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Jim Jefferies: American Idol Smasher
06.24.2014
08:14 pm

Topics:
Pop Culture

Tags:
Jim Jefferies


 
This is a guest post from Chicago-based writer Graham Rae

What would you call an edgy Australian comedian who viciously riffs on the humor inherent in Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy, how much women hate anal sex, ‘suicide watch’ toddler childcare, and gun lover delusions, amongst other things? If you’d said sick, you’d be right. If you’d said funny, you would also be right. If you’d said Tony Abbott, the Aussie prime minister, you would have been wrong, but your guess would have been humorous and interesting. And if you had said Jim Jefferies, who is on tour right now, you would have most definitely been right.

I’ve been following the Antipodean anarchist’s comedic career since I first caught his angry firecracker jokestorm HBO special I Swear to God in 2009. His surreal, caustic, searing, pained, yet somehow charming wit and comedic topic evisceration – the uselessness of pandas, the useless of religion, the uselessness of shoving a faulty vibrating egg up your rear end for sick G-spot kicks – made me an instant convert to his wildly warped worldview, and just plain cracked me up. I’ve written here and there about him elsewhere. Utilize the information-finding-facilitating contemporary electronic hocus-pocus magic of Google and be enlightened as to what I said, if you care to.

Following his work over a few years has been very interesting. That period of time has basically encompassed his moving from London (where he lived for a few years) to Los Angeles to further his comedy career, and the slow steady inescapable intrusion of American material into his set as he absorbs this country, its existential codes and practices, its amorphous popular culture, and just plain insanity and bizarreness. I have seen him live in Chicago a few times, and it’s been illuminating to see the way he sees the country, trying to come to terms with it, and the way he makes comedic fodder out of its demented headscratcher alien ways. A previous set I saw contained sporadically entertaining skits about his left-field search for movie stardom in Hollywood, some of which, of course, made it into his FXX series Legit which, when I think about it right now, he did not mention once when I just saw him on Friday 6/20/2014 at the Vic Theater in Chicago.

His all-new (from the last time I saw him a couple of years ago) newest set contained lighter – and heavier – subject matter than frivolous star gossip about his cult hit show, wherein he plays himself looking after a man with muscular dystrophy, Billy, and Billy’s alcoholic brother Steve. He did do some scathing Hollywood-ripping riffs, but his central topic of conversation – guns and gun control – was a far from easy topic to address, especially for a foreigner. See, that’s the central thing about America – if you’re not from the country (like me – I’m Scottish) and criticize it, some inbredneck goon will always just tell you to love it or leave it, as if life were so simple. So immigrants tend to keep our gripes quiet around the indigenous populace, but say things we would get lynched for in private, far from prying uncomprehending burning local ears. Which is why I doubly respect Jefferies taking on the difficult subject matter he does. He knows he is foreign, and thus his opinion will automatically be discounted by the unthinking redwhitenblueball xenophobes in the audience, but he still goes for broke anyway, at the risk of alienating his audience whilst making them laugh at the same time.

Telling a crowd something half of them don’t want to hear in a foreign accent, no matter how much the American ear loves it, and its owner, is always a risky move, and it’s something that, to me, Jefferies pulls off brilliantly. I mean he can, of course ultimately say that he’s just joking, but you can tell that beneath his aw-shucks-mate veneer there is a deadly-serious-upon-occasion artist with a good brain saying something important and profound, attacking the material from a different angle than the usual tired and tiresome left-right-wrong insoluble dichotomy this country has depressingly rutted itself into. Guns and gun control are a fierce-and-boring-and-pointless mass debate subject, and any right thinking country would have gotten a handle on it years ago, and never mind the terrifying, citizens-as-acceptable-collateral-damage constant massacres by maladjusted well-armed psychopaths. Sometimes it takes a different perceptive perspective – like, say, making an audience laugh at gun owner delusions about ‘self-defense’ whilst systematically destroying their usual braindead be-a-hero, stop-a-massacre tropes with logic and elegance and incontrovertible authority.

Sometimes it just takes a foreigner to point out the nose on somebody’s face when they can’t see it themselves.

Any immigrant staying here is choosing to do so, unlike the native populace born here, which is why our/their voice deserves to be heard. I mean, they could leave, but they choose to stay and slog and fight it out, frowning and feeling for the seemingly insoluble societal hieroglyphs American presents you with at first…then getting a handle on them…then oftentimes rejecting them wholesale as the illogical, sanity-and-intelligence-insulting trash they are. Every immigrant to every country in the world does the same personal cultural x-ray and comes back with their own take on the places and faces in front of them. Jefferies is dealing with material, like gun massacres, he clearly does not want to have to deal with, and nor would any sane person, but he is having to grapple with it and draw his own conclusions because it’s unfortunately in his and our face constantly. So his mockery and conclusions are societally conscious, well-informed (this man does his fucking research, trust me), and well-thought-through. He cares enough about the country that sustains his career, and houses his child, to want to try and help, even if it is through the sometimes-too-easily-dismissed medium of adult comedy.

