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Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!’: The unsparing memoir of a punk rock killer
12.15.2015
11:22 am

Topics:
Books
Crime
Music
Punk

Tags:


 
Punk rock documentia—and there’s been a ton of it lately, revisiting crucial scenes now that their prime movers are approaching old age—has overwhelmingly tended to focus on the reminiscences of musicians whose importance has survived multiple generations of fan consensus. Thus we get Rollins, MacKaye, and later arrival Grohl in every fucking documentary ad infinitum. (The Hard Times nailed this perfectly.) But obviously there was so much more to punk and hardcore than precious drops of received wisdom from the revered Elders of D.C., and it’s becoming increasingly rare to hear those other perspectives, from the ordinary fans and alienated kids who truly comprised the movement.

Of course, the record hasn’t been written entirely without fan perspectives; who could forget the interviews that opened The Decline Of Western Civilization? And punk kids of all backgrounds were routinely trotted out as exotica talk-show fodder throughout the ‘80s, much of which material survives on YouTube. But Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!, a new book by Heath Mattioli and David Spacone, has gone a step beyond. They’ve located and produced a memoir with an L.A. hardcore scene habitué whose story is uniquely compelling—a chieftain in one of the ultra-violent gangs that turned that city’s music scene into a war zone.

Fittingly for an L.A. hardcore memoir, Disco’s Out…Murder’s In! features Raymond Pettibon cover art, but its contents aren’t as easy to take as a Black Flag album. It’s told in a first-person narrative by its subject, “Frank the Shank,” a punk kid who rose through the leadership ranks of the La Mirada Punks (LMP) street gang in early ’80s Los Angeles. When the book reaches the point where Frank’s career approaches its peak, it regales the reader with unsparing descriptions of utterly mortifying and entirely senseless crimes—beatings, stabbings, shootings. This was one of the guys that literally ruined punk, transforming it—in L.A., at least—from a rebel youth culture and musical phenomenon into a serious threat to the lives of its participants. There are passages so viscerally revolting I actually reconsidered my opposition to the death penalty—fuxsakes, LMP stabbed a guy to death because his manner of dress was “too ska”—and yet I could not put the book down. It’s not just that there’s been no other punk document like this before; Frank’s story is riveting as a narrative of a dead-end kid searching for a place in the world, as a true crime story, as a serial killer’s candid confession, and as a dispatch from a largely uncharted shadow of American music.

In a revealing passage, Frank—not unlike a PTA mom or a tacky local news reporter, really—passes the blame for the violence off on the bands, for their violent imagery and harsh music. Later in the book, though, he does ultimately cop to his culpability:

Everybody was pointing fingers at the kids who lived brutally. Bands were upset over losing friends to the crusade, but still kept feeding it with their lyrics and sound, then wanted to cry about it? Every single band wound us up like A Clockwork Orange, yelling something violent and negative on every record. Was there one happy punk record? I don’t think so. Everyone in the scene dealt with some type of bloodshed. Most didn’t have a choice if they wanted to survive the hardcore punk scene in Los Angeles.

“Be an individual, don’t be a follower!”

Easy for you to say when you were protected on stage, or behind a typewriter, but the trenches were another story. And bottom line, we were the majority of the kids who bought tickets. Nearly all of you so-called musicians and punk rock scholars wouldn’t have lasted a minute.

If violence is art, then LMP was the Jackson Pollack of punk. Our victims, more often than not, wound up looking like one of his paintings … abstract expressions of red splatter on black cement. We definitely shared Pollack’s inability to take criticism with any sort of reasonable acceptance. How dare they! The audacity of fools, they had no idea of what we’d accomplished. —pp180-181

Too many people died at the hands of punk rock violence. I got lucky, some didn’t. As an ultra-violent punk rock gangster, I admit my part in ruining the scene. L.A. punk stood to be a magical moment of youth expression like no other and, for a little while, it undoubtedly was. The gangs ruined punk rock. I still have people telling me today that they quit punk because of LMP. Kids with talent in our scene expressed anger through music or art. We, on the other hand, took our rage and confusion out on the streets. I’m far from that person today, but as that famous Black Panther said, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” —p222

Authors Mattioli and Spacone were gracious enough to spare us some time to discuss the impetus for the book and the process of crafting it:

Heath Mattioli: We had a friend who passed away, he was from a smaller punk rock gang called Lakewood Punks. His house was like a hub for dysfunctional kids, whether a punk rocker or a greaser or just some confused kid. It was a place to hang out, it had a skateboard ramp, and some LMP guys, Frank being one of them, would always go over there and hang out, and it turned out he was recruiting other guys, younger guys from these other gangs. And just hanging out with other punk rockers, talking music and pussy and whatnot, and that was where I initially met Frank. That was probably ’86.

