Sensitive Skin Magazine Post-beat, pre-apocalyptic art, writing and what-not Sun, 04 Oct 2015 23:12:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Straight Jacket Elegies by Alan Kaufman – A Review Sun, 04 Oct 2015 04:28:23 +0000 I believe this new book of poems by Alan Kaufman, Straight Jacket Elegies, will be read as an extension of the Beats. Glance at the back cover, which describes the author in this way: “Alan Kaufman has been compared to Jack Kerouac.” I don’t think this comparison is exactly accurate, but it will be made... Read more »

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I believe this new book of poems by Alan Kaufman, Straight Jacket Elegies, will be read as an extension of the Beats. Glance at the back cover, which describes the author in this way: “Alan Kaufman has been compared to Jack Kerouac.” I don’t think this comparison is exactly accurate, but it will be made because the Beats are the go-to reference for any kind of poetry that has bardic overtones.

Straight Jacket Elegies

The links to the Beats appear in how Kaufman’s poems often take place on the road; they describe down and dirty characters; they include Whitmanesque laundry lists, and they are often cries from the wilderness against a depraved, war-hungry America. Yes, Kaufman’s poems are similar to those of Kerouac and other Beats, except on the one issue that matters above all for great poetry: alliances.

I mean this in two ways. Every poet places her/himself in a certain tradition, perhaps by name checking as Kaufman does, for example, here: “Baudelaire, Whitman, Poe, Williams Carlos Williams, Troupe … DiPrima, you name it,” or perhaps by imitating a favorite author’s style. (Think of all the mediocre poets who imitate Elaine Equi or Ted Berrigan or Sparrow or Jerome Sala.)

But, second, and this is the main thing, the poet assembles an audience. Who this audience is (other things being equal) determines one’s value as a poet. To re-explain, a fiery, untrammeled genius like Kaufman has to connect (in his mind’s eye) with the right audience to work at this peak.

Let me fill in this concept a little by trying to answer the question: Who were the Beats writing for?

Of course, the Beats formed no monolithic movement, but we can get one view of this topic from the later Kerouac. His novel Desolation Angels, much like Balzac’s Lost Illusions, is about succeeding in the literary world. As the protagonist’s friend tells him in a climactic scene, “Jack you’ve had all your peace in Mexico and on the mountain … It’s time for you to make it. … Get published, meet everybody, make money, become a big international traveling author” [his emphasis].

The novel begins with Jack Duluoz working as a fire watcher for the summer. When he returns to San Francisco he is immediately apprised of the fortunes of his crony Irwin Garden: “a big article has just been written about him in the New York Times.”

In Balzac, how one wins in the publishing field and finds an audience is explicitly and honestly pictured as an integrally capitalist process. The hero, Lucien Chardon, starts his climb to the top as a theater critic. Puffing the right shows earns one favors, not only dinners and other treats but access to the show girls. And, humorously enough, the chorines bring you (as a writer) to where the real money is in that the dancers are all mistresses of (usually free spending) millionaires, some being publishers. Of course, many writers, such as novelists and poets, are not part of the theater world, but all of them, to break into print, have to please and pander to these deep-pocketed tastemakers. These latter assess books, be they high- or low-brow, according to their salability. Authors produce using the same criterion.

I would say the Beats are similarly situated in being expected to produce commodities for an anonymous public, guided by market considerations, but there is difference in how Angels depicts the process. While Kerouac accepts the idea that works are composed to fit the taste of reining critics and publicists, his novel provides no idea of the workings of the inner mechanisms of the industry. It’s never explained, for instance, how Garden has engineered a Times profile.

Yet this itself is the key. The refusal to acknowledge one is merchandising oneself is just the saleable pose that attracts the publishing honchos. One is, in Schiller’s terms, a “naïve” writer. Such a writer gives forth poems and prose in spurts of ecstatic inspiration. As we do with nature, Schiller says of these poets, “we treasure the silent creativity of life in them, the fact that they act serenely on their own, being there according to the own laws; we cherish that inner necessity, that eternal oneness with themselves.” Kerouac’s tells his friend, poet Raphael Urso to imitate these completely natural creatures. “Don’t stop – remember to write without stopping, without thinking, just go, I wanta hear what’s at the bottom of your mind.” Presumably, by following this rule Raphael will follow Jack’s arc, advancing beyond the frontier of known literature. As Jack describes his own compositions: “Strangely enough, these scribblings [the ones he was doing in Mexico in 1957] were the first of their kind in the world, I was originating (without knowing it …) a new way of writing about life, no fiction, no craft, no revising afterthoughts.”

Such naïve, untutored spirits, unconcerned with rules and norms, can be counted on to give that extra frisson to a high society gathering. When Jack and others are invited to Rose Wise Lazuli’s swanky dinner party, they all act graciously at first. Jack, who comes in late, monitors their table manners. He notes, assessing the behavior of his crew, “I can see Geoffrey Daniels laughing charmed, so I know all is okay. Simon sits down at his place, with a ‘oo’ of sincere respect on his lips. Lazarus is there, ginning like Mona Lisa just about, hand on each side of his plate to denote etiquette.” That is not to say that they don’t make wild statements, “We’ll all be naked and Time magazine won’t take our pitcher. That’s true glory.” They are outrageous, yes, but the right kind of outrageous. For even as one of the group asserts his sexual liberation, he takes care to hint they have been asked to pose by a upmarket journal. To assure the reader that it’s all good fun, Kerouac mentions, “They’re shouting this at this polite table yet all seems natural and I look at Rose [the hostess] and she winks.”

Moreover, when Raphael gets a bit out of hand, he knows how to reign in his lusty spirits at the right time. “When Rose is on the phone and the others are getting their coats in the hall, just us boys at the table, Raphael yells, ‘That’s what we’ll do, we’ll have to open their eyes …’ and here he is taking off his pants at the lace tablecloth. He goes right through with it pulling out his knees, but it’s only a joke and [he] swiftly ties up again as Rose comes back.” [my emphasis]

Repeatedly, the Beat characters’ willingness to provide the proper titillation for their media audience is underscored. As one instance, when they are asked to pose for Life magazine, Raphael (purportedly Corso) the savviest marketer among them, cautions Jack. Here’s the scene: “Tonight it the night we’re going to have out pictures taken by the magazine so Raphael yells at me, ‘Don’t comb your hair—leave your hair uncombed!’”

It shouldn’t be thought, by the way, that this attitude of cultivating the well-off necessarily entails any disdain for those who can’t ascend the literary pyramid, such as the lower classes, but let’s hold off that discussion for a moment and look at Kaufman’s milieu.

Does Kaufman exist outside the circuit where books appear as commodities? That would hardly be possible. But he does appear through a different opening, one created not by networking with the swells, but (in New York) by the Nuyorican Poets Café and such clubs, which served as the conduit to bring spoken word poetry to the nation’s attention. These poets, too, had to attract publishers, and they also adopted the “naïve” stance, but they differed from the Beats in being performance oriented. They worked to please and engage a street-savvy audience. Kaufman himself describes the scene in a selection in Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side (ed. Clayton Patterson): “No Rio, the quintessential Lower East Side Spoken word performance space replete with graffiti-scarred wall and smelling of urine, puke and offal, was located in Alphabet City [the then drug capital of New York and a no-go zone for yuppies].” To read took “a huge lot of guts” because “Eek, a poet built like a Mac truck, might rise and punt the podium at your kneecaps” if you were not delivering good verse. Given this set-up, the spoken word writers had a theatrical flair and an emotional force that could seldom be equaled by the Beats who derived their methods more from print culture.

(This style, by the way, was carried over into Kaufman’s later novel and memoirs.)

All this means, that while still tying into commodity culture, the spoken word movement also had direct links to the mixed lower classes in that it drew from all ethnicities and subcultures for its poetic spokespeople, in the way the Beats did not, and was attuned closely to responses from its audiences.

Kaufman’s acknowledges this different audience. He places himself in relation to it: “I am still here in the streets // of Berkeley, walking among // sparechangers, dyed-hair punkers // gays in stud leathers … or anywhere the weird // congregate in tolerance.” And he places his voice, “Let us // take ourselves aboard a bus // and travel to the dispossessed // and let us praise their dreamless eyes and hardened // smiles // with rogue words of truth.”

