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RE/Search’s Vale and JG Ballard on William Burroughs
12:06 pm

Pop Culture


This is a guest post from Graham Rae.

In 2007, I interviewed Val Vale, of RE/Search Publications, and the late futurologist novelist JG Ballard, about a writer whom they were both very favorably predisposed to, William S. Burroughs. I talked to the amiable Val by phone, and sent JGB a few questions by mail, sending him a copy of an expensive science book I had received for review, An Evolutionary Psychology of Sleep and Dreams, to sweeten the pot. The answers are below.

These interviews originally appeared on the now-defunct website of the fine Scottish writer Laura Hird, and do not appear anywhere else online; have not done for years. Thus the references are somewhat dated, but at lot of the material, sadly, remains very much in vogue. I had only been in America for two years in 2007, and my views here seem somewhat naïve to me now, but, well, them’s the learning-immigrant breaks. So without further ado…

Foreword: Noted San Francisco underground publisher V Vale has been publishing since 1977, when, with $200 he was given by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and poet/ City Lights bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti ($100 from each), he put out 11 issues of the Search And Destroy punk zine. In 1980 he started RE/Search, an imprint which still puts out infrequent volumes on subjects like schlock therapy trash movies, JG Ballard, punk, modern primitives, supermasochists, torture gardens, pranks, angry women, bodily fluids.anything and everything taboo and alternative and unreported was and is fair grist to Vale’s subversive ever-churning wordmill.

In 1982 he put out RE/Search #4/5, a three-section volume including William S. Burroughs, with the other two sections being about Throbbing Gristle and the artist Brion Gysin, WSB’s friend and collaborator who’d introduced the writer to the ‘cut-up’ method of rearranging his texts to show what they really mean.

The Burroughs section of the book include an interview with Burroughs by Vale (who is mentioned in Burroughs’ Last Words), an unpublished chapter from Cities of The Red Night, two excerpts from The Place of Dead Roads, two “Early Routines,” an article on “The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin” and ‘The Revised Boy Scout Manual’ which is a piece in which Burroughs muses revealingly on armed revolution and weapons-related revelation.

I talked to the amiable publisher about this interesting volume, but only about Burroughs, because he was the reason I wanted to read the thing in the first place; neither of the other two subjects much interest me, to be perfectly honest. It’s an interesting volume that any Burroughs enthusiast would definitely enjoy. So join us as we (me with occasionally incomprehensible-to-American-ears Scottish accent) take a trip down memory lane and talk about snakebite serum, dark-skinned young boys, the City Lights bookstore, independent publishing, aphorisms, Fox News’s hateful right-wing Christian conservative pop-agitprop, the madness of Tony Blair and avoiding mad drunks with guns.

And after the interview with Vale you will find the answers to a few questions JG Ballard was kind enough to answer me by mail about his own relationship with El Hombre Invisible.

V Vale Questions

Graham Rae: First off, how did you first encounter Burroughs’ work?

Vale: Oh, jeez. Well, I encountered Naked Lunch at college in the late ‘60s. He was like the cat’s meow. Burroughs and Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon—books like these. And it was obvious that Burroughs was this un-sane, slightly science-fictiony visionary, but he wasn’t really science fiction, he was extremely sardonic, that was his main appeal, with Dr. Benway and all that. And since I was more-or-less hetero oriented I think I more or less ignored all the references to young boys with blue gills and fluorescent appendages and whatever. That sort of went right by me like water off a duck’s back. It was only later that I realized that the imagery was kind of . . . how it was oriented. But what really turned me on to Burroughs was an article in a 1970 or ‘71 Atlantic Monthly magazine that came out with a huge excerpt in it from The Job, which is Burroughs’—I think it’s his signature book of interviews, it’s kind of the equivalent of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). And so I took this magazine and underlined it and kept reading it over and over, making lists and trying to get all the books that he talked about. And then The Job came out and that became my Bible


Vale: Oh yeah, it’s totally important. Still important; it’s got so many ideas in it.

Well that’s the thing about Burroughs, isn’t it? It’s like this sort of surreal mercurial Braille, it’s very strange. I mean you read it, you go back to it and then you go back to it and then you get something different from it because you’ve got a completely different level of understanding of it, y’know, I think, personally.

Vale: Well yeah, that definitely can happen with any great book. And I spent so much time with ‘The Job’ and with that ‘Atlantic Monthly’ article. It was obvious that this was sort of like a philosophy of life. I mean, instead of saying you’re right wing or left wing politically, you could just say, Well, I’m a Burroughsian. There should be almost a Burroughsian political party making fun of authoritarianism all across the entire political spectrum.

