Tuesday, December 20, 2011


"This is racist, somehow.  Don't you think?  I really think this whole situation is kind of racist.  And I think he's supposed to look like the President, which is really offending me on his behalf."

"This is certainly quite the incongruous scenario."

"I just know we're going to end up stuck to some asshole's refrigerator."

"I think you got the wrong kind of bar.  'Cause ballet dancers put their legs up on bars, don't they?  Just not this kind.  You made a real mistake there."

"Get the fuck out of my office."

Thursday, December 08, 2011


Well, let's see, I count, ummm, half-a-dozen unfinished blog posts since we last spoke; as per usual, when I try to write, I either find myself with too little or way too much to say about a subject.  And since, of course, I choose the subjects I blog about, it's the latter option that maintains more often than not, and I wind up feverishly composing two or three long, clotted, overly-digressive paragraphs at a time, I try stuffing too much into too small a space (between that statement and the image above, I shudder to think of the comment-thread spam I'm in for now), and I wind up exhausted, frustrated, with protruding forehead veins and thoughts jammed  together like gnarled typewriter keys.  (Ask your parents what those were.)  Sometimes I luck out and catch a wave and composition goes relatively smoothly; most often (when writing prose in particular) not.  Long, slow sessions with the compositional hammer and chisel have become commonplace, unless there's a deadline involved, in which case I seethe and pace and chain-smoke in a black haze of high anxiety and self-recrimination until the last possible moment (or, to be more precise, a minute or two past the last possible moment), at which point I snap into adrenalized focus and the words just gush out.  Some of the work I've produced in those circumstances turned out to be rather good, really, but at the cost of a lot of good will from editors and patrons and possibly large chunks of my health and sanity.  (It's said that Doug Kenney of National Lampoon/Animal House/Caddyshack fame had the same guilt-ridden procrastinatory m.o.  I don't know if I should be pleased that I share an idiosyncratic working method with a bona-fide comedy genius or frightened that I too will wind up coked-out, alienated, and eventually impaled on rocks beneath some crumbling Hawaiian cliff or its rough equivalent.)

So here I am again, not so much blocked but clogged, and desperate to keep some thin tributary of the content stream flowing, if not for my readers - I'd be foolish and delusional to believe that I have any, apart from the more indulgent of my family and friends and the occasional hapless sap who stumbles upon this place while doing a Google search on "what smells like ian mcculloch" or "billy ray cyrus as a girl" - then for my much-damaged sense of accomplishment, which could stand to be jacked up occasionally, even if it's just an inch or two.  And hell, I've got a backlog of material from my younger, more prolific days that, if it was published at all (and a fair amount of it was), hasn't been seen in years by anyone.  Anyone apart from me, of course, sighing over the browned-edged newsprint of a fifteen-year-old copy of a low-rent music and entertainment rag, the aging-lamestain version of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, choked up with nostalgia for a time when it all came so much easier.  I compare where I'm at now with how I was then (or how I remember I was then, which is assuredly wildly inaccurate, all the misery and pain of those days made over into ease and triumph through a rose-tinted rearview mirror, darkly) and am reminded of my all-time favorite Hunter Thompson quote: "...I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work.  I suspect it's a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs.  Old whores don't do much giggling."  Of course, that doesn't exactly apply to me, since I'm hardly an old whore, more a lifelong amateur who can barely even give it away anymore, and I do still find myself giggling quite a bit in the act of compositional congress, albeit more like Richard Widmark at the top of the staircase these days.  But I think the old bastard was onto something (it's probably best not to read too much into the fact that, for the second time in two paragraphs, I've cited an idolized writer who crumbled from brilliance to self-destruction and premature death); writing is a little like fucking.  It comes easy and frequently when you're starting out (if you're lucky and you're good at it).  You're constantly chasing it, engaging in constant congress with whatever subject matter has the angles and contours you favor (though after a few drinks, you'll write about almost anything).  Then, gradually, it all changes.  You begin to realize that what was once fun hides all kinds of consequences, traumas, hurt feelings, broken hearts, performance anxiety, etc.  Suddenly, it's not so easy anymore.  Your creative drive diminishes. You run through the same tired variations over and over again. Maybe you start writing slicker, flashier sentences to overcompensate for the fact that your thinking's gone flabby and your ideas aren't big enough, but deep down, you know you're not fooling anyone.  It gets harder to rouse yourself.  Sometimes you can't get a piece up at all, and when you can, it sometimes takes forever to get to the climax.  But then again, when you do, it's often better and more satisfying than when you were young, dumb and full of cumbersome pretensions.  Experience counts for something; you know a few moves that the young ones don't.  And maybe some of your readers will find your receding punchlines distinguished.

("Receding punchlines," huh?  That's the best I can do?  Guess my stamina's not what it used to be...)

These rambling ruminations came about because I remembered that today marks the 31st anniversary of the day John Lennon was killed.  I think it's fair to say that there's pretty much nothing left to say about Lennon - a cursory online book search turns up over one thousand titles, including John Lennon and the Jews - Edition 2: A Philosophical RampageBiographies of Famous Stamp Collectors, Including Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Maria Sharapova and More, and, of course, Stephen King Killed John Lennon - but that's never stopped anybody else, so why should I be any different?  

I can't think of any other dead rock icons who continue to resonate so strongly so long after their death.  There's Elvis, of course, but that's different - he was sui generis, remote, not even human somehow: a mythical figure placed among us, only to be corrupted and destroyed by sex, cheeseburgers, sequins, celluloid and time-release capsules.  The Man Who Fell to Earth, as directed by Norman Taurog.  (Michael Jackson came along a little later to star in his own, Terry Gilliam-helmed remake.)  Lennon, on the other hand, was all human, and thus far more interesting.  One of the few to be blessed/cursed with the same level of fame as Elvis, but too smart, self-conscious and insecure to feel comfortable with it.  So he pushed it, prodded it, stretched it out as far as he could, performed periodic acts of public self-immolation just to see how much heat and light he could give off, used the reach it gave him to embrace and push away in the same motion (walls and bridges, indeed), placed himself at the center of the universe and then conspicuously absented himself from it.

Imagine (ullgh, sorry) what it must have been like - to have your whims become movements, your offhand remarks turned into gospel (or heresy), your appetites considered sacraments, and your efforts to reclaim the basic choices in life (where to live, where to work, who to spend your days and nights with) looked upon as betrayal.  To have every single moment of your life subject to intense scrutiny.  And all because a couple of cosmic flukes - talent and timing - came together with enough combined force to change the landscape irreparably.  

The talent part we need neither discuss nor debate.  We can talk about the Beatles being the textbook definition of "greater than the sum of its parts," argue over how much Paul's presence (even after they stopped collaborating regularly) impacted/improved John's songwriting (and vice versa), etc. etc.  You can even reject his/their music wholesale, as many do, whether it simply doesn't move you or you're looking to topple the whole edifice of Boomer hegemony by knocking down the retaining wall.  But what John Lennon did, he was good at, and there are moments when he did what he did as well as anyone that's ever done it.  That alone is not enough to change the world; something greater and more powerful than yourself has to thrust you forward.  Which is where timing comes in, and Lennon was the prime beneficiary/victim of the most sustained run of perfect timing in modern popular culture.  Consider:

The Beatles wouldn't have made the tsunamic splash they had if they hadn't hit the American stage at precisely the right moment - just a few weeks after the mass trauma of JFK's assassination left a huge hole in the American psyche just waiting to be filled with youthful exuberance, trans-Atlantic cheekiness and mop-topped charisma.  Every pivot point on the cultural graph for the next few years coincided with the Fabs' arrival at those coordinates.  (Chicken/egg, I know, given the nature of parasitism and symbiosis that attends such phenomena, but their ability to feed off the culture and feed it back to them at exactly the right moment, which they did unerringly through the summer of '67 [give or take a Christ-bashing slip of the tongue here and there], transcends the cleverest calculation.  They synched up with the times as tightly as their guitars and harmonies locked in with Ringo's unflashy, rock-solid drum fills.)  The Beatles' split happened at exactly the right moment, conveniently ensuring that the chronological and emotional ends of the sixties happened at the same time.  (Okay, fine, you can throw in Altamont too, but even that could be looked at as the Stones' knack for scuffing up the coattails of their Northern rivals taken to its ultimate, unconscious extreme.  The Beatles filmed the terminal throes of their internal disintegration and opted to Let It Be, the Stones went them one better and invited cameras over to capture the whole damn counterculture destroying itself while they watched.  Tragic, horrific and stupid though it was, it was the final, decisive victory in the War of the Zeitgeist - the Beatles closed their circle and let their self-generated bad vibes blow them apart, while the Stones opened up and fed off the inexhaustible supply of bad vibes coming from without, fortifying their woozily triumphant stumble through the pure decadence that epitomized the decade to come.) 