David Spacone: If you went to punk shows you kind of needed to have backup. All of us that hung out at that house went to shows. Whether or not we participated in the whole gang thing, it really didn’t matter. As it says in the book, it was pretty dangerous, so those guys were always around at shows with us as well. That way nobody messed with us and we could just enjoy the music.

HM: I wasn’t really in the shit—a different type of shit, maybe? But I was a periphery guy, I listened to the music, but I wasn’t dedicated because I came from a more loving family, I couldn’t commit myself like these guys did, and if you wanted to be a “punk rocker” you had to put up with all that shit and I just wasn’t willing to do it. Dave was a little more in there.

DS: Yeah, I was more involved. It was OK to not be a punk rock gangster, but you had to have affiliates. But I just went to the shows for music. I was at the edge of the pit, and the gangsters were IN the pit.

Dangerous Minds: The book reads as a first-person narrative, so I take it it was written as an “as-told-to?” How much of the book, if any, represents your authorial voices, or was your function more conducting, transcribing, and editing interviews? Could you talk about your process?

HM: Our challenge was getting Frank to go back to that place mentally, to his youth. We weren’t interested in how he feels now, in hindsight. He’s a totally different guy. We didn’t want that, we wanted to hear how he felt in the moment. We would interview him in the middle of the night or early in the mornings, because he’s a graveyard shift worker. There would be times when he just didn’t want to get into it, and times where he’d talk for an hour. Answering your question of how much of us is in the book, we tried to live in Frank’s shoes and only speak the way he would speak. We had to tie things together and do our due diligence in talking to other people.

DS: What is us is how it’s stylized. We had to come up with a way for you to viscerally experience Frank’s journey through punk rock and being gangster #1.

Dangerous Minds: Frank describes active participation is some mighty repellent crimes. I’m curious how much of the specificity in his claims to criminal conduct might just be an old guy enjoying some attention and maybe exaggerating his “accomplishments?” How much is corroborated in terms of individual incidents described?

HM: The book is as close to how things went down as you could get without having a camera there. We were ferocious when it came to asking the same questions over and over, sometimes years apart, revisiting the same nights and making sure we were getting everything straight! We also asked other guys in the gang who were there, and stories were lining up. We had to dance around a little bit of the actual specifics of weaponry and maybe some street names.

DS: If you were around at the periphery at the time, all of these murders and other incidents that took place were all scuttlebutt. These were events we knew about from back in the day. Some of these stabbings and beatings and gang clashes were infamous

HM: We were bringing questions that we had as youths to the table, and Frank would say “Oh, you heard about that? Here’s how it went down…” I guess there weren’t a lot of rats in the punk world, so people hardly ever got brought in for questioning about these murders, and in Hollywood, and L.A. in general, it wasn’t patrolled like it is today, and there weren’t cameras everywhere, so these guys could do their dirty deeds and jump on the freeway and be home in bed pretty quickly after they killed somebody.

DS: One of the major reasons we wrote this book is that we were so familiar with the stories, and we knew that one day it all had to come to light. We ran into Frank all those years later, and his were the best stories to tell, he could tell the whole thing.

HM: We started out thinking we were gong to write about ALL of the punk gangs in L.A. at that time, but the more we talked to Frank, the more we realized his story was special, and so we decided to dedicate all our time to this one kid’s journey through the dark side of punk rock. So we ended up spending five years interviewing Frank. I couldn’t go to sleep so many nights after talking to Frank and hearing these horrific stories about these confused kids, who hated themselves and wanted everyone to feel what they felt. So now the reader gets to feel a little bit of that…

DS: The whole scene was really Clockwork Orange and we wanted to make the reader feel that.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
One man who does what the police can’t do: The cult of Charles Bronson grows
12.09.2015
08:34 am

Topics:
Books
Heroes
Movies

Tags:


 
A new Charles Bronson book and a slew of DVD releases seem to indicate the cult of the macho movie tough-guy is ever-growing. Twelve years after his death, the actor’s legacy shows no signs of fading.

