“Breakfast With Hunter” Review

Aquarian Weekly 4/7/04 REALITY CHECK

GONZO GOES TO THE MOVIES In Praise of “Breakfast With Hunter”

Hunter S. ThompsonOn the eve of a celebration for his greatest literary achievement thrown by the glitz of New York’s publishing elite, the infamous outlaw journalist shuffles into the enormous Manhattan offices of the once hippy magazine turned multi-million dollar periodical empire, partly on the back of his work. Gripping a bouquet of freshly picked flowers in one hand and his obligatory glass of Chivas Regal and ice rattling in the other, he passes several large board rooms and fancy offices, mumbling despondently to himself about “a fucking rat’s maze”. Followed nervously by a young assistant he decides, with a fair amount of impish glee, to grab an absently placed fire extinguisher from the corner of the hallway and brandish it menacingly at a secretary. Blasting her with it, he proceeds, chuckling madly, into the publishing mogul’s office and covers it, and the nattily attired mogul with the misty foam.

“You bastard!” the mogul screams, leaping up from his seat, phone in hand. “It’s not too late to cancel this party. You’re banned! You’re banned!”

The outlaw scribe is none other than the venerable, Doctor Hunter Stockton Thompson, Father of Gonzo Journalism, (bastard offspring of the once lofty, “New Journalism”), and his victim is Rolling Stone magazine’s founder, Jan Wenner. The year is 1996, the 25th anniversary of Thompson’s groundbreaking “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” and the scene appears in living color in a compelling documentary just out on DVD aptly entitled, “Breakfast with Hunter”.

Although the scenario is all-too-familiar to fans of the author for whom lifestyle has sometimes unfairly dwarfed his revolutionary literary efforts, it is not nearly the bulk of 55 year-old filmmaker Wayne Ewing’s engaging cinéma vérité. In fact, for the first time what I consider to be the finest living American writer alongside Kurt Vonnegut is portrayed with due respect and enviable insight, a serious portrait dedicated to the very inspiration of Thompson’s best work, his own extremely fascinating life.

A telling quote by Thompson in the film speaks to the delicate balance of the madness in his method. When confronted with his inclusion in a study entitled, “The Enigma of Personality” which refers to the author as “a modern eccentric” and diagnoses his odd behavior as “obsessive compulsive”, Hunter muses, “Well when William Faulkner spoke of the will to write, he said ‘a writer will walk over his grandmother to get the book finished.’ So welcome to the club, Bubba.”

Ewing’s dead aim was to be fair to the delicate balance without exploiting it, and “Breakfast With Hunter” proves to be right on target.

“In a way it is difficult to be true and honest to Hunter,” Ewing told me recently during a lengthy phone conversation from his home in Aspen. “How do you define your audience right away when there are a certain number of people out there who are looking for the cliché, the cartoon character that has nothing to do with Hunter?

“Hunter is obviously a very interesting personality, but he is primarily a writer and a great figure in American literature,” Ewing continues. “My intent with the project was to present a homage to that and not the usual stuff.”

The “usual stuff” being the stream of legend and folklore surrounding Thompson’s exploits over decades of hard-living and wild abandon, erratically covered in three unofficial biographies, two feature films, various news clips, articles, and, admittedly, volumes of the man’s own work. However, beneath all the hyperbole attached to Hunter’s high life there is a raucous plethora of damn good writing. To its infinite credit, “Breakfast with Hunter” captures the very essence of the soul who achieved it.

Ewing, a longtime documentary filmmaker, whose credits include films for PBS’ “Frontline”, NBC television’s “Gangs, Cops, & Drugs” hosted by Tom Brokaw and an impressive list of self-produced features, spent the last 15 years with Thompson on and off; traveling alongside him, helping to edit manuscripts, and generally hanging around the author’s purported fortified compound called Owl Farm. Gaining Thompson’s confidence, a difficult endeavor since the Doctor is normally cantankerous with outsiders he doesn’t trust implicitly – and by cantankerous one could mean being fired at with an array of highly dangerous firearms or sent packing on the other end of a swift kick to the rear – Ewing received unprecedented access to his subject’s life both public and private.

Few subjects as mercurial and mysterious, not to mention as important to the landscape of American literary subculture, have ever been covered so completely and directly.

“In a sense, I became an instrument for this great ongoing experiment in Gonzo journalism Hunter started over thirty years ago, and was able to do what he has always wanted to do,” notes Ewing. “Hunter describes Gonzo as ‘a reporter with the eye and mind of a camera’ and he has been literally obsessed with documenting what is going on around him.”

The results are stunning. Ewing is right beside Hunter as he makes public appearances, takes television interviews, hangs in hotels with actors’ Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, hobnobs with fellow authors like the late, great George Plimpton and friend, P.J. O’Rourke, and verbally spars with doomed original director of “Fear & Loathing”, Alex Cox over what Thompson perceives will “turn one of the best thing I’ve ever written into a fucking cartoon joke”. The episode ends with a furious Thompson throwing them out of his house. In each case the footage is unerringly, but grippingly too close for comfort.

“It’s earning your stripes with Hunter,” Ewing points out. “It takes a long time to earn the kind of trust I needed to complete a film like this. So for every night I filmed, there might be 15 that I wouldn’t, when I would just work on books with him or hang out or watch ball games.”

It would seem Thompson finally wanted to get the story straight.

“Sure there would be a few times when he didn’t feel like doing anything,” recalls Ewing. “But more so, he would get upset with me because I wasn’t filming. I seemed to get him going in terms of getting ideas and writing, the idea that something important is happening right then.”

Few subjects as mercurial and mysterious, not to mention as important to the landscape of American literary subculture, have ever been covered so completely and directly. Ewing even manages to trump his hero and inspiration, D.A. Pennebaker, whose signature masterpiece, “Don’t Look Back” about a young Bob Dylan touring Britain in the mid-60s’ still fails to completely unveil the Dylan myth. You get the feeling throughout that Dylan is playing a part, rarely letting his guard down, even during more intimate moments. No such problem with “Breakfast with Hunter”.

Despite the fact that Thompson’s dozen or so books and hundreds of articles have been as much an influence on my professional endeavors as anyone, it was easy to love Ewing’s film for its honesty. Having spoken with Hunter on several occasions as not only a reader and a fellow journalist, wherein the length and breath of the legend roared, but a published author, wherein a more serious encounter ensued, it was a pleasure to see both sides portrayed in such close detail.

Highlights of “Breakfast with Hunter” include a running storyline throughout of Thompson defending himself against what he feels is a bogus DUI charge, wherein the evidence reveals the arresting officer lied under oath, a disturbingly heart-warming discussion between the author and his esteemed partner in artistic Gonzo rendering, Ralph Steadman, an insightful tribute written and read by Thompson’s son, Juan, and one dramatically framed scene in which Hunter reads a prescient excerpt from what I deem his journalistic tour de force, “Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72”.

Ewing reflects, “So often for a documentary filmmaker, the real magic comes out of the moments when you didn’t do anything to plan it.”

A long time in coming, “Breakfast with Hunter” is a fitting tribute to the rarest of magical visions, the manifestation of a fertile mind and a wild heart framed for posterity.

For more on the film visit: Breakfast With Hunter

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Truth Behind Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” Review

Aquarian Weekly 3/3/04 REALITY CHECK

Art Imitates Religion

Movie PosterMel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is not a film about Jesus. It is also not a film about history or figures that move through history affecting humanity and the events of history. It is a film about Christianity. More to the point, it is a clumsily packaged Hollywood depiction of 1,500 years of Catholicism. It is religious propaganda. And I do not use the term pejoratively. Every piece of art with a point of view is more or less propaganda, but let’s call a spade a spade: If Gibson, a devout traditionalist Catholic, set forth to espouse his faith and depict the center of his own passion; mission accomplished. But this movie, like Christianity, has nothing to do with any Jesus of Nazareth.

