By John Hessburg, Editor
© Copyright 2018 - 2020, The Diction Aerie.
First question is this: have America's movie critics become so paralyzed by political correctness, so frozen by fear of censure for telling the truth about mediocrity, that they are slinking down propaganda pathways reminiscent of post-Weimar Germany?
Second question is: "If called by a panther, should you anther ?" And my disappointed anther is... "Nope."
Really wanted to like this flick. Got lured in, at first, by weeks of big budget Marvel-lust trailers and a disingenuous hailstorm of plump plaudits on the film critics' forum, Rotten Tomatoes. In the first half-hour, was nearly won over by the humility, refined intellect and affability of the title character, whose occupant Chadwick Boseman in 2013 also played a tour de force Jackie Robinson, contrapuntal to Harrison Ford's Brooklyn Dodger codger, the ball club's owner. Remember that cinematic gem? Now Mr. Boseman plays a smooth, utterly likeable character again. So I came to the theater with high expectations.
But left feeling deflated, dejected, more dismayed than disgusted. Because I really dig comic-book movies. But here, the self-important preachiness of the script swept over Mr. Boseman's character like a sad-yet-silly tsunami. So I disliked the movie as an artistic hole (sic)... into which promotional millions were poured -- with cunning, almost cynically fine-tuned calculation. One wonders... Was all this promo hoopla born of the widely reported Neo-Prog guilt that still lingers over those pre-2017 Oscar snubs of African-Americans? Or was it just plain ol' greed, 21st Century Blaxploitation with a glossy moral veneer? Or maybe a little of both?
The "Black Panther" movie was a noble idea, ruined by Hollywood's eternally repeated misstep -- Art By Committee. Which works about as well as Honeymoon Sex By Committee.
Fact: for far too many years, zero to few movies were made by and for African-Americans, featuring strong black men and women in title roles. Fact: the 2015 and 2016 Oscars were infamous for ignoring black actors and directors. Fact: activists howled to high heaven, demanding reforms. Bewilderment: OK, so why is this flick so achingly self-aware, so stiff and pompous... so not cool? Was "Black Panther" the mighty Disney studio's racial mea culpa gone awry, a grandiose vision of new fairness/awareness that was spoiled by unchecked guilt-tripping?
Here's the gist... Way too many studio execs seem to have flexed their wills, each injecting the movie with their own potions of piety, eyes on the next Oscars, as methodically as if the movie were some holiday turkey on an assembly line. A needle poke here, another poke there, over and over... and a once healthful free-ranger gets pumped up plumper than Pam Anderson. All this poking and pumping derives from one goofball premise -- that the too-perfect Kingdom of Wakanda with its too-photogenic rulers, warriors and its too-lustrous fashion sense, like some 21st Century Duchy of Grand Fenwick (remember "The Mouse that Roared" ?) will save the planet through unstoppable volumes of saintliness and divinely-conferred technology.
OK, let's really talk turkey now. What sentient social critic could possibly argue that Hollywood for decades has not denied African-American script writers, directors, designers and actors their fair shot at creative freedom? And who on earth would assert that industry-wide reform is not essential, from scripts to grips to the director's chair, if true post-racial equity is ever to become norm in American film arts? And who would ever reasonably argue that African-American youth have no need of stronger, wiser black men and women for cinematic role models?
So why did the Hollywood studio machine blow yet another chance to start bringing intelligent social balance to its most expensive movies? Here's the bummer, folks: once again over-compensating for the amber waves of Anglo Guilt they feel yet never find a remedy for, wallowing in a reactionary sump of "Let's-Crush-White-Privilege-Forever-in-One-Swell-Foop-and-thereby-salve-our-collective-conscience," Hollywood proves with "Black Panther" that it's chronic weakest link has been, and maybe always will be, clinging to its sacred bedrock, its 11th Commandment. You know, the one declaring that Anything Worth Doing Is Worth Over-Doing.
