Profound Contrived Authencity: Little Bird (the MiniSeries)

Together, they reached for what Moscovitch calls “profound authenticity,” and created an opportunity for narrative activism: the idea that victims can help heal their trauma and change attitudes by telling their stories.  Globe & Mail

I don’t mind if someone wants to make a film or mini-series that “will help heal trauma and change attitudes”.  Just don’t put it on my playlist.

Changing attitudes is not the mission of real art.  Real art is about expression, revelation, insight, and beauty.  The minute you say, “oh, and we want people to  adopt our political views”, you have sold out the aesthetic dimension to the social dimension.  To make a film to tell people what to think about the way indigenous people were treated in Canada is to make a bad film.  To make a film about the way indigenous people were treated in Canada, just make a good film.  And if you are authentic about it, tell us what you know about the subject: not what you want us to think. And be honest: don’t caricature or exaggerate or make things up just to drive your point home.  Watch a film like “Come Sunday” which makes its point without dumbing down the issues.

So when my wife asked me to find the series “Little Bird” for her to watch, I checked it out.  I thought, it might be good.  I might want to watch it.  I looked for reviews on line and found the “review” (it’s not a review: it’s a press release disguised as news) linked above.

I suspect this series is about making liberal viewers feel great about themselves: I watched a sad story about injustice and felt bad for the victims for I am a good person.

I watched the first ten minutes.  As I feared, it starts by showing the girls who were abducted by the Canadian Child Family Services and RCMP living in nearly idyllic conditions with their happy affectionate parents.   Even worse: there’s that jerky hand-held camera work that immediately conveys “oh look how authentic we are we’re pretending we’re actually filming the real thing which wouldn’t be possible if we had a tripod” vibe.

I am immediately repulsed by most films that show parents being incredibly tolerant and affectionate and patient and loving with their kids as a setup for imminent tragedy or threat.  Nobody interacts with their children the way these parents do.  It’s manipulative and dishonest.  It is the hallmark of bad direction.  And that is how “Little Bird” starts.

In “Little Bird,” Bezhig is driven by her newly emerging repressed memories.  Variety

Oh no.  Seriously?  We’ve been through this movie before and it did not turn out well.  Not at all.    Not this time either.

Podemski: We looked at all the various ways in which trauma presents itself. Especially when it has been repressed for many years . We worked with our two story advisors, Nakuset and Raven Sinclair, who supported us in shaping the way in which our lead character, Esther, experienced PTSD through intrusive memory. We were able to express this authentically through the use of acoustic and visual layers which I think played very authentically throughout the story.

Okay, firstly, it’s not the trauma that has been repressed but the memory of it.  And memories are not repressed.  That is a fake trope from the 1980’s that has pretty well lost all credibility.   And the method by which they decided to tell the story of the “repressed” memories sounds more like therapy than art.  But please don’t try to claim anything like “authenticity” when you are clearly constructing a narrative that projects a political and social idea rather than any particular real human experience.

 

A CBC article on the movie contains this flag:

WARNING: This story contains distressing details

Oh please fuck off with your trigger warnings.   This is bullshit.  What kind of news is “distressing”?    A man falsely accused of rape while feminists claim that women never lie about sexual assault?  Al Franken resigning his seat in the Senate over ridiculously trivial allegations of inappropriate behavior?  Tax-payer subsidized sports stadiums?  Music by Neil Diamond?  Senile white men running the U.S. government?   Prescription drugs developed at publicly-funded universities which cost pennies to manufacture selling for $30,000 a pop?

 

 

 

Evita, Hamilton Family Theatre, Cambridge, 2023-10-26

With the rise of populism in various countries around the world (Hungary, Poland, India, United States, Italy, etc.) it is worth seeing “Evita” in Cambridge at the Hamilton Family Theatre. It’s a very good production and touches on the nature of populism, the irrational belief people might have that a narcissistic, corrupt, self-serving figure like Evita Peron (and a certain orange-haired American politician) will save the nation, bring social justice and equality, and stick it to those educated, rich, smart-alecky elites that control the media and preside over government bureaucracies.
Regardless of the politics, it’s a fascinating story, and they could have written an entire second opera on what happened to Eva’s body– and Juan Peron– after her death, and, of course, the corpse of the Argentinian economy.
An object lesson in mass media as well: the people thought Eva was saintly because she created a foundation and personally wrote checks to poor people who lined up to see her. The specific stories made great anecdotes, with saturated media coverage, but most of the money probably ended up in the pockets of Juan and Eva Peron.  There is no reason to not account for the income and spending except to hide where the money went.
There is a bit of a drive out there to rehabilitate her image, and argue that Rice’s lyrics for “Evita” are based on a rather biased biography.  It is probably true that she was not as bad as her enemies made her out to be, but there is ample evidence to suggest that her charitable works were never not substantially self-serving even if she did promote unions that bettered the lives of working class individuals in Argentina at the time– and promoted her husband to the presidency and, she hoped, herself to the vice-presidency.
There’s a bit of a feminist angle to the “rehabilitation” of women of historical importance like Josephine, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, and Evita.  Most of the time, yes, the negatives stories have been exaggerated over time, but the essential details of their lives remain the same.  And in some cases, the “rehabilitation” glosses over historical facts in order to cleanse their reputations.  Marie Antoinette was involved in conspiracies to restore her husband to the throne; Josephine did not inspire Napoleon’s great strategies or legislative accomplishments, Cleopatra reign was oppressive, and Evita was a self-centered narcissist who used her sexuality to achieve her position of privilege under the Peronist regime.

