Feverishly prolific New York graf-based expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat would have turned 52 today. That fact jars us because of the inevitable Peter Pan myth that accompanies the premature death of any young artist in any discipline.
Though I hate to pursue it, does it depress us to imagine a middle-aged JMB? Would he be still cocooned and slickly dressed, and now entrenched and heavily sponsored downtown, or maybe bugged-out HR-from-Bad-Brains style, redolent in gray dreads, pursued often and obtained for the occasional commission in order to keep up his paranoid existence in who-knows-where?
Of course, Basquiat’s influence dwarfs the downtown New York art scene in the way that he embodied the New York mix of hip-hop, post-punk, and fashion. But our culture also tends to rely on him in an unspoken way as a kind of purified representation of redundant cliches like doomed youth, avant-garde blackness, and the price of fame. We do best to remember each of those features as part of him—and separately, we do best to remember Basquiat as Basquiat.
Ravi Shankar died earlier today at the age of 92. He had been suffering from upper respiratory and heart problems and had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery last week. He died in a hospital near his home in Southern California.
Ravi Shankar was a musician that not only introduced many of us to new sounds but also to a new kind of consciousness, a state of mind and heart in which music clearly revealed its spiritual nature.
Rumi wrote “we rarely hear the inward music, but we’re all dancing to it nevertheless.” Ravi Shankar brought the “inward music” outward and suffused popular culture with his sweet celestial sound and in it we found that part of ourselves that was dancing, now and forever.
In celebration of the beauty of Ravi Shankar’s life and influence, here is an excerpt from his historic and groundbreaking performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. The audience’s ovation at the end of his four hour set says it all: this truly was a moment for the ages.
The clip is from D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop.
A lovely feature-length documentary on Ravi Shankar and interviews with Ravi and George Harrison plus footage of The Beatles in India after the jump…
Mr. Skin has died at the age of 89. At this time, cause of death has not been disclosed.
Ed Cassidy was a big reason that Spirit has always been one of my favorite American rock bands. The guy was bigger-than-life, a musician whose formidable skills were matched by his theatricality. And at a time when kids distrusted anyone over 30 and longhair was a symbol of how cool you were, here comes this old bald dude who was hipper than they were. It shattered some stereotypes. As sad as it is to see him go, the fact that he lived until the ripe old age of 89 is the equivalent of an astonishing 178 in rock ‘n’ roll years.
Cassidy played with some jazz cats like Roland Kirk and Cannonball Adderly but didn’t get into rock until he was well into his forties. He formed Little Red Rooster in 1965 with stepson Randy California, Mark Andes and Jay Ferguson. In 1967, they changed their name to Spirit and became a monolithic presence on the Southern California rock scene and eventually a world wide success. Cassidy and California were terrific musicians as well as showmen. They delivered the goods.
Here’s Cassidy and California playing in Germany in 1978.
Luckily we have BBC4’s 2009 documentary, 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz to do just that. Produced by documentarian Paul Bernays and UK jazz DJ Jez Nelson, 1959 scrutinizes the impact of Brubeck’s classic Time Out album alongside three others from that year: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus’s Ah Um and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come.
The main Brubeck segment starts 12 minutes in, and the doc explores both the racial politics inherent in the Brubeck phenomenon, and the influence of his band’s groundbreaking 1959 tour of the Soviet Bloc, Mideast and South Asia on Time Out. But the whole hour is worth watching, if only for the compelling close-readings of masterpieces like Davis’s iconic “So What,” Coleman’s intense “Lonely Woman,” Mingus’s firey “Fables of Faubus.” The doc’s juxtaposition of Brubeck’s ascendance to Mr. Cool-ness against Coleman’s Cold War-tinged urgency is also a nice touch.
With an interview roster that includes Hal Wilner, Lou Reed, Stanley Crouch, Charlie Haden, Sue Mingus, Herbie Hancock and Nat Hentoff, 1959 offers up some crucial background as to what made Brubeck and his contemporaries what they were.
Dave Brubeck claimed he had 2 ambitions when he first started out as a Jazz musician - “to play polytonally and polyrhythmically.”
He also said his inspiration for rhythm was the heart beat, for this was what we heard first, and last.
Brubeck was a giant of Jazz, whose passing at the age of 91, brings an end to one of the greatest eras of American Jazz.
