Dead Elvis

I’m fascinated by the posts below this video of one of Elvis’ last public performances in Market Square, Indianapolis, June 26, 1977.  He died 60 days later.

The gist of the comments is this: look at how broken down, drugged, fat, and incoherent he is.  Then he sits down at the piano and is the greatest singer that ever lived.  I love you Elvis!  You died for me.

Full disclosure: I was always generally disgusted with Elvis because, given all of the remarkable gifts and opportunities he had, he bought into a cheap illusion of wealth and success and secluded himself in his mansion popping Dexamil, Dexedrine, Placidyl, Valium, Percodan, Seconal, Tuinal, Nembutal and Demerol, while watching teen-aged girls undress through a two-way mirror.  He allowed himself to be completely controlled by a domineering agent, Col. Tom Parker.

Natalie Wood, who dated him for a time, said Elvis could sing but couldn’t do much else.

For help understanding the Elvis phenomenon, I prefer Richard Thompson’s magnificent “Galway to Graceland“.  (Very nice alternative version.)   Especially, this verse:

But blindly she knelt there
And she told him her dreams
And she thought that he answered
Or that’s how it seemed

Then they dragged her away,
It was handcuffs this time
She said, “my good man, are you out of your mind?”
Don’t you know that we’re married?
See I’m wearing his ring.
I come from Galway to Graceland
To be with the King.

I liked a few Elvis songs: “Suspicion”, “Suspicious Minds”.  No one unchains a melody like Elvis– great voice, without a doubt.  But I am first and foremost interested in great songs– great singers are dime a dozen.  I am not kidding–  you may think there are very few Elvis’s or Roy Orbison’s or Judy Collins’s , but there are far more than you think.  The ones you know became famous because they found a great song and a great band and a great producer to project them into prominence.  A lot of great singers never have that good fortune.  The sad truth is, if you had a great voice and you auditioned tomorrow for some impresario, he would tell you that until you acquired a good band and good material, you will not be a success.

And today, of course, with Autotune, you don’t even have to be an accurate singer.

And my encounters with Elvis are filtered through the distasteful reverence of his fans.  Thompson’s dissection of the subject in “Galway to Graceland” is fascinating.  Firstly, the blind adoration: Elvis overwhelms her.  But you can only be overwhelmed by a personality like Elvis if you really don’t have a strong personality of your own.  He fills the hole.  He is person-hood, dominance, brightness, and beauty.  You allow yourself to be embraced by this amazing entity that absorbs you in making you part of his essence, his glory.

In short, you allow the media to convince you that you have an actual relationship with a celebrity.  You refer to them by first name.  You offer knowing asides to friends, implying that you have privileged inside information.    “He never really loved Priscilla”.

Secondly, she is delusional.  She really believes that she has a meaningful relationship with a television image, a recording, a sound.  She really believes that the television image, the recording, the sound, has a relationship with her, other than to take her money.  When Elvis asks, “are you lonely, tonight?” he means her.

I don’t think Dylan fans think that Bob is telling them that they are rolling stones, or a blue-eyed son, or Baby Blue.  Bob is telling his fans about rolling stones and blue-eyed sons and Baby Blues.  Leonard Cohen is conniving to take Manhattan, and if he’s your man, he’s going to be a beast.  John Prine knows exactly what you are but you will never want to know that truth.

Thirdly, she is pathetic.  She has surrendered her entire being to the delusion.  She craves Elvis’ attention and projects it on herself when it is not forthcoming, and accepts it, and revels in it.

Do any of those adoring Elvis fans also adore the Beatles?  Maybe not, but here’s and interesting piece of trivia:  ‘According to an FBI report, Presley believed the Beatles had led young people astray “by their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music”’.  The Guardian

[whohit]Dead Elvis[/whohit]

What Did You Think You Were Getting

This article in NYTimes tells us that a number of gymnasts who worked out with coach and trainer Qi Han at Everest Gymnastics in North Carolina now allege that Mr. Han was abusive.