I’ve got that party in my head that goes on 24 fucking 7, man. Right. When and how did you first contact Burroughs?

Vale: Well I was already working at City Lights Bookstore and one of the perks of working there was that you got to meet all the so-called Beatniks and you were already in the in-group.

Did you meet like Ginsberg and that then, I take it?

Vale: Oh yeah, sure. The legend is that Ginsberg gave me my first $100 to start publishing. It’s certainly true, but I wish I had made a Xerox of the check, and I wish I had made a Xerox of the check that Ferlinghetti gave me, too. But you know, back in those days you didn’t have a home Xerox machine, you had to go to a corner facility and spend ten cens on a Xerox. Believe it or not, ten cents for a Xerox was a lot of money in 1976 or so.

Especially when you don’t have much money.

Vale: Especially when you’re living on minimum wage from City Lights, but you know you would parlay that, you’d stretch that out by: you’d get such a low income you’d qualify for food stamps, for example. They still give out food stamps—I see these old Chinese people using them still, but I hear they’re really hard to get now. But they used to be easy to get.

Continues after the jump with more from Vale and JG Ballard on WSB…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘William S. Burroughs & Lawrence’: Every WSB fan needs to see this charming film
05:37 pm




“This is one of the great dangers with overpopulation… the absolute proliferation of morons.”—William S. Burroughs

I’ve long given up on seeing another decent documentary on William S. Burroughs. One that’s not full of talking heads of people who barely knew him—I could not give a shit about hearing Michael Stipe or Iggy Pop’s well-rehearsed soundbites about WSB, again—and footage that you’ve already seen ten gazillion times before. Not since Howard Brookner’s Burroughs:The Movie—made over 30 years ago—has there been a good Burroughs doc.

So I’m happy to have stumbled across this utterly DELIGHTFUL short “Burroughs & Lawrence” produced and directed by Chris Snipes. It’s episode 7 of Our Town, a series of films about Lawrence, KS, the university town where Burroughs lived the longest of all the various places he’d lived around the world.

Not only have I seen almost zero of the footage contained in the film, it’s full of charming and intimate stories about the notorious Beat writer in the September of his years, anecdotes told by people who really knew the man. Featuring footage of Burroughs reading in a local bookstore. Wonderful stories about Burroughs driving a car. The hilarious “cat butt” scene (trust me, it’s LOL). Clips of Timothy Leary, Marianne Faithfull and Allen Ginsberg celebrating the Beats in 1987 at the River City Reunion event. Patti Smith singing at Burroughs’ gravesite and plenty of mundane, but funny/fascinating details about Burroughs’ day-to-day life in Lawrence.

Highly recommended. In fact, I recommend that you get high and watch this.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Real Horrorshow!: Malcolm McDowell and Anthony Burgess discuss Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’
11:05 am



Ken Russell was among the many directors originally touted to direct A Clockwork Orange before Stanley Kubrick. Russell was considered stylistically sympathetic to bring Anthony Burgess’s source novel to cinematic life—he had documented youth gangs as a photographer in the 1950s and made a series of highly influential drama-documentaries and films that had inspired not only Stanley Kubrick but also Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and later Derek Jarman. I wonder what Russell’s version of A Clockwork Orange would have been like? Perhaps more flamboyant, more seedy, more of the end-of the-pier, more human than Kubrick’s aesthetically pleasing but cold and sterile vision. And though the great and the good lobbied to have Mick Jagger play Alex, I wonder if Russell would have opted for his favorite actor Oliver Reed? Oh, what japes they’d have had. Instead Kubrick chose Malcolm McDowell because of his unforgettable and iconic performance as Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson’s If…
Casting at first sight: director Lindsay Anderson was understandably smitten by McDowell’s beauty, talented and attitude when he cast him as Mick Travis in ‘If…’ The performance that led to his role as Alex in Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange.’.
McDowell had the blue-eyed, blonde beauty of a fallen angel—he would have been the perfect choice to play Lucifer for Kenneth Anger. McDowell was born in 1943 into a lower middle class family in Leeds, he was never the working class lout as some tabloids like to pretend but a privately educated son to a family who ran a small guest house. He was clever, smart, idealistic, and decided he wanted to be an actor. After school, he found found work as a stage manager on the Isle of Wight before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company. McDowell embraced the cultural rebellion of the 1960s and hated the dominance of the established theatrical institutions, as he once explained to writer Michael Bracewell:

‘The RSC? Horrendous. Middle-class theatre crap…actorly acting with lots of shouting—after [Laurence] Olivier—and soul-searching performances…I mean I saw some great performances—Ian Richardson and Paul Scofield—but it was like being ordered around and told what to do by a bunch of little shitheads. I auditioned for the RSC by reading the Prologue from Henry VIII, for the very good reason that nobody knew it. It begins, “I come no more to make you laugh”, which was ironic, because humour has always been a great mainstay of my arsenal. I mean, A Clockwork Orange was essentially a comic performance. I used to loot my style from Eric Morecambe.’