Bronson’s Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson was released last month by BearManor Media. Author Paul Talbot’s exhaustive, definitive document of Charles Bronson’s work from the mid ‘70s through the ‘80s follows his previous volume Bronson’s Loose!: The Making of the Death Wish Films which specifically covered the Death Wish franchise.
 

 
Bronson’s Loose Again! indicates that the cult of Bronson initially took hold in Europe and Asia, while he was still largely unknown in the United States. According to the book, Bronson had passed on three Spaghetti Westerns which ended up making Clint Eastwood a huge star. It was then that Bronson finally agreed to appear in the European films Farewell, Friend (1968), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Rider on the Rain (1970). These three films were virtually ignored upon initial release in America, but made Bronson a huge megastar throughout the rest of the world.

He became one of the highest paid actors in the world by the time he went on to shoot Violent City (1970), Cold Sweat (1970) and Red Sun (1971).

The Bronson phenomenon was so huge in Japan that his face alone could sell a movie—or anything else, for that matter.

From Bronson’s Loose Again!:

Red Sun unspooled in one Tokyo theater for nine months and broke the house record set by the recent reissue of Gone with the Wind (1939)—which had played for a mere four months. Nearby, a massive billboard displayed a lone image: a painting of Bronson’s cracked, mustached face. There was no text, just the visual promise that the latest movie with the nation’s favorite star could be seen locally. In 1971 Bronson collected $100,000 for four days work shooting (in Colorado) a series of TV ads for a new cologne from the Japanese firm Mandom. These clever spots by director Nobuhiko Ohbayashi (who went on to do the 1977 cult horror film Hausu) perfectly captured the rugged Bronson mystique. A few weeks after the first commercial’s broadcast, Mandom’s product was the best-selling cologne in Japan. A rival company decided to not even bother airing its own Bronson-less ad.

The hyper-masculine Mandom ad must be seen to be believed:
 

 
Bronson didn’t really break through in the United States until Death Wish was released in 1974. The controversial vigilante film cemented his stardom both in the United States and abroad. The squinty-eyed, gun-weilding, middle-aged man with the weather-beaten features became an unlikely archetype for American badassery.
 

 
Strangely, the one person unaffected by the cult of Bronson seemed to be Bronson himself. Bronson, quoted from Talbot’s book:

“I’m not a fan of myself. I wouldn’t go to see me. I don’t like the way I look and talk. I like the way I walk, but I don’t like the way I stand. I hate the way I stand. There’s something about the way I stand. I’m embarrassed at myself. I’m not embarrassed at what I’m doing. I’m just embarrassed at myself.”

Audiences didn’t seem to have a problem with the way he looked or talked or stood—then or now: Six of Bronson’s films have gotten recent Blu-Ray reissues on boutique labels: 10 to Midnight, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, Mr. Majestyk, Messenger of DeathThe White BuffaloBreakheart Pass... and two more titles are set to be released soon: Assassination, and Murphy’s Law.

We wrote about 10 To Midnight back in October here at Dangerous Minds, calling it the weirdest, “most fucked-up, underrated, ‘80s slasher horror movie.” It’s a MUST-WATCH for either fans of Bronson’s “cop not playing by the rules” antics or fans of homocidal maniacs in a proto-American Psycho vein.

If you’re unfamiliar with Bronson’s canon of work, or have any lingering doubts about him being the ultimate movie badass, after the jump, I invite you to bask in the testosterone of the brilliant “Ultimate Charles Bronson Movie Trailer” supercut. It’s a thing of glory…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Dig these awesome ‘gay pulp’ paperback covers from the 1970s
12.08.2015
11:56 am

Topics:
Books
Queer

Tags:


 
I stumbled upon these fantastic covers of “gay pulp” paperbacks from the 1970s the other day and immediately became entranced with them. I saw a few of them at the blog Knee-Deep in the Flooded Victory and immediately knew I had to find out more. It turns out that these covers date from 1974 and 1975; they are from the “RAM-10” series from Hamilton House, a company about which I have no information.

