StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Their Strange Fantasy

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 6, 2010

There’s a reason Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One won the 2004 National Critics Circle Book Award. It’s flat-out excellent and remarkably timely. Greil Marcus said, “Bob Dylan is unfairly talented. I’ve written a lot of books and after reading Dylan’s book, I realized I would never write a book that good.”

People say Frank Lloyd Wright was America’s greatest artist. It won’t be long before we’ll wake up and crown Dylan with that title.

This morning, I flipped through Chronicles for inspiration, as I periodically do. I read the second chapter and contemplated the following passages.

Dylan talks about how he was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941:

If you were born around this time or were living and alive, you could feel the old world go and the new one beginning. It was like putting the clock back to when B.C. became A.D. Everybody born around my time was a part of both.

He touches on what it was like being in grade school in the early 1950s:

We were told that the Russians could be parachuting from planes over our town at any time. These were the same Russians that my uncles had fought alongside only a few years earlier. Now they had become monsters who were coming to slit our throats and incinerate us.

He speaks of the effects of these modern folktales:

Living under a cloud of fear like this robs a child of his spirit. It’s one thing to be afraid when someone’s holding a shotgun on you, but it’s another thing to be afraid of something that’s not quite real…It was easy to become a victim of their strange fantasy.

Sound familiar?

Liz Cheney, who claims “water-boarding isn’t torture,” is teaming up with reactionaries cross-country to inaugurate a new Red Scare, a new era of McCarthyism:

I appreciate that conservatives like Ted Olson and Neal Katayal have stood up and denounced her “Who Are the Al Qaeda Seven?” ad, but the rest of the right hasn’t. They don’t need facts. They need fuel. Any fuel will do. And Liz is kicking in with some high-octane!

There’s no sense that we should be having an ethical debate on the issues of today. There’s plenty of smear, even plenty of religion, fired in this debate. But ethics is a thing of the past. Without a doubt, the Tea Party is Liz’s target audience.

For a minute, I was optimistic that this new red-scare would inaugurate a new Beat Generation, which might re-evolve into a creatively fecund period like the 1960s. The shadow side of the Sixties was its violence and (let’s admit it) unbridled hedonism, but its best revolutionaries inaugurated hitherto unprecedented freedom in personal expression and civil liberties in government. (Dylan was a major catalyst for this revolutionary spirit, though he denies that his songs had a political message.) It was one of the most creative periods in history in terms of art (mostly in music). Yet we have to remember that, in America, the baby-boomer generation were reacting to the complacency of a society that was experiencing grand-scale prosperity for the first time. We may be complacent today but we’re also experiencing economic collapse.

The Tea Party claims that it’s anti-government when in truth it’s anti-Obama. A news pundit (whose name I don’t remember) memorably said, “They’re confusing tyranny with losing an election.” They say they’re for freedom, but most of them want to ban abortion and gay marriage and many even wish to see gays thrown in prison.* They did not organize to oppose the bourgeoning deficit until Bush left office and they tar Obama as a “tax-and-spend socialist” when his stimulus plan saved us from the worst crash in American history. (His second stimulus proposal is unlikely to pass and, if it doesn’t, the economy will crash again and they’ll blame him.) They also want to see religion as the front-and-center agent of lawmaking. Where is the freedom in this proposed state of siege? They’re afraid of a changing world and are raging to bind us back to old, unworkable ways.

We heard a lot of Andrew Jackson’s “manifest destiny” in Bush’s threat to use his executive power to invade Iraq (democrats in congress, once again, graciously capitulated and used the excused that they were “misinformed”) and it seems that, in 2010, we’ve yet to lay Joseph McCarthy’s ghost. You can feel free to arrogate power over the country and the world, so long as you maintain your status as a Christian. For proof that this mentality is alive and unwell, we need look no further than Ann Coulter, who said: “I’m a Christian first and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second, and don’t you ever forget it.” She dismissed “being nice to people” as the well-wishing of the Church of Liberalism when “it is, in fact, one of the incidental tenets of Christianity.”

God apparently hates the same people Ann Coulter does, just like the God of the Bible – what a coinkidink! – hates all the same people the Israelites do!

You’re redeemed! Now go forth and scaremonger!


* For the record, Liz Cheney is not a Tea Party member (the Tea Party is not yet an official party). She’s simply appealing to their furor. In 2009, she and her father shockingly came out in support of gay marriage and the repeal of DADT. Liz’s sister Mary is openly gay and worked as Director of Vice-Presidential Operations for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. I’ll let you connect the dots.

