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The Kurt Vonnegut/Alice Cooper Mutual Admiration Society
06.02.2014
08:42 am

Topics:
Literature
Music

Tags:
Alice Cooper
Kurt Vonnegut


 
On December 7, 1973 Alice Cooper had the opportunity to meet one of his personal idols and favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, at a party on the eve of the Billion Dollar Babies/Muscle of Love  holiday tour. During this hectic but successful period in his career, Alice partied like, well, a rock star, and hung out with unexpected celebrities like Liza Minnelli and Ronnie Spector, who both sang back-up on his group’s Muscle of Love album, not to mention Chubby Checker, Elvis Presley and porn star Linda Lovelace. That’s not even counting his hard-drinking “Hollywood Vampires” crew from the Rainbow Bar, which included Keith Moon (“Keith was like a battery that never ran out. It got to the stage with Keith where I’d hear he was in town and hide somewhere because I couldn’t face another bender.”), John Lennon, Micky Dolenz from The Monkees, Harry Nilsson, and Ringo Starr.

That night Vonnegut promised Alice a signed copy of his new book, Breakfast of Champions and Alice was thrilled when the promise was actually fulfilled. He said:

When you meet famous people, they always say they’ll send you stuff and they never do. But Vonnegut sent the stuff down and I was so thrilled. I sent him all our albums and T-shirts and posters. I’m a Vonnegut fan forever.

Alice always named Vonnegut as his favorite author, listing him as such in the tour program for his 1977 Lace and Whiskey tour. It’s not surprising that he enjoyed Vonnegut’s similarly dark humor. In particular he loved Vonnegut’s masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five, still citing it as his “desert island book” on BBC 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2010. It was reported in the mid-‘70s that he was up for the role of Bunny Hoover, a gay lounge piano player at an Indianapolis Holiday Inn he described as “the kind of guy you hate the minute you see him,” in Robert Altman’s movie adaptation of the book, presumably with Vonnegut’s approval. While that would have been truly awesome, the project fell through. The movie wasn’t made for another twenty-six years, and then it was without Alice and Altman (and some would argue, Vonnegut!)

When asked by The Quietus about his recurring character “Steven,” Alice mentioned Vonnegut’s influence:

I used to read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut and when I’d read all the Vonnegut books I realized there was a character [Kilgore Trout] that always ran through the books. He was sort of this character that just kept showing up. For no apparent reason and no apparent connection to the story. And I kind of liked that. So Steven, he’s a mystery to me too but I like throwing him in. I like throwing Steven in whenever I can so that when people go “Where is Steven?” I can say “He’s right there.” He’s kind of like a spirit, an Alice Cooper spirit.

The new film Super Duper Alice Cooper is released tomorrow on DVD and Blu-ray by Eagle Rock Entertainment. Expect a review here in the coming days.

Pre-sobriety Alice on Finnish TV, 1973, below:
 

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
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Norman Mailer struts his stuff on Merv Griffin

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Norman Mailer walked like a boxer, strutting out of his corner and into the ring. It was probably done for affect, and sometimes it worked, though it often made him look like Benny the Ball from Top Cat.

Mailer did a lot of things for affect. His intonation and accent could change depending on situation, location, and who he was talking to. It probably all started when he was in the army during the Second World War, where Mailer learned to be tough after mixing with big guys who said “fuggin’’” a lot. It was a front he kept up most of his life.

I noticed Mailer’s ability to adapt when I was a kid living living in Scotland, and saw him interviewed on the BBC’s Parkinson chat show. New Jersey-born Mailer opened his mouth and spoke with an English-lilt that suggested possibly Boston, received pronunciation and what he had picked-up during his brief marriage to Lady Jeanne Campbell, daughter of the British press baron Lord Beaverbrook. Accent aside, he was still impressive.

