Saturday, September 08, 2007
Friday, September 07, 2007
Like much of what musicians say, this is half-wishful bullshit. That the Big Noise shouted into existence a volley of mutant allied artists like dancers, poster designers, DJs, and journalists is one of those commonplaces no one ever mentions. Steeped in sound as a way of life, these lucky folk get to create the accompaniment for a music that can scarcely be expected to dance, see, or speak for itself. Resident in a special, poison-slicked niche in the Church of the Higher Decibel is the rock critic. Equal parts gatekeeper, poet, and swaying cobra, this individual sweats in the pit with fans, retiring later to a chamber to sing dithyrambs and cutthroat’s songs by the rhythm and melody yet rattling inside the skull. Taking rock art from the same source as everyone else, the critic uses it to fuel a more exquisite buzz; in the way that even the worst skunkweed kindles a lump of superior hashish.
Rock criticism came into its own in the 1970s, as the rise of the rock press began to spin off eminent practitioners like Greil Marcus, Richard Meltzer, and Lester Bangs. That’s widely variable quality considered now, but these were the voices rock ’n’ roll animals trained themselves to hear. By simple dint to putting the hustle and shriek of the music on the page, they themselves became artists, rock stars, men of consequence, barkers in the Great Swindle.
Poor Lester is nowadays considered one of the godfathers of punk, and he got a lot of mileage out of it before his booze-corroded body shut his mouth forever in 1982. Punk itself is a rare example of a genre of pop music being called into existence by critics, and Bangs’s efforts to steer his pet skronk this way or that make for fascinating reading. His intrigues as a scene politician were as inept as his efforts as a musician, but he passionately cared enough about what was then a revolutionary sound as far from commodification as his own gorgeously twisted way with English.
Bangs’s worst failing was in needing the Scene so much he never recognized it needed him far more. An unpublished hit piece written in 1976 for Punk magazine (and available at www.Punkmaga-zine.com/morestuff/bangsdictators.html) sees him weighing in on the ridiculous Handsome Dick Manitoba/Wayne County feud (the latter drag performer commendably clubbed the former frontman for the Dictators with a mikestand for heckling her at CBGB), all his sympathies clearly with his oppressed hetero brothers. In “Who Are the Real Dictators?,” Lester all but accused everyone in New York with a record contract of bending over for a “Faggot Mafia.” Reading the manifesto aloud at a Dictators rehearsal was encouraging, but it didn’t keep him from heeding the promptings of common sense, so the piece remained in the writer’s drawer.
While it’s easy to imagine hick-drunkard Bangs in bull-roaring denunciation of NYC queers, one finds it difficult to credit such depth of feeling for the idea of a Scene at this late date. While people still alter their bodies, wardrobes, and lives for the sake of noise, punk itself is simply cash-money merchandise and one fashion accessory among many. The music is as predictable and empty of content as a Scott McClellan non-denial denial. The stagy protest noises the genre makes have all the social force of a banana cream pie hurled by Gary Coleman.In an era of spunkless punk, the critic’s first duty is to dynamite the house that Lester built.
(first published in L.A. CITY BEAT, 10-6-05)
Saturday, August 06, 2005
All You Need is Cash: An Indecent Proposal for U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq by Ron Garmon
A little bit of Lincoln can’t park the car/Washington and he, don’t go too far/Jefferson is good, played at the track/If you think you gonna bring some big bitch back/Them dead presidents, them dead presidents/I ain’t broke but I’m badly bent/Everybody loves them dead presidents .
“Dead Presidents,” Willie Dixon/Billy Emerson
When you’re losing a war, some weeks are worse than others. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives sought last month to end many days of speculation (fueled by Matt Drudge and the sheer pull of events) that U.S. forces might soon pull out of Iraq. Spiking this peace craze, the chamber went 291-137 for the idea that “[c]alls for an early withdrawal embolden the terrorists and undermine the morale” of coalition forces. Calls by Democrats for the president to establish a “benchmark” for success in the war were rejected.
