Hazy Reflections In Mexico

Aquarian Weekly 12/10/08 REALITY CHECK

WE’RE ALL FINE Hazy Reflections On America’s Economy South Of The Border

“We’re going to be fine,” I told a young exporter from Cincinnati, as we sat with our wives in the cramped bar of a dilapidated restaurant on the Westside of downtown Cabo San Lucas. It had been another warm later-November day and the wife and I decided to interrupt our Mexican Booze Marathon to charter a sailboat at Puerto Los Cabos and watch the sunset. It was on route to a port along the Mar de Cortés when we offered passage to Mr. Cincinnati and his wife. I hadn’t so much as seen a JC & EM in Mexicosober American since being accosted by a round-faced Oklahoman at the pool bar fourteen hours earlier, but these people were different. They looked desperate, claiming to have been forced to dock an ill-conceived marlin expedition when two local fishermen brandished a pistol and summarily ordered the Gringos to “hand it all over”.

I was responding to a conversation that began when Mr. Cincinnati, drawing hard from a bottle of cheap Chablis, repeatedly bemoaned his doomed trade and the sinking American dollar. “I’m afraid,” he stammered. “I go to sleep with CNBC scrolling disaster every goddamned night and I am fully convinced my children will starve.”

“Don’t watch that miserable crap,” I told him. “Those people are programmed to peddle hype. It’s the first thing you learn in broadcasting school, how to pronounce “W” and pitch hype masked by news-speak. Fuck CNBC. All is well. You’re children may starve, but it won’t be a result of the American economy.”

“The stock market is killing my future!” he shouted.

“Future? It’s a myth,” I counseled him. “Live in the now!”

“Jesus, we forgot to cancel our stolen credit cards,” Mrs. Cincinnati interrupted.

“No problem,” my wife told her. “The people have controlling interest in the goddamn banks. I read it in my husband’s column.”

“Are you two with the press?” Mr. Cincinnati blurted, his sagging complexion turning a greenish alabaster as the ocean began to go haywire.

“Take that back,” my wife sneered, holding fast against the crash of erratic swells. “Just because my husband slums, does not implicate me as media.”

As we veered into the Pacific, a sudden bout of seasickness caused Mr. Cincinnati to violently disgorge what he said was once a fine platter of Chili Mariscos. A fair amount of it grazed my khakis and part of my wife’s sandals. She had ample opportunity to avoid the surge, but was transfixed by how Mr. Cincinnati’s weird combination of odd facial hues mixed with the crimson sunset. As he doubled over in retching convulsions, she clicked away on her Pentax K2000D proclaiming madly, “This is why you must always bring a fast-action shutter when boating!”

Appalled, and still in post-traumatic shock from the heist, his wife proffered a conciliatory dinner engagement if we “made it back alive”. Moreover, there were serious overtures to having an “in” with a select eatery only a few blocks from our hotel. “We’ve been coming here for over a decade,” Mrs. Cincinnati explained, as she frantically ushered her heaving spouse into the tiny bathroom below deck. “We have a 30-year timeshare.”

“I would sell that,” my wife chuckled, still clicking away. “The economy is screwed.”

“Fuck China?” my wife asked. “Fuck this hideous feed-shack! How long have we been sitting here?”

But safely back on terra firma, Mr. Cincinnati’s appetite was approaching ferocious, as was my beloved’s insatiable lust for stronger Tequila and a halt to our endless harangue on the Death Of The U.S. Dollar. She took to growling, “I swear I’ll open my wrists if someone mentions ‘fiduciary tailwind’ one more time.”

“Aren’t you the least bit worried that things are beyond repair?” Mr. Cincinnati asked.

“Fuck that noise,” I said. “America was never in a better place while crippled. This is not the Depression. Do you know anything about history, son? After ’29 the world closed its doors on us, and we recoiled in horror at the thought of international aid. Those days are over. In 1930, we hadn’t done a fucking thing for anyone. Shit, World War I? We came in for land grabs in the last seventeen months. Before that it was stealing this and colonizing that. Since then we’ve dumped billions upon billions all over this globe, not to mention bloodless coups and weird assassinations. Hell, we went to war for god-knows-what from Indo-China to Grenada, Lebanon, Kuwait and Nicaragua in order to drag the Third World into the 21st Century. We won’t be allowed to go under, not now, not ever.”

“What about China?” he argued. “They will eat us alive!”

“China? Shit, do you have the slightest inkling of what the average American citizen spends a year on crap from China? Our demise would be suicide. They’ll keep lending us money and we’ll keep spending it on their crap. We’re like a deadbeat junky to a dealer. No matter how deep in debt, he cannot afford to lose him. Fuck China. They need us. Everyone needs us.”

“Fuck China?” my wife asked. “Fuck this hideous feed-shack! How long have we been sitting here?”

“Nine Modelos, five Margaritas and one Tequila Sunrise ago,” Mrs. Cincinnati quantified.

“Holy mother of Christ, we need service here!” my wife yelled in the direction of the chubby waiter, who sprinted over to slam an entire tray of Pacificos on our table. He was sweating profusely from the heat and breathing dangerously hard. “On the house, señorita,” he exhaled.

“We don’t want this piss, bring us four more Modelos until a table opens,” I said.

“No table, amigo. We are overbooked.”

“I don’t care about food, four more Modelos!” I said.

Obviously frightened, the panting waiter whispered, “No more Modelo. We’re out.”

“Corona then,” the wife said. “Bring us four Coronas with limes, and no chincy curved slivers, real chunks of lime this time!” “Sorry, señorita…”

“No Carona?” my wife shouted. A hush fell over the bar. “Aren’t we in Mexico? Can you go into any dive in the U.S. and scare up a fucking Budwieser?”

“I’m going to pass out if I don’t get sustenance soon,” Mr. Cincinnati said, bolting from our table to confront the perpetually angry Maitre D’. For nearly two hours we watched in utter fascination as she physically evicted six patrons without explanation.

“That woman looks like a pissed-off Frida Kahlo,” the wife observed. “She’s going to kill that poor schmuck.”

“What the hell is wrong with him?” I asked his wife.

“Aside from being trapped in Los Cabos for Thanksgiving Weekend with a lousy time-share, robbed at gun point of everything he owns, and waking up in cold sweats for a solid month with the sound of his financial advisor repeating over and over that three weeks ago the Untied States fiscal stability hung by a thread, he’s pretty chipper.”

“You’ve got to ride this stuff out, take the blows and keep coming,” I instructed.

“I know,” she said, keeping an eye on her husband, who was raising the ire of the scowling Maitre D. “We’re weak.”

As she let “weak” escape her lips Mr. Cincinnati’s hapless recon mission had succeeded. Waving us over, we followed Frida through the crowded entranceway into a tunnel festooned with cheap jewelry and trinkets out to the main room. It was too bright, too loud, and reeking of dried sweat, stale beer, and soiled children. The sound of nervous laughter was oppressive. Mr. Cincinnati looked woozy, so we sat him down at an oval wooden table, where an imposing gray-haired waiter stared us down. “You are in a rush, no?” he asked.

“Rush, yes,” my wife told him. “This man here is dying; he is living in fear…an expatriate who has suffered a grave injustice at the hands of pirates. He needs refried beans and guacamole immediately or there could be an unpleasant incident.”

Looking perplexed, the gentleman smiled, “Who told you we served refried beans and guacamole here, señorita?”

With that the wife and I got up from our chairs, and walked briskly to a waiting cab and back to our corner table at La Guadalupana Cantina. Before the door closed we could see Frida smiling broadly.

We never saw the Cincinnatis again. They’re weakness was not needed stateside. This is the Land Of Survival. We would be there soon to weather any storm. But first, Cohibas, refried beans, guacamole, and two Caronas, please.


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The Summer Of Survival 2008

Aquarian Weekly 7/23/08 REALITY CHECK

THE SUMMER OF SURVIVAL A Realist’s Guide For A Doomed Economic Future

Mad Max RevisitedAnything which is a living and not a dying body will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant – not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power… ‘Exploitation’… belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will to life. – Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil

To those still fiscally solvent enough to cobble together a buck-fifty for an arts and culture weekly or have not already hocked your computer or chosen to disconnect your high-speed to feed your family rather than receive my thrice-monthly wisdom, I say it is high time we panicked.

