THE SUMMER OF “ANNIE HALL” AT 40

Aquarian Weekly
7/19/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE SUMMER OF “ANNIE HALL” AT 40

Pop culture is the folk culture of the modern market, the culture of the instant, at once subsuming past and future and refusing to acknowledge either.
– Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces

I heard commentary and dissent merged to form dysentery.
-Woody Allen, Annie Hall

About a month ago while gearing up for a cover piece on the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ culture-shifting album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band it came to my attention that one of my favorite films was celebrating its 40th anniversary; Woody Allen’s masterwork, Annie Hall. Released in April of 1977, unlike most of his movies at the time which had a limited but dedicated following, it would, much like Sgt. Pepper’s, come to define a generation and influence countless film-makers working in almost every genre. It would transform the concept of the romantic comedy and lift Allen from comedian turned film-maker into one of the most celebrated auteurs of the era.

Up until that spring Allen had mostly dabbled in comedic efforts filled with pithy one-liners and classic pratfalls centering on a singularly damaged nebbish character that juggled a myriad of trepidations through several bizarre scenarios. Annie Hall crystallized this concept in the guise of a couple; Allen’s comedian/writer, Alvy Singer and photographer/singer, Annie Hall, played with quirky ennui by Diane Keaton, who would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Both characters drift towards middle age anxious, lonely and spiritually lost in the greatest city on earth, which was then in the throes of its own spiritual decay; economic collapse, a spectacular rise in crime, while also capturing an underground esthetic in music, art and social upheaval. (Annie compares Alvy to New York; a damaged, isolated island).

The expanse of the city, which reflects the anxieties of the times; sexuality, friendships, fame, insecurities about the decay of the culture, and the analytical, intellectual and religious failures to fill the voids of people unaware of their conditions, also allowed Allen to profess his professional and personal affection for his then lover, Diane Keaton, who had already built a solid resume with Allen on Broadway (Play It Again Sam) and films (Sleeper, Love and Death).

Although dripping with Pygmalion ironies and doomed from the beginning, Alvy and Annie’s relationship reveals the deeper truths in the insecurity of the dating world circa mid-70s (Alvy insists that he and Annie kiss in the middle of their first date to avoid nausea later), especially among the more cynical that came to discover that compatibility with the world was enough of a chore without trying to balance it with the vagaries of love. In one brilliantly devised scene, both Alvy and Annie idly chat about photography while subtitles of what they’re actually thinking appear beneath them.

In this way and more Annie Hall is a romantic comedy like Moby Dick is a book about a whale. The love story is merely a backdrop for the deeper themes in the film; specifically its satire of urban life in the latter part of the American century in which a stop-gap generation straddled between two clashing eras – the Great Depression/WWII and Rock and Roll/TV – deal with the loss of self beneath angst, guilt and self-absorption. The city, as the people who inhabit it, is overloaded with the illusions of contentment in artistic statement, psychoanalytical theory or status symbol myopia. “The rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers,” muses Alvy to a friend. “I think of us that way, sometimes. And I live here!”

To that end Annie Hall is illuminated by period touchstones and a plethora of cultural references that bridge the generational gaps. In a recent viewing (apologies to my wife, who has seen it at least fifty times since I’ve known her) I counted 47 direct references to authors, book, films, gangsters, rock stars, politicians, magazines, movie stars, etc. These include music (“Seems Like Old Times” – overly sentimental mid-century romanticism – to a flaccid reference to Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”), commentary (a disjointed argument about the Kennedy assassination to Marshall McLuhan magically appearing as himself to settle an argument about his work), and film (Alvy repeatedly drags Annie to see a film about Nazi atrocities, The Sorrow and the Pity).

Annie and Alvy are a microcosm of their times; turning the focus of their fears and aspirations inward and convincing themselves that there must be more to life, or more to the point, the terrifying notion that life may not have any point at all. Alvy skillfully explains to Annie early in their relationship that he divides people into two categories; “miserable” and “horrible” and that they should be happy to be merely miserable. An early flashback shows the childhood Alvy Singer bemoaning the expanding universe to avoid doing homework. Later Annie, who at one point is reading a book about sexual mystique while refusing sex with Alvy, is taken in by the Hollywood quick-fix culture of celebrity, macrobiotic foods and peace mantras.

Annie Hall is a romantic comedy like Moby Dick is a book about a whale.

This search for personal enlightenment ends in dissatisfaction with the inability for the characters to discover the simple joys in merely being, never mind being together; a theme Allen would mine for years in subsequent films. He would originally title the screenplay Anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure.

Co-written with comic writer, Marshall Brickman, Allen unfurls a 1970s over-analytical, paranoid, self-absorbed version of many of the classic Hollywood “goofy boy meets quirky girl” memes, providing Allen’s tried-and-true nebbish character a foil in Keaton’s wonderfully off-beat use of language (her sentence-trailing “La-di-da” as a nervous tick) and fashion (her penchant for off-the-rack, ill-fitting gender-neutral togs), and charming naiveté; all of which Keaton already had in her arsenal that inspired the screenplay.

For all its memorable lines and ingenious obliteration of the “fourth wall” (Allen opens the film speaking directly to the audience and throughout breaks the scenes to comment on the action) Annie Hall continuously resonates with me and I believe future generations for its honest portrayal of cultural isolation; its protagonist, Alvy Singer is a man out of time (not quite making the “greatest generation” – too young to fight in WWII – and too young to be a Boomer), who walks the fine line between being obsessed with death and an almost anthropological infatuation with life. Allen intuitively reflects the plastic glamour, the false political narratives and seemingly failed 1960s revolutions of free sex, drug experimentation, and anti-hero worship of the late 1970s.

Annie Hall is a film about its time and timeless; a weird kind of magic trick that all great art manages to pull off. It struck a chord among East Coast intellectuals, Middle America and Hollywood glitterati like few films before or since, especially ones made by Woody Allen. It was news, did fine box office in the time of the blockbuster from Jaws to Star Wars and won numerous awards including four Oscars for Best Screenplay, Director, Actress, and Best Picture. Today it tops several romantic comedy lists and continues to inspire the genre while remaining incredibly relatable, even if it is becoming harder for us to admit it.

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APOLOGY SYNDROME 2017

Aquarian Weekly
6/7/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

APOLOGY SYNDROME 2017

Where’s the punch line?
– Alice Cooper to jc, 9/13

There is a mural in an alleyway in the Temple Bar district of Dublin, Ireland of Sinead O’Connor. It reads; “Sinead you were right all along, we were wrong, so sorry.” In October of 1992 the Irish singer/songwriter infamously ripped a photograph of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, proclaiming, “Fight the real enemy.” It set off a firestorm here, but in the entrenched Catholic traditions of her home country it was tantamount to treason. I would gather that in the annals of artistic protest, of which there have blessedly been thousands throughout Western civilization, this one was a doozey. Needless to say O’Connor was vilified and black-balled and even booed off the stage at, of all things, a Bob Dylan Tribute concert in friggin’ New York City a few weeks later. She never recovered professionally.

Turns out, as the mural succinctly and eloquently states, that although the performance protest was oblique and combative, her style anyway, it was a trite salvo in the war that was waged in the ensuing century against the Catholic Church for covering up the sexual abuse of children, to which we would later learn O’Connor had been a victim of; having endured such horrors, as hundreds of her fellow Irish youth, at the hands of predatory nuns, all of whom were whisked away without retribution for decades.

But long before being redeemed, O’Connor, one of my heroes, and I was honored to be able to tell her so personally when I interviewed her for a feature in this paper in 2014 just a few weeks after I took a photo of my wife standing in front of the aforementioned mural, she never apologized. Even when the torrent of hatred and professional and personal strife poured down on her. And you know why? Because right or wrong, this was her statement. And she stood by it, as all statements made by citizens or artists or politicians must; whether you are railroaded for it or not.