For the Bush administration, displays of party-line atavism are as good as it gets. An Army mental health study finds 54 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq describe overall morale as “low,” with only 55 percent of National Guard personnel having “real confidence” their units can do their jobs at all. Vice-President Dick Cheney now decides “We cannot predict the length or the course of the War on Terror,” Karl Rove continues to baste over his part in Plamegate and Iraqi government officials head to Iran to say nice things about the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Even the reappearance of a Cold War revenant like ’60s defector Charles Robert Jenkins lends a theremin note to recent war news. A native of Rich Square, North Carolina, then-Army sergeant Jenkins reveals he abandoned a 1965 patrol he was leading in the Korean DMZ for fear he might be sent to fight in Vietnam. He later surfaced in North Korean propaganda films.
Then there’s the cost in dollars. On July 17th, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Congressional Budget Office projections for future operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could top $450 billion over the next four years. Add the $350 billion already spent, and the War on Terror becomes the most expensive military adventure in U.S. history. The Pentagon estimates the “burn rate” (operating costs of the war) in the Middle East comes to about $5.6 billion a month for Fiscal Year 2005.
Though the peace boomlet melted like a sno-cone on Slauson blvd., the brief gabble of withdrawal has whetted public appetites. Though Time and Newsweek may worry about U.S. “credibility,” polls indicate most Americans are sick of the war, terrorism, exhortations to “stay the course.” We’re being told exit is impossible without endless commitment of lives and resources. Many liberals, their feelings thus massaged, are left with the uneasy sensation that withdrawal from Iraq can’t help but be messy and prolonged.
Nonsense. I have a plan for total U.S. departure from Iraq by Labor Day ’05 with minimal expense and effort. We simply use an unorthodox variation on “shock and awe,” the military doctrine that was supposed to bring quick victory in the first place. We buy our way out.
Worth Its Weight
A single piece of U.S. paper currency of any denomination weighs exactly one gram. Since there are 454 grams to a pound, it follows that a ton of one-hundred dollar bills weighs 2,202.6 pounds. This ton (U.S. short) of century notes comes to the imposing sum of $99,998,040 or close to the figure required to shoot an A-movie in Vancouver, given defray of below-the-line cost by a German bank that once dealt in pre-owned gold teeth. This kind of money ain’t hay, but I propose we treat it as such.
Monthly expenditure for the Iraq war, as we know, comes to $5.6 billion. Expressed as unwrapped, unpackaged bulk, the August and September tabs come in at 103 million pieces of Ben Franklin paper weighing over 123.4 tons. Congress voted the sum back in February, turning its final disposition over to the president. Most individual Americans can scarcely conceive of such a haul except as a vast, intimidating mass, awesome in power and potential. From here on, it’s a matter of simple logistics.
“Operation Magic Christian” takes its name from The Magic Christian by the late Terry Southern. In the novel, billionaire Guy Grand uses his vast wealth to purchase small-scale chaos and anarchy for his own amusement. The philosophical point he grandly makes, with idiotic joy in endless repetition, is that the sight of raw cash makes civilized people go berserk. If there’s an argument against this commonplace observation, human inquiry has yet to uncover it. It’s revealing to note human inquiry hasn’t seriously tried.
Once underway, “Magic Christian” will, in the most direct manner, bribe the Iraqi people to look the other way as we leave. The president announces the plan by name on prime-time TV, promising an unspecified quick end to the war and indemnities to all Iraqis. As delirious Americans party in the streets, carefully leaked news of immense sums being assembled at various Federal Reserve banks will draw the news media, who will then broadcast hours of inane speculation, with confusion slowly adding up in the mind of global humanity to a conviction that Big Things are Doing. Indeed, the raw facts fed to the American pundit class will create a great deal of misdirection independent of official efforts. So much the better for the surprise.
On the ground in Iraq, all operations should be suspended once the 123-ton package is assembled, our efforts geared instead to frantic transport scheduling for the Big Bug-Out, to begin no later than 8 a.m. (GMT +4 hours), August 30. Incessant media bombardment (in Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish, Behdini, Chaldean, Elkoosh, and Urmi) will herald the end of the war and an imminent miracle from Heaven. Heavy use of the following verses from the Koran – “Of what do they ask one other?/About the great event/About which they differ?/Nay! They shall soon come to know/Nay! Nay! They shall soon know” (“The Great Event,” 78.1-5) – can’t help but bring in the fundamentalist trade, or at least make them wonder what the hell is going on.
