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Brother Theodore, one of David Letterman’s all-time most memorable guests, lectures us on ‘Foodism’
10:03 am


David Letterman
Brother Theodore

[We’re flying our freak flag at half mast this week and relaxing a tiny bit over the holidays, so here’s one of my favorite posts from the DM archives]

“My name, as you may have guessed, is Theodore. I come from a strange stock. The members of my family were mostly epileptics, vegetarians, stutterers, triplets, nailbiters. But we’ve always been happy.”—Brother Theodore

I’m not sure this story qualifies as an actual anecdote or just a meandering way of introducing an amazing YouTube clip, but here goes nuthin’...

As a lad growing up in Wheeling, WV in the 1970s, at approximately the age of twelve, I decided that I was no longer going to eat the food I was being served by my parents. In a home where greasy pan-fried hamburgers (or “Steakums”) were the typical main course and Kraft macaroni and cheese substituted for the “vegetable group,” I simply wanted to eat healthier. My parents were not very happy about this this demand—for that is what it was—and it seemed really insulting to them, but what could they do? The severity of my new diet must have really taken them by surprise. I became, pretty much a Fruitatarian, or a raw foodist, years before this was common. What influenced my twelve-year-old mind to do something like this was an obscure book I found in the local library with the distinctly unappetizing title, Mucusless Diet Healing System by Dr. Arnold Ehret.

I won’t go into the details of the diet, which extols the value of avoiding “mucus” and “pus” in your food—sounds like an admirable goal, right?—but suffice to say that while Dr Ehret’s work still has many followers—he’s thought of as the founder of Naturopathy—many diet experts consider him a total quack. But I am not here to debate the merits of his ideas, pro or con, merely to offer some brief context before I send you off to read this short essay, The Definitive Cure of Chronic Constipation.

Okay? You got that? At the very least skim it. The language he uses is quite distinctive isn’t it? The total disgust he expresses about the workings of the digestive system is almost Nietzschean in its peculiar character. This absolutist tone must’ve contributed greatly to my pre-teen interest in the diet.

Now flash-forward to the late 1990s, New York City. I had become friends with the then 91-year-old Theodore Gottlieb, better-known as the infamous dark comedian Brother Theodore, a big influence on monologists Eric Bogosian, Lydia Lunch and Spaulding Gray, who had been performing his totally insane one-man show at the tiny 13th Street Theater in Greenwich Village for ages and was a frequent guest on David Letterman’s late night talkshow during the 1980s.

At his age, it was not much of an exaggeration to say that Theodore had “been around forever.” He was delivering lines like “The only thing that keeps me alive is the hope of dying young” long before I was born. What was a great gag when he was, say, 50 years old, and then to STILL be delivering a line like that at the age of 93, as he did on my UK television series, Disinformation, well that existential tension is what made his nonagenarian performances so incredibly spell-binding.

His show was in the form of a stern lecture. It was nearly impossible to tell if this was an act you were seeing or if he was utterly batshit crazy, a berserk “genius” impervious to laughter as long as an audience bought tickets. The props were a chair, a table, a chalk board and a stryrofoam cup. There was a single spotlight. If you were anywhere near the stage in that little theater he could totally scare the shit out of you. Of course, whenever I brought friends, I took them right down the front!

It was an act, I can assure you. Theodore in real life was a mellow old bohemian guy who lived several lives in his 94 years. He’d been in Dachau (his release had been secured by Albert Einstein, his mother’s adulterous lover) and he’d also been on Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and most famously on Late Night with David Letterman (Theodore, along with Harvey Pekar, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Captain Beefheart, was one of the most memorable and emblematic oddball Letterman guests of his early era).  He was in The Burbs playing Tom Hank’s great uncle and was the voice of “Gollum” in The Hobbit cartoon. He had a cameo in Orson Welles’ The Stranger. He was even in a porno movie, an X-rated parody of Jaws called Gums (Theo plays the boat captain, in a thankfully non-balling role. The former concentration camp prisoner is also seen, rather inexplicably, wearing a Nazi SS uniform for most of the film). In his nineties he was dating a woman in her mid-forties. He rode a bike around New York City until he was well into his eighties. Theodore was an old Beatnik, that’s the way I saw him. I think that’s largely the way he saw himself.