And all obvious immigrant-self-projection aside, that’s the hook here: this is genuine adult comedy, and never mind the increasingly redundant arsefucker jokes he does to please the unlaid whooping drunks in the audience. This is an adult man addressing serious topics of current weight and heft and import, shining an illuminating light on them…and making people laugh at the same time. He can say this stuff and get away with it paradoxically because he is a foreigner, and is appealing to the masochistic American others-hate-and-verbally-beat-us-so-we-must-be-shit side of this country’s strange mercurial psyche…and he’s also just a comedian, so hey, these are the jokes, folks! His from-a-different-career-stage sleazy sex stuff (to me, that is – of course it’s what he’s known for, and has made his name performing) satellites his serious material and draws fire away from it like aircraft flak, but in the end hopefully he has still made somebody go home from one of his shows and think. Because you do get people who are curious to know how their world looks from an alien perspective, and that view can be quite informative and shocking sometimes.

And quite hilarious too. Let’s not get too prickish and pretentious about it. What I very much enjoy about Jim’s work now, both on stage and in Legit, is him being a foreigner in America and how he deals with it. I can totally relate to all the accent hassles he undergoes, the pronunciation of words (‘garage’), being clueless about certain topics, and just dealing with the average friendly American animal in general. He says things I have genuinely thought and said myself. It’s a real tonic to hear somebody else come away with stuff you thought only you had thought or said, and you realize how universal the immigrant experience is, no matter if you’re in Los Angeles or Chicago, as I am. Jefferies ‘jokingly’ (read: completely openly and honestly) dripping contempt on American exceptionalism is something I love in him. Talking about how a lot of Americans go on about this being a ‘free’ country, he said “And what? The rest of us are just walking around in chains?” I was actually laughing as I typed that, picturing his shackled-foot shuffle he put on, because I have said the exact same thing myself. I mean, there is not one single thing that you can do here that you couldn’t do in Scotland, except get killed far easier in a gun massacre, I suppose, or pee on the White House, or commit suicide by jumping into the Grand Canyon dressed in a scuba outfit.

Just having this man to articulate inchoate immigrant fears and confusions and angers at how horribly America treats itself is just such a breath of fresh air. Talking about guns, he said of the mindset he would be inculcating in some of the audience: “I know what’s going through your head right now in a loop: ‘Go back to where you came from. Go back to where you came from.’ And my answer to that? No. I like it here, I pay my taxes.” That assertion of equality in the face of an often-alienating country and culture is a valuable thing. I had a bitch of a supervisor in a job tell me to go back where I came from, and there is no more vicious and shitty thing you can say to somebody. Then again, you could say that you killed somebody’s pets and it was fun, or you fucked their wife and she was shit in bed, and that would be worse, probably. It’s all relative, I suppose. And Jim’s clearly scared of getting shot for his gun material, which is why he had that happen in Legit. Let’s just hope life doesn’t imitate art quite that closely.

Speaking of relatives, what is also interesting about Jim’s American experience is his newish fatherhood to his 18-month-old son Hank, which has to be the quintessential American name, a fact that tells you something in itself. It was always going to be interesting to see how somebody as angst-laden and degenerate and wasted and idiosyncratic as Jefferies was going to respond to fatherhood, and judging by the material he did about it in his set, the answer is he’s doing good and bad, just like any other new dad without an instruction manual. The girlfriend who bore him Hank, Kate Luyben, used to be a top model (“But I didn’t get the model years,” Jefferies noted bitterly), and plays the hooker in Legit whom Billy visits at the end of the first series. The comedian said he didn’t want to hear her stories about his woman “licking Madonna’s muscular vagina” in a foursome and such, so it sounds like he’s working some of his relationship out with her onstage, or just using it as a mass catharsis-inducing fuck-all-women bitching session, which is what some of his more extreme misogynistic material is for the guys in the audience, or it is for me at least, like he’s some sort of dysfunctional sexual shaman or something. You take it for what it’s worth, and how far you want to run with the joke tells you more about yourself than the comedian onstage. Suffice to say, his woozy daddy experiences will be providing some merriment for years to come (both myself and my good friend Charlie I was with could relate, both being fathers, with Charlie’s kid the same age as Jim’s), and if there is any kind of break-up between the comedian and the mother of his child the bitter misogynistic comments will peel the paint off the walls and make the audience cringe and laugh in shock even more than they already do. So much to potentially look forward to!