Iraqis, friend and foe, may tremble or scoff, but the physical reality of millions of hundred dollar bills shoveled by U.S. personnel out of transport planes over major population centers will put a temporary end to business-as-filthy-usual in Iraq as nothing else can. Packets of cash money peeled and scattered from helicopters in selected rural areas will buy, if not goodwill, then at least temporary puzzlement. A ton or two scattered along the Syrian border will halt any movement of insurgent forces between the two countries. Wads of bills and promises of one-way tickets to the States thrust at useful Iraqis will buy all the local cooperation we need for a high-speed exit from the former Mesopotamia.
The yearly income of the average Iraqi ranges from $450 to $610. Imagine a war-battered, poverty-mired, heavily oppressed people so hopeless of peace they blow themselves up in car bombs attempting to kill us or our collaborators. In a country where U.S. promises of justice and self-determination mean something humbler than mud, the effect of one cryptic American promise suddenly made glorious good from the sky can’t help but induce total paralysis in anyone still willing to point a gun at us. No one fights, or even argues with, free money.
By the time U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad walks, flag triangled in arm, out of the terminal at Baghdad Airport for the Last Plane To Georgetown, Magic Christian will be disseminating the final billion from tarmac and air. Flares and noisemakers should accompany the air-dropped bankroll on its way down. As notes flutter into raking fingers, the city will think a new age of miracles has dawned and Allah is truly merciful. They will be correct.
The idea here is to raise such a hell-storm of confusion, joy, riot, and hysteria in Iraq’s ancient capital as to foredoom and fuck up any last effort to attack us on our way out. A bright blizzard of greenbacks on the night of our departure is a suitably huge gesture, as well as a nice tip for our use of the place. And why not? It’s only money and a truly generous America might go the whole remaining appropriation for the rest of the fiscal year ending in March. But we’re traditionally a flinty-hearted republic and there’s probably not enough time left to distribute that much cash.
Nor is the disbursement the only thing we can do to ensure mass perplexity. On our way home, we can empty jail cells in Iraq, Gitmo, Qatar, and everywhere else of Iraqi nationals we put there. This includes every top Baathist political leader still caged, including Saddam Hussein. On the evening of the Baghdad payout, one of the last U.S. cars out of the Green Zone will take a spruced-up Saddam to some obscure street corner in downtown Baghdad and, after taking care to slip him a four-way hit of blotter acid, let him go. The remaining hour or so of his life, spent trudging the streets of his former capital with an unbearably large wad of Looney Tunes discharging in his brain, will generate wonder and legend, likewise the sight of his bullet-studded corpse later on.
Do It Now
Needless to say, the Bug-Out component of Magic Christian needs to be accomplished with haste, much of it unseemly. The need to lift out mega-tonnages of personnel and material quickly forces a choice in favor of personnel, so hundreds of thousands of coalition citizens, uniformed and otherwise, will crowd every mode of transport out of the country. This will excite curiosity and wild talk in the days running up to Payoff Weekend, which is all to our advantage. Should any hint of the operation become public knowledge in Iraq, so much the better. No one will believe in American money from the sky until they see it.
But what of our coalition allies? They have no other choice but to ride the human wave out. On the plus side, the Anglo half of the Anglo-American effort has the institutional experience of Dunkirk to add to ours of First Bull Run and the fall of Saigon. The forces of both nations are just as capable of organizing an effective pell-mell flight as heroic victory and possibly better. To say otherwise would be a grave insult to our guys and girls in uniform. I suppose we’re stuck taking most of the Iraqi government, along with their dependents, but I doubt men like Ahmed Chalabi and Jalal al-Talibani will crowd the welfare rolls here at home. Corporations such as Halliburton should, ideally, be left to cut their own deals with whoever eventually seizes power, even a miraculously alive and mind-expanded Saddam.
Once started, the Bug-Out will take on its own momentum, until the circle of American presence in the suddenly happy land closes to a dot and disappears. The wind-up of Magic Christian will be frenzied, improvised but certainly not tragic for any but the thousands of local finks and collaborators stampeding the runway in the final moments, vainly trying to flee oncoming justice. Let us hope, as U.S. boots leave Iraqi dust forever and the ambassador’s aircraft cuts an elegant hole through the still-descending fog of currency, our last act of selfless generosity inspires feelings of forbearance toward these wayward people in the hearts of their countrymen.