The American dollar is a sick joke. The stock market is at best a three-team teaser. The banking system hangs from a thread. Food prices are at record highs and the price of fuel or any energy for that matter has taken the form of abject thievery. The job market is so desperate recent college graduates are burning diplomas like draft cards. The government, both federal and local, laughs at us.


But I don’t mean cold cocking corpulent housewives at the gas lines like in the late seventies, or shoving sticks of dynamite into ATM machines, which was all the rage during the terrible summer of ’02, or even attempting the wildly effective communal leaps from Fifth Avenue high rises in the autumn of 1929.

This is the year of change.

Let’s get creative.

I say from this moment forth, let this be known as the Summer of Survival.

Give the Summer Of Love and the Winter Of Discontent a run for their money.

Let us cast aside decorum and scoff at the rule of law to better embrace our simian roots; the deepest part of our humanoid id — the feral, bone-gnawing, knuckle-dragging ancestral primate who managed to best nuance the vagaries of this Darwinian treadmill we bi-pedal daily.

Thus, I humbly offer that we listen to our president’s call to stop driving so damn much. Traveling, the great 20th century American chime of freedom, celebrated in song and story from Woody Guthrie to Chrysler jingles, must cease. Stay home. Lock the doors. Reject all forms of energy. Live in the monastic style of the Rabbi’s of Masada. A sedentary life will gain you savings in the here and now and earn you important self-flagellation/denial points in the hereafter.

We must assume the supine. Breathe as slowly as possible. And for the sake of God, do not answer your phone. Unplug the damn thing!

Blackberries and other forms of mobile texting and e-mailing should be used sparingly and in many cases only when sending messages of dire consequence, like when celebrities give birth or monthly magazines depict presidential candidates as cartoon terrorists on their covers.

Next, we must stop eating so much.

We’re the fattest nation on the planet. The tier of southern states alone consumes half the planet’s food supply. The spike in sugar carbs has rendered its populace incapable of making reasoned decisions on matters of philosophy, religion or politics. Let their terrible epidemic in mind-numbing obesity be a lesson to us all.

The gorge stops now. If nothing else it will cut down on the rash of salmonella poisoning ravishing 80% of the contiguous United States.

And no more spending. Period. In fact, ignore all debt. The authorities will bail you out. The free ride is coming. All aboard!

And no more spending. Period. In fact, ignore all debt. The authorities will bail you out. The free ride is coming. All aboard!

Why not? You didn’t try and get rich on bloated property grabs. Why should the rapacious hordes get all the breaks? Fuck the banks, the lending institutions, and lord knows, the greedy little shitheels demanding a monthly stipend for your land. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, whatever the hell that means. Damn, let’s find out. Let ’em come and kick us out.

In fact, burn all your bills, especially credit card and mortgage statements, utilizing the blaze to heat your water and cook your meager game.

Up here in the mountains we’re back on the gold standard, off the grid, and boycotting the super market teat already. Beneath the fluttering majesty of our Don’t Tread On Me flag we’ve taken to the foraging of berries and edible plant life for sustenance. This has caused a nasty civil war with the black bear and wild turkey, which has allowed the carnivorous among us to utilize the fatalities for our dwindling dining choices.

It is just as well we face the call of the wild. We’re already deep in the midst of hunkering down, as if a devastating nor’easter were nigh. We’ve begun to manifest our destiny by stock piling weapons and old 78’s of Knute Rockne speeches, which we blast dawn to midnight from a loudspeaker mounted just outside of the second floor hay bale window of The Desk’s headquarters. It livens the blood of the hearty souls digging trenches and constructing crude barricades, which began when the clock struck twelve on the summer solstice.

We, of course, in the great American tradition of ingenuity and opportunistic foresight have been using slave labor to cut costs. Children, particularly of the pre-teen/middle school variety, make excellent beasts of burden; just old enough to huck but not savvy enough to whine, fight back and/or take up litigation.

Soon we will fortify our numbers by capturing the older ones, who foolishly speed their cheap cars past our fortified compound at all hours of the morning with little regard for rationing of gasoline or feline noir pathways. Following another American tradition during times of national crisis, we shall suspend habeas corpus and detain the zit-addled potheads in holding pens until their wills are broken. Then, and only then, will we remold their undernourished and newly propagandized teenaged brain matter to do our bidding.

Teach the next generation what patriotism and sacrifice is all about; enough mucking around with glue sniffing and video games. It is time to carry the weight and defend the territory. Young hormones can work in our favor during the Summer Of Survival. I should know; I was a disillusioned youngster during the ugly malaise months of 1978. Back then we took crisis as a challenge to exploit and pillage and we will expect nothing less from these lazy, sexually-depraved temperamental pissants.

This will not be easy, but it has long passed necessary.

Design the bumper sticker, call Philip Morris, find that bleating symbol of Pollyanna madness, Phil Gramm and string him to a rail and ride him out of town.

It is the Summer Of Survival.


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George Carlin 1937 – 2008

Aquarian Weekly 7/9/08 REALITY CHECK

GEORGE CARLIN 1937 – 2008

What’s all this favoritism towards the dead? Why should the dead get a moment of silence? Fuck the dead! Let’s have a moment of muffled conversation for those who were treated and released.– George Carlin

Saint GeorgeFor over a half century George Denis Patrick Carlin was the standard bearer of the principles on which this space was founded: Nothing is Sacred and Truth Need Not Apologize. He stomped that terra without fear; took names, laid waste and left volumes of incredible material to prove it. Only Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Lenny Bruce, Hunter S. Thompson, Dick Gregory, Kurt Vonnegut, Randy Newman, the first four years of Saturday Night Live, or those wonderful maniacs who pen The Simpsons have tread the same plain of his satirical mastery.

For my money his passing is a true American tragedy; a significant loss to the alternative voice, a rare and dying breed.

I love and treasure individuals as I meet them; I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.

George Carlin was the patron saint of the wayward radical without a home politically, spiritually or philosophically. It was Carlin who made sense of taking the thought less traveled — possessing an intrinsic ability to detach and reform from weird angles — then make it sing. He had what the bodhisattva might call The Third Eye. Carlin viewed life through a prism of individuality, and like all great artists, baring its results became the universal language.

By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.

Language and words were Saint George’s tools, his play toys — the penetrating microscope into the human condition. He massaged their beauty by deconstructing their gruesomeness, regurgitated their nuances, idiosyncrasies and then exposed their inaccuracies like a mad poet street troubadour bip-bopping megaphone. Language was his instrument and the words soared like notes from it.

You can prick your finger — just don’t finger your prick.

The truly magical times came when the words would possess him, contort his face and jangle his lips, his voice raising and dipping, his timbre guttural and hoarse, eyes bulging, teeth gritting maniacally until you could no longer breathe with laughter. He would blurt out “There is no blue food! Where is the blue food?” and you were gone. Only Carlin could use everyday musings as machine gun concussion to make you cackle until you could no longer draw air. He did it to me all the time, since I was eight years old.

I will never forget the first Carlin. It woke me up, bub. It gave me a sense that there was true grace in this world if you were willing to uncover the deeper regions. Knowing Carlin (Class Clown, Occupation Foole, Take Offs & Put-Ons, Toledo Window Box, AM/FM) meant survival was not having to be the strongest, coolest, most popular; only funny — funny and witty and ready to bring the goods, funny as a defense, hypotheses, elixir. But you had to have the inflections down, and the timing. You had to hit the marks like the master, and only then were you cruising.

Language and words were Saint George’s tools, his play toys — the penetrating microscope into the human condition. He massaged their beauty by deconstructing their gruesomeness, regurgitated their nuances, idiosyncrasies and then exposed their inaccuracies like a mad poet street troubadour bip-bopping megaphone. Language was his instrument and the words soared like notes from it.