He popularized Jazz like few other composers/musicians of his day, becoming a household name and the first million-selling Jazz musician, who also made the cover of Time magazine in 1954. The purists didn’t like him, and many classed his brand of Jazz as “easy listening”, but this is to do him and his music a great disservice.
Take a listen to the Dave Brubeck Quartet (Brubeck - Piano, Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Joe Morello - Drums, Gene Wright - Bass), filmed in concert in Germany, November 6th, 1966.
01. “Take the ‘A’ Train”
02. “Forty Days”
03. “I’m in a Dancing Mood”
04. “Koto Song”
05. “Take Five”
Gilda Radner, in character as Candy Slice, a perpetually strung out rock star who bore a striking resemblance to Patti Smith
After her death from ovarian cancer in 1989, comedian and actress Gilda Radner’s husband Gene Wilder started “Gilda’s Club,” a support group for cancer patients and their loved ones. Gilda’s Club operates under the credo that “no one has to live with cancer alone.” The title was a bit tongue in cheek; in Radner’s book, It’s Always Something, she described cancer as “membership to an elite club I’d rather not belong to.”
Now, however, many local Gilda’s Clubs are dropping her name for fear that it might date the organization or “confuse” possible beneficiaries. The Executive Director of the Madison Wisconsin Gilda’s Club says,
We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there’s not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors.
One of the realizations we had this year is that our college students were born after Gilda Radner passed, as we are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis,
I’m in my 20s, and to me, it seems pretty tacky to drop the name of the person your organization was created in commemoration of. You have a history and legacy rooted in the life of a human being, and this just underscores how people who die of cancer eventually become nameless.
I might be biased, though. I love Gilda, and while comedy (even great comedy) rarely has a strong shelf life or intergenerational resonance, her influence and talent still have spark for me.
For those with an interest in the charismatic actor, there’s an exhibition called Eternal James Dean, which opens at the Indiana State Museum from November 23, 2012, until June, 3rd, 2013.
Eternally young, sexy and intense. That’s the image of James Dean. But who was James Dean the man? Born in Marion, Indiana, Dean made just three films before his death in 1955 at age 24. Eternal James Dean will take a look at his Indiana roots, his brief time as an actor in California and New York, his films and his passion for motorcycles and racing.
A former US Navy sonar technician, and programmer, Stalking Cat was famous for having had extensive cosmetic surgery to adopt the likeness of his totem animal, the tiger, in accordance with Huron traditions. His body modifications included a split lip, transdermal whisker-holding implants, dental surgery, and silicone injections. He was also extensively tattooed.
Russell Means (left) and Dennis Banks, at Pine Ridge Reservation at Wounded Knee in 1973, instructing occupants how to hold their ground against the US government
Russell Means will not be counted among the great civil rights leaders of the 60s and 70s “New Left” movements, and I doubt that he would want to be. Means was at the forefront of a new generation of native rights advocates, and their struggle was largely isolated from popular progressive discourse. He is best known for the armed occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, when the American Indian Movement (AIM) took up arms and reclaimed Wounded Knee, the historical battle site and small town, for the Lakota Nation.
Political strife had plagued local tribal politics for years, and Means was perceived as a firebrand by many established leaders, some seen as overly-cozy with the U.S. government. AIM was very much a youth movement in inception, and the desperation felt by many of its members was rooted in what they felt to be ineffectual or corrupt leadership. Demanding justice for police brutality, extreme poverty, broken treaties, and the destruction of native land, AIM took up arms after efforts to impeach the standing Oglala Lakota Tribal President had failed. Means and others had participated in occupations before (Alcatraz, the seizing of the Mayflower II replica, and Mount Rushmore, to name a few), but the “Incident at Wounded Knee” wasn’t just a protest, it was a battle.
With Means as spokesman, nearly 200 men and women held Wounded Knee for 71 days; there was regular gunfire between the activists and the 50 U.S. Marshals. The shootout that ended the standoff resulted in the deaths of a U.S. Marshal and two activists. What followed was was a scattering of AIM members, some who were later convicted and jailed despite questionable evidence (Leonard Peltier), others, like Anna Mae Aquash, were killed under mysterious circumstances. Means was among the lucky, and went on to continue his activism, become more involved in tribal politics, and eventually write his autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread.