As the four component parts of the Beatles split and drifted without apparent aim through the following decade, it seems that Lennon alone, even through the haze that enveloped him through much of it, retained that innate sense of timing.  Feinting and lurching, stabbing at significance, embracing self-parody, bottoming out at the dead center of the decade, and then - in his shrewdest, most brilliant move - disappearing for the rest of it.  No embarrassing disco moves, no attempts to grapple with the CBGB's crowd or catch the gob-shrapnel from the Sex Pistols' tragicomic perversion of the British Invasion.  (One of the Pistols' founding members, remember, was infamously booted for "liking the Beatles," but good ol' Johnny Rotten unwittingly followed the Lennon playbook anyway, loudly denouncing his band, making bizarre appearances on unlikely TV shows, and making an LP-sized declaration of independence calculated to alienate the vast majority of his fanbase.  The first Public Image Ltd. album is a direct spiritual descendant of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, whether he likes it or not.)  Lennon may have exiled himself simply to bake endless loaves of bread and look after his kid, an admirable personal choice (not that it hasn't stopped dozens of people from ascribing more sinister motives to it, casting it as the long-term effects of Japanese avant-garde hypnosis or some such thing), but in doing so, he also recused himself from having to deal with the messy chaos of the late seventies, from which few of his peers escaped unscathed.  

Of course, once he re-emerged, he wound up paying a greater price than any of them, but - as horrible as it is to say - his final act may have been the best-timed of all.  Lennon's death would have been one of the great rock tragedies no matter when it happened, but it wouldn't have been quite as devastating at any other time.  If it had happened ten years earlier, maybe - but that was such a bear market for rock star death that he might not have stood out that much, just another "J" in the alliterative litany of premature pop demise.  (And besides, Paul was already dead at the time.)  If he passed on somewhere in the middle of his "lost weekend," that would only have been pathetic - probably something like drunkenly swallowing the Kotex that fell from his forehead or being beaten to death by Pam Grier.  Or sometime in his househusband years, the result of accidental poisoning via tainted yeast - it would have been almost anticlimactic, an afterthought after putting what looked like a full stop on his public life.

Now consider when and how it actually went down.  He comes back after a five-year absence.  He collaborates with the wife on a new album, all about themselves, each other, and their lives.  He breaks his silence in a major way, granting more interviews than he's done since well before his old band broke up.  He's still feisty and outspoken, but seemingly at peace with himself and his legacy for the first time.  He's bursting with plans - more music, his first tour in a decade and a half, maybe even that reunion everyone's been fantasizing about... in other words, every single thing that came out of his mouth seemed composed for maximum irony.  Songs both written and mooted - "(Just Like) Starting Over," "Grow Old With Me," "Life Begins at 40"... making reference to martyred world leaders in every other interview... all those renewed hopes and ambitions... he couldn't have set himself up better if he'd been the cop with two days left 'til retirement or the flyboy about to marry his fiance after one last mission.  It would have been almost unnatural not to snuff it when he did, at that peak moment where nostalgia meets what-might-have-been.  (He even died in early December, thereby giving DJs everywhere license to play "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" once an hour for weeks thereafter.)

If he had gone on, what then?  A sold-out tour, further albums full of slickly-crafted, less-angst-ridden tunes, the potential return of the Fab (Fortyish) Four... how could any of those events live up to expectations?  Martyrdom was John Lennon's best possible career move.  (If you don't believe me, compare the reviews Double Fantasy got before 12/8/80 with those that came after.)  As a man, father, husband, colleague and friend, John Lennon's death was an unthinkable tragedy.  As an icon, trademark, symbol, trademark and Facebook avatar, it's the best thing that could have happened.

If the above comes off a trifle cynical, don't mind me.  Chalk it up to the fact that I, like every other obsessive, constructs their own personal Lennon from the materials - few of them tangible - left behind.  Mine lies somewhere between the simple, peace-loving saint figure some would make of him and the nasty, self-centered, henpecked bastard of others' invention.  I try to think of him as a flawed, troubled, blessed, cursed, regular human being.  Yet I still find myself seduced by the power of legend and wind up fighting against the forces that have rendered him more (and therefore less) than a man.  Somehow, ridicule and demystification seem like acts of respect.

Which brings me, after an increasingly typical pre-ambular meander (I thought I had no fresh content to contribute - I may well have been right!), to the thing I came here to post.  The following exercise in ridicule, demystification and exaltation was written in collaboration with my friend and mentor Kerry Joyce and published on the back page of the April, 1996 issue of Lollipop.  I love a good collaboration, but too few of them ever come off - in fact, after this one, we tried to replicate the effect on several other occasions and failed miserably every time.  Maybe this one worked because, even though we were a decade apart in age and similarly dissimilar in upbringing, we found a common language when it came to the subject of this piece, a language we could play with and toss back and forth.  It's a flawed piece, with so much I would do differently if I (co-)wrote it now, but, apart from repairing a typo or two and fixing a joke I misworded that's been driving me crazy for the last fifteen years, it appears here exactly as published, a tribute to its subject, who delighted in leaving imperfections in his finished product, and out of respect to my collaborator, who I've neither seen or heard from in over a decade but retain fond memories of.  I believe John Lennon wrote a song about that once.  I think it might have been "Happiness is a Warm Gun."

an exclusive interview with John Lennon

Mr. Lennon, you're one of the most successful pop performers of the century, and you've been dead for, I dunno, 15 years or something.  How does it feel?

Well, you know we all shine on and all that roobish but it gets to be a bit of a drag, you know.  EVERYBODY shining on all at once and that.  I mean it doesn't have to be me that's shining the brightest, but if somebody, anybody would, it'd liven up the place some.  It's worse than bloody Hamburg.

So are you still singing and performing?

No more than anybody else, all the bloomin' time.  I mean, that's all we do up here is sing praises unto God.  The accommodations are nice, splendid in fact, don't get me wrong,  It's better than the Dakota.  Heavens, yes.  But I didn't have to sing to the concierge about how GOOD the accommodations were eight days a fookin' week at the Dakota.  It gets a bit tedious, it's like when Paul wanted to do a hundred fookin' remixes of "Octopus's Garden."  We spent an eternity on that bloody song.  He thought it was some kind of brilliant song, and I mean it wasn't bad and all that, but you know, "Octobloodypus's Garden," after a while you just wanna come oop for some bloody air, have a smoke and look at something besides a bloody octopus.  You'd've needed a fooking octopus in the studio turning every knob in the place to make that song more than it was, which was a little bit of not mooch.

Have you been able to follow the trends in popular music from your new vantage point?

