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I play the stock market of the soul --
and I sell short!
Tuesday, March 28, 2006  
BEING A SPORT. This, from the Tenement Museum, is awfully sweet. Nothing against the musical bits, but I've turned them off so I can just listen to New York (actually, an incredible simulation!) at my desk.

I especially like the kids in the playground. I've lived adjacent to New York public school playgrounds a few times in my life -- I live near one now. It's nice to start your day with a warm breeze of glee coming in the window.

If I were living away from New York, I think hearing these sounds would give me a terrible pang. Maybe for people in that position, the Museum should offer obnoxious alternative sounds -- like tofu-bucket drummers in the subway, or these guys -- to make you glad you left. I'd probably still feel a pang anyway. (Thanks, Flavorpill NYC.)

P.S. I don't usually tell you about fun web things like this because I'm a miserable son of a bitch.

3:40 PM by roy



GENE, GENE, YOU'RE YOUNG AND ALIVE. Last night PBS ran the Ric Burns/Arthur & Barbara Gelb documentary on Eugene O'Neill. I think it's a little thin. Of course, considering the great mass of O'Neill's output, and of his definitive biography (also written by the Gelbs and filling two fat volumes), maybe any film shorter than Strange Interlude would have seemed so to me.

But I really think this one is more reductive than it needed to be. It's very long on the O'Neill mystique -- the dreamy kid, the hophead mom, the sea, the suicidal despair -- with phrases like "for Jamie, it was a sentence of death" and "back to the seedy rotgut saloon of Jimmy the Priest's" pronounced sonorously over ghostly daguerreotypes and fuzzy pictures of bare trees.

I'm all about the poets maudit, but this is laying it on a little thick. O'Neill was indeed miserable, but so miserable that he's sort of hilarious. The young-O'Neill Gelb book, Son and Playwright, is full of can-you-top-this stuff like Eugene drinking his own urine out of a bourbon bottle -- hardcore, man! Even after the drinking stopped, you get scenes like (in Son and Artist) Carlotta standing over a crumpled, Parkinsonian O'Neill in the snow and declaiming, "How the mighty have fallen! Where's your greatness now, little man?"

Neither of these anecdotes are recounted in the documentary. Nor is the one about Russell Crouse begging O'Neill to shorten Ah, Wilderness! because, with star George M. Cohan's added stage business, the "comedy" was running so long the stagehands were getting overtime every night. (O'Neill's solution: cut one of the intermissions.) O'Neill was important and gloomy but he was also a man of the theatre, and he had a sense of humor.

Anyway, as must naturally happen in a telling thus weighted, Long Day's Journey Into Night becomes the documentary's centerpiece, framing device, and leitmotif. The framing guides us toward a defining paradox: that after all those strenuously expressionistic plays and Pulitzer Prizes, O'Neill's greatest work was in one sense his least ambitious -- a distilled essence of his life in New London with his mother, father, and brother, and of the pain that was born there and only died when O'Neill did, that came out of his soul as naturally as sap runs from a tree once he found the courage to release it.

There is a noxious hint of the therapeutic in this analysis. Long Day's Journey is certainly an artistic triumph. (Anyone who has never read it should go read it now. Really, it's an emergency.) I'm sure it was also a personal triumph for O'Neill, in a way, but so what? I'm as interested in the real O'Neill as anyone, but centuries hence, we can't expect program notes about Gene's hard luck to convince Romulan ZD75 and his wife Zebop that Long Day's Journey is worth watching. The play will have to make its own case -- and probably will.

I was also bugged at the implication that the ghosts of O'Neill's past were also the agents of his apotheosis into a real artist. More than one commentator suggests that if not for that play, we might not be bothering with O'Neill at all now.

I don't know about that. It's true that the appeal of plays like The Great God Brown and Mourning Becomes Electra will never be as universal as that of O'Neill's family drama, partly because of its amazing craft, but partly and maybe mostly because it is a family drama. As one of the commentators says, whatever kind of family you have, you can still see yourself in it: cataclysmic as the lives of the Tyrones are, they are also the lives of a father and a mother, a husband and a wife, and sons and brothers. Long Day's Journey got a head-start on "lasting" fame (at this writing, 50 years and counting) in part because it was written -- we must assume unconsciously -- in a form that would become familiar to and beloved of all Americans: that of a TV sitcom. If the language and emotions are a little elevated for modern audiences, they can still relate to the arguments between Archie and Meathead -- I mean Tyrone and Jamie.