In an 1980 interview with Mother Jones, Russel Means reasserted his commitment to the cause, saying,
“I work primarily with my own people, with my own community. Other people who hold non-European perspectives should do the same. I believe in the slogan, “Trust your brother’s vision,” although I’d like to add sisters into the bargain. I trust the community and the culturally based vision of all the races that naturally resist industrialization and human extinction.”
Russell Means was resisting the colonists, not trying to break bread with them. It’s nearly unfathomable to consider 200 people taking up arms against the US government, holding a town hostage to demand basic rights, but this is what makes the legacy of AIM and Means so much more powerful in a sea of peaceful sit-ins and impotent political theater. When the youth of the tribal nation felt ignored by their leaders, they turned to a man who literally pissed on Mount Rushmore. When “peace and love” was the dominant narrative of the left-leaning, Russell Means and the American Indian Movement were attempting armed revolution.
Cult film actress Sylvia Kristel has died at the age of 60.
“She died during the night during her sleep,” her agent, Marieke Verharen, told the AFP news agency.
Kristel had cancer and had been admitted to hospital in July after suffering a stroke.
Best known for her iconic starring role in the 1974 soft-porn movie Emmanuelle, Kristel also worked with some of European cinema’s most acclaimed directors, starring in Claude Chabrol’s Alice ou la Derniere fugue, Robbe-Grillet’s Playing with Fire, and Roger Vadim’s Une Femme Fidele.
In the 1980s, Kristel moved to Hollywood, where she found producers were unable to see beyond her “soft porn” image. Kritsel was often cast as the love/sex interest in such ill considered films as The Concorde…Airport 79, co-starring Alain Delon, Robert Wagner, David Warner and George Kennedy; the disastrous Mel Brooks inspired The Nude Bomb with Don Adams, and the wearily predictable soft core Mata Hari.
Kristel made a return to form working again with Just Jaeckin, on his version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. But she never broke free of her association Emmanuelle, and continued to make spin-off films and TV series during the eighties and nineties.
Sylvia Kritsel was born in Utrecht in 1952. She lived with her sister Marianne in Room 21 of the Commerce Hotel, which her parents owned. Raised a strict Calvinist, Kristel was convent educated, but ran away as a teenager, finding work as a secretary and then as a model. Kristel went on to enter and win Miss TV Holland and Miss TV Europe. Encouraged by her partner, the novelist Hugo Claus, Kristel pursued an acting career.
After appearing in a couple of films, including Because of the Cats, Kristel attended an audition for a soap powder commercial. By chance auditions for the film Emmanuelle, where being held next door. Kristel accidentally arrived at the Emmanuelle auditions, where the director Just Jaeckin offered her the role.
“He asked me to take my dress off,” Kristel later said. “Luckily it was an easy dress to take off.”
Emmanuelle made Sylvia Kristel an international star, and brought adult themes and sexual relationships to a wider audience. The film was banned in Paris, though it eventually ran for 11 years at a cinema on the Champs-Elysees. In Britain the film caused considerable controversy and was heavily edited, though it became a major box office hit.
The success of the film was to have a damaging effect on Kristel. Her parents were alcoholics, and Kristel soon became addicted to drink and drugs.
In her 2006 autobiography, Kristel wrote an incredibly honest and moving account of the cost of her addictions, and said in interview:
“I sometimes needed a shot before doing certain scenes,” she said. “It definitely comforted me and gave me courage. But then it turned out that I almost couldn’t start a day without a drink.”
In the 1980s, Kristel moved to America, where she set up home with actor Ian McShane. It was a tempestuous relationship, which. Kristel later said failed because their personalities were too alike. Her marriage to American millionaire Alan Turner, lasted only 5 months, Kristel said she had made “a terrible mistake.” Her second marriage to would-be director Philippe Blot, proved equally disastrous, as she bankrolled his films, all of which flopped at the box-office. She left the marriage with $400 to her name. Kristel later said:
“If I’d known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gone ahead with any of the relationships I was involved in, with the exception of Hugo [Claus].”
In the 1990s, Kristel continued to act on her return to France, but gave up appearing nude after her son Arthur was teased at school. She then began a new career as a painter. In 2001 Kristel was diagnosed with lung and throat cancer.