Of objections to Magic Christian as outlined, I can think of two. The first is rational and venal enough: What’s to insure the Brobdingnagian bribe makes it to dispersal in one piece? Why, nothing more than the bald fact that no one soldier or group of them can hope to move any considerable part into their own pockets without certainty of detection and Leavenworth. That said, we should encourage our boys and girls to take extra double handfuls of the stuff as informal bounty for moving the package along. A single battalion of 600 U.S. Rangers doing their duty under the sharp eyes of as many Treasury officials would get the job done from count to weigh-in to dispersal and greatly cut down the amount of anticipated leakage.
The second is the yelp from Great Power enthusiasts at home that America will have traded its global status for an irresponsible practical joke. This objection is largely theological in nature and easily disposed of. Yes, we did, but the joke is glorious and America’s superpower role very nearly over. A bona-fide, globe-girdling, old-school superpower would not be stuck in another unwinnable ground war in Asia thirty years after Vietnam. Such an über-nation wouldn’t make threats against Iraq’s neighbors the world knows it can’t honor. A truly militarized and truculent America would’ve reinstated the draft long ago. The post-9/11 U.S.A. has acquired a terminal case of an old Dixie malady known as “letting your mouth write a check your ass can’t cash.” We aren’t fooling anybody anymore.
I assure these nervous folk that America will come out of Magic Christian with greatly enhanced prestige and some of her old reputation back. The global truism that “Americans think money can buy anything” will enter the eternal corpus of self-evident wisdom, thus giving humanity the agreeable feeling of having an old maxim proved correct and making everyone more amenable to U.S. commercial exploitation than ever. The war will be over and the lucrative work of rebuilding what’s destroyed will have begun. The scattering of largess is the act of a benevolent hegemon rather than a despot.Considering a trillion-dollar deficit and the shrunken dollar, Magic Christian is a stone bargain. It’s a free lunch, tickets to the circus, buying the house a round at closing time, a smiling loser paying off an absurd bet and the open-handed sportsmanship for which we think we’re justly famous. I submit this plan to the public, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President George W. Bush with an earnest heart and every faith in its success.
Run in L.A. City Beat, 8-4-05
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
DANCE LITTLE SISTER
For me, naked women and rock ’n’ roll are of, well, a piece. Long before my youthful sweetheart “Haley Bloomberg” crouched bare and ravishing above me and ground her clitoris into my nose to the Doors’ “Moonlight Drive,” I had already doped out the fearful symmetry. There was indeed a “They” abroad in America that objected to rock ’n’ roll, horror comics, marijuana, Gore Vidal, and Karl Marx as much as my very existence in what was, after all, their country. Why shouldn’t they? I was a rock ’n’ roll rebel! The knowledge that those bluenoses would’ve been horrified by what Haley and I did next added a certain piquancy.
Of such wholesome thoughts are mass-culture lifestyles born. During the heyday of glam metal Hollywood, erotic dancers were favored accessories on stage, video, and arm. Admittedly, it’s impossible to hear “Jamie’s Cryin’” or a dozen other hairspray anthems without imagining some lovely in cowboy boots and nothing else wriggling in accompaniment. What started as a cocked snook at Reagan, Falwell, et al. was turned into a money-spinning droit du seigneur and institutionalized as infantile fantasy.
The ladies are called “strippers” (if you’re ignorant) or “peelers” (if you’ve toured with a carnival and your vocabulary also contains terms like “Hey, Rube!”), and they’re objects of unattainable fantasy to many. Naked and trapped on stage or in cage, they represent wicked, self-willed beauty served up to a flintily evaluative gaze. Since America’s sex culture is jointly administered by brown-bag fundamentalists and a cozy, sloganeering feminism, these performers must practice their art in bars and nightclubs instead of the street, where it belongs. Our masturbatory Puritanism puts the ladies in cages, and gentlemen with dollars in their fingers keep them there.
