[Illustrations by ALEX FINE]
BY JONATHAN VALANIA In advance of her recent reading at the Free Library to promote her new book Reimagining Equality: Stories Of Race, Gender And Finding A Home, we present a conversation with Anita Hill, professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis University. Discussed: The fantasia of a Post-Racial America; the mendacity, narcissism and hypocrisy of Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain; the right wing’s racializing the blame for the 2008 financial crisis; how she passed the lie detector test Clarence Thomas refused to take; the emancipation of her grandfather from slavery; the shady backroom deal that silenced the Congressional testimony of three more women who came forward to accuse Clarence Thomas of grossly inappropriate behavior; the cruel partisan blowback and dirty tricks she weathered in the wake of her Congressional testimony that immortalized her as the Rosa Parks of sexual harassment.
PHAWKER: Given the election of Barack Obama, are we in a post-racial era? And if not, is that even a realistic expectation that we would reach it at some point in this country?
ANITA HILL: I don’t know at what point we might reach it, I certainly don’t believe we are here today, there’s too much evidence of racial disparities that have been well documented by social finances, there are too many incidents of it that have been documented anecdotally, so absolutely we’re not there yet. Is it a possibility for the future? I’m not certain, I don’t have that kind of a crystal ball. But what I do have is some things that we need to look at if we are truly serious about ever getting there.
PHAWKER: Speaking to your book here a moment, conservatives like to blame poor people – which I think is often code for minorities – for defaulting on mortgages they should have never been given and that was the sum and total cause of the financial collapse of 2008. Can you speak to that?
ANITA HILL: The foreclosure crisis could not have happen just because of individual mortgages taken out, it’s just impossible, that’s not even logical. In fact, there were loans taken out that should never have been issued, there were creditory loans that were given to people, people were given loans that were well above the cost that any loan should ever have, they were well above market cost and often they were given to people who qualified for potential loans at conditional rates, people were targeted, communities essentially were targeted for the pedaling of prime loans. So all of those taken together have to be understood and recognized and I do document how that happened in Reimagining Equality, but as well the foreclosure crisis and the collapse of the housing market were because those loans and faulty financial devices were bundled and sold up the stream whether they were loans taken out in minority communities or loans taken out by white people, these were bad loans that were then marketed and pedaled up the financial food chain. That is ultimately what caused the collapse.
PHAWKER: I’m curious what your take was on the so called ‘beer summit’ which I would say is probably the last moment or opportunity for a national discussion on race.
ANITA HILL: I felt it really rather limited not only in scope but it was also very limited in the way it was structured and set up. It gave the impression that the kind of issues we’re facing that are issues that have to do with race can be negotiated and settled on a one-on-one basis, when in fact that simply is not the case. They are far too systemic, they have a far broader impact than any two individuals. It was an interesting exercise but it just did not go far enough or go deeply enough with the concerns that were brought to the public’s attention by the arrest of Henry Louis Gates.
PHAWKER: Your grandfather was a slave, which kind of blows my mind, is this something you discovered when you were working on the book?
ANITA HILL: It blew my mind, too, to think that I’m only one generation away from slavery. If you think about that, if any of us think about it we tend to think about history as something well in the past and so remote and I guess the saying is correct, ‘History isn’t the past, it is present.’ I had heard that my grandfather had been born a slave and that his mother had been separated from his father, my great grandparents, at some point towards the end of slavery. But I had no way of documenting it until I went back and looked at the census record. We, as scientists and scholars, think we have to document everything. I had all the anecdotal information, but in fact I did wanna go back and document and find out exactly if it was true and it was true, my grandfather was born in 1864 before the slaves were officially freed. He fathered my mother when he was in his 50s and my mother was born in 1911. So he was a bit older than he was supposed to be, I guess, if I’m doing my math correctly. My mother was 45 when I was born, and that’s how what would have been a span of maybe two or three generations of slavery occurred within one generation.
PHAWKER: What do you make of black conservatives that spend most of their careers minimizing the impact of race on society in the modern age, and then when they get into trouble they immediately cry racism? I’m thinking of Clarence Thomas calling his nomination hearing a ‘high tech lynching’, I’m thinking of Herman Cain saying there’s this huge conspiracy against him to smear him – I’m curious what your take is on that.
ANITA HILL: I think unfortunately it does indicate a certain kind of narcissism if you will, but at the very least a double standard, that if things that happened to other people are denounced or denied as racism, any kind of thing that they perceive as being a miscarriage then is turned around and called racism. I’m not quite sure what the psychology of that is, I’m not in psychology by training, but I’m sure there are plenty who are who could tell us exactly what kind of personality creates that. But on a more serious note, I think the injury then that it does is that these people, individuals like Clarence Thomas are seen as spokespeople for African-Americans and the denial of our lived experience as African-Americans, when we do see and experience racism is really an insult to us as well as having the potential for setting all of us back, the entire society whether you’re an African-American of European-American or Latino or any other races that live in this country.
PHAWKER: Just quickly here, if you could confirm a few things I’ve read about the hearings, you took a polygraph test and passed it. Justice Thomas refused to take one, is that correct?
ANITA HILL: That is correct, I took a polygraph test administered by Paul Minor who was an FBI agent, a director of the FBI, not the head director but he was high up in the FBI, and who was an expert in the administration of polygraph tests.
PHAWKER: And there were three more women that were going to testify to similar behavior by Justice Thomas but as part of a back room deal between Republicans and Democrats basically the testimony was shut down at the end of your testimony, is that correct?
ANITA HILL: I still do not know why or how the testimony was shut down, I do know that there were three individuals who were ready to testify that I and my team were waiting for to testify, they had experienced similar behavior or had observed it, they were completely independent of me, so they weren’t just corroborating my story, except that their stories were very similar to mine and the experiences they had were very similar to mine.
PHAWKER: Just a couple things about the fallout afterwards, you went on to teach at the University of Oklahoma, it’s my understanding that there was a women’s group that raised money nationally to start a scholarship fund in your name. This angered conservative lawmakers in Oklahoma who first of all demanded that you resign, failing that they tried to pass a law that would make it illegal for the university to accept money from out of state, failing that they tried to dismantle the university? Is all that true?
ANITA HILL: Yes. They tried to dismantle the law school, it was a lot of political shenanigans if you put it in a nice way. It was amazing because I don’t know many institutions or legislators who have refused to accept donations that came from all over the country from individuals who would send in five, ten dollars, some would try to send in money monthly, some were from the state of Oklahoma who were really behind the effort. Ultimately what happened was that the higher regions of the state of Oklahoma did approve the fund, but the president of Oklahoma University at the time issued a ruling that there could be no over-fundraising for the fulfillment of the private donations. So again, the politics continued, the pressure was there, and ultimately there was some negotiated deal and much of the funds were removed from the state and given to Brandeis, where I am now.
PHAWKER: But you were pressured to resign and you did eventually five years later. Why were they asking you to resign? On what grounds? What did you do wrong besides testify truthfully under oath?
ANITA HILL: You know, again it was all political pressure. It’s something I talk about quite a bit in Speaking Truth to Power, I can’t even get into all of the details at this point. But I will say this, I have very supportive colleagues, and I did ultimately leave the university but I left the university because I had an opportunity to come to Brandeis to work on issues related to gender equality and racial equality and I have a very happy existence. Had I not made that move, I’m not sure that I would have been able to write Reimagining Equality certainly in the way that I have written it not only with an understanding of the law, but an understanding of sociology and pop culture and the number of policies that have contributed to housing inequality in this country.
PHAWKER: How do you react to being called ‘The Rosa Parks Of Sexual Harassment’?
ANITA HILL: That’s a name that has been thrown around, of course any mention of my name in the same sentence as Rosa Parks is high praise and flattering. She was such a beacon for me when I was growing up and the idea that you’re with this woman who was just absolutely committed to equality and willing to put her own well being at risk to stand up for what was right. What I hope is whatever people call me is that my desire really is that my effort to help other people find their voice and be able to stand up and to resist discrimination, whether it’s in the form of sexual harassment or any of the number of other forms people experience.