And talk about a weird way to make a living! He really wasn’t anything like his crazed monk act in real life, though. And let me tell you, when you are in your thirties and have a friend who is in their nineties… you learn things about life. Not all of them good, either. 94 years is a long time to live. Too long, if you ask me. I’m quite sure he felt that way, too.

Theodore apparently had great difficulty memorizing lines, even his own material and so he only really ever did two major monologues—he’d switch off between them when he felt like it—for over 40 years. One was called “Foodism”—we’ll get to this one in a minute—and the other was called “Quadrupidism” where he’d extol the virtues of human beings getting down on all fours (everything went to hell when our ancestors stood up according to his theories).

One day I was visiting Theodore at his apartment and I was looking at his sparse book shelf. On it sat The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Baudelaire’s Les Fleur du Mal, an Edgar Alan Poe anthology, The Portable Nietzsche, some St Augustine, and… ta da… The Mucusless Diet Healing System by Dr Arnold Ehret. I remarked to him that I myself was a pre-teen adherent to Arnold Ehret’s unconventional ideas about diet and he replied that it was the inspiration for his “Foodism” monologue.  “I merely exaggerated his writings. Just slightly. That was all it took!”

My jaw hit the ground. He’d managed to craft one of the most brilliant comic monologues of all time based on Ehret’s zany diet-sprach. I was awestruck at how amazing this revelation really was. I mean… how creative!!!

You read that essay about constipation, right? Promise me? Now go watch this extended excerpt from the “Foodism” lecture performed on Late Night with David Letterman in the mid-80s.

More Brother Theodore after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Lester Chambers’ Time Has Come Today: How Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian is helping a music legend get back

Earlier this year, Lester Chambers posted a photo on his Facebook page that went viral. It showed the septuagenarian singer holding up a statement that explained how the record business had ripped him off for 5 decades:

I AM the former Lead Singer of a 60’s BAND. I performed before thousands at Atlanta Pop 2, Miami Pop, Newport Pop, Atlantic Pop. I did NOT squander my money on drugs or a fancy home. I went from 1967-1994 before I saw my first Royalty Check.

The Music Giants I recorded with only paid me for 7 of my Albums.

I have NEVER seen a penny in Royalties from my other 10 Albums I recorded. Our Hit Song was licensed to over 100 Films, T.V. & Commercials WITHOUT our permission. One Major TV Network used our song for a national Commercial and my payment was $625. dollars. I am now 72, trying to live on $1200 a month. Sweet Relief, a music charity is taking donations for me.

Only the 1% of Artist can afford to sue.

I AM THE 99%

Like nearly everyone else I was moved by Lester’s plight and posted his picture on Dangerous Minds. Co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian was also moved by Lester’s photo, but he was inspired to do something even more positive about it - to help Lester record a new album.

Alexis contacted Dangerous Minds and explained how he ‘wanted to reach out to tell you about a new project we’ve been working on together.’ I wrote back, asking for more information, and Alexis kindly obliged.
Paul Gallagher: When and how did you first hear about Lester Chambers’ problems?

Alexis Ohanian: I heard about it when that photo he posted made the #1 spot of r/Music.

Paul Gallagher: What did this inspire you to do? Why?

Alexis Ohanian: At the time, not much. We were planning and running other campaigns for breadpig like this one for the novel Trial of the Clone as well as keeping up the heat on DC to fight for internet freedom, which included an awesome bus tour across the heartland. Things calmed down a bit this fall and we reassessed our ‘wishlist’ and tried reaching out to Lester. I want to make the world suck less and I’ve tried to help promote all the awesome people (like Lester) who are doing the inspirational work the internet is so perfect for sharing. It’s one thing to talk about how important internet freedom is to all Americans, it’s another thing to actually show it. He’d been robbed and I thought there was a chance the internet public could make it right.