The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

Sharing Carlin meant friendships. If you knew Carlin, then you were in. If you saw him on Flip Wilson last night, stayed up for his Tonight Show appearance for the new rant then you could recite it the next day and be the hero. My good friend Ken Eustace called it “releasing crucial endorphins”, extending your life, or extending the child in you who could see in all things humor. Another long time friend Chris Barrera said it best when he left an honorary voice message which concluded with “Man, did we laugh.”

The sun did not come up this morning; huge cracks are appearing in the earth…details at eleven.

Before books or protest songs, before causes and ideologies there was Saint George around my house. We celebrated his absurdity because Carlin was the neighborhood kid. Born and bred on the corners of New York City. He went to my dad’s high school, talked about the same lunatics and recounted all the same shit. He had the NYC madness in him; something the cursed can understand immediately when we hear it. It is a rhythm, a cadence, a parry and jab resolve, metaphysically unable to surrender. Fight on for no other reason but joy. It makes noise. It makes trouble. Most of all, it is damned funny.

The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.

I was watching an old Carlin thing a few days before he died. He was doing the riff on the Seven Dirty Words, the one that made him famous, the one that went all the way to the Supreme Court. And he was jamming like Coltrane or Monk or Charlie Parker. It was like jazz, I told my wife a few days later; a few days after that he was gone.

It got me thinking about what my friend, a damned killer satirist himself, Dan Bern wrote about my work in the preface of my last book, how I had this “bullshit meter”. And I thought about how I was given the keys to it by Saint George all those years ago.

So I bid farewell to another of a dwindling circle of influences who’ve molded this voice into the lovable cynical, ball-breaking hack jockey he is today.

This country was founded on a very basic double standard: A bunch of slave owners who demanded to be free. So they killed a lot of white English people in order to keep owning their black African people so they can wipe out the rest of the red Indian people and move west and steal the rest of the land from the brown Mexican people, giving them a place to drop their weapons on the yellow Japanese people. You know what our motto should be? “You give us a color, we’ll wipe it out.”

Half a century will have to be enough.

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John Waters Interview

EC ROCKER 12/12/07 Cover Story


John WatersJohn Waters has made a good living challenging the parameters of our social landscape. He is arguably the most controversial, provocative, entertaining, and influential filmmakers of the past half-century, running the gamut from underground cult hits shot with unknown talent and bizarre extras, distributed in guerilla style with little to no money to Hollywood niche favorites boasting star power. His most famous work, Hairspray has become a huge Broadway hit musical, followed up by a successful Hollywood movie starring John Travolta in the corpulent, cross-dressing Devine role. There is another, Cray Baby, on the horizon. But no matter the canvas, one element remains constant in a John Waters’ production, its subject matter will be anything but mainstream, and it will apply humor, irony, and subversive imagery to hammer home its theme.

This is also true of Waters’ one-man shows, which he’s been staging for thirty years, and now entering a fifth year of his critically acclaimed “A John Waters’ Christmas”, winding its way into Asbury Park this month.

We recently discussed all things filth, film, and the underground.

jc: Christmas is a perfect foil for you. Do you like to play with some of the traditions, not only religious, but exploitive traditions of Christmas in America?

Oh, sure, to make fun Christmas in a way that I like Christmas but I can make fun of its extremes and the different moods it brings on. You have to know the rules, though, the basics of what you’re satirizing. So, I do like Christmas, without irony, if you want to know the truth, but at the same time there are terrible things that happen in Christmas. I also try and look at it from every person’s viewpoint, like for instance thieves are very happy at Christmas. You have more money in your wallet. There are presents in your car they can steal. It’s a happy time for them too.

I’d like to talk about the evolution of social commentary through art and literature, specifically the use of wit and satire, which is a specialty of your work. Can you discuss what you refer to as “trash art” and your role in using it as commentary on or a rebellion against social mores?

I don’t call it trash. I call it filth now, because I think it needed a new word. Trash seems to be so embraced now. They talk about “trash tv” and that doesn’t mean the same thing to me. I always used “trash” as praise. Filth has a little more edge, is a little more punk.

But certainly “filth”, which started out as the real “trash”, the great “trash”, was not filled with irony and didn’t know that it was funny and was serious about it. And for its real audience it was sexy and scary, but then hipsters and intellectuals came in and discovered it. Some of them loved it for what it was, almost as “outsider” filmmaking, but it was mostly forgotten by my generation, but then rediscovered now by young people that hold some of those movies in great esteem. They are getting the final respect that they deserve.

You’ve talked about the importance for art to provoke or even disgust to engender a response or challenge, and your films have certainly done that. How meaningful do you think it is to create societal shifts through underground art?

“I’ve gotten through my life using humor as a weapon, as protection, and politics. I think every joke is political in a way.”

Well, you have to surprise people in order to get them to listen. People are always saying I’m trying to shock people. I don’t know. I get why they say that from Pink Flamingos, but basically I was trying to surprise you and make you laugh at things you’ve never laughed at and that way you’ll listen. You could never argue with somebody by ranting and raving. No one wants to hear that, they’ll just walk away. But if you can make someone laugh, they’ll stop for a minute and they’ll listen to you. I’ve gotten through my life using humor as a weapon, as protection, and politics. I think every joke is political in a way.

Do you think it’s harder now to shock an audience or say challenge them with irony and humor?

I don’t try to shock! I try to make people laugh. It’s easy to shock. It’s not as easy to surprise people and to make them laugh at something they’re shocked they’re laughing at.

How about compel or provoke, to use more specific terminology.

It’s odd. Even though there is more craziness on the Internet or even on television, there is always an angry backlash for real edgy, thought-provoking stuff. It’s as if we are supposed to accept shit as appeasement for this insatiable need for human nature to test boundaries. Partly, I guess. Television’s the freest it’s been. Pink Flamingos plays on color television. I’m shocked at that! You get co-opted easier. I mean, at the last Republican Convention in New York George Bush Sr. and Barbara came to see Hairspray and he was out front twisting with drag queens. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s very confusing.

There was always honesty in the subject matter in your films. It reminds me of early American literature’s take on taboo subjects, which were also not done ironically but with the utmost seriousness, but may have been co-opted later as a wink and a smirk at the establishment.

The first thing I ever wanted to be was a Beatnik when I was eight years old living in Lutherville, Maryland. I used to wear Levis with bleach on them and laced-up Ben Hur sandals. I really looked ridiculous. I would go to coffee houses with the bongos and meet up with the girls wearing berets and black nylons. I remember that was really a shocking thing. And I remember going to see foreign films where they served espresso coffee and you’d read. Of course! You’d read Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, along with all the Beat books. I loved that! But then they turned into hippies and they turned into punks and the punks turned into grunge, and grunge turned in gangster. All just new ways to rebel.

Do you think any of your earlier films were as far outside the Hollywood mainstream in subject matter, specifically Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, than say Hairspray or Cry Baby?

John Waters ChristmasIf I hadn’t changed, I wouldn’t be here today. You’ve got to re-invent yourself. You don’t repeat doing what you did when you first get famous or it will be over. There were no more midnight movies, video came out, so you have to keep changing with the business.

My last movie got an NC-17 rating. I had huge censorship problems: Cecil B. Demented, a movie about terrorism. And Hairspray is probably the edgiest thing I ever did, because it’s playing in every country in the world, where regular families are sitting there not realizing it’s a film encouraging their white fifteen year-old daughter to date black guys.

What about more mainstream Hollywood films that followed, like say, Porkies or on a grander scale Animal House. I’m not sure those film get made without your films displaying that it’s not only okay to dip into the tasteless or bizarre in movies but that there is a pretty wide audience for it.

I don’t have anything against those movies, I’m jealous of their grosses, but they were much broader than my films were. My films were always exploitation films for art houses, not exploitation films for real exploitation. They bombed in real exploitation theaters. And those movies were for a more male-orientated, macho audience, the same audience for Knocked Up! But I’m happy those movies are hip. It makes it easier for me with censor boards. I wish my films were that broad, but they never have been in a way because mine are somehow considered more elitist and more ironic.

In a way Hairspray is the most subversive kind of art to be able to get into larger markets and infuse the same themes you’ve hit upon from your earlier films.