PHAWKER: If you had to do over any of this, would you do anything differently?
ANITA HILL: Oh gosh, who knows if you would do anything differently but I can say this – I would certainly do it all over again. And I would do it because of why I did it to start with. The integrity of the court is what was at stake in 1991 when I testified. The integrity of the court believes that it’s the integrity of the individual to serve on the court. I had information about Clarence Thomas that went to his integrity, his belief in the law, a law that he was bound to enforce as the head of the EOC and that hasn’t changed. I do believe that in the long run, even though people say, “Well, he ended up on the court anyway,” in the long run we started a conversation, many people demanded change, and we have moved forward.
[Illustrations by ALEX FINE]
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Anthony Bourdain is a man who needs no introduction, but for those not in the know or without a consumptive cable habit, understand that he is the enfant terrible of the foodie world who came of age on the Punk Rock Planet of New York ‘77 simultaneously pogoing to the likes of the Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, Dead Boys, the Heartbreakers, Patti Smith and shooting smack in the shithole bathrooms of CBGBs. Upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978, he ran the kitchens of various fancy Big Apple eateries — including the Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue, and Sullivan’s — before winding up the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in 1998. In 2000, he penned the gonzo fin de siecle memoir Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which expanded on his infamous New Yorker piece, Don’t Eat Before Reading This, that begins thusly:
Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger–risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese and shellfish. Your first 207 Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your 208th may send you to bed with the sweats, chills and vomits. Gastronomy is the science of pain.
Kitchen Confidential soon occupied the New York Times best seller list and led to Bourdain hosting his own show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, wherein he trots the globe sampling the outre customs and exotic cuisines of various indigenous peoples and, for fear of offending his hosts, and in the pursuit of damn good television, bravely chomps down just about everything put in front of him, including: sheep testicles, ant eggs, seal eyeballs, a whole cobra with its heart still beating, and, most disgustingly, a wharthog’s anus, which required him to take Cipro for two weeks. In my book, he is pretty much The Coolest Man On Earth. Given that chefs are the new rock stars, I hereby dub him ‘The Lou Reed of Food.’
He is currently on a tour of the U.S. with fellow chef/author/TV personality Eric Ripert. The duo bring their foodie good cop/bad cop routine to the Merriam Theater tonight. Earlier this week, Phawker got Bourdain on the horn to talk about eating dog, shooting smack, dissing Philly and, of course, hating on Billy Joel. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Glen Matlock was the original bass player in the Sex Pistols, and he was also one the band’s principal songwriters — all the classic Pistols tunes (”Anarchy In The UK,” “God Save The Queen” “Pretty Vacant”) bear his imprimatur. So why haven’t you heard of him? Because he left the band — whether he quit or was fired depends on who you ask — just before the Pistols went supernova and was replaced by human car wreck Sid Vicious who’s onstage self-mutilation, epic dope appetite and ignominious demise (dead from a heroin overdose while being jailed for the murder of his girlfriend/Courtney-Love-role-model Nancy Spungen) rendered him iconic. Matlock plays on the first three Pistols singles, and shares songwriting credits for all but on track on Never Mind The Bollocks — with Steve Jones playing his bass parts on the recording. After the Pistols, he formed the New Wave power pop band The Rich Kids and various other side projects and tours with fellow veterans of the great punk wars of the 70s and 80s. By the mid-90s, Matlock was back in the saddle for an intermittent series of Pistols reunion concerts that continued well into the last decade. He plays the North Star Bar tonight with his latest project Glen Matlock & The Philistines.
PHAWKER: Can you please identify yourself so I can get a [recording] level…
GLEN MATLOCK: Hello I am Glen Matlock, I am from England but I am temporarily in New York in my friend’s apartment looking out the window at the Empire State building and it’s very cool!
PHAWKER: I would like to talk about some ancient history as far as the Pistols go, I hope you’re cool with that.
GLEN MATLOCK: Well, there ya go. I can’t do much better than that can I?
PHAWKER: Let’s start at the very beginning. How do you meet those guys? How did the Sex Pistols come together? How does Glen Matlock become part of the Pistols?
GLEN MATLOCK: Well, basically I ended up working for a guy called Malcolm McLaren, who is quite renowned – our manager at the time. He used to run a Teddy Boy clothes shop in London. I got a job working there. Every oddball and weirdo used to come in on a Saturday afternoon because all the bathtubs and bars were closed from three o’clock til about five thirty, which encouraged people to go shopping down at King’s Road, which is where the store was. His place was kind of weird, his place would attract the weirdest people. That’s how we all met. [Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve [Jones] and [Sex Pistols drummer] Paul [Cook] would come in and try to steal things, basically. I kind of got matey with them. I overheard that they were putting a band together and the bass play never used to turn up. I happened to be learning the bass guitar – well, I had a bass guitar at the moment, it didn’t mean I could particularly play. I just said, “Well, I’ll play bass,” and they were like, “Oh, man, great. What bands do you like?” The only band that was really worthwhile listening to at the time was The Faces. I said, “Well, I dig The Faces.” So that became our common ground. We started rehearsing away, you know, mainly playing covers and things. We really had a kind of a spirit, but we didn’t necessarily have somebody to encapsulate that and put that into words. Steve was the singer at the time originally – it soon became quite clear wasn’t going to cut it as our singer. We were on the lookout for a singer among all the other weirdos and oddballs that hung out at the store was Johnny Rotten. So we called him in. Basically that was it, that’s how the band started. MORE
In advance of his appearances tonight and Saturday at the Helium Comedy Club, we got Judah on the horn and solicited some very useful advice, such as: How to beat up a cyclops and a one-armed man; how to rock the trucker hat (and Run DMC spectacles) with no real truck driving experience to speak of; how to have an illicit affair with your junior high school teacher; and how to land movie roles as wrestling fan, action figure dude, drunk man, ice cream man, maintenance man, pawn shop patron, and cafeteria guy. You know you want to know.
PHAWKER: Could you please identify yourself?
FRIEDLANDER: Judah Friedlander, the world champion. Living in America, being a winner.
PHAWKER: Let’s go back to the very beginning. You started out as a cameraman for a Chris Rock show back in ‘89?
FRIEDLANDER: Nope, no – incorrect. That’s an IMDB myth, I’ve been doing stand up since I was 19, I’m 42 now. Always been my main thing, and before that I was making short movies, I did animation when I was a kid and stuff, I was 19 when I did my first stand-up, and I don’t know, I guess I was probably around 27 or something like that and around ‘96/’97 is when I started doing acting gigs, like commercials, and then like around ’98 I started getting acting stuff in TV and movies. I did about 30 movies, and then I got 30 Rock, but stand up has always been my main thing, just me all by myself.
PHAWKER: Just to clarify – that’s like totally wrong?
FRIEDLANDER: What, the camera thing? Nope, never worked on the Chris Rock SHOW… a friend of mine, Mike Dennis, who lives in Philly and runs Reelblack Films, he was doing a documentary on Chris Rock, and I’m a friend of his and I was doing a little bit of camerawork and a little bit of sound work on that. The movie actually turned out really well I think it’s on Chris Rock’s main website now. So yeah, we were 18 or 19 and Chris Rock was his favorite comedian at the time – Chris Rock hadn’t really broke through at that point, I think this was 1988. Mike Dennis, who lives in Philly, he actually just did a documentary about Chris’ little brother, Jordan Rock, who is like 19.
PHAWKER: I’m glad we could truth squad that glaring Wikipedia half-truth. So, let’s start with the look: the glasses, the hat – where did this come from? How did that get started?
FRIEDLANDER: Well, let’s see that’s a good question. I remember having to get glasses in like the 10th grade and I remember the salesman picking out these little glasses saying ‘they’re real cool, chicks like these.’ I realized the guy’s full of shit, but it seems like back then they’re always making glasses real small, so it’s like you couldn’t tell you were wearing glasses, and I remember back then in the early 90’s all the cool kid wore those tiny glasses, like John Lennon used to wear or whatever, so I was like “you know what, why not go the opposite route of the tiny glasses and just get the biggest fucking glasses I can find, and celebrate it instead of hiding it?’ But now everything is flipped – now all the hipsters wear big glasses and the thin, small glasses aren’t cool anymore. And back then nobody had sideburns, all the pretentious posers had those thin glasses and they all had goatees, so I went the opposite of that and got big fuckin’ sideburns. But now all the hipsters have big sideburns and all the blue collar guys have goatees. And I’m just still dressing the way I’ve been dressing for, I don’t know, 20 years.