Most of O'Neill's other plays are much harder to get to. They are conscious (not to say self-conscious) attempts to recreate ancient tragic forms in American vernacular. To enjoy them you have to have some taste for the declamatory, the outsize, and the outrageously ambitious. In a way I like them for the same reason I like Sam Fuller and Oliver Stone -- if we're to have bullshit, let it be (in the immortal words of Tommy Stinson, lecturing on Golden Earring) bullshit that is really bullshit, like this delirious police interview after the death of Billy Brown:
CAPTAIN: (comes just into sight at left and speaks front without looking at them--gruffly) Well, what's his name?


CAPTAIN: (taking a grimy notebook and an inch-long pencil from his pocket) How d'yuh spell it?
Tee hee. But it's not all laffs. Though The Great God Brown is on the whole a little, shall we say, cumbersome, it has attributes of greatness: some dazzlingly poetry, great stage moments, haunting characters. Most importantly it is clear in its purpose. You learn quickly what the central metaphor is, and O'Neill by God sticks with it. That may be his greatest gift as a playwright: clarity in conception and ferocity in execution. There is no wavering about his plays: they have the certainty of tragedy. Whether or not they have the other necessary components, we'll leave to history. It hasn't been that long, anyway.

You're not going to get this sort of thing from, say, David Chase. You won't get Marco Millions, but you won't get The Iceman Cometh, either. I think that's too bad, but I'm a dreamy sort, a little in love with death... (Go, for the love of God, you mad, tortured bastard! -- Ed.)

11:52 AM by roy


Monday, March 27, 2006  

JESUS HATES YOU. The Crunchy Conservative blog is in its what-is-to-be-done phase. The Crunchies were previously examined here. At that time, I thought of them as latter-day friends o' Jesus in a VW micro-bus -- only with more money and expensive tastes: grooving to the infinite on an IKEA altar with granola eucharists served fresh from a Crate & Barrel monstrance. So after a few laughs I ignored them.

I peeked in again today. All these weeks of being mocked even by their conservative colleagues seem to have raised the Crunchies' choler, because now they have thrown off their cheery Godspell threads and are questioning this "freedom" thing with which the heathens amuse themselves. Bruce Frohnen:
I find particularly striking Chris's statement that "that the free market is, like democracy, only as good as the people who participate in it"... Frank Meyer, father of fusionism, himself noted, not just that virtue requires freedom, but also that freedom requires virtue.

Burke said "intemperate men cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters." And no institution, no matter how well crafted, can alter that.
So, does that mean we the unchurched (and thereby unvirtuous) only think we're free? I guess when the God-boys teach us true freedom, we will be deluded still, and imagine that they are oppressing us. Later, Crunch Daddy Dreher himself quotes some nut who thinks that, in this godless age, homicidal Muslims sorta have a point. Dreher, ever the reasonable sort, tries to make this sound less mad:
I don�t think Spengler is saying that a culture must either apply the hammer to all heretics, or sign its death warrant. None of us wants to live in a culture that punishes those of minority faiths, or no faith at all. Is he saying, though, that it�s a law of nature that once a culture grants permission to apostasize without (serious) consequence, it has already started down a path to self-destruction?
"None of us wants to live in a culture that punishes those of minority faiths, or no faith at all" -- how can he be sure? After all, some of these guys want to follow St. Benedict into monasticism -- presumably with enough of a budget to keep the neo-monks in Priuses and organic toothpaste for as long as it takes Moloch to fall. Our very presence they find corrupting. Their only conflict seem to be over whether to abandon us to our sin, or to try and live among us as a corrective influence.

I guess these are the kind of Christians who smile at you on the street and then imagine you roasting in hellfire. And then smile for real.

UPDATE. Why don't they all just move to Disney's Celebration? Oh right -- the gay thing.

5:34 PM by roy



THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL: Charles Murray, co-author of the popular conservative book Niggers are Stupid, makes a new offer to the American people: we give up all government assistance, including the accursed Social Security, and once a year he will give each of us ten shiny new thousand-dollar bills.

When future scholars (if we have any) look back on this era, perhaps they will consider this a watershed event: the moment when conservatism became so discredited that its disciples had to pay people off to adopt it.

10:28 AM by roy


Saturday, March 25, 2006  

THE TRUE BELIEVER. After just a week, Ben Domenesch has lost his WashPost blog for prior incidents of plagiarism. Go here, and to surrounding posts, for schadenfreude; elsewhere you�ll find more, but not better. From Domenesch himself we have that familiar blogospheric trope, the long, belligerent nolo contendere followed by a brief apology. The grapes of many of Domenesch�s co-religionists are very sour indeed.

As previously observed here, anyone can do Domenesch�s job as poorly as he did, and when the new guy steps in I�m sure there will be the usual chest-beating all around.