I am a big fan of Norman Mailer, and think him one of the very few authors of the past fifty years who, even with his flaws and excesses, still demands to be read. There is always something to be learnt from Mailer, both good and bad, and that’s what makes him interesting. Here Mailer struts an entrance onto The Merv Griffin Show like he is a boxer, and goes on to talk about writing, presence, being middle-aged, America, communism and Russia.

This clip offers a critique as to what is wrong with most of today’s chat-shows, where there appears to be a dearth of great writers and thinkers sharing their knowledge and yes, plugging their wares. Instead we have the inarticulate pop stars, the reality show nobodies and the actors selling their latest movie, you just know you won’t bother to see. At least with Mailer, you could always pick up some original thought, or observation which might encourage further investigation.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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William S. Burroughs and industrial music all-stars in dystopian 80s cult film ‘Decoder’


 
If your life needs a little-seen dystopian ‘80s German film about Industrial music sparking revolutionary change in a society of fast food and cultivated complacency—and I believe it does—then your life needs Decoder. Largely illuminated in lurid reds and TV-tube blues, the 1984 film starred Einstürzende Neubauten’s then-percussionist F.M. Einheit as a sonic experimenter who discovers that playing back recordings of disturbances in public spaces can create actual disturbances among the public, a concept developed by William Burroughs in the “Electronic Revolution” essay found in some editions of the collection The Job. (In fact, Burroughs briefly appears in the film, as does Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV’s Genesis P-Orridge.)

Einheit uses this esoteric knowledge to cultivate increasingly widespread defiance and mayhem, attracting the attention of a Muzak corporate hit-man (I love the conceit that Muzak would have an assassin in its employ) whose task is complicated by his crush on F.M.’s peep-show dancer/amateur herpetologist girlfriend, played by Christiane F. The film’s themes and inspirations are illuminated by its writer Klaus Maeck in this interview from Jack Sargeant’s Naked Lens: Beat Cinema, excerpted here from the film’s web site.

I wanted to realize Burroughs’ ideas and the techniques which he described in the ‘Electronic Revolution’, and in The Revised Boy Scout Manual and in The Job. These were my favorite books … And I loved Johnny Rotten for his revolution in show business (and I still do). I was convinced that the only valuable political work must use the enemy’s techniques. From the ‘Foreword’ of the Decoder Handbook: “It’s all about subliminal manipulation, through words, pictures and sound. It is the task of the pirates to understand these techniques and use them in their own interest. To spread information is the task of all media. Media is power. And nowadays (1984!) the biggest revolution happen at the market for electronic media. To spread information is also your task. And we should learn in time to use our video and tape recorders as Weapons. The fun will come by itself.”

Being in the music business and participating in the punk and new wave explosion I became more interested in music. Muzak was one thing I found. Subliminal music to influence people’s moods, to make them function better, or buy more. So my conclusion was similar to that of ‘bands’ like Throbbing Gristle; by turning around the motivation, by cutting up the sounds, by distorting them etc. one should be able to provoke different reactions. Make people puke instead of feeling well, make people disobey instead of following, provoke riots.

Though it deals thoughtfully with provocative ideas, the film is laden with Euro art-film pretense that feels like fit matter for a “Sprockets” gag. Early on there’s a montage of video games cut with military stock footage, and another that alternates gore and erotica while Soft Cell’s “Seedy Films” plays. And it features this exchange:
 

 
But as strange as it can be, Decoder still holds a coherent, if dreamy, narrative, filled with captivating imagery and a gorgeous soundtrack composed by Einheit, P-Orridge, and Soft Cell’s Dave Ball. You can watch it in its entirety right here. I’ll throw the trainspotters a bone: Burroughs’ cameo is in the scene that starts at about 37:30, and P-Orridge’s appearance is at about 49:00.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac’s brilliant 1959 short, ‘Pull My Daisy’
05.16.2014
10:19 am

Topics:
Literature
Movies

Tags:
Jack Kerouac
beat poets


 

”What is holy? Is baseball holy? Is a cockroach holy? Holy, holy!”