Eric Morecambe (with umbrella and bowler) and Ernie Wise.
Eric Morecambe was the comic half to the much-beloved double-act Morecambe and Wise, who dominated British television screens in the 1960s and 1970s, which brings a different interpretation to his performance as Alex—one that would have been ideal for Ken Russell.

‘I’ve always had to live down A Clockwork Orange wherever I go, because ever since then, with the exception of O, Lucky Man!, which I made with Lindsay [Anderson] immediately afterwards, I’ve always been cast as the heavy. It used to irritate the shit out of me, and then I just got bored with it, you know? I just wanted to get on, maybe make a few comedies or do something else, but there was Alex…I know that I’ve said some mean things about Kubrick in the past, but thinking back to the actual shooting of that film and trying to forget all the baggage of what happened afterwards, it was an incredibly stimulating experience, even though I got to the point where I hated the film because of the reaction.’

This runs contra to McDowell’s enthusiasm as expounded in this interview about A Clockwork Orange he gave with author Anthony Burgess in 1972, but this was still early days and McDowell had not been hamstrung by his move to Hollywood, where he ended-up making movies for the lowest common denominator. McDowell is an exceptionally talented actor and no matter how dire the film he always gives a powerfully memorable performance.
The book and its Beethoven-loving author, Anthony Burgess.
Anthony Burgess came to hate Kubrick’s film too, which was ironic as the movie made Burgess a bigger star than his writing up to that point had achieved. Burgess is a writer’s writer, a polymath who claimed he would rather be known for his musical compositions than his books. Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange in 1962, after being mistakenly told he had not long to live. To ensure he left money for his wife, Burgess wrote a series of novels in quick succession, one of which was A Clockwork Orange. It was moderately successful on publication, a cult book, that became a bestseller after Kubrick’s movie. Burgess claimed he took the title from an old East London saying, “As queer as a clockwork orange,” which may or may not be true, as there appears to be no known record of this phrase. Whatever its derivation, it perfectly captured the book’s theme of a hideous artificial will imposed on natural behavior.
McDowell and Kubrick on set during filming.
After Kubrick’s film version of A Clockwork Orange was released in Britain in 1971, it was ironically linked to a series of violent crimes. The first was the murder of a tramp by a 16-year-old youth; the second involved another 16-year-old who, while dressed in the film’s distinctive gang uniform, stabbed a younger boy; the third was the brutal and horrific gang rape of a Dutch girl by a group of youths from Lancashire, as they sang “Singing in the Rain”.

Sentencing the 16-year-old for assaulting a child, a judge described the attack part of a “horrible trend” prompted by “this wretched film”. Following death threats and warnings from the police over revenge attacks, Kubrick asked Warner Brothers to pull the film from its UK release. For a very long time, through the 1980s and 1990s, the nearest place Brits could see A Clockwork Orange was Paris. It was only after Kubrick’s death in 1999 was his ban lifted and the film re-released in the UK.

Previously on Dangerous Minds
Anthony Burgess and the Top Secret Code contained in ‘A Clockwork Orange’

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Fuck obscenity!: Live footage of The Fugs performing at Cleveland free speech benefit,1967
09:48 am



I thought I’d seen every frame of Fugs’ film footage that exists on the worldwide web…but I guess not. Here’s something totally new to me: The Fugs performing in 1967 at a Cleveland, Ohio benefit for poet D.A. Levy and Jim Lowell.
Lowell and Levy had been busted for distributing obscene literature to minors. Lowell owned a Cleveland beatnik hang, The Asphodel Book Store, where one could buy books that, in 1967, were deemed profane, including some of Levy’s self-published books of poetry. They both endured a year of protracted legal hassles before the charges were dropped in 1968. But despite being not guilty of anything, Levy had to pay a $200 fine and was told by the judge to “no longer associate with juveniles or give them his poetry.” That’s a rather harsh sentence for someone whose biggest crime was writing some poems. It was particularly rough on Levy whose art was intended to inspire a new generation of young people to question authority and expand their consciousness. Levy was a mystic, a Buddhist, a bard on a mission to change the world through a process of opening up minds. Later that year Levy opened his mind once and for all when he blew out his brains with a shotgun. A sad end for a brilliant young poet. He was 26.
From D.A. Levy’s Suburban Monastery Death Poem:

the poets will be kept in line
like they are in cleveland
its so easy to convince poets
what poetry is
and what it isnt
& everyone knows
sleeping with the muse
is only for young poets
after you’ve been kept impotent
by style & form & words like “art”
after being published by the RIGHT publishers
and having all the right answers
after youve earned the right to call yrself
a poet     yr dead
& lying on yr back
drinking ceremonial wine, while
the muse, who is always a young girl
with old eyes into the universe
suddenly remembers necrophilia
is an experience shes had before
& shes not interested
in straddling corpses anymore