Meanwhile, in a curious surprise one almost never sees on the nation's top Internet hub for movie reviews, Rotten Tomatoes, the audience score was dramatically lower than the critics' score. Only 79% of all the viewers liked "Black Panther," while 100% -- yes every blessed one of the Top 50 reviewers -- said they liked it. Almost seems the big boys thought hard, then chose the easy way out: to steer way clear of any angry hornets among the righteous left...
Fearing backlash that might brand them as right-wing, racist or terminally unhip.
Such sycophants, often the frontline admirers of any Emperor's New Clothes, even a king in spandex, are nothing new. As far back as the early 1700s, genius poet Alexander Pope skewered literary critics who were too lily-livered to tell it like it is, when some nobleman's production was a dud. Pointing to then renowned lit-critic Joseph Addison, Pope complained that Addison would "damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer / And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer." Pope sniffed that Addison was "Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike / Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike."
Now today in 2018, look at how movie critics seem to be struggling with Addison's Disease. Here is a handful of them ...
"Coogler is trying for a lot of things in Black Panther, probably too many, but there is also a winning modesty to his ambition." -- Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor.
"Whether or not this is the best film Marvel Studios has made to date-and it is clearly in the discussion-it is by far the most thought-provoking."
-- Christopher Orr, The Atlantic.
"Ultimately, it's more interesting to think about than it is to watch."
-- Matthew Lickona, San Diego Reader.
"Black Panther" matters." -- Stephen Whitty, New York Daily News.
"When "Black Panther" works, it's thrillingly alive." -- Alonso Duralde, The Wrap.
"Say this about Black Panther, which raises movie escapism very near the level of art: You've never seen anything like it in your life." -- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.
Now many of these guys might have had misgivings but none of the Top 50 " Rotten Tomatoes" critics -- not even one -- voted against "Black Panther." They all towed the cable company line. One critic whose work I respect enormously, who's among the nation's most prominent, who typically nails his reviews with enviable insight, gushed so effusively about this so-so movie that he seemed possessed by some grovel-demon. It's so embarrassing to see this screed that, out of basic human charity, I cannot print the gentleman's name. Read it and weep, folks. This is the intro to his review -- verbatim. Be warned; your gag reflex may be tested to its limit:
“Black Panther” is the 18th movie in the Marvel Universe canon and one of the best — likely to entertain and thrill the hardcore geeks who waited breathlessly for months (years, decades) for this story to take center stage as well as the more casual but still enthusiastic and massive global fan base for superhero movies.
Even if you’re not normally into this genre, consider this. If you appreciate finely honed storytelling with a Shakespearean core; winning performances from an enormously talented ensemble; provocative premises touching on isolationism, revolution and cultures of oppression, and oh yeah, tons of whiz-bang action sequences and good humor — then you should see “Black Panther.”
It’s one of the best times I’ve had at the movies this decade."
Look, I love action movies, especially righteous warriors from the comic-books, guys on a moral mission like Chris Evans in Captain America, or Liam Neeson's juggernaut in the first "Taken" flick, or Denzel's towers of power in "The Equalizer" and "The Book of Eli." Uma Thurman was a hoot, and a hit, in the "Kill Bill" movies. Scripts, direction and acting that good can really rock a fun night out.
But it just feels nuts, like a lapse into embarrassing self-parody, for movie producers to indulge so vividly in hand-wringing PC that their first mega-successful all-black super-hero movie is... ta da!... The Kooky Kingdom of Wakanda, where equivalents of Seal Team Six are battalions of 6-foot gold-clad wannabe Amazon women with UFC-like grimaces, perfect Barbi Doll figures all gripping deadly spears -- poised to eviscerate in a nano-second any bad dude who dares to cross the line. Is this really the female role model that African-American Dads and Moms hunger to serve to their daughters? Do these same Dads and Moms really want their kids to sweat and fret through AP classes, concert bands and varsity teams for four years of gripping high school intensity, then nail an Ivy League admission, then graduate magna and finally carve out a Stanford PhD, then launch into public service careers ... oh yeah... all to eventually be like Wakanda's too-cute king, a GQ-cover-worthy head of state willing to settle old scores with ritual combat -- to the death -- on the edge of a giant cliff? In front of his whole nation, little kids included? Really?