Paul Gallagher: What happened?

Alexis Ohanian: Kat (who works with me) and I reached out and we were on a conference call with Lester and his son within a day or two. They were incredibly hospitable and opened their home and lives to me and my video crew for a day of shooting with only the promise that we’d do our best to help them make a successful kickstarter.

Paul Gallagher: How important has the internet been in all of this? Why?

Alexis Ohanian: Extremely. The internet is an incredible network that cuts out the middle man by connecting supply with demand—in this case, artists with their fans. In the worst cases, these middlemen, the record labels, have abused artists like Lester, but this new technology is forcing labels (and there are good ones!) to work for their artists and settle for a much smaller (more reasonable) percentage since artists have more and more options every day to find an audience. Look at the hundreds of musicians on kickstarter alone who get funded for rather esoteric albums that never would’ve gotten in the door of a traditional record label. For instance, I love living in a world where a Daft Punk tribute via New Orleans brass band gets $20,000 to make their art. That only happens in a world with the open internet.

Paul Gallagher: What’s happening with Lester now? What’s your involvement?

Alexis Ohanian: We just released his two Christmas tracks (early!) to all of his backers and he and his son are getting things in order to go into the studio to record this album! I’m just helping drive awareness while the kickstarter campaign is still running. This is all Lester—at last, he’ll have an album that’s all his.

Paul Gallagher: What can we do?

Alexis Ohanian: If you can afford to, contributing to his campaign is the best thing you can do for Lester, but even if you can’t, you have power in your network—please spread the word! Every upvote, tweet, and like counts.

For more information on ‘Lester’s Time Has Come Today by Lester Chambers and Alexis Ohanian’ check here.

Check here for Lester’s Facebook page and here for Alexis Ohanian’s website.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:

The Legendary Lester Chambers and the Reality of the Music Business for the 99%

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Watch the five best cult British movies you’ve (probably) never seen - selected by Julian Upton
07:10 am



Picture this. Someone’s got a gun to your head, and you’ve got to recite great British bands. The second you stop, you’re dead… Well, it’d be an awkward way to go about your life, but I daresay you could still enjoy a surprisingly long innings. Now imagine it was films. Cripes! “Ummm, Brief Encounter, Withnail and I, The Life of Brian, Performance, The Wicker Man… ummm…4 Weddings and a…” BANG!

Don’t get me wrong, the Brits have made many good flicks, but they feel so over-familiar that you can find yourself suspecting that they constitute a fig-leaf covering a peculiar national nudity…

Enter Julian Upton and his terrific new book Offbeat, a guide to the predominantly uncharted terrain of great cult British cinema, with sparkling reviews of over a hundred lost classics, along with other interviews and essays documenting the highs and lows of the British film industry “from the buoyant leap in film production in the late fifties to the dying embers of popular domestic cinema in the early eighties.”

Months in advance of the worldwide paperback release, one hundred copies only were released yesterday by Headpress, in a beautiful fully illustrated, hardcover, heavy paper edition, with head and tail bands, plus a ribbon (!) available right here and here only for the special price of £22.50 (which is like $33-and-a-tiny-tiny-tiny-bit, plus a couple of dollars US postage). And Mr Upton has been good enough to personally compile and introduce - exclusively for Dangerous Minds - five of the best cult British movies you’ve (probably) never seen. Plus, you can watch them all here, one after the other over the course of your weekend, or at least until some lawyer somewhere gets them taken the fuck down

1. Cash On Demand (Quentin Lawrence. 1961)


“This taut little thriller about a stuffy bank manager, Fordyce, hoodwinked into helping to rob his own bank on Christmas Eve is perhaps the ne plus ultra of the 60s British B Movie. The premise is ingenious, the pacing drumskin-tight and the performances from Peter Cushing (as the angular, priggish Fordyce) and Andre Morell (as his louche, villainous tormentor) first rate. Imagine a well-mannered Dog Day Afternoon without guns or loosened clothing. But Cash On Demand is no less tense, gripping and enjoyable. It’s just that the English prefer their bank heists to have rather less shouting and carrying on.”