The New Speaker: Mike Johnson

The new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, is known to be a devout Christian. He prays very often, leads bible studies, podcasts his wisdom on Godliness and spirituality, and fights passionately against renewable energy, gun control, and anything based on science or fact. Amen. Jesus and Exxon. Amazing how his politics align so much with Trump and so little with actual scripture. He argues that scripture commands individuals to be hospitable to “the stranger at your gate” and treat them well, but governments can pretty well tell them to go to hell.

 

This man believes in the Bible the way McDonald’s believes in nutrition.

Dune – Just Another Fascist Sci-Fi Pornographic Fantasy?

By “pornographic”, incidentally, I don’t mean sexually pornographic.  I mean in the sense of distilling an artistic entity into it’s most obvious, banal, and debasing parts.  I mean it in the same way that I would tell you that Disney is mostly pornographic: it is film that caters to banal fantasies and fetishes about heroism and suffering.

I have never read “Dune”.  I tried but it bored me, very quickly.  I generally despise banal fantasies.  I might try again some day– certain people keep telling me it’s great– , but for now I’m going to build a personal synopsis using online resources.  Yes, I know: that is inadequate.  But before I commit to reading 900 pages of dreck, I want to know if there is anything worthwhile in there.  I’m getting old.  I don’t have that much time left to waste.

Synopsis of Dune:

First of all, we have an Emperor.  Are science fiction writers congenitally incapable of imagining a universe without a royal family?  (Well, P. K. Dick did, in “Blade Runner”).  And if we have a royal family, we have a princess, in this case, Timothee Chalamet, (because I guess Leonardo Di Caprio and Andrew McCarthy and the princesses are getting too big now).

So we have House Atreides headed by Leto and the emperor Padishah. Emperor Shaddam IV orders Leto to rule the planet Arrakis (which is the putative Dune of the title).    Arrakis is where you get LSD.

Leto has a concubine, a witch, with magical powers, like Peter Pan, Lady Jessica, who is an “acolyte” of the Bene Gesserit, a very, very mysterious group.  So mysterious, we can’t tell you anything about it.  Just wallow in the mystery, okay?

Oh, there’s too many characters, none of whom sound interesting yet.  Lady Jessica bears Leto a son, Paul, who is so obviously a Christ figure that Frank Herbert can count on most reviewers not mentioning it for fear of appearing crass.  Paul passes a test with higher marks than anyone else ever– he’s just so special.  After all, he’s a princess.  That’s why we have Timothy Chalamet.  And less interesting now, because we know that this sequence is merely a device to keep us from thinking Paul wants to be the chosen one.  The chosen one never wants to be the chosen one.  He is always dragged, reluctantly, kicking and screaming, to his DESTINY.  The same way princesses are always compelled to wear glorious dresses and jewelry and accept the worship of the masses of people who think that princesses should be worshipped.

So they move to Arrakeen– Leto, Jessica, Paul, and the indentured servants.  Arrakeen is a “stronghold”– nice — on Arrakis.

And we have the bad guys, the Harkonnens.   And the perfidious Suk doctor Wellington, who has mixed motives, and thus becomes more interesting than he was, but still, he BETRAYS our hero, Leto, and brings suffering to the real hero, the Christ figure, Paul.

The name… Paul?  Seriously?

And what makes Paul utterly dull and lifeless: he acquires magical powers of by drinking the “Waters of Life” which are supposed to poison males (here we get all the suffering again, to prove that Paul is no greedy little parvenu, but a suffering, selfless, honest-to-god hero.  Here the reader feels good about himself.  He goes to sleep fantasizing he is Paul, and everyone loves him because he suffered for his power– he didn’t take it because he was a fucking, greedy little arrogant twerp, which is probably the truth.  It is almost always the truth.  Show me a ruler who actually sat back and waited for authority and power to be thrust upon him?