Beatniks were scary! Children were hidden behind suburban mother’s skirts. Fathers oiled their rifles as teenagers shimmied to a wild bongo beat.

The Fugs came to the rescue. This footage is 16mm film shot by Dennis Goulden. The audio is rough but the visuals are fine indeed. The benefit took place at the Case Institute of Technology campus. Cleveland was scarred forever. Poetry had left its festering tattoo upon the buttocks of civility.

More after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
A Dangerous Minds exclusive: Previously unpublished interview with Allen Ginsberg
11:17 am



In 1977, Michael Rectenwald was a disenchanted pre-med student with a secret passion for poetry—Allen Ginsberg and his influences in particular. After a couple of years of covertly consuming, studying and writing poems, he found his interest in medical school had entirely evaporated, so he left school and dove further into writing, eventually sending a letter and some of his poems to Ginsberg himself. Not only did Ginsberg write back, he invited Rectenwald to apprentice him at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Describing his fellow classmates as “a hodgepodge of Buddhists, failed and former beatniks, wannabe poets, acid trippers, mushroom poppers, Carlos Castaneda aficionados who thought they could fly, and many stripes of New Ager,” Rectenwald was thrown into an erratic world of “creatives” head first. He thrived, developing both a meaningful relationship with his mentor and practicing his craft, despite the frequently turbulent environment.

For example, one of Rectenwald’s “tasks” was watching over Billy Burroughs, Jr., son of William S. Burroughs. Traumatized by an unstable childhood and the death of his mother at the hands of his father, Billy’s mental and physical health had deteriorated exacerbated by alcoholism and a speed addiction his father had encouraged him to cultivate—the senior Burroughs saw drugs as a creative muse. Eventually Billy fled to Florida and died of cirrhosis shortly thereafter, though not before leaving a suicide note, which Rectenwald still possesses.

Eventually Rectenwald went back home and returned to school, this time for a B.A. in English from the University of Pittsburgh. His experience with Ginsberg, while formative, had been disorienting. In 1994, Rectenwald and Ginsberg met again for an interview, which you can read below. This is the first time it has run in print, and the warmth and the familiarity of their interaction is apparent as they meander from politics to the drug war to Buddhism to William S Burroughs.

Michael Rectenwald has since gone on to publish his own poetry and fiction. He has also taught, and produced scholarly work on academic writing, and the history of science and secularism (guess pre-med really did end up coming in handy). He hopes to complete his next book—on his experience with Ginsberg—soon.

M: Hello Allen.

A: Hi, Hello.

M: How are you doing?

A: Well, I just came back from a Chinese restaurant with an old painter friend whom I haven’t seen in New York in thirty years. Robert Levin who was a court painter for all the Beat generation and San Francisco renaissance poets like Kerouac and Gary Snyder and John Wieners. So he just arrived in New York for the big Beat generation festival at NYU and him and I went out to summer tonight.

M: and you hadn’t seen him in how long?

A: Well we’d seen each other in Seattle where he was, but I hadn’t seen him in New York, I guess for I guess thirty years or so, since the 60s.

M: Wow, and the Beat generation and legacy and celebration is taking place, actually as this interview is airing. I’ve got the schedule here in front of me and it looks like it’s quite of an array… everything from academic presentations to…

A: Art shows, particularly. There will be a reading at town hall with Gregory Corso and Ann Waldman and myself, Dave [inaudible], Michael McClure…

M: Ferlinghetti with paintings?

A: Ferlinghetti is both poetry and paintings. Almost everybody. It’s a show of… it began in the school of education and art. It began as an art show to show paintings by Ferlinghetti and Burroughs and water colors by Gregory Corso and photographs by me and Albert Franken and others.

M: Yeah, you’re quite photographer too. I don’t think everybody knows that.

A: There is a new big book out by Chronicle Books that is [inaudible]. It is back on the stands now.

M: I myself have been an admirer of your musical works. You putting Blake to music and you have several musical scores that you have done.