2. Night of the Eagle (Sidney Hayers. 1962)


“Often compared to — but too often overshadowed by — Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 similarly-titled British classic Night of the Demon, this is a minor masterpiece in its own right. A heady tale of horror set on a university campus, Night of the Eagle sees supernatural skeptic Professor Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) shocked to discover that his own wife is a fervent practitioner of the occult arts. Eagle moves at a faster clip than most British films of the period but it doesn’t stint on atmosphere, building effectively to a crescendo of terror as Taylor finds himself embroiled in a modern-day nightmare of sorcery and witchcraft.”

3. The Reckoning (Jack Gold. 1969)


“Released a couple of years after The Reckoning, Get Carter trod the same path and ultimately stole its thunder. But The Reckoning is arguably the better film. Much more than just a brutal revenge drama, it astutely juxtaposes the violent honor of the provincial slums with the aggressive backstabbing of the business world. Its anti-hero Michael Marler (Nicol Williamson) is a northern thug-made-good-down-south, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots, and when he discovers his dying father has been worked over by a couple of hoods back home, he hotfoots it to Liverpool to administer some justice. Williamson gives a powerhouse performance, and The Reckoning is as deep (and, occasionally, as funny) as it is tough.”

4. The Lovers! (1972)


“The ubiquitous 1970s big-screen sitcom spin-off was not noted for its cinematic style or wit, but there were a few examples of the genre that stood out: Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ The Likely Lads (1976) and Porridge (1979), and Jack Rosenthal’s The Lovers! (1972). But where the former are still staples of the Christmas TV schedules, The Lovers!, based on a Granada sitcom starring Richard Beckinsale and Paula Wilcox (in their first major roles), sadly never gets an airing. This is a pity as this film version is laugh-out-loud funny and stands up a lot better than many a British sex comedy of the era, accurately capturing a post-sixties’ mood of frustration where provincial men were continually scuppered in their efforts to locate any actual evidence of ‘the permissive society’.”

5. The Black Panther (Ian Merrick. 1977)


“This harrowing dramatization of the life and crimes of armed-robber-turned-murderer Donald Neilson — who became known as the Black Panther and was finally captured following the kidnap-murder of teenager Lesley Whittle in the Midlands in 1975 — was roundly dismissed as exploitation upon its release. But in fact it is a sober and measured reconstruction of the events in question, with admirable attention to detail and a striking central performance by Donald Sumpter as Neilson. In its exploration of an unhinged, loner psyche, it also works as something of a British companion piece to Taxi Driver. Definitely ripe for reappraisal.”

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
Johnny Rotten plays his own records on Capital Radio, 1977

Recorded at a moment in time when the young Mr. Rotten was routinely getting his head kicked in by skinheads and hassled by the police, this is probably my single favorite bit of punk rock audio ephemera (actually, it’s a tie with the infamous Slits college radio interview, but that’s another blog post…).

What am I talking about? A guest appearance by Johnny Rotten on the Capital Radio program of deep-voiced DJ Tommy Vance. Rotten/Lydon was invited to play records from his own collection and talk about them. He comes across as whip-smart, honest and refreshingly free from much—if any—social programming and religious brainwashing. He discusses the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McClaren (he calls him the fifth member of the band), being educated in a Catholic school he despised and his passionate love of music. There’s no put-on here or any hint of the deliberate obnoxiousness of later years.

Where did you go to school?

[sighs] This poxy Roman Catholic thing. All they done was teach me religion. Didn’t give a damn about your education though. That’s not important is it? Just as long as you go out being a priest.

Which you haven’t become.

Well no. That kind of forcing ideas on you like when you don’t want to know is bound to get the opposite reaction. They don’t let you work it out for yourselves. They tell you you should like it. And that’s why I hate schools. You’re not given a choice. It’s not free.

