC canned "So-Called" without ceremony, and we're left forever wondering if Brian Krakow and Angela Chase ever hook up, or if Angela's father Graham has an affair with his business partner, Hallie Lowenthal, among other unresolved storylines. We'll never know, and that's a good thing. It's as if we moved away from that neighborhood and never looked back.

From the reaction I've seen so far, it seems that most fans of "The Sopranos" feel cheated or let down by last night's abrupt ending. I was simply confused, and thought, for a moment, that my cable went out, which was a clever ploy by David Chase -- fuck with the transmission at what seems to be the key moment, then silently run the credits. It took me an hour to fully appreciate Chase's choice, for as others have observed, there was no real or satisfying way to end "The Sopranos", so just end it, and toss in a little technical joke for added effect. To me, this was the best Last Show I've seen.

Now, I must confess that I'm a relative newcomer to "The Sopranos". I didn't really start watching the show until the middle of last season, found myself hooked, and haven't missed an episode since. But I did miss a lot of plot exposition and character development, as well as many characters killed before I came into the narrative. So, over the weekend, the wife snagged from the library the first season of "The Sopranos", which I'm currently watching, and I'm simply floored by the thing. I cannot believe it took me this long to watch the beginning of Tony's slow and inevitable loss of power; his early, angry, clumsy efforts to discover who he is within, and how he honestly relates to those close to him. The framing of shots, the lighting, the cinematography -- all are simply fantastic. But it's the writing, and most especially, the acting that blows me away. I know this isn't news to the millions of "Sopranos" fans across the world, and you'll excuse my late appreciation, but James Gandolfini and Edie Falco are perhaps the best leads I've ever seen in a series, dramatic or comedic. And of course, "The Sopranos" blends these forms as well as, if not better than, any American show before or since.

In a way, I'm glad I'm just now watching the first season. I know the main characters well enough from the past two years, so it's nice to see them in an earlier time. And unlike all you "Sopranos" regulars left with no new episodes, I've got some 70-plus fresh chapters ahead of me, so this will be my personal "Sopranos" summer. Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to it.

The teen bet me five bucks that Tony would get whacked last night. I refused her wager, since I knew that David Chase could not and would not kill Tony, "Too easy," I told her. "Too predictable." I also thought that Chase would leave Carmela untouched as well. How on earth could he erase his two greatest characters? Better to let them face an unknown future together, along with Meadow and A.J., and allow the fates take them as they are.

What fate does the Soprano family face? There's talk of a feature film, which would make sense, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars. But even if we never see the Sopranos again, that's okay. It's like leaving behind another fictional neighborhood, albeit one filled with hidden graves and unresolved relationships. In reality, you'd be happy to get out of there alive. In "The Sopranos'" world, you'd keep looking back, hoping to see one more plot twist, a family argument, a fist fight, a hit. Or maybe you'd look to see if the ducks had returned. But that would be too neat a framing device, and as David Chase showed us last night, such narrative symmetry was not part of the plan. That's one of the reasons why "The Sopranos" will remain a unique and an indelible piece of Americana. Let's see if the floating surfer show can match that.

Friday, June 8, 2007

All That Heaven Forgot

How's this for a compromise: Paris Hilton can serve the rest of her sentence in my basement and pitch in with the house chores.

Like cutting the grass.

Yes, once again I stare at the long blades that mock me, and try to find the energy or interest to whack them down to size. But Paris is young, has done shit work on TV, so she's perfect for this job. Plus, I don't find her sexually attractive, since I demand from my sex slaves a modicum of interest in something other than their own reflections, so the main focus will be on the labor. And just to make things fun, I'll dress in Khmer Rouge clothing, don a Mao mask, and bark abusive monosyllables at her while she sweats in the summer heat. I mean, if we're gonna do this right, let's get into character and really drive the point home.

My mind is going today, slipping quickly into manias that elude conscious definition. I've been here before, so don't fret on my account. My only concern is that with advancing age, I may not be able to pull out of a serious mental dive, crashing and fracturing into millions of flying shards that slice through whatever common sense or creative imagination I have left. Then it will be drool cup time, and cold oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Perusing the various AP, Yahoo, Reuters headlines this morning did nothing to help, and while I could rip off a 1,000 word, profanity-laced assault on those ridiculous, empty, insulting presidential "debates," what would be the point? A Zen exercise in sheer aggression, nothing more. Still, I do enjoy reading those libloggers who take it Very Seriously, awarding style points to whomever, fantasizing that Hillary, Obama, or maybe even Edwards will pull us from the wreckage of the past eight years, or even better, fantasizing not only about an Al Gore run, but how a President Gore would have behaved in contrast to Bush. In fact, I like that so much that it will be the subject of my next Huffington Post -- assuming the one I turned in on Tuesday ever runs.