He absolutely was.  That’s how you do sports in the ultra-competitive U.S.A.  This is accepted as the way you drive young athletes to higher levels of performance.  Did you think your child’s coach was going to offer snacks as a reward?

I was on a collegiate hockey team in the Chicago area back in 1974.  We were coached by a Canadian history professor in a very relaxed, undisciplined manner.  It was decided– by somebody– that we would bring in a “real” coach for one practice, a Mr. Dave Vandenberg.  He immediately took to yelling and screaming abusively at us, trying to get us to play better.  I thought he was an idiot then, and I think so now.   I’m sure we would have played better had he hung around and coached us every day, but I just didn’t care that much.  Sports is trivial.  It is unimportant.  If you think it’s a way to bring glory to yourself, to make money, and become famous, then you get what you deserve.

Let’s make it clear.  Everest Gymnastics advertised itself to parents as an intensive training institution that could help young gymnasts improve their performances.  Do you know what kind of training we’re talking about, in ultra-competitive America?  Would it surprise you to find that coaches of any serious athletic discipline tend to be pricks?  That they shout at athletes and belittle them, and ridicule them, and mock them when they feel they are not making enough effort?

I have never been a fan of that school of thought that believes that there is something admirable in pushing athletes to perform better by screaming at them.  Why?  Why should I care if they perform better?  Is it worth it?  What’s the point?  To beat some other athletes whose coaches yell and scream at them?

You send your child to Everest Gymnastics just so he or she can have fun.  The children taking training from Qi Han are probably being pushed by their parents to achieve, achieve, achieve.  To be better than the competition.  This kind of coaching requires a lot of time and money.  Parents are up early, up late, driving here, driving there– if they have several children, they find themselves spending a lot of time and money trying to turn their children in to star athletes.  Medals.  Success. Maybe the Olympics.  Maybe the NFL.  Money and fame.

Are any of these parents under the delusion that these coaches are going to be nice to their children?  Sweet, and encouraging?

Are these coaching methods a secret?  The parents didn’t know what was going on?  Suddenly one day they went, “oh my god!  Coach Han is yelling at my daughter!”

[whohit]What Did You Think You Were Getting[/whohit]

Hypocrisy 101

It was so predictable, so inevitable, so laughable, that you almost want to cry.  A woman in a position of authority is alleged to have sexually harassed a young man she had authority over.  And at least some feminists defend her by asking whether the male “victim” did enough to make it clear he did not welcome her advances.  Why didn’t he just say no?  Why didn’t he just leave?  Why did he wait so long to report it?  Was it really harassment, or was it mutual?  What was he wearing at the time?

He responded the way many victims have.  He didn’t say no.  He didn’t leave.  He didn’t fight her off.  He said he believes it would have harmed his career if he had rebuffed her.  He had no choice but to give in.

He felt she was in a position of power over him.  He felt that he couldn’t refuse her.  And now, years after the fact, he is suing.  As a result of the abuse, he was anxious, depressed, unable to focus on his work.

These are things that have a cash value.

Now we all admire his courage.

It’s all too much.

By the way, has the #metoo movement got a hold of Atticus Finch yet?  Here we have a rape victim, Mayella Ewell, who is re-victimized by the defense attorney who questions her own behavior and suggests she was asking for it.  It’s Victim-Blaming and Victim-Shaming galore.  And women never lie about such things, so Tom Robinson, truly, got what he deserved.  Shame on you, Atticus Finch!


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The Blind Taste Test

The Judgment of Paris”

You really need to read this.  It’s not all that shocking– we all know about bias and prejudice and how people attribute qualities to things.  But it’s a good, visceral drama, really, about just how biased we can be, without knowing it.


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Ronan Farrow, Sit Down and Shutup

Well, now it’s CBS News and 60 Minutes.