Frankly, and with no disrespect to the gray Beat eminence, here Kaufman is being truer to Whitman than Ginsberg ever was in that Kaufman is hymning the people, not his generational cohorts, in the earlier bard’s style.

To look at this point more closely, could we not say that when the beats went to the ghetto, it was to buy drugs? As Kerouac reminisces about his trips to poorer areas, “He’d know Irwin very well in the old days on Times Square when (1945) Irwin and I and Hubbard and Huck used to hang around the hustler bars picking up on drugs.”

Kaufman moved into the slums, learning the torments and shifts made to survive of the SF’s down and out and under. Here’s a few notations from that world. “I mean writing poetry on welfare // is a lousy occupation. // And all you can write about // in the end is about writing // poetry on welfare.” And then,

And every day in this age
of intolerance
in a mental ghetto
affirmed by the homeless,
I pass the dying
with the loud ring of my boots,
ashamed to think that perhaps
my heels are the last thing
they heard.

This helps him aim his writing at the disenfranchised.

Let us
take ourselves aboard a bus
and travel to the dispossessed …

Let us
take them to the carnival
of our mad and scattered lives ….

Let us give
them the keys to the house of our love …
Let us deliver in their mangers …
The hard, beautiful birth of the heart

I’m not making the absurd claim that having the right audience makes you a good poet. I’m saying that if you have an audience that wants real language, ribaldry and heart truth (such as that found at the Nuyorican), you are more likely to achieve greatness than if you write for the crowd at Rose Wise Lazuli’s.

That said, obviously, Kaufman is over-the-top skilled, not just in his craft but – and this used to be the trademark of significant verse – in his skill at laying bare: showing in the starkest terms the criminality of the times and the blasted places in our hearts. I’ll end with an example of each.

The times.

In the last few decades, the American government is always fighting in the Middle East. It doesn’t take a weatherman (as Dylan said) to understand that the issue in these onslaughts is not national sovereignty, human rights or any of the other explanatory fig leafs the administration uses, but the need to control the region’s oil. U.S. business leaders see that a country is disturbing this control; they tell the president, and: boots on the ground.

In his poem “Kuwait,” Kaufman looks at this point, but forces the reader to go beyond the superficial analysis I just presented. He brings the war stateside by stating, with a blunt savagery, that by gassing up our SUV’s and motoring behemoths, we are implicitly acquiescing in the carnage that brought the petroleum to our pumps. You might have gone on marches and even been arrested in protesting this and other Middle Eastern adventures. Behind the wheel, you are a super patriot. He has a victim say:

It’s good to die in war, to lie spitting guts
and gazing down at ankle-
severed boots
Remember when you pay the pump
You’ll think, counting your change:
Why, that cost ten cents less than last week
and as you pull away
you’ll see my phantom wave friendly
in camouflage fatigues and hear
the register ring Semper Fi
that I enabled you to take
your mistress out
and drop you wife off at church
and ferry your son to
his football game
all without walking

A lot of poets rail at the government. Kaufman, more subversively, aims his fire at those who blithely consume without counting the human cost. It’s a point made Beth Shulman in The Betrayal of Work in relation to the subject of the substandard wages granted to many service workers, from janitors to retail clerks to meat processors. She puts it like this:

Employers defend the practice of keeping labor costs down in these low-wage jobs as a means of keeping down costs to consumers. No doubt, American have gotten more inexpensive services and goods as a result. Yet as a nation do we really want to enrich ourselves by exploiting other workers?

The heart

Many of these poems describe a long bus trip Kaufman took from NY to SF. As he comments, it throws him in with the abandoned majority.

It is a thirty-six passenger bus
A tarnished silver bullet
Shot from the barrel of the past
Anybody can afford to board it
so only the poor, do, the fugitive, the lost
The rest fly
The ones with credit cards, homes and jobs,
Friends and telephones and no time
for the long, lonely roads of America

In these passages, Kaufman uses (or invents) what might be called a double-barreled epiphany. In the hallowed Joycean epiphany, as perfected in Dubliners, an experience teaches the character a truth about her- or himself. In the dual-edged one, Kaufman learns, in equal amounts, about himself and society, and the new conceptions interactively resonate.

In “American Cruiser,” he (or the narrator) at first can’t adjust to the cramped, noisy, smelly vehicle.

And at first the gloom and boredom
of the trip was a punishment
At first each mile was a year
My pride rebelled against
This crap game of ravaged character
This savage speeding palace of bad luck

But as he rides, he begins to see all around him, talking to him, representatives of the pillaged American population.

Their eyes gave back irises cracked
And dulled by unobtainable shoes…
Their eyes glowed with the uncontrolled
Horizontal roll of broken black
And white T.V.’s

It is in these circumstances, communing and communicating with the dispossessed, that he judges his own worth and pledges his poetic abilities to those, like him, who have been beaten down. He puts this eloquently:

I will erect soaring arches
from ribcages of the homeless
I will buttress the topmost
spire, not with fierce-some
gargoyles, but with a nurse,
a plumber, a short order cook,
and a housing project custodian
I will place behind the altar
A trio of recovering substance abusers

As you probably know, Desolation Angels ends with a long bus trip across American as the hero takes his mother to the West Coast. All the author’s sympathy is directed not to his fellow passengers but to his ma. “Sometimes during the night I’d look at my poor sleeping mother cruelly crucified here in the American night because of no-money, no-hope-of-money, no family, no nothing, just myself the stupid of son of plans.” The distress felt on the bus is personalized to the absurd length of even complaining that those riding buses at the time to fight against segregation, don’t appreciate the sufferings of his mother! “Yes, ‘Freedom Rider’ indeed, just because you’ve got ‘white’ skin and ride in the front don’t make you suffer less.”

However, the key bus scene in the novel occurs earlier. As noted, cultivating the rich doesn’t make you disdain the poor, but it does seem to turn out that way in this book. One night in SF, Jack goes out with his pals. “In the cafeteria where we go for coffee Raphael instead bursts into a big loud speech to the whole audience … Its’ all about poetry and truth but they think it’s mad anarchy … [and] the people [in the restaurant] are horrified. ‘They’ve got to learn about beauty,’ says Simon to himself decisively.” Here, the people are to be educated from above about holy values. In talking to the poor in the cafeteria, gone is the care and deference the authors displayed at a high class dinner in a wealthy woman’s house.

Their next stop is a city bus where they drink and where “Raphael addressed the whole bus … ‘Vote for beauty.’” The next point is very revealing.

When we get off, the bus stops, my beer bottles we’ve drained roll loudly on the floor of the back of the bus, the Negro driver addresses us a speech before opening the door – “Don’t ever drink beer in my bus again. … We ordinary people have trouble in this world and you just add to it.” …
[Their response?] “It’s a dead bus going to death!” says Raphael in the street. “And that driver know it and won’t let it change.”

The attitude toward this audience drips disdain. Let the driver clean up the bus since he is too ignorant to appreciate beauty.
I have been comparing Kaufman to Beat writers, not only because his publishers do, but because I looked over a review by Ron Kolm of this book where talks about how the present resembles the 1950s. Kolm writes:

We live in tepid times – a kind of faux-fifties. There is a hysteria afoot; a fear of being different in any meaningful way. If you stopped to take a photo on Fifth Avenue and then compared the result with one from 1957, you’d be hard-pressed to notice a difference: the hairstyles are mostly similar; short hair for the males and long, straight hair for the women; the suits and dresses are reminiscent of that era, too.

The same war-mongering (different enemies, though), the same vacuous celebrity culture, the same body of disposable people below the eyes or charity of the mainstream. That’s why the comparison of Kaufman to the writers of that time is apt.

I would add, though, that one thing different from that period is that there is the widening gap between the have-nots and have-it-alls. Now the army of the poor, struggling to survive has magnified to near Depression levels. And with Kaufman, they have found their bard.