Let me put it this way; “Passion” is not unlike Oliver Stone’s “JFK”. Not too much JFK in there, unless we see his head coming apart on his wife’s lap. No PT-109, no Harvard, no senator, no president, or Bay of Pigs, or Cuban Missile Crisis or Marilyn Monroe. His head coming apart. Over and over and over. “JFK” is about assassination theories. “Passion” is about the Christian obsession with sacrificial blood ritual.

Watching this film took me back to the days of sitting in church as a kid and expecting to see or hear anything about Jesus underneath all the ritualistic dogma. It’s damned frustrating, and hard to argue that the context of which has inspired horror shows like the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust. But it also doesn’t mean it cannot be revisited as art either. Although, for me, it would have been more compelling had it not been more of the same damn thing.

Beyond the ultra-Hollywood violence – jacked up a notch for the video game generation – we get the usual stuff here. Christ dying for our sins. He comes. He dies. End of story. No back-story. No politics. No spirituality. No philosophy. No revolution. No mission. No life affirming usably enlightened theories about embracing empathy and discovering divinity. Suffering. Death. Good drama. Big box office, but no Jesus.

Once again, we get lifeless puppet characters playing their parts in a suicide pact with God, sufficiently answering the question, “Who killed Jesus Christ?” Because when viewed through the lens of Biblical faith – replete with the Lord killing innocents all over the place – and all the evidence in Gibson’s film, the verdict is clear: God killed Christ. Or, more to the point of Gibson’s way of thinking, we forced God to kill him. Kind of like the Jewish authorities forcing Pontius Pilate to kill Christ.

(place plaintive sigh here)

Admittedly, the thing is aptly named. After all it is “The Passion of the Christ”, although I would have preferred, “Jesus Gets it for Opening His Big Mouth”, or “This is What Happens When One Love’s One’s Enemies”.

I didn’t think it was possible, but Mel Gibson actually succeeds in portraying a completely empty depiction of Jesus Christ.

But it’s hard to argue that the very essence of the gospel’s enlightened Nazarene, a charismatic healer exalted by an inspiring philosophy leading a penetratingly gorgeous spiritual movement is sucked right out. In its stead we have a pawn for sadomasochistic mayhem; what I like to call the Euro-Christ. But even two millennium of Christian rhetoric has yet to erase the impact of the historical Yeshua of Nazareth, from the Council of Nicea to “Godspell”. Yet this movie manages to do it. I didn’t think it was possible, but Mel Gibson actually succeeds in portraying a completely empty depiction of Jesus Christ.

Not that actor, James Caviezel doesn’t capture the Catholic Christ pretty well; a vessel for torture and death set up as humanity’s sacrificial lamb by the sadistic Lord God of the Israelites. He portrays a great punching dummy and the make-up people did a bang-up job. Lots of pain, but again, no Jesus. Lots of blood and suffering and reams of Catechism, but no Jesus.

So, in a sense, “Passion” is the perfect Christian art, an animated version of Renaissance paintings, (Gibson claims he endeavored to recreate Caravaggio’s gruesome images) but not particularly good art at that; effective, in that it has caused a stir like most viable art, but poor in the literal sense. The way smearing a painting of the Virgin Mary in elephant dung is a sensationalistic artistic statement, but as a gripping, meaningful rendering, it’s lousy.

As a movie, “Passion” is bad. The acting is predictably stiff, the set-design sub par for a Biblical epic, the music surprisingly non-descript and the directing ham-fisted. I usually don’t like religiously themed films, but most give me at least a moment of chills or reflection, an uplifting of heart or a distinct feeling of something. This thing drones from the opening frame and settles into two-dimensional drudgery.

However, I cannot engage in hypocritical blather about “too much violence” here. You want to concentrate compulsively on first century Roman scourging and crucifixion as a means for redemption, fine; but its not going to be pretty. This kind of thing went on all the time in first century Jerusalem. Hundreds upon thousands slaughtered by Roman governors. Take a trip to Golgotha now and see if you don’t feel it. Not unlike, I’m sure, sitting in Auschwitz or Dachau today.

But I would forget theological debate and historical content when judging “Passion”. It is poor storytelling packaged as a religious tool. Period. This might be great for some, namely fanatical Christians, but as forceful narrative, it is disappointing. And it is certainly no “true depiction” of historical events in any way, shape or form. Gibson picks and chooses his gospel versions like mad scientist forcing a solution. He might have been better off from a theological stand-point to stick with, say, the Gospel of John, which dominates most of the storyline, instead of jumping all over the Biblical map to suit an agenda. Although, once again, a good framework for religious theory, but hardly accurate.

When I heard about this project some two years ago, I was finishing up the manuscript to my last book, a story based on my trip to Israel in search of the historical Jesus. I was excited about the prospect of hearing the gospel characters speak in their original dialect, and the promised “realistic depiction” of the ordinarily sanitized crucifixion scenes of earlier Hollywood efforts. But even I was left feeling I’d just seen the last ten minutes of “Scarface” for two hours.

Finally, Gibson nor the actors, or anyone connected to the making of this thing should feel badly. Based on concepts like “Jesus Christ was born to suffer and die for the sins of humankind” and “in suffering there is cleansing” all the participants can be nothing if not merely chess pieces in a fixed game. And that is how the characters in this film go about their business, like marionettes marching in step to a mystical slaying.

(place despondent wail here)

It is my fault for expecting to see anything else. The film’s popularity (beyond pure curiosity and pack mentality) speaks to the human condition to be drawn to signature moments that usurp the entirety of an event, or to miss it completely.

We read about a warrior for peace slain in his prime and choose to remember him with a gory effigy of torture and death.

Part I : Film Art, Anti-Semitism, and Gospel Lore

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Truth Behind Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” Pt. I

Aquarian Weekly 2/25/04 REALITY CHECK

Film Art, Anti-Semitism and Gospel Lore

Salvador Dali's Christ of St. John of the Cross Editor’s Note: The following is part one of a two-part series on the social impact of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ”, the charges of anti-Semitism therein, and its New Testament sources, while the second segment will concentrate on the film after the author attends a screening this week.

Once again, Jesus of Nazareth, the peasant artisan from ancient Palestine turned social and spiritual radical, turned miraculous healer, turned martyred rebel, and finally turned religious icon gets dragged from the altar and into the news with the release of “The Passion of the Christ”, a Mel Gibson-produced-directed epic. The film is getting free publicity because of its alleged “controversial” depiction of the arrest, trial and subsequent murder of the impoverished first-century Jewish radical cum messiah. Controversial because of what some deem its subliminal, others its overt anti-Semitic stance. But how much of it is warranted?

To merely make art about religious subject matter is to seduce controversy. This is fact. From DaVinci to Scorsese, the list is long, and the results similar: furor.

Having released my own “controversial” book, “Trailing Jesus” (Published 11/02) I understand all too well the impossibility of escaping belief systems based on cultural traditions, familial binds and unyielding devotion. This is true of any faith in any era, and for some this is good. But just as true is espousing one true faith in a world of several – in this case three mega-popular monotheistic faiths – managing to propagate an ignominious history of bating, bashing and violence between them.

I may have humbly sparked much of my own engaging discussion under the radar this past year, but Gibson, super-celebrity, comes to the party with some baggage.