Whether you’re a Beat Generation expert, an On the Road dilettante, or have no idea of what I’m talking about, you should watch Pull My Daisy. It was written and narrated by Jack Kerouac, directed by The Americans photographer Robert Frank and Abstract Expressionist painter Alfred Leslie and it stars Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. Even the smaller parts are played by notable artists, musicians, and actors but it’s not just the “who’s who” cast that makes it an iconic Beat film. The storytelling is funny and full of vitality.

The plot is simple—a railway brakeman’s wife invites a bishop to dinner, the brakeman’s bohemian poet friends show up and chaos ensues. Slackers gonna slack.

For nearly ten years, the film was assumed to be totally improvised—the Beats’ emphasis on extemporaneous art seemed to suggest as much, plus the film looks and feels ad-libbed. In 1968 co-director Alfred Leslie told The Village Voice that it was actually painstakingly coordinated, with thorough rehearsal, hands-on direction and a professionally lit studio. Only Kerouac’s narration was off-the-cuff (and it was likely still edited). The fact that audiences assumed the entire film to be impromptu speaks to the quality of Pull My Daisy, a film that feels like it captures something raw and truly organic.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Kurt Vonnegut interviewed by Jon Stewart in one of his last major TV appearances
05.06.2014
03:15 pm

Topics:
Books
Literature
Television

Tags:
Kurt Vonnegut
Jon Stewart


 
Over the weekend, I re-read Loree Rackstraw’s tender memoir Love as Always, Kurt: Vonnegut as I Knew Him. I’ve mentioned the book on this blog a few times, it’s an absolutely charming read and certainly a book that will be seen, in time, to be one of the most important works that has been, or will ever be written about the great novelist. The reason for this is simple: None of the rest of Vonnegut’s biographers have slept with him and none of them knew the man for 40 years

For now though, the book is unfairly unknown except by the most hardcore Vonnegut fans (you can buy it for a penny on Amazon). Rackstraw met Vonnegut in 1965. She was a divorced single mother and second year student and he was a married writer teaching at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop MFA program. Slaughterhouse-Five was still a few years away from publication, although his star had been rising for some time. They had an affair that turned into a lifelong friendship and Rackstraw’s book contains significant excerpts from Vonnegut’s deeply tender (and funny) letters covering the four decades of their relationship. “I realized I possessed quite a remarkable chronological story of his life,” Rackstraw said. “We were very close. It was a friendship unlike any I’ve had with anyone.”

Seriously, if you’re at all interested in what Kurt Vonnegut was like as a person, Love as Always, Kurt: Vonnegut as I Knew Him is a book you’ll want to pick up. I’m happy to plug it on DM again.

But as I got to the book’s final pages, I noticed something interesting and that was a mention of one of Vonnegut’s last major television appearances, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2005. Vonnegut was then 82 and promoting his then recent book, A Man Without a Country. Although the effects of advancing age are apparent on his body as he walks slowly to his chair, his mind was still quite sharp as he sits down to offer his wisdom on the topic of evolution. The great writer then proceeds to give George Bush a rather spectacular back-handed compliment…

Wunderbar stuff, but with these two meeting face to face, what else could it have been? After Vonnegut absolutely excoriates Donald Rumsfeld, Stewart quips “I’m very sorry to see you’ve lost your edge.”
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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The hilariously self-loathing personals ads of the ‘London Review of Books’
04.28.2014
07:43 am

Topics:
Literature
Sex

Tags:
personals ads
London Review of Books

foreveralone
“Forever Alone” by Shannon Elliott

When the London Review of Books’ advertising director David Rose started the personals section in the publication’s classifieds in 1998, the first ad he ran was “Disaffiliated flâneur, jacked-up on Viagra and on the look-out for a contortionist trumpeter.”

With that one sentence fragment, the gauntlet was officially thrown down.

Originally designed to match intelligent people based on their literary interests, readers immediately ganged up on the personals section like Amazon reviewers and twisted it for their own purposes. They were, as Rose told NPR, instead “instantly very, very silly.”