Well, I saw Paul on Saturday Night Live, if that's what you mean.  "He was a biker, and the biker didn't like her, but she loved that biker like an icon."  What a load of old shite.  He should get Linda to write his songs for him.  It would be an improvement.  I did meet that kid, what's his name, Cobain?  I was joking with him about how every fookin' bastard in the press was calling him "the new Lennon" and all that.  I told him, "You got it all wrong, Kurty-boy, someone else has to shoot you."  We had a bit of a giggle over that one.  Well, I did, anyway.

What do you think of the Beatles reunion and the remix of some of your outtakes?

Well, you know George and Ringo.  They were always whining about money.  They'd set my farts to music if there was a quid in it for 'em.  And you know, I wouldn't mind hearing it.  I haven't had the chance to really rip one in quite some time.  That's what I miss about living, really living, it's the little things.

You obviously didn't have much of a chance to state your case on The Beatles Anthology.  Are there any misconceptions you'd like to clear up for the record?

The walrus was Ringo.  I'm surprised nobody's figured that out yet.  I mean, compare the two sometime.  It's fookin' uncanny.

Are there any opportunities to explore your creative side up there?

Well, I could, you know.  I've been approached by Saint Paul, and Saint George, and even some bloke who calls himself Saint Ringo, but you know, without Yoko, there really isn't much point.  I told them if they could hook something up with her, maybe we could work something out, you know.  At least an album cover or something, but they won't go along with it.  They think she's evil or some bloody thing, but I keep telling them she isn't.  Pretentious, yes.  Evil, no.

So, how do you keep yourself busy up there?

We take turns beating the fook out of Albert Goldman.  Boy, was I well stoked when he came to town.  Usually, I'll take one arm, Lenny Bruce will take the other, and Elvis pummels the shite out of him.  He's a black belt, you know.  Of course, I don't see much of the King these days.  He's always going back to Earth, you know, showing up in a trailer park, just to keep the plebes happy.  And when he is up here, he's usually hanging out with Nixon.

So what's God like?

He's pretty small.  Tiny delicate hands, with the huge saucer eyes, and his ears are fookin' enormous, but his taste in music is up his arse.  How much Andrew Lloyd Webber can one God listen to?  But he's so small, it's almost freakish, really.  Foony fellow, though.  My first day here, he came up to me, sized me oop a little   and said, "So I'm a concept by which you measure your pain, am I?"  Then he leaned in and whispered, "That's why I called you home early.  Don't piss off the big guy."  His son's okay.  One of the first things He said to me was, "You know, you four are more popular than me.  Try as I may, I just can't sell as many albums."  Still, he somehow thinks that He and His Dad are real and that I'm just a bloody metaphor.  What an ego.  He's not the only martyr in the place, you know.  I was teaching him guitar for a while, you know, so that when he comes back, He can really make an impression.  I gave up on Him after a while.  Keeps asking me to teach him "Rocky Raccoon."  Fook, man...

Any message for the folks back on Earth?

Just one.  Hey Paul, go to bloody Hell, and take Linda with you.


Oh, and while I'm here, I've contributed another piece to Hipfish, on more or less the same subject as the first one, and with predictably diminished returns.  But it's not utterly worthless, so, if you care to, you can read it here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


...here's a little something that's far cozier but almost unbearably poignant.

Chronic insomnia has its benefits: I clearly remember happily stumbling across this unscheduled gem, live, back in early 1994 on one of my desperate, sleepless expeditions through the brown grass and low scrub of the late-late-night basic-cable veldt.  Comedy is chockablock with inveterate misanthropes, malcontents and assholes - and thank God for that, I say - which makes it doubly nice when you happen on a couple of funny fellows who both exude a genuine sweetness.  One needn't be reminded of the shadows that trailed both men and ultimately swallowed them up, just a few months apart, within half a decade of this CNBC one-off, but considering all the darkness and ugliness that clings like barnacles to the hull of that leaky but stalwart comedic vessel that is Saturday Night Live, there's undeniable pleasure to be had when you can see a couple of its, I dunno, deckhands (Jesus, extended metaphors are more trouble than they're worth sometimes), basically just hanging out and enjoying the pleasure of each others' company.  (And, as mentioned, this was the week of the infamous Martin Lawrence-hosted episode, so even their corporate overlords deserve credit for giving them a little break.)

Note: the editing on this really sucks.  But I did my share of riding the pause button on my VCR remote in the dead-of-night throes of THC abuse around that time myself, so I can't really pass judgment, can I?  It's good to know even a little of this still remains to be seen....


Get two certified comic legends - hell, I'll say it, geniuses - at the height of their respective powers in the same place at the same time, and you're sure to get absolute, unequivocal comedy gold, right? Right? ...


(To be fair, what ensues in the following clip is not entirely their fault.  According to the book Lost by a Whisker: An Oral History of Facial Hair Mishaps on Network Television Talk Shows, by Bill Carter and Rollie Fingers [soon to be published by Lanugo Press; already out-of-print], paramedics and several cast members from Sebringmania! were called in during the commercial break immediately preceding this when Glen Campbell's mustache fell off.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


There's been a lot of talk about film-crit legend Pauline Kael of late - the Library of America recently published a typically pricey compendium of her work, The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael, Brian Kellow followed a few days later with a biography, Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, and reminiscences of Kael figure heavily in James Wolcott's new memoir, Lucking Out - and I wholeheartedly approve.  Kael is not merely my favorite film critic (in my eyes, only the eccentric brilliance of Manny Farber compares), but one of my favorite writers, full stop.  (I don't have to spell out my punctuation, do I?  It's been a while.)  I didn't always agree with her - how much fun would that be? - but her writing influenced the way I look at movies as much as Lester Bangs affected the way I heard music.

Queen Pauline was obviously a far more disciplined and coherent scribe than Saint Lester, of course, but they shared many of the same qualities - a ravenous passion for their chosen artform, a disdain for pretension coupled with an appreciation for well-executed trash, and an ability, at their best, to express their opinions with biting wit and a moral sensibility that speaks to their respective arenas with equal lack of compromise, the sense that the finest works of their form jet past diverting and entertaining into life-enhancing, and woe betide those who forget that.  (Of course, there are pitfalls to that kind of rigor, as the last half of that sentence demonstrates - both Kael and Bangs [and those of us who attempt to follow in their footsteps, a-henh] had a tendency to get a little carried away by their passion, sometimes waxing too ecstatic on subjects that deserved a more measured response, other times expressing enthusiasms and antipathies that the more level-headed among us would look upon as a trifle goofy.  [It's at this point that I must tread carefully, lest I get stuck in the De Palma Tarpits - let's just say she disliked Chinatown and liked Billy Jack and leave it at that.])  They also happened to be beneficiaries of great timing, coming along in a period of artistic decadence and decline, having their minds blown when an inspired bomb got lobbed into the stagnation (Bonnie and Clyde Fun House), and devoting their energies thereafter to directing the resulting wreckage into new and better configurations (the "New Hollywood" = punk).  In the process, however, their idealism and unflinching insistence on calling it like they saw it got them into trouble - they palled around with, inspired and encouraged no few artists themselves, only to earn their scorn when they had the nerve to skewer those artists when they dared make bad art (Paul Schrader = Lou Reed).  And it could be said that the ranks of the scorned got their revenge when the critics made the mistake of traversing into the bellies of their respective beasts of burden.  Bangs, like most rock writers, wanted to be a rock star, and made a valiant but failed attempt to do so, hobbled by an unpalatable singing voice and a drunkard's shot physique.  (That said, he had some chops as a lyricist and songwriter, and I revere his rare 7-inch single and rarer full-length album like I would a prodigious but slightly-deformed child.)  Kael, more disastrously, fell under the sway of Warren Beatty, who seduced her into taking a job as a consultant at Paramount, during which time she grappled with several key members of the industry's testocracy, including James Toback, Paul Schrader, Barry Diller, and Don Simpson, and suffered enough humiliation that she retreated to the safety of The New Yorker, and even then had to bow and scrape to get back into their pages.  (Here's an excerpt from Kellow's book which covers the whole sad tale blow by blow.)