A: We have a lot of albums out now. It’s basically a libretto that I did with Philip Glass, Hydrogen Jukebox that came out on [inaudible] Records a couple months ago. A couple years ago, I had on Island Records what was called The Lion For Real with spoken poems with jazz backgrounds by a lot of very interesting musicians, the same guys that play with Tom Waits and sometimes with Leonard Cohen, [inaudible],  Mark Greenbo, Bill Frisell and others. So now I’m working on a fourth CD set of highlights of all my recorded stuff that has been put out over a thirty-year period.

M: That’s excellent

A: We have a lot of Blake, that you like, plus some things you haven’t heard.

M: Great.

A: That I recorded with Dylan.

M: Oh really?

A: It’s about a half hour of work with Dylan, my own songs with Blake or compositions we did together, improvisations. Then there is a live cut with The Clash. A piece of an opera I did with Philip Glass, a duet between me and Glass. There is a duet with…oh, let’s see, who is the drummer for “A Love Supreme”?

M: Oh, you mean from the Santana album?

A: Elvin Jones, the drummer.

M: Is the cut from Combat Rock is that The Clash or is that another?

A; Oh that is a live thing we did, it’s one of my songs. We had Combat Rock, actually with the album I sing on with their words, but this was my own. Someone did it at a club in New York, improvised, years ago when I first met him.

More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead’s unrealized ballet
09:21 am



Though The Sea Lion, Ken Kesey’s tale based on the mythology of the Northwest Coast Indians, wound up as a children’s book, the author originally intended it to be a three-part rock ballet scored by the Grateful Dead. Kesey discussed his vision for the ballet with Old Dominion University’s student newspaper during a 1982 visit to Virginia:

He says he has just spent all of last year researching Northwest Indian myths. The author wants to write a ballet featuring the Indian legends, and have the music written and performed by rock group the Grateful Dead. “I want the Dead to write the music and score for an orchestra,’’ Kesey explains, “and put the Dead down in the orchestra pit where they belong! The Dead are the best!”

The Greatful Dead traveled with Kesey to the site of the Indian rituals, where they saw the rites performed by the Kwakutl, Tlingit, and Hiada Indian tribes. Kesey wants the Dead to do the ballet because “They won’t be remembered unless they do something permanent.”

Kesey says the performers are enthused about the project, and that Bill Graham, the rock promoter, is very interested in staging the production. Kesey doesn’t want the ballet to be just another rock performance, or rock “opera.” He wants it to be something special and lasting.

The ballet will be called ‘The Sea Lion,” and will concern a boy who finds a magic amulet of god. Later, the boy must contend with magical powers and the designs of necromancers.

Kesey believes the ballet would be a success, and would preserve the mythology of the Indians as well as returning the sense of story and art to people.

“I’d love to see Baryshnikov do it!” Kesey laughs.

Given the personalities involved and the size of the undertaking, it is perhaps not too surprising that this ambitious project was never realized—at least, not with the Dead’s participation. The Sea Lion wasn’t dramatized until 2002, the year after Kesey’s death, when a Chicago-area YMCA staged a production.

In the news clip below, the Dead get back on the bus with Kesey to learn about the folklore of the Northwest Coast Indians at the Lelooska Foundation in Ariel, Washington. It all starts to make a lot of sense as soon as you see the masks.

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
A collection of ridiculous celebrity National Enquirer covers, 1960s
01:21 pm

Pop Culture


November 20, 1964
I’m always trying to find absurd vintage National Enquirer covers from the 1960s. They’re mildly amusing and usually make me chuckle. Anyway, I’ve collected a few I’ve found online from various sources and posted them here. Hopefully you’ll find them as funny as I do.

I tried to add the dates at the bottom of each cover. If there’s no date for a National Enquirer cover… I simply couldn’t make it out. A lot of these were small jpgs. and the dates were pixelated when I enlarged them. I did try my damnedest, though.

July 4, 1965

July 15, 1965



February, 1965

April 4, 1965
More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
James Ellroy’s obsessive and murderous world
01:21 pm



James Ellroy. Often writes. In. One. Word. Sentences. Sometimes two. It’s a style he developed when editing his novel White Jazz—the final volume of his famous (first) L.A. Quartet. He thought the manuscript too long—the action held back by unnecessary descriptive passages—so he slashed whole paragraphs and sentences to one-word blasts. The result was powerful, explosive, relentless—like being punched by a champion heavyweight, or poked in the chest by a speed freak keeping your attention focussed on his latest conspiracy theory.

