i came across the works of COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY literature professor EDWARD SAID while still in high school, which made since given that he also attended NORTHFIELD MOUNT HERMON. he is primarily celebrated for his post-colonial book ORIENTALISM (PANTHEON, 1979) which discusses the ways in which the west misperceives and distorts their perceptions of near-eastern cultures based on various remnants of outdated colonial thinking.
i believe i read it as part of a history or comparative religions class my sophomore year, but what it did embed in me, much like the work of HOWARD ZINN which i read years later, was the idea that my perception of the world was based on narratives with agendas.
within a year of being exposed to ORIENTALISM i was living in KUWAIT and unfortunately i was there on 9/11. my family lived in a PALESTINIAN enclave (most people don't know that KUWAIT has a large PALESTINIAN population, YASSER ARAFAT being one before returning to run the PLO) and on that fateful day people around me were celebrating. it twas my understanding of SAID that made me not go ballistic, especially at school the next day. the world is complicated and there are competing narratives, one of which was the UNICEF figure of 500,000 IRAQI children dead as a direct result of AMERICAN sanctions on SADAM HUSSEIN. i don't remember that being spoken about much in the aftermath of 9/11. i'm not promoting any conspiracy theories here, i am an AMERICAN who knew someone that passed on that terrible and was worried about the safety of my family, as we were physically in the MIDDLE EAST during that period. what i am saying is that just like in GESTALT PYSCHOLOGY and POST-STRUCTURALISM, the same event/sign can have different interpretations and both can be true.
being abroad most of my life i was always searching for these native understandings and narratives, not that i agreed with them but i certainly made an effort to acknowledge and understand them. to me that is the legacy of SAID.
the baroque, JAPANESE-print inspired pen and ink drawings that famed 19th century ENGLISH illustrator AUBREY BEARDSLEY made to accompany the published plays and assorted writings of OSCAR WILDE are legendary. expertly conceived and meticulously drafted with flowing lines so deft that even SANDRO BOTTICELLI or ALBRECHT DURER would be envious.
what always drew me to the work of BEARDSLEY was its immense emotion. they seemed to evoke a world that was stark, impossibly elegant and sophisticated yet uncannily debauched. it is the art of power through the prism of sex.
much like the work of WILDE showcases human folly through the extreme hubris and egoism of the aristocracy, the work of BEARDSLEY similarly evokes a coded world were subterranean powers struggles are hinted at yet paradoxically on full display. this was very much transgressive against the societal mores of proper VICTORIAN society, where it was unbecoming to touch on such subjects.
my personal favorite of his drawings is the revered illustration of the biblical execution of JOHN THE BAPTIST by KING HEROD as a gift for his wife upon being asked for it. to me it crystallized most of the themes of his other work and his greatest parody of VICTORIAN values. where power and debauchery trump moral purity (as represented by JOHN THE BAPTIST).
for me this is a very modern illustration and worked seamlessly with WILDE's play SALOME which covers similar themes. hard to believe such a work was completed at age 12. could only imagine what his career would have been like if he had survived longer, having succumbed to TUBERCULOSIS at 25.
again for me his work is on a short list of my favorite artists, including FRANCIS BACON, GOYA and CARAVAGGIO. its too bad the originals are mostly owned by HARVARD UNIVERSITY and virtually never on display. i don't blame them.
if you do anything creative (not that i am claiming to be such), there will come a point at which you feel like you've cornered yourself into a pattern and can't get out of self-imposed rut. during my teaching career this was something i was aware of an constantly attempting to shift from, even though the smart thing to do would have been to codify my plans and never experiement or stray away from that which worked before. sadly most successful educators i came across in the field did the later and not the former, which is partly why i am still so down on the profession.
maybe i blame CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. he is the ultimate tinkerer and was a gifted multi-instrumentalist/composer that is renowned for his solo recordings and vague association with FRANK ZAPPA and his merry band of musical freaks back in the 1960s and 70s. the dude was attuned to what was going on in the FREE JAZZ and AVANT-GARDE worlds as well as the then-current BLUES-based BRITISH INVASION-influenced music of the time. but he was unconventional. he was constantly messing with the formula. on his renowned TROUT MASK REPLICA (STRAIGHT RECORDS, 1969), which quite honestly is required listening for any music fan of any genre, he had his band play instruments they weren't familiar with in order to garner an "unbiased sound." in my family calling anyone "unbiased," whether they be a politician or critic, means they are unbiased by previous knowledge or in other words, completely clueless.