85A Log: Sid Lives! (Right Alongside Ian)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 16, 2008

So, last night, Mike and I were hanging out at one of the alfresco tables of this one Cuban restaurant on Bowery, right across from where CBGB used to be. Now CB is an art gallery called Morrison Hotel. Ain’t bad there actually. Vivid punk and glam memorabilia – Liebovitz and Mapplethorpe-level photos of The Stones, Iggy Pop, Elton John, The New York Dolls, Debbie Harry, Sex Pistols, Bauhaus. The window display was that disgusting picture of Sid Vicious eating a mustard-slathered hot dog with his mouth open. Then, I kid you not, two people walked by – within five minutes of each other – wearing Sid Vicious t-shirts. This morning, on my way to go write at Tea Lounge, I passed a kid, no older than 18, wearing a t-shirt featuring the front page of a newspaper with the headline: “Sid Vicious Overdoses on Heroin, Dies.”

This all bodes so well for me! I mean, 85A might be set in 1989, but Seamus’ obsession with Sex Pistols (ten years after their breakup) is still timely. (His favorite band is Public Image Ltd. He’s way more into Johnny than Sid.)

Two books in particular have helped me recapture the disaffected spirit of Sex Pistols youth: Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus and England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond by Jon Savage. Also, John Lydon’s autobiography Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs was surprisingly well-written and informative; I’ve always loved Johnny Rotten for his wit and candor. I also went back and watched My Beautiful Laundrette, This Is England, The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle, The Filth & The Fury, and of course Sid & Nancy.

I first saw Sid & Nancy when I was 13 years old. It had way too big an impact on me. Sid, Nancy, and Johnny’s foul mouths and havoc-reeking looked like total liberation to me. I started talking and acting like them every chance I got. Made my home life even worse than it already was. I also entered high school with that well-worn Rotten attitude, thinking everybody had seen the movie and knew what statement I was making. No, they just thought I was a twerp and an asshole. Walk in like that as a freshman, you’re going to spend the rest of your high school years living it down…and, well, that’s what happened.

So, I wondered what kind of appeal Sid & Nancy would hold for me at age 34. Oh my God! I am so embarrassed that I thought those people were cool. They were nasty, malignant, maladjusted scapegraces. Why didn’t I pick better role models growing up? What can I say, I was possessed. I needed to get all that sedition out of my system. Having said all that, Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb give peerless, searingly authentic portrayals of Sid and Nancy from start to finish.

I also recently rented Control, a wonderful film about the rise and fall of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis by Hungarian director Anton Corbijn. I was a captive Joy Division and early New Order fan as a teenager. All accounts I’ve read point up Ian Curtis as a total dick. Control has quite the opposite take on him. Even as an adulterer, he comes off as a sweet, sensitive, even polite youth who only wants a simple life of work, marriage, fatherhood and poetic musings. Life has other plans for him, though, when it catapults him into stardom. Samantha Morton gives a heartrending performance as Curtis’ beleaguered wife, Debbie Woodruff. Sam Riley is absolutely prodigious, adorable and tragic as Curtis.

But does the film’s account of Curtis’ death (at age 23) stand up to fact? Corbijn has Curtis hang himself in Debbie’s kitchen pantry. From what I’ve read, he hung a rope from Debbie’s living-room ceiling and stood on a block of ice, noose around his neck, while watching TV. By the time Debbie came home from work that night, the ice had melted, the TV was crackling static and Ian was dangling, dead.

I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but one of the things that charmed me most about the film was that the first track on the soundtrack was “Drive-in Saturday” from David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane (1973). Curtis has just come home from buying Aladdin Sane at the record store in Macclesfield. He lays back on his bed and lets the album spirit him away. Then, his best friend Nick swings by with his girlfriend Debbie, who’ll soon be Curtis’ wife. Curtis rolls off his bed and starts applying glitter eyelashes to look more like Bowie. Oh, why didn’t that period of music last longer? In my late teens and early twenties, I used to sit in my bedroom with the lights out, playing that same LP.

Another amazing track they play is from one of my all-time favorite albums, “Warszawa” from Bowie’s Low (1977). It’s so deep, sad, haunting. Once again, in my room, I used to play “Warszawa” and all of Side Two of Low again and again and again while I smoked Camel Lights, wrote in my journal and looked out over all the miasma curling off the trees in my backyard. It made me want to be an expat writer, living in Berlin. Well…that didn’t end up happening.

But there is a great German film about a 14-year-old heroin addict prostitute called Christiane F. (1981). The soundtrack is all Thin White Duke-period Bowie (including, “Warszawa”); through most of that period of his music (1976-1979), he was living in Berlin. He even appears in the movie when Christiane goes to his concert and tries heroin for the first time. He does a killer live version of “Station to Station.” The movie is based on the book, Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo. (I actually read the English translation about 15 years ago. It’s not bad.) Only problem with the movie is that the dubbing is so bad, you might find yourself laughing your ass off while she goes cold turkey.