Ellroy is the greatest living historical novelist/crime writer—historical novelist is how he describes himself—writing rich, complex novels—filled with multiple plot lines and characters—all held together, with Tolstoyan skill, in a single narrative.
Ellroy as a child pictured next to his mother in news report of her slaying.
If the past is a foreign country then Ellroy is a pioneer of that territory. He maps out America’s hidden criminal history—a dark foreboding underworld—which he situates between the twin poles of his personal obsession: the unsolved murder of his mother in 1958 and the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the “Black Dahlia,” whose tortured, brutalized and severed body was discovered in January 1947.
LA Times report on the ‘Black Dahlia’ murder, 1947.
These two murders underscore much of Ellroy’s life and fiction. He was just a ten-year-old kid when his mother was murdered by person or persons unknown. The trauma of this act led Ellroy into a world of petty crime, drug addiction and prison. He daydreamed and plotted and ran movies in his head where he saved a fantasy amalgam of his mother and Elizabeth Short from torturous demise. He knew his life was in free-fall—he was on a one-way ticket to the morgue. After a near fatal incident—a lung infection caused by his drug and alcohol addiction—Ellroy saved himself by writing crime fiction.

Last year, Ellroy published Perfidia—the first volume of his second L.A. Quartet—which follows (in real time) factual public and fictional private deeds across Los Angeles in the days around Pearl Harbor. Perfidia documents the racism and brutality of the cops and everyday Angelenos as Japanese-Americans are rounded-up and dumped in internment camps. It is a remarkable book, an adrenaline charged assault on America’s secret history and is arguably the best book he has written.

In 1994, Nicola Black made an astounding documentary on Ellroy called White Jazz that followed his quest to find his mother’s killer. If that had been available I’d have posted it here. Instead here is James Ellroy’s Feast of Death a BBC documentary form 2001 that covers similar ground but with the added bonus of a round table discussion on the Black Dahlia killing held in the Pacific Dining Car restaurant between Ellroy and a bunch of ex-cops and interested parties—including a briefly glimpsed Nick Nolte.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Ubu Sings Ubu’: Pere Ubu meets Alfred Jarry in absurdist pataphysical mash-up
12:52 pm



More than a century after it premiered, the play Ubu Roi by French playwright Alfred Jarry remains one of the most singularly brilliant accomplishments in the history of drama, a dizzyingly absurdist mashup of Macbeth and Hamlet and King Lear. Its influence in drama is too massive to be detailed here, but more interesting is its impact on rock music. Not only did David Thomas and company decide to name their new Cleveland band after the protagonist of Ubu Roi—that’s a gimme. But much more to the point, rock heroes as diverse as the Fall’s Mark E. Smith and Coil and Henry Cow have drawn inspiration from the manic adventures of the King of Poland-assassinating revolutionary.

Finally, a veteran of the NYC stage, Tony Torn, had the brilliant idea of staging a production of Ubu Roi that incorporates the songs of Pere Ubu. The project is called Ubu Sings Ubu. Why did it take more than 30 years for someone to do this?? Not surprisingly, the unsettling genius of David Thomas and that of Alfred Jarry fit together like a fish and a trampoline, to employ a suitably Dada-esque trope.

Today is Saturday, January 10, and if you are in the New York area, you can see Ubu Sings Ubu tomorrow and Monday (January 11 and 12) at the Slipper Room at 167 Orchard Street with the appropriately eerie start time of 11 pm. Tickets cost $22 at the door but you can pre-order tix for a cool eighteen smackers.

The cast includes Julie Atlas Muz, called “the quintessence of fabulousness” by the Gay City News, and the choreography is by Dan Safer, who also co-directed. Ubu Sings Ubu was, hilariously, adapted from a version of the original French text of Jarry’s Ubu Roi that was then zapped into Google Translate.

We discussed the production of Ubu Sings Ubu with its co-director and star, Tony Torn:

Dangerous Minds: Has Ubu Sings Ubu been performed before?

Tony Torn: Ubu Sings Ubu premiered at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side in Manhattan in April 2014.

I live in Cleveland, and Pere Ubu swings a pretty big dick around here. Have you ever been to Cleveland?

Yes, my good friend the poet and artist Julie Patton lives there! Cleveland rocks.

Aside from the name, what is the connection between Ubu Roi and Pere Ubu, to you?

I was an obsessive fan of Pere Ubu’s music in high school! I wore out my LP of The Modern Dance. I later discovered Alfred Jarry’s proto-surrealist masterpiece Ubu Roi by looking into the band’s influences. The idea to mash them up came 30 years ago, and it finally happened last year. The concept is … the songs of the band, Pere Ubu, done by the character, Pere Ubu. It’s a silly joke, but it’s proved to be very deep in its own way.