Which brings me to what I actually came here to talk to you about.

I don't really want to go on about Pauline Kael here - much better writers than I have been having their say for weeks, and even Armond White has managed to stop being an idiot-contrarian long enough to evince some insight on the subject - and I certainly don't want to prattle on about Lester Bangs again, except maybe to reattain a soupçon of writerly juju (I wrote a piece about him eight years ago with the intention of never mentioning him again, then almost immediately lapsed into an extended period of writer's block, so perhaps I should show a little more respect to my ludicrously-mustachioed muse/mentor). When I get a little more money, I'll drop the necessary coin to acquire Kellow's bio, and I'll surely get my hands on James Wolcott's book - he's a consistently entertaining scribe, and any memoir that encompasses Norman Mailer, la Pauline and the CBGB's crowd of the seventies is sure to be a pip (and this excerpt seems to bear that out), but I can hold off on the Library of America volume, as I've managed to snag all but a couple of Kael's collections via various trawls through eBay and Powell's, and, as a New Yorker subscriber, I have access to its entire 86-year archive through their website and can access most of her primo film-crit anytime I like. Which is what I was doing when I happened upon a small but most pleasant discovery - Kael's replacement for the last few months of 1979 was none other than Veronica Geng.

Geng's may not be a name that chimes any bells to anyone lacking the blazer badge and laminated ID card of the hardcore humor nerd like myself, and almost none of her work is accessible online without scaling various paywalls (the best I can do is send you here to hear Jonathan Franzen read one of her funniest pieces, "Love Trouble is My Business," along with an equally brilliant turn by her close friend Ian Frazier), but believe me when I tell you that her short humor pieces for The New Yorker and elsewhere place her firmly in the pantheon of the great composers of "casuals," up there with Perelman, Thurber and Allen (and she makes Fran Lebowitz look like Erma Bombeck).  Or better yet, don't believe me - drop a couple of bucks on a copy of Love Trouble and see for yourself.  You'll thank me for it.  Geng had the supreme and most crucial gift a parodist could have, the ability to replicate a plethora of voices and twist and fluff them up just enough to reveal the full contours of their absurdity, not to mention a knack for inspired juxtaposition (my favorite example: a piece which reviewed the Nixon White House tapes in the style of Robert Christgau's "Consumer Guide").  She was also, apparently, as difficult and mercurial a personage as Kael herself in her cranky prime (as this 1999 piece from New York magazine shows).  But that's as may be - what matters is the work she left behind (sadly, she died of brain cancer in 1997), and what remains is largely glorious.  But even I didn't realize until recently that she had a curare-dipped film critic arrow in her considerable quiver.

Geng only contributed five installments of "The Current Cinema" to The New Yorker at the end of '79, and she wrote only sparingly on the subject of celluloid otherwise.  It probably didn't help that most of it coincided with a particularly fallow period in international film - sure, she got to write about Apocalypse Now and Life of Brian, but she also had to write about More American Graffiti and Americathon.  (Okay, full disclosure - I retain some residual fondness for Americathon, as it was one of those movies that played every fifteen minutes on weekday-afternoon premium cable when I was ten years old, it carries a little bit of Firesign Theatre DNA in its bloodstream, it has a pretty cool soundtrack and it features a cameo by the angry young Elvis Costello as the Prime Minister of England, but I'm sure I'd be mortified in the unlikely event that I ever run across it again.) Her film writing, therefore, will probably never be anthologized, which is kind of a shame, since she cast her not-inconsiderable intellect and somewhat jaundiced eye upon the moving picture with the same aplomb that she tackled the likes of the wedding announcements in the New York Times and the life of Henry James in the form of a coming-of-age TV dramedy.  (Buy that damned book, I'm telling you.)  Only Geng could recognize the shared faults and falsities of the G.I. Gurdjieff biopic Meetings with Remarkable Men and the Alan Alda political polemic The Seduction of Joe Tynan and lay them out in capital letters ("SPIRITUAL PROCESSES AS SUBJECTS," "MOTE-IN-THE-MIDDLE-DISTANCE ACTING," "CATECHISM DIALOGUE," "CALCULATED TOUCHES OF DISORDER," "CASUAL USE OF IN-GROUP TERMS IN DIALOGUE"), leaving both pictures smoking on the projection-room floor as if they were filmed on nitrate.  And only she could have written the following, the best writing anyone has ever done or will ever do on Nick Nolte, a passage that took my breath away so brilliantly that I had to write a long-winded blog panegyric to its author just to be able to share it with you:

Nick Nolte, whose strong performance as Hicks, the Marine, in "Who'll Stop the Rain" made me want to see what he did next, seems in danger of specializing in the symptoms of internal injuries.  When Hicks died, in that lone march along the railroad tracks, there was not much visible blood - there was a man whose behavior said he was bleeding to death.  In Nolte's new movie, "North Dallas Forty," he is Phil Elliott, a professional football player for the North Dallas Bulls (based on the Dallas Cowboys); Elliott's bones, muscles, ligaments and nerves have been so often fractured and dislocated, smashed, torn and crushed that he has to start the day with codeine tablets washed down by beer just to dull the pain enough to be able to lift a tweezer and work it up through the cartilage fragments to clear a passage for breathing.  To suggest the extent of the damage, Nolte becomes the virtuoso of his own respiratory tract.  He plays the whole apparatus, from diaphragm to sinuses, as if it were a set of bagpipes.  Phil Elliott is a composition in throat- and chest-clearings, groans, croaks, wheezes, sighs, snuffles, phwhew!s, and serial staccato explosions of breath.  He gives those noises emotional weight, using them the way actors normally use inflections and pauses, and he does it so well that it never screams technique - not even when the soundtrack overstresses it with amplified bone creaks.... 
...When he is not busy puffing on a joint in pursuit of anesthesia, or compressing his mouth into a small oval to pull in air, he activates the three or four sets of long vertical dimples that run parallel to the drooping ends of his blond mustache like parentheses of different sizes.  He can show these one set at a time; but when he lets them all kick in at once, and lifts the inside corners of his brows so they look like the two sides of a pagoda roof sheltering his weary little blue eyes, he is the coolest thing this side of a menthol-cigarette ad.  Sometimes his little eyes go blank and his face goes white and puffy, and his body, which was burned down to pure will in "Who'll Stop the Rain," is flabby, too - so that he looks more like Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy; he is willing to look bad, but we find out what a cool kind of bad it is when he says, "I don't need a healthy body - I do it all with my mind."

Damn.  Top that, Anthony Lane.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The first in a series of writing exercises, so easy you can do it too and so crazy it just might work - all you need to do is take a book, any book, randomly choose three words from any place in the text, and write something quickly using those words as your guideline.  Kind of a cross between improvisation, automatic writing, and just plain fucking around.  The following was completed in about thirty-five minutes...

(carving - successful - exploit)

Jim Grunionne had made a name for himself, quite by accident, in the Port Winestain art community. One Thanksgiving, he had volunteered to do the honors at his then-wife's family's dinner table, carving up the Braun family's sixteen-pound Butterball knockoff.  (They were never particularly wealthy, the Brauns, so they settled for a cheap Korean off-brand turkey each year, usually a Buttonball or a Butterbowl or something similar.  The taste was usually more than adequate, especially to palates already dulled by steady infusions of São Paulo Girl and Heiniekin, but Jim always made a point to avoid their cranberry sauce and never looked too closely at the raisins in the stuffing.)

With an offhanded flourish, Jim took up the carving knife and the long metal thingie he could never remember the name of and set to work with a curious intensity that took the family, most of whom looked upon his career as a flask inspector for a minor drinking vessel concern as "lazy man's work," by surprise.  Most of the Braun males were given to the kind of daily labors that result in broad, muscular shoulders, impressive pectorals and several missing fingers on at least one hand per person (which is why Jim was the best man for the turkey-carving gig by default).  He pinioned himself over the turkey and slid the knife into its flesh, intuitively making incisions that even the rather creatively stunted Brauns recognized as both surgical and artistic.  