I do find it interesting that the sword Domenesch gave his enemies was plagiarism. I can understand � barely, and not to say approvingly � why an undergraduate might plagiarise on a term paper under deadline pressure, on the assumption that the student sees the paper as a mere nuisance to be gotten through, not as a representation of himself. I guess I�m not enough of a careerist (look at me, I�m wearing a cardboard belt) to understand why a professional pundit � an idea man, as it were -- would so egregiously lift whole passages and claim them as his own.

I am tempted to attribute Domenesch�s offense to a lack of interest in the work of writing. It may be that he saw his star rising fast and ceased to care whence came the fuel he shovelled into the restless engine of his ambition*. Pollyanna that I am, though, I think he may have stolen for a higher purpose. He may have really believed that his success was part of the success of his movement. He might not have cut corners to exalt himself, but to save America from the depradations of its enemies � who were, by logical extension, his enemies too, at whom he railed this week as the flames consumed him, "I take enormous solace in the fact that you spent this week bashing me, instead of America." This is not the language of a Grub Street hack, but of a true believer.

* I don�t normally cite my hommages, but in this instance I probably should note that this turn of phrase references William Herndon�s famous assessment of Lincoln.

6:37 PM by roy



TIME, TIME, TIME THAT YOU LOVE. This is supposed to be Spring, but it's freezing around these parts. Further chronometric disorientation is provided by Marty Langeland at Dum Luk's, with a lovely essay on the non-existence of time.

5:12 PM by roy


Friday, March 24, 2006  

AGAINST ORDERS. Every couple of years I haul out the Lester Bangs comp Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung for pleasure's sake. With each reading a little more melacholy accrues. Not so much over his early demise -- that's sad, but Bangs was in a way lucky (as Greil Marcus' pretended message from beyond the grave suggests) to be spared what we got after the deluge.

Bangs, as you may know, was the great chaos theorist of rock music. In the early 70s he glommed onto the nuttiest music he could find. He pleaded the case for Iggy back when Iggy was a joke. He championed the Godz because they were so totally fucked up, and after declaring mellow-rock king James Taylor "marked for death," he softened toward the guy just on the grounds of general fucked-upness ("Just look at him on the cover of One Man Dog, out in a canoe with his mutt, wearing a necktie even which is a cool move at this point in time. Or those pictures of him at the McGovern benefits, in an oversize sportcoat..."). When he loved artists, like Lou Reed and Richard Hell, he rode their asses mercilessly just for the snap- or smash-back; he asked Reed questions like, "When you recorded Berlin, did you think people would laugh at it?" Who would ask Reed anything like that now?

Bangs didn't want catharsis, he wanted agon, because he knew rock and roll was, or was supposed to be, the irritant from which came the pearls. Of course, too much can be made of this. One has to be careful about celebrating any life that was so quickly washed away by Darvon and Romilar. Self-destruction is not cool. Well, no, it is cool, actually, much cooler than spa treatments and star treatment certainly, but once you adopt that yardstick you find that that the life by which you measure it gets smaller every day, until it's roughly the size of a cemetary plot. Which is why Iggy himself finally had to turn against his own personal tide and stop beating his brains, beating his brains, with liquor and drugs. And maybe why I got the feeling, riding one night in another van full of gear out of town and hearing on the radio news of Kurt Cobain's death, and hearing all around me people asking why, and hearing a voice in my head asking "why not," that I myself got the idea to get out of the game.

Still, this paradox obtains: moderation can get out of hand. Everything in our public life has tended toward an increase in order for a number of years, and while we all enjoy the benefits, and are lectured on several bases that going even a hair in the other direction would most hurt the most vulnerable among us -- the poor, the weak, the children -- we have to acknowledge that this civic rehabilitation has not been without cost. To stay with the topic just a little, if you think concerts are as good now as when people were getting routinely fucked up, you're dreaming. I am tempted to cite Bill Hicks ("You think the Beatles weren't high when they made 'Yellow Submarine'? They had to scrape Ringo off the ceiling for that one!"). But I am averse to the argument from authority. I would only suggest you look at the record, or at the records.

I remember when you couldn't go to an outdoor classical concert in New York without hearing the announced name of the corporate sponsor booed lustily by the crowd. (This was well before you had to have a pass to get onto the Great Lawn to see the likes of Dave Matthews.) I was reminded of this by Bangs' essay about a 1977 Tangerine Dream concert at Avery Fisher Hall (!!), at which event spectators screamed obscenities at celebrity DJ presenter Alison Steele the Nightbird -- and we liked Alison Steele! Bangs himself, on assignment and cough syrup, treated the event as an occasion for psychedelic ramblings, judging the unruly crowd and his hallucinations superior as subjects to the music (though of that he was neither unmindful nor ineloquent). "So finally, picking up my coat and lugging my clanking cough-syrup bottles, I push my way through the slack and sprawling bodies -- out, out, out into the aisle. As I am walking up it, I am struck by an odd figure doddering ahead of me, doubled over in ragged cloth and drained hair. I don't trust my Dextromethorphaned eyes, so I move closer until I can see her, unmistakably, almost crawling out the door... a shopping bad lady!" Again, one can make too much of it, but that sounds like a pretty good show to me.