Or maybe not. Jefferies made clear on his 2010 DVD Alcoholocaust that he was having to give up drinking because he was literally shitting blood. He was drinking last Friday night, ordering drink after drink onstage and, by the looks of his pale, sweaty complexion after the show, he’s been up to other things as well. It’s a damned shame, because he seemed to be doing well. I suppose being away from the missus and kid must give him a great deal of freedom to just go as apeshit as he wants when he is on tour, with no fatherly duties to attend to, no chance of dropping the baby on his head if he’s drunk and changing a nappy (or ‘diaper’ to Americans) or something. I was going to just say hiya at the end of the show, but there were literally about 150 people in a line waiting to meet him, a number vastly larger than that at any previous show of his I had seen, so I didn’t bother. Legit has clearly raised his profile a lot, and he played in Chicago to a sold-out 1000-punter show. So it would be a real shame to see the man lose it and trash himself at this interesting stage of the USA-life games. After all he still has a lot of sacred American cows to get mad cow disease from, and a lot more living to be done with the wee man, whose growing pains and adventures we want related to us onstage at regular growth spurt intervals. Sober up, Jim, for fucksake. You’re too old for this stupid, played-out shit. Think of your son. Think of your blood-decorated stools. You’re not in the UK anymore. You should have left that nihilistic drinking style behind with those doggone limeys, who all drink to excess. After all, you’re an American now…

…aren’t you? 

This is a guest post from Graham Rae

Below, Jim Jefferies on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘Crazy About One Direction’: Must-see documentary about wildly obsessive boy band fans
06.24.2014
01:52 pm

Topics:
Pop Culture
Television

Tags:
One Direction
Daisy Asquith


 
Crazed fandom is a very weird phenomenon. For whatever complex reasons, fame—a concept which barely existed 150 years ago—is a very powerful thing and people can act mighty strange when confronted with it or in the presence of someone well-known. A few years back, I attended the premiere of the movie version of the Hairspray musical. After I’d parked the car, it became difficult to get anywhere near the theater itself as there was such a dense crush of fans, tightly packed and blocking the way in every direction. As I finally got across the street from where I needed to be, every time a celebrity would arrive, there would be a ton of flashbulbs going off and loud squeals of delight from the crowd. When Christopher Walken strolled down the red carpet, I watched as five young black girls, all preteens, went completely bonkers for him, even crying and sobbing! Christopher fucking Walken. I kid you not. Does that make any sense? Not really, but that’s just what a brush with fame does to some people…

At the Sheffield Doc/Fest a few weeks ago, Tara and I went to a panel about documentaries that examine obsessive fandom. The participants were Jeanie Finlay, who directed the upcoming documentary on Orion, the masked Elvis impersonator; Lucy Robinson, lecturer on modern British history at the University of Sussex; Nicholas Abrahams, co-director with Jeremy Deller of The Posters Came from the Walls about Depeche Mode fans behind the Iron Curtain; and Daisy Asquith, a Bafta-nominated documentarian who made Crazy About One Direction for Channel 4. During the discussion, Asquith described her experiences getting death threats after One Directioners felt they’d been portrayed poorly—“insane” might be the word I’m looking for—in her film. I made a mental note to watch the doc, which she woefully mentioned was posted all over the Internet, when we got back to Los Angeles.

Admittedly the One Direction phenomenon had already gone from the UK version of X-Factor to Madison Square Garden before I’d ever even heard of them. A few years back, an old friend of mine emailed me from MSG where she had taken her then 9-year-old daughter and I googled them. Apparently they were massive. More massive than massive. As big as the Beatles. I’ve still never heard or know any of their songs, but then again I’m not exactly in their target demographic am I?

Which is not to say that this film wasn’t of great interest, because it’s fucking fascinating.

At the beginning of Crazy About One Direction the viewer is teased with what’s to come, including a glimpse of some homoerotic 1D fan fiction featuring the group’s Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles. The subset of Directioners, as their fans are known, who obsess about Louis and Harry getting jiggy with it are called “Larryshippers,” a portmanteau of both of their names, “relationship” and “worship.”
 

 
In case you’re wondering why the teen fans of an ostensibly heterosexual boy band would fantasize about the objects of their own sexual yearnings getting off with each other, this is pretty much the norm for a predominantly female phenomenon known as “slash fiction.” Captain Kirk makes tender love to Mr. Spock. Starsky fucks Hutch, and so forth. There is just no other girl there with Harry and Louis, because THAT BITCH would spoil the fantasy. How actively the band’s management and crack public relations experts might exploit this, or if it began and remains an organic fan phenomenon is difficult to say, but there was much reporting on the (false) rumor that several dozen Larryshippers had killed themselves after watching Asquith’s television documentary (Google #RIPLarryShippers).

The film features an amusing scene of what is literally a pack of Directioners who have managed to get past hotel security and knock on a door they believe Harry Styles is sleeping behind. He’s not, as they soon find out via Twitter (each member of 1D have over ten million Twitter followers) leaving these feral middle class teenage stalkers deflated because their Harry doesn’t even know that they exist. I pondered watching that scene what would have had happened had he been there and opened the door. Probably Styles being ripped apart like a piece of chicken by these daddy-funded she-wolves.

Imagine what it’s like to be one of literally millions of girls who believe that they are going to marry Harry. I’m sure it gets quite fierce in the competitive trenches of 1D fandom. One girl says she wouldn’t want to date one of them because of Twitter bullies: “I wouldn’t like girls telling me to die and stuff.” Because they would! Now imagine what it was like to be Taylor Swift who famously dated Harry Styles and wrote “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” about him. These girls loathe her. The abuse she must have absorbed for that!
 