At Last: Someone Takes a Closer Look at Ronan Farrow’s Journalistic Credibility

Stop everything you’re doing, all the research and investigation and interviews, travel, exploration, documentation and exposure– stop it all and resign and crawl into a hole, because Ronan Farrow has managed to find some former female employees and associates who didn’t like the way you hit on them.  No matter how long ago, or how disputed, or how misinterpreted or misjudged, or how marginal it is to whatever it is you do with your life, you must now resign, because the almighty, pitiless, puritanical Inquisitor Ronan Farrow, son of Frank or Woody– we don’t know– has deemed you to be shriek-worthy and foul and you must be replaced by some woman or transgender woman or man or gay man or gay woman or black transgender gay indigenous being, because he or she or it is really just as talented and hardworking as you, but you, oppressor, bully, monster!— kept him, her, or it from fulfilling the great destiny worthy of his, her, or it’s talents, by kissing without permission, by expressing your desire for him, her, or it, by leaning too close, by initiating sex with her, him, or it while he, her, or it was asleep.

By not asking politely, in writing, before hand, if you could say to them, “you are hot– I’d like to have sex with you.”

Let us gather a red cloak for Ronan Farrow and  begin the purge of our libraries and museums and art galleries,  and let us expunge all the works, the films, the books, the paintings, the sculptures, the music, the podcasts, the radio programs, by all the horrible men who made them, who created the models we use today, who inspired generations of other artists, who moved us, who wrought the world of culture– let us take all their works and burn them.  For it doesn’t matter and never mattered that you actually built or created or invented or led or organized or directed– it never mattered at all.  It doesn’t matter that you saw beauty or truth in a gesture, an expression, a conversation, a shape, a way of describing a scene.  None of your acts of compassion or generosity, or wit, or improvisation, or imagination can now be countenanced: you must be expelled from human society!

The only thing that mattered, ever, is that in one of the millions of small moments of your life, you offended one of God’s dainty little angels who, though gentle and delicate and innocent, and helpless, when roused, is mighty and bold and courageous and will now speak out and tell her story!  On Oprah, if possible, or Jerry Springer, if necessary!   Now that it is safe to do so.   That is enough.  It erases everything else you were or could be.  And it makes a monument of courage and genius of the accuser, who never had any such courage or genius when it was all that would have been required for her, to turn around and spit in your face and say “no” and leave.

Let’s replace them all with Ronan Farrow’s scribbles.  Or the films written and directed by Mia Farrow.  Or Illeana Douglas’s exposes.  Or Kirsten Gillibrand’s mountains of legislation.

[whohit]Ronan Farrow: Please Shutup[/whohit]

The Go-Gos Sell Out Again

But the Go-Go’s used punk as a starting point, not a destination. They weren’t afraid to not only rock but to pop too. Ms. Wiedlin and the guitarist Charlotte Caffey in particular began writing songs that were Brill Building-worthy with their clever lyrics and unabashed hooks.

When a critic uses the phrase “not afraid to” in reference to an action that is usually regarded as a sell-out or compromise or phony or narcissistic, look out!  It’s a clever rhetorical device to try to convince you that up is down, what is in is out, and that selling out is really a way of not selling out, because we’re all being ironic and sophisticated here.  We heard it when Abba, a shallow pop band, was compared to the Beatles.  Really.

So, here, we are told that the Go-Go’s were actually courageously and audaciously taking the safest possible course.  They were artistically pandering to the pop crowd.

Which is why Margot Olavarria left the band, claiming that they had sold out in a “cutthroat” drive towards commercial success.

They were “Brill Building-worthy”.  The Brill Building is famous for putting out product– not art.  Pre-packaged musical pap.  Muzak.  Crap.  Music by assembly line.  Neil Diamond and Carole King and Gerry Goffin.  Everybody’s doing the locomotion.

Where else do we hear this phrase?  Not afraid to enjoy fast food.  Not afraid to admit she likes Justin Bieber.  Not afraid to slap on some makeup and a miniskirt and high-heels and dazzle the despised paparazzi!  Oh, so sassy!  So saucy!