It may not be apparent how unusually striking these covers are—for a nice gallery of more standard-issue gay paperback covers, you could do a lot worse than this post I did for DM a couple of years ago. You’ll see that the more usual style of gay pulp covers relies on well-nigh abstract juxtapositions of male silhouettes and that male/Mars symbol in garish colors. Not so for the RAM-10 series, which uses documentary-style photographic portraits of males dressed up as gay archetypes in front of a field of light blue or blood red, while a vertical line pierces the book’s title and author in a stately serif font. Actually, the covers remind me a bit of Gay Semiotics, the brilliantly deadpan monograph that photographer Hal Fischer published in 1977—high praise indeed.

Naturally, the blandly suggestive titles also elicit a smirk. Saddle Buddy, Holler Uncle, The Big Pipe, The Meat Eaters, Jump Squad......

All of these covers were a bit small in the formats I found them—it’d be great to get better scans of these titles. Who was the designer of these covers? Who was the photographer? I was able to get all of the covers except one—the missing volume is #102, which is E-Mission, by Chad Stuart, and that’s a shame, because according to Drewey Wayne Gunn in The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film: A History and Annotated Bibliography, that was a good one: “I particularly recommend E-Mission (1974) by Chad Stuart (William Maltese).”

One can safely assume that the names of the authors are psuedonyms, as Gunn’s quote above suggests. William Maltese, who wrote a few of these volumes, was formidable enough an author of gay pulp fiction that there is a bibliography dedicated to his work.
 

101. Tall Timber, by Wolfe Bronson
 

103. Saddle Buddy, by Tex Shulanski
 

104. Hunk, by Dick Baldwin
 
Many more 1970s gay pulp covers after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Paul Kirchner is back with ‘the bus 2’
12.07.2015
02:52 pm

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:


 
Earlier this year I had the good fortune to stumble upon the high-quality and criminally under-appreciated underground cartoons of Paul Kirchner, who had made his name in the 1970s and 1980s in primarily two ways. From 1975 to 1986 Kirchner produced a full-color, psychedelic comic strip set in the Old West called “Dope Rider” for High Times. Meanwhile, his strip “the bus” (the title is always set in lower case), a black-and-white comic strip about a municipal bus, appeared in Heavy Metal from 1979 to 1985.

For those who haven’t seen it, “the bus” is a gem of philosophical cartooning, a near-perfect blend of The Far Side, M.C. Escher, Jorge Luis Borges, and Rene Magritte.

In 2012 a French company called Éditions Tanibis did the world a service by publishing a book version of Kirchner’s original run of “the bus.” I own a copy, and it’s a very satisfying volume.

Sometime in the 1980s, Kirchner abandoned the cartooning game in favor of a (much more lucrative) career in advertising, but to the joy of his fans the world over, Kirchner recently started doing “the bus” strips again.

On November 25 of this year, Éditions Tanibis released the bus 2, which collects the strips that make up Kirchner’s second run of “the bus” strips.

Here is a bit of the promotional copy that accompanies the book:
 

In 2013, Paul Kirchner surprised commuters when he decided to start working again on the bus. He fixed the old vehicle up, took it out of the garage and called its iconic passenger in the white overcoat back on duty, waiting to be taken on new, exotic adventures. The bus’ unpredictable personality causes him to mimic classic pop culture icons such as King Kong or Steve Martin while in turn analyzing or teleporting his passenger. And that’s only when it’s not cheating on him with other commuters. Kirchner’s new ideas are on par with the original strips, proving that his creativity didn’t end with the 80’s. The crazy cartoon logic of the original strips is still present, and wackiness is the norm. Some details, such as the so-called “smart” phones or the passengers’ looks, root the stories in the 21st century, but Paul Kirchner’s universe retains a timeless vintage aesthetic that blends eras, lending these new stories a hint of nostalgia. The bus 2 will be published in hardcover horizontal format identical to the previous collection published in 2012. Back in that twilight dimension he calls home, it is rumored that Paul Kirchner is at work on new material for his psychedelic western Dope Rider. After all it seems that the bus’ passenger is not the only one who gets caught occasionally in strange time warps… Parts of the bus 2 material have previously been published in magazines in north America and in Europe.

 
It’s a perfect Christmas present for the underground comix fan in your life—or you can give it to your favorite bus? I don’t know either, but it does seem like a Kirchner-y way of thinking about it.