You would think.

I was reminded of Sinead and that mural and the night she stared into a camera on live television and tore up a photo of a revered holy representative of her church, and for the record O’Connor has never stopped being a Catholic and in fact was ordained in some radical sect of the church as a priest in the late 1990s, when comedian Kathy Griffin fecklessly apologized for what I assume was some kind of provocative performance/protest art. You’ve seen it by now. She is standing holding the bloody severed head of our president. Oh, not really the severed head, that would be bad, just an effigy.

Why is she apologizing for this?

Whether you agree with this or not or think it “goes too far”, which should not be in your lexicon if you believe in the sacred tenants of the U.S. Constitution, I think we can all agree that apologizing for something you believe makes no sense, especially when it is not off the cuff. This was a conscious free expression.

Now, we all know Griffin apologized because everyone went nuts. So she is not apologizing for her opinion or the way she chose in a very strategic way to express it. She is, of course, doing it because she got canned from CNN; that she only planned, produced, and sent the thing out all over social media to get attention to assist her flagging career but got the Sinead O’Connor shit storm instead. She was apparently wildly unfamiliar with what happens when you appear with the severed, bloody head of the president of the United States.

So it really isn’t an apology. It’s like the Anthony Weiner type apology for being caught or because things didn’t work out in her favor, not because she is sincerely sorry. Remember when Prince Harry went to a Halloween bash dressed as a Nazi? Remember everything Kanye West has done and said for the past decade-plus? Remember Congressman George Allen? Yeah, I don’t remember him, either. Still, all apologized for basically nothing but people being mad at them. Kathy Griffin is full of shit. She is sorry because she’s fucked. That is not really an apology and shouldn’t be.

Also, why would she feel the need to apologize for offending anyone? Isn’t that the point of the provocateur, whether Lenny Bruce or Thomas Paine or Salvador Dali. Not that I am comparing a woman who spends every New Year’s Eve figuring out new ways to joke about blowing Anderson Cooper in Times Square to these mighty figures, but when you swim in that pool you can’t be surprised by getting wet.

Also, let’s face it, Griffin is apologizing because she put her singular name and face to this gesture. What is the difference between this and burning the previous two presidents in effigy, which they were, over and over, in dozens and dozens of protests? Or the despicable shit people throw up on the Internet? One comes with a signature, the other is anonymous or done in a mob but they are the same thing. Different venue. But the same thing.

Art.. is an extension of opinion, and like comedy, need not ever apologize.

Now, there has been much talk about political correctness and the backlash against free speech, mainly by the Right lately. This used to be the domain of the Left. But freedom is a mighty pendulum that will swing and swing hard, and one man’s insult is another man’s right, and I support that in every possible way. But, like all things, it comes with degrees or definitions. I am not broaching parameters here, only what kind of free speech tumbles into shouting fire in a crowded theater. Or more to the point, which can be accepted as opinion versus doing what ironically has been an art form for the president in question, blatant falsehood.

For instance, when former Breitbart, (The Onion of the Right), provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos caused riots at the formally Free Speech Center UC Berkley campus last February, I had several debates with alumni and we came to this conclusion; the protest was only justified because Yiannopoulos is the Alice Cooper of commentary and as an entertainer in this field he is virtually peerless, but should a place of higher learning be accommodating a guy espousing what amounts to flat-earth theories. This is equivalent to a medical school allowing a man touting leeches as the elixir for menstrual pain. However, a few months later when conservative Howard Stern type commentator, Ann Coulter backed out of her appearance there due to protests, it was a tad different. Coulter is kooky, but she is not telling you the earth is flat. She is saying she thinks Mexicans are evil and Jews need to be “perfected” and that Joseph McCarthy was a hero. These are opinions. I think Ann Coulter is a stupid idiot (opinion), not a fat guy from Cleveland (falsehood).

Art, and whether you like it or not Griffin standing with the severed, bloody head of the president is art, is an extension of opinion, and like comedy, need not ever apologize. And even if you apologize, doesn’t un-paint the Mona Lisa or un-record “Anarchy in the UK”.

People who make a stand, no matter how trite or vulgar or combative, need to stop acting as if it is not when it goes bad. Going bad is the point. Did Kathy Griffin think no one would be offended by holding the severed, bleeding head of Donald Trump?

Oh, and on the flip side of all this political correctness off-shoot, Donald Trump and those who support him are not allowed to be offended by anything. Trump is the vilest human going. This is his thing. He has insulted anything and everything repeatedly to spectacular results. You can make the argument he has “normalized” this behavior, and I could not be more pleased at this. So he or anyone who has supported this act doesn’t get to whine about his 11 year-old little shit “having a hard time with this.” You think Rosie O’Donnell’s kid was digging Trump calling her a fat, disgusting pig over and over again, or the children of the disabled reporter were thrilled that the then Republican candidate for president was acting spastic in front of a capacity crowd to get laughs or the dozens of other disgusting things the president has said and done over the past two years? How do you think Barack Obama’s girls feel when this blowhard accuses their father of high crimes with no evidence after two years of saying he had evidence that didn’t exist that he wasn’t even an American?

Fuck him. Grow a pair and get a helmet.

As for Kathy Griffin, fuck off.

You are no Sinead O’Connor.

Author’s Note: I wish to apologize for anyone I offended in the previous column.

Second Author’s Note: Fuck you.

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WILL SOMEONE PLEASE HAVE SEX WITH BILL O’REILLY?

Aquarian Weekly
4/12/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE HAVE SEX WITH BILL O’REILLY?

Tales of Old, Unattractive Perverts & Other Sociological Phenomenon

I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.
– President Donald Trump

Aside from rodeo clown, hosting a cable news show is about as low as one can sink in show business. Bill O’Reilly is on top of this dung heap. Has been for a long time. In terms of power and ratings and all-things meaningful to his ilk, he is the shit. This allows him to sell books with his name on them that someone else writes and tee shirts with pithy sayings that he stole from a 1971 MAD magazine or American flag mugs or some other over-priced useless crap he peddles to shut-ins. O’Reilly is especially excellent at yelling about things he has very little knowledge of, taunting opponents of this childish miasma in the specious guise of heroism, meanwhile branding himself as a faux badass, but what he quite apparently cannot do is get women to fuck him.

This problem has reportedly cost his network FOX News some $13 million in sexual harassment settlements over the past decade-plus; something it is reasonably comfortable doing. Although now that big-time advertisers, three dozen so far, have begun to sever ties with this behavior, things might change. But not likely, as FOX has proven this is mere chump change and business as usual, for in the past year its chairman, Roger Ailes was sent packing after a phalanx of sexual harassment charges followed by more pay-offs.

Ailes, a bestial troll-like creature, whose fetish for vengeance and propaganda helped make him one of our more influential political whores, treated the hiring practices of this “news outlet” as his own personal gawking institute. But alas, Ailes, a poster-boy for the type of damage bad diet, aging and baldness can do to what was probably a mess to look at to begin with, could not actually get any women, so he decided to use his power to force himself on unsuspecting and most certainly disgusted females in his employ.

O’Reilly has apparently taken this mantle as his own, and now is breaking sexual harassment pay-off records – even when one considers the moral apathy of aging news anchors, wherein a neat haircut, expensive suit, and the ability to read shit on an electronic scroll gives one access to plenty of women to ogle and harass for chuckles.

And so as a public service, I ask with all sincerity, if anyone is interested in screwing this man, please step forward.

Is there no one that will give this poor, wrinkled, coffee-breathed, whiskey-swilling blowhard a tickle; if for no other reason but to keep him off innocent, younger more attractive types who would sooner jam metal spikes into their eyes than allow him the odd grope?

Of course O’Reilly is a piker compared to our new president, who has endured at least a dozen reported accusations of sexual harassment of all kinds. In fact, it is hard not to be affronted when you see the president being interviewed by this cretin; two old, fat, disgusting, golf-obsessed drooling miscreants trading secrets on how to best grab a woman by the genitals and still maintain status at some gig that will have them, like top-rated cable news show and leader of the free world.