Well, you just keep going and you try to figure a way to make things work. I’d been through a whole thing where I started trying to make underground movies and then it was midnight movies and then it was independent movies and then I had a Hollywood period, and then I made Hollywood independent movies, and I think now I make Hollywood underground movies.

Could a young filmmaker today make the kind of films you made in the sixties or seventies and get them to an audience? I know you also said once that it’s easier to get films made now and even distributed now, but if they bomb on the first weekend, you’re gone.

Every movie made today has a harder time staying around. Even Hollywood movies only last three weeks, and that’s considered a long run. It’s because of DVDs and videos and home theaters. None of that existed then. When I was young, films could play a year in one movie theater, but today that could never happen because in six weeks you can get it on DVD. But, however, way more people see it. Now you can live anywhere in America and you can see any movie in the world. You don’t have to worry about where you live to see great obscure art films. It’s actually much better now.

I see you’re doing your show out in Asbury Park.

It’s hard to imagine how great and scary Times Square was. You look at Dianne Arbus pictures and you look at people who photographed it lovingly and you see it was really exciting to see exploitation movies in that perfect theater.

I’ve never been there, so I’m looking forward to it. I love to come to somewhere that I’ve never been. I heard you have good hairdos there.

I’m not sure about that, but okay. At least I’ve heard the town’s having a bit of a renaissance?

Real Estate porn is everywhere. But good! I think mostly if yuppies or guppies come in and fix up places it’s good for the neighborhood. It makes it better. I have nothing against yuppie restrooms. They have great restrooms.

There is a preponderance of friends and colleagues, many of them artists or writers that are always going on about how they enjoyed New York City more when it was grungy and more dangerous. I always disagree. I grew up in New York and worked there most of my adult life on and off. I love New York. I was never thrilled about fearing it.

No, God, I remember when every night you could get mugged in New York. I can’t get mugged now. I mean, do I miss days of on Ninth Avenue when you could see a hooker in broad daylight taking a shit? No. But I do miss the sex clubs that were pretty amazing. They will never ever come back. AIDS ruined everything. Never in anyone’s lifetime that may read what you’re going to write are going to see that again. That will never come back. It’s hard to imagine how great and scary Times Square was. You look at Dianne Arbus pictures and you look at people who photographed it lovingly and you see it was really exciting to see exploitation movies in that perfect theater.

Do you think your films have captured a period of time that won’t be returning?

The next underground sensation will be on the Internet and it will surprise me! Working on anything new? I have a sinister script before the (writer’s) strike even happened, and it’s a terribly wonderful children’s Christmas adventure called Fruitcake, which I’m hoping to shoot in February.

Have you decided whose going to be in it?

Well, Johnny Knoxville is the dad, but it’s mostly all children in it and you really can’t cast that ’til the last minute because a child can grow a foot in one month.

Good point. I understand you’re touring this Christmas show with a band, right?

Oh yeah, I’m touring with a band who opens for me called Lavender Diamond with Becky Stark as the singer. I also have my Christmas album, A John Waters Christmas, and I have other records – uh, records, you can tell how old I am – musical collections that came out the past couple of years.

How did you choose the songs for these?

Oh, just songs that I figured you haven’t heard and I thought you should. It’s what I would play if you came over my house and we smoked pot or had a martini.

What about the future of filmmaking? You mentioned the Internet. And I’m referring here not to the big time film industry, but the independent stuff, the edgy stuff.

Eventually, they’re all going to be on the net, because everyone is going to have a home theater. People will still go to the movies for a shared experience, but everybody will have a little art cinema in their house eventually.

Do you think every film, or every piece of art; every creative experience should have something in it that’s provoking in some way?

No! No! You have to make a movie for the audience that’s it’s intended for. Certainly my mother doesn’t want to see any edge in movies.

Do you believe that most subculture or art movements tend to make its mark on society, even if slightly?

Well, I always joke that I think I’ve made trash one percent more respectable and maybe that is what I was put here to do.

That’s a contribution.


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London Recalling

Aquarian Weekly 11/21/07 REALITY CHECK

LONDON RECALLING Musharraf Sweats, Mailer Dies & The Genius Poet Tails

It was sometime in the early hours of an endless bipedal drinking marathon, slumped in a cramped hotel room at the edge of the literary Bloomsbury district, that my traveling companion, Jersey Pedro and myself watched in relative horror as General Perves Musharraf, the acting president of a crumbling government, spoke to his nation and the world beneath a sheath of Nixonian flopsweat. His stuttering pleas for sanity seemed to ring hollow as the BBC cameras captured apathetic shoulder shrugs and glares of disdain from the heavily armed members of his cabinet, who were recently forced to beg the foreign press to shed light on the president’s suspension of all laws, allowing him to systematically jail dissidents in and around the powder keg that is now Pakistan.

Carolyn Cassady & jcThis was nothing worth processing either mentally or spiritually while working on little sleep with nagging back pains and creaky knees. London is an unforgiving town. It moves at a snail’s pace and closes well before midnight. You must be drunk by noon and brandish your own steak sauce or escape is futile. The real action happens beneath the ground, something Musharraf will fast be learning soon, when he is likely deposed by his government and sacked by his military chieftains.

Pedro, for his part, was angered over the lack of cricket highlights and football scores, making it his business to sing the same incessantly cruel Ringo Starr song over and over, as if he were recovering from secret shock treatments. I tried in vein to decipher Musharraf’s vague references to martial law and terrorist coups, and recalled, if only for the briefest of moments, a piece I penned for this paper in late May of 1998, when the Indian/Pakistan border war escalated into its current nuclear parameters.

I wrote then: “Iran and Iraq is a tea party now; a second-rate, five & dime whiz bang of a blip on the ass of this horrible development. Not even Hussein’s babbling psycho-rhetoric can rival the impoverished and enraged populace due east.”

I was busy paraphrasing the above paragraph when Pedro, hoarse-throated and clearly hung-over, reminded me that years before I’d gotten it on pretty good authority from my baby brother – knee-deep in human feces on the streets of New Delhi trying to train dumbfounded Nortel representatives – that Indian newspapers were rife with misinformation about how much nuclear tonnage the government had acquired from the Chinese, and that “nuking was imminent”.

I drowned out the terrible memory by turning up the television. Musharraf was sounding more and more like a puppet of the United States government by promising another round of free elections, easing the “state of emergency” and complying with international demands to release embattled former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

“To hell with that army thug, he’s doomed,” Pedro said, before gasping towards his lap-top sitting beside him on the bed.

“What is it?” I asked, glued to Musharraf’s increased levels of perspiration and weird stammering.

“Remember yesterday near the Thames when I concocted a plan to buy up volumes of nearly deceased authors to sell at increased rates years from now, and used Norman Mailer as a prime example?”

“Was that before or after the Genius Poet Incident?” I asked innocently enough.

It was then Pedro grew tense. His eyes glazed over and he swallowed hard. “Don’t speak of that again,” he whispered. “Not now. Not ever.”

I had attended the event as a proper representative of American authors, shuffling confidently past the make-shift ticket stand wondering aloud if we could just drink quietly and listen to the faint echoes of poets plying their trade downstairs. The young patron waved us through to the main bar.

He would get no argument from me. I was there. The newest incarnation of the legendary Marquee Club on Upper Saint Martin’s Lane, where for nearly two hours London’s pretentious cross-nagging underground poets made transparent attempts to impress the aging Beats who’d come to sell books while still appearing vital. I had attended the event as a proper representative of American authors, shuffling confidently past the make-shift ticket stand wondering aloud if we could just drink quietly and listen to the faint echoes of poets plying their trade downstairs. The young patron waved us through to the main bar.

No one seemed to mind the two yankee interlopers perching themselves on the winding staircase taking in “Ode To My Cunt” and “My First Blowjob” sonnets delivered with stunning power from angry middle-aged female scribes, and then, a short interlude with former Beat Queen, Carolyne Cassady, who I’d chatted up earlier in the evening when a glowing Irishman was challenging the fragile 84 year-old to a drinking duel. She laughed in his face. I laughed too. No one who could take on both Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac would lose her bravado to a soused barfly.