I know a young woman who basically reeked Christian virtue, principles, truth, authenticity.  She veritably sneered at women of questionable morals and at pop culture in general.   She was bullied in school by class-mates who thought of her as Miss Goody Two-Shoes.  Then I heard that she was planning a trip to Greece and had purchased the sexiest bikini ever, because, like, she was not afraid to be sexy.  More like quite happy to sell out if she could make it sound like something admirable.  She was cheered on by her friends: you go girl!  She felt liberated!  Empowered!  In control of her own sexuality!

Just like those girls she used to sneer at.

What we are really hearing is the critic attempting to justify her admiration of music she tacitly admits is mediocre.

Three words: They. Kicked. Ass.

Oh please. Evelyn Mcdonnell, sounding desperate, makes it loud and clear that her fondest aspiration for the Go-Go’s was for them to be loud and abrasive, just like a male band.  You think the Ramones kick ass?  Well, the Go-Go’s are just as loud!

With Margot Oliveriea in the band, the Go-Go’s aspired to punk.  The minute they were led to believe they could have a lot more success as a mainstream pop band, they switched gears and Olavarria was fired for resisting.

And yes, we will pose in our underwear for Rolling Stone Magazine– and then complain that RS exploited them (I don’t know how the photographer managed to get their clothes off without them noticing).  (Actually, I will note they later made their complaint more specific– aware, perhaps, of the inconsistency– by citing the headline: “Go-Go’s Put Out”.)

Wikipedia, by the way, rather shamelessly offers this gem:

During this period, the Go-Go’s became America’s sweethearts and started building a fanbase.[9]

Punks don’t do “sweethearts”.  Authentic bands don’t do “sweethearts”.  Kick-ass bands do not do “sweethearts”.  Artists don’t do “sweethearts”.

Olivia Newton-John does sweethearts.   Justin Bieber does sweethearts.

Gottehrer [Producer of the Go-Go’s first album]: They didn’t talk to me for a minimum of three months. Might have been six. Miles [Copeland, IRS Records Executive], I think, threatened to kill me: “You’ve ruined them. I gave you a punk band and got back this pop crap?”

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Proud of the Cloud

Suppose that the U.S. had not succeeded in developing the nuclear bomb by 1945.

Suppose the U.S. had invaded Japan, landed on it’s shores, defeated the remnants of the Japanese army, and then proceeded to occupy Tokyo and Hiroshima and other Japanese cities.  Suppose the Japanese still refused to surrender?

Suppose U.S. soldiers then proceeded to go house-to-house, force their occupants into the streets, and then slaughtered every man, woman, and child in the hearts of those cities.  10,000.  50,000.  100,000.  200,000.  200,000 bodies in the streets.  Old men.  Women.  Children.  Another 200,000 severely wounded.

Would we still have a monuments to their triumph?  Would we say we were proud of their achievement?  Would we ruefully note that if it hadn’t been for their actions, other loved Americans would have had to die in order to finish the war?

Would Richland, Washington, which is near Hanford, Washington where uranium for the bomb was developed, still have a mascot based on the event?  Say, a bayonet?  And a chant: “Gushing for the Grenade”?  “All wet for the bayonet”?  “Go for the Gun”?

If you think attitudes might have changed by now, think again.  The town and the high school are still enthusiastically supportive of the mascot and theme, though some have tried to sanitize it by claiming that a mural of a bomber like the one that dropped the nuclear bomb actually refers to the bombing of German cities– as if the old men, women, and children in those cities were Nazi soldiers.


[whohit]Proud of the Cloud[/whohit]

Monumental Mistakes

The problem with monuments is not only or mainly that some of them are dedicated to assholes.

The problem with monuments is that all of them are lies.

Monuments are always to ourselves.