 
After Channel 4 aired Crazy About One Direction, much online hatred was directed also towards director Asquith via her Twitter account. Additionally some of the fans who appeared in the film, especially the Larryshippers and the more stalkery girls, were singled out for insults and death threats for misrepresenting 1D fandom. They take it quite seriously, apparently. I’d better quit while I’m still ahead…
 

 
Bonus, a disgruntled Directioner spouts off on YouTube. Hitler gets mentioned:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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What your Facebook friends’ lives are REALLY like!
06.24.2014
01:11 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Pop Culture

Tags:
Facebook


 

“The problem with Facebook is we compare everyone’s highlight reel to our behind-the-scenes.”

While this is perhaps the most depressing video I’ve seen in quite some time, it kind of speaks volumes when you realize it probably has considerably more than a little truth to it. Yeah, it’s been exaggerated for entertainment purposes, but I’ve often wondered to myself if all my Facebook friends are really leading these exciting lives while I’m just some boring, unadventurous (but content) bump on a log. I mean, do they really eat at five-star restaurants every single night? Do they really have the world’s most perfect children or the “I’m so fucking in love I’m going to shove it in your face!” relationship? This video attempts to show you the hard “truth” with what your Facebook pals are really up to.

Facebook can be depressing because everyone else’s lives are better than yours… But are they really?

 
h/t reddit

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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We have Pat Boone to thank for the most psychotic and deranged rockabilly record of all time!

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Marty Lott aka Jerry Lott aka “The Phantom” was born near Mobile, Alabama in 1938 and moved to Leakesville, Mississippi during infancy. He played country music on stage at school which progressed to playing country and western at Paynas Furniture Store in Lucedale, Mississippi. Jerry started entering and winning local performing contests which led him to start touring. It all changed in 1956 for Marty and so many others, when Elvis Presley came along, opened his eyes and charged his soul with rock and roll.

“Love Me” was written in ten minutes and recorded in Mobile at Gulf Coast Studio in the summer of 1958. It is one of those rare, lust-filled, psychotic explosions that, in one minute and twenty nine seconds, packs more punch than most punk records did and is considered by many to be the wildest rock and roll song ever recorded. It had to wait until the new decade to see a release.

Lott told Derek Glenister:

“I’d worked three months on the other side of the record. Somebody said, ‘what you gonna put on the flip-side’ I hadn’t even thought about it. Someone suggested I wrote something like Elvis ‘cause he was just a little on the wane and everybody was beginning to turn against rock ‘n’ roll. They said, ‘See if you spark rock ‘n’ roll a little bit’... so that’s when I put all the fire and fury I could utter into it. I was satisfied with the first take, but everybody said, ‘let’s try it one more time’. I didn’t yell on the first take, but I yelled on the second, and blew one of the controls off the wall.”

“I’m telling ya, “it was wild. The drummer lost one of his sticks, the piano player screamed and knocked his stool over, the guitar player’s glasses were hanging sideways over his eyes.

 
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Lott, known at this time as The Gulf Coast Fireball left Mobile for Los Angeles to shop his master tape around. On a truly bizarre impulse he followed Pat Boone to church one Sunday morning and convinced him to give the tape a listen. It was Boone’s idea to rename Lott The Phantom, even agreeing to issue the record on his own Cooga Mooga label. Eventually Lott signed a contract with Boone’s management but the single of “Love Me” b/w “Whisper Your Love” was released on the label Boone recorded for—Dot Records in 1960, packaged in a nifty picture sleeve, normally reserved only for the really big stars here in the States.
 

 

“Aahh, uhh, let’s go! Uhh
Press your lips to mine
And whisper I love you
Gotta have chance that lasts
To do the things we wanna do
Don’t hesitate, I can’t wait,
Love me
You set my soul on fire
Every muscle in my body’s burning with desire
Baby kiss me do
Make me know you’re mine
Love me with desire
Oh honey, this is fine
Don’t hesitate, I can’t wait,
Love me
Aahh!
I want you to be my bride
My heart’s a runnin’ wild
Got to make you mine
If just for a little while
Don’t hesitate, I can’t wait,
Love me, love me, love me, love me…”

 
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Sadly in 1965, Jerry’s wife took her own life, and shortly thereafter, in 1966, while still attempting to tour, The Phantom was involved in a near fatal auto accident in York, South Carolina. After his car tumbled 600 feet down a mountainside he was left paralyzed below the neck. Lott continued to write songs, but never recorded again. He passed away on September 4th,1983 at the age of 45.
 
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Ever the rock ‘n’ roll purists The Cramps chose the song to be one of the first ones they learned, going so far as to make a flyer that they put up around New York City before they ever even played their first gig proclaiming “LOVE ME” featuring the baleful gaze of Cramps guitarist Bryan Gregory.
 