And may I say that it is poetic that these types of repulsive bottom-feeding, sexually deprived knuckle-draggers are tops in our media and political cultures. It reflects the values of a nation that allows elderly men the artificial means to screw like animals and deny the poor women who have to endure these nauseating troglodytes contraception to avoid making any more of them.

And by the way, has anyone heard from Bill Cosby lately? What the hell is keeping this very same society from hanging this serial rapist upside down and carving his testicles off on national television? Because I’ll say that kind of display may deter these predators from heaving their flabby hides all over drugged women, or at least give us the satisfaction of seeing them taken out of the sex business altogether.

And if you give it some thought, it really comes down to a generational thing. Although, in all due respect, my dad is 78 and he is the most principled human I know, much less a man. But to be fair, O’Reilly (67), Donald Trump (70), Roger Ailes (76) and Bill Cosby (79) come from an age in which pinching a woman’s ass was considered playful flirting. They honestly do not believe any of this abhorrent activity is particularly galling. This is why the president of the United States takes the time to Tweet a defense of O’Reilly and why this past October, when Trump was busted bragging about sexual assault, the host said on his show that all of this was transpiring in “private” and he would not play the offending tape because “It is crude ‘guy talk’.”

Is there no one that will give this poor, wrinkled, coffee-breathed, whiskey-swilling blowhard a tickle?

Yeah, not sure what “guys” O’Reilly and Trump hang out with. Sounds more like “psychopath talk” to me.

But just for laughs, let’s try some of this “guy talk”; I’d like to take Bill O’Reilly and tie him to the back of my car and drive him through Manhattan traffic and then piss on his bleeding wounds while a homeless guy jacks off on his head.

Actually, this is fun.

More guy talk: Donald Trump is fucking weak-ass braggart, who is so hard up for a woman to not be horrified by his bad hair, orange complexion and bulging gut he has to get little boys to laugh at his jokes about women who would normally wretch at the sight of him.

Actually, I change my mind; this is fantastic. I love “guy talk”. But I digress. We need to get this man laid.

I’ll tell you how bizarrely offended O’Reilly must be that he has to force himself on women. Deviant sexuality is rampant in this country. While southern goober states try and outlaw every sub-level of human sexuality, there are women right now trolling the Internet to beg the most heinous savages known to civilized man for some action. Yet poor Bill O’Reilly has to trade jobs for a sniff. I mean, how low does one have to drop on the “In a pinch, after many cocktails I might consider this” meter before breaking laws? Is there even a level we can imagine for that kind of abject repugnance?

It must kill O’Reilly that say a 34 year-old Jared Kushner, who sounds like he would need a few minutes to spell FOX, is now running the most powerful and richest country in the world’s foreign policy for no other reason than he is putting is penis in the president’s daughter. This guy can’t get anyone to look his way and this dim bulb is meeting with Iraqi officials and overseeing the bombing of Syrian airfields while his wife imports dresses from the Russian mafia.

But, hell, life ain’t fair. O’Reilly fucked up. He should have married rich instead of become a performing cable monkey. But that is still no reason to stalk women like Aqualung. (That’s right folks, it took Bill O’Reilly’s absent sex life to force a Jethro Tull reference out of this space).

So for the love of God, will someone please have sex with Bill O’Reilly!

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IN PRAISE OF THE DAILY SHOW (THE BOOK)

Aquarian Weekly
12/21/16

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

IN PRAISE OF THE DAILY SHOW (THE BOOK)
An Oral History of the Golden Age of 21st Century American Satire

I have never actually missed a TV show. The concept seems silly to me. Sure, I wish certain shows I dig would have kept going in-perpetuity, but usually when I look back, I figure it was probably a good idea it stopped. I think Showtime’s Shameless is going bye-bye after seven seasons. That sucks. It is currently the best show on TV for my money. But, I get it, its time. But when The Daily Show lost Jon Stewart – effectively going off the air (for me) – it was a bummer, but, you know, okay…I get it.

But, man, do I miss The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

12-21_ds

And I don’t think it actually hit me until I received a copy of film-maker, Chris Smith’s wonderfully compiled The Daily Show (The Book) – An Oral History in the mail and haven’t been able to put it down. And weirdly, I think when I’m done in a few more pages I’m going to – for all intents and purposes – finally put away this particular icon and try and understand why it was so damn important to me.

For me The Daily Show was, of course, very entertaining. Some might say; right up my alley. Or at least it was playing in the same alley.

In 1999, when Jon Stewart took stewardship of Comedy Central’s then half-hour social-commentary joke-fest, I began getting emails about it from readers of this space, specifically an old radical friend of my Uncle Johnny, who I had never met but I guess started reading my stuff and then tried to get me onto Stewart’s jag. I was never a fan of “fake news” satire – the HBO series Not Necessarily the News or even the early Weekend Updates on SNL. It took me a few years, really, maybe just before 9/11 or so, to begin to catch on to the insurrection that was The Daily Show.

Occasionally I would flick it on and get more than a chuckle, and then, and I’m not sure when or what story they were lampooning or what level of satire they were playing at, it suddenly struck me as damned important work. My guess is I probably became an avid viewer and began setting the DVR sometime before the 2004 presidential campaign and found myself getting at first influenced by the track of the show and then trying like hell not to cover similar ground – as if anyone would notice or care for that matter. But I would. It is a thin alley we were working in. You do not want to bump into anyone for fear you are merely echoing the angst or bile. I have plenty of both already.

And, you see, that’s where Smith’s book really put me on notice this past week. It reminded me how much of the free-thinking public, and okay…college burn-outs and shut-ins and the fringe-class…were satiated by watching The Daily Show make a difference, whether to drive a bill through congress to assist first-responders, or affect the free-expression brigade in Egypt, or merely expose those who needed exposing from the War in Iraq to the banking crisis to the general absolutists that make this country a strange and wonderful mixture of the horrible and fantastic.

The Daily Show (The Book) – An Oral History … illuminates the aim and effectiveness of true satire and the skewering of our most cherished institutions as an art form

Certainly if you are a fan of the show you must read The Daily Show (The Book) – An Oral History, because although I wish it had more “inside baseball stuff” – writing room stories or inner turmoil or other things (and it has it, but not as much I crave from these oral histories) – it is a sincere blast to relive its finest moments and understand how it was achieved and more importantly remember how much it was a major part of the democratic process and how much it began to force politicians and social leaders and writers and scientists and authors and even celebrities hawking whatever to “be real” and give them either a forum to express or a place where they could…not…hide.

And I don’t think necessarily, as has been argued, that the power and scope of The Daily Show would have meant a hill-o-beans in this past presidential election cycle, I do think it would have helped to frame it in its most peculiar terms, something we have striven for here since 1997, two years before Stewart sat in the chair and began to shift the narrative of American comedy, much like the usual suspects, Twain and Bruce and The Simpsons…you know the roll call.

Anyway, before this holiday season gets away from us, I wanted to put a few words together for Smith’s exhaustive work. I rarely get the chance to laud books here. I read so many damn books and some are definitely worth writing about and some…not so much. I do my bi-annual Rock Reads thing for the paper and that seems to suffice. I am not a critic and have no interest in faking it, but I think the readers of this column would get a kick out of The Daily Show (The Book) – An Oral History because it illuminates the aim and effectiveness of true satire and the skewering of our most cherished institutions as an art form I believe is the last vestige of reality (ironically) in a world that is replete with fabricated nonsense passing for righteous outrage and political expediency.

But mostly the book has made me miss the show and miss Stewart and all the great correspondents and writers and that nice exhale at the end of each day when it is eleven and we can laugh at our goofy human experiment and then nod off to sleep.

But at least we have this as a memento.