Now, I know some of you out there think that I hate liberals. I get mail asserting that whenever I swing my dented aluminum bat at a mule. I even heard from Eric Alterman fans (I know -- Alterman has fans?) who are convinced that I'm a rightwinger, especially after Ann Althouse linked to my schaudenfruede post on Monday. What can I say? It's a crazy bloggo-world. I just post inside it.

But dig this, lib haters o'mine: It seems that some of your heavier hitters are taking me a bit more seriously, or at least find me entertaining or diverting. In past month I've been added to newcritics and HuffPo, and next week I'll be in New York to rub shoulders with the likes of Tom Watson and Lance Mannion, among many like-minded others. Where this sudden interest in my stuff came from, I have no clue. I haven't changed all that much. Indeed, I'm probably harsher than I was a year ago. But, in person, I'm a friendly, easy-going guy (save for those moments when I'm chucking rocks at the squirrels on my roof), and I look forward to meeting Tom, Lance, and the rest of the gang. Should be fun.

But do you know what's truly strange? I've just been invited, and I've already accepted, to appear on a panel at Yearly Kos in Chicago this August. More details to come, but you old Son readers have to admit -- me at the Kos party? That is one gathering I'm genuinely looking forward to.

Dark clouds are closing in. Distant thunder. The wind is picking up. A storm is approaching, which means I can't cut my grass today. Lucky for you, Paris, that I'm not better connected. Pushing a mower in the driving rain would, if not teach you something about class relations and the utter depravity of the modern-day bourgeoisie, make for an entertaining spectacle, which I would tape and sell online for the low, low price of $12.99. Watching you give blowjobs is boring. Watching you perform manual labor in bad weather would be a new kind of voyeurism -- celebrity punishment porn. And I would be its Larry Flynt, wearing my Mao mask, of course.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Noises In My Brain

If you're wondering when my next hee-larious bit will appear at Huffington Post, you're not alone. I'm wondering the same thing.

I sent in my latest days ago, but it has yet to appear. I've asked my blogeditor several times what's up, but she isn't answering my mails.

Have I fucked up this gig already?

The new post is a bit rougher than the last one, which was, let's admit, about a step or two away from Dave Barry-ville or Erma Bombeck-land. Maybe that's what HuffPo wants from me -- quirky posts where no one gets hurt. I don't know. Without the feedback, I'm left to guess. And when I'm left to guess, I get slightly crazy and start projecting all kinds of shit that has little or no contact with objective reality, and then I smear strawberry jam on my face and go out into the yard and dare wasps and bees to land on me, openly taunting them with "C'mon buzzy! Take your best shot! And bring your hive buddies, too! I got something for all you flying assholes!!!"

Just watch. Now that I've raised a stink about this, HuffPo will pub my piece, just to make me look nuts. I'm beginning to see their plan . . .

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Columnated Ruins Domino

Last weekend, various online elders celebrated the 40th anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper," recalling their youthful joy upon first hearing the Mop Tops' conceptual break-through. Very nice, I thought. Music is as good a marker as any, and Lord knows I have my own faves from Back When, though my "Sgt. Pepper" was "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols." Not exactly flower power time. But then, I was a child when The Beatles were dropping acid and wowing their audience. The Cowsills were more my speed.

All the tributes and remembrances inspired me to dig through my CD stacks, as my copy of "Pepper" has been buried for at least a year. The wonderful Aimee Mann said recently in the New York Times that there's no need to listen to "Pepper" ever again, not if you've heard it four million times over numerous phases of your life. Besides, I prefer "Revolver" and "The Beatles (White Album)." To me, that's the seminal Beatles sound. "Sgt. Pepper" was more show than substance -- a strong melodic show, to be sure, an entertaining spectacle, but not the end-all, be-all that its fanciers claim.

After a ten-minute search, I found the dusty "Pepper" and took it with me as I ran various errands. I cranked up the volume with all the car windows down, not only to soak in the warm breeze and catchy hooks, but also to keep the Michigan drivers as far from my mind as possible without causing a wreck. (Maybe it's me, but the local drivers seem to be getting worse.) It took all of 30 seconds to be locked back into the Peppery groove, the rest of the album played out in my head before I got through Billy Shears. That's the problem with "Pepper": I can't hear it with fresh ears anymore. It immediately flattens out and quickly becomes boring. "Yeah, yeah -- you get high with a little help from your friends. Tell me something I don't know." Halfway through "Getting Better," I ejected the disc and replaced it with a home-burned compilation that kicks off with Sonic Youth's "Drunken Butterfly."

So went my brief Summer of Indifference.

Still, I couldn't get The Beatles out of my mind, so I phoned my pal Mike Gerber, whose knowledge of the Four surpasses anyone I've ever met, including my longtime friend, former writing partner, and brother-in-arms Jim Buck, who can talk for days about Beatles' minutiae. But Mike takes it to an even deeper level, and I sought not only his thoughts about "Pepper," but also to challenge him with my notion that Brian Wilson's "Smile" is a superior effort.