Gibson, an Oscar-winning filmmaker in his own right, is a self-proclaimed Traditionalist Catholic, an ultra-conservative sect of a multi-billion dollar industry that harkens its tenets back to the Middle Ages. His asides about being moved by God to produce what he deems is the definitive artistic expression of The Passion of Christ not withstanding, Gibson’s vociferously opinionated father has gained him a mound of negative publicity. Hutton Gibson is an oft-quoted lunatic bigot with virulent stances on everything from Holocaust denial to Pope smearing.

This explosive combination of religious fanaticism and noisy prejudice has caused raucous mouthpieces for the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to charge the explicit violence in Gibson’s film – the protagonist being beaten to a bloody pulp and executed replete with cheering on by the predominantly Jewish populace of the period and orchestrated by its leadership – to be a form of rampant Jew-bashing during a time ripe with anti-Semitic rumblings in Eastern Europe and the whole of the vastly radical Islamic world.

I dare you to try and figure a convicted soul whose core philosophy is “love your enemy”, gets murdered by those enemies, ends up being worshipped by the descendents of said enemies, and come out without controversy.

On the surface it looks like more religious kooks using preconceptions to attack the work, not unlike the tumult over 1988 Martin Scorsese mediocre film version of Nikos Kazantzakis’ brilliant novel, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, wherein the fictitious depiction of Jesus is seen making babies with Mary Magdalene. Back then Christian protestors were having fits over the irreverence given to their Lord, wherein now they laud what many critics have described as “gruesome” scenes of the Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. (Even the Pope has checked in with a thumb’s up). But the subtext of the ADL’s argument is well founded, because in a way Gibson had no choice in creating an anti-Semitic depiction of this story no matter what his belief or background.

For almost 2000 years, at least roughly 1700 years since the Roman Empire gave Christianity its stamp of approval, the hazily constructed events leading up to and surrounding the death of Jesus of Nazareth has given the perpetuators of genocide a nicely formed excuse: The Jews, leadership and populace, killed Jesus. The Romans were in charge and could have done something if not so utterly duped by those evils plotters, but dropped the ball. Until the last half-century or so this nonsense was not officially denounced by major sects of Christianity, and in some circles exists today – leading to some of the most heinous crimes rendered by humankind

But, again, how much of it origins ring true?

Let’s step back for a moment and massage the parameters of the volatile climate that inexorably follows the legacy of this Jesus of Nazareth wherever it has tread for the past two thousand years.

Here’s what we know of what modern Biblical scholars are willing to accept as history from the Jesus story:

A peasant artisan (most likely a mason) named Yeshua or Yeshu (Hebrew moniker meaning salvation) from the rebelliously volatile region of the Galilee in the Roman province of Judea gained the fanatical allegiance of mostly vagabonds, miscreants and the terminally infirmed with a mystical healing power and an engaging philosophy that grew to dangerous numbers around the thirtieth year of the first century. He was by all accounts a Jew, and knew well his culture’s customs and beliefs. During the Passover holiday of that spring, he stomped into the crowded corridors of King Herod’s Holy Temple in the hub of ancient Jerusalem, challenged the religious political order, pronounced himself some sort of omniscient authority and wrecked the place. Religious leaders at the time, the Sanhedrin, a corrupted and fractured congress of Jewish cultural affairs, and the Roman power-base, Pontius Pilate, the murderous prefect of Judea felt this behavior inexcusable in the wildly incendiary ambiance of a culture celebrating its independence from Egyptian slavery while under the oppressive yoke of a ruling empire.

As a result, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified – a popular mode of execution the bloodthirsty Romans borrowed from the equally insidious Assyrians – by order of the state. The fact is the Jewish culture of antiquity had no evidence of using crucifixion as a means of any kind of punishment. They were partial to stoning.

So Jesus is dead, and thirty years pass with much rumor and innuendo – both glowingly positive and horribly pejorative – between warring Jewish faiths: one that believed somehow that the slain Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah of scripture, and the other that wished to wait a little longer for something more tangible. In other words, sans a couple of gentiles and Samaritans, the whole philosophical battle was between Jews: those who didn’t deem Jesus the Anointed One or Christ, and those who did.

Later in the century and beyond, four sources of the life, teachings, doings and death of Jesus of Nazareth emerged as pillars of what was then the burgeoning Christian faith. Dubbed gospels from the Greek (the language in which they were written) meaning “good news”, they were sonnets, frameworks, and commentary directed toward ancient communities about the meaning of religious oppression and political ruin. Mark (read some forty years after the death of Jesus), Matthew and Luke (read some fifty or sixty years later) and John (over a century later) are in essence arguments between ancient Jewish sects about the priority of the Christ. But when added to the Bible, fused with the global power structure of Rome and worshipped as the immutable Word of God they are something else.

Here Jesus Christ becomes the sacrificial lamb of the world, borrowed from the ancient practice of sacrificing innocent farm animals as an elixir to societal and familial sin. His cause is just, his death and purported resurrection seals the deal. Those who come aboard gain the fruits of the sacrifice. The rest are doomed.

The irony of Gibson’s ambitious undertaking and the IDL’s protest is laughable in its wake, and its time someone copped to it. If Jesus of Nazareth were alive today he would likely march into the Vatican scream and yell, trash the place and, speaking for the source of the universe, call the Pope a fraud. He wouldn’t be executed for that today, but I’m sure the penalty, cheered on by Catholics, would not be pleasant.

Because you see it’s difficult pinning this story down neatly, and impossible to encapsulate 2000 years of insanity and misrepresentation in 1,300 words or a two-hour film. But simply, having based an organized religious system on a man who despised the whole idea is nuts, dangerous and downright confusing to us, and will be for some time to come.

Hey, I dare you to try and figure a convicted soul whose core philosophy is “love your enemy”, gets murdered by those enemies, ends up being worshipped by the descendents of said enemies, and come out without controversy.


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JFK Assassination 40 Years Hence

Aquarian Weekly 11/26/03 REALITY CHECK

Perspectives on the JFK Assassination 40 Years Later

John F. Kennedy“We stand at the edge of a New Frontier – the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. It will deal with unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.”
– John F. Kennedy

suddenly in sunlight he will bow and the whole garden will bow
– ee cummings

Forty years ago this week the 35th president of the United States was brutally murdered in broad daylight. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses lined along the execution route. It was the first openly documented incident of the television age. Yet after volumes written, debates raged, and the endless dissection of that day’s events; the countless hours of legal wrangling and propaganda, documentaries and tributes, cries of conspiracy and calls for clearer heads to prevail, we are no closer to one accepted truth on the identity of the assassin.

However, this humble missive will abstain from piling on to my mother’s brilliantly snide, “Who Didn’t Kill JFK?” mantra. Instead, its aim will be to put into perspective what this seminal moment in American history has done to the landscape of my generation, and all others hence.

I was 14 months old when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. I recall growing up in the Bronx with its effect still palpable years later, especially on its anniversary, when cars would drive all day with their headlights on, flags were flown at half mast, and school teachers regaled us on where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

Almost immediately, apart from its war-torn history, no human drama had better crystallized America – its psyche, its message and medium, its resolve and destiny quite so completely and violently as what transpired that overcast autumn afternoon in Dallas, Texas.

On the level of raw emotion, there is something everlasting about a person of such limitless potential, power and celebrity cut down in his prime, forever frozen in indestructible youth, like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, or if Elvis Presley or Mickey Mantle had not gotten old and fat and drunk. It is a glowing tribute to dying young, before your time, unfinished business; no closure, no definable answers.