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The Cramps play “Love Me” at the Napa State Mental Hospital in 1978

A new generation was introduced to the likes of The Phantom in the late 70’s/early 80’s through this and many European (i.e. bootleg) rockabilly compilation LPs. Fanzines like Kicks, which later morphed into Norton Records and Kicks Books were the first in America to dig deep and write about The Phantom.

As usual, rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form is always discovered 50 years too late by those who wish to use the music to sell stuff. I got an email requesting the cover of the “Love Me” single last week from a music supervisor working for an advertising agency. He couldn’t tell me who, but “Love Me” by The Phantom was going to be used in a huge ad campaign and they needed the artwork for the iTunes download that they will be making available in conjunction with the ad. It was just announced that the song would be used in the latest Southern Comfort campaign. More money will be earned, hopefully by a family member of Lott’s (though I highly doubt it), by the use of this song in this ad than Jerry Lott probably made in his entire music career. It just seems odd the way they used it, like I’m watching TV with the sound down and listening to a record.

I think I need a drink.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Who was that masked man? ORION: The Man Who Would Be King

Posted by Howie Pyro | Discussion
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Francis Ford Coppola’s original cast list for ‘The Godfather’

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Francis Ford Coppola was not the first choice to direct The Godfather, Paramount Studios wanted Sergio Leone, but he turned it down to concentrate on his own gangster movie Once Upon A Time in America. Next up was Peter Bogdanovich but he also knocked it back as he was working on What’s Up, Doc?. Coppola was eventually approached by producer Robert Evans, who wanted an Italian-American to direct the film.

As Coppola later recalled in an interview:

The Godfather was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it. They were very unhappy with it. They didn’t like the cast. They didn’t like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired. So it was an extremely nightmarish experience. I had two little kids, and the third one was born during that. We lived in a little apartment, and I was basically frightened that they didn’t like it. They had as much as said that, so when it was all over I wasn’t at all confident that it was going to be successful, and that I’d ever get another job.

 
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Coppola was considered a risk. He had made five movies, only one of which was a hit. He was also in debt to Warner Brothers from an overspend while producing THX 1138.

Paramount were still skeptical about Coppola’s ability and kept a standby director ready to replace him. The first argument between director and studio came over casting. Coppola had drawn up his own list of possible contenders, which the studio was also set against, in particular they did not like Coppola’s suggestion of Marlon Brando or Laurence Olivier for Vito Corleone.
 
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Coppola wanted the world’s greatest actors for the main role, but the studio didn’t want Brando because he had a bad reputation for delaying film productions; while Olivier was supposedly too ill to film and turned the offer down.

Who the studio wanted was Ernest Borgnine, as he had the mix of rough-and-ready, and seemed like the kind of “family man” an audience would identify with.
 
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For Michael Corleone, Coppola wanted (then mainly unknown) Al Pacino, but the studio wanted a name, a hit name like Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal.

Michael was a good, strong role, and it attracted Martin Sheen, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and James Caan to audition for the role, but Coppola threatened to quit unless Pacino was given it. The studio eventually conceded on the agreement that James Caan was cast as Sonny Corleone.

Again the lure of box office names led to considering Paul Newman and Steve McQueen for the role of lawyer Tom Hagen, but that eventually went to Robert Duvall.
 
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Other stars who went up for roles include Anthony Perkins who auditioned for Sonny, while Mia Farrow auditioned for Kay. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro tried out for Michael, Sonny, Carlo, and Paulie. He eventually played the young Vito in The Godfather Part II.

This is Coppola’s original cast list, which contains many of the names who eventually appeared in the film.
 
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Via Retronaut, FuckyeahDonCorleone and Julia Segal

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Christ the Auction: Crass drumhead goes up for auction at Sotheby’s
06.20.2014
12:20 pm

Topics:
Pop Culture
Punk

Tags:
Crass
Sotheby's


 
A stenciled Crass drumhead is going up for auction as part of Sotheby’s rock and roll memorabilia event. The estimate is that it’ll go for between $15,000 and $20,000. The “Presley to Punk” auction will occur on June 24. When I saw this, I have to admit, the collector in me swooned.

It’s a pity that this will probably just end up in some rich asshole’s house instead of in an anarchist museum or some place like that. At least I hope that it’s Penny Rimbaud himself who’ll be getting the money for this (it appears that he signed it recently). If anyone deserves to cash in on their past in this way—I really mean this—God bless them, it’s Crass. No one’s selling out here, they’re just clearing out the garage!

The auction also has some amazing signed items from The Beatles, one of Sly Stone’s vests, a jacket worn by Jimmy Page, several drawings and paintings by Joni Mitchell, as well as guitar straps worn by Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia. A naughty comic strip from a young Jim Morrison and a semi-pornograpic collage made by John and Yoko for Elton John’s birthday in 1975. Several gold records belonging to Mick Jagger, even the Grammy presented to Johnny Cash and June Carter for “Jackson.” There are 145 items in all being auctioned off.
 