If you believe Hollywood movies, heroism is bestowed upon humble reluctant protagonists by accident or fate or whatever– anything except personal ego and ambition.  Just the opposite, in fact, of Shakespeare.

So Paul is now dull: he prevails, when he prevails, not because he tries harder or is witty or clever or well-educated or has learned to lead– no, no, no– he has magic.  It’s way easier and saves the novelist years of work.  And now he really is the “messiah”, the Kwisatz Haderach, the fruit of the long-term Bene Gesserit breeding program.

Doesn’t that all just sound fascinating to you?  No, not me either.  We already have a bible, and Greek myths, and Star Wars (God spare us the ultimate mediocrity in sci-fi).   We already have a film version of “Dune” by David Lynch that was so bad that he disowned it.   And I suspect he disowned it not because the studio destroyed his film, as he insisted, but because he couldn’t believe how bad his own work was.  The studio didn’t invent Sting’s costume, or Kyle MacLachlan’s incomprehensibly British accent or the voice-over of every character.

Why Dune?  What is supposedly so original or powerful about it?  Villeneuve made “Blade Runner 2049″ and “Arrival” both of which were, frankly, dumb.   What can he do with the “Dune” franchise?  (“Incendies“, on the other hand, was fine.)

Helen MacDonald interviewed director Villeneuve for the Times.  I generally want to trust my sources here but she says this, as she is about to interview Villeneuve by Zoom:

When I held up my “Star Wars” mug to demonstrate my sci-fi credentials, his eyebrows rose high over his half-rim glasses, and he grinned.

Seriously?

You are trying to tell me that “Dune” is profound and complex and smart and original and brilliant, and yet you are a fan of the dumbest science fiction franchise in the known universe?

And you tell me Villeneuve “grinned” when you said that?

Let’s see if she can rebuild her credibility.   No, she can’t.  “Star Wars” was purposely conceived of as a “B” franchise, a dumb, childish, unsophisticated story of princesses and cute robots and lasers and space ships and rogues and almost nothing genuinely interesting about man or science or space.   It is worse than uninteresting: it actually saps genuine curiosity and wonder from the viewer’s brain.

Helen MacDonald, author of the wonderful “H is for Hawk”,  is clearly a fan-girl or maybe she’s hoping Villeneuve will take on one of her own books in the future: she is a major suck-up.  She writes, “Timothée Chalamet described him as ‘one of the most beautiful souls.’ ”  She blathers about how nice he was to her on the Zoom call.

Give it a rest, mom.

 

 

 

 

 

A Bill Jamesian Analysis of Voter Suppression

This fascinating article in the New York Times gives a surprisingly anodyne perspective on voter suppression efforts by Republican (and some Democrat) State Legislatures.

The key takeaway is that, for all the fuss, most of the Republican efforts to reduce voter turnout among perceived Democratic constituencies have little overall effect on the outcome.

Why?  Partly because many of the legislative changes don’t work.  Voters continue to turn out, even if voting times and locations are reduced, and voter id is required.  Partly because some of the policies also impact Republican voters.  Partly because the numbers involved are actually quite small.

In baseball, many fans have the impression that the 50-home run hitting first baseman is irreplaceable, because they don’t take into account the fact that his replacement will also hit a lot of home runs.  You don’t lose 50– you lose maybe 10, maybe 15.  And the intentional walk– yes, you reduced the chances of a good-hitter driving in a run, but you also increase the chance that that hitter who is now a baserunner will also score.   It’s a wash and now most astute baseball commentators and managers recognize it.

So take the actual number of voters who don’t turn out and subtract the number of them who vote for the other party and then calculate that as a percentage of the total number of voters– and you have a marginal effect.

I admit, I was a bit surprised.  What do critics of this analysis say?  They don’t say it’s wrong.  They say that the principle of voting rights is more important than the actual effect, and I agree with that.

 

The Grievance Aesthetic: The Fannys

First of all, I had never before heard of Fanny.   Fanny was an all-female band that formed in 1970, consisting of June Millington (electric guitar), Jean Millington (bass), Alice De Buhr, and Nickey Barclay.  The women were remarkably talented– no doubt about it: they could play.

I have been following music closely since I started listening to Bob Dylan when I was ten years old.  I have followed it closely throughout the last 55 years.  I never heard of Fanny that I can remember.  After listening to their songs, I feel apologetic.  I feel dispossessed.

Come on– they are absolutely fabulous.