On broader levels, the severing of a head of state from its body politic is a trauma akin to the disorientation experienced by a living organism thrown from its normal environment into one of total confusion. This is especially stunning when a leader so distinctly engrained in the id of a free society leaping into an age of mind-bending change is slaughtered like a farm animal. As a result, what had been previously confined to certain pockets of metropolitan bohemia and smoky cafes or college campus conclaves; bitter dissent, counter-culture rage, a desire for eradicating atavistic symbols of tradition exploded into the mainstream throughout the ensuing decade of enormous unrest and social revolution.

People hate their deities to turn out mortal.

Like no one before or since, the image of Jack Kennedy was the epitome of 20th century iconoclasm. He represented the visionary generation, bloated with dreamers; always saying what needed to be said at the right time with the right cadence. A mutation borne of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, perfectly molded for his times and fully capable of rising above the petty tragedies of mortality to manifest infinitely.

Kennedy was the first American president born in the American century, a hero in its greatest of wars, rising from the dark annals of its recent past. He had come from mysterious money like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby; a raucous American invention of questionable origin feeding off the decadent opulence of rabid capitalism. The second son of an ignominious father with his bootlegging millions and international intrigue, mob connections and dirty-scoundrel 19th century fortunes, JFK wore the mantle of promise like a mighty amour.

The gargantuan political Kennedy machine devoured miles, blazing trails beyond the stuffy, buttoned-down plastic, two-dimensional Eisenhower cocoon. From the moment of his emergence into the public eye, JFK was sold as brilliant living color. In the campaign for president, this fit perfectly against the grain of Richard Nixon’s stony black and white.

The two entered the senate in the early 1950s’, one from the dirt and grit of Californian poverty, the other from a New England golden chariot. Nixon stood for the pillars of America’s past; God and country, mom and apple pie, a Quaker in his lily white victorious post-war splendor. Kennedy represented uncharted territory, a young, bold Irish Catholic, a playboy, tan and brave, how all of America liked to think of its new decade. He was poised to strike forth from Hollywood illusions, fearless in the face of fast-changing times and the Red Scare. Contrarily, Nixon was the angry pit bull of the Eisenhower administration, reeking of passé dread.

The legacy of 11/22/63 is that America was never innocent, only blind, deaf and dumb to realities best kept hidden by more soothing fables of princes living happily ever after on streets of gold.

But despite all the revisionist history about Camelot and “a land of hope and dreams”, Richard Nixon, and not Jack Kennedy, won the 1960 presidential election. But Daddy Kennedy stole it outright. Everyone knew it, but did not care. It had always been the American dream to bury the past, look to the moon, beyond the endless horizon. Every revolution has its causalities. Dick Nixon may have been Camelot’s first, but not the last.

Jack eventually paid for the sins of his father, the notorious Joseph P. Kennedy, with his life. He entered politics for the old man, won the Pulitzer with his connections and influence, became a senator from Massachusetts against all odds, and muscled into the role of youngest elected presidential at the age of 43.

There are always debts to pay for any man of power in a democracy fraught with dangerous ambiguities, but as president, Kennedy added to them by taking on the mechanism of government, the silent assassins in the CIA, the swollen power of the FBI, the imminent threat of the Soviet Union, and the fumes of Harry Truman’s Cold War.

Bullied by Nikita Khrushchev and haunted by Fidel Castro, Kennedy signed away an empty check for Viet Nam to solidify South East Asia for generations, and set the course for his successor, Lyndon Johnson to build into a decade of war. Ironically, Kennedy’s victim, Dick Nixon, became its benefactor and finished the decade of the 1960s’ by plunging the nation into a cloud of paranoid madness.

Mostly, the truncated Kennedy administration – a mere 1,037days in length -uncovered the demons of our government; the stranglehold of the Pentagon, the sinister nature of spying and assassinations, and the rabid abuse of the Bill of Rights by J. Edgar Hoover and his ilk. It also set the course to shine light on the Civil Rights movement, pushing the kind of sweeping legislation not seen in this republic since the Reconstruction a century before.

Mere days after November 22, 1963, the United States government may have appeared to roll along relatively unaffected, but the nation dimmed considerably. Whipping up the laughable fictions of the Warren Commission, escalating the fighting abroad and insulating the powers that be could not erase the sudden realization that the endless skyway of the New Frontier did, in fact, have tolls, and they were steep. The fabricated marketing of idealism and the voracious appetite of post war America dove into a quagmire of brutal truths about the vicious nature of politics. No one seemed to know anymore who or what was running things. One thing became evident; JFK had been just another piece of a bloodless machine eradicated like a spare part.

Doubts about the conduct and make-up of America’s best and brightest would fester throughout subsequent years of presidential screw-ups including Viet Nam, Watergate, Iran Hostage Crisis, Iran/Contra, Monika Lewinski, and now the furor over Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It has been chic to blather on and on about America losing its innocence in that most violent moment forty years ago, a rebirthing of cynicism and a wariness about the definition of justice, and the gnawing questions about who holds the reigns of the richest and most powerful nation on earth. But the legacy of 11/22/63 is that America was never innocent, only blind, deaf and dumb to realities best kept hidden by more soothing fables of princes living happily ever after on streets of gold.

Eight presidents later the reverberation of 11/22/63 continues to quake the nature of news, politics, fear and vision. The New Frontier came apart like a house of cards and no Age of Aquarius could make it right. And all the Baby Boomer rhetoric about privilege and promise plays out quite nicely in the horrid memory of invincibility being shattered by bullets on a gray noon.

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The Sky Is Falling, By The Way

Aquarian Weekly 11/5/03 REALITY CHECK


I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but the sun is falling apart.

I figure it’s a subject worthy of my attention for this week’s blather, but I’m only getting dribs and drabs from scientists, and they don’t speak much. This is unheard of in journalistic circles, wherein a meteorologist will explode into orgasmic apoplectic fits over a snowstorm.

But despite the alarming lack of hyperbole from the science community, chunks of the sun are dropping to earth.

I see this as big news.

Yet the other night I viewed something on the local NBC feed about a hippo eating a birthday cake or another riveting note concerning Jennifer Aniston calling George Bush a “dumb ass” on CNN.

To use layman’s terms, that is some serious shit.

I’m thinking we could have bumped those juicy morsels for a few seconds on the possible end of planet earth as we know it.

For pretty much a week large pieces of our main source for life on this planet have become unhinged. What I believe the geeks call Solar Flares, or CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections) have been plummeting toward earth daily. And these CMEs are apparently in a hurry. Scientists who will go on record say these things normally make the 93 million mile trek in a few days, but these latest chunks of burning gases arrived in our magnetic field in a record 19 hours.

To use layman’s terms, that is some serious shit.

However, these professionals begin to lose me with their gibberish about magnetospheres generating geomagnetic storms which boost the northern and southern lights and make pretty pictures and colors in the sky and…

Jesus Christ, there are pieces of the sun dropping off and diving into the planet’s atmosphere!

This doesn’t alarm anyone?

Oh, I see, when the millennium ends people run to Mecca and Jerusalem to prepare for the apocalypse, but when the sun starts to malfunction, its business as usual.

Well, not exactly business as usual. We’re also told our cell phones and tracking systems might burp, power grids are undulating, and it will be harder to land planes in a magnetic field being pummeled with supercharged flaming clouds of concentrated energy.

Where is that Verizon asshole these days?

“Can you hear me now?”

“Sorry, dipshit, I’m being incinerated.”

Someone asked me the other day if I was bummed that the Yankees lost the World Series.

“Yes, it was a disappointing end to a fine season and HUGE PIECES OF THE FUCKING SUN ARE FALLING TOWARD THE EARTH!”