Three minutes of lip-bitten, knit-browed labor later, he was done.  And the family, famished though they were, could only sit in silent, slack-jawed wonder at the results.  No one said much - compliments were at an unaffordable premium in this household - but their stunned glances at one another told the tale: it was beautiful.  So much so, in fact, that no one dared take a single slice of Korean turkette meat, lest they sully the purity and artistry of what Jim Grunionne had achieved.  He was the Mozart of meat cutting, that much was clear.  And any salivation that went on around the table that holiday afternoon indicated a much different variety of hunger.

Within the hour, Gary Braun, the second-oldest son in the clan, snuck off to the guest bedroom and made a few preliminary calls on his oversized, eighties-vintage cell phone (after struggling manfully to remove it from the holster attached to his belt with the seven fingers remaining at his disposal).  One of his few friends at Whittaker Chambers Junior College was the step-cousin-in-law of Whitey O'Fay, a talent agent renowned throughout the Moncheche County region as "the man with the golden fingertips."  Blind since birth, owing to an unfortunately-timed prank in the delivery room, he used his remaining senses to intuit what made for great, impressive, salable entertainment, mostly by kneading the chins of the artists in question.  As the area's closest approximation of a superagent, he built up a stable of what one could safely call "singular" talent.  Chad Voogis, the Tantric Barista. Enervated Paul and the Narcoleptettes, a band much in demand at the many depressed-persons' cotillions around town.  D'Artangello Platt, the Human Snifter.  A rogue's storefront gallery of the finest (and usually only) in their respective fields - ear-hairdressers, car taunters, part-time cats, all part of O'Fay's somewhat unstable stable.  And Gary Braun had just the right act to add to it right under his parents' roof.  This was the opportunity of a lifetime of the week.

Unfortunately, Gary had the twin tendencies of getting a) somewhat overexcited and b) drunk, so the contents of the phone calls he made that night were along the highly-slurred lines of "HEY! CUTTING GUY OVER HERE!  BIG KNIFE STAR!  TURKEY ART!"  None of which was adequate to bring across the genius in his midst.  And the next morning, nothing of the evening remained apart from a truly remarkable hangover (enhanced by his own claim to artistic brilliance, the ability to play the drum break from "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" on his neurocranium with his cell phone, which he demonstrated for ninety minutes straight while still in the bedroom, much to the delight and amazement of the family cat).  As a consequence, the Mozart of meat-cutting remained uncelebrated and unremunerated in his lifetime.  Nonetheless, Jim Grunnione would make his mark in the Port Winestain art community, when he accidentally sliced off his left hand at the "Scimitars and Soap" exhibition at the Repository Gallery eleven months later.  This, of course, put a major crimp in his talent, but the story has a happy ending: the proprietor was so impressed by the hand's position on the gallery floor that he offered Grunnione thirty-five dollars to keep it there, cash sufficient to ensure that the Brauns didn't have to purchase an Korean off-brand turkey the following year.  They had just enough for a Belgian one.

Sunday, November 06, 2011


...what better than to watch a movie about a guy who looks like he hasn't slept in ten years?  One of the most obscure titles in the Martin Scorsese filmography, American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (1978) was probably just a quick cine-fix for the director in the middle of his manic post-Taxi Driver/pre-Raging Bull period, but, like pretty much every one of his documentaries, it's highly entertaining and more compelling than some of his "real" pictures.  (Would you rather watch this or New York, New York?  I know which one I'd choose...)  All this is is 53 minutes of mostly sordid anecdotes told by the guy who played small-arms dealer Easy Andy in Taxi Driver, a peripheral (or, as he would say, "periphial") figure if ever there was one - you get the distinct impression that his function in Scorsese's circle in those days had little to do with acting - but he knows how to tell a story.  In fact, for such a little-known film, its influence down the years is pretty impressive - one tale served as the basis for a well-known scene in Pulp Fiction, another was reenacted (and re-told by Prince himself) in Richard Linklater's 2001 Waking Life, and I think that shirt he's wearing turns up in Boogie Nights somewhere.  I was under the impression that Google Video was no more, but evidently not, so here it is in non-chopped-up-YouTube form for your delectation.

(WARNING: Contains footage of George Memmoli with his shirt half-off.)

American Boy also holds the distinction of being the only Scorsese film to date to inspire a sequel - much to the surprise of anyone who's seen the above, Prince is still around thirty-plus years later, and still chatty as hell. Waking Life producer Tommy Pallotta spent a further hour in his company and came away with American Prince (2009), which is as compelling in its way as its predecessor - maybe even more so, since it gives him the opportunity to tell tales of/on Scorsese, Taxi Driver, Liza Minnelli, etc.  Film-geek ambrosia, in other words.  Dig it:

Saturday, November 05, 2011


I'll say this for the greedheads on Wall Street and the corporate puppet-masters who run the country - if not for them, I wouldn't be back on newsprint for the first time in a long time.  Behold, my cover story from the latest issue of Hipfish, Astoria, OR's premiere alternative monthly, "Notes on an Occupation (or 'The Armies of the Damp')." Tolerate!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


...especially since I've actually got assignments, paid assignments at that, with looming deadlines and all the rest of it I should be concentrating on.  But, as I say elsewhere, the only way to accomplish anything is to try and make myself do anything-plus-one.  I'll never clear the bar, so I'll just set it prohibitively high and I'll get more vertical than I would otherwise.  Blah blah blah.  So I'm picking up the "novel" I began and abandoned for National Novel Writing Month 2009 with the intent of adding 50,000 words to it before December 1st.  Mock  Check out my progress if you care to: JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE PAGE REDUX.

(Update:  ehhh, it's almost the end of the month already and it's clearly not happening.  Oh, well, at least it gave me a good excuse to share the following Kids in the Hall routine...)


Tuesday, October 25, 2011



prescription medicine did me no good.  nor did meditation.  not religion nor drinking nor casual sex nor narcotics nor primal screaming nor plaintive moaning nor the i ching nor atlas shrugged nor valley of the dolls nor home footbinding nor hitting inanimate objects with a hammer nor taxidermy via freeze-drying nor ambient karaoke sessions nor committing suicide by proxy by hiring a lookalike and undermining his self-esteem until he leapt satisfyingly under the wheels of an oncoming truck nor fixing the thursday night bingo games at the local retirement complex by giving everyone identical cards and hoping for a really slow riot to break out nor teaching four-year-olds obscenities in aramaic and sending them into bible school with explicit instructions to answer every question with one of them nor wiring up the cat and piping seventies porn soundtracks through him nor bringing gigantic red pencils to tea party rallies and copy-editing their signage nor attempting to achieve hands-off orgasm during job interviews nor shaping expired produce into lawn ornaments nor making my pores whistle nor praying to alan thicke nor spraindancing nor auto-felching nor merkin-perming nor sleep-tweezing... none of them worked.  so i sighed, rolled over and got out of bed.  i'll try again later.


with my penultimate breath, i emitted a feeble cry for help.  no one knew what to make of it.  crowds gathered, quorums were formed, discussions raged on into the night.  finally, a mental-health professional was enlisted.  he listened impassively to the collected evidence, occasionally nodding and drawing pensively on his pipe.  finally, he declared simply that it was clearly a cry for help.  with my last remaining breath, i disagreed.


i used to be an activist.  
now i'm a passivist.