“Jack said to always drink at home,” I reminded her, feeling somewhat proud.

“And in hotel rooms, sonny,” she winked, punching my shoulder.

After Cassady was done trashing Kerouac for seventeen uninterrupted minutes on stage – “If not for my husband, who mister Kerouac painted as some kind of beast, there would be no On The Road” – I retired to the upstairs lounge to find an effeminate black man dressed conspicuously in a brightly colored motorcycle body-suit sitting at my table.

For long minutes we said nothing to each other until Jersey Pedro sat down and sparked a bizarre conversation that began with the destruction of the human race. I startled our visitor for a moment with my predictable, “Yeah, sure, there should be more genocide and abortions” routine. This usually defuses the issue. This time it did not.

“People scare me and I despise them,” he said. “I cannot suffer them any longer. I’m a genius.”

“I’m an idiot,” I responded. “Glad to meet you,” and shook his hand.

Soon thereafter we sussed his plan, as he brashly slid a hardback edition of his collected poems across the table and demanded we work as his American agents. This succeeded a Q & A session on Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, Charles Bukowski and more bullshit about he being a genius.

“I have my own fucked career to contemplate,” I told him.

“I’m merely a highly motivated unemployed musician,” Pedro added.

But the Genius Poet would not quit: “You must represent me. Don’t you want to be rich? I’ll give you twenty-five percent!”

We excused ourselves and bolted towards the door. The young lady from Lousiville, who had engaged me in a delightful discussion on Hunter Thompson only hours before now yelled “Run!”

“Jesus, this guy is crazy!” Pedro remarked.

I refused to look back, but I knew he was tailing us out into the street. We sped across Oxford and down towards the closest Tube entrance, beyond the crowd of braying youth stumbling from the pubs en masse as the bells struck eleven.

“Guess who just died?” Pedro aasked me back at the hotel the next morning, snapping me out of my funk.

“Who?” I asked.

“Norman Fucking Mailer!”

“Shit, we’re too late.”

“He was a self-proclaimed genius, you know.”

Musharraf was now taking questions. Still sweating. Doomed.

“We wasted ten billion dollars on this asshole and he’s going down like Custer,” I said.

It was a tough day in the grand old town for generals and geniuses.

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“On The Road” At 50

Aquarian Weekly 10/3/07

Jack Kerouac’s Peripatetic Ode Comes Home

You’re not really writing a book till you begin to take liberties with it. – Jack Kerouac

On The RoadJean-Louis Le bris de Kerouac wrote the above in a 1949 journal two years removed from his first of three free-wheeling cross-country road trips, considerable portions of which were spent beside a human dynamo named Neal Cassady, the hero and focus of his most famous and influential work, On The Road, to be published eight years later and now fifty years ago. The passage resonates as a confession for its author, whose public sermonizing about the priority of “spontaneous prose” led to the mythology behind the book’s bizarre crafting, but it also serves as a prophecy for generations of its readers, who have taken many and varied liberties with the novel’s compelling content and in the process perhaps twisted its original themes.

The book’s narrator, Sal Paradise could well have been talking about the legacy of On The Road when he muses; “I realized I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn’t remember especially because the transitions from life to death and back to life are so ghostly easy.”

On The Road and the image of Jack Kerouac have led several lives in the past half-century. Both art and artist, as inseparable as the two get, have become icons to decades of youth and culture movements, soundboards for freedom through itinerancy, and an overt call for social rebellion in alternative lifestyles forged through experimenting with drugs and sex. The novel, like all of Kerouac’s work, has been required reading for those emerging from innocence to experience and the trading of middle-class illusions for a wide-open breath of American madness.

But is that the book the man the Beat Generation anointed Saint Jack, and the media labeled its King, intended to write? Is it possible there was more to On The Road than good times and weird friends who burn “like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes “AWWW!”? Could Kerouac, a reluctant figurehead of an ensuing counterculture movement, who remained a devout Catholic and political conservative until the day he died, have been grossly misunderstood?

Viking Press, the novel’s original publisher, has released two new books which provide insight into these questions; Why Kerouac Matters – The Lessons Of On The Road (They’re Not What You Think) and the On The Road: The Original Scroll.

The Original Scroll is quite simply the Holy Grail to fans of Kerouac’s lasting imprint on American literature; literally a 120-foot scroll cobbled from eight sheets of tracing paper taped together and run through a typewriter, allowing the heavily amped author (some claim Benzedrine, Kerouac claimed coffee) to spend three solid weeks regurgitating his frenetic tale without interruption. Appearing in one long and sparsely edited paragraph and revealing the actual names of the participants, including, among others, the impassioned Cassidy, Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg and author, William Burroughs, it is far more graphic and vicious than its published successor and a must read for fans of the work.

Why Kerouac Matters is the exhaustive work of NY Times reporter, John Leland, who recently told me, “Many begin their assessment of On The Road with the idea that it laid the groundwork for the sixties counterculture, which might seem like a reasonable assumption, but the second they make it they’ve lost Kerouac, because he was heading in a completely other direction. And whatever complaint he had with the fifties, and this book includes a lot of them, his solution is not the sixties; it’s this kind of timeless spiritual quest.”

Kerouac’s most underrated gift as an artist is that he had the guts to take us there.

Part of Kerouac’s spiritual quest, accordingly to Leland, involved profound suffering, a search for emotional boundaries, religious epiphany, and most importantly, becoming a man. It is all played out on a wing and a prayer across a post-war American landscape that would soon evolve, much to the author’s chagrin, into a soulless monolith. Through that prism, On The Road becomes less a social manifesto for a boundless future filled with unbridled promiscuity, senseless excess, and a blatant rejection of a moral fabric than a sober longing for an innocence lost; both to the author and his country.

On The Road is, among other things, a search for the old hobo, which is a thirties character,” says Leland. “I think to a great extent Kerouac remained true to the period of time when he grew up, the twenties and thirties. He was nostalgic for a more authentic American character, the vagabonds and the hobos and the drifters, and the working guys who carried the lunch pail.”

The book that so many of us in raging puberty turned into the ultimate escape pod filled with incredible episodic eruptions could well have been a solemn nostalgic prayer for the collective soul adrift.

“There were two statements that Kerouac made about the book that really struck me,” Leland notes. “Before he’d really gotten too far along in the early drafts, he said, ‘It’s going to be a profoundly sorrowful book, …but good’. Now that’s not the way we think of the book. And the other is after it was a success and he was asked about the themes of On The Road, he said, ‘It’s two Catholic buddies going out in search of God and we found Him.’ And that’s not the way so many of us think about the book either. I wanted to find that book or see if that book was in the text. And I found that that book was hiding in plain site.”

Revisionist history and the deconstruction of public figures are dangerous games. It has become an early 21st century art form which often devolves into out-and-out hokum, as in the dubious outing of Abraham Lincoln’s homosexuality or the painting of Joseph McCarthy as a misunderstood American hero. But when it’s done with Leland’s exhaustive research, captivating scholarly dissection, and an obvious reverence for the book, and placed alongside the long-awaited revelations of The Original Scroll, it is downright gripping.

Many argue, including Leland, that Kerouac brought any possible misinterpretation of his book upon himself, by producing a vaguely poetic, cryptically musical prose that while breaking literary ground and capturing his transient nature, belabored a vibe at the expense of key story devices.

“Kerouac aims for climaxes and doesn’t know how to deliver them yet,” cites Leland, who admits the author’s later work such as Big Sur comes closer to achieving goals set in On The Road. “And that’s why so many people don’t see a book about two Catholic boys in search of God, because Kerouac sort of backs off when it is time to really deliver that climax. When it’s time for God to show himself, Kerouac backs off.”

Disciples of The Original Scroll, of which Ginsberg and many Beat writers and poets are in lock-step, argue that timid publishers and over-zealous editing muted Kerouac’s mad tale of spiritual longing and an endless highway of revelation. Too much homosexuality? Too much substance abuse? Too much racial tension? Too much failure and degradation? Too much jazz? Too much raw honesty? All of these subjects and the damaged soul of a brother in arms eventually lead to the center of the On The Road mysteries.