Bravo, Mr. Smith.

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THAT METAL SHOW ON THE RUN

Buzz
Aquarian Weekly
3/16/16

THAT METAL SHOW ON THE RUN
Eddie Trunk on The Fate & Fortune of His Beloved Cable Show

There is little debate among fans of That Metal Show. It is great. It is fun. It is geeky and loose and relatable and the hosts, Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine are like buddies hanging at the bar arguing about the best thrash metal band or what guitar solo is the better or what live version of a song outdoes the studio version; important, life-affirming stuff. The interviews with the rock stars are intimate and disarming and have the air of same; hanging out talking hard rock and metal with the passion it deserves.three

This is why when a few months back, June to be exact, it was silenced, there was a hue and cry across the land. Its channel, VH1 Classic, owned by MTV Networks, did not renew its option, due in part to upheaval in upper management and the usual boardroom financial quarrels. The ratings were good. In fact, it far exceeded anything the network aired. It’s frugal, low-tech production, the only original content produced by the network, never wavered.  Yet, after 14 seasons, That Metal Show is no more and fans want to know why and what’s next?

The show’s brainchild and founder, Eddie Trunk comes clean in this exclusive interview with the Aquarian, and since Eddie was kind enough to read, rave about, my new book, Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon and interview me for his Sirius XM coast-to-coast radio show this past October, I have drawn the assignment to get the scoop.

What happened? What’s happening?

Here are the highlights of our discussion on the matter and the latest from the That Metal Show front lines.

 

james campion: First off, how did this all go down?

 

Eddie Trunk: For fourteen seasons, every time we’d finish one the network has about ninety days to let us know if they plan to pick up the option to do another season. The ninety days lapsed in April and they said that there were some changes going on at the network, at many levels; executives that were big champions of the show and were responsible for getting them on the air were either dismissed or quit.

We were told that the show initially was going to be moved to another network with the same company. There were a lot of things we were originally told and then each time another phone call came it was basically, “We’re not going to do that. We’re not going to do that.” And then they basically just released us completely from our deals. It’s just restructuring. It’s nothing personal.

 

jc: Do you, Don, and Jim have your own production company? How did you work all that with VH1 Classic and how are you guys moving forward?

 

ET: VH1 produced and owns every episode of That Metal Show including the name.

 

However, what happened is our producer, Jeff Baumgardner, who produced every episode and worked for VH1, as part of his exit out of the network he was able to make a deal to get the name of the show. So he now actually controls the name of the show and it’s under his world now. So we have the ability, because Jeff is in our corner, very much wanting to continue to do the show, we have the ability to continue doing the show exactly how it was and use the name and all the same features. It’s just that when that’s done the network that decides to pick it up would have to make a deal with VH1 for it. But there is a deal in place, so it’s very easy to do. So we can continue the show. We can continue it under the name That Metal Show. It’s just some paper work that needs to be done for that to happen, but VH1 has given us their blessings to continue to look for a new home for the show and to allow it to still be called That Metal Show.

 

jc: So where are we now with all this?

 

ET: Well, my agent, Adam Leibner is representing me and also helping to place the show. He was a huge fan of the show for many years long before he represented me and he is in the process now of talking to various parties to see what the options are. And at this point we don’t know. It’s a very slow moving process and I understand that’s frustrating for the fans. Frustrating for us as well. I would love to bounce right back and be right back on, but it’s not that simple. And the TV landscape is extremely convoluted right now, because you have all the over the air networks but then you also have the emergence of Netflix and Amazon and all these streaming services, apps, and all these different things in the media world today. So every single avenue is being explored and weighed and discussed to see what’s out there and what makes the most sense.

 

jc: Is there something you would prefer that would allow you to do the things you didn’t have the budget to do or you would even attempt to do to expand the show, to have bands play or have more production value or whatever?

 

ET: Absolutely. How realistic it is, I don’t know, but I always have lofty goals and I always am looking to make everything I’m doing bigger and better and have more opportunities at every level no matter what I do. I would certainly love to record more episodes a year than we have. I’d love to include band performances. And I would certainly love to broaden it out. People may find this pretty hard to believe, but I never ever, ever, wanted the name “metal” in the name of the show. And that’s not because of the fact that, I mean, God my whole reputation is in that genre, so it’s nothing to do with that. It’s just that I wanted it to be a little broader based. I thought it would be important to lure in other sort of acts that might be alienated by that name and still keep it a rock show.getty

So we would like to take some chances and do some different things. We’d like to make it bigger and better. It’s just a question of finding a dance partner that’s up for that and wants to do it. And listen, the flipside of that could very well be where we have to go a little leaner and meaner.  We have to even strip some things away maybe depending on what the opportunity presented to us is. So, again, we are listening to everything and everybody and taking it all in. It’s being digested and I’ve got a guy that I trust to process all this and go through it and see what’s going to make the most sense. We just simply don’t know right now. Truly anything can happen. We just have to let the process play out.

 

jc: What’s your preference for how this plays out?

 

ET: My dream would be to be on HBO. The reason why I say that is because I would also love to be uncensored. I think that dealing with the people that we talk to, the stories and stuff that we could get that we wouldn’t have to censor would be incredible. Or obviously my dream would be to be on a network, but that’s a pretty lofty thing. But again I don’t rule out anything. Nobody does. It’s just a question of where is there traction? Where is there interest? It’s funny, James, because, and I get this from a fan’s standpoint because they’ve lived with this show for so long and they love it and it’s ingrained in them, and I greatly appreciate that; but the huge amount of fans that I hear from, they all say the same thing, “Well, just take it here.” “Just take it there.” “Just put it on there.” Like I can do that! (Laughs)

There’s going to be a very sizable audience that when we do announce a new home is going to immediately come there. And we hope that that’s a powerful enough thing to get some interest from a network, but I gotta be honest with you, man, I’ve always been a guy that I never get too high and I never get too low. So nothing would surprise me that could happen here. And, of course, I hope for all the best stuff, but I’m prepared for anything and I’m hoping it all works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll do something else. I’ll do something new. I developed this. I’ll develop something new hopefully.

 

jc: So you guys are keeping all options open.

 

ET: Sure. There’s a ton of those networks that are merging. And somebody just told me the other day there’s a channel called Esquire, which I didn’t even know I had that’s on my cable system. And there’s a bunch of these channels that people honestly don’t even know about that are out there. And it’s kind of like, “Ok wow. That could actually work. That could be a fit. What’s involved in making that happen?” And again there’s so many of them. A lot of people have said, “Access TV!” Well, sure. That would be a logical place, but they have to want to do the show. And listen, doing That Metal Show is not cheap. It’s cheap by big network standards, but the way we were doing it, it’s an investment. They have to feel that it works for them. We’re going to explore everything. Also, the other thing I run into is people yell out networks that they get on their cable systems. For everybody that’s yelling at me, “Access TV!” there is just everybody else, the next person that says, “Well I don’t get that channel, so don’t go there.” (Laughs)

jc: So, what can fans do that read this? Also, I’m sure a lot of the guys, the acts and some of the rock stars you’ve gotten to know that have been on the show probably want to be in your corner and write emails and make phone calls and back you. What do fans do en masse to get That Metal Show back on the air?

 

ET: Well, there really isn’t one at the moment. There is a couple of fan ones that have been set up. I know, Tim Louie at the Aquarian had one going for a while. I don’t know how many signatures at last count, which is all wonderful and really very flattering and really very nice. And it is certainly, certainly appreciated, but I’d be lying, and I just don’t want to waste anybody’s time to tell them that there is something we can do like that now. There isn’t really anything like that to do just yet that is really going to mean something in the big picture here. There may very well come a time that we do need that and I’ll be the first to let everybody know when, where, and how to help. But as it stands right now we really are still just in this exploring phase and I’ve seen a lot people email networks and I know that Netflix in particularly, Access TV, because those are two that come up all the time, have been tagged on tweets and what have you. That’s all great! And it’s appreciated. I don’t know how much it means to the networks. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know if it gets to anybody there. But it certainly can’t hurt, as long as it’s done in a respectful way.