Sly Stone’s beaded vest, as seen during his infamous stint as co-host of The Mike Douglas Show.
 

Crosby, Stills & Nash by Joni Mitchell
 

Gary Panter’s original rendition of The Screamers logo

Thank you Luhuna Carvalho!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Screwed in Times Square with Josh Alan Friedman


 
Vanity Fair’s Mike Sacks is one of the world’s great comedy nerds and he’s got the published bona fides to prove it. Funny in his own right (his book of comic essays, Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason had me laughing out loud on nearly every single page) Mike’s proven himself incredibly adept at getting top humor writers to open up about what they do and how they do it. His 2009 collection, And Here’s the Kicker featured interviews with the likes of Buck Henry, Stephen Merchant, Dick Cavett, Larry Gelbart, Merrill Markoe and even Marx Brothers writer Irving Brecher (which floored me, because I am fascinated by the man who Groucho called “the wickedest wit of the West”). The book is filled with gem after gem of good advice on how to write funny and how to think funny. If you are at all interested in the craft of comedy, it’s an absolutely indispensable book.

In just a few short days, Mike’s new book of interviews, Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers will arrive (June 24 to be exact) and this nearly 500 page volume features contributions from Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt, Adam McKay and even the great Mel Brooks. The Irving Brecher equivalent for me—there had to be a Brecher this time, too, of course or the reader would be disappointed—well, he got several Brechers this go round (I’m talking about other unexpected leftfield participants, to be clear). There’s a fascinating interview with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, for starters. He’s also got Daniel Clowes, WFMU’s Tom Scharpling and Bob & Ray’s Bob Elliott. That’s some pretty rarified company, right? But that’s what you’ll find here. [As an aside fellow comedy buffs, my beloved pal Philip Proctor of the Firesign Theatre once told me that his extremely distinct comedic delivery was more influenced by Bob & Ray than anyone else. Once you know that, it provides a fascinating lens with which to view Phil’s contribution to “the Beatles of comedy.”]

One of the interviews that was cut for space from Poking a Dead Frog was a conversation with Josh Alan Friedman, co-creator with his brother Drew (the one who draws) of the all-time, until the end of time classic Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental and on his own of the classic in a different way anthology of his Screw magazine essays on the 42nd Street milieu, Tales of Times Square. To say that I am a big, huge, unabashed fan of those books is no exaggeration. I even gave out copies of Tales of Times Square for Christmas presents back when Times Square was still a sleaze pit. I found a stack at The Strand bookstore and bought all of them. I put plastic wrappers on my own copy of the first edition and it sits in a place of pride on the bookshelves behind me as I type this. When Mike offered us the opportunity to run the Josh Alan Friedman interview on Dangerous Minds, I was only too happy to accept.
 

Josh Alan Friedman, right, with his brother illustrator Drew Friedman, late 1970s

Mike Sacks: When I first asked if you were willing to be interviewed, you said that you “find nothing funny about anything, anyone, anywhere, at any time.”

Josh Alan Friedman: That might have been off-the-cuff, but there’s a kernel of truth in there. Most of the time, what strikes me as funny doesn’t strike others as funny. And vice versa.

When did you publish your first cartoon with your brother Drew? What year was this?

It was in 1978, but we had been recording reel-to-reel audio sketches and doing comic strips for ourselves over the years. I would kind of write and produce, Drew did voices and illustrations. We never thought about publishing or releasing them.

Drew began to draw constantly. He would draw his teachers naked on school desks. When I went to visit him during his freshman year at Boston University, the public walls of the entire dormitory floor were densely illustrated. Maybe I imagined this, but I seem to remember finding him upside down, like Michaelangelo laboring under the chapel. He spent months doing this, and although the frat boys loved it, Drew hadn’t been to class in months. So I wanted to focus the poor boy’s talent on something, and I began writing heavily researched, detailed comix scripts.

What was that first published comic called?

“The Andy Griffith Show.” It ran in Raw Magazine. Drew illustrated the entire script very quickly. I loved how it looked. I said, “This is an amazing piece of work you’ve just done here,” and he told me he could do better. He ripped up that first version and then re-drew it—that’s the version that now exists. When I saw how startling the strip looked after the second pass, I knew we were onto something exciting.

To this day, the “Andy Griffith Show” comic strip remains slightly shocking. It features a black man wandering into Mayberry, North Carolina, and getting lynched by Sheriff Taylor and some other locals. This was not your typical misty-eyed look back at small-town life in the 1960s.

That cartoon has since been reprinted many times—and we caught a lot of flak at first. Certain people accused us of being racists.

If anything, you were mocking the nostalgia that surrounds a time and place that was anything but happy and perfect—at least for many people.

Yes, of course. I wanted to provoke the heady sensation of fear, and also get some laughs. That, to me, was—and still is—a potent combination. The so-called comic nightmare. It’s like mixing whiskey with barbiturates. It becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Over the years readers have told me that they can’t remember whether they actually read some of our cartoons or dreamed them. People have asked, “I might have been dreaming, but did you once work on a comic strip about such and such?”