Let me be clear: hard rock is not my preferred style.  I find it abrasive, noisy, sometimes propulsive, sometimes dull.  I crave good lyrics, the use of musical space, nuance, and subtlety.  I don’t have a single hard rock song on my personal list of the top 25 songs of all time, though I suppose Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” or “Backstreets” or “Adam Raised a Cain” might qualify at least as “hard edged” rock.

I recently watched a documentary on PBS, “Fanny: The Right to Rock”.   To my utter disbelief, this variation of the film is clumsily censored, words beeped out, images of breasts blurred out.  Fuck you, whoever did that.  I found a good copy elsewhere.

If I had been in charge of this project there is one thing I would have asserted right from the start as absolutely essential to the objective of this film: at no point should the esteem or lack thereof of their music be attributed to sexist, patriarchal oppression, sexism, and discrimination.  The fact that Janis Joplin did succeed where Fanny did not tells you that there was more to it than sexism.  And to be fair, the members of the band on the record in the documentary don’t belabor the point.

[Incidentally: it’s a product of BBC IV and if you can find the original BBC version, you can avoid the contemptible censorship savaged on the PBS version, notably including scenes of the girls frolicking half-naked in Hedy Lamar’s former house in Los Angeles.]

But why?  Isn’t that the essential story of the band?  Well, if it is, the band is not worthy of this tribute.  If the band should be known to you because they broke barriers and because they were really better than anyone thinks they were because their singular lack of popular and critical success is due not to any deficiency of talent but to the obstacles placed in their path by sexist (and racist — they were Philippine) attitudes, then you have to prove it by providing me with the songs and musical achievements that deserved more recognition than they got.

What you should want more than anything– what you should positively crave– is for viewers to be convinced that Fanny produced some extraordinary music that stands on its own merits without qualification.  That, this documentary failed to do.   To declare that their work was important or significant because they were women is defeatist.  It is to admit that their work really wasn’t good enough to earn distinction on its own.

They should instead insist on their music being heard on its own terms: very, very good hard rock.  Four very good musicians creating respectable, admirable songs.  In particular, Jean Millington’s vocals are probably as good or better than Janis Joplins’– and she could play bass — really play– to boot.

Jean Millington later said that Fanny had to have a strong live presence in order to overcome audience’s perceptions that women could not play rock music well.  Wiki

Well, we don’t really know.  Do audiences really sit there and think, oh, I think they sound pretty good but they’re female so they can’t be as good as they sound?  Or do audiences simply sit there and think, “they don’t sound that great” and it’s the band and the feminists who think it’s because of their gender?  I am at a loss.  Listen to them: how could an audience not be impressed?

They didn’t “break through” into real success.  To do that, you absolutely have to have at least one song that really amazes people, that demonstrates originality and style and inventiveness and a compelling melody or vocal or all of the above.  A “More Than as Feeling” or “We Don’t Need no Education” or “Eighteen” or “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” or, crossing genres, “Have You Never Been Mellow” or “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be” or “Anchorage” or “First We Take Manhattan” or, even better, “The Hammond Song” by the Roches, a female group (in folk) that really did stand out for the quality of their music– not because they were female.  Fanny had many very good songs, but I can’t identify one that could have crossed-over into a pop hit.  But then, there were so many crappy pop hits.  And, of course, the promotional efforts of the record industry plays a big role.  They did have notable TV appearances, so you can’t say they didn’t get anything.  Just not enough.

What were they aspiring to?  Pop success?  They say they just wanted to be known for their talent, not their looks, but it was clear that they were not really good enough to be successful for their brilliant artistic achievements like, say, The Band or Steely Dan.  The bands that cite them as an inspiration, the Go-Gos, the Bangles, and the Runaways, were also pop bands with more success at creating the catchy pop single.  None of them were as good, from a purely musical perspective, as the Roches.

David Bowie’s appreciation of the band is frequently quoted:  “They were extraordinary: they wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers”.  Yeah, well, David Bowie was dating Jean Millington in 1973.  He was being asked to judge his girl.  But, okay, he was actually right.

Like almost all musicians, they were cruelly ripped off by their own management and the record companies.  But that is at least partly due to their own ignorance.  They allowed their producer and the record company to fire Brie Brandt because they wanted them to resemble the Beatles.  Seriously?  Because they had four members?  The rest of the band was very sad about cutting Brie out of the band, but it did not seem to occur to them that there is a universe in which young musicians can decide personnel matters for themselves.  It was as if God told them to fire her and they did.  They talk about it as if there really was no choice, because they don’t want to admit that the choice was between Brie and the commercial backing of the label.

There are bands that refused to compromise on issues like that and still found success.  There are probably even more bands that made the same compromise and, like Fanny, went nowhere.