somewhere around the sixteenth hour of our mass bender - we referred to it as a "party," but let's be honest here - the room suddenly stilled.  all was silent.  then the air - that thick fog of smoke both legal and illicit that passed for air in that room, i should say - seemed to part.  it was not a hallucination; we all saw it.  angel?  alien?  we knew not what.  but he hung there in the room, smiled benevolently, and began to sing.  it sang the most beautiful melody any of us had ever heard.  all activity stopped.  some of us wept.  the rest just sat there slack-jawed, stunned by its transcendent beauty.  it continued singing.  then continued some more.  it just wouldn't fucking stop.  after a while, the weeping ceased.  some of us broke our paralysis and tried throwing things at it.  but i guess it was transparent or something and in our condition our aim wasn't too good to begin with.  eventually, we all just got up and left, went down to wendy's and ordered a bunch of stuff off the dollar menu. when we got back, it was gone.  but the whole place smelled like boiled eggs.  and the tv and a bunch of our wallets were gone too. the party kinda went downhill after that.


i was the voice of a generation, but they dubbed over me.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Still stonecutting the Holy Flying Circus post (as if you give a flying, um, circus).  Interestingly, there seems to be a lot of Python in the air this week.  The people of Tunisia, no doubt inspired by memories of the Life of Brian shoot on its soil (do they have soil there? I'm sure Ben Ali had a jar or two), have voted on a new Constitution - and I could hardly call that a coincidence. (Hey, they're already the Beatles of comedy - why can't they be the Plastic People of the Universe, too?)  And, even more propitiously, the Huffington Post has uncovered footage of five-sixths of Python (excepting killjoy Cleese, who opted out) promoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail by essentially (and, at the end, literally) taking apart ABC's short-lived GMA predecessor, AM America.   And by "uncovered," I mean "stumbled upon something that's been sitting on YouTube for four years while obviously fucking around the 'net on Arianna's dime."  (Hey, where can I get a job like that?  I'm available...)  It's such a blast to see these guys in full-on anarchic mode, dodgy video quality, out-of-sync audio, outboard-motor-blade editing and all.  (Not that it isn't also a kick to get a taste of cheesy seventies graphics, ads and promos.)  Fun things to watch for: Terry Gilliam getting all "ugly-American" at the end; Terry Jones' fake mustache (did he bring it with him or did he raid the ABC props department?); Graham Chapman subtly flipping the camera off and not being completely snockered (too early even for him, apparently).  And meanwhile, Saigon is starting to fall - hmmm, makes you think, doesn't it?

(View it below, or go to the HuffPosting itself.  I really don't care what you do with your time.)

Speaking of things that were funny in 1975 - Chevy Chase?  Still a prick.

And speaking of things that have been sitting around on the Web for a while - a brief oral history of the "lost episodes" of SNL.  Wish I'd written this.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


All this talk about comedy bio-pics the other day sent me on a spur-of-the-moment search for the following, one of the very few movies about or featuring Lenny Bruce that isn't haphazardly slung together, tawdry, or just plain depressing.  Honest about his personal troubles without descending into Albert Goldman lip-smacking, appreciative of his innovations without shrieking "GENIUS!" in your face, unflinching about his downfall without indulging in he-died-for-our-sins hyperbole (not to mention a title so brilliantly clever it drives me insane), this is about as good as it gets.  (No real surprise, since the writer/producer/director is Robert B. Weide, who has to his credit excellent biographies of Mort Sahl, W.C. Fields and the forthcoming American Masters episode on Woody Allen.  And he directed the "Beloved Aunt," "The Doll," "Krazee-Eyez Killa," "The Car-Pool Lane" and "Palestinian Chicken" episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm [among others], which means he's probably, quite frankly, funnier than Lenny Bruce ever was.)  If you're a comedy fan-addict, you owe it to yourself to check out Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth:

(You may need some damn codec or something in order to watch this.  You should be able to get what you need right here.)

What?  Embed some related stuff, you say?  Sure.  What the hell, beats writing...

The networks missed out on a good thing by not making this a Saturday morning series:

From the debut episode of Playboy's Penthouse, 1959 (the show's host has recently been classified a "Viagra zombie" by the Federal government and should be avoided at all costs):

And from one doomed junkie (actually two, counting composer Tim Hardin) to another:

Thursday, October 20, 2011


So Holy Flying Circus has turned up, I've watched it, and, until some well-mannered and somewhat apologetic BBC watchdog slaps the uploader with a cease-and-desist-if-it-doesn't-inconvenience-you-sir-and-I-do-apologize-for-the-slap order, you can too:

And, at last the 1979 show that inspired it:

As for Holy Flying Circus, I can report with some relief that I quite liked it.  Relief because I'm one of those unpleasant sods who characterizes his affection for Monty Python in terms like "worship," who has been known to drunkenly spout the text of the "Cheese Shop" sketch the way certain fundamentalists might reel off large chunks of scripture at the slightest provocation (though, to be fair, I have come across very few in my experience who actually do such things, whereas I can name dozens of adenoidal dweebs with no muscle tone and limited social skills given to quoting Python, so which group really poses the greatest threat to our social fabric?), who uses terms like "sods" even though he's never so much as set foot in Great Britain or its remaining protectorates.  So I have somehow managed to elude the irony that, if I didn't like this film, I'd have every chance of sounding like a real-life version of this:

...but I did like HFC, though it could have gone very, very wrong.  The preview clips the BBC posted weren't especially encouraging, particularly the one which featured perhaps the worst joke in the film ("Harry Balls"?  Really?), and the overall remit - let's do a Python biopic like Python would have done! - was, on the face of it, a most unpromising idea.  Trying to replicate the blend of undergrad revue comedy, thesaurean verbal invention, form-and-function-twisting presentational fuckaboutery, astringent social satire and men in suits of armo(u)r hitting other men with rubber chickens with which the magnificent six revolutionized comedy seems like a nigh-impossible thing to do.  As a matter of fact, a quick glance at the new material used to lash together the various repackagings, documentaries and special editions that have popped up over the last decade or so proves that the Pythons themselves can't do it anymore.  (And let's not even speak of Spamalot.)

And then there's the matter of casting - finding the appropriate actors for the job is one of the major challenges for biopics, particularly when dealing with figures who still walk among us or at least have a lot of easily-accessible footage made of them.  ("John Adams? Couldn't get through it - Giamatti sounded nothing like the guy!")  But when the figures being dramatized are comedians, well, that's a whole 'nother container of wrigglers.  (Warning: rambling tangential aside to follow.)  Comedy is hard, all right - just ask those who were foolish enough to try replicating it.  Take Bob Fosse's Lenny (1974), please - a pretty good film on its own merits with a fine lead performance by Dustin Hoffman, but the guy he's playing comes off more like a slightly jittery professor of semantics rather than the man who'd spritz Pearl Bailey in the face with a fire extinguisher to get a laugh. You're left wondering just why this twinkly, amiable little fellow was considered such a threat to the social fabric. (However, as portrayals of Lenny Bruce go, that's far from the worst of it.  I don't have the heart to blurt it out, so I encourage anyone who believes that Lenny suffered no worse indignities than being unfairly persecuted, hounded to his death and having the police let a conga line of photographers in to snap his bloated, naked corpse to go here and scroll to the bottom of the cast list.)  Lenny laid down the template for most of the dramas about comics to follow - he/she/they made millions of people laugh, but good heavens, what miserable human beings they were - a premise juicy enough to keep attracting writers, directors and big-time thespians again and again.  Robert Downey, Jr. played Chaplin, Geoffrey Rush did a turn as Peter Sellers, Jim Carrey portrayed Andy Kaufman, Michael Chiklis looked to fill the shoes of the mighty Curly Howard (and I seem to remember Chiklis playing another beloved comic icon, but I appear to have repressed all memory of it, as I suspect he has as well)... on and on it goes, and the results are generally the same: the actors manage the drama with aplomb, but when it comes time to recreate that for which their subjects are remembered in the first place, something always winds up missing.  Actors can pull off playing rock stars, for example, without too much trouble - they can lip-sync if they have to, get choreographers in to perfect their crotch-grabs, and CGI their hip-swivels if need be, and then you can get on with the more crucial task of pulling sinks out of walls - but portraying comedians winds up being another thing entirely.  Why is that?  Maybe it's because what makes the great comedians so great is far more elusive - most of the greats probably didn't even understand it themselves, which contributed to them being such miserable bastards.  You can imitate mannerisms and delivery and still never get at the true spark of madness beneath the wacky surface. The element of surprise endemic to the best comedy is also much harder to achieve when required to recreate classic bits, characters and routines.  All of which adds up to a fatal flaw - no matter how skilled the actors are, they almost never manage to be... oh, what's the word I'm looking for?... oh yes, funny.  (This flattening-out process doesn't only affect mere actors, either - consider 1986's Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, wherein Richard Pryor is unconvincingly portrayed... by Richard Pryor.)