Mike appreciated my position, helped by his love for The Beach Boys; but needless to say, he wasn't buying the "Smile" comparison. Not that Mike dislikes "Smile" -- far from it. It's just that he believes "Pepper" is the better album, and he gave me a serious tutorial to support his argument.

I was nearly swayed, for Mike speaks gently but with authority, and it's always a pleasure to talk at length with him about creative matters. Still, I held my ground. Had "Smile" been released as planned in 1967, it's my belief that it would've blown "Pepper" out of the water. But Brian Wilson was practically alone in his increasingly-fractured world, facing the anti-"Smile" hostility of his bandmates. The Beatles had each other, believed in the "Pepper" concept, and were helped along by producer George Martin, who did as the band members asked. Had Wilson received any serious support from the other Boys, musical history would be quite different. But he had to wait until 2004 to finally finish his pop masterpiece.

After talking to Mike, I decided to perform an intense, comparative taste test. I would listen to "Pepper," then to "Smile," uninterrupted, on headphones, alone in the dark of late night/early morning, assisted by chemical romance. When my mind plugged-in, I slipped on the headphones, hit Play, sunk into my chair and let the music swim over me.

This time, "Pepper" was a lot more interesting to listen to. Indeed, I hadn't heard it this way since I don't know when. Instead of mentally racing to the end of the album, I slowed down and inhabited each song, focusing on melody, transition, construction, pace. I moved beyond the pat familiarity and was rewarded with sounds I've long ignored.

"Fixing A Hole" was especially nice; "When I'm Sixty-Four" deceptively simple; "Within You Without You" perhaps one of the more experimental Beatles tracks (coming off "Tomorrow Never Knows"), given the time it was recorded and what Beatle fans doubtless expected; "Lovely Rita" and "Good Morning Good Morning" blended beautifully together. Then came "A Day In The Life," the one "Pepper" song I've never grown tired of, simply because it's the best cut on the album, and remains among the band's strongest work. Overall, I enjoyed "Sgt. Pepper" more than I had in decades. Had "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" been included as originally planned, I would agree that "Pepper" is The Beatles greatest album.

But better than "Smile"? Tough to say. Perhaps equal to Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks' collaboration, but that's open to personal interpretation. As it stands, "Pepper" is several steps behind "Smile," and this was reinforced when I listened to it again. Unlike "Pepper," "Smile" truly is an interwoven tapestry, not just some period concept held loosely together at the front and back end. "Smile" is deeper, richer, wilder, and riskier than "Pepper," meshing sounds that have no inherent musical purpose (chomping celery, belch-like noises, hammering nails and sawing wood), but make perfect sense when arranged by Wilson, whose mind has seen and heard notes and melodies where most others would see static. It is easily one of the most magnificent and inspiring pop compositions I've heard in my life.

"Smile" does share one trait with "Pepper": both albums close with a very strong number, in Wilson's case, "Good Vibrations." Only this isn't the version that was a hit single in the 60s and became an orange soda theme. This is the original song co-written with Tony Asher, who penned the lyrics for "Pet Sounds." This version is longer and much more majestic, so when you come to the closing mix of cello and Theremin, you've been taken to the mountaintop and back. It's fruitless to compare "Good Vibrations" to "A Day In The Life" -- both are brilliant. But "Good Vibrations" is more organically tied to "Smile" than "A Day In The Life" is to "Pepper," which is why the latter stands out more on its album. I suppose that difference is what truly separates these two efforts, which is why I maintain that "Smile" is the better record.

After a couple hours of pleasurable listening, I floated to the front room to watch some old comedy on DVD. But when I turned on my set, the image of Hillary Clinton flashed on-screen, and while the sound was muted, her well-rehearsed facial expressions spoke volumes, for here is a true authoritarian personality just itching for more state power. It didn't help that I was still being romanced chemically, and I shuddered to think that she might well be the next president.

I turned off the set, went outside in the cool of early morning, walked barefoot in the grass under a bright night sky of stars, let go of Hillary and the other monsters competing to rule us, hummed about good vibrations, and smiled.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Beat The Press

I must confess that reading about Eric Alterman's brush with the law in New Hampshire gave me a happy jolt this morning, for the image of Alterman in handcuffs is not only funny, it is, on various levels, just. This guy is one of the biggest dweebs in American political journalism, a classic liberal elitist devoted to the US corporate state, and a firm believer in the "gatekeeper" role of what passes for intellectual culture in this country. And, naturally, Alterman considers himself one of the gatekeepers.