In a GQ interview Rose said:

I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t going to be good. There’s no way they’re going to let me run this. What an idiot I am.’ But I work on the Bowie principal—do something once and it’s a mistake; do it three times and it’s an arrangement.’ We had to let it go for a couple of issues. My attitude was ‘I’m going to print these ads because they’re the only ones I’ve got.’ They’re ridiculous and silly, but it was like, who blinks first? Are the readers going to say, ‘No I didn’t mean for you to print that ad?’ Or am I going to say ‘No, we can’t print this!’ They were consistently like that from there on in. They never altered. Never any change in the pitch or the camber. They were just ridiculous. It was like the advertisers seized on something.

Now people turn to the personals ads first, then read the book reviews. The ads are the exact inverse of the clichéd, bragging, bitter, disturbing (in the case of The Village Voice), or inarticulate American equivalent. Instead of lying about their physical attributes, sparkling personalities, improbable sexual skills, wealth, and accomplishments in an effort to elicit hopeful responses from gullible readers, these people exaggerate their flaws with cutting haiku-like precision. The cynical, dark-humored, quirky, but literate descriptions are tinged with existential despair and CV’s full of failed relationships. They highlight skin diseases, ugliness, mental illness, flatulence, obesity, poor hygiene, personality disorders, revenge fantasies, perverted fetishes, and disappointing sexual skills.

Here’s a good illustration of ingrained false modesty: a young English expat says he has “done rather well” with women from American dating websites, which may well mean that he has bedded every willing woman, from college freshmen to great-grannies, in his entire time zone. In his case the humble phrase “done rather well” is the equivalent of Gene Simmons’ creepy Polaroid collection of his sexual conquests. But if he were to describe himself for a LRB ad, he’d have to make himself sound like a circus freak or monstrous horror movie creature in order to get anyone’s attention.

David Rose has compiled LRB personals into two collections so far: They Call Me Naughty Lola and Sexually, I’m More of a Switzerland. When They Call Me Naughty Lola (named for the delightful ad “They call me Naughty Lola. Run of the mill beardy physicist — male, 46”) was featured on NPR, the self-depreciating seekers were called “the pathetic, the downtrodden and the ever hopeful.” Oh, no. If Douglas Adams, Terry Gilliam, and Nein Quarterly had ever hired themselves out to write personals for others, they would have sounded a lot like these:

If intense, post-fight sex scares you, I’m not the woman for you (amateur big-boned cage wrestler, 62)

I like my women the way I like my kebab. Found by surprise after a drunken night out, and covered in too much tahini. Before long I’ll have discarded you on the pavement of life, but until then you’re the perfect complement to a perfect evening. Man, 32. Rarely produces winning metaphors.

My last seven adverts in this column were influenced by the early catalogue of Krautrock band, Paternoster. This one, however, is based entirely around the work of Gil Scott-Heron. Man, 32. Possibly the last person you want to be stood next to at a house-party you’ve been dragged along to by a friend who wants to get off with the flatmate of the guy whose birthday it is. Hey! Have you ever heard Boards of Canada? They’re amazing; I’ll burn you a CD.

To some, I am a world of temptation. To others, I’m just another cross-dressing pharmacist. Male, 41.

Tall, handsome, well-built, articulate, intelligent, sensitive, yet often grossly inaccurate man, 21. Cynics (and some cheap Brentwood psychiatrists) may say ‘pathological liar’, but I like to use ‘creative with reality’. Join me in my 36-bedroomed mansion on my Gloucestershire estate, set in 400 acres of wild-stag populated woodland.

My therapist has given me such a good rate I can afford to indulge my bouts of infidelity and still deal elegantly with my guilt. Attached but unfaithful London male, 60, seeks female counterpart. I promise an intensity of sexual joy unexpected in the LRB.

This advert is about as close as I come to meaningful interaction with other adults. Woman, 51. Not good at parties but tremendous breasts.

