TOM WOLFE – 1930 – 2018

Aquarian Weekly
5/23/18

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

TOM WOLFE – 1930 – 2018

Tom Wolfe was a novelist in journalist’s clothes – included with his signature white suits and cane and top hat and matching shoes and all the rest. This is what people in the know will tell you. But I wholly disagree with this. I believe it was the opposite. He was a journalist first. Even in his best fiction, which for me pales in comparison to his best journalism, you will find more than traces of a man living comfortably in the Who What When Where and Why. He wrote nine non-fiction books from 1965 to 1981, all of them uniquely coddled with a style that rang bells and hit marks, sort of a bizarre combination of rousing endorsement and stinging rebuke on the form without compromise. It was art, man. And that is coming from someone who has spent decades of comparing this “spooky art” – as Norman Mailer put it – to craft. But Wolfe was indeed an artist, because he meant to be. And that’s where it comes down to it for those of us who were fueled on that stuff and chose this course for our own level of scribe-dom.

These observations could also apply to Mark Twain and Ernest Hemmingway, two of the most important voices in the emergence of uniquely American letters, both of whom were journalists (Hemmingway’s first novel The Sun Also Rises is a pure work of journalism and he never denied it). And like them here is also what needs to be written about Tom Wolfe: The environments in which his work was created would not be the same or have the same resonance without Wolfe’s talent to frame them, which was significant and relentless, and if there is a finer more poignant or even goddamn honest thing you can say about a writer of true stories than I have yet to hear or read it.

In fact, I would say his New Journalism, a term he coined, wrote diligently towards and acted as its curator for decades, was a thing to behold. It became for me and a whole generation of gestating authors more important than fiction because it is as George McGovern’s Campaign Strategist Frank Mankiewicz opined on Hunter S. Thompson’s “coverage” of events in 1972, “the most accurate and least factual account” of things possible. Thompson later mused in his brilliant Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 that objective journalism has failed us. It is what eventually landed a monster like Richard Nixon in the White House, a lesson we had to apparently learn again nearly half a century later.

Wolfe understood this better than all of his contemporaries; Norman Mailer, Gay Telese, Terry Southern, Joan Didion, and George Plimpton, all of them in one way or another guideposts that gave voice to this space in the manner in which all of it goes down. This is because Tom Wolfe stood on the high ground, took a moment to look down after a long breath and put the damn thing into perspective. What was happening to the craft? He needed to know. Mailer didn’t. Thompson didn’t. Joan kind of wanted to know but she knew that by asking was to take on too much lifting.

But that was long after Wolfe took his first gig at the Herald Tribune a few months before I entered the human race proper in 1962. The Herald hired bright, uber-pretentious seekers then; setting the paper apart from the rest of the steaming crap that boiled up from the subway grates in NYC in the post-war grit of Charles Foster Kane’s “Declaration of Principles”. These were rooms filled with terrible marauders and dime-store lede-driven tacticians that needed the kid to bring the new form. What would that be? Did Truman Capote know when he took that train to Kansas and wrote about wayward drifters who slaughtered a family for a few bucks that was never there? Many said In Cold Blood was the first “novel as fiction”, others, and Mailer would be one of those, would point to his Armies of the Night, which is a princely piece of vitriol that would reverberate from the 1955 founding of the Village Voice in the corner of the White Horse Tavern after too much drinking and way too much revolutionary thought.

It was his multi-layered command of the language that made him twist it like Picasso’s brush.

Be that as it may, I came to Wolfe around the time of Mailer’s breakout through George Plimpton. In the autumn of 1968, my dad took me to see the film Paper Lion in a theater in the bustling Parkchester section of the North Bronx. Not long after, maybe before middle-school, I would read the book. But it was Alan Alda’s depiction of the skinny intellectual trying to make sense of pro football by being a pro football player that had given me my own perspective on what it meant to be a storyteller. It was Plimpton’s work with the Paris Review that then led me to a Wolfe interview in which he revealed methods of combing taped interviews and observations to paint larger pictures of the craft that would have me devouring The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby before long. I would eventually find my way to his kinetic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test after getting abducted by Ken Kesey’s fever-dream opus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in a high school literary class and I knew that if I could or would make the words work; to heel and parry and spin and dance, it would have to be this way.

You see, I got Wolfe right away. This his Wolfe’s gift. He did not mess around. It was his multi-layered command of the language that made him twist it like Picasso’s brush. He could coin “Radical Chic” as easily as the “Me Decade” and it all made sense. It was the way in which he provided clarity to his subjects and gave them meaning. This is what is at the heart, if not a veiled comparison, of my first published book, Deep Tank Jersey – One Man’s Journey into the Heart of a New Jersey Club Band. And although the book reeks of Jack Kerouac and much of the journalism I had studied to get to where that book ends up, it is Wolfe who informs it. It would not have gotten off the ground if not for Wolfe and his New Journalism or the idea of it. It is the ideas that come through and that make us want to read it and to eventually write it because it has to be written, like art.

Like Tom Wolfe.