 

jc: I’ve come to learn since my KISS book came out, that these bands have a strong cult following, as does your show.  Metal Heads do not fool around.

 

ET: Well, thanks, man. And you know we appreciate that and we’ve heard that from a lot of people, and again, I can’t stress enough; our one-hundred percent goal is to absolutely get it back on. And there is nobody anywhere that’s deviating right now from the plan of saying “Ok. What’s out there? How can we do this? What’s the best home? Where can we bring it?” It’s just going to take a little time. I know that everybody expected and wanted a quick answer and a quick bounce back, but we don’t have that just yet. It’s a process and it has all got to play out. And again I hope that it truly does. In the meantime, I would tell everybody that for fun, I mean, the show is still on VH1 Classic. They repeat episodes constantly throughout the week.

 

jc: You guys still do road shows and appearances, right?group

 

ET: Yeah. It’s very important for people to know what we do on the road is certainly not a taping of the TV show. But for years now we have been going out together, the three of us, and we go out to clubs and we tell stories, behind the scenes stories, and Don and Jim do standup, and I do some Q & A, and we do some live “Stump the Trunk.” And we just have fun with the audience in a bar setting. People come out, obviously they have some drinks, we give away prizes, and we have a good time. There are no cameras. Sometimes there are no guests. It’s just really us.

Another thing, people have said, “Hey just go do the show on the road.” That’s a little more involved then you would think. Again, it comes down to money. You’re talking crews and sets and hiring guests and musicians. That’s a big operation that again we don’t have that sort of funding available.

So we do kind of a lean and mean road show. We get out there, we have fun, we thank the people that have supported the show and it’s something that we’ll keep doing with or without the show on a new network. The three of us are all still great friends. We have a good time out there together. We’ll see where it goes. But I can’t stress enough my thanks to everybody for their support through this whole thing. And also, of course, that we hear ya’ and it isn’t as easy as saying, “Go here.”

 

jc: It’s an exciting time. Something will come of it. I just have a good feeling about it.

 

ET: You never know. And again; I don’t get too high, I don’t get too low. I just kind of let the process play out and nothing usually ever surprises me. So we’ll hope for the best and who knows, maybe somewhere in the not too distant future we’ll be doing an interview talking about a bigger, better new home.

 

 

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DAVID BOWIE 1947 – 2016

Aquarian Weekly
1/20/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

DAVID BOWIE 1947 – 2016

The task of philosophy is to teach the individual to become autonomous: not to ask, what is Being? but rather, what do I think about being, justice, physics, etc.
– John David Ebert

Strange fascination, fascinating me.
– David Bowie

One thing that must be said about David Bowie that never changed, despite his manic, almost schizophrenic ambition to do so both musically and physically throughout his almost five-decade career; his performance art never moved fashion, started trends or signified rebellious solidarity. Bowie’s trip was just the opposite; solitary, introspective, antithetical. While Elvis Presley obliterated the past and introduced a new youth paradigm in the 1950s, followed by The Beatles transformation of an entire culture in the 1960s, and skipping to Madonna’s anti-fashion, campy reimagining of a woman as the saint/sinner in the 1980s, Bowie was our perpetual outsider – zigging when the rest of the thing zagged. Thus, by not transforming anything but himself, constantly and without bearing, he became the pop culture, rock symbol of the 1970s.

Bowie

“He spoke to skinny backgroundish guys everywhere who, while in the midst of fighting to find it, questioned the very reason behind having a place (at all) in any current society. It wasn’t a gay thing, but an idea that a person could reinvent themselves into any entity that broke the norm,” my friend Peter Saveskie elegantly wrote to me this week.

Bowie was a creature of the 1970s, an era I’d immersed myself in for over three years while researching my new book, Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon in which Bowie is famously quoted as saying that “Rock must prostitute itself. If you’re going to work in a whorehouse, you’d better be the best whore in it.” In the same interview Bowie is quite adamant that anything that emerged out of the wildly experimental 1970s had to have a sense of humor in it. Humor, of course, being perhaps the most subjective and private of reactions to the great social order, something never lost on David Bowie’s best work.

The 1970s was the first time, specifically in America, where assimilation reigned for nearly two centuries, that individuality exploded from every social corner; race, gender, sexual affiliation, musical and artistic branding, even the origin of nationality. Until the ‘70s, there was none of this African-American, Italian-American stuff, or the identity politics that still rages along today. It was the beginning of societal edges careening into the mainstream, something often erroneously tied to the 1960s, when, in fact, there was a counter-cultural gathering to the rebel nature of youth. The following decade all of that fractured into segments of society creating a space to express; on a lesser note in music, where rock transformed from a movement to disparate interests, which led to several groundbreaking inventions, glam, prog, punk, disco, rap and hip hop.

David Bowie swam these currents with little interest in latching on to anything. Perhaps for the first time in the genre we have an artist that lives and breathes as a reflection of our worst fears; that change is inevitable and with it comes a breakdown in togetherness. Bowie disturbed the notion of youth culture by making it a non-culture; his most famous character, of which there were dozens, Ziggy Stardust, (“Oh don’t lean on me man, ’cause you can’t afford the ticket”) was a complex vision of doom and hope in the ostracized, the shunned, the queer, the bizarre, the unwanted, the rejected. His Aladdin Sane (“Sits like a man but he smiles like a reptile”) was an urban myth eulogized in the underbelly of cults that seemed to pop up every forty seconds throughout the decade. This is what it comes to, when we realize we are not of our time or place but of our own identity, says Bowie in his dark Berlin trilogy.

Bowie’s family history is of very real schizophrenia, his half-brother Terry suffered deeply from it and disintegrated in front of his eyes, after he had introduced him to the wonders of rock and roll as an expressive tool to escape the horrors of what might indeed be his own illness. Bowie ran from it his whole life, sure that he was afflicted with madness. He wrote about it constantly with spectacular success; “Rock and Roll Suicide”, “Scary Monsters and (Super Creeps)”, “An Occasional Dream “, All the Madmen”, “Quicksand” to name a very few.

Bowie dabbled in androgyny like no one outside of the subculture of homosexuality, especially in England where it had always been hidden in plain sight in the realm of theatrics, both professional and cultural, simply because it rejects identity. He dabbled even in the idea of humanity, its bigotry and pettiness, transforming himself into an alien appearance – made ever more eerie with his two different colored eyes and one perpetually dilated because of a beating he took as a youth in school. He embraced the black experience, not like The Rolling Stones, who had expressed its holy ritual as a pop machine, but its fusion of jazz and funk and street jive. His appearance on the popular Soul Train, the first such musical television show that did not collect kids like a mass marketing ploy, but set strict parameters on black music for its brilliance, its blood and soul, was historic. Ten years later he recorded what would turn out to be his most popular album, Let’s Dance with Nile Rogers and spat on MTV’s ignoring of black music at its own peril.

If I may, I wish to add a bit of my own experience discovering Bowie in the 1970s and beyond. My favorite Bowie album without question is Hunky Dory, because pound for pound it has his best songwriting, a skill for which he is stunningly underrated. It would also, I would come to find out, specifically from Peter Doggett’s wonderful The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s and my friend, Ken Sharp’s Kooks, Queen Bitches and Andy Warhol; The Making of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory mark the first time Bowie forged a new identify, that of the “screwed-up eyes and screwed-down hairdo” – the quirky phrasing and the William Burroughs cut-up lyrics that hinted at Fascism and bisexuality and sophism and the indefinable charm of hiding; “Ch-ch-ch-changes…”

“Rock must prostitute itself. If you’re going to work in a whorehouse, you’d better be the best whore in it.”