PHAWKER: And how about the trucker hats?
FRIEDLANDER: Yeah, that was actually something I never really stopped wearing from the 80’s, you know? In the 80’s when I was a kid that was pretty much the only kind of hat you could get, and I remember after wearing them for years I would try to find patches and stuff from my favorite bands and stuff. I’d get a blank cap and stitch them on myself. I was always like ‘why buy a hat that has someone else’s label on it, where you’re just advertising their shit?’ Now the only hats I’ll ever wear say WORLD CHAMPION, because I am the greatest athlete and martial artist in the world. The hats I wear on 30 Rock, I make them all myself. About two or three times a year, the writers of the show will actually come up with a hat slogan and work it into a plotline, work it into a storyline on the show. I’ll still make the hat, but other than that I come up with all of the slogans and make all of them. MORE
[illustration by NOWHERE MAN11]
The long awaited release of the session tapes of Brian Wilson and Beach Boys never-completed masterpiece, SMiLE, is finally here. With the full participation of original Beach Boys Al Jardine, Mike Love, and Brian Wilson, Capitol/EMI has, for the first time, collected and compiled the band’s legendary 1966-’67 sessions for the SMiLE Seesions 5-CD box set. In several sessions between the summer of 1966 and early 1967, The Beach Boys recorded a bounty of songs and drafts for an album with the working title Dumb Angel that was intended as a follow-up to the band’s 1966 masterwork, Pet Sounds. After more than a year of work, things fell apart, Brian went off the reservation, and the master tapes were ultimately shelved. Drawn from the original masters, SMiLE Sessions presents an in-depth overview of The Beach Boys’ recording sessions for the enigmatic album, which has achieved legendary, mythical status for music fans around the world. Recently, Phawker had a chance to speak with Brian Wilson about SMiLE.
PHAWKER: I don’t know if you remember this, but in 1965 you reportedly had a religious experience while under the influence of LSD, and out of that came Pet Sounds and SMiLE, which are arguably some of your greatest moments of artistry?
BRIAN WILSON: That’s true. The upside is you get the song, but the downside is you have to come down off that drug. That’s the hard part.
PHAWKER: Why did you wind up abandoning SMiLE anyway?
BRIAN WILSON: Because we thought we were too far advanced for the public to hear.
PHAWKER: Do you think that the public finally caught up?
BRIAN WILSON: I think the public is finally ready for it, yeah.
PHAWKER: Just to start off with, for the sake of readers that might not know anything about The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles please explain…
JON FOY [pictured, below right]: Sure. Well, it’s a documentary about a mystery. It explores this sort of urban legend-esque type of phenomenon. Someone’s been laying these tiled messages, and they’re embedded in the street. They look like little plaques. They’ve got messages about resurrecting the dead. They’re sort of cryptic. They’ve been in the street for almost three decades, basically across the U.S. and South America. Nobody knows who does them – or why, or how, at least at the beginning of the story that was true. So it’s a documentary but it’s kind of like a mystery, with some kind of overtones of sci-fi. Some people say horror, although nothing horrible happens to anyone in the film.
PHAWKER: Roughly how many are there in Philadelphia?
JON FOY: Who knows? They can come and go. We’ve seen many come and go, but as for right now, I’d say at least 100 in the city. Four of them just appeared right outside the movie theater where it’s playing tomorrow.
PHAWKER: Oh, really?
JON FOY: Yeah, last week they disappeared. Four of them. It’s really pretty eye-opening.
PHAWKER: I haven’t seen the movie all the way through. Is the mystery solved at the end?
JON FOY: Well, people debate that. I think so. As a story-teller, it’s more about telling a satisfying story, and I think it’s a satisfying story. It’s not all resolved, but we do present our findings. In my mind, there’s a whole lot that we present. I mean, it gets pretty thick – kind of like layers of exposition and details and stuff like that. There’s plenty to chew on.
PHAWKER: Why are they named Toynbee? Where’s Toynbee name come from?
JON FOY: The historian Arnold Toynbee, who was a noted British historian. He would sort of talk about history in large strokes. He would talk about the rise and fall of civilizations – the Egyptians, the Romans – things like that. He would try to put together theories about what caused the rise and fall of civilizations. I think – I’m not 100% sure about this – but I think that he published the largest publication in the English language, which would be his Study of History. So, you know, big ideas. They’re called Toynbee tiles because of all of the messages. The messages on the tiles typically read, “Toynbee idea, in Kubrick’s 2001, resurrect dead on planet Jupiter. They refer to themselves as tile, and they’re made out of floor tiling we believe, so we call them Toynbee Tiles. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Ann McElhinney and her husband Phelim McAleer describe themselves as journalists/documentary filmmakers whose only agenda is to tell the stories that aren’t being told: That environmentalists like Al Gore, James Cameron and Gasland director Josh Fox are (in order of appearance) liars, cheaters and hypocrites; that global warming/climate change is scam; that scientists who insist otherwise are only in it for the money; that fracking is harmless; and fossil fuel consumption is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
I would call her a paid shill for Big Energy. Her latest film, Not Just Evil But Wrong, argues that decades of peer-reviewed climate science is just plain wrong. By her own admission, Mine Your Own Business, the 2006 leave-the-poor-little-mining-companies-alone-themed documentary she made with her husband, was funded by a Canadian mining company called Gabriel Resources. That is not journalism, that is corporate propaganda. She is currently on a tour of Pennsylvania college campuses (that brings her to Temple today at 1 PM) that is being funded by Americans For Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch Brothers who have massive holdings in fossil fuels like oil and gas and have spent upwards of $50 milion spreading the gospel of climate change denial and underwriting dubious scientific studies that confuse the matter and sow doubt in the minds of the American people. And it’s working. Every year polls show that less and less Americans think climate change is real or cause for concern.
Last week we got McElhinney on the phone and we went round and round on climate science atheism, the existential dangers of fracking, the scalability of renewable energy, and the accuracy of Gasland. I will give her this much: she has a knack for loudly talking over people who disagree and not letting them get a word in edge-wise, responding to any attempts at interjection with an unbroken torrent of verbiage, and making it clear that any raising of voice would be matched decibel for decibel. Plus, she has a disarming Irish brogue that almost makes all the blarney that comes with it believable. Almost. MORE
BY BRYAN BIERMAN Let’s start by saying this: Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance is the greatest album ever made. Possibly. Released in 1978, the band took only the great parts of punk rock then shuffled it around, adding musique concrete tape noise and free-jazz sax solos. It was the perfect blend of rock ‘n’ roll and avant-garde—you don’t fully understand it at first, but it still makes you want to head into the garage and try your hand at emulating it. ? But by the time of its release, lead singer David Thomas had already inspired a legion of bands in Cleveland with the short-lived Rocket From The Tombs, who took the incendiary madness of The Stooges to its next logical step. The band soon imploded in ’75 before ever recording a proper album and its members split up into two factions, forming Dead Boys and Pere Ubu, both of which became successful in their own right. Over the years, the small amount of Rocket’s recorded material was bootlegged, giving the band its proper legendary status. In 2003, Thomas and the original members reunited, finally recorded a debut album with new drummer Steve Mehlman and Television’s Richard Lloyd replacing the late Peter Laughner. ? In advance of their show on Sunday at Kung Fu Necktie, we corresponded with Thomas through e-mail about the new album, why musicians should quit the biz and how he isn’t crazy about being touched.
PHAWKER: Rocket lasted one year – from summer of 1974 to summer of ‘75 – why did you break up?
DAVID THOMAS: Youthful stoopidity aggravated by drug and alcohol abuse.
PHAWKER: How did you come up with the name and what was it supposed to mean?