i like to think that i strive for an unbiased opinion as much as possible diving into things i wasn't trained or schooled in, such as photo manipulation or video editing. when i was teaching i would have a skillset i was attempting to impart and would attempt to think of new ways that would benefit my students as well as me intellectually. remember, i taught in unfamiliar places such as MYANMAR, VENEZUELA, ALBANIA and JAPAN and i know from feedback over the years that that my former students enjoyed teaching me about their culture. to me those experiences are invaluable but would not have been possible without accepting and giving in to my ignorance.
to that i thank and blame CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. his music as well as its production was unique and no doubt influenced countless musicians since such as JOHN FRUSCIANTE, DEVO, PJ HARVEY, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, SONIC YOUTH, PRIMUS, THE RESIDENTS, MARS VOLTA, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY and FAUST among many, many other freaks.
the longer this TRUMP national nightmare rages on the more i realize what a treasure JON STEWART was when he was host of THE DAILY SHOW. some may contend that his influential show contributed to a modern national discourse that puts a premium on humiliation via parody and satire as a means of pushing a political perspective, but this misses the point. much like 18th century BRITISH pictorial satirist WILLIAM HOGARTH, utilized satire to lambast the the hollow soaring rhetoric aristocracy with the grime and filth the defined the lives of their subjects, so has STEWART utilized similar tools to point out hypocrisy and violations of the public trust in both AMERICAN ruling parties. i also liken him to a modern day H.L. MENCKEN, whereby utilizing intelligent wordplay and the power of the written/spoken word as a righteous cudgel against his opponents.
what always amazes me is how the right attempts to mimic STEWART to promote their repressive agenda and myopic, self-satisfying policies. it always fails, whether its DENNIS MILLER, GREG GUTFIELD, BILL BURR, TIM ALLEN, ADAM CAROLLA, NICK DIPAOLO or even JIM NORTON. comedy seems to be at its core about empathy. the idea that you and i see the ridiculousness of some aspect of daily life enough to laugh about it. if you have a closed mind, or rely on others that share your shuttered perspective than thats no longer comedy any more, or at the very least its an inferior version of it in mind because there is no friction, only confirmation of a rigid belief system.
when STEWART was at his best was when he was lampooning his targets with their own words, often replacing his role as the presenter of the joke to that of a commentator on the joke. i loved it when this meta-discussion happened because it confirmed the cognitive dissonance and verbal gymnastics that conservative politicians had to go through pre-TRUMP.
now, nothing matters. facts. truth. shame. accountability. its a sad time.
we need STEWART back, not that his brand of comedy would somehow change the political landscape. but his return would bring hope at a time when such is in short supply.
as an aside his work on behalf of 9/11 first responders is the work of a true PATRIOT. not the phony flag-waving, jingoistic bullshit we have come to associate with that word. an actual PATRIOT. god bless him.
when most think of GONZO journalist and famed american writer HUNTER S. THOMPSON, my guess is that usually some mental image appears of an indulgent eccentric that did everything in excess: women, drugs and firearms. this largely self-perpetuated caricature (even literally a character in the DOONSEBURY comic strip) as a crackpot by some belied a public image that never quite did his intellect justice.
it is my argument that added to the above list should be two further things he did in excess: freedom and empathy. it were these two indulgences that helped inform his ability to become a singular writer in the vein of era-defining authors like JACK KEROUAC and F. SCOTT FITZGERALD.
he cared deeply as only an author could for the words of the united states constitution, which he held sacrosanct, and chose to pursue those freedoms allotted to us as AMERICAN citizens. THOMPSON can almost be seen as a high priest of the constitution and for him running for public office, shooting his firearms and even the act of writing were all part of his adoration at the altar of the ENLIGHTENMENT and specifically THOMAS JEFFERSON, ALEXANDER HAMILTON and JOHN LOCKE-ian liberal political philosophy. what i am trying to express is that THOMPSON was a deeply moral thinker who cared very much about those very freedoms he pursued to excess.
this is why his suicide was so truly upsetting due to the fact that he likely felt the constitution he so held in high esteem was being trampled upon by charlatans like GEORGE W. BUSH and his cronies in DONALD RUMSFELD, DICK CHENEY, ALBERTO GONZALEZ and KARL ROVE among others. its hard to imagine how he would have felt about the current TRUMP ADMINISTRATION which makes BUSH and his ilk feel like the JV team of nefarious corruption. it is truly shocking how defiled and divided our national name has become in the last few years.
had he survived my hop is that THOMPSON would have continued to use his pen in the tradition of JONATHAN SWIFT or THOMAS PAINE. his absence is still deafening nearly 15 years after his death. can't think of anyone who has taken on the challenge which is depressing. almost as depressing as the thought of how few AMERICANS actually read, instead glued to their cable news bubbles or worse, social networks.
perhaps we as a nation have lost the power to think for ourselves. perhaps the language of the spectacle is the only thing that unites us. the idea of the communal event around the hearth of the tv. as a former english teacher myself, i question regularly the importance of the written word in an era where communication is devalued. perhaps it is better that THOMPSON didn't live long enough to witness the rise of the EMOJI and GIF and the TWEET. perhaps he is a different era.
the more i think about it the more depressed it makes me. so i'll stop now.