I went through a period of dating women in this job category while in college back east. My introduction was “Jenny,” a lissome Brooklyn brunette with an uptown booty who liked me to watch her work the room. She would send over bottles of Dom Perignon charged to her marks, and I began to see the men around me as she did, as assholes with wallets. It wasn’t difficult. As I made my way through “Sukey,” “Lotte,” “Lucy,” and others of her friends and spiritual sisters, I came to understand 1) these girls know they’re being objectified and love it and 2) they like to be called dancers.
The ladies at Club Vodka’s Pink Pussycat on Thursdays understandably prefer the term “go-go dancers.” The atmosphere at host venue Club 7969 encourages such retro conceit. The place is smeared with red velvet like a silent movie house, and acts perform on the kind of old-school platform from which Olsen & Johnson once dodged rotten avocados. Dancers are deployed at three poles around the room, tastefully arranged in a crescent. In short, the place is a perfect venue for humping the corpse of the big-hair ’80s. Original live music alternates weeks with bills catering to the all-important tribute-band demographic. There’s an elegant little cranny in back where one can shoot pool and get to know the ladies better, but I kept to the main room.
Last Thursday (May 5) was given over to originals, and Taxe was unlimbering a final slam of power chords when I arrived. There was a brief geyser of vanity from the stage as the frontman bragged about being thrown out of Amsterdam. “This song’s about a slut. Which is a good thing to be,” was the last I heard from him for a while as I looked up and gave my attention to Diana, a spankable little brunette in boots and fishnets doing competent, tidy moves in her cage, full of giggles and fun. She bent way down and chirped the familiar words, “You remind me of somebody” at me. Since I look like about half the blond actors in world cinema, c. 1965-present, I understood her confusion. Her limpid brown eyes and pouty mouth made her look innocently absent as she toyed with my gaze. The tight little globes of her ass clinging lasciviously to the pole in mock masturbation didn’t impress me (though there was a holiday in my 501s for every quarter inch of leopard print panty sliding upward) as much as the soft potential in her lengths of long tan thigh. Once bedded, dancers are almost never what they hint at onstage, but Diana made me wonder. While I did, she jiggled into the lobby, returning with a flyer for her new play. The Urban Ensemble’s production of Celestial Flesh (“A Pope Is Dead … Now What?”) at the Raven Playhouse makes shrewd use of her legs in its advertising.
Then there was Courtney. Nose-level with her ankles, I mainly perceived her as slender legs terminating in a tiny boyish handful of ass shaped to renew my homoerotic impulses. She wore garish makeup, a netted body stocking exposing her deliciously pointy breasts and an absurd blonde wig that left big clumps of nylon on the floor. Pleased I was taking notes while looking at her, she bent over and gave me a long vista that almost sent my pen clattering to the floor. Proustian eyeball memories of another girl, another place, and the orgasm that registered at CalTech skittered across my libido. I showed her my teeth and she showed me hers.
Taxe was better than they should be; in fact, they provided just the right ambience of propulsive cheaphustle ’80s glam. The dancers weren’t exhausting themselves, so Cheyenne’s turn was well-received. A tall, superbly muscled brunette with long, thick hair, she did a featured turn climbing the pole upside-down, legs spread wide and near-perfect body writhing exquisitely. The swell of flexed thighs and butt threatened to pop her costume like a balloon, and the danger seemed to communicate itself to our photographer, who snapped away as if the Hindenburg were going down.
Things slowed down still further when Terry Ilous took the stage. The former lead singer for second-string ’80s hair-metal band XYZ, Ilous’s set was acoustic, and he brought his own acoustic guitarist to prove it. His voice is still in fine dramatic form, and he howled impressively, yet he left the dancers with little to do but sway naughtily. I could’ve safely left with my job finished, but the vocalist was giving it everything he had, bawling out his old band’s semi-hits like a leather-lunged banshee from a more optimistic time.Done with having my eyestrings lubed and massaged, I paced outside the club, smoking and smiling at the longhairs as Ilous wailed his last. I’d just flicked a ciggie into Santa Monica Boulevard traffic when this curvy, tattooed little platinum blonde chick wafted lazily by. A miniskirted, decidedly non-retro civilian, her firm little tail did exaggerated figure-eights as she strode up the street, taking my admiration with her.
originally appeared in L.A. City Beat (5/12/05)