You were writing about television shows and celebrities that no one else seemed to care about in the late ’70s, early ’80s.

I’ll confess that during childhood I never realized I Love Lucy was supposed to be a situation comedy. I thought it was a drama about the misadventures of this poor New York City housewife, which happened to have a surreal laugh track that made no sense. Years later, I was stunned to learn it was considered comedy.

I was always riveted by the lower depths of show business and sub-celebrities, maybe as an alternative to the dumbing down of American culture. The common man had higher standards in, say, the 1940s. And Drew’s fascination went even deeper, as he depicted fantasies of Rondo Hatton, the acromegaly-cursed actor who starred in several freak horror flicks in the ’30s and ’40s. And, of course, Tor Johnson, the giant wrestler turned actor, from Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space [1959], who practically became Drew’s alter ego.

There was something about The Three Stooges, after their stock had taken a dive in the ’70s, that became more compelling than ever—even deeper than when we were children. Three short, ugly, but really beautiful, middle-aged Jews who slept in the same bed together, refused to separate, yet beat and maimed each other senselessly without end. It almost ceased being comedy, but you couldn’t stop watching. 
 

 
What fascinated you about sub-celebrities at the nadir of their careers?

If I were to speculate, I would say that worship of America’s celebrity culture was becoming a mental illness without a name. It was the sickness of celebrity. It’s only gotten worse: the false icons, the obsession with celebrity over substance. It demeans all of humanity. It’s terribly unhealthy. So why not take it a quantum step lower—to its natural resolution—and worship Ed Wood, Joe Franklin, Wayne Newton, or Joey Heatherton, a Rat Pack–era actress in the ’60s? Or serial killers posing with celebrities?

When Drew and I were doing this in the late ’70s and ’80s, there was no Internet. Information about old shows and movies and celebrities were difficult to come by back then. Now there are hundreds of websites devoted to The Three Stooges or The Andy Griffith Show or Rondo Hatton. You can now look up [the actress and model] Joey Heatherton’s name and immediately find that her first husband, the football player Lance Rentzel, was arrested in 1970 for exposing himself to a child. Or that Wayne Newton once threatened to beat the shit out of Johnny Carson for telling jokes about Wayne being effeminate.

You had to search out arcane clippings’ files in local libraries or newspaper morgues back then. For years, I kept accumulating photos and news clips on numerous subjects like Newton, Joey Heatherton or Frank Sinatra, Jr.

More of Mike Sacks’ interview with Josh Alan Friedman after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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12-year-old ‘Game of Thrones’ creator’s Marvel Comics ‘Fantastic Four’ fan mail

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It kind of figures that Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin would be a fan of Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four, with its strong main characters, who may often bicker and argue with each other, but always unite to fight various dastardly enemies. The other Marvel characters—with a few exceptions (mainly team-ups like The Avengers, and Thor)—tend to be geeky loners, who have difficulties fitting into society. The Fantastic Four are their own little society, just like all those families in Martin’s Game of Thrones.

In 1961, a 12-year-old George wrote a gushing letter of praise to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for their #17 August issue of The Fantastic Four, which was published in the #20’s letter page:

Dear Stan and Jack,

F.F. #17 was greater than great. Even now I sit in awe of it, trying to do the impossible—that is, describe it. It was absolutely stupendous, the ultimate, utmost! I cannot fathom how you could fit so much action into so few pages. It will live forever as one of the greatest F.F. comics ever printed, ergo, as one of ALL comics. In what other comic mag could you see things like a hero falling down a manhole, a heroine mistaking a toy inventor for a criminal, and the President of the U.S.A. leaving a conference that may determine the fate of the world to put his daughter to bed. The epic story, spectacular and exciting as it is, is not all that made this mag so great. The letter column was top-notch, too. I nearly died when I saw Paul Gambaccini’s letter. You’ve really made him change his tune; that letter was a far cry from the one printed in F.F. #9. Then there’s your cover boast—THE WORLD’S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE! Brilliant! You were just about the World’s worst mag when you started, but you set yourself an ideal, and, by gumbo, you achieved it! More than achieved it, in fact—why, if you were only half as good as you are now, you’d still be the world’s best mag!!!

George R. Martin
35 East First st.
Batyonne, N.J.

The Bullpen replied:

We might as well quit while we’re ahead. Thanks for your kind words, George, and now—it’s time for our favorite department—where we talk to you straight from the shoulder———

I wonder if the Paul Gambaccini mentioned in George’s letter is the BBC radio presenter?
 
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Via Neatorama

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The time Dean Ween hijacked Carlos Santana’s gear on its way to ‘Good Morning America’
06.12.2014
11:35 am

Topics:
Crime
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
Dean Ween
Carlos Santana


 
Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo’s Facebook presence is pretty typical working cult musician stuff, tour dates, concert photos, personal snapshots, yadda yadda. (I’m fond of his fishing pics.) But a couple of days ago, Melchiondo posted a confession long kept secret, about boosting an iconic guitarist hero’s equipment for a recording. So the name drops don’t lose anyone, Josh Freese is known for his drumming in Devo and A Perfect Circle, and Sim Cain and Andrew Weiss were in Rollins Band.
 