Here are a few of the new “the bus” strips. Click on any of them to see a larger version.
 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Kafka-inspired cockroach backpack
12.03.2015
08:55 am

Topics:
Books
Fashion

Tags:


 
A Dangerous Minds reader submitted these images of a Kafka-inspired cockroach backpack without any information. First, I was instantly intrigued. Second, I had to know where to get one! Sadly, I don’t know its provenance. The text at the bottom is in Spanish and says “To go to work… with style.” At this point, I’m concluding it’s just a wonderful conceptual design. Who came up with this? I don’t know.

Now if you have to have one or want something similar, I did find this beetle backpack. It’s just not as cool as the chic cockroach carryall I posted here, though.


 
h/t Andri An

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Cthulhu fhtagn: 2016’s ‘Lovecraftiana Calendar’ makes an eldritch Christmas gift
11.25.2015
10:03 am

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:

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Are you a fan of H. P. Lovecraft? Or, maybe just seeking that perfect something for the Lovecraftian in your life? Then look no further than John Coulthart’s Lovecraftiana Calendar for 2016, which contains twelve sumptuous illustrations of some of Lovecraft’s best known creations.

Coulthart is an artist, designer, writer and curator of the website {feuilleton}—an essential compendium of his interests, obsessions, and passing enthusiasms. Coulthart earliest artwork was for the album Church of Hawkwind in 1982. Since then, he has created a splendid oeuvre of artwork for books, magazines, comics and albums—for the likes of Steven Severin, Cradle of Filth, Melechesh and many, many others. Coulthart illustrated the “definitive” edition of Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark and Other Grotesque Visions, and was involved in creating the legendary and infamous comic Lord Horror published by Savoy Books. He also has the “dubious accolade of having an earlier Savoy title, Hard Core Horror #5, declared obscene in a British court of law.”

With the Lovecraftiana Calendar, Coulthart has brought together a selection of his mixed media illustrations of such mythical figures as Hastur,  Night Gaunt, Shoggoth, and locations such as the lost city of R’lyeh to powerful effect. And if this product twists your melon, then you can order your calendar here.
 
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JANUARY: Necronomicon (digital, 2015)

 
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FEBRUARY: The Yellow King (acrylics on board, 1996)

 
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MARCH: Nyarlathotep II (digital, 2009)

 
More ‘Lovecraftiana’ after of the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘The Book of Mormon Missionary Positions’ is the one gay sex manual that is TOTALLY SAFE FOR WORK
11.09.2015
01:57 pm

Topics:
Art
Belief
Books

Tags:


 
The Mormon Church’s law of chastity prohibits masturbation and premarital sex. The Church even frowns on dressing in a non-chaste manner and—no surprise here—homosexuality is considered a major-league sin, a big “no no” to our friends the Latter-Day Saints.

Inspired by Mitt Romney’s run for the US Presidency, Portland-based photographer Neil Dacosta satirized the Mormons’ politicized stance on same-sex relations by coming up with The Book of Mormon Missionary Positions. Think of it as a chaste gay Mormon version of the Kama Sutra sex manual. Like most Mormon-related things, it’s still totally safe for work. These Mormon twinks don’t even get their ironed and pressed missionary kits off as they attempt to go beyond the missionary position.

I wanted to see some magic underwear action, but sadly, none was forthcoming.


 

 

 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Evil Demons, Devils & Imps from ‘The Infernal Dictionary’
11.02.2015
12:23 pm

Topics:
Art
Books
Occult

Tags:

0Demoninfernal.jpg
 
A few lessons in French maybe required if you want to seriously study the Dictionnaire Infernal (Infernal Dictionary)—an A-Z on demonology and the occult—though Google translate may offer an easier option to access the histories of such demonic figures as the Azazel, Bael or Zabulon. Written and compiled by French occultist, demonologist and author Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy, the Dictionnaire Infernal was first published in 1818 to considerable success, and was reprinted several times before its most incarnation in 1863 in an edition that contained 69 illustrations by artist Louis Le Breton.

Breton’s illustrations became the main source for nearly all future representations of demons, monsters and fantastical beasts. De Plancy filled his dictionary with detailed histories of the hierarchy of demons—-from lowly pot boilers (Ukobach) to the Seven Princes of Hell, the Demon Regent Asmodeus, Astaroth and Lucifer. He also included historical figures associated with the occult or free thought—from various kings and queens to Napoleon and Nostradamus and even the renowned author Sir Walter Scott. A title page from the 1826 edition described the book thus:

Infernal Dictionary, or, a Universal Library on the beings, characters, books, deeds, and causes which pertain to the manifestations and magic of trafficking with Hell; divinations, occult sciences, grimoires, marvels, errors, prejudices, traditions, folktales, the various superstitions, and generally all manner of marvellous, surprising, mysterious, and supernatural beliefs.