Alan Kaufman, Straight Jacket Elegies (Olympia, WA: Last Word Press, 2015), reviewed by Jim Feast.

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“Body + Technology + Landscape” in Flame Schon’s INterzone Tue, 08 Sep 2015 00:20:20 +0000 INterzone’s title text ascends in an expressive flair, setting an introductory tone for Flame Schon’s singular action expressed as a psychedelic video that expands straight documentation into a stylized, creatively independent artwork. Schon walks through a narrow cavernous passageway found in a mountainous New Mexican landscape guided by her video camera, shooting a realtime first-person... Read more »

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Flame Schon's Interzone image 1

INterzone’s title text ascends in an expressive flair, setting an introductory tone for Flame Schon’s singular action expressed as a psychedelic video that expands straight documentation into a stylized, creatively independent artwork. Schon walks through a narrow cavernous passageway found in a mountainous New Mexican landscape guided by her video camera, shooting a realtime first-person perspective of her experience. A kaleidoscopic effect was applied in post-production, transforming process into product and thereby generating a subjective spectacle for the viewer to contemplate. As she reaches the end of the passage, she returns through the tunnel once again with the image’s color inverted, giving the viewer a blue negative of the once warm, reddish earthtones initially presented. A masked human figure occasionally appears, miniaturized and enveloped by the cascading walls. The figure happens to be Schon’s recurring Daughter of Dada character, a spiritual heroine born of the anarchic Dadaist movement. The figure faces forward, assuming poses that mirror the shifting visual formations, either walking or kneeling with raised arms and at times fragmented, embodying the divine symbology of hands historically and cross-culturally referential. As a whole, INterzone alludes to transcendental states through metaphor and design with aesthetics evocative of Native American and Islamic geometry. At the point of transition as Schon pivots to retrace her steps, the human figure walks across the screen in garb emblematic of a shaman.

Flame Schon's Interzone image 2

The title INterzone recalls the William Burroughs’ Tangier-influenced literary space of metaphorical and actual intersection that provided new cerebral possibilities. “A portal to the crack between worlds,” her statement reads. Conceiving and exploring transcendence, altered states, and autonomous zones via psychedelia is the underlying theme of Schon’s oeuvre. Having a collaborative history with subversive icons like Ira Cohen, Vali Myers, and ex-husband Sheldon Rochlin, Schon has had her place in building psych culture from the roots up. After a career of docu-fictitious hybrids that showcased underground societies and the Daughter of Dada mythic journey series that followed, Schon has now removed social contexts and narratives so that she may enact the Self as transmitter and experiencer. The action is simple; walking, to exist and interact with your environment in a fundamental fashion. In 1967, the sculptor Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking blurred the line between object and performance by photographing the trail left from walking back and forth. This seminal work helped initiate a discourse on “body + landscape” in contemporary art along with the psychogeographical maps of the Situationist derive and conceptual performances ranging from Vito Acconci to Bruce Nauman. In the advent of New Media, Schon introduces technology to the conversation by utilizing a video camera as a mode between fields, expanding the conversation to “body + technology + landscape.” Similarly so, Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt questioned perception with technology (in this case a 16mm camera) as intermediary with Swamp (1969), where Holt navigated her environment solely through a viewfinder aided with verbal direction by Smithson. Unlike Swamp, INterzone is concerned with pushing the boundaries of perception and consciousness more subjectively through the technology rather than operating under its dictations. The jagged, gaping orifice of INterzone’s passageway endlessly expands and collapses amidst forward momentum, providing entrancing imagery via a non-structured repetitive motion.

Flame Schon's Interzone image 3

A more fitting allegiance would be found in the structuralist film works of Paul Sharits, whose psychodramatic simulations of seizures encouraged ecstatic states, transgressing passive viewing. A conceptual parallel also lies with the Art/Life performer Linda Montano’s foray into video with pieces like Mitchell’s Death (1977) and Primal Scenes (1980), which shares catharsis as a form-meets-function byproduct. In the vein of psychedelia, beyond Schon’s ties to her contemporaries like Cohen, the work of filmmaker and videographer Toshio Matsumoto employed polychromatic hypnosis through visual deconstructions of landscape, body, and architecture by pushing the limits of his tools. Placing INterzone in these historical contexts reinforces a critical interpretation that accounts for how the current state of art, technology, and culture intersects with a visionary pursuit. Schon’s unconventional use of the video camera in a poetic and philosophical investigation aligns her with the prospect of New Media as an art movement that repurposes the practical intent of technology. As emerging technologies grow increasingly integrated with meatspace, New Media reflects the cultural climate in relation to these new tools and systems. Fixations on connecting the organic world with the digital one that rely on replications of chaotic systems generated by algorithms and aesthetic representations of natural environments highlight theoretical concerns of identity; where humanity lies within a burgeoning non-human empire. In-line with psychedelic methods and their place in contemporary art history, Schon surpasses this concept of unifying the organic and digital on a materialistic level, allowing her to exhibit ineffable states of existence through the medium.


Flame Schon’s INterzone was exhibited at 2015’s Currents International New Media Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

View Flame Schon’s INterzone here.

–review by JC Gonzo

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Best of Enemies – A Review Sun, 16 Aug 2015 21:19:20 +0000 You’re watching live television coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Outside of the convention hall, the Chicago police are clubbing demonstrators asking for peace. Inside the convention, on the ABC News set, you see this: “Now listen you queer, quit calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll... Read more »

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You’re watching live television coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Outside of the convention hall, the Chicago police are clubbing demonstrators asking for peace. Inside the convention, on the ABC News set, you see this: “Now listen you queer, quit calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” Who would ever say this on national television? William F. Buckley. Gore Vidal had just said, “The only crypto-Nazi I know is William F. Buckley.”

Vidal and Buckley were “debating.”


1968: Robert Kennedy assassinated; Martin Luther King assassinated; the Tet Offensive stuns America. The Summer of Love was last year.

In that time, long ago, well before hand-held devices, there were three national networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC. Networks mattered. CBS and NBC were in close competition for ratings, and advertising dollars, and ABC was way back. Its ratings were so bad that the joke was that if the Vietnam War were on ABC, it would be cancelled in 13 weeks.

The two contenders, CBS and NBC, planned “gavel-to-gavel” coverage of the conventions. ABC executives, lacking funds, instead conceived an inspired marketing twist–debates between a “liberal” and a “conservative.” ABC called it “unconventional convention” coverage.

These debates and their meaning and fallout are the subject of Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s new documentary, Best of Enemies.

Neville and Gordon tell this story through bits and pieces of the debates and ABC news clips from the time (one choice example is marching bands in sunny Florida, “NIXON” banners draped across teenage girls’ bosoms), interspersed with interviews with ABC news executives (Richard Wald), media critics (Todd Gitlin, Frank Rich, and others), a retired talk show host (Dick Cavett), as well as a few personal friends and family members. Added to the mix are readings by Kelsey Grammer and John Lithgow.

The “liberal” in the debates was Gore Vidal, the man whose 1968 novel, Myra Breckinridge, featured a transexual hero. Vidal boldly proclaimed that all human beings are bisexual whores. Vidal was a blue-blood, grandson of a senator, whose family owned land in Georgetown back when it was “George Town.” Gore Vidal, a jetsetter whose best-selling novels funded the purchase of a villa 2000 feet over the Mediterranean in Ravello, Italy, a splendid location nowhere near the USA.

On the conservative side stood, or sat, William F. Buckley, from inherited wealth, but not quite “old” money. Buckley, a graduate of Yale, spoke like a caricature of a blue blood. His first literary success was an attack on atheism and liberalism at Yale. Buckley was a devout Catholic who attended Latin Mass until his death. William F. Buckley, who founded (and financed) National Review, a journal intended to create a conservative movement that would remake the Republican party into a truly conservative party–and save America.

Save America from what? For starters, communists and Gore Vidal. When ABC approached Buckley, he said would appear with anyone except a communist or Gore Vidal. Shortly thereafter, ABC hired Vidal.