It’s always tough to give meaningful sports commentary when faced with the cruelty of nature and the implosion of your solar system.

This has been a tough tenure for George Bush, what with the mainland being attacked and waging fourteen wars and Allen Greenspan having been holed up in a Georgetown bar tanked to the tits on pure absinthe and jabbering loudly about betting the national deficit on a three-team teaser, but what kind of press conference do you hold when the sun starts shedding?

“We’ve got the best people working on this.”

You think Dick Gephardt could blame a faulty orb of gas on Captain Shoe-In?

“The sun was fine when Bill Clinton was president.”

Sure, these astrological mishaps happen all the time, but I think it deserves at least a 60 Minutes piece or an hourly update on the FOX News channel over, let’s see, the Kobe Bryant case!

Well, I’ve done my part. I have nothing left to impart. What else needs to be broached? I’m no scientist or doomsayer, per se, but I know potential trouble or a scintillating news story when I see it.

The sky is falling.

For my money, that is the headline of all headlines.

I should retire this meaningless existence now and go out with a bang, but I am nothing if not a trooper and I shall go down with the proverbial ship. We will trudge on and write about the final days with grit and aplomb.

Or not.

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Rush Limbaugh, ESPN & The Craven Con

Aquarian Weekly 10/9/03 REALITY CHECK


As usual, the frenzied response to a hot-button story misses the key point. This time its the fabricated outrage surrounding politico dog-and-pony act, Rush Limbaugh’s alleged controversial statements made on ESPN’s pro football pre-game scream-o-rama last Sunday, which, by way of mention, took four days to surface. To arrive at less reactionary conclusions, we must pose three core questions: What Limbaugh was doing on a pre-game show beyond acting as gaffer or towel boy, his reasons for the gutless quitting of the gig afterwards, and who stood the most to suffer its backlash had he been man enough to face the music?

For the record, this incident should not be viewed as a race issue, or a form of political correctness abuse or certainly any first amendment pogrom. And it is not, nor has it ever been about whether or not anything the man uttered displayed the slightest glimmer of validity. It was merely a con to get you to pay attention to something and someone not worthy of your attention.

Let’s review.

ESPN needs sponsors and athletes to exploit for profit. Limbaugh needs to be a puppet of political ideology. Both lose if they vehemently defend his alleged philosophical bravery, so both predictably tanked it, collecting their checks and singing their tired songs of spin.

For those not mired in all things jock or schlock, ESPN and Limbaugh were a match made in a marketing heaven imagined by goofball pandering ratings-hungry execs, who view the landscape of envelope-pushing pop culture as a lazy blueprint to force-feed the great unwashed.

Limbaugh is a melon-headed lap dog for the Republican Party who fronts a shill-laden attack fest middays for WABC Radio in New York. A national minority of dunderheads who wish the atavistic, two-dimensional social order of the 1950s’ still existed laud his daily harangue. Aside from puppeteer at theme parks, rodeo clown and the guys who hand out pamphlets for strip clubs in Times Square, radio talk show host is the lowest ebb of the entertainment medium. I too have weakly trolled its murky waters, and save for its king, the always highbrow, Howard Stern, Rush is its cream.

ESPN is a 24-hour cable station/youth culture advertising magnet turned media empire with radio affiliates, magazines, movie production companies, and restaurants which mainly cater to fourteen year-old boys, or those who continue to embrace similar prepubescent activities as religion. It is the home office of furious sound bites and dick jokes used to sell beer between video of hockey fights.

WABC is owned by the Disney Corporation, which also happens to own ESPN.

Limbaugh was brought in to add to the already over-the-top guffaw locker room ambiance of a two-hour mess called Sunday Countdown, a show that once provided some semblance of useful sports information but now fits the rest of the station’s sub-moronic line-up of bargain-basement comedic geniuses dressed up in the guise of the “American Sports Fan”.

Okay, so last Sunday, Limbaugh loudly substantiated his laughably woeful lack of pro football acumen by jabbering a litany of unsubstantiated comments about one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, the Philadelphia Eagles, Donavan McNabb. Limbaugh opined that McNabb, the best player on his team and a perennial star since entering the NFL, was nothing more than a propagandized figment of the Philadelphia media and its desire to see black quarterbacks succeed.

Limbaugh is wrong on all accounts. McNabb is good, very good. The Philadelphia sporting press, well known for vitriolic meandering, has done anything but champion its pro athletes. Consequently, for those actually covering the game, instead of self-promoting, McNabb has taken more shit than he deserves for bad coaching and a vacillating front office.

So Limbaugh clearly demonstrated he knew nothing about the subject he is paid to comment on, lazily substituting real reporting and fair commentary for self-aggrandizing rhetoric, a talent he routinely displays in the realm of socio-political issues daily on his radio show. Only here, he was out of his element, and away from braying sycophants who have raised him to the level of shaman. Knowing Limbaugh’s tired shtick about attacking the mainstream “liberal” media and his disdain for “reverse racism”, he probably meant to say that the league has gone about over-promoting black coaches and quarterbacks to deflect liberal media criticism. Thus his blather, while curiously racial in theme, was hardly racist.

Predictably, the backlash has been harsh and vocal from black leaders and players, and of course, McNabb and the “liberal media”. This prompted this asinine defense of Limbaugh’s right to free speech.

Wrong again.

Firstly, freedom of speech applies to the liberty to espouse whatever theorem enters one’s head without government or legal retribution. Limbaugh was not arrested, and no one stopped him from saying what he said, or even edited his comments from the show. He wasn’t even fired, which was warranted, as in the case of former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, who went off the rails a few years ago with blatantly racist gibberish. A business does not have to compromise its earning power by harboring an unpopular employee. The Braves could not have a KKK poster boy on the payroll, and ESPN, or specifically Sunday Countdown could not survive a boycott of black NFL players of its telecasts.

Here’s your truth.

Limbaugh’s commentary signals mission accomplished for Disney. Buzz is created with free press and booming ratings. However, Limbaugh, often heard ranting about the Dixie Chicks and Hollywood types throwing their anti-American opinions around when not warranted, hides behind the “it was merely one man’s opinion” and then bails. Let’s face it; Limbaugh is racist like the Dixie Chicks are anti-American, but not unlike every celebrity caught in a bind that might dim the limelight, Limbaugh quit.

The fact is six minutes into the Limbaugh experiment everyone knew it was a mistake, including Limbaugh. It reeked of the kind of desperation that lead Disney into putting comedian, Dennis Miller out of his element to trump up sagging Monday Night Football ratings and start the parade of super models giving agonizingly banal sideline reports. So, with pressure from the top to justify the Limbaugh hiring, the people on the talent side of ESPN riled Limbaugh, a consummate showman who knows well how to put on the peacock feathers when he needs it, to stir the pot. He did. Backlash ensued. ESPN panics. He quits.

Despite window dressing to the contrary, ESPN is not a frat house of rebels and despots. It is a multi-million dollar corporation in the business to sell beer with tits and violence. Limbaugh took its money to whore his free speech card and stammered a badly articulated theory framed clumsily with political propaganda. He used skin color as an unfortunate analogy. Neither he nor ESPN, so hot for attention, could handle standing up to the inevitable public retort. It’s okay for Limbaugh and ESPN to hurl this crap at you, but once you bristle at it, its time to run and hide.

ESPN needs sponsors and athletes to exploit for profit. Limbaugh needs to be a puppet of political ideology. Both lose if they vehemently defend his alleged philosophical bravery, so both predictably tanked it, collecting their checks and singing their tired songs of spin.