I remember Alterman coming to the FAIR offices when he was working on SOUND AND FURY, his book about the pundit class, looking to lift whatever he could from our research. He tried to hide his contempt for our downscale surroundings, but obviously knew that we had a lot of information that could help his book. So he came on all friendly in a sniveling, condescending way, and we couldn't wait to usher this asswipe out the door. As one of my colleagues put it soon after, Alterman wanted desperately to be what he ostensibly criticized in his book -- a pundit. And so he has, sharing the same hatred of direct expression from below as does his fellow corporate media shills. As Alterman himself put it:

"Ever since the beginning of blogging-time, I have worried -- in public and on blogging panels -- about the loss of the media's gatekeeper function . . . Particularly when the media profess to strive toward objectivity, punditry/gatekeepers play a crucial role. My problem with the punditocracy has never been that they are pundits, but that they are so incompetent at the job they do."

Right. What we need are "competent" gatekeepers to make sure that the rabble know their place. And Alterman is more than willing to help keep this arrangement in place.

Sadly, Alterman got off easy, with not so much as a single baton strike to the gut or a shot of pepper spray in the face. Clearly, police violence towards the media has taken a big dive since the glory days of the 1968 Democratic Convention. But then, we're living in more manufactured times, a reality that Alterman enjoys, so long as he's twirling the gate keys on his middle finger.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Steve Gilliard

As I'm sure many of you already know, Steve Gilliard died today at age 41. He had been in the hospital for some time, and his popular News Blog has been kept afloat by his partner and friend Jen, and by numerous guest bloggers.

Steve was one of the first bloggers I read with any regularity. What I liked best about him was his sharp candor, clear prose, and passion. He had a definite opinion about many things, and rarely if ever watered down his thoughts for the sake of others. Not enough writers and political commentators do this, and I will always give Steve props for being up front.

Steve and I corresponded from time to time, and once, in 2005, linked up to take on Marc Cooper over Iraq. But at times I was very critical of Steve, and found some of his stated positions either conformist on behalf of the Dems, or simply immoral, like his support for the nuking of Japan. The last time we traded emails was over Al Franken's visit to Abu Ghraib. I thought that Franken's pose with an MP's dog was not only cynical (obvious visual fodder for his Senate run), but in pretty poor taste, given what military dogs had done to prisoners inside that prison. Steve sternly disagreed, informing me that military dogs are, for the most part, decent animals who help save lives. I replied that when I was in the Army, dogs were used to sniff out drugs and intimidate those being questioned or arrested by the MPs.

We didn't speak again after that.

Which is fine. Steve and I had different paths. His sadly, and unfortunately, ended at a very young age. My deepest sympathies to Jen, Steve's family, loved ones, and friends. Steve made a mark, and though I disagreed with him on several issues, I will miss reading him. RIP.

Kids Today

"I gave the Army my cell number."

"You did what?!"

"Gave the Army my number."

"Why the fuck did you do that?"

"I'm fascinated with them. I want to talk to them."

"About what?"

"The war. I wanna see what a recruiter will say about it."

"You're only 16."


"I mean, seriously -- what the fuck do you think the recruiter's gonna say?"

"I dunno."

"He's going to lie to you. Tell you the most fantastic shit. Do anything he can to get you hooked."

"That won't happen. I'm not gonna join."

"You'd be insane if you did."

"Besides, if I talk to them, I get a free Army hat."

"Is that all you want -- a hat? Hell, let's go down to the Army surplus store and I'll buy you one."

"Naw. I really want to talk to a recruiter."

"This is bullshit. Do you know that once you're in boot camp, one of the main marching and running chants is 'My recruiter screwed me too!'? Military recruiters are paid liars for an imperialist system. Especially now."

"Well, I want to see how good they lie."

"If that's the case, just go to the Army's website and watch their propaganda films and read their bullshit. Then you get your fill with no damage done."

"What do you mean 'damage'?"

"Look, I don't want the Army coming to the house, sniffing around for what they think is some naïve kid. I gave them six years of my life, and that's it. I want nothing else to do with them."

"Why are you afraid of them?"

"I'm not afraid. I just don't want them in my life. When you're 18-19 and living on your own, you can hang with whoever you want. Hell, have all four branches over for Yahtzee, for all I care."

"I don't see the problem here."

"Of course you don't. This is a game to you. You think it's funny. But it's not a game to them, and if they think they have someone they can reel in a year or two from now, they'll do and say whatever they can to put you in uniform and send you to the Middle East. They need fresh bodies for their war, which is not gonna end anytime soon. Plus, I don't want your brother exposed to them, either."

"But he's only 11."

"Yeah, and looks 14, and is as tall as many adults already. No chance. No fucking way."

"Jesus, you're so fucking angry about this."

"Because I've been in uniform and know what I'm talking about! You have no idea what you're messing with."

"All right! Okay! I get it! Just drop it!"

"You hungry?"

"Yeah. How 'bout KFC?"

"Good God. Are you aware of how their chickens are raised?"

"Jeez -- here we go . . ."