In the first of the ten debates, Buckley exudes confidence, but is woefully unprepared. He’s just back from a sailing trip to Cozumel. Buckley trots out his polysyllabic superficiality and deploys nouns such as “balderdash.” Vidal is ready. He hired a research assistant. He even tried out his bon-mots on the ABC News crew. Vidal is snarky and vain, but compelling. Most of all, Vidal refuses to play the game that Buckley is accustomed to liberals playing, where the liberal acts like Buckley is reasonable, just a little misguided.

Debate after debate, his formula failing, we see Buckley become progressively more exasperated and less able to suppress his loathing of Vidal. At the penultimate debate, the subject turns to the violence outside the convention hall. Buckley defends the Chicago police for their “admirable restraint” and compares the demonstrators to Nazis. Vidal replies that the only “crypto Nazi” he knows is Buckley, at which point Buckley loses control and unleashes the above oft-quoted quote.

The barely suppressed violence is startling. But it’s not isolated. Buckley jokes about socking people. He advocates greater force in Vietnam.

Did Buckley deserve the “crypto-Nazi” epithet? I don’t think so—but I do think Vidal was on to something.

The Anatomy of Fascism, by Robert O. Paxton, discusses the fascist belief in the redemptive power of violence. Buckley clearly feels that violence is a viable option. But Buckley is not a fascist in the classic way that Paxton defines it (a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites). However, Buckley is sympathetic, and knows it—hence his strong reaction when called on it.

In one of Best of Enemies’ interviews, Buckley’s brother Fergus call William F. a “conservative Christian libertarian revolutionary.” Buckley was libertarian about capitalism, certainly, and later about drugs, but not about sexuality, or about civil rights; he opposed desegregation on the grounds that the “Negro” was not ready for civilization.

Buckley was a reactionary. That’s a cliché perhaps, but it applies in this case. Reactionaries are motivated by fear, and seek to restore a past that never existed. They didn’t like the New Deal back in the 1930s, and were deeply threatened by the ’60s with its hippies, peace movement, long hair and communes. It’s hard to know which bothered Buckley more, progressive taxation or personal freedom, but it’s clear that he thought that the changing culture was a threat to his inherited wealth and position. His tribe, white Christian males, was under siege.

Buckley sought to build a potent political movement that could take over the Republican Party and lead us back to a time before liberalism and income taxes. And he was instrumental in building that movement and helping Ronald Reagan get elected President.

Now that movement has devolved into an inarticulate, monosyllabic extremism exemplified by the likes of Sarah Palin (and exploited by Donald Trump, who may or may not be an agent of the Clintons, but that’s another story)–a virulent, radical strain that terrifies the Republican establishment, who, after all, simply want to be free to make money. They want these folks to vote for them, but not to run the party. Oops, too late!

Vidal looked toward a world of personal freedom, and a world in which America was no longer an empire. Vidal was an observer and a recorder. He accepted the world even as he critiqued it. That’s what his historical novels were about. His was essentially a modern point of view, a point of view that Buckley feared and hated.

Ironically, the dreams and nightmares of both men have come to pass. The rich have never been richer. America is still an empire, more powerful than ever. But a large part of Vidal’s agenda, the tolerance of difference, in life styles, has also taken place. Investment banks celebrate diversity and have LGBT support groups. Corporate lawyers arrange pro bono asylum cases for the victims of homophobia in Third World countries.

The times have changed, and capitalism, in its almost infinite adaptability, now supports a wide variety of life style and personal choices–if you can pay for it. It’s not about traditional culture or the old tribe anymore. The new culture is Capitalism, with a capital “C,” and the new tribe is investors and the professionals who serve them. Best of Enemies is well worth your time if you’d like to know how this came to be.

Best of Enemies, directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon; readings by Kelsey Grammer and John Lithgow.

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The Night I Fucked My Alarm Clock Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:29:59 +0000 starving in philadelphia i had a small room it was evening going into night and i stood at my window on the 3rd floor in the dark and looked down into a kitchen across the way on the 2nd floor and i saw a beautiful blonde girl embrace a young man there and kiss him... Read more »

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starving in philadelphia
i had a small room
it was evening going into night
and i stood at my window on the 3rd floor
in the dark and looked down into a
kitchen across the way on the 2nd floor
and i saw a beautiful blonde girl
embrace a young man there and kiss him
with what seemed hunger
and i stood and watched until they broke
then i turned and switched on the room light
i saw my dresser and my dresser drawers
and my alarm clock on the dresser
i took my alarm clock
to bed with me and
fucked it until the hands dropped off
then i went out and walked the streets
until my feet blistered
when i got back i walked to the window
and looked down and across the way
and the light in their kitchen was


Charles Bukowski, from Love is a Dog from Hell: Poems, 1974-1977 (1977), Black Sparrow Press

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All This Life: A Novel by Joshua Mohr – A Review Sun, 02 Aug 2015 21:19:32 +0000 The cover illustration for Joshua Mohr’s terrific new novel, All This Life, offers a clue—no, more than that, a cipher—to the book’s heart. It’s subtle and you might not notice it, or give it much thought on first blush, but between the glowing capital yellow letters “THIS” and the glowing orange capital letters “LIFE” is... Read more »

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The cover illustration for Joshua Mohr’s terrific new novel, All This Life, offers a clue—no, more than that, a cipher—to the book’s heart. It’s subtle and you might not notice it, or give it much thought on first blush, but between the glowing capital yellow letters “THIS” and the glowing orange capital letters “LIFE” is a spinning progress indicator-you know, that grey thing with the spokes that turns around while you’re waiting for something to happen on your computer. Or when your computer is telling you it’s trying to make a connection. (Personally, I preferred the old school Apple graphics-instead of the spinning beach ball of death (SBOD), we had an old-fashioned anarchist bomb, and instead of the spinning progress indicator, a wristwatch. But I guess nobody would know what a wrist watch is nowadays. Until they buy an Apple watch, I suppose.)

“Connection. To be connected. To be bridged across any divides. To be plugged into a network. To be alive.” (pg. 290)


All this Life: A Novel by Joshua Mohr.

Everybody and their brother is reading (as they should be) Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir, in which he speaks of the power structure run by those who “believe they are white” and its tradition of “destroying the black body.” But Mohr is speaking of an equally or perhaps even more pernicious attribute of our present day power elite, corporatocracy, plutocracy, oligarchy, lizard people, Evil Corp., whatever you want to call them-and the biotechnological gadgets/extensions of our bodies they practically force upon us (although of course they make it seem like a choice – Android or iPhone?): they are destroying not (just) our bodies, but our very souls.

Much has been written about the shocking and riveting opening scene of the novel. A 14-year-old boy (Jake) and his father, while stuck in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, watch in horror as a rag-tag marching band stops on the walkway next to them and, one at a time, take turns jumping off the bridge. Jake, a typical modern, Internet-tethered kid, who “literally always has [his earbuds] in,” films the event on his iPhone. His “movie” (both literal and in the old Prankster meaning of his life) almost instantaneously goes viral on Youtube (and soon Twitter), launching the plot into high gear. Mohr goes on to introduce a richly drawn, engaging cast of characters whose ultimately interlocking journeys find them meeting up again on the bridge for the book’s climax.

But why did those band members jump in the first place? Is it because the young members of the group are so disengaged from reality, due to the constant bombardment of social media, Google searches, email, etc., that they could only free themselves by destroying their own bodies? SPOILER: Jake is able to stop just short of this, by throwing his iPhone (and hence the ever-annoying Siri, and his false connection to humanity, freeing himself of his virtual shackles) off the bridge instead of his own body.

I found one of these characters, Rodney, aka “Balloon Boy,” particularly fascinating. Years before the book begins, while trying to impress his girlfriend Sara, Rodney takes a bad fall and suffers a serious head injury. The book takes place in 2013, so Rodney’s accident took place around 2007-that simpler, quainter time when the Internet was not in anybody’s pocket but restricted to computers, and Wifi wasn’t yet considered a basic human right, and practically no adult outside of the tech world had heard of Facebook. Rodney’s injury has left him with aphasia-a four-word sentence takes him “20 seconds to choke…out.” For all intents and purposes, he is stuck in the pre-social media time. His brain functions perfectly otherwise-he’s the same old person, inside-and he can communicate perfectly well, so long as he has access to pen and paper.