The inevitable reunion is covered.  Nickey Barclay is mysteriously absent.  There is a clip of them performing live which is conspicuously deceitful: it’s the studio recording playing over the video of the band.  Not all viewers are dumb enough to not ask themselves immediately why they don’t play the live audio.

The broadcast version I saw beeped out “offensive” language.  Seriously?  It’s 2023.  You’re doing a documentary on this courageous, ground-breaking, revolutionary, ballsy female band, and you have to careful not to offend the delicate sensibilities of your projected audience?  [As I mentioned earlier, check out the BBC original if you can.]

The Candidates:

Aint That Peculiar

Fairly upbeat love song (the more you hurt me the more I love you).  Slide electric, pretty good bass.  Not bad, but not particularly distinguished.

Blind Alley

Typical Fanny: extremely busy, dense, vocals typical of thrash metal bands–  like, have you ever heard of space?  Vocals are “stretching”, a habit developed by metal bands from trying to be heard above their own noise.

Last Night I had a Dream

All the lousy little poets coming round trying to sound like Janis Joplin…

Place in the Country

Nicky Barclay sounds more than a little derivative of Janis Joplin (did Joplin cop a few strokes from Barclay?  They are active around the same time), but without the variety of tone and pace.

 

Nick Cave is Getting Old

Q.  This is semi-random but did you see the Elvis movie?  [The hit movie “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler as Elvis Presley.  from this year?]

A.  Yeah. I was confused by it. Elvis is my hero. There was an aspect to the story of his later years that is almost religious to me.  NY Times

First of all, a journalist should not be telling Nick Cave that the movie is “a hit”.  What is your point?  That it was popular and successful?   [Well, pardon me– but, as if to prove me right, he didn’t say “hit movie”: the NY Times website attached a note to the article that my copy somehow picked up.]

I take it Cave was confused because Luhrmann, striving for some kind of credibility, I suppose, ended up allowing some ambiguity in the film as to just how “heroic” Presley was.  He clearly refused to stand up to his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, who made so many bad decisions for him, and Elvis’ greatest success came in Las Vegas– a cesspool of kitsch– but he is worshipped by the credulous American public who can’t believe that someone that rich (he wasn’t, really– Parker took most of the money) isn’t also virtuous and deserving.

Firstly, I know someone reading this will, sooner or later, leap up and shout “but he had a great voice”.  Yes he did.  So does Celine Dion and Michael Bublé and a hundred other irrelevant “artists” who merely produce pleasant-sounding confections.

Is there anything more bereft of artistic merit than a Michael Bublé song?

As another aside: the film could have done one brilliant thing to lift itself above the messy contrivance that it is:  it should have contrasted Elvis in Vegas– and his audience– to the nascent punk movement in London and New York, and their audiences, just to clue the audience in to just how far from “shocking” Elvis had become and how much he had become, instead, an establishment icon.

It means very little to me, who would rather hear Bob Dylan sing one verse of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” or  “Tambourine Man” or Leonard Cohen croak his way through  “Famous Blue Raincoat” or Tom Waits wail “Cold, Cold Ground” than an entire concert of Elvis.

There is a reason Elvis impersonators are so popular.  What Elvis produced is easily imitated. It’s all surfaces and gloss.  It’s that warble in his voice, the breath, the thirsty lips.  It’s audio scenery.

I won’t hide my crushing disappointment at hearing Nick Cave admit he admired perhaps the most corrupt and conformist rock-pop artist in history.  Elvis was always only ever about getting rich.  Okay– yes, he was a white artist doing black music in the 1950’s.  What did that mean to him?  That he was progressive or activist or even liberal?  He “shocked” the establishment.   Into what?  Hurling their panties onto the stage in Las Vegas?

And gosh, yes indeed, he was very attractive to girls– because, one suspects– he was a girl.  He was definitely a mama’s boy who couldn’t bear to have sex with his wife after she had become pregnant.

He was also a credulous believer in old time religion, producing several albums of the most banal, conventional gospel tunes imaginable (he made Tennessee Ernie Ford look positively conscious).   He used his money to build himself a playground at Graceland and surrounded himself with men who were willing to act like kids and horse around and eat too much and keep real people away.  He begged a fat old Dutch hustler with the cultural palette of Gumby to please, please take 50% of all of my earnings because I am too dumb and too weak to  get myself a lawyer– without your permission– and challenge you on any point on any issue including those monumentally stupid movies you signed me up for.  This was no “shock” to the establishment: it was a slobbering wet kiss to everything the white patriarchal society represented at the time.

Elvis joined the army.