Check it out: most of the monuments to heroes of the American Civil War on the Confederate side were erected well after the war was over.  A monument to Robert E. Lee is a monument that reflects the aspirations of the people who erected it: to restore the cultural and political values of the Confederacy.  It’s a monument to the people who erected the monument– not Robert E. Lee.

So when people go around looking at monuments of Robert E. Lee or John A. Macdonald or Bernard Montgomery or Martin Luther or Napoleon, and find out that he really was an asshole, they suddenly– in self-righteous indignation (remember, monuments are always to ourselves)–demand it be removed.

I would challenge these people.  Find me a historical figure about whom you can not find some horrible facts.  Churchill?  Demanded the fire-bombing of Dresden.  Patton?  An over-rated egotist.  George Washington?  Owned slaves.  Thomas Jefferson?  Sally Hemming.  Ulysses S. Grant?  Committed loads of atrocities, particularly against captive Confederate soldiers.

Yes, a few exceptions: Martin Luther King Jr., though he apparently cheated on his wife, for whom they built the ugliest, most over-bearing monument in Washington.  And  Dwight Eisenhower, who also, apparently, may have cheated on his wife.  And let’s talk about that Eisenhower monument: in spite of his own expressed wishes, to have a monument that reflected his fundamental modesty and humility, and his humble origins, it was decided to build a big, big, big monument.  Huge.  Let’s show the world how big (we) he was.

Paris is full of monuments dedicated to wars they lost and assholes who led thousands and tens of thousands of credulous young men to horrible deaths.

Monuments are always to ourselves.

Nobody really cares about what people think of Ronald Reagan when they go through an airport named for him.  They don’t.  What the people who named the airport for him care about is what you think of them, the people who made a monument to Ronald Reagan, the greatest president ever, and the conservative political values they continue to embrace.  Reagan was divorced.  He multiplied the nation’s deficit.  He was mean to hippies.

Mother Theresa?  Terry Fox?  Both monuments to the idea that we, who erected the monuments, are fabulous, because we like Mother Theresa or Terry Fox.   Both of them would probably have preferred that you take the cost of the monument and make a donation to a good charity that continues their work.  Well, Terry Fox probably would have.  Mother Theresa was no saint.  It is one of the great misconceptions of our time that she wanted to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.  She did not.

In the rare instance when the idea of a monument is brilliant and expressive of a real historical issue, this is what happens:  smart people devise a process to select a great monument.  They publish the objectives and rules.  They hold a contest.  The best entry is selected, like the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.– that amazing scar on the landscape of black basalt with the names of all the dead engraved on it, in random order– and then, realizing that too much truth is too much, they immediately choose another monument or, in the case the Washington Viet Nam Veteran’s Memorial, idiotically undermine it by erecting a hugely conventional, preposterous monument nearby, as a sap to the ignorant who never got the winning design, or who want to insist that war is a glorious enterprise that brings honor and dignity to everyone.  To top it off, they printed an index to the names so that people did not have to scan through 50,000 names to find their loved one.  Which, of course, was the whole point.

The Viet Nam Veteran’s monument is a marvel, perhaps the greatest monument in Washington D.C., or anywhere.  It’s moving.  It’s powerful.  It’s beautiful.

The same thing happened in Hamburg.  Hamburg, Germany, has a large, intimidating monument to the glories of war.  Enlightened people of Hamburg decided they needed a counter-monument to express the more modern distaste for militarism.  They held a contest– sound familiar?– and selected a brilliant design– sound familiar?.  (The original showed powerful soldiers marching around a solid block of granite, “protecting” and guarding it; the winning counter-design showed similar soldiers slowly marching into oblivion under the pavement.  It was, like I said, brilliant.)  Then they realized it had too much truth and immediately broke their own commitments to the process and castrated the design to erect an abstract, ambiguous moment that pleased no one.

Sound familiar?