“He cannot communicate orally and yet he is able to write down everything, not only jotting recaps of each day, but even allows himself to write little one-act plays.” (pg. 96)

But nobody, including his ex Sara, his father or his uncle, seem to realize this. At first I found this silly-how could they not know this, after half a dozen years?-but then I realized that of course nobody knows that Rodney is still whole on the inside-not only is there never a pen and paper around when he needs one (remember when all intelligent people used to carry a pen and notebook with them at all times?), even if there was, who would have time to digest such an archaic form of communication, when instead you could watch, for instance, a porn video starring yourself, like Sara, or drink yourself into a comatose state, like his dad? So nobody else knows that Rodney is fine inside. Because he can’t interact in the “usual” way, he’s considered an idiot. Rodney is the pre-digital man, frustrated, who can’t make himself heard, even as he sees the bigger picture better than everybody else, a guileless and pure of heart modern-day Prince Myshkin.

“That’s what makes Balloon Boy feel so alone, all the swirling thoughts that can only clank around his brain like shoes in a dryer. Alone, with no way to articulate himself.” (pg. 94)

Thankfully, Mr. Mohr has found away to articulate our disconnectedness for all of us. Highly recommended. I could write more about it, but I don’t want to give away any more spoilers. Besides, I have to go check and see if I have any new Pinterest followers.

All This Life: A Novel by Joshua Mohr, Soft Skull Press.

–review by Bernard Meisler

Sensitive Skin 12 available here in PDF format here for just $4.95, or get the full-color print version via Amazon and select bookstores.

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Drone Loops and the Signature of Bliss Thu, 30 Jul 2015 18:48:53 +0000 Studio musician and arranger Robert C. Hardin on his search for the condition of euphoria in music: "It means suspensions and passing tones that linger like a last look at a secret crush from childhood. It means tracks that sparkle, drone and thunder all at the same time."

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The experience of bliss means different things to different people. For this frustratingly former arranger and studio keyboard player, euphoria is conditioned by the search for perfect sounds.

To me, bliss means the slow opening and closing of a comb filter over a deep sine wave bass. It means a touch of soft analog distortion added to individual tracks within a digital mix. It means the rich imperfections of real oscillators rather than the wave-drawn kind. It means slow-motion pads evolving over fast tempos and relentless drum programming. It means synths and strings instead of guitars and brass. It means major scales with raised fourths and minor scales with lowered sixths. It means distant cloud formations of warm noise. It means no lyrics and only the occasional vocalise. It means suspensions and passing tones that linger like last long looks at a secret crush from childhood. It means tracks that sparkle, drone and thunder all at the same time.

Classical music is my thought’s blood, and bop is its muscle, but these offer different kinds of fulfillment: They survey the full range of emotion, intellect and physical sensation. They are transcendent rather than merely blissful.

Simple electronic loops, drones and chord progressions might be what I happen to associate with bliss, but classical musicians who didn’t spend their lives in studios finessing three-minute songs for days can find the effect purgatorial rather than heavenly. Bliss, like each individual’s heaven and hell, is personal.

Years ago, two naive music journalists cornered Karlheinz Stockhausen and played him a few tracks by Aphex Twin and Ritchie Hawtin. They assumed he’d enjoy these because, to said neophytes, all electronic music was equally strange and futuristic. Besides which, the aforementioned artists actually cited Stockhausen as an influence. (Never mind that that’s like citing Shakespeare if you’re a writer.)

Predictably, K.S. hated it all because, as an obsessive-compulsive composer who began with rationalist serial music in the 50s, the premise of which is never to repeat anything, he found the endless loops, triadic harmony and simple lines deadening, actually calling one track “not music but kind of drug,” which of course he opposes to the kind of rhythmic and contrapuntal through-composed content that characterizes his music and, for him, signifies life and vitality.

Stockhausen’s own favorite composer is the laconic Anton Webern, whom K.S. once described enthusiastically as “on the verge of total musical integration. “Pause for a moment and consider the difference between a nine-measure through-composed bagatelle for string quartet — a piece in which nothing repeats — and a twenty-minute drone over a quarter-note pulse, rigid eighth-note clicks and periodic triads. In what dismal universe would K.S. ever like the music of Ritchie Hawtin?

K.S.’s description of their music as a sonic smart drug is fairly accurate in terms of its purpose. Take away their idol’s revulsion and I doubt Hawtin or R.J. would have a problem with the idea.

For Stockhausen, and for classical composers generally, the trick is to use rhythmic variety to simulate the vitality of a living thing. Said trick is intended to make one’s composition seem alive through an act of alchemy. To imitate conversation and interaction by giving individual lines melodic independence and yet combining them to create larger harmonic/formal unities. To use parallel and contrasting phrases to balance non-repetition with familiarity of structure. To create music that is both surprising and inevitable.

When Stockhausen condemned techno’s crushing repetition, he sounded like every composition teacher I’ve ever had — though they, unlike Stockhausen, were not avant garde composers, let alone world-altering pioneers. Yet I still need loop-based music in my life — particularly music that maintains a level of satisfying distortion.


Perhaps people who spend their lives working at desks can become too distracted by the complexities of jazz and classical music. Perhaps for them, repetition and minimal content is necessary: they need the whisper of ecstasy to mediate the drudgery of their work. For most of my life, I haven’t had to work in an office. But when I have, certain repetitive and carefully mixed tracks have helped to create a distant and blissful distraction. Too much and I couldn’t focus at all; too little, and I’d feel devoured by the emptiness of my task.

One example: Typically, classical music wants clarity and transparency. Even Debussy, who is celebrated for transposing impressionist paintings into music, the blurred outlines of which become successions of parallel ninth chords ghosting over a sustain pedal – even he draws broad phrases and shapes to emphasize his sense of form. Whereas drones and loops avoid temporal coherence.

You might be familiar with the sound of a person singing the fourth tone of a scale, suggesting a suspension, only to have a guitar play the third simultaneously, creating a dissonance that seems to vibrate deliciously. You might also be familiar with the sound of a piano playing the third and fourth simultaneously. That sort of non-functional rub is usually treated as a linear passing tone in traditional music. In repetitious music, the rub between the two tones can go on indefinitely, which seems to erase the tension-release contour of musical structure, replacing it with the periodic tingle of a mild dissonance. It is not music but sensation. A shimmer in the water, a wooly mammoth’s hum that resonates with the sympathetic strings of the psyche.

Music by Arovane, Herrmann & Kleine, Transient Waves and Thomas Köner — this is the sort of narrowly defined thing that signifies bliss for me. I can improvise and track that sort of music myself, but that is a less passive experience. I reserve my efforts for through-composed music when I have the opportunity to compose.

§ § § § § §

A few examples of the kind of music I mean:

Monolake – “Ionized”

Notice how the sounds have been placed precisely in their frequency ranges and in the stereo field, suggesting (spatially) a perfect merging of sculpture and interior design. Notice how, within that static room, the one sinuous, non-static thing is a low sustained sound with a comb filter that opens and closes endlessly, so that the sound rises and dips like a winged serpent. A comb-filtered drone is one of my favorite sounds and Robert Henke (a/k/a, Monolake) uses it unusually well.

Generally, Henke’s mixes reveal a level of finesse I find lacking in most who work in that style: Sound design, engineering and minimal arranging — all are satisfyingly correct. The purpose is to create static sonic objects — the sound equivalent of Calder’s “Stabiles” — but to do so as precisely as possible.


Here, Transient Waves use traditional instruments and a layered vocalise to create a track that makes use of a drone with glittering resonance filter sweeps:

Transient Waves


Ulrich Schnauss – “Wherever You Are”

Ulrich Schnauss has a more mainstream style than I prefer, hasn’t attained a certain sophistication in sound design, and is sometimes unimaginative in terms of harmony and structure (as much of the shoegazer-influenced plinkerpop from that period tends to be), but this track has a lot of the characteristics I’m talking about:

1. Pandiatonicism, or white-key harmony: the use of diatonic scales in non-tertian ways, forming clusters and quartal/quintal chords instead of triads. Arovane does this systematically from the beginning, but in Schnauss, it’s the slow accumulation of parts that changes the harmony from tertian to pandiatonic. Whether he knows it or not, the simpler harmonies toward the bottom and their slow clouding with dissonance is a mirror of the overtone series.