Kerouac’s most underrated gift as an artist is that he had the guts to take us there.


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“On The Road” At 50

Aquarian Weekly 10/3/07

Jack Kerouac’s Peripatetic Ode Comes Home

The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye. – Jack Kerouac

Cassady & KerouacJack Kerouac’s On The Road may be one of the more misinterpreted literary works of the 20th century, but that’s only where its contradictions begin. It is more widely read today than ever, while also being ignored as a seminal literary benchmark. It is celebrated as vehemently as a groundbreaking effort as it is vilified for being an overrated mess. Stories of its creation and influence are in many ways more intriguing than the book itself, and the shadow of its most worshipped character has forever enshrined its author as a pop culture immortal.

At the epicenter of all this is Kerouac’s hymn to “Beat”, a secret “hustler culture” of social outcasts, hipsters, transients and jazz cats who are literally “beaten down”, immune to rehabilitation, and most importantly, protective of its hobo freedoms. And while On The Road spawned an unlikely “beatnik” movement, which gave way to a hippie counter-culture yearning in generations to follow, the book’s solemn and reverential themes refuse to be buried beneath spicier scenes of unbridled exploits.

Kerouac’s adventures across America with nary a penny to his name and no sense of coherent direction or purpose seem to embody a sense of itinerancy as sacrament, a rolling stone gathering no moss, the spiritual wanderer as rejected inhabitants of Eden looking for a home. As long as the characters keep moving, specifically Sal Paradise (Kerouac) and Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), they will enact an almost physical return to divinity. Through the very act of perpetual traveling, the peripatetic existence becomes the holy journey through life; growing, maturing, and abandoning the fantasies of youth for the harsher but more meaningful realities of adulthood.

For most of the novel the insane pace and erratic tendencies of Dean Moriarty represent for Paradise the purest soul of an America once wild and free, but now wounded by economic tragedy (The Great Depression) and reborn in glorious victory (World War II). Moriarty is, like real-life friend and companion, Cassady, an angelic “holy goof”, a man without boundaries, inhibitions or guilt, who embodies the seductive jazz rhythms that cannot be tamed. But by novel’s end there is only a hero’s shell. Abandoned by his best friend and left to flail alone, Moriarty literally disappears into the fog. Paradise cannot keep up, but, instead, must grow up.

“There is that wonderful Dean Moriarty character and that ode to cowboy freedom that Dean represents,” notes John Leland, author of a revealing new book, Why Kerouac Matters. “But there is also the book of Sal Paradise, the narrator, that follows a different course. And as much as Sal falls in love with Dean the way we all do, he outgrows him over the course of the book and puts some distance behind him.”

By ’57 the highway system would eradicate our mysterious back roads and the quaint towns they led us through would begin to die out, leaving an homogenized nation bloated with malls and fast food chains, stripped of individuality and geographical pride, and a vast underbelly of furtive wanderers would be left to fade like the ghost of Dean Moriarty to haunt the pages of this most extraordinary book.

In a very real sense On The Road is a warning for those who Kerouac later despised when the book’s success made him a famous guru for the desperate runaway baby boomer romantics, who refused to see the damage of Moriarty’s trip into the unknown and the scars left by brothers adrift. They chose to ignore the visage of a resolved Paradise (the name is no coincidence) shuffling off into the womb of domestic bliss, arm in arm with his new girl to sip hot tea in her inviting upstairs apartment where he (Kerouac) will mature into the writer he longs to be.

And that is, beyond all else, On The Road‘s lasting legacy; the naked force of the writer’s vision. The bold leap for a post-war, relatively unknown novelist to challenge the structure of his art in order to express the forgotten faces of a burgeoning American Century; the dark faces, the soft faces, the young faces, the failed faces, the wild faces, and ultimately the face in the mirror, strung out on fractured dreams in steamy gin joints and lonely highways and endless nights teetering between revelry and misery – thrashing it together in one long scroll over three weeks, after several painstaking revisions, to finally rescue the honesty in the experience, warts and all.

This is why the feral call of jazz music reverberates as the central theme in Kerouac’s travels. His uniquely spastic descriptions of the music and its emotional affects move the narration along as if swept up in a wave, giving credence to Kerouac’s beloved “spontaneous prose” and its concussive affect on the reader.

But tall tales of Kerouac jacked on speed and controlled madness whipping off phrasing and imagery in Herculean spurts in mere weeks are greatly exaggerated. While he did unfurl his “scroll version” of the novel in 1950 (released this summer as On The Road – The Original Scroll) the final published version we know today was carefully revised several times and in many voices.

“Kerouac’s often been accused of having a rather shallow view of jazz,” Leland explains. “That his idea of jazz is some primitive guy blows whatever’s in his head and gets off the stage. But if you look at the way jazz musicians really put together their solos, with tremendous wood-shedding beforehand, working out phrases or connections or ideas through hours and hours of practice and then putting them together in some kind of spontaneous way onstage in a solo, but not inventing everything whole cloth, that’s the way Kerouac wrote On The Road. He’d written a lot of these scenes in his journals or his letters, and even in previous drafts of the book, but he cranked them all together fast in ways that probably felt new to him in the composition, so that draft becomes a performance, and that gives the book its pace and feel.”

Still, as Leland puts it, the book’s staying power in the American consciousness, whether selling khakis for The Gap or an escape route for youth, is rooted in a deeper “longing for a place in this world and a direction, a sense of meaning, an idea – and that questioning of how you are going to get on as a man in the world, what type of man are you going to be, that will allow you to live an authentic life. I think those questions are as elusive to us and as relevant to us today as they ever were.”

On The Road wasn’t the first “road” story, and it certainly won’t be the last. Homer, James Joyce, Henry Miller, and many others have hit the mark – some of them an obvious influence on Kerouac’s winding tale. Hell, I even wrote one that unabashedly heisted from those guys. But there is something eminently penetrating in the American spirit that Saint Jack tapped into 50 years ago. When he hit the road in 1947, a decade before the novel’s publication, this was a very different country to travel. By ’57 the highway system would eradicate our mysterious back roads and the quaint towns they led us through would begin to die out, leaving an homogenized nation bloated with malls and fast food chains, stripped of individuality and geographical pride, and a vast underbelly of furtive wanderers would be left to fade like the ghost of Dean Moriarty to haunt the pages of this most extraordinary book.


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Mass Media Democracy

Aquarian Weekly 9/26/07 REALITY CHECK

MASS MEDIA DEMOCRACY Everything Is On Camera & Everyone Is Guilty

The Medium is the Message. – Marshall McLuhan

Fun With TasersThe entire planet is televised, web-cammed, You-Tubed, Google-Earthed, camera-phoned, amateur-videoed, and 24-hour cable networked. We’re being watched. And the spies are recording it all for posterity; every ugly, petty, pockmarked close-up in our grab-bag culture is fair game now; a voyeur generation transmitting the distracting glimmer of McLuhan’s global village for our infinite consumption.

Nothing escapes its unblinking eye. Politics. Celebrity. Sports. Citizenry. Electronic surveillance by rabid paparazzi has altered election results, fixed games, and besmirched reputations. Every segment of our civilization is open for broadcast, and once the images are etched on our collective psyche, there’s a disturbing pertinence attached that has spawned outlaws aplenty.

It is poetic that O.J. Simpson, Godfather of News Obsession, is now the victim of a botched audio sting that’s reduced the shreds of his already tattered existence to that of Hugo’s Hunchback spinning in the town square .We cannot turn away. He is our carnival freak. And now, in the tent of horrors…

With the assistance of smirking mug shots and stirring images of handcuff marches from cruiser to jailhouse, the courtroom scowl, and the obligatory car route coverage from a helicopter, there is a nostalgic ring to it all. One has to wonder if the Juice could be slapped with 11 crimes, ten of which are felonies, for some memorabilia re-heist and a sloppy cell phone abduction now, what level of gruesome beheading shots a crafty video-phone passerby might have streamed online had the infamous murders of 1994 been committed in the summer 2007 instead?