Just today I picked up this message from my old pal Lach:
I went out this week to a local music venue (doesn't matter which one, that's not the point) and was asked for ID at the door. Now, this alone pisses me off as I don't drink. If I order a whiskey, ID me, but why do I have to be 21 to hear a singer/songwriter perform? Anyway, what happened next astounded me. The door guy wanted to swipe my license through an electronic reader and download the information into the scanner! What the fuck?!? Did you know NYS licenses carry info like your social security number, address, tel. no., etc? Identity theft potential aside, what an extreme invasion of privacy just to hear music. The bar manager said that the police pressured them into using the device...
Giuliani, that fuck, knew what he was doing when as mayor he strictly enforced the City's ancient cabaret laws, and Bloomberg, that cunt, knows what he's doing, too, with this shit. Order's a popular electoral gambit. People squawk when you hit them up for tax money, but applaud your sense of responsibility when you dig your entrenching tool into the pleasure centers.

When you read, as any ordinary internet trawler will, fulsome odes to the iPod and the pay-per-view concert, please try to keep in mind that things were once way more fucked up. And seriously consider whether that means they were worse.

12:24 AM by roy


Thursday, March 23, 2006  

DON'T DREAM IT, BE IT. "While Saletan cites my 'Here Come the Brides,' he doesn�t talk about the most potentially stable form of multi-partner union: a man and two bisexual women. That union does reduce jealously, and also points to the potentially powerful bisexual constituency for multi-partner unions."

Stanley Kurtz has obviously given this a lot of thought. After a couple of shoulder-rubs and some white wine, I bet we find him living full-time in his summer house, following the ways of Gor.

12:58 PM by roy


Wednesday, March 22, 2006  

KEVIN BACON IN ANIMAL HOUSE, PART 3,498: You might add this to the Ole Perfesser's list of failed anti-war predictions: we didn't predict producers of Iraq TV comedy programming would be gunned down in the streets.

When this kind of thing happens in The Netherlands, of course, it means the country is going to hell.

Remain calm! All is well!

12:04 AM by roy


Tuesday, March 21, 2006  

GENIUS, I TELLS YA! The appointment of Ben Domenech is a brilliant if cynical move on the Washington Post's part. On the evidence of his first posting, the Red America blog will contain the sort of Fantasy Football you can get at a million other crappy rightwing blogs: Republicans are shown to rool, while Democrats are posited to drool. There is even that staple of the rightwing blog, the Questionable Anecdote (about how liberals don't understand their own film references), and a clove of conventional wisdom (some Republican legislators spend as much as Democrats!) to give the dish a soupcon of high-mindedness.

Any one of a million conservative bloggers could have written the same thing every bit as badly. But because it appears at the Post site, right at the heart of the Death Star, it becomes important, at least to those who share Domenech's politics. "The moonbats will go nuts, I promise you," exults Michelle Malkin. "WaPo Surrenders to the VRWC!" cries Jeff Goldstein, fist clenched and raised. Etc. It's pretty much like when The Clash appeared on "Fridays" and Joe Strummer had a mohawk and a boombox.

Now all those timewasters who spend their days mega-dittoing Michelle and Glenn and Eugene et alia will flock daily to Red America to see Ben Sticking It To Da Strawman. And the Post gets credit for their traffic, and can tell its advertisers that the Post's reach is broader than ever, and innoculated against any mass-defection, in the coming Bloggy Revolution, of such rubes as still read newspapers.

As little as it takes to enrage them, it takes so much less to make them happy.

1:17 PM by roy



TIME AWAY. Appy polly loggies for the gap in posting. Like the devil, I went down to Georgia, on a long-weekend visit to editor Martin and his family. Their little slice of heaven is best described by themselves, here, but I will say that, contrary to the impression I often give of myself, I always love going down South, where people are unfailingly polite and the pulled pork is like God intended. Down Kingsland way, I also enjoyed Spanish moss, cypress, wisteria, bourbon, and the tannin-brown waters of St. Mary's River.

I didn't look at the internet the whole time, and I guess nothing much changed -- in fact, I see the Ole Perfesser is still calling people traitors as if it were 2003. Or 1954. One of the benefits of making fun of people who never learn anything is that you can go away for a long while and when you come back, they're still idiots.

9:47 AM by roy