The sick underbelly of this story is simply that too many people in the public arena, paid to act and talk tough, run scared too often. Christian crackpot, Jerry Falwell, smarmy coward, Bill Mahr, stuffy windbag, Trent Lott, Bostionian sad sack, Bob Ryan and a host of others too many to mention, have all apologized or backtracked or resigned under the normal resistance that comes from offering “brave” ideas into an idiom that prefers beer and tits.

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Gay Bishops & Other Modern Illusions

Aquarian Weekly 8/13/03 REALITY CHECK


A gay Episcopal Bishop.

What’s next? A Jewish Pope? A black Grand Poobah of the KKK? How about Larry Flynt heading up the National Organization of Women or Rush Limbaugh gaining a chair in the ACLU? Maybe I’d like to be a Wiccan priest? That would be a good one.

It’s freeform dogma.

Get on board.

That’s the rub of the Bible. It’s not the US Constitution. It doesn’t have amendments. Moses has been gone a good long time, and the last guy to question its veracity in the realm of human spirituality was hung up on a crossbeam. And that was two thousand long years ago.

I love humans. I am proud to be one. We set up these insane rules around metaphysical concepts like God and attach tangible regulations surrounding culture and clothes and sexuality and food and all sorts of ridiculous things to it, then we like to excuse these rules willy nilly to allow us to still participate in the metaphysical concepts based on new sets of intangible rules and laws.

I don’t care if Reverend Gene Robinson of the New Hampshire Episcopalians is a homosexual. But that doesn’t matter here. Others who have commented on this hot-button topic do. And that doesn’t matter either. What matters is Episcopalian law. Like other monotheistic institutions that utilize the Holy Bible as a guideline, it deems homosexuality a sin banned by God in the language of Moses in Leviticus circa 1445 bce.

Episcopalians, as all Christians, use the Letters of St. Paul to both the Corinthians and the Romans as a guideline of metaphysical law to damn homosexuality.

Some may agree or disagree with any part of these documents, but you cannot deny their language or intent. And you certainly cannot expect to ignore them while heading up a religion that calls these things immutable laws of the universe.

How can Mr. Robinson claim dominion over the other laws within his institution now that he has sidestepped one? What, some interpretations of Biblical law are debatable, but others are not?

It’s like Thou Shall Not Kill.

There’s no comma after this.

It’s not Thou Shall Not Kill, unless Congress declares war or unless you’re hungry or pissed or happen to not like the culture of the indigenous inhabitants of a continent you feel destined to rule.

What a bunch of fucking phonies we are.

This is why I have no use for institutions based on stringently nonsensical regulations, but some people do, and if they do, they should stick to these laws and boundaries or get the hell out.

It’s like these supposed vegetarians who eat fish or these Catholics who want to get divorced and still get married in the church, or people of the Jewish or Islamic faith mixing their precious cultures or people making fifty-buck bets and calling that gambling.

I’m reminded of that guy who recently claimed contentious objector status after joining the army. What did he think the army was, summer camp with tanks?

If you choose to head up some religious institution that uses the Bible as the immutable Word of God, then you cannot also be gay.

Has anyone read the Bible lately?

I mean really read it. Study its intentions and messages and metaphors? Because I have, several times during the research for my last book; and I’m here to report that if people actually read the damn thing, they would not be too quick to start restructuring it to meet their generation’s needs or evolved point of view.

That’s the rub of the Bible. It’s not the US Constitution. It doesn’t have amendments. Moses has been gone a good long time, and the last guy to question its veracity in the realm of human spirituality was hung up on a crossbeam. And that was two thousand long years ago.

And if you are one of those who think the Bible the absolute direction of the cosmos and the central theme of an omnipotent creator of the universe, and consider its verse the conscience of your judger and redeemer, its time to come to grips with its serious nature. Serious, unwavering balls-to-the-wall nature.

I think if people actually read the Bible, there could be trouble. But people don’t read. They watch television and snowboard and make money and try and get laid. And when it comes time to do whatever they feel like doing or hating or co-opting, they interpret things like the Bible in their own interesting way.

People like to take their righteousness in doses, or like some wise person said: Anything in moderation cannot hurt you.

Here’s where I quote a great man of fiduciary wisdom for our age, James V. Campion, my pop, who, when addressing the sticky subject of income tax says; “People must have it taken out little by little in each paycheck throughout the year, because if people actually knew what percentage they paid in annual income tax, they’d be jumping out of windows.”

Listen, I have no problem with anyone doing whatever they want. I love it. But for the religious set, isn’t there a set of rigorous rules, however insane, that must be abided to be part of the clan, much less lead it?

If not, all Wiccan incantations can now be ordered through me here at The Desk.

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Ann Coulter: Champion of the Dumb

Aquarian Weekly 7/2/03 REALITY CHECK


For those who merely get their junk food media jones from Reality TV or Eminem or video game violence, you are missing one of the great purveyors of grandiose stupidity on the market today; Ann Coulter. Noted author, and celebrated carnival barker; Coulter is the living embodiment of modern pop culture genius, well-dressed freak show merchants masquerading their commentary with bombastic rhetoric, mixed daringly with a waft of jingoistic perfume.

I worship her beatific vision.

Coulter’s efforts are noble and sound. She knows well the avenue of history has long been open for armchair revisionists to sidle up to the microphone and trump hyperbolic issues and hot-button names in an ostentatious peddling of merchandise. Having pitched a book for the past few months, I bow to her prescient supremacy.

Mostly, Coulter is a wonderful siren for our greatest attributes, the inability to understand rudimentary ideas beyond our own prejudiced hallucinations. No other social or political essayist possesses more of a keen eye for P.T. Barnum’s vast audience of ravenous lap dogs in the American heart.

Coulter is a wonderful siren for our greatest attributes, the inability to understand rudimentary ideas beyond our own prejudiced hallucinations. No other social or political essayist possesses more of a keen eye for P.T. Barnum’s vast audience of ravenous lap dogs in the American heart.

This is a sorely needed talent in today’s politically correct world of pusillanimous frauds. She is a maverick among sheep, but Coulter is often vilified for this, while she should be lauded as a hero for our most precious national resource: The Dumb.

In the grand tradition of Jerry Springer, Colonel Tom Parker and Joseph Goebbels, Coulter is merrily plugging her new cantankerous volume entitled, “Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War To The War On Terrorism” with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. And from recent quotes, the book appears to brilliantly reveal how Americans understand history and its effects on today’s social fabric.

For instance, last night on MSNBC, Coulter wildly defended Senator Joseph McCarthy as “a misunderstood American hero whose sacrifices preserved America’s sovereignty for thirty-plus years.”

This is the very same McCarthy whose incredible ride to infamy included an historic monopoly of world-class fear mongering this democracy has ever had the displeasure to endure.

Understand Coulter’s genius here. Aside from Hitler or Manson or Nixon or Liberace, the very name McCarthy, attached as it is to a period of madness called McCarthyism, is notable for its enviable shock quotient. A monument to hate bating and paranoia run amok, McCarthy’s legacy is nothing if not noteworthy. He was a tremendous brute of his times, clinically insane and furiously malevolent, a true celebrity monster. But apparently in Coulter’s luminous tome we relearn that McCarthy’s savagely clumsy attack on basic democratic liberties was “bravery” and that “The myth of ‘McCarthyism’ is the greatest Orwellian fraud of our times.”