Though originally a free thinker—he had been greatly influenced by Voltaire in his youth—De Plancy eventually became a Roman Catholic and parts of the Infernal Dictionary show his vacillation from skeptic to devout believer. Unsurprisingly therefore, later editions were edited to fit in with Catholic theology. However, the Infernal Dictionary is still a highly important compendium of demonology and the occult—in particular the 1863 edition with its fabulous illustrations by Le Breton.

An edition of the Infernal Dictionnaire has been scanned by the Internet Archive and can be viewed here.
 
0DemonBaelwiththreeheads1.jpg
One of the Seven Princes of Hell: The demon Bael with his three heads.
 
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The demon Buer—President of Hell.
 
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The Beast Behemoth.
 
More of Le Breton’s demons and pages from the ‘Dictionnaire Infernal,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Behind the scenes with James Bond in ‘You Only Live Twice’
10.29.2015
10:46 am

Topics:
Books
Movies
Television

Tags:

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The revolution of the sixties kicked off on October 5th, 1962. This was the day The Beatles released their first single “Love Me Do” and Sean Connery was launched on to the big screen as James Bond in Dr. No. Between these twin poles of movies and music the decade began. By 1967, The Beatles were the most influential band on the planet while Connery was the world’s best known actor, and iconic star of the most successful movie franchise of all time.

During the filming of the fifth James Bond movie You Only LIve Twice journalist and presenter Alan Whicker—best known for his rather snide, tabloid and often condescending reporting—made a documentary examining the success and cultural obsession with Ian Fleming’s super spy, or as he termed it “Bondomania.” Whicker bangs on about sex, sadism, amorality and violence, quizzing Connery, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and screenwriter Roald Dahl—who disagrees with Whicker’s insinuation, describing Bond as a “tough, rather insensitive fellow who’s very good at his job.”
 
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The Bond format of gadgets, girls and guns was set by the previous two movies Goldfinger and Thunderball. This time Dahl’s screenplay pushed the form to the limit—dumping most of Ian Fleming’s original novel and inventing his own comic book narrative—an action scene on average every five minutes—throwing Bond into unrelenting danger until the final climactic moments.

Dahl considered You Only Live Twice to be “Fleming’s worst book, with no plot in it,” and he therefore filled the movie with his own quirky inventions—rocket gobbling spacecraft, a volcanic island disguised as a mini Cape Canaveral, and so on. I think Dahl’s criticism harsh, as I am on the side who think Fleming’s books are actually superior to the films, as they reveal a conflicted Bond, insecure, violent, remorseful, smoking, drinking and popping pills to keep himself functioning. Fleming gave Bond an emotional narrative—from strong, confident agent to broken, haunted spy obsessing over his own mortality—which the films have generally ignored.

You Only Live Twice was the last Bond novel published in Fleming’s lifetime—he died of a heart attack, aged 56, two months after its appearance—the last novel The Man with the Golden Gun and the story collection Octopussy and The Living Daylights were published posthumously. The film was to be Connery’s last Bond until Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. The title comes from a haiku Bond writes when he is “reborn” as “Taro Todoroki,” a mute Japanese coal miner, to gain access to Dr. Guntram Shatterhand or rather Ernst Stavros Blofeld’s Garden of Death.

You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face.

 
More behind the scenes of ‘You Only Live Twice,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy
10.29.2015
10:36 am

Topics:
Books
Drugs

Tags:


 
I’ve been aware of Kliph Nesteroff’s singular erudition for a number of years now. Sometime in 2008 WFMU’s incredible Beware of the Blog (which sadly stopped operating earlier this year) ran a loooong article about the early years of George Carlin—which is to say, focusing on the years before the 1967 release of Carlin’s first solo album Take-Offs and Put-Ons, an era that most readers probably had hardly any notion about. After a while came similar articles dedicated to the early years of Woody Allen and David Letterman, both of which were similarly informative. All of these articles carried the cryptic byline “Listener Kliph Nesteroff,” which seemed random enough and lent the impression that the author was perhaps a housebound retiree, former Navy during the Korean War, something like that.