Seriously– Elvis never, in his 20’s, a powerful (in terms of potential earnings power) celebrity, never challenged Parker’s control of his career, of his social life, of his engagements, his politics, his clothes?  Just how gutless exactly was the man?  Regard the Beatles, who exploded into four solo-careers, fired their manager, hired and fired lawyers and accountants, started a company, bankrupted the company, promoted new artists, demonstrated for peace, and so on, and so on, all while Elvis was sitting on a toilet in Las Vegas.  (It has to be noted here that the Beatles, too, admired Elvis, and the Beach Boys.  But they were more influenced by Bob Dylan.)

That’s not merely weird.  It’s nauseating.

Nick Cave says:

The final Las Vegas concerts were the Passion of crucifixion and redemption and resurrection.

Nick Cave– do you even know what Las Vegas is?  Have you ever been to Vegas?  Have you toured the hotels, the strip malls, the casinos?  What is there about this place that doesn’t strike you as hell?

There is a man who’s suffering on such an epic level to be onstage and to perform and to live.

No, there is a man who didn’t have the backbone to make any decisions for himself for his entire life.  You admire him for it?!!

I have always found Elvis repellent for the same reason Cave says he admired him: he played Vegas.

Growing up in the 60’s, my generation had the courage (for better and worse) to begin to think independently of the established pro-war, pro-growth, anti-sex, anti-drugs culture and strike out boldly with new values and ideas and lifestyles.  Sure, a lot of it went off the rails, and a lot of it did not endure.  But think of the environmental movement, the feminist movement, civil rights, and the antiwar attitudes that do still prevail.  Elvis had nothing to do with any of it.  It was a conscious decision, made for Elvis by the “Colonel”, to never, ever have an intelligent opinion about any of these raging issues during the entire decade.

What was Elvis doing, during the time of “Ohio”, “The Times They are a ‘Changing”, “For What It’s Worth”, “Eve of Destruction”, Woodstock, Kent State, Viet Nam, Love Canal, etc., etc., etc.?

A medley, arranged by the great songwriter Mickey Newbury, of “Dixie,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “All My Trials” that Presley frequently used as a centerpiece of his later concerts.

(Another note from the NY Times referring to a segment of the documentary, “This is Elvis”. )

Suffering?  Elvis wanted the worship, the attention, the money, the corrupting lifestyle, the entourage, the limousines, the bullshit.  It is what he lived for.

That changed my life as an artist. It was the most stirring thing that I’ve ever seen musically. There was something that was happening at those shows that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Well, that part is right.  You watched a generation of obese, self-satisfied, smug, contemptible Las Vegas consumers wet their panties over a  vacuous washed-up celebrity icon.  This wasn’t a crucifixion, and it certainly wasn’t redemption (Elvis had long ago lost the younger generation: he was now appealing to the teenagers of the 1950’s, who were now middle-aged and settled into their suburban homes) and Elvis wasn’t courageous or innovative or inventive or noteworthy in any artistic sense at all, aside from the fact that he was a white man performing black music.  All that blather that you read about his “come-back” is from a bunch of hacks being overwhelmed by Elvis’s popularity and coercing themselves into sucking up to the myth.

What, really, at this point in his career, was the difference between Elvis and a mediocrity like Engelbert Humperdinck?  Not much.  Elvis was louder.

We are told that Elvis died on the toilet.  Elvis lived on the toilet, on the Las Vegas of culture, literally: trashy spectacle and banal confections.


The only thing that could be more disappointing than Nick Cave’s admiration of Elvis would be Eric Clapton finding Jesus and becoming an anti-vaxxer or Van Morrison comparing Covid restrictions to slavery.

And yeah, Eric Clapton found Jesus and is now a pro-Trump anti-vaxxer and Clapton and Van Morrison compare Covid restrictions to negro slavery.

Has Clapton changed?

In 1976, Clapton said this, publicly:

Onstage, Clapton told his audience that it was important to “keep England White” and that “the Black wogs and coons and Arabs and f—ing Jamaicans don’t belong here.”

You might say, and I might say, that an incident that happened 45 years ago should be forgotten.  I would strongly agree, if it was an “incident”, like groping a groupie, or stealing your best friend’s wife (yes, he did).  But it wasn’t: it was Clapton inadvertently forgetting to hide his opinions from the public.  Clapton, who made a career playing the blues, a style created by black musicians, has never played a role in any protest or civil rights movements.  He has been conspicuously silent on those issues.   He choice to not publicly support those movements is, in fact, a statement in itself.

When he appeared in photos with Greg Abbott in Texas, one can’t doubt that that too was Clapton lettings his opinions slip into the public stream.

Now he complains that his old friends don’t call.


I was curious.