CHARLIE CHAPLIN seems to get all the shine.
much of it deservedly so, especially given the transcendent greatness of films like MODERN TIMES and THE GREAT DICTATOR with which he used to levy criticism at capitalism and fascism at the height of his powers. it one thing to be supremely gifted and something completely different to take big risks and potentially bite the hand that feeds by critiquing your new country as an immigrant (see SPOTLIGHT on BILLY WILDER).
all that being said, watching BUSTER KEATON is akin to listening to LEADBELLY or HOWLIN' WOLF recording. at first you are mesmerized by the power of the art and then it hits you eventually how primitive the means of production where when this was made. in a sense it becomes that much more authentic and pure in its intention, although you eventually come to realize to them this was just what you did. one take. one microphone.
same with watching KEATON who wrote and directed his film which often display staggering set-pieces with stunts and acrobatics that are still thrilling and mesmerizing. when you see him throwing multiple logs from a moving train to display other logs lying on the tracks, that was actually him doing that.
whenever i feel like i've seen it all i tend to look back, way back to the early days of cinema (HAROLD LLOYD, GEORGES MÉLIÈS, JOSEF VON STERNBERG, ERICH VON STROHEIM) because there you really get a sense of the creative abandonment and potential they say in their craft. the rules hadn't been set yet.
and that's a nice place to be creatively for any artist.
pro skateboarding legend RODNEY MULLEN is a magician without peer. widely regarded as one of the most inventive riders to have ever taken up the sport, he is credited with combining street and freestyle skating into a hybrid arsenal of tricks, all of which are the language of the sport today. its true that other skaters have acquired bigger fanbases, but basically everyone is speaking in the lexicon he invented.
but that is not what makes MULLEN interesting to me. if you know his background than you are aware that he was isolated growing up in a strict household and his board was his singular focus in life. in fact, his disciplinarian father let him pursue it only to demand that he hang up his passion if he couldn't make a living from it. after winning contest after contest his father took such as further proof that such were not meaningful. it is truly remarkable how such a transcendent generational talent endured despite having little to no support from those he cared most about, given his isolated upbringing. in comparison TONY HAWK grew up in a household where skateboarding was their family business, his father being the head of competitions funny enough. MULLEN sadly was in a family where skateboarding wasn't encouraged but outright dismissed.
when i think of MULLEN, i think of passion and innovation. i think of survival. i think of someone that pursued their passion with a singular drive and saw opportunities for artistic expression where others saw a common toy. for me its that vision of his that separates him from the pack for me in the same way that a MAGIC JOHNSON no-look side pass bespeaks a mind that can look ahead at what will come to pass and execute such with conviction. most of all he is an artist whose dedication is rooted in a deep love for his craft, which is impossible not to respect.
when watching his tricks i get inspired to create. his abilities transcend sport, its more like ballet. its artistic expression in motion. MARTHA GRAHAM eat your heart out.
so i know everyone has their opinion on GAME OF THRONES (HBO, 2011-2019) and their last season and yadda yadda yadda. i'm not interested in that. i loved the series but it took some warming up to it initially.
this is that story.
i was teaching secondary ELA in VENEZUELA in what can best be described diplomatically as a "challenging" setting. the school culture was crumbling due to poor management, which seemed to mirror the wider national political/economic climate which was teetering from unstable to full-on death spiral. to date the only more unpredictable situation i've ever encountered was living in NIGERIA, which at the time was already in the throes of a corrupt military dictatorship that was met with violence and threats thereof as a mater of due daily course.
anyway back to GAME OF THRONES. it makes perfect sense to me now that my high school students were so intrigued by it. put aside the silliness surrounding dragons, dire wolves and elaborate sigils and you have the palace intrigue that defined VENEZUELAN politics.
my students were constantly trying to get me to watch it, to which i would dismissively retort with some conflation to the effect of "i'd love to but i'm really not that into Dungeons & Dragons or Lord of the Rings." which is true. my students would immediately respond by empathically stating that "nah Mr. Crowe, there's so much more to it. you gotta watch it." when i would ask them to explain they would talk about how crazy violent it was and how much sex there was in every episode. hmmmm, i told them i'd think about it. i borrowed the first season from a colleague and i was hooked. it's true that it was crazy violent and beyond sexual, but it all seemed a means of both securing and maintaining hegemonic power, just like in reality.