Oh, and now I hear O.J. is out on bail. Last time we endured that scenario he was tooling in the backseat of a SUV with a pistol to his head weeping like a soap opera queen. I’m laying odds there will be a suicide and/or fugitive video coming soon.

YouTube is the latest big gorilla in the showroom. Not only does it provide a forum for a glut of free and self promotion, it is also a fine spot to upload damning video of celebrities and politicians. Two prominent victims of the site include David Hasselhoff, whose drunken meltdown made headlines for weeks and led him to lose visitation rights of his two daughters. The other is former Virginia Senator George Allen Jr. and his “macaca” comment deftly caught on tape by a rival’s spy camera, which made him look like the bull redneck at a Klansman picnic. The footage literally cost Allen an election he was destined to win and ultimately destroyed a career path which had weirdos predicting would culminate in the White House.

So this is the main problem with most of the video we see online or on broadcast television; it is only news because it appears on a screen, not because it is a record of an actual event.

A few days ago what police term a “profanity-laced rap video” posted on YouTube garnered the rappers felony charges for terrorist threats, conspiracy to commit second-degree assault against cops, and tampering with a judicial officer.

A few days before that a McDonald’s security camera caught a bunch of white punk kids picking on a black kid because, according to the black kid, he was with a white girl or some other normal kids-being-mutants nonsense, but since the thing was on tape, it has unleashed the predictable parade of race-bating preachers and dung-sniffing lawyers. We only know about this because it was on the local news, the bane of amateur video exploitation.

If only someone had captured my ass-whippings when I was a kid.

Then we have what Brian Williams called “a dramatic and troubling piece of videotape that has ignited a debate on free speech rights in this country” on the NBC network evening news. Followed by a blurry video with distorted sound of University of Florida journalism student, Andrew Meyer on the ground screaming in pain as a gang of bully cops taser him into submission at a John Kerry speaking engagement. In all due respect to Williams and the holy-than-thou stance of anchormen everywhere, the footage is neither “dramatic” nor “troubling”. It was staged and therefore predictable. It has nothing to do with the suppression of free speech, but the exercise of it.

First off, if NBC or really anyone beyond the true democracy of YouTube had bothered to show the entire video, we’d see Meyer step to the microphone and proceed to give an impassioned but barely coherent diatribe on bogus 2004 election results and a plea to impeach the president, while baiting the crowd and the police, who are conspicuously positioned behind him. As he is finally dragged off, he screams, “Is anyone seeing this?”, in a way barking “Action!” as if the director of a film.

Not sure why Meyer needed to be tasered, but I have news for the young man, if he is planning on a serious career in journalism then he’d better get used to it. Also, let’s face it, who doesn’t need 50,000 volts pumped through them when Kerry is speaking?

Further research provides evidence that Meyers’ is not merely a journalism student being suppressed, but an Ali G./Tom Green rip-off pulling a stunt. Meyer’s shtick, which is streamed in living color on his own web site as well as YouTube, includes vignettes of him acting drunk in bars trying to pick up women and standing on the street with a “Harry Dies” sign the day the latest Harry Potter book hit the streets.

So this is the main problem with most of the video we see online or on broadcast television; it is only news because it appears on a screen, not because it is a record of an actual event. The news has morphed into Reality TV and Jerry Springer. In almost all the cases cited above, there was a set-up. Meyer is a comedian. O.J. was coerced into his mishap from a “friend”, who made sure he had a taping system to record the entire incident and then sell it to the celebrity exploitation web site, TMZ. Hasselhoff’s daughter video-taped his stammering and made it public on purpose. Allen’s opponent was spying on him and bating him all at once. A rap video is an art form. A security camera is not necessarily for entertainment.

And finally, this sideshow romp of illusions brings us to the electronic fixing of sporting events, terrible news for suckers betting on these things.

Turns out the most successful and celebrated coach in the National Football League’s modern era, Bill Belichick is a fraud. This strutting jackass was busted for not only video-spying on opponents coaching signs, but also illegally miking defensive players during games to eaves drop on quarterback signals for years, which places Belichick and his team’s considerable legacy in serious question. This would be merely an unmitigated disaster for a sport made popular by maniacal betting, but it is a public relations Armageddon for any game already marred by one of its biggest stars having been arraigned for the torture of dogs for the purpose of wagering. But now the questioned veracity of the decade’s most triumphant team, the New England Patriots, winners of three Super Bowls, creates a sense of illegitimacy to the entire product that is hard to ignore.

In one fell swoop the real becomes unreal. So I guess all those times Belichick and his Patriots made the game’s finest quarterback, Peyton Manning look like a fifth grade dodge ball geek, it was because they cheated. They did not win; they created the illusion of winning. It is a trick of the light. Moving ghostly figures, like Edison intended. We saw it, but it didn’t really happen. It was a hoax, like Meyer and O.J. and NBC and YouTube. Entertainment, not news. Show, not sport.


Not life.

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While We Were Away…

Aquarian Weekly 9/5/07 REALITY CHECK


We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. – Oscar Wilde

Lindsay LohanHot damn! It’s been too long with no words. Figure we’d kick this off with Wilde and degenerate from there.

So, let’s see, what’s going on?

It’s official; Lindsay Lohan is now The Desk’s most beloved icon. We humbly kneel before her quagmire zeitgeist. While by no means being an infinitesimal pimple on the ass of Dame Edie Sedgwick – forever our damaged goddess – she grips the mantle well. I think Warhol nails Lohan best when he once mused of Edie, “She’s perfect; I’ve never seen a girl with so many problems.”

Ah, and nothing quite tickles the fancy like unwarranted major wig-outs culminating in a whole lot of nada, as in the furor over the barely relevant Don Imus being yanked from the airwaves and the notoriously idiotic O.J. Simpson book, “If I Did It” banned for all time. Seems in my absence both are coming back with a bullet. Excellent. Good to see tasteless free expression and first amendment muscle will out. This is why we pound the pavement, my friends.

Next, it seems the Bush Cabal’s load has been lightened a tad. Alberto Gonzalez must have finally realized whatever was left of his defense had become at best laughable and at worst suicidal. In the end the embattled attorney general looked more like a character out of a Lewis Carroll tea party than anything approaching authoritative, much less sane. His downfall came somewhere between a Nurembergian “I was just taking orders” and an Ollie North “Not my job to think” series of tales so exceedingly bizarre it forced the word “semantic” to be stricken from Webster’s. Even his president had trouble burping out excuses, which, to date, has been Captain Shoo-In’s most lasting raison d’être.

Rove worked for paychecks, like the rest of us, and when he began to believe dreams mattered more than the take he crashed to earth and became a tired retread like everyone else who uses power to obtain daddy’s love.

I can think of at least a half-dozen attorney generals tagged with far more damning crimes, but not one attempting a defense so pathetically incoherent and befuddling it often bordered on the surreal. There were crucial moments during Gonzalez’s testimony before congress that he actually appeared to have been born guilty, as if he represented the essence of Original Sin, a sucker Adam booted from Eden on a bad wrap. You had to keep reminding yourself that this man was an attorney and the cornerstone of national law and not some dumb ass hillbilly beer fart who was busted for public urination.

Speaking of the foul odor emanating from hillbilly ass, how about this whole Michael Vick thing? How is it that most murder trials take fifteen years to conclude and this guy is busted, arraigned, and remanded in the stockade in two weeks? Do we really love dogs that much? Oh, the answer is a resounding Y-E-S.

How else can you explain the almost universal vilification of this walking pituitary case? Funny thing is Vick, while being a sadistic thug, hardly makes the top ten Most Horrid NFL Players list. There are guys right now on the cover of magazines who have been implicated in rape, murder, massive insurance fraud, a random series of tax evasions, and violent crimes beyond imagination. Hey, I like dogs too, but…

The only people besides fringe African American defense groups more thrilled to see Vick crash and burn was media punching bag Barry Bonds, who during my hiatus broke the all-time career home run record. Good for him, especially if he cheated, which he obviously thinks he did otherwise he would use that world-famous ornery shoulder chip of his to tell us to all go fuck ourselves because steroids and human growth hormones weren’t illegal when he injected them.