The complete list of my sexual conquests: 1994-1995—Anna; 1996—Julia, Alison; 1997—Italian girl at Karl’s party, Claire (Clare?), Jessica (fingered); 1998—Anna again (big mistake), receptionist at my second temp job (possibly called Helena), Becky (I was in love but she went back to her boyfriend); 1999—Jeremy’s girlfriend; 2000-01—Karolina (deported); 2002—woman at nightclub, woman at nightclub, woman at nightclub, woman at Stewart’s barbecue, Stewart (accidental coming together of groins, the three of us were naked and very, very drunk), woman at nightclub; 2003-2006—Evil Satanic Bitch Whore; 2007—the Internet. [London Review of Books]-reading women to 35—don’t pretend your relationships have been any less incongruous and unsatisfying. Write to probably the most normal guy you’ll ever see in a lonely heart advert and maybe we’ll end up friends or lovers or despising each other and wincing every time we remember our awful one-night stand or maybe we’ll get married and have children. Writing’s a good start though. Man, 31.

Shy, ugly man, fond of extended periods of self-pity, middle aged, flatulent and overweight, seeks the impossible.

Save it. Anything you’ve got to say can be said to my lawyer. But if you’re not my ex-wife, why not write to box no. 5377? I enjoy vodka, canasta, evenings in, and cold, cold revenge.

I’m no Victoria’s Secret model. Man, 62.

Sinister-looking man with a face that only a mother would love: think of an ageing Portillo with a beard and you have my better-looking twin. Sweetie at heart, though. Nice conversation, great for dimly-lit romantic meals. Better in those Welsh villages where the electricity supply can’t be guaranteed. Charitable women to 50 appreciated.

Newly divorced man, 38, Would like to meet woman to 40 whose heroes don’t include Leslie Cole, Bill ‘Dink’ Hewit, Roger Martinez, Peter Jaconelli, Dave Man or William Corfield. Northumbria.

I vacillate wildly between a number of archetypes including, but not limited to, Muriel Spark witticism-trading doyenne, Mariella Frostrup charismatic socialite, brooding, intense Marianne Faithfull visionary, and kleptomaniac Germaine Greer amateur upholsterer and ladies’ league darts champion. Woman, 43. Everything I just said was a lie. Apart from the bit about darts. And kleptomania. Great tits though.

You’re a brunette, 6’, long legs, 25-30, intelligent, articulate and drop-dead gorgeous. I, on the other hand, am 4’10”, have the looks of Herve Villechaize and carry an odour of wheat. No returns and no refunds at box no. 3321.

If you think I’m going to love you—you’re right. Clingy, over-emotional and socially draining woman, 36. Once you’ve got me, you can never ever leave me. Not ever. Prone to maniacal bursts of crying, usually followed by excitable and uncontrollable laughter. Life is a roller coaster; you’ve just got to ride it, as Ronan Keating once said. Buxton.

Just as chugging on a bottle of White Lightning on a park bench will make you nauseous and diminish the respect of your peers, yet taking just a glass of cold cider on a barmy summer evening will quench your thirst and take you back to heady days frolicking in West Country apple orchards, so it is with this ad. Man, 37. Refreshing in small sips where the delicate nuances of Somerset burst through full and flavoursome, but anything bigger and you’ll end up puking over your own shoes and smelling of wee.

Your stars for today: A pretty Cancerian, 35, will cook you a lovely meal, caress your hair softly, then squeeze every damn penny from your adulterous bank account before slashing the tyres of your Beamer. Let that serve as a warning. Now then, risotto?

List your ten favourite albums…I just want to know if there’s anything worth keeping when we finally break up. Practical, forward thinking man, 35.

I’ve got a mouth on me that can peel paint off walls, but I can always apologize.

My favourite Ben & Jerry’s is Acid-Boiled Bones of Divorce Lawyer.