Articles on the web defending Elvis seem to think there is a constituency out there that thinks Elvis is racist.  I never thought that.  I don’t know of anyone who does.  Then I realized— that’s the strawman.  Prove that Elvis wasn’t racist and you have therefore salvaged his reputation from allegations of triviality and irrelevance– the kind of stuff I am asserting here.  So there are numerous articles on line showing that Elvis had many black musician friends and none of them thought he had any racist attitudes.  He grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, a mixed race community.  I’m fine with that.

However, I thought it was interesting that so many sites felt the need to make that defense.  In any case, I was curious: did Elvis agree to play for segregated audiences?  The Beatles refused.  Did Elvis refuse?

The rider for the September 11 concert “explicitly cited the band’s refusal to perform in a segregated facility,” writes Kenneth Womack at Salon. When concert promoters pushed back, John Lennon flatly stated in a press conference, “We never play to segregated audiences, and we aren’t going to start now. I’d sooner lose our appearance money.”  From Here.

It’s easy to find references online of the Beatles refusing to play segregated audiences.  The Rolling Stones are known to have recorded songs by obscure black artists as b-sides to their hit singles, to give them some income.

Regarding Presley’s first hit, “That’s All right Mama”:

Arthur Crudup was credited as the composer on the label of Presley’s single, but despite legal battles into the 1970s, reportedly never received royalties. An out-of-court settlement was supposed to pay Crudup an estimated $60,000 in back royalties, but never materialized.[15][16] Crudup had used lines in his song that had been present in earlier blues recordings, including Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1926 song “That Black Snake Moan”.[16]  (Wiki)

It is hard to believe that there would not be a record of it– as of the Beatles– if he ever had.  There is a clear record about one thing: Elvis virtually never stood up to Tom Parker (can we all please STOP calling him “Colonel”: he was never a Colonel anywhere)  and challenged any of his decisions, and Tom Parker obviously didn’t give a fuck about civil rights.

There is a video— by “fans”, of course– that claims that Elvis performed a beautiful, powerful song (“If I can Dream”) about truth and beauty and justice and brotherhood at the end of his 1968 NBC TV special.   But the song is anodyne at best, banal, and unspecific, and safely generic.  Not a single line that even approaches “battle lines being drawn” or “tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming” or even (of course) “Imagine there’s no country”.

People love Elvis.  I never have.  The people who love Elvis will twist themselves into a pretzel to find some way to rationalize that love, to find virtue in the man that is commensurate with their esteem.   That esteem is a reflection of ourselves, our good taste, our own virtue, but not of the reality of fat , sweaty Elvis leaning in and kissing the women taking a break from the slot machines in the front rows of the International Hotel ballroom.

Pretty Good Discussion of the Racism

Facebook is TV With One Channel

“Facebook’s standards for suggested content in Feed:
Our goal is to make recommendations that are relevant to each person who sees them. Through our Recommendations Guidelines, we work to avoid making recommendations that could be low-quality, objectionable, or particularly sensitive.”  Facebook

This is a lie. My news feed is a constant stream of “low-quality, objectionable” items.

Facebook gives you the option. they claim, of stopping that feed; then they cleverly feed you even more “low-quality, objectionable” items under a different source name, and then another different name, and another. Like “Elvis – Team Berlin” (??!!). Or “Idiocracy News Media”. Or “The Singing Contractors”. Or “Newsmax” (the one that should be named “idiocracy”). Or whatever. Facebook claims these items are not paid for– that too is a lie (they are paid for by advertising $ dependent on levels of “engagement”.)

Facebook offers very little control. It essentially operates like a TV with one channel.

The Coming Convergence and the Blessings of Being a 10-year-old Mom

I am surprised by the views expressed by “pro-life” individuals in this survey and interviews in the New York Times.

What is striking is how flexible these individuals are about when abortion should be legal and when not.  Years ago, Right to Live declared that the minute a sperm fertilizes an egg, you have a human life that is entitled to the full protection of the law, even in cases of rape or incest.   They still declare that, but real people– real Republicans– don’t believe it.  They seem to be open to the idea that there should be “reasonable” limits– even up to 12 weeks.  And they believe that abortions should be allowed in cases of rape.

They are also under the mistaken belief that a mother’s life is more at risk of death or serious injury in an abortion than she is in child birth.  That is flatly not true.  Stunningly, even the pro-choice panel the New York Times convened for the same purpose believed it.  That messaging from Right to Life has taken hold.

How stupid are the Republicans?  Well, I bet Mitch McConnell understands that the Republicans need to embrace a “safety-valve” on the issue: tolerate some flexibility and some exceptions so they can say they haven’t banned all abortions.  But other hot-heads in the party seem determined to take a hard line, even when it comes to that 10-year-old girl (perhaps, one commentator asserted, she doesn’t appreciate the blessings of being a mother).