It’s an inevitable question, and a corny question, but can you think of any better system of educating people?

No I can’t [laugh], I just know that one’s not right. I wouldn’t dare, it’s out of my depth, I have nothing to do with that side of things. I haven’t been to university and studied all the right attitudes, so I don’t know. No I haven’t.

[fades in Doctor Alimantado - ‘Born For A Purpose ‘]

This is it, ‘Born For A Purpose’, right? Now this record, just after I got my brains kicked out, I went home and I played it and there’s a verse which goes, ‘If you have no reason for living, don’t determine my life’. Because the same thing happened to him. He got run over because he was a dread. Very true.

The music he plays is a revelation.  Can, some rare soul, Tim Buckley, Peter Hammill (he accuses Bowie of copping the Van Der Graaf Generator front man’s moves), Captain Beefheart (he plays “The Blimp”!), Nico, John Cale and of course, lots of reggae. When Rotten plays the dub b-side by Culture (the track with the lopping bass, barking dogs, crying babies and blaring car horns) you can hear the blueprint for the PiL sound that would come along just a few months later.

It must be said that for a 20-year-old he’s got astonishingly good taste in music and for that time period? Please! This really is an incredible thing to listen to. For the musical education alone, it’s great, but listening to the thoughts of this controversial, brilliant young man at the height of powers is a sublime pleasure.

It even contains the radio commercials from the broadcast. This has been making the rounds for years, but this version is clean and in real stereo, the best I’ve ever heard.

A transcript of the interview and a track listing can be found here.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Figures in a Landscape: Classic documentary on sculptor Henry Moore

When the poet Stephen Spender visited Henry Moore at his home in 1960, he asked the sculptor ‘what were the differences of his aims when he did an abstract drawing, or a representational one, or a portrait.’ Moore replied that there were at least 5 or 6 different kinds of drawing used in the process of creating work.

(1) The kind of drawing he made when he was trying to study the organic form of nature of an object. This was the kind of drawing which consisted of trying to find something out. He said in this connection that it was impossible for anyone to do drawings without making discovery about the structure of objects.

(2) Trying to describe the objects, for example, when he did a drawing of his daughter or some other life figure, or perhaps even of a bone.

(3) The kind of drawing he did when he was trying to clear his mind of an idea for a piece of sculpture: to plan it out, to see it from different angles and so on, to get an idea of what it would look like.

(4) Drawings which he would call exploratory. He would start simply perhaps by scribbling a few lines and then discovering from them a shape which led on to something else. These are the kind of drawings which arise from doodling.

(5) Drawings in which he attempted to explore the metamorphosis of objects. He would draw something realistically and then try to discover how it could take some other shape. He would turn realistic subjects into an abstraction through drawing it first realistically and then abstracting from it.

(6) What he called ‘imaginative’ drawings in order to create an atmosphere of dream. In this category, he would draw figures standing against a background.

Moore was influenced by Picasso (the solidity of flesh, the abstraction of figures) and primitive art, in particular Mexican which he described as ‘a channel for expressing strong hopes, beliefs and fears.’  Moore’s work continued in the tradition of celebrating the human condition. He aimed to bring an affinity between the human figure and the landscape. At times his abstract forms were not as easily assimilated by the viewer as more classical presentations - their scale and lack of identifiable facial features left the viewer to ponder their own humanity and role in the world. Sadly these days this seems to mean stealing Moore’s sculptures for scrap metal.

There was also great repetition with Moore - the lessons he had learnt in sketching the shadowy figures of Londoners sheltering from the Blitz in the Underground tunnels, was re-created time and again, while his attraction to mother and child most likely came from the personal heartache of his wife, Irina’s miscarriages, and the eventual joy at the birth of his daughter Mary.

In 1951, film-maker John Read (son of art critic Herbert Read) made the first documentary on Henry Moore, in which the sculptor explained the tradition of his work, his influences, and the process by which he created his own sculptures - form sketches, drawing, to models and casts.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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