Woman, 38. WLTM man to 45 who doesn’t name his genitals after German chancellors. You know who you are and, no, I don’t want to meet either Bismarck, Bethmann Hollweg, or Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, however admirable the independence he gave to secretaries of state may have been.

Most partners cite the importance of having a loved one who will listen and understand them. I’m here to rubbish this theory. F, 38.

Salon‘s Kate Harding met her husband through this ad:

I smoke, I drink, I talk waaaay too much and think even more than that, I swear like a longshoreman, I’m usually covered in dog hair, I do not order salad as a full meal, I always want to Talk About It, I might be funnier than you, I want to be taken care of but hate feeling weak, I’m completely disorganized, I will keep cuddling until you pry me off you (and so will my dogs), I say “awesome” a lot, I don’t lie even if it’s easier, I tell my girlfriends everything, I expect to come, and I’ve been told repeatedly that I scare the crap out of men. If that sounds like your kind of girl, awesome.

When it was announced that the section would be discontinued in 2010, there was an immediate outcry.  Luckily it is still intact, although the self-esteem of some of their users may not always be.

Haikus of the Heart, an interview with David Rose, below:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
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The surreal and just *downright freaky* covers of 60s magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique (NSFW)


 
Midi-Minuit Fantastique was a French cineaste magazine dedicated to fantasy, horror and science fiction films of the 1960s to early 70s. It was one of the first “serious” publications to explore genre films. Later on, Midi-Minuit Fantastique dealt with more mainstream culture and subject matters with profiles on directors like Samuel Fuller, Otto Preminger or Federico Fellini.

But honestly, who cares what Midi-Minuit Fantastique wrote about. Just look at these incredible covers! They’re up there with Girls & Corpses (NSFW) magazine!
 

 

 

 

 

 
More covers after the jump…
 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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An elegy for Allen Ginsberg: ‘No more to say and nothing to weep for’
04.25.2014
08:55 am

Topics:
Literature

Tags:
Allen Ginsberg

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Along with being a poet, Beat writer, radical, teacher, diarist, singer, musician, photographer and Buddhist, Allen Ginsberg was also the pioneer of the selfie. Long before everyone was posting their self-portraits on social media, Ginsberg was out there taking snaps of himself in front of every hotel mirror. He snapped himself crossed-legged, naked, half-dressed, fully dressed, vulnerable, confident, unwashed, washed, smiling, squinting, happy-face, ugly-face, old-man-tired-and-going-to-bed-face: the Ginsberg selfie captured it all.

But above all that, Ginsberg was a brave man who challenged and changed (sometimes half-in-jest, most times seriously) our perceptions and unquestioning acceptance of the world as it’s presented to us. The documentary No More To Say And Nothing To Weep For - An Elegy for Allen Ginsberg examines the poet’s life and work, with archival interviews with Ginsberg (including his last) and his many friends, admirers and critics (including Paul McCartney. Peter Orlovsky and Patti Smith) and also includes footage of the poet’s death. It’s a beautiful film and one you’ll have to find a quiet hour in the day to watch.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The seldom-seen squiggles of Kurt Vonnegut
04.22.2014
07:22 am

Topics:
Art
Books
Literature

Tags:
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
“Untitled,” 1985
 
Anyone with any familiarity with Kurt Vonnegut’s literary output probably knows that the man liked to doodle. His whimsical self-portrait, the one that emphasized his mustache, is very familiar, making an appearance in his 1973 masterpiece Breakfast of Champions and many other places. Breakfast of Champions, of course, featured all manner of little drawings as a non-textual means of furthering the story.

Next month a handsome coffee table book, Kurt Vonnegut Drawings, from the Monacelli Press, featuring hitherto unavailable artworks, will go on sale (the list price is $40, but you can pre-order it for $25.40). The book will feature 145 selections of his work.
 