Others I know have disagreed with me about HFC, and perhaps my positive response to it was affected by watching Not Only, But Always - a BBC production about the relationship between Peter Cook and Dudley Moore - just beforehand.  If there's any one of the Pythons' rough contemporaries I admire as much, if not more, than them, it's Peter Cook.  "Genius" is a word I generally disdain, "comic genius" even more so - I reserve the term for those few whose brains are (mis-)wired in a particular way, especially if it enables them to fabricate an entire, skewed comic universe out of whole cloth.  Jonathan Winters?  Genius. Spike Milligan?  Genius.  John Cleese?  A brilliant, thoughtful man blessed with a gift for comic construction and mad logic, but not a genius.  (Cleese would agree, incidentally, and I quote: "It was almost discouraging... Whereas most of us would take six hours to write a good three-minute sketch, it actually took Peter three minutes to write a three-minute sketch.  I always thought he was the best of us, and the only one who came near being a genius, because genius, to me, has something to do with doing it much more easily than other people."  So there.)   I can't think of any other star in the Brit-com firmament since his heyday who deserves the title, at least not until you stumble across Chris Morris.  (And Morris, unlike those mentioned above, knows how to harness and utilize his gift, which makes him that much more remarkable - blessed with a unique gift for spontaneous absurdity but also focused enough to devise and construct a complex infrastructure in which to house it.  The 1993 BBC radio series Why Bother?, where Morris [in character as a variation of his pompous On the Hour/The Day Today newsman] interviewed Cook [in his guise as the quietly insane British peer Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling], stands tall as the final flowering of Cook's genius before his 1995 death, in no small measure because, for once, he was evenly matched - Morris able to steer Cook out of reflexive cul-de-sacs, scoring strong conceptual/attitudinal hits of his own, and meticulously winnowing down the resulting hours-long improv sessions into tight, seamless ten-minute blocks for broadcast.  Well, hell, since I'm so high on embedding these days and I've once again wandered well off the point, you might as well listen to this while I try to find my way back to the main road:)

Done?  Okay.  

I wouldn't claim that Not Only, But Always defames Peter Cook's memory per se*, but a steady diet of biopics (and biographies in general) renders it drearily predictable.  Watch/read a few and you internalize the structure - start near the end, flash back to the beginning, then follow the protagonist through his early bursts of brilliance (if he hasn't suffered a defining childhood tragedy, that is), his struggles against offended/uncomprehending audiences, meeting/marrying his first wife, the previously offended/uncomprehending audience suddenly "getting" him, the skyrocket to fame and fortune, the drugs, the alcohol, the groupies, neglecting/abandoning the first wife, meeting/pining for/courting/marrying the second (inevitably more glamorous) wife, scandal, downfall, washed-upitude, spitting on the people who boosted him in the first place, months - no, years of dissolution, the disintegration of the second marriage, the years on the skids, rehab and/or third wife, reconciliation/wiping off the spit from those old, abandoned colleagues, the big comeback, and then either fade out on his triumph (if the subject is still alive or the director's arm's been twisted) or quickly descend back into dissolution and/or ironic (because he had cleaned himself up those last few months, his friends claimed!  He never looked better!  If it weren't for that one stupid night...) demise.  Even NO, BA's winking self-referentialism - the black and white framing device where Pete and Dud, Peter and Dudley's famed working-class git characters, sit in a theater and comment on those same biopic clichés - is in itself such a cliché at this post-post-modernist juncture that it's no more than cute.  

(* You know, I'm looking at it again and scratch that - Peter Cook was clearly a complicated, sometimes very troubled man, and compressing lives into their most dramatic moments is part and parcel of the biopic game, but if Cook were as unrelentingly withering, miserable and vicious at all times as this film makes him out to be, no one would have put up with him for twenty seconds, genius or no.)

Aw, hell, take a look at it:

Okay, so let's cut to the chase, a mere ten days after starting this blog post: you can probably recognize the big problem with comedy biopics from watching a few minutes of the above, and the big problem is this - they are just not funny.  Off-stage, for the purposes of drama, you can count on a fairly grim slog through endless exposition-as-dialogue

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Insufferable comedy nerd that I am, I can't help but be somewhat curious about Holy Flying Circus, a film broadcast last night on BBC4 that concerns itself with the furor that arose around the release of Monty Python's Life of Brian 32 years ago.  Curious in no small part because it's kicked up a bit of controversy-dust itself, albeit of a far more humdrum variety: the Pythons themselves don't think much of it.  Seems the picture takes some liberties with the facts.  Well, I haven't seen it yet (and won't, until it somehow falls off the back of a lorry onto the Internet), so I can't say, but judging from this preview clip, it would seem that all concerned were scrupulous in crafting a cinema-verite-styled narrative that'd put the Maysles brothers to shame:

However it turned out, it pales in comparison to what followed Holy Flying Circus' broadcast last night: the full episode of Friday Night, Saturday Morning that inspired it.  For those of you not versed in Python lore (how does it feel to be attractive to women?), this particular edition of the weekly chat show featured John Cleese and Michael Palin debating the merits of Brian with the Bishop of Southwark and ex-Punch editor-turned-devout-stick-in-the-mud-Catholic Malcolm Muggeridge.  It may surprise you (or maybe not) that the two Pythons make a serious, well-reasoned argument for the film, while Bish and Mugg (who missed the first 15 minutes of the screening, and thus the scenes establishing that Graham Chapman's Brian was intended to be a contemporary of Christ, not the big man himself - not, one can assume, that it would have made much difference to them) spend their time playing to the gallery, making cheap shots a-plenty and eventually driving nicest-man-in-Great-Britain Palin into a barely-suppressed rage (which, in itself, renders it a must-see).  It's odd, considering how all things Pythonic have been ceaselessly repackaged, biographized, documentarizized and just plain exploited (yeah, Eric, I'm looking at you), but the debate, a Holy Gr- er, blessed elusive drinking vessel of Pythonophiles that, unlike other such dream-fetish items as the full run of At Last the 1948 Show or the Graham Chapman sketch-com pilot Out of the Trees, had not been wiped, destroyed or left behind in a toilet stall at Victoria Station, had never been rebroadcast in its entirety until last night.  This is the most complete version out there at the present moment:

...but, again, now that the whole thing's been shown at last, maybe it'll spontaneously appear somewhere over the next few days.  (I'll forbear the expected discussion about whether Brian would have had the same effect had it appeared today for the time being, but I will just note that the host of Friday Night, Saturday Morning was Tim Rice, the guy who wrote the lyrics for a musical that actually was about Jesus, and thus could be said to be a true mockery of the Christians' main man, given that Scripture doesn't go much into His song stylings.  Squint hard enough and you may consider that ironic.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