2. The entire arrangement is structured to imitate the slow opening of a cutoff filter. Doing that literally is almost a cliché in post-Basic-Channel dub and techno, but with Schnauss, what creates the sound is orchestration: The constant addition of higher frequencies and registers with each added part.

3. The use of drones and clusters to create the sound of shifting overtones and mild dissonances that rub ever-so-gently, creating a sound that is hypnotic in its iridescence.

4. The deliberate addition of soft analog distortion to digital signals to give the overall sound that characteristic warmth.

I also have wistful memories of listening to Schnauss in 2001 before the second WTC Tower literally fell in front of me; before I came face to face with Shiva devouring the blesséd fallen; before galleries, museums and music stores closed all around me, and musicians, artists, choreographers and writers began to migrate to Montreal, Berlin, Paris, and Denmark; before the world divided into factions, erasing for decades that feeling of euphoric potential, which had fueled and galvanized our lives the moment before.


Here are Ryuichi Sakamoto and Fennesz employing a repetitive but more sophisticated version of that idea almost ten years later:

Fennesz, Sakamoto – “Abyss”


Here’s a far more sophisticated track by Arovane, who worked with pandiatonicism almost exclusively, not only in terms of harmony but in the melodic tendencies implied by linear parts:

Arovane: “Pub – Summer – AMX 1″

Do overlook the asinine image and description attached to the track, as this was the only instantly playable copy I could find short of uploading it myself.

This piece is the most effective of the last four examples because it avoids cliché tropes of happiness and opts for a self-sufficiency that has its own trajectory — which lends more depth to one’s sense of bliss, engages one’s intellect more actively, and steps deftly past the shallows and gaudiness of post-Love-Parade euphoria.


This track is even simpler and more repetitive than the Schnauss, but Hermann & Kleine are more eclectic and tasteful than he (and better musicians, as those who have heard Christian Kleine play solo guitar will attest):

Hermann & Kleine – “Wonder”


One last track:

Arovane’s last composition as of 2004:

“Goodbye Forever”

§ § § § § §

As a young classical musician, I couldn’t have listened to any of this without wincing or smirking, without craving silence. But becoming a studio musician and playing with PIL has changed me forever. I’m now able to enjoy repetitive music, especially when it is free of parasitic hooks.

Pop music is parasitic and clings to the memory. Blissful music simply dissolves.

I don’t want to have to remember simplistic ideas inadvertently. I want only to enjoy glimmering static landscapes while they last, and bask in the pearl-shade permutations of their passing.

Then to emerge, refreshed, to ride the snake of waking life.

–Robert C. Hardin

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Unfinished – A New Translation of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Poem Fragment Sun, 19 Jul 2015 22:59:45 +0000 Unfinished, a poem fragment by Vladimir Mayakovsky, discovered in M’s papers after his suicide in 1930.

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Unfinished, a poem fragment by Vladimir Mayakovsky, discovered in M’s papers after his suicide in 1930.

Любит? не любит? Я руки ломаю
и пальцы разбрасываю разломавши
так рвут загадав и пускают по маю
венчики встречных ромашек
Пускай седины обнаруживает стрижка и бритье
Пусть серебро годов вызванивает уймою
надеюсь верую вовеки не придет
ко мне позорное благоразумие


Mayakovsky’s death mask

Does she love me? Doesn’t she love me? I’m wringing my hands
and scattering my broken off fingers
the way you pull petals from wayside daisies
and release them into May
to know your fortune.
Let haircuts and shaves uncover grey hair
Let the silver of years proclaim itself in masses
I hope I believe that shameful good sense
will never come to me.

–Vladimir Mayakovsky, translated by Jenny Wade

Sensitive Skin 12 available here in PDF format here for just $4.95, or get the full-color print version via Amazon and select bookstores.

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The Third Man­ – A Review Mon, 06 Jul 2015 02:35:21 +0000 I hurried over to Film Forum the other day (first day of the run) to see the 4K restoration of The Third Man, the great 1949 film directed by Carol Reed. Why rush to see a 65-year-old movie, especially one I’ve seen at least ten times already? What makes the long trek in from Brooklyn... Read more »

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I hurried over to Film Forum the other day (first day of the run) to see the 4K restoration of The Third Man, the great 1949 film directed by Carol Reed.

Why rush to see a 65-year-old movie, especially one I’ve seen at least ten times already? What makes the long trek in from Brooklyn worth the time and effort?

The restoration, and the chance to see it on the big screen, provided the justification. Now, sometimes restorations seem to serve as an excuse for film geeks to congregate and listen to talks given by people vaguely connected to the movie, such as the grandnephew of the director. Or to sell an expensive new DVD. Excuse me, I mean Blu-Ray, throw out your DVD, you need the new Blu-Ray. But this restoration turned out to be more than just run of the mill.

The Third Man

The restoration brings everything into a sharper focus; the shadows are darker, the contrast between light and dark is more vivid. The Vienna of The Third Man is closed in, damp, strewn with rubble, stuck in its history as a former imperial capital, its grandeur diminished, all shadows and angles, filled with sad people eking out meager livings, and haunted by the Anschluss and the nasty business after that. Reed shot many scenes at skewed angles, and this technique heightens the unease. The restoration somehow makes the skewed angles more skewed. The expressionist cinematography, by Robert Krasker (Academy Award for Best Black and White Cinematography, 1950), reminds us of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, but Krasker takes us a step further here.

Anton Karas wrote the score and played the music. His zither playing (Reed discovered him in a cafe shortly after arriving in Vienna), conjures up the atmosphere of depressive and treacherous Vienna in a way that eludes explanation. I never really wanted to hear zither playing before the first time I saw this movie, and I can’t say the desire has cropped up much since that time. Except when watching The Third Man. The moment we see the instrument’s strings, moving to the theme, this powerful film begins to exert its grip. Again, the restoration makes its quality felt, as the clarity and precision of the sounds are beautiful, not just the music but the dialogue and echoing footsteps as well.

The protagonist is an American writer of pulp Westerns (The Lone Rider of Santa Fe, etc.) with a drinking problem, who falls in love too easily, and who goes by the improbable name of Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten). Martins has come to Vienna to write for a medical charity founded by his old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), who seems to have met an unfortunate end, and who, we soon learn, appears to have been up to no good at all. At Lime’s funeral, we are introduced to all but one of the main players: Anna (Alida Valli), Lime’s grieving girlfriend; Major Calloway, a British military police investigator (Trevor Howard) and his subordinate, Sergeant Paine (Bernard Lee); as well as the strange and unsettling group of mitteleuropäische and Balkan schemers around Lime: “Baron” Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch), Mr. Popescu (Siegfried Breuer), and Dr. Winkel (Erich Ponto).

In spite of Major Calloway’s suggestion to Martins that he “leave death to the professionals,” Martins refuses to believe that his old friend is a scoundrel, and commences an inept but dangerous investigation. As Martins blunders along, trying to fix a world that refuses to be fixed, Lime’s friends in turn each play Martins like a violin. Soon Martins finds himself under threat, and Major Calloway decides to open his eyes. “This isn’t Santa Fe. I’m not a sheriff, and you aren’t a cowboy.” And Lime’s racket, a perverse reversal of healing, is ghastly.

Graham Greene wrote the screenplay, based on a novella he wrote first, originally not intended for publication. In it, Martins and Lime were English, and Popescu was an American named Cooler. The change in nationalities in the film reflects Greene’s views on Americans. Greene, a MI6 agent as well as a novelist, viewed the decline of the British Empire and the rise of the American one with dismay, and Americans as either bumbling or calculating. A convert to Catholicism, Greene viewed our world’s state as God’s will, and any attempt to interfere as futile and likely to be destructive. The correct way to live is to uphold one’s duty, no matter how unpleasant. Like Major Calloway.