What remains to be determined is just how much of a factor this might be in the coming mid-term elections.  Probably, the economy will matter more, even when the perception that the economy is in a mess is wrong.  Inflation is a problem, but employment, consumer spending and confidence, hiring, and productivity are all favorable.  Nobody cares: they want to believe that Biden is a feeble old man who is out of his depth, so they insist that the economy is a disaster.

The Death of Stalin

You thought “Succession” was hilarious?  The story of minor-league talents battling it out to take over the family business from a toxic patriarch?

“The Death of Stalin” is a terrific movie about the end of the life of quite possibly the worst dictator the world has ever known.  It is reported to be one of Barack Obama’s favorite films.  It was banned in Russia, which, of course, is hilarious.  It was also criticized by some for historical inaccuracies, which, of course, is also rather absurd: it is a comedy.  The comedy lies in the kind of chaos created when an authoritarian, melomaniac, paranoid leader dies without leaving a clear line of succession.

It drives me insane to read, in IMDB, an explanation of why they made the “strange” decision to have the actors speak in plain English, instead with an amusing Russian accent!  The assumption is that they should have had them speak with Russian accents, which is actually a really, really strange idea.  But these are Russians talking to each other in Russia.   Do viewers think that Russians or Germans or French people speak to each other with funny accents?

If you say, that’s what people expect, it is only because they have been trained to expect that moronic approach, the way they have been trained to believe that bullets arrive at their target simultaneously with the sound of the gun being fired: they have been trained by early Westerns which chose not to allow audiences to learn the truth.

The best solution is for them to speak in their real, native tongue, with subtitles, but having them speak fluent English is a good option, and far, far, better than the stupid accent idea.

Stalin

Estimates vary, as they will, but Stalin was probably singularly responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

Key players:

Lavrently Beria

  • Became head of the NKVD in November 1938.
  • Proposed and master-minded the Katyn Massacre in March 1940.
  • just before Stalin’s funeral, he had the army units in Moscow replaced with his own NKVD units and cancelled all the trains coming to Moscow.

Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor)

  • Closely associated with Vladimir Lenin.
  • Ran Soviet Missile Program during World War II.
  • Discredited Georgy Zhukov to curry favor with Stalin who was jealous.
  • Briefly succeeded Stalin as Premiere and “first among equals” (March 5, 1953)
  • Eventually sidelined by Nikita Khrushchev.  Attempted a palace coup against Khrushchev in 1957 and expelled from the Presidium and exiled to Kazakhstan.

Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin)

  • Negotiated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany in 1941.
  • Part of the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death to plot things out.
  • his wife, Polina, had been arrested by Beria, with Molotov’s passive consent.  Three days after Stalin’s death, Beria did indeed release Polina to Molotov, presumably to cultivate support in the ongoing power struggle at the Politburo.

Nicolai Bulganin

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Lazar Kaganovich

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Anastas Mikoyan

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Nikita Khrushchev

  • Brought back from Ukraine to Moscow in 1949
  • Regarded by British Diplomats as mouthy and misinformed and inarticulate.  They were far more impressed b y Malenkov, though the movie portrays him as a bit of a dunce.

Vasily Stalin

  • Stalin’s son
  • Called to his father’s side after his cerebral hemorrhage, he was drunk and angry, shouting at the doctors

Svetlana Stalin

  • Stalin’s daughter.  Reported that her father’s death was “difficult and terrible”.
  • Beria had been very friendly with her as a little girl, like an Uncle

Maria Yudina.

  • famous pianist who played piano at reception at Stalin’s lying in state
  • 9 years before his death (unlike in the movie which places the event the very night of) she had played the concert shown in the movie, and had been roused out of bed to repeat the concert for a recording
  • Wrote a note to Stalin which she placed in the record sleeve saying:  “I will pray for you day and night and ask the Lord to forgive your great sins before the people and the country.”  She was not arrested.  She died in 1970.

Georgy Zhukov (died June 1974)

  • got along well with Eisenhower; tried to supply food to Berlin after war
  • however, did nothing to stop the brutal rapes and pillaging by Russian soldiers
  • unlike everyone else around Stalin, he refused to kowtow; openly dismissive of Stalin, and openly contradicted him at times
  • did loot Berlin; was caught and made an abject apology
  • Brilliant Soviet military general who guided the stand-off in Stalingrad.
  • his arrest of Beria did occur, but 3 months after the funeral (June 1953), and Beria did get a trial and was executed in December 1953.
  • supported Khrushchev’s bid for power, but, by 1957 lost favor and was forced to retire
  • never returned to a position of influence after that
  • some historians believe he exaggerated his role in WW II.

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