When Bowie escaped America in the late 1970s barely hanging onto any of his contrasting identities, strung out on cocaine and running wild through the pitched dangers of Hollywood, he mused about his seduction with suicide as an artistic statement, wiping out his persona so as to not have to face the inevitable fade into banality, and then he created his finest work with Brian Eno and finished up the decade awash in myth.

I leave this piece in the hands of another friend, Doctor Slater, whose screeds on all-things at all hours of the day and night hit me in the special places every time. He wrote to me last night of Bowie: “The particular brand of poison I’m partial to has left me agog as to this Mr. David Robert Jones. Davy Jones, that’s probably a contemporary I would want to distance myself from, product of the TV scene. What name do I choose? A big fucking threatening knife, yes, that is to be my new last name. Bowie. He sold himself as a bond. He’s featured on money, and alternative currency called the Brixton Pound. Like Benjamin Franklin. And from the 80s’ comes the reinvented Duke. Asking us to get along, long before the cops beat the shit out of Rodney King. From the Spiders of Mars to Getting me To Church on Time, the man knew how to surf. He predicted the collapse of the music industry. Fuck that puff dicking around with the Yanks in the California sand, I’ll show the world what a proper English lad can do. Mind your manners young ones.”

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IN DEFENSE OF EBENEZER SCROOGE

Aquarian Weekly
12/23/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

IN DEFENSE OF EBENEZER SCROOGE
A Christmas Plea For Leniency For A Misunderstood Freethinking Capitalist

Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.
– Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

’Tis the season for forgiveness and empathy; which works both ways, bub. Caring for the less fortunate, giving to those in emotional need, understanding those who may be ostracized and forlorn; these are the sentiments I wish to bestow upon one of the most despised characters in the English language, the brilliantly named Ebenezer Scrooge from the master Charles Dickens’ seasonal-standard 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol.

I maintain, if the jury would allow, that Scrooge, while being obstinate and crotchety, mostly rude and myopic, is hardly a villain and does not deserve the kind of black mark rendered upon him next to some of the most vile of literature’s rogues, like say, Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde, Shakespeare’s Claudius, Stoker’s Dracula or even Milton’s Satan.

Sheesh, Satan?

scrooge1

We have here a psychopathic monster, the greatest villain in English literature, the king of vampires, and Satan.

Satan.

I read an essay two years ago, and the author escapes me, but he compared Scrooge to Grendel from the epic one-thousand year old poem, Beowulf, the original monster introduced to the language. The argument if I can paraphrase had the similarities of loneliness, isolation, abandonment, mommy issues, etc. This is lazy and presumptuous analysis since, of course, these fill all manner of villain back story from Dr. Moriarty to the Wicked Witch of the West to the Grinch to the Joker.

Grendel?

Murderer? Monster? Villain?

What exactly are Ebenezer Scrooge’s crimes?

He hates Christmas? He is cheap? He does not care about anyone, not even himself?

How about he refuses to partake in a phony celebration of humanity in a glaringly inhuman urban setting of blight and disease, poverty and despair, or in other words 19th century London? This crushing economic nightmare has strangled anything resembling a middle class and has led to a reality of paranoia and hording and a sense that if one does not hang onto one’s meager possessions, one is likely to become a freezing, homeless carcass.

Scrooge, as the novel tells us right off the bat, works in finance, lending finance to be exact, and is faced day after day with his and the next generation’s dwindling largesse, seeing his friends and colleagues, once prosperous men of business, reduced to begging, borrowing cretins for whom he must prop up with no manner of end. And so he treats his clients and his employee, the terminally optimistic Bob Cratchit with a sense of dread well earned. Cratchit wants to put more coal on the fire. He is cold. Scrooge is adamant that to waste it is a sin. In these times he finds himself, with so much evidence of doom, Scrooge is nothing but pragmatic. He treats his family and his associates with equal caution, rightly bursting their fantasy bubble that “all will be well”, because there is no reason for such gaiety on December 24 or July 10 or frankly anytime on the calendar.

If anything Scrooge appears to be – and I believe it has since been sussed out that this was Dickens’ aim – a microcosm for the era. Scrooge, like all of Dickens’ characters is a victim of his age. His reaction to this is not charity, but survival; the basic human response to crisis. This is Victorian England at the crossroads, as Dickens had painfully and vividly unfurled in some of his most striking polemics (Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby) against the untenable Industrial Revolution – its progress obliterating the working class and replacing it with greed, antipathy, pollution, and unchecked power.

However, perhaps it is what Scrooge’s environment has done to him physically that allows Dickens to begin to riff with glee; the manifestation of avarice and the pursuit of soulless profits from faceless factories that not only operate beyond human frailty, but in spite of it. It is the inhumanity towards humanity that fuels A Christmas Carol, which transforms Scrooge into a twisted creature.

To wit: “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

These external features, while rendering Scrooge a physical wreck like, say, eating poorly or incessant smoking and drinking can alter a person’s outward appearance, are merely self-inflicted. I applaud Scrooge’s internalizing of his loathing of a system he did not create but that created him. He does not go out and shoot anyone or go on a murderous spree, or steal from or destroy his competition. He does not start a movement to defend the blatantly cold and anti-Christian machinations of capitalism or use that power to manipulate an already corrupt system. If anything, he means to protect and enhance his dearly departed partner Jacob Marley’s legacy by not giving into sentiment in a time of grave economic and social dangers, not to mention disease and crime.

Beside Marley, Scrooge has another man for whom he must pay homage in A Christmas Carol; his once gregarious boss, Fezziwig (another fantastic name that paints a picture of a preternaturally gleeful and foppish English businessman) introduced to readers during the visitation of the first of the three promised ghosts by the apparition of his fallen friend. Fezziwig hosts a grand party for his employees, something completely alien in Scrooge’s current times, sharing his wealth and laughing in the face of the oncoming economic deluge, which will cause him to be swallowed up by the industrial cabal that will also gobble up his earnings, absorb his beloved business, and cause him ruin. This indeed is a cautionary tale, and not that of the heart, but the stomach that will soon be empty if one tosses away his fortune on fun, frolic and the frivolity of Christmas.

Also, if I may, I think that Scrooge’s infamous blurting of “Humbug!” at the mention of the holiday is quite enviable. He will not give into banal social niceties at a time of utter predatory corruption. His honesty, even in the face of self-denial (which I can surely argue is an unwavering self-awareness), is extraordinary. Everyone tries to get this guy to lighten up, and, ironically, most of them represent Scrooge’s fears; they are broke and in dire need of assistance, as they can no longer provide for themselves. Why in the name of all that is holy would Bob Cratchit have six children in this economic apocalypse and then complain that he cannot feed or clothe them properly? And why is this dubious at best and immoral at worst behavior Scrooge’s problem, or his problem that the sixth of the brood is a sickly boy? Maybe Cratchit should have stopped at five or maybe four or two or even one. The man is clearly insane or sexually insatiable and is quite frankly lucky to have a gig. He should have worked on Christmas or at least kept it in his pants.

The key discussion that drives the rest of the novel’s narrative occurs right before Scrooge calls it a night and before being haunted mercilessly by having to view himself as an abandoned child, a jilted lover, a miserable miser and a forgotten and despised dead man standing above his shallow grave. It involved men seeking Scrooge’s charity, despite knowing well that such a request will send him up a wall. When pressed for his sympathies, Scrooge answers with the query that haunts humanity time immemorial; “`It’s not my business,’ Scrooge returned. `It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!’”

Why in the name of all that is holy would Bob Cratchit have six children in this economic apocalypse and then complain that he cannot feed or clothe them properly?

And so when our former villain protagonist becomes our newly reborn hero, “cured” as it were by the ghosts of his past, present and future, and begins forgiving debts and throwing his money around like a drunken sailor, we rejoice. He is filled with the Christmas spirit! Yahoo!

And then what?