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On the heels of Hillary Clinton’s fantastically successful, “Living History” – an embarrassingly potent political manifesto wrapped neatly in a package of scrumptiously infantile musings – Coulter’s grandstanding is sublime, painfully striking, and a clear roadmap to 21st century thought. Clinton’s book aimed to put distance between her and her ass of a husband. Coulter’s work puts a loving stamp on what her president’s dissenters have dubbed “fear-mongering” in the guise of patriotism. But Clinton is a politician, and nothing politicians have written has really meant anything binding since “Mein Kampf”.

Coulter is different. She is a pro, in every brutal sense of the word. Coulter writes: “Liberals are fanatical liars, then as now. Everything you think you know about McCarthy is a hegemonic lie.”

This is excellent hyperbole, with just the right amount of stern recognition, but having not read the entire thing, I can only assume she gets to the bottom of these lies about McCarthy; lies which are a matter of overly analyzed public record for half a century. But the book, or the childish assumption that only Liberals held, or hold, McCarthy contemptible, is not the issue here. It is the use of McCarthy as a notorious figure, and an effigy of politics gone frightfully awry, as a weapon against Coulter’s enemy, The Left.

Trashing The Left, like Senator Rodham’s subtle forms of trashing The Right in her book tour, allow both to employ an important ingredient to mass appeal, consistency. No one wants their Bruce Springsteens jamming funk or Bill Bennetts strung out on cheap wine and loading up on seven-figure Vegas bets.

Some may find championing terrible goons as political martyrs for the benefit of ideology wrong.


Getting massive digs in on the enemy, while refiguring the legacy of a national embarrassment for personal profit has merit. This is what many books have done for decades, rediscovering the Kennedy assassination or the Vietnam War or the Nixon Tapes. It’s good press, even in the face of complete and utter contempt for common sense and truth.

Another fine example from Coulter: “McCarthy was not tilting at windmills. Soviet spies in the government were not a figment of right-wing imaginations. He was tilting at an authentic Communist conspiracy that had been laughed off by the Democratic Party.”

Beautiful craziness.

Did the overall manic dismantling of McCarthy’s crusade have a tinge of backlash fanaticism? Of course. Were there Communists in the government? Sure. In the pall of a Cold War, was it a threat to national security? Correct. Was this why McCarthy was finally harangued by his contemporaries or forever noted as a criminally insane lunatic? No. It was McCarthy’s methods of sidestepping laws, using media outcry and troubled times to promote a sick obsession to shamelessly self-promote his career.

Even Coulter sheepishly admits to McCarthy’s famous lie about a list of 57 names in the US government with Communist ties. But you won’t find that as a headline on the day I write this. You see, in a way, what Coulter is doing is a metaphor for McCarthy’s greatest legacy: Say something completely shocking and outlandish, and make someone deny or address it.

Artistic grace.

And finally the second most successful slant on truth used by Coulter here is her assessment that the Democratic Party was more or less run by a radical anti-American Communist regime since McCarthy’s public demise. This scoffs in the face of horrific mistakes made by Democratic administrations, not the least of which would be the Korean and Viet Nam Wars, instigated, by the way, by Democratic presidents, or the Bay of Pigs disaster, or blah, blah blah.

Coulter is silly, surely, but I, for one, salute her moxy, her guts, her complete disregard for clear thought and simple research to bolster her debate. She is a hero to our trade, and a great patriot, pointing us to the core of our being; not letting facts get in the way of making a buck.

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The Persecution of Lenny Bruce


Aquarian Weekly 12/11/02 REALITY CHECK

The Legal Persecution of Lenny Bruce Dissected – Part Two

Lenny BruceAll law is interpretation. A lawyer uses words, which are inherently imprecise, and when a law is applied to the fact of a new situation what lawyers do is interpret the code words to deem them appropriately or inappropriately applied to the case at hand. To view the law means to understand interpretation. Law has more to do with critical literacy studies than it probably has to do with anything else. – David Skover, Professor of Law at Seattle University

From April 10, 1961 until his death at age, 41 in 1966, comedian, Lenny Bruce was arrested time and again on the charge of obscenity for routines performed in adult nightclubs in four of America’s most cosmopolitan and “enlightened” cities, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. Under the guise of vulgar language and lewd behavior, local officials, clumsily utilizing bully tactics and ambiguously interpreted public decency laws, preceded to railroad a valid political and social dissenter. Preceded by their fears and ignorance, they unleashed their handmaidens in the law to make a mockery of the U.S. Constitution and destroy the livelihood of a courageous artist while sounding a reverberating siren for generations to come.

The first of these busts occurred at Frisco’s progressive hot spot, the Jazz Workshop, where eventually Bruce was exonerated after sixteen months of expensive legal wrangling, travel expenses, blacklisting and jail time for the crime of uttering the word, “cocksucker” in mixed company. The second bust was a three-pronged attack wherein Bruce was ostensibly hauled off the stage for the same act on consecutive nights at the famed hipster haven, Troubadour club in L.A. While standing trial for these offenses in late ’62 and early ’63, Bruce was arrested at the Gate of Horn club in Chicago and the Unicorn back in San Francisco, where police repeatedly attended his performances in full view of the audience taking notes and staring down their prey.

While one of the L.A busts were thrown out of court, several raged on through much of the next three years, exhausting Bruce of his finances which he failed to recoup because of municipal pressure on clubs not to hire him. “It’s becoming chic to arrest me,” Bruce intoned during this absurd witch-hunt which culminated in his late 1965 New York City arrests at the Greenwich Village ultra-liberal art nook, Café Au Go Go, where the owners of the establishment were jailed and put on trial alongside him.

The details of this theater of abuse and oppression is well-documented in Ronald Collins and David Skover’s new book, “The Trials of Lenny Bruce”, which brilliantly uses history to paint a parallel view of a country hell-bent on defending its image against the more painfully unfurled truth. Complete with an accompanying compact disc of Bruce’s “criminal” behavior and desperate defenses with and without his oft-confused and overworked attorneys, the book exhaustively uncovers the all-too frighteningly real reasons for this high-powered harassment.

“Lenny’s four, eight, ten letter words today would not be the weapons of his destruction, “Skover warns. “But would his ideology be shocking today…you bet.”

“We must remember the context of Lenny’s comedy landscape,” Skover told me in a recent phone interview. “America had just come out of the Eisenhower era, an era of incredibly repressed sexuality, political patriotism and social conservatism. Lenny was at the forefront with the Beatniks long before the free love hippy movement.”

Outside the lines of accepted modes of media such as television, radio, recordings or the published word, Lenny Bruce used the subterranean culture of the nightclub to pound away at what he perceived was the enemy of justice, hidden truths. Beginning his act as a series of comedy routines and ending in a bombastic free-association, stream-of-consciousness bulldozer of powerful messages, Lenny skillfully stripped away preconceptions and began to adjust the mirror of visibility on a society hiding from its wounds. “I’m not a comedian, I’m Lenny Bruce,” the artist announced before several historic performances which chimed a bell for change and released a backlash of epic consequence.

Sex with chickens, transvestite Nazis, pissing in sinks, a gay Lone Ranger, the gender duality of the cocksucker, the hammer effects of social hate-speak like nigger-boogie-kike-wop, the conjugative discussion of “To is a preposition, cum is a verb”, Eleanor Roosevelt’s tits, the phony imagery of a Jackie Kennedy, the laughable oppression of the Catholic church are just some of the “bits” used to convict Bruce of obscenity. Armed with cryptically worded legal precedence the prosecutors acted as a kind of vengeance squad for the angered American façade.

Causing sexual enticement or turning red the face of a female audience member led to the charge of obscenity in law-speak, but something more sinister was at play. “No one could be convicted for blasphemy in any court,” Skover cites. “But in a very real sense Lenny was tried for it anyway.”