Obviously Pere Ubu took their name from Jarry. Is there any thematic content in the songs that relates to Ubu Roi?

It’s more a sharing of sensibilities than any explicit correlation, at least in the genius of David Thomas’ songwriting. Although it’s true that the hook in the song “The Modern Dance” is “Merdre, Merdre.” This of course is the famous first line of Jarry’s Ubu Roi, where the character of Pere Ubu says the french word for “shit” with an extra syllable added…. this caused riots when the play premiered in Paris in 1896! Young William Butler Yeats was in the audience, and famously wrote, “After us, the savage god.”

How hard was it to match up Pere Ubu’s song titles to the plot of Ubu Roi?

It was surprisingly easy! They don’t relate directly on a lyrical level, but emotionally and dramatically they work like gangbusters. Take the two songs we turned into duets between Pere and Mere Ubu. “Non-Alignment Pact” and “Heart Of Darkness” become incredibly powerful when they are performed as playing out a relationship. And “Final Solution” is a super heavy thing to sing as Ubu goes to war against the Russian king. It all seems to fit super well.

If you could add one song by someone other than Pere Ubu, what would that song be?

Nothing but Pere Ubu! I tried to add Minutemen songs in an early concept but it was all wrong. D. Boon’s songwriting is too intellectual for Ubu!

Here’s a music video of the Ubu Sings Ubu Band’s rendition of Pere Ubu’s “Life Stinks”:

More absurdity after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Paul Thomas Anderson: David Foster Wallace was ‘the first teacher I fell in love with’
01:39 pm



Two days ago Marc Maron’s WTF interview with Paul Thomas Anderson, who is promoting his new Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice was posted, and buried in that interview is an intriguing tale about Anderson’s days as a student in a class taught by revered author David Foster Wallace. It turns out that Wallace spent a year as an adjunct professor at Emerson College, and that happened to be the same year that Anderson was there as a student, and Anderson happened to take one of Wallace’s classes, in which they apparently read Don Delillo’s classic postmodernist novel White Noise.

Here’s the relevant portion of the interview, which takes place around the 38th minute, lightly edited for readability:

Anderson: [Being at Emerson College] just felt like a drag. It didn’t really. … And I would have to say, that probably was just because I didn’t find a teacher that kind of spoke to me. The funny thing was, is when I was at Emerson for that year, David Foster Wallace, a great writer who was not known then, was my teacher. He was an English teacher.  And, it was the first teacher I fell in love with. And I never found anyone else like that at any other schools that I’ve been to, which makes me really reticent to talk shit about schools or anything else, because it’s just like anyplace, like if you could find a good teacher, man, I’m sure school would be great.

Maron: So why didn’t you stay?

Anderson: He left.

Maron: So you were there with him for a year?

Anderson: Yeah.

Maron: And you spent a lot of time with him?

Anderson: You know why I didn’t stay? And in that classic move, I thought, “Oh, I want to get to New York. That’s where I’m supposed to go. I’m supposed to go to NYU,” ‘cause it had this good rep and all that. … And, dummy that I am, I did it, and I got there and I thought, “Well, I don’t want to be here. I wish I was back in Boston, you know, taking English classes.”

Maron: Did you spend a lot of time with David Foster Wallace?

Anderson: No. Just in class.

Maron: Oh really? You weren’t one of those guys that after class was like, “Hey, can I talk to you?”

Anderson: No. Uh, I called him once. He was very generous with his phone number, he said “Call me if you got any questions.” I called him a couple times.

Maron: Yeah? What did you say?

Anderson: I ran a few ideas by him about a paper I was writing. I was writing a paper on Don Delillo’s White Noise.

Maron: “Hail of bullets!”

Anderson: And I came up with a couple of crazy ideas, I don’t remember how the conversation went but I just remember him being real generous at like, you know,  midnight the night before it was due.

Maron: Really? You were freaking out, all jacked up?

Anderson: [Laughing] Yeah, basically!

Maron: “I’m almost done, man!”

Anderson: It was like, I think I’d written a pretty good paper. It was like, cooking a pretty good dish and at the last minute just panicking—“I got to add some more shit on, on top of it.”

Maron: Or you missed the point, like “Aww, that’s what it’s about!”

Anderson: Right. Yeah. There was no cut-and-paste back then, if you typed it out, you were….

Maron: That book was a life-changer for me, man.

Anderson: Was it really?

Maron: Little bit.

Anderson: I’d love to go back and read it again.

Maron: I would too, actually.