How happy for us readers—as the news may portend further publications down the road—to learn that Kliph is far from a grouchy old obsessive, but rather a charming young obsessive (well, maybe a little grouchy), who for some reason has acquired a taste for unearthing and preserving invaluable scuttlebutt from the early days of comedy. For years he has run an essential blog called Classic Television Showbiz and an amusing Tumblr called Showbiz Imagery and Chicanery. The former houses his long-form interviews with some of the important figures of midcentury comedy (many on the verge of being forgotten today), including Orson Bean, George Schlatter, Peter Marshall, a category that also includes an incredible eight-part interview with Jack Carter. Showbiz Imagery and Chicanery is every bit as entrancing, consisting mostly of context-free screen shots of puzzling images and text culled from the hours Kliph spends with the inexhaustible (and expensive! do donate!) resource known as the Variety.com archives.

Suffice to say, in a few short years Kliph has put together a knowledge base on the roots of stand-up comedy that dwarfs that of anyone younger than, say, 50. By dint of curiosity and hard work, Kliph put himself into a position where he could see the linkages between the present and the past, could isolate the ways in which the patterns that structure the industry of professional comedy found their origins not necessarily in the ersatz “comedy boom” of the 1980s but in practices that stretch much further back.

It was incumbent upon Kliph, then, to write a book about all of this, and thank goodness, that’s precisely what he’s done. Next week sees the publication of The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy, and I can say with confidence that this book will be an invaluable resource for decades to come, for anyone who wants to know about the full history of comedy, stuff that predates the days when Robin Williams was saying “Nanu Nanu” on national TV. Something very similar happened in baseball a generation or two ago, when a writer named Lawrence Ritter decided to hunt down as many players as he could find from the early days of baseball (around 1900)—those interviews eventually became a book called The Glory of Our Times, which was published in 1966 and had a massive impact on the way the sport’s fans regarded the heroes of prior generations. The highest compliment I can pay Kliph’s new book The Comedians (which is available for pre-order right now) is that I think he may just have written comedy’s analogue to The Glory of Our Times, the book that—if you have not absorbed its contents—all but demands that you hold your tongue on the subject of old-time comedy.

Kliph graciously set aside some time to answer some questions from DM.

You’ve discovered a whole new area of research to mine, at least for people of our generation. Soon it will just be called “Kliphland.” How did you get started investigating the midcentury era of comedians?

Kliph Nesteroff: As a teenager I was your typical hipster scum, collecting vinyl records and raiding local thrift stores. I collected soul music, garage rock, surf music - and comedy records. The comedy LPs were by far the most worthless. I would see the same comedy records in every junk pile: Rusty Warren, Woody Woodbury, The First Family featuring Vaughn Meader.
 

 
I was already interested in comedy but had never heard of these people. Why were they in every thrift store but never on TV or in movies? They must have been super popular at one point if their records were everywhere, right? So that made me sort of curious. Then I learned that after Vaughn Meader had the best-selling record of all time (not just comedy, but any LP period) he went crazy, schizophrenic, destitution, eating out of dumpsters, eventually wandering the desert on peyote before turning Christian and reinventing himself as a local country and western performer in Maine. Clearly there was a worthwhile story there.

I was already a writer and started stand-up at the age of 18. So, I guess the subject matter was just a natural combination of interests. The creative freedom Ken Freedman provided at WFMU allowed me to experiment and write on any topic of my choosing.

The kids in the audience at the UCB Theater probably have no idea that they’re enthused about an art form that was more or less invented by the Mob. You write that pretty much all comedians after Prohibition were working by the grace of one or another group of gangsters. That must have been hard!

Kliph Nesteroff: No, I wouldn’t say the Mafia invented the art form. In my book I have an anecdote from a 90-year-old comedian who argues they coined the phrase “stand-up comic,” because the Mob managed boxers they called “stand-up fighters” and called people they could rely on “stand-up guys.” But no, the Mob had nothing to do with inventing it. They simply owned 90% of the venues where comedians performed from the 1930s through the mid-1960s. So, you know, make the wrong wisecrack and you might suffer a broken limb.