DAVID THOMAS: When I was in high school, my buddy and me made a stop-action film inspired by Frank Zappa, I suppose, called The Day The Earth Met The Rocket From The Tombs. I have no idea how it came to be, a reference I suppose to Plan 9 From Outer Space or some such thing. It doesn’t MEAN anything! Seemed like a good idea for a band name when it came time. I don’t really remember. Maybe I thought it was good because it DIDN’T mean anything.
PHAWKER: What did you make of a band calling itself Rocket From The Crypt – flattered or irked? Ever see them live or have any contact with them?
DAVID THOMAS: Never met them. Never actually heard them, that I am aware of. I didn’t really think anything. Sorry. Just didn’t impact on me at all. MORE
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following interview with Bert Jansch was originally posted back in April when he opened for Neil Young. We are re-running it again upon learning the sad news that he passed away yesterday at the age of 67. The Guardian has an excellent obit you can read HERE.
“As much of a great guitar player as Jimi [Hendrix] was, Bert Jansch is the same thing for acoustic guitar…and my favourite” – Neil Young
Legendary folk guitarist Bert Jansch, who opens for Neil Young at the Tower tonight and tomorrow, emerged as one of the leading lights of the British folk revival in the mid-60s, staring down the camera on the cover of his debut like James Dean at at hootenanny. His early solo recordings — most notably his self-titled 1965 debut — deftly wedded ancient folk traditions with post-war American jazz and Delta blues, a fleet-fingered hybrid that would catch the fancy of people like Donovan and Nick Drake. In 1967, Jansch went on to form Pentangle with John Rebourn which, while not quite the satanic drug-folk the name conjures, often inhabited the middle ground between spellbinding and mesmerizing. Pentangle’s recorded six albums of pre-electric jazz-folk sorcery — all dueling baroque guitars and feverish drumming, bowed upright bass and trilling, flute-like vocals — before disbanding in 1972. Jansch resumed his solo career, touring regularly and recording over 25 albums over the course of the next four decades, more than earning his rep as a guitar player’s guitar player. In addition to then-contemporaries like Neil Young and Jimmy Page, Jansch counts Johnny Marr, Bernard Butler, Pete Doherty and Devendra Banhart as acolytes. We recently got Jansch on the horn to discuss his connections with Nick Drake and Devnendra Banhart, his participation in The Libertines reunion, the druid-folk reveries of Pentangle and getting ripped off by Led Zeppelin… MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Annie Jacobsen writes about national security for the Los Angeles Times’ Sunday Magazine. Recently, she published a fascinating and expansive history of Area 51, which is sort of the Land Of Oz for conspiracy theorists, UFOologists and national security buffs alike. According to Jacobsen, it is also the incubator and proving ground for most if not all of the gee-whiz top secret surveillance hardware, aircraft and weaponry deployed by the national security state and ground zero for more than 100 above and below ground nuclear bomb tests. But it is the final chapter of the book that has sparked the most controversy with its jaw-dropping claims that the infamous UFO crash at Roswell was actually a Nazi-designed flying saucer piloted by children surgically disfigured to look like ETs, sent by Stalin to trigger mass hysteria in the U.S. a la War Of The Worlds. Furthermore, Jacobsen alleges that U.S. scientists spent decades reverse engineering the spacecraft and its mutant pilots — some of which survived the crash and persisted in a coma. Her single, anonymous source for all is a man she claims is the last surviving member of the team that worked with the Roswell remains. Recently, we called upon the author to explain…
PHAWKER: One of the first things I wanted to ask you about that I haven’t read or seen touched upon in any of the other interviews that I’ve encountered is this very intriguing line about Howard Hughes having a secret hangar at Area 51 and what exactly he was doing out there is still classified. Can you elaborate on that at all?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: I wish I could, that’s one of the few details in the book that that’s all I got. That came to me from Jim Freidman who worked as the liaison between Area 51 and Hughes’s people in the hotel. Jim Freidman was the guy who would let Hughes’s people know when a nuclear bomb test was going off twenty-four hours before the test, so he was at about twenty-two hours advance notice on the rest of the population. He [Hughes] was apparently deathly afraid of nuclear weapons and he thought the world would end, so said Jim Freidman, and so he would skedaddle out of town in advance of the weapons test, but what exactly he was doing at Area 51 in that hangar of his is unknown. Of course Hughes Aircraft was a big defense contractor, but that is actually of great mystery still.
PHAWKER: Can you talk a little about the Atomic Energy Commission and the enormous power it wielded back in the post-World War II era and the secrets that, by design, it witheld from everyone, including succeeding presidents.
ANNIE JACOBSEN: The Atomic Energy Commission, now called the Department of Energy, has always enjoyed its own system of secret keeping, which I found very surprising when I first began reporting it. That is not the way the Constitution is set up but it is the way the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 was written and it gave the Atomic Energy Commission its own secret keeping that runs parallel to the presidential system which is what the Department of Defense worked under. The argument for it was this idea of nuclear power immediately after the war was so volatile and so uncontrollable that its secrets needed to be kept in a manner—and this is where we get the phrase “born classified”—all the nuclear secrets, and that included everything with timing and firing and alpha measurements and so on, needed to be able to be kept on lock down essentially with the AEC and no one else could have access to that. Scholars who study this call that an unanswerable authority, and I certainly felt that same way when I was researching the AEC and its secret keeping ability, the way that they were able to for example conduct medical experiments on humans under the aegis of AEC work was very scary and spooky and that remains the case to this day and many of their records remain classified under that rubric of AEC secrets but they actually have a lot more to do with other issues and they should never have been classified at all in that way in my opinion. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Baghdad metallurgists ACRASSICAUDA have survived Saddam’s thugs, al Qaeda goon squads and assorted jihadist jerks — all of whom tried to silence them, under threat of death or imprisonment — but can they survive Fish Town? Find out tonight when they rock Johnny Brendas, along with all-girl Metallica tribute band Misstallica. On the eve of a U.S. tour, we got Acrassicauda drummer Marwan Riyadh on the line to talk about life in a war zone when you’re young, Iraqi and just wanna rock the fuck out — which is easier said than done, because if American bombs don’t kill you, the insurgents probably will. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Daniel Clowes’ 30-plus-year career as a cartoonist/graphic novelist/screenwriter has seen some remarkable reversals of fortune. Back in the mid-80s, when Clowes was fresh out of Pratt and looking to take the graphic design/illustration world by storm, he couldn’t get art directors to return his phone calls. These days, post-Ghost World, the New Yorker and The New York Times plead with him to return their calls. When not busy cranking out darkly hilarious comic works like Eightball, Dan Pussey and David Boring, or illustrating Ramones videos and Supersuckers album covers, or working with Coke to create the infamous OK Cola anti-marketing campaign, Clowes forged a successful secondary career as a screenwriter, which resulted in an Oscar nomination for the screenplay to Ghost World. More recently he has focused on the long-form comic strip, investing works like Wilson and the just-published Mr. Wonderful with both his distinctive graphic imprimatur and a gift for story-telling and character study that rivals any of the big-wigs of contemporary fiction. Not bad for a form that heretofore aspired to little more than indulging the fantastical yearnings and hormonal angst of pimply-faced teenage boys. If Clowes is not careful he will wind up being remembered as the guy who made comics respectable. Clowes will be appearing at the Free Library tonight to promote the recent publication of the aptly-titled Mr. Wonderful. Long a fan of Mr. Clowes’ work, we got him on the horn to discuss recent work like Wilson and Mr. Wonderful along with Ghost World, Lloyd Llewellyn, Eightball, Jack Black, Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, Thora Birch, Art School Confidential, Rudy Rucker, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Michel Gondry and the advantages of male pattern baldness. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA In the beginning, before there was Spiritualized or Spectrum, there was Spacemen 3. If you came of age in 80s, in the dreary grey flannel age of Reagan/Thatcher, when drug war hysteria was reaching a feverish pitch, Spacemen 3 was hands down the most persuasive and rewarding argument for the ingestion of mind-expanding substances since Pink met Floyd. In August of 1984, Jason Pierce (a.k.a. Jason Spaceman) received a government grant to attend Rugby Art College — which he promptly misused to purchase an electric guitar and amplifier. It was at Rugby Art College that Pierce met classmate Peter Kember (a.k.a. Sonic Boom, a.k.a. Peter Gunn), son of a wealthy importer. Kember ’s initial impression of Pierce was that he’s “someone who is very smart, but very lazy.” Kember and Pierce bonded over a mutual interest in psychedelic music and recreational drug use. Pierce turned Kember on to the Stooges. Kember reciprocated by turning Pierce on to the Cramps, Velvet Underground and heroin. They formed a band that combined all four influences and call themselves the Spacemen. Later, they’ll add a “3? to the end of the moniker, borrowing the number from an early Spacemen gig poster that reads “Are Your Dreams At Night 3 Sizes Too Big?”
“Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to ” was their mantra and their methodology. At the height of Just Say No, they openly sang the praises of mind–altering substances to the media and crowned themselves kings of the one-chord drone, funneling White Light/White Heat-era Velvets and pre-mental-hospital 13th Floor Elevators through a mesmerizing prism of noisy trance rock. And they did it all sitting down, as did the audience members. In fact, some laid flat on their backs. Many of them, you see, had taken drugs to listen to music to take drugs to. Here’s Kember talking about the role drug use played in the creative and personal life of the band during an email interview I conducted with him back in 2001:
ME: What role did drugs play in the creative process of Spacemen 3?
PETER KEMBER: It’d be a lie to understate their role, but plenty of folk have found our music enough to replace drugs for consciousness alteration. I always felt I was merely a conduit or antenna receiving moods/feelings and translating them into sound forms and lyrics in order to re-transmit the experiences that encapsulated our lives .
ME: You have spoken very candidly about your heroin use during the band. Was that something you and Jason did together?
PETER KEMBER: Sometimes. Not much, Jason took very little drugs during the S3 period—except lager and Jack Daniel’s. I turned Jason and other band members on to LSD, etc., and though we used heroin together occasionally, I think it was always more my weakness. Not to say hash, weed, speed, coke and mushrooms didn’t figure -they did frequently. I never believed in turning on friends to smack. Jason made his own choice, I have not been a social heroin user ever; (it’s) more a personal habit. It interferes surprisingly little, but for the effects of its criminalisation.
You can literally hear the drugs in Spacemen 3’s music: Kember and Pierce wove dense, hypnotic chimeras of sound out of hazy, heavily-pedaled web of guitars (usually one chiming immaculately and the other completely fuzzed out), the pneumatic wheeze of vintage keyboards, throbbing bass and trance-inducing rhythms fashioned out of simple, repetitive drum patterns. Sample lyric: “In 1987 all I wanna do is get stoned.” Still, whatever they were taking it worked, because if they started out channeling their impeccable record collection, (The Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones, the Stooges, the MC5, Captain Beefheart, Sun Ra, the Silver Apples, Kraftwerk, Neu!, 13th Floor Elevators, Red Krayola, the Electric Prunes, the Beach Boys, the Cramps, the Gun Club, Tav Falco, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, the Staple Singers and John Lee Hooker) they soon became something completely original, something ecstatic and transcendent. Like putting conch shell up to your ear and hearing the infinite, or at least an uncanny approximation of it. MORE
Hampton Sides is an acclaimed bestselling author and a National Magazine Award nominated journalist. He won the PEN USA Award for nonfiction and the 2002 Discover Award from Barnes and Noble for Ghost Soldiers, a historical narrative following the rescue of WWII Bataan Death March survivors that was later adapted into the Miramax feature film The Great Raid. His next book, Blood and Thunder, was adapted into an episode of the Public Broadcasting Service’s American Experience series. Hellhound On His Trail, is a taut and thrilling account of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 65-day manhunt for his killer, the longest in American history.
PHAWKER: The book is called Hellhound On His Trail, which is a variation on the title of an old Robert Johnson song. Why did you choose that for the title?
HAMPTON SIDES: Memphis plays such a huge role in the book and in the life of Martin Luther King — it was were he came to recruit for his Poor People’s Campaign and it was where he was assassinated. And Memphis is Robert Johnson country, it’s blues country. The song is all about being pursued, either by fate or history or death, depending on how you read the song. It’s all about looking over your shoulder. The book is really about how the FBI is chasing King, and then Ray is chasing King, and then the book changes emotional valence when the FBI is chasing Ray. It’s meant to work on multiple levels.
PHAWKER: In broad strokes, can you explain James Earl Ray’s worldview, specifically as it applies to race.
HAMPTON SIDES: Well, he was a racist. He talked while he was in prison about how killing King would be his retirement plan. He called him Martin Luther Coon. He was contemplating moving to Rhodesia [after killing King], which was a racist/segregationist breakaway state that didn’t have an extradition treaty with the US. He was doing volunteer work for the George Wallace campaign in 1968. None of this necessarily explains why he would pick up a gun and stalk King and try to shoot him. There is some mental illness there, aggravated by long term use of amphetamines. And the idea that he had that he was going to be the ambitious one in his family, I think he did view this as a business proposition, because there were various bounties on King’s head, and I think he hoped that eventually he would collect one of them.
PHAWKER: But he was not a join-the-KKK kind of a racist…
HAMPTON SIDES: No, but he wasn’t a joiner period and he spent a good portion of his adult life behind bars anyway, so it would be hard for him to go to meetings of the local Klan. Also, once he was out he was a fugitive so he was reluctant to get too familiar with any group. And the volunteer work he did for the George Wallace campaign was done under an alias.
PHAWKER: For the benefit of our younger readers, could you explain the George Wallace phenomenon?
HAMPTON SIDES: George Wallace was the former governor of Alabama, who was quite articulate, in his redneck way, at articulating the frustrations of the white underclass. So when he ran for President in 1968 as an independent candidate he enjoyed an initial surge in popularity. It was the most successful independent campaign since Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party. Wallace was a stone cold racist, he was the guy who stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama to prevent integration. He was governor of the state where Martin Luther King enjoyed most of his Civil Rights victories — Birmingham Alabama, Selma, Alabama — so there was a sense that MLK and Wallace sort of played off each other and I think that this was a duality that was going on in Ray’s mind.
PHAWKER: How would you compare the mindset of the average George Wallace supporter with the virulent anti-Obama sentiment of the Tea Party?
HAMPTON SIDES: The culture of hate is still alive and well. Only now it’s armed with technology, specifically the Internet, which has become sort of an echo chamber of hate. These people are out there. There is a lot of chatter, loose talk about taking on politicians and police men. People packing heat at political meetings. Talk about taking the country back, violently if necessary. It’s scary. So I think there is a lot of similarity. I guess Mark Twain was right when he said that history does not necessarily repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes. And it’s rhyming right now in a lot of stark ways. Demagogues like George Wallace don’t always understand the effect that the poison they are putting out into the world effects certain people. Especially lost souls like James Earl Ray who will take the message literally and pick up a gun and change history. MORE
[Photo by WAYNE COYNE]
“Society is my friend: he makes me lie down in a cool bloodbath” — KURT VILE
BY TONY ABRAHAM Listening to Fishtown indie hero Kurt Vile’s new So Outta Reach EP is like walking through the Smithsonian Institute of American Music For People Who Wear Classic Pumas. Vile has alchemized the wizardly fretboard musings of John Fahey and the quasi-whispered lethargy of Townes Van Zandt and the whole thing is shot through with a lull-inducing slow train energy that is is positively mesmerizing. Having gradually abandoned the thin-skinned lo-fi textures that were the hallmarks of his early success, Vile delivers rich, full-bodied songcraft on So Outta Reach. On the opening track, “The Creature,” Vile channels a darkening Poe-esque ambience and splices it with the twangy fingerplay of Piedmont Bluesniks like Blind Willie McTell and Elizabeth Cotton. Vile summons a pulsing, dark skies energy on his angst-ridden cover of Springsteen’s “Downbound Train.” So Outta Reach is really an extension of Smoke Ring For My Halo, Vile’s fourth full-length released back in January, and that is not a bad thing at all. Sure, he may look like a walking caricature of a high school stoner with his inky locks stretching down to his butt, but appearances can be deceiving. Vile is quick to point out that he just doesn’t have the disposable hours for roasting bowls that he used to. Between recording, touring, and spending time with his wife and daughter, he’s a very busy man. Fresh off of a three-show run with the Flaming Lips, Phawker got the chance to talk to Kurt.