In Martins we get Greene’s idea of an American intellectual, a writer of dime novels with titles such as Death at Double X Ranch. Well meaning, but clueless, Martins’ investigation gets a witness murdered. He is the classic naive American, who wants to be loved and thinks everyone in the world is an American inside, just dying to get out. Greene would develop this theme further in The Quiet American (1956), long before the world would hear of My Lai. Lime is Martins’ flipside: the venal and amoral American, who exploits the world’s miseries and misfortunes for profit.

The only important player not introduced at the start is Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Welles’ entrance comes over halfway through the movie, when light from a window chances upon his face, and from that point on, he owns the film. Welles’ face goes from blank indifference, to mild surprise at his own lack of discretion, to an ineffable expression that is somewhat a smirk, somewhat a sympathetic smile, but not quite either.

This Orson Welles is not the slim young man from the Mercury Theatre; he’s put on a few extra pounds since his War of the World radio broadcast days, but he’s not yet the bloated, self-hating shell of A Touch of Evil. You’re not likely to see a more charming and articulate sociopath. Welles himself wrote the best lines of what is a very smart screenplay, the famous “Cuckoo Clock” speech:

“You know what the fellow said—in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Brilliant and unforgettable, one of the all-time classic snippets of cinematic dialogue. Who cares that it’s not even true? The Swiss are forever pointing out that they didn’t even invent the cuckoo clock. No one cares.

It’s worth remembering that Welles was slumming to make this movie, and even went awol during the filming, and had to be tracked down. After The Magnificent Ambersons, Welles was persona non grata in Hollywood, at least as a director of anything he might want to direct. This was a “pay the bills” assignment. A great mind, relegated to the sidelines. And you can’t take your eyes off him.

The film is set just as the Cold War was getting underway, and our project to save the world, still continuing, was just getting started. So much of what would go so wrong was foreshadowed by this simple noir set in a Central European capital. Diluted penicillin is nothing compared to Agent Orange, and what are Lime and his racketeers next to Halliburton? If you think you see a precursor of our adventure in Iraq, to rid the world of an evil dictator, bring democracy to the Middle East, and make a lot of money doing it, you’re right.

The Third Man (1949) – Directed by Carol Reed, screenplay by Graham Greene, with Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles as Harry Lime. Cinematography by Robert Krasker. Music by Anton Karas. A Rialto Pictures Release. Restored in 4K by Deluxe Restoration, on behalf of Studiocanal, from a fine grain master positive struck from the original negative,

Showtimes: Playing at Film Forum in NYC through Thursday, July 9. Opening at the Nuart, Los Angeles, Friday, July 3, through Thursday, July 9. For other showings around the country, through the end of August:

The Third Man, review by Franklin Mount

Sensitive Skin 12 available here in PDF format here for just $4.95, or get the full-color print version via Amazon and select bookstores.

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Nostalgia and Heartbreak in Kim Gordon’s ‘Girl In A Band’ ­ – A Review Wed, 01 Jul 2015 04:11:12 +0000 I began and finished Kim’s memoir in the NYC subway, catching glimpses of her life and self­reflection between hectic transfers, rushing to make my next engagement. I missed a couple of stops, too focused to be bothered. G​irl In A Band​was engrossing. A photo in the book of Kim riding the subway some decades ago turned reading into an experience.

The post Nostalgia and Heartbreak in Kim Gordon’s ‘Girl In A Band’ ­ – A Review appeared first on Sensitive Skin Magazine.

I began and finished Kim Gordon’s memoir in the NYC subway, catching glimpses of her life and self ­reflection between hectic transfers, rushing to make my next engagement. I missed a couple of stops, too focused to be bothered. G​irl In A Band ​was engrossing. A photo in the book of Kim riding the subway some decades ago turned reading into an experience. I had her scrawl a star on it as an autograph when I caught her book tour stop in Albuquerque. Her scathing take on the gentrified, current ­day NYC as compared to a more opportune past reshaped the urban landscape I was navigating. Memories that were not mine sparked introspection as an artist in my mid­-20s. I compared and contrasted experiences, resources, eras, histories, perspectives, as I often do when learning the details of an hero/ine’s burgeoning sense of self. It asserts a time and place, a context for my own growth in a digital age where culture’s past, present, and future are simultaneously ingested. Kim paints a transgressive Southern Californian landscape, a seedy New York City, and small town quaintness through her and her contemporaries’ output. Charles Manson, psychedelics, low ­income living, shifting art world climates, and some good fortune serve as an undercurrent through her bi­coastal track.


As she’s mentioned along her book tour, a principle of her unconventional memoir was “no sex, drugs or rock’n’roll,” which is not completely true and perhaps tongue ­in ­cheek to diffuse certain expectations. Drugs, sexuality, and fast living all play a large role for the Sonic Youth frontwoman but its presentation is perhaps more mature than what nefarious tell­ all rockstar memoirs typically bring. G​irl In A Band​ is a vulnerable and intimate view of Kim’s life, offsetting her otherwise distant and mysterious air. Childhood conflicts and triumphs intrinsic to an artist’s process are catalogued, her immediate family life and the origins of co­dependent tendencies examined. Performance artist Linda Montano stresses the influences of childhood throughout her career, conducting interviews and performances that asked others “what was your relationship with…” or “how did you feel about … as a child?” Sex, food, death, anything would be up for discussion, all being equally relevant. In the early chapters Kim opens up about her schizophrenic brother in a both loving and biting light as his electric charisma was set off by sadistic tendencies and general instability. “I worshipped my brother […] But he was vicious to me throughout our childhood…” Kim recalls. Each tidbit that informed her now informs her listeners exploring her repertoire. Teenage and 20­something romances with various emerging stars are a fun highlight of the book. So is her retelling of the early days with Thurston. Of course, this will lead to heartbreak and we are granted a private window into Kim’s speculation on how or why their 27-­year marriage recently came to an end. She asks many questions, trailing off on open­-ended speculation familiar to a grieving lover. “Why did I trust him, or assume I knew anything at all about him?”

I was in NYC to attend the Hacking Feminism symposium at The New School and to take a look at the controversial Bjork exhibit at MoMA. Bjork’s V​ulnicura​record documents a
post­breakup emotional arc filled with questions similar to those asked by Kim. The cultural space for women is slim, leading to a history of unfair and unwarranted comparison between disparate artists. However, it was hard to ignore this odd synchronicity I was experiencing between the unfiltered aching from Bjork’s voice and Kim’s words on the page. Ultimately, their brave laments draw us into humanizing self ­portraits. “People pay money to see others believe in themselves,” Greil Marcus stated, a quote Kim uses to frame her own introduction into performance and fearlessness. Kim carries a sense of pride that allows her to recount her faults, tragedies, and insecurities so that she triumphs. Along with this comes a self respect that steers her critique on the countless seminal alt figures she’s crossed paths with. For instance, Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. Kurt is a recurring figure in the book, a timely ode although she’s done so in the past by doing things like appearing in Gus Van Sant’s L​ast Days.​ Press driven by scandal honed in on the harsh words given to Courtney but mostly overlooked its context and Kim’s conditional praise given to the difficult musician she once collaborated with. She pays her cautious respects to Lydia Lunch, repeatedly. The only portion that felt more like bad­ mouthing than deserved judgement was her notorious statement on Lana Del Rey, as deciding the level of which another woman understands feminism takes a good deal of assumption.

Still, if anyone’s an authority on feminism in music culture, Kim is high on the list. The riot grrrl corporate theft that happened with 90s pop divas and the adopted “Girl Power” slogan is recounted along with the struggles of being in the spotlight. “I didn’t want to […] act out the role of an imaginary female, someone who had more to do with them than with me.” The politics of entertainment, female agency, visibility, and exploitation are suggestedly more complex that what audiences may receive. Kim’s rise as a fashion icon surprised her, as her unusual take on assemblage didn’t fit with any of the trends through the 80s or 90s until she set them herself through a co-­owned label, X­Girl. The athletic fits and ringer t’s they brought to the table appeared to define an era of indie rock precision with a touch of nonchalance. The male gaze directing choices on Sonic Youth’s image or even how they took positions on stage is discussed, the scrutiny was intense and expectations were high. Her own look comes through, leading to even more of a focus as a female amidst a group of men. “There was a popular look at the time, ­­the vintage dress, the makeup ­­that just wasn’t me, nor was that the way people dressed in the art world.”