Hey, cheating defines baseball. Without cheating there is no game – sign stealing, spitballs, grounds-crew mowing techniques, and so on. Not to mention the ultimate cheat, keeping Bonds’ race and every other race but the white race out of the major leagues for half a century. Baseball is our national pastime, so what is more American than Barry Bonds owning its most sacred record. It is as poetic as a man penning the very foundation of a free nation in the monumental phrase, “All men are created equal”, while himself owning slaves.

And I know the bridge collapsing in Minnesota was a tragic screw-up by a host of parties, all of whom ignored a decade of warnings about its unsound structure, but does this mean we have to spend billions of federal tax funds gutting the entire infrastructure of the United States immediately? Please speak to the anti-Imus and anti-O.J. book crowd if you need the answer.

Ah, and to cap it off, the grand exit of our hero, Karl Rove.

I have written all I’m going to write about the Boy Genius in this space. I know one thing, say what you will, but he did get George W. Bush elected. Twice! His job description was Doer. He did not come to be loved or even understood. He lived in victory. Everything else was something of a drab annoyance to be expunged at first notice.

He took a mediocre silver-spooned boomer and a severely flawed candidate to the pinnacle of American politics. In most civilizations this is known as an unnatural act, or a sign from the gods. A Catholic mind might call it a miracle; someone weaned in Eastern philosophy might see it as a form of karma. I disagree. I see it as a complete and utter rejection of the antiquated notion that humans possess a living soul, a healthy mantra for those in the employ of Texas politics.

I once recycled an apocryphal tale about Rove when I went drink for drink with him in a rancid hotel in Florida back in 2000 after his man had been pistol-whipped by John McCain in New Hampshire. There were serious rumors abounding that Rove had had his soul removed by a Voodoo priestess in a basement temple in New Orleans’ French Quarter. But it was irresponsible reporting and I am remorseful of its publication. Karl Rove is not a soulless monster, but our invention, spawned from our school system and churches, strengthened by our moral codes and our undying fear of strange sex acts and subculture rhythms.

There was some crazy talk two weeks ago when Rove was fleeing certain subpoenas for his arms-length list of malfeasance that he once nurtured a dream of a Republican Age, a New World Order of conservative voting power and the complete control of the three branches of government by extremists bringing about the will of God into the American collective. But it was nonsense. Rove worked for paychecks, like the rest of us, and when he began to believe dreams mattered more than the take he crashed to earth and became a tired retread like everyone else who uses power to obtain daddy’s love.

Whew, I’m out of shape.

Good to be back in the saddle.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


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Ten Years of Reality Check Column

Aquarian Weekly 8/8/07 REALITY CHECK


Ten Years Of Treachery, Mockery & Felony

The only people who know about mercy are the ones who need it. – Charles Bukowski

I have been putting words in this space for ten years this month. Ten years. I have never held a gig for that long, ever, anywhere, for anything. I am a freelancer. This is not a job description or any kind of reasonable vocation, it is a lifestyle, no, a malady, no, more like a virus one accepts to live with until they find a cure, but then you realize you’re immune to any vaccine so you endure, because you must. But between the years of 1997-2007 I held firm my position here at The Reality Check News & Information Desk, thanks to the bravely insane people at The Aquarian Weekly, four hearty managing editors, the precipitous influence of the Internet, and the most diversified, deranged, and ornery readership in the Fourth Estate.

JC in ItalyMillions upon millions of words, week after week, month after month, about subjects far and wide, opining for pennies, editorializing for catharsis, shoveling wit on the cheap. This is the fate I chose willingly, or not.

A few months after the publishing of my first book, Deep Tank Jersey, written in the shadow of the region’s finest pop culture/music magazine, its then managing editor, Dan Davis, began harassing me to explain myself. I could never quite grasp his motives, but he kept buying me drinks, so I indulged him. Then I began turning the tables; sending letter after letter to the editor’s desk about kidnapped journalists I dated in college, my meager affiliation with local sports figures, and one lengthy missive decrying a barely-cobbled New Jersey State Commission protesting a Marilyn Manson show at the Meadowlands.

Speedwriting senseless junk and repeatedly faxing it to editors seemed like a good idea at the time. I had quit all modes of journalism for almost two years and was sufficiently bored with book-plugs and writing fiction, so I spent enormous blocks of my time aggravating legitimate periodicals with the most rancid and unconscionable spite imaginable.

So to my beloved readers, friends, family, and citizens of earth, I say, thank you from the bottom of my vapid heart, tortured soul, and fractured brain. It has been a pleasure to expunge my bile before you.

Soon after, Davis stopped buying rounds, which I took for an ominous sign, and hired me to pen a sports column for another publication. I did so, reluctantly, having toiled in every mind-numbing corner of sports journalism for six years. But free drinks are a powerful aphrodisiac for the freelancer. Never attempt it. They’ll end up sleeping on your couch and making long distant phone calls to their agent by morning.

Here’s where my affiliation with this magazine becomes hazy. Someone, and it may have been Dan, hired me to lend my voice to some half-baked editorial experiment; three generations discuss issues, one younger, one more grizzled (me), and one more established. Lord knows who those other people were and where they now reside, but I kept plugging, week after week, sending one onerous sentiment after the other, exceeding an impressive personal record for vulgarity and wrath.

And here’s the deal: No one objected. No one. Occasionally I would get a phone call wondering if I had been abused as a child or accidentally doubled the medication, but for the most part I kept sending column after putrid column to press and these maniacs kept printing it. I only walked into the offices once the first year and a half when the surprised receptionist actually remarked that I “didn’t look like a monster”.

It was a venerable laugh-a-minute soul by the name of Chris Uhl who then suggested I take this exercise up from 500 to 800 words and call the thing Reality Check. I wanted to call it Fear No Art. He refused, claiming it made no sense. I asked if he had even read my work, to which he responded, “Mildly”. Later I signed on with a web-based content firm run by a crazed renaissance man called Chief Wonka, where he set me up with a nifty web site and published the first three years of Reality Check in a compendium called, you guessed it, Fear No Art – Observations On The Death Of The American Century.

The demented Wonka and Uhl, who succeeded Davis as managing editor, used their posts to bate me into seducing libel. We came close those first few months, but alas, my years of training had bested us. I would not be going to jail or be successfully sued, although on four separate occasions the weak and stupid attempted it. But we sent them packing, humiliated by defeat and shunned as constitutional pariah. I knew my First Amendment rights and would continue unabated to stretch their limits for a decade. Much of this harangue appears in Midnight For Cinderella – Reality Check Papers Volume II, released late last year.

The new boys on the block, J.J. Koczan and now Patrick Slevin have more or less left me alone or come to my aid when the heat was on. I thank them as I thank my editor Terry Allen, whose preternatural adherence to deadlines would give the most ardent fascist pause. I also send plaudits to publishers Chris Farinas and Diane Casazza, the latter of whom I never met, who I think still gain a measure of profit from this enterprise, and anyone else on the masthead who’ve helped me wax exotic, sell books, and act like a petulant jackass for ten long and painful years.

The Desk has moved several times over two states these past years. We’ve taken on some fine young journalists, radicals, freeloaders, and substance abusers; I met my wife along the way, suckered her into hitching her gorgeous/mad wagon to mine, and help plant our freak-flag on the terra. I have befriended and made enemy of some notable celebrities, politicians, and artists in every realm. They read my stuff, and yet continue to drop my name in respectable circles. I am a better man for having known, spoken to, skewered and lauded them.

I have asked a good many of them to lend their thoughts, recollections, disgust, and blame to this space over the remaining weeks of this month. Why would I subject myself to such a professional roasting? For one, I have not taken two consecutive weeks off from this mess in ten years, and two, I’ve been meaning to get a well-deserved public butt kicking before autumn.

So to my beloved readers, friends, family, and citizens of earth, I say, thank you from the bottom of my vapid heart, tortured soul, and fractured brain. It has been a pleasure to expunge my bile before you.

Here’s to another decade, or not.

IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT AND HE FEELS FINE – Observations on Ten Years of Reality Check

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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