PHAWKER: What is the first album you ever bought with your own money?
KURT VILE: Um, let me think. It would probably be a cassette, you know? I think the first, I’m almost positive the first thing I bought was – I’m from a small suburb called Lansdowne that’s just outside of Philadelphia and they opened this store called C.R. CDs, so yeah they had cassettes. I’m almost positive I bought the Smashing Pumpkins Lull EP ON cassette.
PHAWKER: If you had to do it over, would you buy something else?
KURT VILE: To be honest, I think that’s a pretty great EP. I don’t wanna change my childhood. But you know, there’s a small chance it could have been U2 or something. Maybe I secretly changed it anyway.
PHAWKER: Hypothetical situation – your house is on fire and you only have time to save one album, which is it?
KURT VILE: That would be such a bummer. Let me think. If I could even just start by grabbing the album I bought today, at least I wouldn’t lose that. I just bought the John Fahey boxset reissue today, so if I could at least take the thing I bought today, that’d be fine.
PHAWKER: Have you ever gotten a cease and desist from Kurt Weil’s estate?
KURT VILE: No, conveniently the names are spelled differently. And you’re right, it is my real name but I wouldn’t be able to use it probably if it was spelled the same way. Even though it’s my own name. So thank God for that.
PHAWKER: If you could go back in time and collaborate with any musical figure in the last 100 years, who would it be and why?
KURT VILE: The last 100 years? Let’s just say for respectful reasons, though I doubt he’d want to play with me, Charlie Patton. Go right to the source. You know what I mean? MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Joe Boyd is a most intriguing fellow to rock snobs or anyone with a working knowledge of the cultural history of the latter half of the 20th century. An American ex-pat (south Jersey represent!) living in Britain most of his life, Boyd not only had a front row seat for some of the most important albums, bands and events of the psychedelic 60s — events that would, in many ways, define rock history moving forward — he was often their chief enabler. Boyd produced “Arnold Layne,” Pink Floyd’s first single, along with albums by Nick Drake, Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band to name but a few. He was manning the sound board when Dylan went electric the Newport Folk Festival and essentially ushered in the modern rock era. All of this was detailed in his endlessly fascinating 2006 memoir White Bicycles, which Boyd will be reading from tonight at World Cafe Live — with a focus on the year 1967, psychedelia’s annus mirabilis. Backing him up will be Robyn Hitchcock, whose career as itinerant idiosyncratic folk-pop troubadour stretching back 30something years to his glory days with the Soft Boys could be accurately characterized as the love child of Boyd’s work. In between Boyd reading passages from White Bicycles, Hitchcock will be playing relevant tracks from Floyd, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, Dylan, Hendrix and much more. With this in mind, we rang up Hitchcock to discuss all the above and then some and the conversation touched on everything from acid, Eno, and Hendrix to Syd Barrett, the Velvet Underground and Dylan’s Basement Tapes.
PHAWKER: Cool, we’re rolling. Alright, first question: Where were you in 1967?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Where was I physically?
PHAWKER: Physically or mentally or either way you want to take it.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: I was in the South of England. Mostly in a small city which was once the capital of England called Winchester. Winchester is famous for its long Medieval cathedral, which has been there for about 800 to 900 years. And in the days before ocean liners and aeroplanes, and anything big really, there it was in the valley. You could see the cathedral for miles. And behind the cathedral there is a hill and at the top of that hill was a Neolithic site which means it had been used by people maybe 3,000 or 4000 years back, towards the Stonehenge Era. And everybody thought that they would excavate up there to see if they could find flint heads and such. So I was really in a very ancient kind of place and I was in a school that had damp, stone cloisters and all the kind of things that Americans would like to think that Brits grew up in. It was a very Old World kind of academic school with lots of wood and stone and grit and flint and not a lot of heating. And I would hear these records coming through, some of which were produced by Joe. So that was my setting, yeah.
PHAWKER: Okay. Let me ask you this. How did you hear that music? You mention these records. Was this stuff on the radio or was it pirate radio?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: We hardly had radios then. It was a kind of academy for bright boys whose parents had some money, and we were kind of incarcerated in that. But, you know, people bought records, so we had lots of access to recorded music. I mean in those days, apart from what was on pirate radio, there wasn’t much really. I mean of course that was when Radio 1 started. But no, I mean it was just records, I suppose, that people thought to buy. Funnily enough, Brian Eno was around. He was at the local art school and he befriended some of the sort of older hipper boys at our school and he would turn up and produce bits of concrete poetry and conceptual writing and stuff for the school magazine. So Brian Eno was around in our world about five years before he reached everyone else via Roxy Music.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: So Eno had been a sort of factor in my life. Never a very close one, but he would turn up at performance art events like filling up balloons with helium and writing messages on them. Another time he gave an underground music concert quite literally in an underground chamber – a medieval courtyard – with a blue light bulb screwed into the fixture above. I mean, I don’t know how they managed to hook up lights in a Medieval basement but they did somehow. And Brian Eno, he had a Revox tape machine, which must have weighed a ton, and he was running it, playing something backwards – I think it was a Dylan song – and he had somebody playing a de-tuned electric violin. He must have been the first person to get hold of The Velvet Underground. But I remember one of the kids at school turned up with a Velvet Underground album at least a year before it was released in Britain. So that was the weird thing; we were in some ways very isolated but in other ways, you know, there was a whole current of hip that was flooding through Winchester. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA When Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy called up the governor of Wisconsin late last month pretending to be David Koch — AKA one half of the infamous Koch Brothers — he not only humiliated a sitting governor and revealed him to be nothing more than a stooge for the corporate oligarchy, he also put a chink of transparency in the armor of a rapacious billionaire who has heretofore proven untouchable. Sure, it was juvenile, irresponsible and barely legal but I would argue that it was also the greatest feat of gonzo journalism since Hunter S. Thompson published Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail. George McGovern’s campaign manager famously said that Thompson’s book was “the least accurate and yet most truthful account of the campaign.” Arguably, Ian Murphy’s prank phone call was the least accurate but most truthful piece of reportage (yes reportage, it was fly on-the-wall immersion journalism taken to it’s logical extreme) on The Battle Of Wisconsin because it pulled back the curtain to reveal, in a way that everyone could easily grasp, the depressing reality that corporate puppetmasters now control the strings of politicians. Let’s face it, most Americans didn’t read Jane Mayer’s exhaustive and indispensable Koch Brothers expose in the New Yorker, but in the wake of the blanket news coverage Murphy’s prank phone call garnered just about everyone understands the gist of her piece: elected officials serve at the pleasure of the corporate overlords that funded their ascendance to public office. And is not making the scales fall from the eyes of the general public — wherein they once were blind but now can see, to paraphrase an old hymn — the ultimate act of journalism? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. With this in mind, we got Murphy on the horn to discuss all the above as well as his plans to run for Congress as the Green Party candidate.
PHAWKER: What were you hoping to accomplish when you called up Gov. Walker posing as David Koch?
IAN MURPHY: To prove one simple point: That at a time when Walker couldn’t be bothered to talk to the voters of Wisconsin, or even the Democratic Senators in exile, he had plenty of time to talk about crushing unions with an archconservative billionaire donor.
PHAWKER: Looking back, what do you think you accomplished? What do you make of how the situation in Wisconsin played out?