[whohit]Monumental Mistakes[/whohit]

Suffering as Entertainment

In the last few seasons of the Americans– which I continued to watch, frankly, because I wanted to see how it ended– Paige, and then Elizabeth, spent most of their screen time grimacing, frowning, and suffering.  The artistic message required, I suppose, was that this character was unhappy.  Did you get it?  The artistic technique consisted of close-up images of actors looking very unhappy.  Lots and lots of images.   Over and over again, interspersed with short passages of narrative development which didn’t really advance the story very much at all.  Paige at home being unhappy.  Paige unhappy in a car.  Paige unhappy walking the street at night.  Paige unhappy in her bedroom.  Paige unhappy meeting with Pastor Tim.  Paige unhappy in the bathroom.  Paige finally walking off the train, unhappy.  Did you get it yet?

Your boring uncle might tell you a joke.  It might be mildly funny so you chuckle a little.  Then he tells is over and over again.  That’s why he’s your boring uncle.

A good drama requires revelation, narrative, plot, dialogue, and development.  Repeatedly dramatizing suffering, without development, makes the narrative inert and imposes stasis on the drama.

And that’s what the first two episodes of Season 2 of “The Handmaid’s Tale” are all about: very brief, modest narrative developments awash in long periods of dramatic stasis as the drama wallows in the suffering of its characters.

It’s very comparable to those bad dramas about alcoholism or drug abuse that repeatedly explore just how drunk or stoned the character is and how his unchanged behaviors lead to less and less interesting consequences.  The consequences are less interesting because they are already inevitable from the earliest revelations.  It is far more interesting to explore how a character might escape his addictions, or how a family rebuilds after a devastating loss, or how a lover might acquire the wisdom of moving out of the addict’s orbit, or how someone uses the addict to further his or her own aims.

But you can tell sometimes that the author or director or both really think you will be deeply impressed in some way by just how contemptible the character has become.  They seem to believe that there is something raw and authentic in honestly revealing a character’s total degradation.  They don’t understand that it’s not raw or authentic at all: it’s narcissistic.  It’s a constant whiny battering: I am so interesting.  You want to watch me suffer forever.  You wish that you could be so blessed, so lucky, so gifted, that I would allow you to respond to my suffering.

So Elisabeth Moss,  star of “The Handmaid’s Tale”– and a producer– don’t forget that–, appears to believe that the audience wants just that: let’s have lots of closeups of my beautiful unhappy, beautiful scared, or beautiful angry face, without any particular narrative development.  And, from reviews, it doesn’t sound like any such development is imminent.  One reviewer questioned just how long a series can continue without hope.  I’m not particular about “hope” necessarily– there could be an interesting trajectory towards total disaster– but I am particular about development, and exploration, and revelation.  It doesn’t sound like anything like that is forthcoming, and I knew from “The American’s” that a dramatic series can spend a long, long time wallowing in the suffering part of it.

That is why this development is so alarming:   I know this could go on for a long time, for episode after episode after episode.

What is going on here?   What is the matter with you, audience?  Don’t you see that I’m suffering?  Don’t you feel bad?  Why don’t you give me what I want?

This time, I’m going to bail more quickly.

Will anyone else bail?  Probably not.  Here’s the real world logic:

“I feel awful,” the son says after his mother berates him for not calling. “

If I could believe that,” she says, “I’d be the happiest mother in the world.”

[whohit]Suffering as Entertainment[/whohit]

The Legalization Scam

An insightful blog post on Colorado’s legalization of marijuana– not enthusiastic about it, as you might think it would have been–  pointed out that the goal of the legislation was not to bring a absurdly criminalized activity into the open, but to commodify it for white people.

You see, most white people in Colorado, in recent years, did not go to jail for possession of marijuana.  Only blacks and indigenous people would actually be arrested and convicted if caught in possession of marijuana.

It’s as if the government made lipstick illegal, knowing full well that they would only ever check the purses of black women.

So when it was legalized, a clever but insidious little caveat was added to the law: no one with a previous conviction, a felony, for possession of marijuana would be allowed to become a dealer.

We’re so clever.


[whohit]Legalization Scam[/whohit]