As it happens, Wallace paid close attention to at least two of Anderson’s movies, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, without ever betraying any inkling that he had ever had contact with the director, which frankly seems a little odd. Wallace had a prodigious intellect, and even if Anderson were the most anonymous shnook Wallace had ever had as a student—which seems unlikely—if you’re on the phone multiple times with him discussing White Noise, when a movie as big as Boogie Nights comes out just six years later (Anderson’s debut film, Hard Eight, came out just five years later), you’d think it might make a more lasting impression in a mind as capacious as Wallace’s. Be that as it may, Wallace had strong opinions about Boogie Nights and Magnolia, opinions that track my own precisely: he was tremendously impressed by Boogie Nights and didn’t much care for Magnolia.

In Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, the biography of Wallace that came out after Wallace’s 2008 suicide, author D.T. Max reports the following: “When Boogie Nights came out in 1997, Wallace called Costello and told him the movie was exactly the story that he had been trying to write when they lived together in Somerville.” “Costello” here is Mark Costello, a close friend of Wallace’s with whom he co-wrote the bizarre 1990 book Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present. About Anderson’s follow-up to Boogie Nights Wallace was a good deal grumpier; according to Max’s account, Wallace “hated the acclaimed Magnolia, which he found pretentious and hollow, ‘100% gradschoolish in a bad way.’”

It’s tempting to say that Anderson (whatever Wallace thought of Magnolia) is the only director who could ever successfully direct one of Wallace’s works, and so on. Anderson is such a gifted director that he would be the first choice for almost any writer’s works, whether it be Delillo, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, J.D. Salinger. He has just completed the first Pynchon adaptation with a fair degree of success. Of course, there already exists a Wallace adaptation, John Krasinski’s 2009 movie Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It happens that Jason Segel is attempting to portray Wallace himself in The End of the Tour, an adaptation of David Lipsky’s memoir about Wallace titled Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Segel has come under fire for daring to attempt to play Wallace, which makes sense primarily insofar as it’s exceedingly difficult to capture an intelligence like Wallace’s onscreen, and Segel has mostly played dumb guys in his career.

What’s been overlooked in the apparent linkup between Anderson and Wallace is a key shared point of interest, that being the adult entertainment industry. Anderson’s breakthrough success, Boogie Nights, is an affectionate look at the porn industry of the 1970s, which in the movie is eventually usurped by the more cutthroat and impersonal video-based porn industry of the 1980s, mirroring a progression that happened in real life. Anderson grew up in the San Fernando Valley and has often told of his youthful adventures figuring out that certain houses in the neighborhood were being used for porno shoots. (The subject comes up in the WTF interview too.) Wallace also had a keen interest in the porn industry, writing a piece of reportage for Premiere magazine on the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in 1998. The article was hilariously written under the pseudonymous byline “Willem R. deGroot and Matt Rundlet”; the title of the piece was “Neither Adult Nor Entertainment.” It’s the first essay in Consider the Lobster, Wallace’s second collection of non-fiction works, although the title’s been changed to “Big Red Son.”

But the AVN story is just a small part of it. At one point, around the time he and Costello were working on the hip-hop book, Wallace, according to Max, spent a considerable amount of time trying to write a novel set in the pornography industry, one that never got finished:

Another nonconformist industry now caught his eye: the pornography business. Pornography fit well into Wallace’s ongoing areas of inquiry: it linked to advertising—the thing really being sold was the idea that we are all entitled to sexual pleasure, which in turn feeds the secondhand desire that Wallace saw at the root of the American malaise.

You can see this idea playing out in Wallace’s masterpiece Infinite Jest, in the “samizdat” that is so entertaining that its viewers lose interest in everything else and eventually die. In The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Costello (pretty hilariously) reported on Wallace’s research methods for the book as follows:

Wallace set timetables for his work, intricate as the Croton-on-Hudson local. Get up. Talk on phone with porn actress famous for giving screen blow jobs. Hang up. Ask: is the porn queen an actress? Look up actress in the OED. Actress: a female actor. Look up actor: one who acts in a drama. Surely a blow job is an act. OK then: is a blow job drama?

Not surprisingly, per Max, Wallace soon came to think that some “actual on-set knowledge might help.” It’s in this context that Wallace’s interest in Boogie Nights becomes more evident. According to Max, Wallace “came to think that what was needed was a reported piece on how the industry had changed as the so-called golden age of porn gave way to the era of inexpensive and inartistic video,” which is precisely the perspective that Anderson offered in his highly confident and knowing movie about porn.

Here’s The Dirk Diggler Story in full, the half-hour movie Anderson made in 1988 that many years later would become the core of Boogie Nights.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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