IAN MURPHY:I’d normally be too bashful to say this, but after spending a week in Madison, I’d say I changed the narrative. Before the call, everyone—most bought into the false premise that Wisconsin was broke and poor Scott Walker was only doing what he could to make things right. After the call, people realized that Walker was carrying out, as he saw it, the first attack on working families and unions in a nationwide assault—one partially engineered by the Kochs. A lot of people never heard of the Kochs. They know them now. And they see this attack on the middle class sweeping the nation. MORE
BY LAURA WESTERMAN Hunter S. Thompson once said “there is no honest way to explain [the Edge] because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” For Playboy “Imbiber” columnist Dan Dunn, these words are both a cautionary warning and an irresistible dare. He’ll be in town on Thursday to promote his new book Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation, and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour, a heady cocktail of booze expertise and sexual misadventure. His tales of drunken hook-ups, barroom brawls in Ireland, all-day benders and Bible-driven mosh pits provide much-needed entertainment for the adult reader as Dunn [pictured below, right] comes to the realization that it’s a lot easier to “just say no” than wake up butt naked on the floor of a TV producer’s living room with a headache the size of Mount Everest. But, he argues, where’s the fun in that? MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Longtime New Yorker staff writer, author, essayist, children’s novelist and Philly homeboy Adam Gopnik will be at the Free Library tonight to promote his new book The Table Comes First: Family, France & The Meaning Of Food. Earlier this week, I got Gopnik on the horn and we discussed writing, food, crime and punishment, the necessity of factory farming, the slow dissolve of print into the digital ether, the uncertain future of the New Yorker, the secret world of children’s literature, the enduring power of Tolkien, seeing Hendrix and the Incredible String Band at the Electric Factory, doing avant garde theater on South Street in the late 60s and why the HoJos on City Line Avenue will forever hold a sacred place in his heart of hearts.
PHAWKER: You grew up in Philadelphia. How long did you live here?
ADAM GOPNIK: I was born in the Lankenau Hospital and I lived in Philadelphia until I was 12, went to the H.C. Lea school on 47th and Locust, I think it’s still there. I lived on 41st and Locust until my parents – my parents were graduate students at Penn, my dad taught at Rutgers, then they both got jobs at McGill, then we moved to Montreal.
PHAWKER: Any distinctive memories from that time?
ADAM GOPNIK: Oh my God, my whole childhood is there, I don’t know where to begin.
PHAWKER: Generally positive or generally negative?
ADAM GOPNIK: Oh, generally positive, are you kidding? Listen, I was blessed with happy and enchanted childhood. When I go back and I walk the streets of West Philadelphia were I grew up, as everyone does, the difference between the scale and enchantment between my memory and the reality of course is always there. But no, I loved it, I loved the streets of West Philadelphia, I loved the campus at Penn, I was a Phillies fan back in the old Shibe Park, as my dad calls it, Connie Mack Stadium as it was already. My grandfather ran a little grocery store up near Spring Garden and that was one of my key memories because I would go and work there, supposedly, every Saturday, you know, put on a white apron and work the cash register up there. He was a wonderful man who had started off as a wholesaler and his father had a wholesale business down in the wholesale market and a butcher at Penn Fruit, you probably don’t remember what Penn Fruit was but it was a chain of supermarkets. Then he had his own little store for about 30 years. So yeah, I remember when I got a little bit older we would sneak into the Electric Factory, you probably don’t recall but it was a great rock club that was down there, and I got to hear Jimi Hendrix and the Incredible String Band and God knows who else. Then I was also acting at that time, for a brief and very productive period Andre Gregory, the director, head of the theater down on South Street called Theatre of the Living Arts, which is no longer a stage theater, but for about five years he ran that and I was sort of the kid actor in the company. So I did a lot of avant garde theater and I also did some TV commercials in Philadelphia. We had Big Brothers of America, do you remember Big Brothers of America? MORE
[Artwork by xmyxlovexisxhisx]
BY ALEX POTTER Seamus McGraw recently published The End of Country, a heart-breaking expose of the unexpected/unintended consequences of hydraulic fracturing, or, “fracking,” on the lives of the people in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania who have lived off the land for generations. As the book points out, it is both a curse and a blessing that they live on top of the Marcellus Shale, the world’s second largest subterranean deposit of natural gas. Four years ago, McGraw knew nothing about natural gas or the controversial techniques for extracting it from the ground. Amidst financial turmoil, McGraw and his family agreed to lease their property to Chesapeake Energy for the right to drill for gas in their backyard. At the behest of his mother and his own conscience, he decided to resurrect his abandoned investigative journalism career and teach himself everything he could about tapping the ocean of gas under his feet. The book is a thorough, humane study of the efforts of a courageous few who have stood up to the industry with varying degrees of success, and includes the first steps in how to learn from their examples. In this interview, he discusses the new vs. the old Department of Environmental Protection, the recent contamination disaster in Dimock, Pa., and the compromises that must be made in order to do this thing the right way. We can’t stop this thing, he believes, but we can minimize its harms if we educate and assert ourselves.
PHAWKER: Your book doubles as both a technical explanation of fracking and a personal memoir. You write very honestly about your personal accomplishments…
SEAMUS McGRAW: …Or lack thereof…
PHAWKER: …And you mention several times throughout the book how this project was a special opportunity for you. You also came into a little money over the drilling. Do you consider writing this book and speaking up for the people of rural Pennsylvania an opportunity to redeem yourself?
SEAMUS McGRAW: I’m gonna give you a couple different answers to that question. The book threw me a lifeline, one that I didn’t necessarily want. I was ready to bag the whole [journalism] profession, I really wanted out. Then the contract came through for the book and it gave me the opportunity—or, sentenced me, for the time being—to remain a writer. It gave me another opportunity—and I’ll be perfectly blunt about this—to put a barrier between myself and the benefits, such as they were, accrued from the Marcellus. I could then turn around and claim, somewhat artificially, the moral high ground, and say this is my benefit from the Marcellus, not the revenue from the gas which, to this day, I’m still very ambivalent about. But it also gave me another opportunity, and this goes right to the heart of your question: it’s not so much to redeem myself, in terms of writing this book, as expressing as best I could not just the attitudes, but the character of the people who live in the endless mountains of rural America and not to redeem myself. I’ve already told you that I’ve given myself the hypocritical out on the money by being able to say, “My money from the Marcellus comes from my labor, not from something that’s just simply bubbling up out of the ground,” and it keeps me in the [writing] business. With regard to the people—and this is the most important issue in the book, quite honestly—rural people in general—the people in the endless mountains are a perfect example of this—are turned into cartoons, they’re used like pawns to make points by far more sophisticated people, so to speak, frankly by both political parties. You have one side referring to them, drawing cartoons of them and saying, “This is the backbone of America,” when they don’t give a good goddamn about these people. And you’ve got the other side turning around and saying “They’re the gods, guts and guns crowd,” and they don’t understand these people. What I tried to do in the book—because regardless of what my failings are, I’m still a writer and I’m still one of these people—is to try to point out that these people are far more savvy, far more knowledgeable, they have far more character than the people on either side of all of the debates that are going on in this country—the most important one being energy—who try to exploit them. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA The first rule about interviewing comedian Charlie Murphy is DO NOT ASK WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED WITH DAVE CHAPPELLE. The second rule is much the same, as is the third. Unfortunately, I didn’t figure that out until it was too late. Live and learn. Judging by his reaction to the Chappelle inquiry, I chose not bring up my other hot button question: What the hell ever happened to your brother? He used to be so fucking funny and then somewhere along the way he became this bitter hack seemingly intent on proving Mencken’s dictum that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Alas, that is a question for someone to else to ask. What we did talk about however was Rick James (bitch!), his first blow job, Caligula, getting paid, Norbit, growing up with Eddie, big pimpin’, and the death of his wife. Tomorrow night, Murphy kicks off a four night run at the Helium Comedy club.
PHAWKER: You’ve probably been asked this a million times but I have to ask you – what ever happened to David Chappelle?
CHARLIE MURPHY: You gotta ask Dave that question. I seen Dave and he seems pretty happy to me. He does stand up still, he’s out in the Bay Area a lot, and he seems to be pretty happy.
PHAWKER: But he doesn’t wanna do the show anymore or didn’t wanna do the show anymore?