For all of his days, writes Dickens assuredly, he would “keep Christmas”. But how many more of those did he have before he was faced with the same horrors of reality he once embraced over a philosophy of sudden philanthropy? What then becomes of our Scrooge?

Not sure. But I know this, each year we relive this tale (my Dad has a running tradition of sitting down near midnight on Christmas Eve each year to enjoy the 1951 Alastair Sim version, and in the autumn of 2008 I even purchased him a copy at Dickens’ London house where he wrote the thing in an amazing six weeks) and Scrooge becomes our miser villain once more before plunging into the vortex of his psyche and coming out the other side a man who he would never recognize and his times would likely swallow up hole.

I forgive you, Mr. Scrooge, and so should we all.

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UNRAVELING THE MYSTERY OF TWO MILLENNIA

Aquarian Weekly
12/16/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

UNRAVELING THE MYSTERY OF TWO MILLENNIA
In Praise of The Christos Mosaic

Full disclosure; author Vincent Czyz is a dear friend and a frequent contributor to our monthly Readers Responses. Among his many qualities; he is a wonderful conversationalist and debater on all things, a fine dinner guest and an impeccable dresser. We have supported each other’s work for over a decade now (that is hard to believe); he as a purveyor of fiction and a novelist, mine as whatever you call this, as well as an author and one-time novelist. I like Vincent. This much is true. But I absolutely love his new book, The Christos Mosaic, a page-turning masterpiece of a thriller with more than an undertone of controversial reimagining of Biblical history. It will challenge your beliefs and keep you on the edge of your seat; a pretty damn enviable balancing act.jc_vc

It is strange for us to have books published within a few weeks of each other, mine a pop culture treatise on one of the seminal records of our childhood, Shout It Out Loud –The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon, and his long-awaited entertaining polemic on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth and the sinister underbelly of black market antiquities throughout the backstreets of Turkey and Egypt. We celebrated this welcomed anomaly at the historical Algonquin Round Table last month in the heart of NYC. It was a magical touchstone for me, and I dare say, for him. Vincent worked hard on this book for more years than he cares to remember and it is quite simply a triumph.

Having researched and penned a controversial book on the subject, released in 2002, Trailing Jesus – A Holyland Journal, and since have engaged my wit and wisdom against Vince’s considerable barrage of wonderfully buttressed factoids about First Century myths and the origins of Christianity, I looked forward to The Christos Mosaic with bated breath. This, I assumed, and rightly so, would be the culmination of my friend’s incredible journey, both personally and professionally – and certainly spiritually – to put down once and for all the inner conflict of the intellectual pursuit of truth versus the comfortable blanket of faith. I came to know that journey well. It is a difficult one for anyone, let alone a writer to make, and then dare to put down for posterity; but to do so in the engagingly penetrating novel form – replete with action, intrigue, sex, violence, and mystery – is as immense an effort as one can expect from art.

Vincent lived in Istanbul, Turkey off and on for seven years, teaching English at several foreign universities as a burgeoning novelist, much like his protagonist and the novel’s hero, as well as its moral center, Drew. But when pressed at our Algonquin dinner if the character was autobiographical, he demurred, assuring me Drew was indeed a work of complete fiction, and in fact the characters in Christos were more fictionalized than any of his other work, which includes the published collection of brilliantly evocative short stories, Adrift in A Vanishing City. However, like the places and characters that stimulate Adrift, Christos puts the reader on Istanbul’s every street corner – the cafés, bars and apartments – awash in the sights, sounds and even the smells of the city, and the colorful language and mannerisms of its inhabitants. (Vincent even went as far as providing English phonetics to bring the reader into the pronunciation of the Turkish language that lends an authentic air to the richly rewarding dialogue).

Here is one of many favorite passages of Christos in which Vincent puts the reader squarely inside the claustrophobic bustle of Cairo’s largest marketplace, Khan Al-Khalili: “Tourists, merchants, boys carrying trays of tea in their hands or long pallets stacked with round loaves of bread on their heads all fought for position in dusty, often- unpaved streets. With some of these narrow byways, a car was not an option. Sellers had set up their tables so that even pedestrians had to pick their way through.

They were stuck behind a man in a turban who was pushing a cart with wooden wheels. The cart was topped by a wood-fed oven with a tall pipe. The man, who was having difficulty maneuvering around tables piled with wares, was selling roasted yams.

And then there were the flies. Smaller, faster than the ones Drew was used to. They were everywhere. You could wave them away, but they’d settle right back on you – generally around your eyes and mouth drawn to the moisture.”

This is the tool Vincent uses so well to weave his stirring tale; the backdrop, the people; the grimy, pulsing humanity. It engulfs our hero, Drew. He must navigate through the density of his surroundings, the recalcitrance of his intellectual opponents, and the villainy of those who value profit over discovery and myth over truth.

Drew is a seeker, like Vincent. He is the seeker in all of us, who must grapple, frustratingly so, as the evolution of deduction gnaws at the comfort of our traditions. Not coincidentally, Drew is introduced in the novel as a precocious college student challenging the norm and using his literate skills to eviscerate what is accepted knowledge about the beloved and reverential Saint Augustine, providing the reader with the intellectual corner in which Drew will come out fighting and keep fighting throughout his adventure, even when the noose is tightened on an ancient but unfolding mystery.

And the unraveling of that mystery, some two-thousand millennia long, is both shocking and inspiring, not unlike my favorite of the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas quotations attributed to the historical Jesus; “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all.”

He is the seeker in all of us, who must grapple, frustratingly so, as the evolution of deduction gnaws at the comfort of our traditions.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the arguments presented through the evidence discovered, hinted at, debated over, and eventually unearthed in Christos are not hyperbolic and provocative merely to play on our most deeply held beliefs for dramatic purposes. They are carefully presented through painstaking research and sound analysis without embellishment. It really is hard to fathom how Vincent crammed all of it in, but he did, and he did it well.

Ultimately what my dear friend has created here in The Christos Mosaic is more than a novel; it is an impeccably framed thriller that will hopefully spark new discussions and provide insight into the future of Christian thought and study for the new century.

It was also one hell of a fun read.

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A NEW TWIST ON WEEKLY SHOOTING

Aquarian Weekly
9/2/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

A NEW TWIST ON WEEKLY SHOOTING
Former TV Newsman Kills TV News People on TV

This is the beauty and horror of living as long as I have; you tend to see it all. Well, you think you see it all and then this past Wednesday happens. Former disgruntled local news guy, 41 year-old Vester Flanigan aka fancy TV name, Bryce Williams, shoots 24 year-old WDBJ feature reporter, Alison Parker and her camera man, 27 year-old Adam Ward, killing both, and fatally wounding the subject of the report, Vicki Gardner, the middle-aged director of the chamber of commerce for Roanoke, Virginia. The whole thing happens on live TV and is later posted on Facebook and tweeted by Flanigan before he is run down by local police and shoots himself dead.vester-flanagan

This is a murder/suicide emblematic of our media-obsessed times. A TV guy shoots other TV people on TV and uses social media to promote it. Later, the obligatory incoherent hate manifesto emerged, also posted somewhere on the Internet, where all ugly things eventually reside, like these words, and whatever you will absorb after reading this.

Make no mistake, I am not decrying the Internet or television or social media, nor am I citing it as the only motivation for a kook to murder people, but just like freedom – freedom from invasive and presumptive state or federal regulations on mental health, freedom to own and carry a deadly weapon, freedom to spew odious propaganda online or really anywhere you wish, and freedom for predators to skulk from victim to victim undeterred – it can be a dangerous game.

And as much as it pains me to spend two consecutive weeks discussing the media’s role in events when I have maybe touched upon this ancillary subject once or twice at most in 18 years of penning this weekly column, it does indeed play a role. And it is not something that can be or should be easily curtailed. News happens and news organizations must cover it, some of those news organizations bring cameras and those cameras roll 24 hours a day, five days a week, 365 days a year, and thus are a powerful attraction to the one constant in these random killers, whether terrorists or lone crazies: They dig being covered.