You’ve spent a lot of time lately hanging out with some of the now-forgotten stand ups of the 1950s, who are now getting pretty old and crotchety too. They’ve been treating you pretty well, but they’ve probably been difficult at times too. Any stories to pass along?

Kliph Nesteroff: I don’t know. Old people get angry sometimes. I guess we would too if we had trouble peeing. Carl Reiner is considered the epitome of clean comedy, a guy who can write divinely funny scripts without cussing. I was at a Dick Van Dyke tribute once. I went to the bathroom and was at the second urinal when someone came in and went to the first urinal right beside me. It was a 90-year-old Carl Reiner. He braced himself with his left hand against the wall and the whole time he was at the urinal grumbling, “Goddamit Fuck! Come on! Go! Go! Just go! Jesus fucking bullshit, come on! Fucking goddamn fuck!”

You’ve unearthed so much valuable information about pioneers who helped forge comedy archetypes we all take for granted now, like Frank Fay and Jerry Lester. It must have been fun to spot and explain connections between, say, Bert Williams and Jim Gaffigan.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, mapping the connections that haven’t been connected before is a little bit like playing God. Based on the reviews coming in, it sounds like I’ve laid down some kind of masterwork, a sacrosanct history of comedy, and that’s extremely flattering and gratifying - but wasn’t my intention at all. I was just writing whatever I felt was interesting. Comparing Jim Gaffigan’s under-the-breath comments to a similar gimmick the vaudeville comic Bert Williams utilized is just an easy point of reference to help the reader get it. Sort of the way lazy film critics explain new movies: “It’s Revenge of the Nerds meets Schindler’s List!”
 

 
It was interesting to read about Carlin’s drug use in such detail. I didn’t realize how central LSD was to his reinvention in the late ‘60s.

Kliph Nesteroff: George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin are considered the three revolutionary figures of comedy from that time. All three were primarily into cocaine in the 1970s, but before that Carlin and Pryor used LSD to positive effect. I think we as a society, y’know, as we hear The Beatles piped through at the local grocery store… we forget just how valuable psychedelics have been to expanding the artist’s inherent ability. Carlin and Pryor would have been fine talents regardless, they were born with that. But it’s because of their 1960s LSD use that their perspectives were forever altered, and why so many today consider them comic geniuses. LSD and other psychedelics can help our latent talents fuse new, uncharted neuro pathways and in turn create an original artistic temperament, unique perspective, prolific output. Groundbreaking revelations come from these experiences and they don’t wear off like a hallucination. Instead you possess new insight that will further your existing artistic ability. I mean, it’s hardly news that LSD is responsible for countless Aphrodites in music, illustration, filmmaking… But maybe the new news, as I argue in my book, is that it had the same important effect on comedy. If such theories are accepted, it’s usually in reference to the 1960s. Let’s not forget that it can still be used with the same revelatory intent today. To quote George Carlin: “More people should do acid.”
 

 
Flip Wilson was a huge deal in the 1970s, but he’s practically forgotten now. Can you describe his importance to the comedy counterculture?

Kliph Nesteroff: It’s mostly tangential. He was an early employer for Richard Pryor and George Carlin, using them as writers, and bankrolled Carlin’s best-selling comedy LPs. Flip Wilson’s significance was less on the counterculture than the mainstream. He was the very first African-American with a major network success of his own. You could argue Cosby with I Spy, but Cosby only costarred. Flip Wilson was the star of his own show… an African-American cokehead who had the number one comedy program in America. Think about that. Ten years earlier, Sammy Davis Jr, a guy who loved Sinatra’s racist jokes and endorsed Richard Nixon, could not get a sponsor for his own variety show because he was Black. Just a few years later and Flip Wilson was on the cover of every conceivable magazine. It’s incredible how quickly America changed. And despite the lunatics saying abhorrent things on cable news today, I think we’re experiencing another rapid paradigm shift akin to that era. Never in my lifetime did I expect to see gay marriage, marijuana legalization or a Black president. Nor could I ever imagine that Bernie Sanders would be a household name. Jerry Seinfeld kvetching about political correctness is not too far from Bob Hope complaining about hippie protestors. America is changing, brother. Sure, everything could dissipate like Jerry Rubin turning into a Wall Street powerbroker, but I think we’re only entering the Abbie Hoffman phase of this new era.

Order Kliph Nesteroff’s The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy from Amazon.

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