CHARLIE MURPHY: I don’t know if they didn’t wanna do the show no more, if Dave didn’t wanna do the show no more, I don’t know what the story is at this point you know? That stuff I let go a long time ago, know what I’m saying? The show’s been out of production like eight years now you know? So, I don’t really think about the Dave Chappelle Show on a daily basis. That’s far removed from my reality right now, the reason why I get to do all the beautiful things I’ve been blessed to do, like going to Scandinavia, going to Canada, and people have love for me, you know? I don’t really know what happened, you know what I’m saying? There’s so many different rumors, you know?
PHAWKER: Can you tell me your Rick James story real briefly for our readers that might not be familiar with it?
CHARLIE MURPHY: Rick James story?
PHAWKER: The time he came over and put his shoes on your couch?
CHARLIE MURPHY: When I met Rick James I was 24 years old and just getting out of the Navy. I was at that point where I couldn’t figure out how to get a woman to give me a blow job. They just wouldn’t do. I had the wrong approach or whatever but I just couldn’t master the art of getting a woman to give me a blow job. Then I met Rick James. I’ll never forget the night I met rick James — I was shocked. ‘Rick James, wow!’ you know? I’m hanging out with him and my fellas and the night that I met him I got my first blow job from one of the chicks that was around him. He was tellin’ them, “go over there and have sex with Charlie.” I had never been around anybody like that before, know what I’m saying? Never. This person was like Caligula, know what I’m saying? We’ve all seen that movie Caligula andI don’t care who you are, you can say what you wanna say outwardly, but all men really wish they could walk into a Caligula-like environment at least one time in they life, you know what I’m saying? So here, me and Rick James are real tight. I didn’t realize he had access to that kind of lifestyle. We became real tight. He was a real playful dude, you know we always used to rough house, beat on each other, kick each other, punch each other, whatever we was both young then. If you hit me now, at the age I am now, you’d probably get stabbed. But you know back then we used to rough house around like that. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Ray Lewis, a retired Philadelphia Police captain with 24 years of service under his belt, created some of the most iconic imagery of the Occupy Wall Street protests by showing up at Zuccotti Park in his uniform with a sign that read: NYPD, WATCH ‘INSIDE JOB,’ JOIN US. Footage of his high profile arrest outside the New York Stock Exchange went viral, and he quickly became catnip for the media and was hailed as a hero by Occupy sympathizers. But not everyone was pleased with his actions. Two weeks ago he received letters from Philadelphia Police Commissioner Ramsey and the Fraternal Order Of Police telling him to cease and desist showing up at OWS protests in uniform. Although the letters did not say so explicitly, Lewis says the subtext of the letters was that he would be stripped of his pension and/or arrested for impersonating an officer if he did not comply. Lewis’ response? Bring it on. On Friday we got Lewis on the horn to discuss all the above.
But before we get to that, let me tell you about a couple of Philadelphia Police Officers who DIDN’T lose their pensions. Exhibit A is Officer Tyrone Higgins who sexually abused a 12 year old girl he was mentoring — beating her, forcing her to perform oral sex and anally raping her– for EIGHT YEARS. After a two year investigation, Higgins was allowed to resign from the force exactly one day before he was arrested for sexual assault, thereby ensuring that he would not lose his pension. Even if convicted. Which he was. THAT guy got to keep his pension.
Exhibit B is Officer Walter Helinsky, who sexually abused a 13 old girl more than 100 times and was sentenced to eight years in prison. THAT guy got to keep his pension, until the Daily News found out about and made a big stink and basically shamed the Philly PD into stripping his pension.
Exhibit C is Adrian Makuch, a former crime-scene-unit officer who pleaded guilty in 2010 to attempting to lure a child into a motor vehicle, unlawfully contacting a minor, and patronizing a prostitute and was sentenced to 11 1/2 to 23 months in prison. Pension: $2,203.56 a month since 1/4/2010. Because the crimes were not conducted on city time, his $2,203.56 per month pension was not forfeited.
Meanwhile Ray Lewis goes down to Zuccotti park wearing his dress blues and carrying a sign that says JOIN US, and gets threatened with arrest and losing by the chief of police and the FOP? Seems to me, if they were any kind of cops, Higgins and Hilensky would have been arrested for impersonating an officer a long time ago.
PHAWKER: How did you wind up joining the Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park? Have your political views changed in recent years or were you always sympathetic to progressive causes?
CAPTAIN RAY LEWIS: Always, I was a protestor against the Vietnam War. I always realized how crooked and corrupt government is. In joining the police force though, I realized it was a tremendous way to help people and every day it gave me immediate gratification and reward for my job and that’s what I wanted, I could not stand boring jobs. Subsequently I did police work in a very professional and respectful manner and I can see how it positively affected people by being truly concerned about their problems and taking the extra step to help them.
PHAWKER: Now I’m assuming your perspective wasn’t necessarily shared by your fellow police officers.
CAPTAIN RAY LEWIS: That is correct.
PHAWKER: Did you keep your politics to yourself or was this a source of debate?
CAPTAIN RAY LEWIS: Pretty much, yeah. I did interject every once in a while when I saw I could have a little bit of impact but I basically kept them to myself, yes.
PHAWKER: Tell me how you wound up going down to Zuccotti Park. You saw the protests on TV?
CAPTAIN RAY LEWIS: I don’t get any news from corporate media, and that includes television, radio or newspapers. My sole source of information is the Internet and I found the Occupy Wall Street protests extremely interesting. I followed Zuccotti Park from the mountains and in seeing what was happening – often times if I railed against corruption it was like I was a loose cannon, a fruit loop just out there by myself saying how corrupt everything is. Then when I saw all these people occupying Zuccotti Park and what they were sacrificing, the way they were living, their conviction came out so strong for social justice and they were just tired of it. They set out to change it and I wanted to help. MORE
[Photography by GRAHAM TOLBERT]
BY MEREDITH KLEIBER You’ll be hard pressed to find a harder-working musician in Philadelphia than Adam Granduciel. When he’s not on tour with his own band, Philly’s own The War On Drugs, he’s either touring with The Violators, the band of close friend (and Drugs founding member) Kurt Vile, or completely engrossed in finessing experimental recordings in his Fishtown home studio. The War On Drugs’ new album, Slave Ambient, is essentially the product of those intense home-studio recording sessions, enhanced by Granduciel’s astute songwriting and the commanding synergy of the band. I caught up with Adam by phone on his day off from the recent west-coast leg of The Violators’ tour and we chatted about the new album, touring, and the laziness of modern journalism.
PHAWKER: Let’s start with where it all began. How old were you when you realized that you had real musical talent?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: My friend’s dad played electric guitar, and I went over there one day when I was about 13 I’m guessing, and I played his electric guitar and thought it was the coolest fuckin’ thing I’d ever done in my whole life. Then my dad bought me an electric. I’ve loved music since I was 8 or 9, even though it was mostly pop. Then I started to write when I was about 17.
PHAWKER: So did you form any bands back then, or was it mostly by yourself?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: I had a few little bands in high school. We just played at my friend Jeff’s house. It wasn’t until I moved to Philly in 2003 that I was really interested in forming a band. I was doing some recording on my own and learning how to write songs, kinda getting into that. And then in 2005, [The War On Drugs] formed in a way.
PHAWKER: I know you moved to Philadelphia sort of on a whim in 2003. What were your initial feelings after moving here, and how have they changed over the years?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: When I first moved there, I was into it. I was in the frame of mind that I was living in this new place without really knowing that many people. And then as I look back on it, it’s been such a great thing. I met everyone I play music with now as a result of me going there. I had a place where I could record and build a little studio, had friends that built studios… It’s a great place. I can’t imagine myself moving anywhere or living anywhere else. I’ve been in the same house for seven or eight years now.
PHAWKER: Upon moving to Philly, you met and began to play with Kurt Vile. Where did you guys meet, and how did you get started talking about music?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: A couple months after moving here I met Kurt. He and my roommate at the time worked at the Yards brewery together. And he was like, hey, you should come see my friend Kurt. He’s playing tonight at The Fire. I was standing in the middle of the room and he was playing a Pavement cover, and I was like “this dude rules.” MORE