The coverage is a spotlight to the killer; a spotlight not afforded them in their otherwise empty, grueling, oppressed existence. It gives them purpose and it gives them honor, the honor of being remembered for something where they will likely live out their subsistence in crushing isolation and unending anonymity. Vester Flanigan is chubby loner living in a one-room apartment with no job, no prospects, no friends, and as a result, no self-esteem or hope. His alter ego, made for television, Bryce Williams was dynamic, lovable, and good enough to have someone point a camera at and for people to watch it. The management at WDBJ fired the effervescent Bryce Williams and turned him into the pathetic loser, Flanigan.

Sitting in a deli yesterday watching a CNN reporter standing in front of the small WDBJ studios in sleepy, otherwise quiet and peaceful Roanoke, the signs of dozens of other television news outlets crammed around him, surrounding the place, was surreal. Here is a news station, used to covering the news, being covered for a tragedy; a tragedy (again surreal) that had befallen it whilst rolling cameras and reporting the news (or at least some local TV version of news).

I realize bitching about too much news and an overload of information is as useless an endeavor as complaining about too many guns. How much is too many guns? How much is too much information? How much is too much freedom?

For the past 15 years, since 9/11, there has been constant chatter about how much our civil liberties should be compromised in order to protect ourselves from violence. The most egregious was the Patriot Act, but there have been others subtle forms, (racial profiling, protests against the building of mosques, the simple idea of everyone being a watchdog against everyone else “If you see something, say something”) and less so (outlandish airport security, street cameras, frisking at sporting events, etc.). But in every instance there is only so much you can do to protect the citizenry from itself. By nature a free society has consequences, just as one living in a lockdown has its own dark drawbacks.

This is a murder/suicide emblematic of our media-obsessed times.

I have written way too many times to be comfortable about these shooting tragedies and human nature, accepting the fact that by the very fabric of allowing you and me to roam free without harassment in the relative and constitutionally-provided cover of privacy – everyone having a camera on their hip notwithstanding – is a risk we are always willing to make; “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Sometimes, Mista Henry, you get both.

And so, of course, we cannot dissect the allure of the televised murder, anymore than we can have a serious discussion about the amount of guns we have out there, or more pointedly the risk one takes when firing someone that might come back blasting away at the purveyor of his misery. Notice how I didn’t put “his/her” there; it is always “his”, another fun aspect of our male humanity.

It is also foolish to not recognize that by giving infamy to those who would otherwise wallow in a meaningless existence is seductive to these vipers. The fact that I have just written about a guy who a few days ago would be lucky to get someone to nod at him with any kind of socially acceptable street behavior shows that it works. Killing someone in this wildly dynamic manner gives you an immortality you would never get in a million years of being the miserable little shit, Vester Flanigan.

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THE SCOURGE OF BRIAN WILLIAMS & OTHER THINGS

Aquarian Weekly
2/18/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE SCOURGE OF BRIAN WILLIAMS & OTHER THINGS

It is important to reiterate an obvious dictum: What is done here weekly hardly represents even the slightest hint of journalism. Yet, somehow I consider myself a journalist. I was trained as such by some of the finest minds I have met in my time shuffling around the mortal coil. Yet, my idiosyncratic playfulness in the face of actual journalism (whatever that may be) is a mockery and therefore holds little to no credibility here.Brian-williams-burt

I also need to state that I find that most of the history of journalism in this country – a microcosm of the world at large – has been a heinous goof. I can randomly choose a story from any decade through each century of this democratic experiment and you would, depending on your sensibilities, either be laughing hysterically or horrified. If your sensibilities fall in the category of the overreaction to Brian Williams’ embellishing on and then fabricating a war story from 2006 then you would lean toward the latter.

However, presenting all of that as a preface, I must say, for the record, Brian Williams can no longer seriously continue as the managing editor of the National Broadcasting Company’s news division anymore than he can sit with a straight face and read us the news every evening. He may come back from his suspension (without pay, which is significant when you consider the man rakes in $11 million a year to read aloud in front of a camera; great work if you can get, it, but you can’t because you suck at it), but it really doesn’t matter. We think he is most likely full of shit and that is a detriment to trustworthiness.

It’s like the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl despite cheating their way there. No one with a real sense of facts and decorum think the Patriots title legitimate, but they still won and have a trophy and no one is going to care now, because there is a lot of money and the integrity of the sport at stake and everyone needs to remain silent to this grand deception, so we all feel better about ourselves for watching it happen. We will do the same for Brian Williams on the surface, but not really. We will know he lied about something for little reason but to be interesting, like all of us might lie about stuff to appear interesting or cheat to win a sporting event, but we don’t represent a vocation or a network or a conglomerate trying to perpetuate the idea of being trustworthy.

And let’s face it, trustworthy is such a thorny concept that it’s hard to fathom. There was a time when Walter Cronkite could go on television and tell the American people that the war in Viet Nam is lost and that it was an abject waste of human life and treasure and we kind of accepted it. It cost Lyndon Johnson a second (or third term, depending on what you think those months after JFK was slaughtered counts) and it certainly fueled the campus uprisings that pretty much pulled the wool from the eyes of an entire suckered generation.

But, be that as it may, Williams has some lineage to Uncle Walty, “the most trusted (there’s that word again) man in America”. And for that he cannot be trusted and therefore needs to find something else to do with his time. Maybe he can move into the one place he feels most comfortable, entertainment; the man has appeared on more comedy shows doing bits and/or sitcom appearances than anyone who has ever attempted his job. There are pretty good sources that insist he lobbied to take over for Jay Leno when he boogied from the Tonight Show and maybe that would have been best. No one gives half a fart if Jimmy Fallon makes stuff up; they half expect he will – for laughs.

But before we go, we do need to point out that Williams also comes from this latest generation of network-climbers, both on real television or basic cable (where the real lying hits the highest or lowest bar). This was glaringly palpable during the ramp up and execution of those first crucial months of the terribly bungled fabrication that was the Iraq War, arguably the worst abuse of our government since Watergate, and the national press not only slept on it, but galvanized its ascent, as in giving it a fancy name – Shock & Awe, and embedding its most cherished personnel into the Pentagon’s shenanigans. The most disgusting of all, anchors wearing flag pins covering the action as if it were the World Cup.

My favorite NBC News moment was when in 2002, as the case for war was being pitched by the Bush Administration, the vice president’s office leaked a bogus story to the NY Times about Iraq possessing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons – known today in journalistic circles as the “aluminum tubes ruse”, and then sent Dick Cheney on Meet The Press to quote the article as fact. It is one of the great pieces of underhanded criminal activity ever perpetuated by a sitting vice president, and he used the most trusted forms of the American press to pull it off. Great stuff for Cheney, not so much for the press.

Brian Williams? Well, he is the symptom, my friends. The disease may be harder to “suspend without pay”.

But we covered all of that gory nonsense here as it happened, but now it is ancient history and we ignore it or accept it, because it makes us feel better to do so. In fact, those that backed George W. Bush now claim that President Obama enjoys the same snoozing national press corps, and can you blame them for whining?

Take John King, who still culls a paycheck from CNN despite having told an international audience in the wake of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack that suspects had been apprehended, describing what turned out to be the bogus suspects for nearly an hour. The NY Post even piggybacked this blatant error and splashed on its front page for two straight days these erroneous figures, both of whom turned out to be innocent, with headlines like “Monsters”. Hell, CNN also wrongly reported the Affordable Care Act had been overturned by the Supreme Court and aligned itself with the networks to call Al Gore president of the United States in November of 2000.

And then there is the clown show that is MSNBC and FOX NEWS. Whew, where do you start there?

Brian Williams? Well, he is the symptom, my friends. The disease may be harder to “suspend without pay”.

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