Kurt Vonnegut
 
Vonnegut was a fervent believer in the importance of art as a means of enhancing everyday life, and these interesting drawings are the proof. He used pen and (quite clearly) magic marker for these artworks. They remind me most of all of Joan Miró (esp. the Janus-like piece from 1987) and Saul Steinberg (esp. the one with the wavy hair from the same year).
 
Kurt Vonnegut
“Untitled,” no date
 
Kurt Vonnegut
“Untitled,” no date
 
Kurt Vonnegut
“Untitled,” 1980
 
Kurt Vonnegut
“Self-Portrait,” 1985
 
More of Vonnegut’s amusing art after the jump…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Life is a Cabaret: Christopher Isherwood on the real Sally Bowles, Berlin, writing and W. H. Auden
04.03.2014
08:58 am

Topics:
Books
Literature

Tags:
Christopher Isherwood

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Christopher Isherwood’s best known fictional character is Sally Bowles, who appeared in his novel Goodbye to Berlin, published in 1939. Sally was a singer in a Berlin nightclub, The Lady Windermere, off Tauentzeinstraße, and was supposedly an heiress (her father owned a mill in Lancashire), and had grand ambitions to become a star.

She had a surprisingly deep, husky voice. She sang badly, without any expression, her hands hanging down at her sides – yet her performance was, in its own way, effective because of her startling appearance and her air of not caring a curse of what people thought of her…

Sally with her emerald green nail varnish (“Divine decadence, darling”) was memorably played by Liza Minelli in the film musical Cabaret, opposite Michael York as Brian Roberts (originally Christopher or “Herr Issyvoo” in the book) and Joel Gray as the Emcee, in 1972.

Sally was more than just one of Christopher’s greatest creations, she was in fact based on the journalist and actress, Jean Ross, who had once shared rooms with Isherwood at Nollendorfstrasse 17, Berlin in the early 1930s.

As Isherwood describes Ross, in this interview on Day at Night from 1974, she was a slightly larger-than-life character, who had the looks of the Hollywood film-star Merle Oberon. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Ross was raised in England, before being sent to finishing school in Switzerland. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she had a bit part in a “Quiky Quota” movie. Ross then moved to Berlin on the promise of some more film work, but this proved to be false, so she began a new career in modeling. It was around this time in 1931 that Ross met Isherwood, as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography explains:

The two became close friends and Isherwood immortalized her as the eponymous heroine of Sally Bowles (1937), subsequently incorporated in his Goodbye to Berlin (1939). Although Ross later claimed that she was not really like Sally Bowles, most of the more outlandish anecdotes Isherwood used in his portrait were based on fact. She insisted that she was a much better singer than Sally Bowles, but her family disagreed.

An affair with a Jewish musician called Götz von Eick, who subsequently became an actor in Hollywood under the name Peter van Eyck, led to her becoming pregnant, and she nearly died after an abortion. She was visiting England when Hitler came to power and so decided not to return to Germany, settling instead in Cheyne Walk, London, where she joined the Communist Party; she remained a member for the rest of her life.

Inspired by Ross and her various wild adventures, Isherwood wrote a long short story, “Sally Bowles,” which he originally intended to include in his novel Mr. Norris Changes Trains, which was published in 1935. Isherwood sent the story to the editor John Lehmann, to be included in his literary magazine New Writing, but he thought it too long. Lehmann also had problems with certain aspects of the story—Sally’s abortion, and the possible issue of a libel suit from Jean Ross. Isherwood claimed the removal of the abortion scene would turn Sally into a “silly little capricious bitch” and would ruin the story’s finish. He also managed to convince Ross to give her permission for the story to be published, little knowing how successful and financially rewarding the fictional Sally Bowles would be.

I am a big fan of Christopher Isherwood’s writing and found him utterly charming and fascinating in this interview on Day at Night, where he talks about his time in Berlin during the thirties, his friendship with the poet W. H. Auden, his life at university and in America, his family, and how his writing is a voyage of self-discovery.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Christopher Isherwood: Revealing documentary ‘A Single Man 1906-86’

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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