Blurting “fuck” or “cock” or “tit” may have been the smoking gun, but what Bruce was actually incarcerated for was his irreverent attack on taboo subjects like sexual mores, strained race relations, religious and social persecution, political deceitfulness and asinine celebrity worship. Lenny Bruce voiced too loudly what no one at the time was brave enough to admit in a public forum; things weren’t as rosy and wonderful in the good ole USA as previously, and falsely, advertised. And when he refused to bend to threats, those in charge of protecting its image, the government, the church, and the remaining power-based status quo endeavored to bring him down.

In the end, Lenny Bruce was not a foul-mouthed smut-lord, but a dangerous voice crying out from the wilderness. And the echo of such sentiments would be just as harmful in these more accepting times.

“Lenny’s four, eight, ten letter words today would not be the weapons of his destruction, “Skover warns. “But would his ideology be shocking today…you bet.

Look at Bill Mahr’s public persecution following his criticism of president Bush’s war on the Taliban on ‘Politically Incorrect’ last year. What Mahr was nearly fired for by ABC was what Lenny had been busted for thirty years ago, the poetic theme from Thomas Merton’s idea that war’s winners are no better than war’s losers.”

Skover reminds us that the difference between the Mahr backlash and the ridiculously overblown Sinead O’Connor harangue against her Saturday Night Live protest of child molestation by the hands of the Catholic church in Ireland or even the outlandish censoring of the Dave Anderson column by the NY Times last week is that these people, among so many others, have not and will never be handcuffed like common criminals and thrown into jail for uttering controversial and unpopular opinions.

Today Lenny Bruce is still a convicted felon in the state of New York, his case never reaching the Supreme Court, while his comedic descendents make millions on HBO. But the lesson of Bruce’s considerable legal legacy; his battles to express not just the most precious forms of free speech, but the incontrovertible idea that every American has a mind and spirit of his/her own that does not walk to the beat of the collective drummer is enduring. To suppress such a notion is un-American in every sense. The legal and social persecution of Lenny Bruce speaks loudly to those ideals.

“Lenny never got the right to say what he wanted how he wanted to say it,” Skover concludes. “But thanks to his vehement defense of his voice, others do. That is what we owe to the trials of Lenny Bruce.”

Read Part I

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The Persecution of Lenny Bruce


Aquarian Weekly 12/4/02 REALITY CHECK

The Legal Persecution of Lenny Bruce Dissected – Part One

Thirty-seven years ago, Lenny Bruce, comedic talent, potty mouth, satirist, contrarian, blasphemer and grandstand martyr for the first amendment died in relative poverty, a broken and hounded victim of free expression. The evidence of his destruction at the hands of a frightened culture is compiled and preserved as never before in a new book entitled Lenny Bruce Arrested in 1961“The Trials of Lenny Bruce”.

For my money, this is one of the most important books you will read this, or any year, whether you care a lick about Lenny Bruce as a person, an artist or an icon. It is important because it is the most detailed account of what fear and a bruised American psyche can do to the ambiguously delicate concept of freedom.

But, really, why should we care about some hipster junky whose nightclub act spiraled him into ignominious demise almost half a century ago?

This is a question best answered by law professor, David Skover, who along with co-author, Ronald Collins has created the definitive study of one of the most curious and pertinent battles for the constitutional right of political and social dissent in American history.

“Lenny Bruce sacrificed his career, his fortune, his very life for the American principle of freedom of speech,” Skover, a law professor at Seattle University, told me on a recent visit to New York. “In many ways Lenny embodies the first amendment, and whatever his failings as a human being, and there were many, he possessed the courage to speak his mind by the light of his own truth and with the force of his own voice. And however much that personal truth offended those who endeavored to silence him, Lenny’s battles, both legal and cultural, made it possible for others to be like him without having to end up like him.”

“…Lenny’s battles, both legal and cultural, made it possible for others to be like him without having to end up like him.”

Ironically, we are on the precipice of an era not unlike the late 50s’, early 60s’, when Lenny Bruce burst on the cultural scene. For the first time since the ultra-conservative Eisenhower administration our government is under a Republican majority. And not unlike the burgeoning Cold War of yesteryear there is once again an atmosphere of national lock-down with enemies laying in wait to erase our way of life. The effect is a renewed sense of innocence, a desire to hide from the harsh realities of war and hate and greed that batter our sensibilities daily. We long to be insulated, blanketed in sweet dreams of red, white and blue comfort.

Yet in the bizarre odyssey that is human nature, this craving for innocence can likely degenerate into ignorance.

“The fact that we are in a potentially more repressive speech environment than we’ve been in for many years is certainly disconcerting,” Skover remarks when asked about the similarities of his subject’s trials and today’s air of political correctness. “It’s important to remember that Lenny Bruce paid our dues to understand that the first amendment exists to protect political dissent in times when it is not a popular stance.”


Since the tragedy that was 9/11, the American psyche has been damaged. You can feel it in the air, see it on the news, hear it in our politicians, listen to it in our music, discuss it with our neighbors; this rush to suppress anything that might not ring of solidarity to nation and God and apple pie. Protect ourselves, our children, our heritage, our freedom by not uttering truths better kept hidden. At first it is an expected backlash from a national tragedy, an exercise in healing, but history teaches it’s natural for the body politic to become comfortable with such reactionary tactics at the price of individual freedom.


Now there’s an interesting term. Lately, we like to toss it around as an excuse for self-righteous patriotism, racial profiling, waging war or trading in our civil rights to avoid leaving ourselves vulnerable again.



No artist or commentator in the history of this nation broached the core of those two subjects better than Lenny Bruce. Certainly many carried the torch in bygone centuries, William Hogarth, the 18th century political cartoonist or the 19h century satirist like Mark Twain to name two, but in the modern light of a media-crazed latter 20th century, no one bore the brunt of our personal freedoms than a painfully flawed, but brilliantly courageous Jewish kid from Long Island.

By declaring his mission to expose the guise of phony respectability through a series of comedic routines liberally laced with rousing vulgarities and penetratingly brutal language, Bruce created a dangerous persona poised to skewer such taboo subjects as race relations, political vagaries and the sanctimony of organized religion. “Dig the lie”, Lenny defiantly blurts out on the book’s accompanying cd; a well-stocked collection of interviews, clips from Bruce’s most notorious bits, commentary from his contemporaries and recollections from the litany of attorneys who aided in his defense against social persecution. Of course, the “lie” being anything that emerged from Lenny’s fast-paced rhetoric as finely crafted hypocrisy.

When asked of Bruce’s cultural and legal legacy, Skover is adamant; “The very point of our work on this book is that although Lenny Bruce is a little known name in free speech law because none of his cases ever made it to the Supreme Court, his social relevance and courtroom dramas changed the first amendment environment in a very practical way.”

Unlike most historical records aimed at a particular audience, “The Trials of Lenny Bruce” is a living, breathing testament to our times, the American times, no matter what generation. It’s concentration on how the law may be manipulated to silence significant social commentary with neatly wrapped accusatory terms such as obscenity, blasphemy and national security, is paramount to preserving our own rights of free expression.

Skover cites that the obscenity standards, under which Bruce was arrested in four U.S. cities, including New York, are virtually identical today. “We have come a long way culturally from Lenny’s time, but even though it is inconceivable today that someone could be busted in a nightclub for uttering offensive ideologies the letter of the law has not budged.”

NEXT WEEK: Part II – More with the co-author of the “Trials of Lenny Bruce” on Bruce’s resounding warnings for our time.

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