Personally, I find the term “queer” includes a broad sense of outsider status, a spectrum of non­heteronormative thinkers who are allies regardless of their sexual orientation. Kim and her surrounding universe have been there for queers in the philosophical and sexual sense. NYC based performance artist Penny Arcade stated in an interview, “The queer world was built generation by generation on a tradition fueled by a sense of responsibility to pass on history and information.” There is a looming doom about the commodified art/music world that creeps through. Danger can be lacking in today’s venues, though not totally erased. NYC like the rest of alternative culture was bought out, something Kim and Penny and many others have noted. As a young artist looking for a place as romantic as my hero/ine’s pasts, I was initially frustrated with the lack of solutions offered. But, haven’t they offered enough? Kim and company have provided spiritual solutions throughout their careers and at some point the new generation must forge their own path. Despite the cultural landscape being different, there’s much to be gained from hearing the previous generation’s voices. A frightful ignorance emerges with tuning out the past, as Penny Arcade also said “…the mono­generationalism that has supplanted the inter­generationalism of former decades is appalling.” For example, a Sonic Youth tour with Neil Young accounts for a valuable portion of the book, clearly a pivotal moment for both their careers.

Read between the lines and G​irl In A Band ​will take you past the even-­tempered delivery. Kim states her interest in “disguising subversion under a benign exterior” several times, whether it be discussing a Sonic Youth album cover, another band like The Raincoats, or even just a fashion sense. Radicalism can exist and thrive in this state and infiltrate with greater efficiency. She describes the cover of D​aydream Nation​ as a trojan horse and it seems she’s operated much of her life this way. We are all probably as tired of hearing the “what’s it like to be a girl in a band” type question as much as she is, and while this makes Girl In A Band​ a fitting title, her interest in male bonding is also a huge factor. “Male Bonding” was even a potential name for Sonic Youth. Her V​illage Voice ​diary column “Boys Are Smelly” was an observational account of touring with Sonic Youth in the center of male creative exchange. “In retrospect, that’s why I joined a band, so I could be inside that male dynamic, not staring in through a closed window but looking out,” she claims, and her style of writing holds that perspective as the Sonic Youth years slide by and lead us back into her ailing marriage. She is as compassionate as frank when it comes to her and Thurston’s divorce. The memoir feels spurred by this jolting event, and although gratified by the behind-­the­scenes details I can’t help but wonder how differently her story might have been told. Would it have been told at all? Her admiration for Coco, her daughter, is endearing and are the most heartfelt pages of the book. At one point she secretly watches her teenage daughter performing in a band and we catch glimmers of hope for a bright future.

–Kim Gordon’s Girl In A Band, review by JC Gonzo

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Goodfellas – 25th Anniversary Restoration – A Review Fri, 26 Jun 2015 04:46:03 +0000 Spoiler alert: This movie is fairly violent, it’s well over two hours long, and everyone has already seen it.

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Spoiler alert: This movie is fairly violent, it’s well over two hours long, and everyone has already seen it.

New York, June, 1970. We see three men in a car, driving somewhere late at night, and the car is making a knocking sound. The driver asks, “What’s up? Did I hit something?” “Maybe you got a flat.” Not quite. We learn the knocking is coming from a man, thought killed, but still alive and kicking,in the trunk. Time to finish the job.

We soon find that this kind of thing is routine for these guys. Part of the fun, even, for at least two of them. These men are the three main players: Jimmy “Jimmy the Gent” Conway (Robert DeNiro), Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), and the film’s anti-hero, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). We will shortly meet the man who oversees the lot, Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino).


Flashback to the anti-hero, as a boy, in East New York, 1955. “For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster… To be a gangster was to own the world.” Voiceover, yes, but it works, as it functions as part of the story, not as an exposition device to do the audience’s work for them.

We see the Mob lifestyle and its incredible attraction, starting with the thirteen-year-old Henry Hill’s job, parking the wiseguys’ cars at the cabstand across the street from his house. “Wiseguys would pull up and Tuddy would let me park their Cadillacs… I was part of something… I belonged.” His teen fashion statement, presented at the front door, showing his new suit and shiny shoes to his mother. “What do you think? Aren’t my shoes great?” His horrified mother looks him over, finishing with the shoes, “You look like a gangster.” That’s the point.

At that time, there was little check on organized crime, back when J. Edgar Hoover denied the existence of the Mafia, and the “G-man in a G-String” (Vanity Fair, ca. 1993), preferred investigating a handful of Communists to cracking down on hordes of mobsters. “It was a glorious time. And wiseguys were all over the place. It was before Apalachin and before Crazy Joe decided to take on a boss and start a war.” A visit to the Copa doesn’t involve waiting in line or playing a cover charge. Hill and his girlfriend enter through the back door and proceed through the kitchen, in a long, single take, now almost as famous as the opening of Touch of Evil. Henry tips everyone twenty bucks along the way (and $20 was real money back then), and a waiter places a table on the floor, in front of everyone else. “For us to live any other way was nuts. To us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks … were dead. If we wanted something we just took it.”

And it was all done dressed in expensive suits, shirts with exaggerated collars, loud ties, and really shiny shoes.

But we soon see that there is not a lot of honor among these thieves. This is not The Godfather. A restaurant that catered to gangsters is taken over by those same gangsters, “busted out,” milked dry, and burned to the ground. We see double-crosses, and hits on those who enabled big scores. There are killings over minor insults.

Hovering in the background, keeping it all together, lurked the threat of death. “Murder was the only way everybody stayed in line. You got out of line, you got whacked. …. Shooting people was a normal thing.”

But the threat of being whacked is nothing compared to a bigger if far less glamorous force, the federal government, which can protect and send a witness anywhere, without jail time, under a new name, the only price being, “I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food…right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles with ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook, a nobody.”

So, why “Witness Protection Program”? After Apalachin, after Vilachi, even the aging FBI chief had to admit that there really was a Mafia. In 1970 Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which included provisions for protecting Mob turncoats by setting them up with new identities far away from the scenes of their crimes. On some level, the powers that be, who had allowed organized crime to flourish, decided that this thing had to come to an end. Too much power. This country is not big enough for both of us. The prosecutions took a decade to really get going, starting in the ’80s, and it’s no accident that this occurred just as the United States was embarking on its love affair with the stock market. Apply RICO to Wall Street? That’s oppressive interference with the free market!

And so wiseguy after wiseguy is sent to federal prison for long terms, and the remnants adapt by getting lowkey. No more attracting attention. No more shiny suits and shoes. Gym clothes, even shorts, become the preferred fashion, and it’s not a statement.

Scorsese’s choices for the soundtrack are brilliant. He didn’t hire a composer, it’s entirely found music. His only rule was that the song had to comment on the action onscreen “in an oblique way” and must have existed at the time.

The music progresses from pleasant, happy, upbeat ’50s schlock to the dark and ironic music of the late Sixties. We first hear Rags to Riches, followed soon by Can’t We Be Sweethearts, backing up the allure of the gangster life to the young Hill. The speed at which the songs come increases as the movie becomes darker. We see Hill dealing coke (and snorting his share) behind his boss’s back to the tune of Gimme Shelter. Sunshine of Your Love plays while Jimmy contemplates a killing. (The look in DeNiro’s eyes in this scene alone is worth the price of admission.) Monkey Man serves as background for paranoid (but well-founded) fear of a helicopter, and the insanity of addiction. We hearLayla while children playing under a highway discover two victims of a hit in their Cadillac, propped up in the front seat for all the world to see, bloody faces on display, blood smeared on the sticker.

So why see Goodfellas again? Because this film demands to be seen on the big screen.

Goodfellas (1990), directed by Martin Scorsese, screenplay by Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, with Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, Paul Sorvino, and Lorraine Bracco.

–review by Franklin Mount

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