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IN PRAISE OF ENCOUNTERS

Aquarian Weekly
1/17/18

REALITY CHECK

IN PRAISE OF ENCOUNTERS
Poetry/Paintings & A Slice of Dan Bern’s Life

By James Campion

I found it delectably ironic that Dan Bern, singer-songwriter, poet, painter, columnist would send me – within days of each other – a signed copy of his new book, Encounters and then an original tile painting of Joe Willie Namath. The book, for which I could not put down once I cracked it for a mere look-see, is a series of poems about Dan’s “encounters” with the famous, talented, and inspirational, each adorned with an original Bern painting of its subject. The paintings, not unlike the one of Namath he sent me, reminded me of the few times I’d gotten within shouting distance of my childhood hero, the legendary #12 of the New York Jets, but was rendered mute and paralyzed. It is not that, like Bern, I hadn’t had dozens of encounters, both professionally and personally, with famous athletes, as well as musicians, actors, film directors, authors, politicians, etc., but Namath is different. I told Dan that my earliest childhood memories are of staring at his poster through the bars of my crib. This stuff is deep-seated with a weird mythical hold over me.


This got me thinking of the insightful tone of Bern’s Encounters and how this is not a book of name-dropping and strange brushes with fame, but poignant and moving interactions – some closer and more intimate than others – that shifted the foundation of the author, so much so that in some if not all cases he would go on to put them in songs. And it is within these organic moments of admiration to worship to surprise to love to fear and ultimately inspiration that Encounters becomes the antidote to the insignificant forces of Instagram and Twitter and selfie happenstances with celebrity that now stand as something of a connection.

It should be said too that Encounters represents everything that Bern has displayed through his talents over the years; it is not only poetic and visual, but musical in the way in which he writes that shoulders the conversational with a rare glimpse into the human spirit. Yet it is in the paintings that the reader can see how Dan Bern absorbs his subjects, as he had in the drawings in his first novel, Quitting Science from 2004, a book I was fortunate enough to help bring to press. Taking fictionalized versions of the familiar and the famous and turning them into extensions of his unique form is where Bern lives and breathes.

“What it is really,” said the author when we discussed the book late into the night a few weeks back. “…is a memoir. But I’ve always hated memoir, because I feel your job as an artist is to invent, take things from your life and make characters. Yet with this forum I felt there was a way I could tell my personal stories without being cloying through the prism of these people that everybody kind of has a relationship with already.”

And so, with Bern, over the years, in different places, we meet Willie Mays, Jimmy Carter, Bob Dylan and John McEnroe; and none of them in ways that are predictable nor inconsequential. The encounters are, as stated, extensions of his own personality and how he remembers them, at times warmly, and others quizzically, but always reverentially. His poems and the paintings are his vehicle in discovering himself through others.

Bern achieves this wonderfully and without contrivance due to his self-deprecating humor on how he views these fleeting moments of significance or lack-thereof with the subjects, and what they ultimately mean to him. In some cases, as with his call into the Larry King radio show when he was just starting out as a professional musician that lasted only about a minute, and literally happened “over the air”, there is a remarkably sense of meaning. A passing comment about a dog with Leonard Cohen or a New Year’s Eve party at Bruce Springsteen’s house, an impromptu songwriting détente with Hunter S. Thompson in the back of a car or a scathing notice by Bob Dylan opens a window into the looming figures beyond the caricature.

“Just like any of these people in the book, I am grateful for what interactions I can and do have.”

“I find this type of writing more open than prose,” Bern answered when I pressed him on the book’s style, which he introduced last summer in his Reconsidering Nixon, which is a charming amalgam of lyrical prose/poetry. “I think after my mom died I became more reflective about my experiences and needed to get them down and this is the most effective way for me to relate these stories.”

I was particularly intrigued by Bern’s poem about our mutual friend, singer-songwriter and entrepreneur, Ani DiFranco. It was my connection to Ani, after years of interviews and off-the-record discussions, that I came to know Dan’s music, and of her work with him producing his second album, Fifty Eggs in 1998. The brutal honesty of their collaboration and its results is one of my favorite pieces in the book, because of the intimate, humorous, and in many ways surprising revelations.

“I have always been inspired by Ani, but there is also something that always seems to be in the way sometimes too,” says Bern, when we fondly reminisced about our times with her and how neither of us see or hear much of her as intimately anymore. “But just like any of these people in the book, I am grateful for what interactions I can and do have.”

Bern reminds me that there are very few women in Encounters for a reason: “There is a very different dynamic to those relationships, and I didn’t want to ever get into a kiss-and-tell corner with these poems.”

But out of all the ones that made it into Encounters, 17 out of the original 35 pieces, perhaps nothing compares to his détente with Wilt Chamberlain, legendary basketball star and ladies’ man with whom Bern had a chance encounter turn into becoming his tennis instructor for several weeks. “Forget the celebrity aspect to working with Chamberlain,” laughs Bern, who had been working part-time giving tennis lessons at a court Chamberlain frequented. “To witness such an athletic specimen, and, as a coach, to be able to work with someone like that, to watch him take to the lessons… the results were amazing. And to think that I had the chance to tutor a world class athlete that had nothing to do with how he earned his fame.”

Turning our celebrity culture on its head, as his songs have done for over two decades, Encounters is Dan Bern’s literary and artistic triumph and a true gift to the craft of storytelling.

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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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