I think enough time has passed where I can finally tell my favorite Ween story of all-time.

The businesses and the people involved have long since closed their doors and moved on for good and hopefully the people involved (and Carlos himself, if it comes to that) will have a good sense of humor about this story.

In 2003 Ween released our album “quebec” on Sanctuary Records. We worked on the album for 2 years in our beach house in Holgate,NJ, a rented house in the Pocono Mountains of PA, the garage behind Aaron’s house in Pt. Pleasant, PA, my upstairs guest room, and finally Andrew Weiss’s living room in NJ. We also worked at Water Music in Hoboken, NJ and Graphic Sound Studios in Ringoes, NJ. It was not a great period in our personal lives, Aaron was going thru a divorce and I was partying way too hard myself—it was some dark shit. The record is one of my favorites, but it is a depressing album lyrically. It was not an easy record to make either, as evidenced by the amount of places we worked, trying to find the right environment. There are demos available online that I posted where you can hear the process at work, we racked up our normal batch of like 6 dozen songs or more before whittling it down to what was finally released, 15 tunes.

I am a huge fan of Carlos Santana. He is one of my favorite guitarists of all-time. He is playing better these days than ever before in my opinion. His music is more radio friendly, for sure, but as a guitarist he has aged like a fine wine. Only Neil Young, Prince, and a small handful of others can make that claim as they become members of the AARP.

We were working in Andrew’s living room on the song “Transdermal Celebration”, our drummer Claude Coleman had just gotten into a horrific car crash and left us w/o a drummer for the recording and ensuing tour. Eventually it worked itself out where the record took so long to complete that Claude made enough of a recovery to do the world tour with us supporting “quebec.” In the meantime though, even though Claude had played on some of the demos, drumming on the album was left up to me, Josh Freese, and Sim Cain. “Transdermal Celebration” had been recorded 3 times by this point, with a drum machine, with Claude playing drums, and the final take on the album which features Josh Freese. It was the eventual single from the album. So, we’re in the middle of this session and I get a phone call from my roadie (nameless) who also worked for a backline company (nameless) that supplied amps, drums, lights, etc. to bands touring in the Northeast. My roadie told me that Carlos Santana’s equipment (including his guitars) had arrived via a trucking company that night at their depot. Carlos was recording an appearance on “Good Morning America” the next morning and his equipment was to be delivered to the set in NYC in a few hours.

What needed to be done was immediately clear to me, I had an opportunity to play the solo on “Transdermal Celebration” through Carlos Santana’s amplifier and guitar. I had one shot at it, it meant taking a hard disk recorder to a storage space where all of Carlos’ stuff was sitting in transit. I arrived at 2am. We (very carefully) unpacked his equipment and set up his stage gear and in one take I recorded the guitar solo for “Transdermal Celebration” (the one that appears on the album, playing thru Carlos Santana’s guitar, pedalboard, and amplifier. The whole thing took 10 minutes and we were terrified we were going to get caught. A lot of people would have lost their jobs. We got the fuck outta there really fast after that. So the solo on “Transdermal Celebration” was played thru all of Santana’s shit in what resembled an early morning bank heist or something……….

Of course a story like this requires visual proof, so here it is. Don’t tell anyone about these please.

-Dean Ween 6/14

 
Gotta love the cheeky “Don’t tell anyone about these please,” on a public post to a fan page with thousands of followers. I’m guessing the solo in question is the one that starts at about 1:53.
 

 
And here are some photos as evidence of the caper:
 

 

 

 
Lest anyone assume Mr. Santana’s gear was treated disrespectfully (you know, apart from being handled without his knowledge), Melchiondo adds this postscript:
 

an afterthought: regarding the Carlos post, i’d like to add that we handled his equipment as if it were the Mona Lisa. We photographed the way his roadie had his cables wrapped and positioned and put everything back exactly as it was found. The whole process was over as quickly as it happened. Also, the respect that I have for Carlos and the depth, spirituality and stamina of his playing is held by me in the highest regard. I am not just a fan of Carlos, I am a believer and follower of everything he has done, and yes that includes the pop singles. I felt it was important to have this be known, there is no one I hold in a higher regard. Also, I have a lifetime of experience of handling equipment, as did the other person involved, it wasn’t two drunk buffoons manhandling a legend’s gear, the furthest thing from it. I think it’s important to clarify that. -DW

 

 
Melchiondo’s new band, The Dean Ween Group, debuted in Baltimore in March, and they will be touring this summer. Dates are listed at his web site.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

Topics:
Books
Movies
Pop Culture
Thinkers

Tags:
Susan Sontag


 
From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):
 

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

 
I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.
 

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
 
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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