as an english teacher i appreciated the consistent structural implementation of red herrings, which are clues, situations and characters that lead the plot nowhere. heaving lots of dead ends is commonly used in suspense and mystery fiction, but GAME OF THRONES, famous for killing off beloved and hated characters without a second notice, turned this trope into an exhilarating experience.
in retrospect this connection i saw between VENEZUELA, GAME OF THRONES and the pugilistic nature of politics has expand to the modern american political climate, so obviously my appreciation of this series has shifted with it. if anything i think the series has informed the american public of the perils of being in a political system of never-ending infighting and gamesmanship. as long as our census is politicized and our voting districts gerrymandered, i think we are unfortunately in for a GAME OF THRONES reality far beyond the shelf-life of this 8 season TV series.
at some point this disastrous administration will become a footnote to history and the name TRUMP will forever be analogous with other epithets like COWARD, FRAUD, MYSOGYNIST, CHEAT, LIAR, RACIST and TRAITOR. it will be during this future era that the NFL will have a problem.
that problem will forever be named COLIN KAEPERNICK, the lone athlete that put fealty to our nation's higher ideals of JUSTICE, EQUALITY and DUTY TO OTHERS above personal gain.
literally the KAEPERNICK does not have to play another down. as mentioned before in my recent JERRY RICE entry, his cultural legacy is pretty much set just like that of JIM BROWN, MUHAMED ALI, BILL RUSSELL and KAREEM ABDUL-JABAR standing up to racism back during the heart of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT in spite of potential backlash and professional consequences. they did it because it was right.
it seems fitting that a league filled with billionaire "owners" (and the GREEN BAY PACKERS FOUNDATION) would have chosen to side with a tyrant like TRUMP over their better angels. you have to look not further than their fans. it's not like AMERICAN FOOTBALL fans are the most alert, thoughtful bunch who are beyond blind loyalty to a brand (i mean just look at NY JETS fans). the fact that this angry mob doesn't recognize a true patriot isn't surprising either, its almost like they need a fly-over ceremony and fireworks to get ginned up on jingoistic fervor.
you might be thinking this is all old news, and you'd be right. but currently the NFL is attempting to appear as though they are giving him a fair shot at not being blackballed any further from the league, giving him an impromptu workout for several teams without notice to prepare properly. seems to me to be a setup that once this event happens they can collectively look to the camera and say that he wasn't up for it physically. that in essence his dismissal from the league was justified.
except thats bullshit.
and this stain will never go away. it is part of the legacy of the NFL now and forever.
best show i've ever seen was PRINCE at MADISON SQUARE GARDEN on his MUSICOLOGY tour back 2004 (honorable mention goes to RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE at ROCK THE BELLS 2007). he had recently self-released his comeback album and this tour was basically a greatest hits package tour to appease his fans. it was so sick. i should also mention i had 8th row seats. sighhh, what a great time that was.
what i remember most about the actual show, other than thousands of people bringing out their umbrellas for the encore of "Purple Rain" (people had them on-hand because it was down-pouring outside), was PRINCE speeding around in a flurry of movement and virtuoso musicianship, seemingly at will. dude would be playing a solo while waddling around in a CHUCK BERRY-esque duckwalk, the throw his guitar without looking offstage to a roadie only to further slide into a keyboard and then pelvic thrust his way to a microphone, all in heels and in time. i mean, this was a SHOW. hadn't seen anything like it since and i'm sad to say he was the last of a breed. dude was a monster showman.
he could also get away with saying some pretty corny one-liners. at one point he was playing an acoustic guitar alone in the spotlight and played off the first couple bars of ELVIS PRESLEY's "Heartbreak Hotel" before halting abruptly and stating "you can't be no king without being no prince." indeed. i wasn't gonna argue.
i should mention that opening the show was MORRIS DAY AND THE TIME. seriously, how cool is that? after seemingly every song DAY would ask the crowd what they wanted to hear. an immense roar of "JUNGLE LO-O-O-O-OVE" would resonate loudly through the building. when he finally did play it the place GOT DOWN.
and i guess in summation that is the allure of this show to me 15 years later, the fact that you had so many people in the crowd dancing. it didn't feel like people were watching, rather they were participating in a great party. total communal experience. it was a religious experience. to this day i don't trust people that can't appreciate PRINCE. dude was a shaman, a high priest of FUNK.
amen to that.