  • Robyn Hitchcock: "I've Run Out of Varieties of Fish to Write Songs About"
  • Henry Rollins Decides to Speak Only When Spoken To, Introduces New Fragrance: "It Smells Like Testosterone and Pain"
  • Ian McCulloch Makes Self-Deprecating Comment
  • Morrissey Named Wendy's Spokesman: "A Couple of These Baconators and I Don't Feel Cranky Anymore"
  • Postmaster Admits Mistake, Starts Delivering Newsmagazines Published After 1987 to Jello Biafra's House
  • Robert Smith: "So That's How You Apply Lipstick"
  • David Bowie Has Original Idea, Cerebral Hemorrhage
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction Somehow Still Exist
  • Iggy Pop Hospitalized After Body Rejects Shirt
  • Lou Reed Records Album With Metallica


Recently, a friend posted a link to this blog on his Facebook page, in an attempt, perhaps, to shame me into, y'know, doing something with it. If that was his intent, then mission accomplished - as with so many things, I've let this once-promising domicile of wretched wordplay and smirky self-promotion fall into disrepair. So I've gussied up the place a touch, as you see, and hope to furnish the place with fresh posts on a semi-regular basis. More than ever, reacquiring the chops and discipline I once evinced in my days as a moderately-promising scribe is crucial (I won't go into detail here, but this has been a year of horrific personal reversals and disappointments, along with a few triumphs which I need to use as springboards to bounce out of the all-too-familiar troughs I habitually fall back into. Re-establishing good habits and building up certain atrophied creative muscles may possibly be my way out of these old self-defeating cycles o' mine). So, the goal here is to try and post something new every day, even if I'm just linking and/or embedding stuff. Expect a fair amount of banality and clunkiness here at the start, and feel free to goad, prod and harass me through any and all available channels if you think it will help me step up my game. Okay, damn it, gonna crank up the Prefab Sprout (to the extent that one can crank up Prefab Sprout) and limp out onto the field. Let's play...

Monday, February 14, 2011


If'n you didn't already know, I wrote and performed a second evening of humorous-simulating monologues and readings, THE DAY THE MIRTH STOOD STILL: ANOTHER EVENING NEAR WILLIAM HAM, this past month and managed to get the whole damned thing up on the YouTubes. Here is one of the best bits from the show -

...and if you liked that, you can viddy the remaining 13 parts hyar.

And as part of my promotional campaign - actually, this pretty much constitutes my entire promotional campaign - for the show, my buddy Leonard Pierce graciously allowed me to appear on the latest edition of his PetardCast, featuring a lengthy and sometimes coherent-on-my-part conversation with me and a boffo bit in which I whip out an imitation that at least 30% of the time somewhat resembles Lou Reed. Go here to hear it - satisfaction guaranteed.*

(* Not a guarantee.)

Monday, January 03, 2011


7:00 PM – (EEE!) Excess Hollywood. Tonight: Miley Cyrus’ Coke-and-aspirin binge, behind the scenes at Glee’s special Caligula episode, and Tinseltown’s wackiest vajazzle mishaps.

(BROMO) Hoard’oeuvres. Featured: a broom closet full of canapes, an enormous crock of what we hope is tapenade, and a pile of crackers as big as the Ritz.

(VH3.14159265) Behind and Slightly to the Left of the Music: Sniff ‘N The Tears. Apparently Sniff was a bit of a prick. (REPEAT)

7:30 PM – (OLD VICELODEON) iClaudius. Spencerius gets upset when Gibbous wins the best locker in school , so he poisons and disembowels him live on the Internet.

(FLAN) America’s Least-Funny Animals. Semi-finals: blind, one-legged spaniel vs. malnourished ferret with alopecia.

(FOXTOONS) Little Johnny Birch. (REPEAT)

(D&C) Magical Realist Housewives of Atlanta. Lena prepares to throw a party for HeHe’s one-woman show/CD single release; Cynndie seeks an apology from Jinalle for joking about her manicure in public; Ephaedra turns into a crow.

8:00 PM – (BMTV) 16 and Oozing.

(GULP) Ironic Chef. The eight remaining chefs each claim that their dishes aren’t “meant” to taste “good,” that a PBR sauce is “better” than one made with white wine, and that those beard hairs are “supposed” to be in the soup.

(EVICT) House Humpers. (PREMIERE) A Xenia, Ohio couple want a two-story, three-bedroom home with a walk-in closet and an ample wine cellar to rub up against. (last show of the series)

8:30 PM – No programming. Satellite being cleaned.

9:00 PM – (BASURA) Las Ronchas de Amor. Si usted puede leer esto, se le poco ser deportados.

(TDM) The Big How-Do-You-Do of 1938 (1943). A bunch of wacky hoopdedoo, ooh-la-la and hummana-hummana featuring an all-star cast of zanies, wackadoos and froot loops, most of whom later died horrifically. Gummo Marx, Burntcork Whegro, The Conjoined Sisters. (B&W)

9:30 PM – (UH) Is That Sausage? Spoiler alert: no, it isn’t.

(IBS) Schoolhouse Rock: The Lost Episodes.
Long-suppressed installments of the famed educational cartoon series, including “Preposition H,” “Six is a Vengeful Number,” and “Semicolonoscopy.”

(N/A) This Week in Curling. Either about the Canadian ice sport or advances in hair care. No one can say for sure.

10:00 PM – (ERM) Ambivalence with Gerard Desjardins (or Someone Else). A hard-shadow-boxing look somewhere on the periphery of politics, unless somebody objects. No holds barred, but none particularly encouraged, either. (Note: this program may cease to exist at any time, in which case this channel may broadcast the film The Non-Commitments, or something else, or nothing at all. But don’t quote us on that.)

(YIN) Mom, There’s a Guy With an Evil Glint in His Otherwise Dead Eyes – Can He Sleep Over? (1992) A cautionary tale for mothers everywhere – don’t allow your daughter to appear in TV-movies like this. Budapest Ramada, Judith Baxter-Bertinelli, Rondo Hatton Jr.

10:30 PM – (BULK) Rod Serley’s Night Galleria. “They’re Gnawing on Ted Killy’s Foot” – a dissipated adventurer (Arte Johnson) takes a bet to stay overnight in a haunted doll factory, where he’s tormented by the ghosts of a thousand intestinal parasites (voice of Jo Ann Pflug), one or more of whom might be either Satan or the Wolfman (Walter Koenig). It transpires he could actually be in Hell (Larry Storch) or an adaptation (Stella Stevens) of an H.P. Lovecraft (David McCallum) short story (Richard Beymer), where time (Rosey Grier) keeps repeating (Keir Dullea) endlessly (Simon Oakland). Stay for the ironic twist ending (Sue Lyon), where the writer (Susan Anspach) forgets to write one (Bob Crane).

(SWATCH) Craftwork with Kraftwerk. Florian Schneider painstakingly makes an analog synth cosy, all for the sake of a dumb pun.

11:00 PM – (BONGTOONS) Stick Figures Vomiting.

(GUH) Late Evening with the Smirky Drunk Chick and Her Sycophantic Gay Friends. Tonight’s special guests: none.

(NNN) The News in Shouted, Incoherent Fragments. Repeats every hour; features Weeping the Headlines (:10), Financial Update with Stifled Giggles (:27), and Weather in a Bucket (:43).

11:30 PM – (BBC CANADA U.S.) There’s a Bleeding Pouf in My Sodding Flat! One of Great Britain’s most enduring sitcoms, by which we mean it never seems to fucking end. Complete marathon of every episode ever aired, all three of them. Felicity Mendacity, Roddy Brooke-Troutt, Graeme O’Koch.

(HISCOVERAGE) Len & Julie Have Seventeen Kids, Eight of Whom Have No Face Including Three of the Four Who Weigh Over 300 Pounds Each (SEASON FINALE) After the Discoverage Network merges with the Historical Channel, the family is subjected to forced sterilization and a modern death camp. The feel-good episode of the year.

12 MID. – (ALL CHANNELS) Time-Life’s “Soft Rock Hits of the Seventies” Infomercial Repeated Until Dawn.