Geez Louise, and hold the Thelma... Both dialogue and plotline of Black Panther often lapse into pretentious drivel, so preposterous even by comic book standards that it leaves one wincing, praying for a better day. Now, let's make it plain: How about this for a do-able sustainable film project to advance the cause and dish up some healthy role models -- depicting the drama of Obama's rough 'n ready neighborhood organizer years in Chicago, then his remarkable capture of the White House? Hey, the PRESIDENCY of the USA! I didn't even vote for the guy the first time, but I'd go see that movie in a heartbeat. Films like that would show a real-world role model that any parent would be proud to share with their children.
With my own parents and one beloved teacher, as a high school kid back in the 1960s and early '70s, I marched and rallied in Minneapolis with civil rights leaders. Back then the keynote speakers were flanked by real Black Panthers with opaque shades, shotguns pointed skyward and black berets. I'm serious as a heart attack; look it up in news archives. So I still find it's an amazing milestone to remember how, even though Jim Crow's evil spirit ruled the South until the 1970s, a skinny kid from Oahu named Barack, of African and Hawaiian roots, earned a Harvard law degree and got elected to be Leader of the Free World less than five decades after the KKK was lynching black men and burning crosses with demonic impunity. That's still one big honkin' deal for most of us Baby Boomers, or for any generation of character and spirit.
Before Obama, there were Underground Railroad workers, Freedom Riders and MLK, plus a myriad other bona fide historical heroes worthy of a great film to advance the cause. So why does Hollywood still cast its biggest-buck pearls before the porcine bottom line instead of the social justice compass it so devoutly claims to cherish?
But wait, there's even more cause for a pause in all this "Black Panther" hubbub...
Consider the film's resounding "Duh Moments" -- staggering logical stretches too loony even for a comic book kingdom. So, get this: the most ultra-advanced technology ever devised by human beings is hidden by electronic camouflage in some super-secret culture deep under the jungle canopy, that for decades doesn't even show up on NASA satellite flyovers or Google Maps? Yeah right.
When running for president back in 1968, Bobby Kennedy once told reporters he was so popular among African Americans that he could pitch a tent on the sidewalk, right in the heart of Harlem and sleep like a baby, safe and serene, all night long. Yet not even at the heights of hubris would RFK ever boast like that about any inner city today -- especially the mean streets of Oakland in 2018. Still, one final scene in "Black Panther" has Wakanda's head of state, the king mind you, the freakin' KING! -- clad in casual shirt and slacks, strolling a chain-link-fenced-in playground smack dab in the middle of the hardtack 'hood, accompanied by zero security people, not a single bodyguard -- and only one woman friend. Then hardly a single passerby even notices he's there? C'mon...
Gimme a break-dance. Hey Ryan K. Coogler, nimble director, you're barely 31 and you've got more talent in your left hand than many directors gather in a lifetime. So how about at least one culturally uncontrived moment to close your ambitious, ultra-expensive film with... OK?
Mr. Coogler, we've read you were actually living out of your car only a couple short years ago. With your gifted story-telling knack and cinematic vision, first proved by the celebrated film Fruitvale Station in 2013, it'd be a shame to see you revert to trunk camping again, so soon after releasing the third-highest-grossing film of all time -- one that eclipsed even Titanic. Next time, Mr. Coogler, consider wresting your dream projects free of the paunchy king-maker moguls in Hollywood-land, before you start rolling film. Maybe those brain-washing number crunchers are harder to bust nowadays, since they reportedly don't chomp cigars and cast from the couch anymore. Let's take a cue from recent Time Magazine covers -- their time has passed. Dinosaurs belong at the bottom of the La Brea Tarpits, not the summits of cinema. Indie rocks and Indie rules. Or so it should from now on.
And so it goes... Black Panther is a Bleak Panther -- artful but shameless PC-riddled politi-porn. With hypnotic colors and lush cinematography. But not enough to save it from its own overblown gravitas. En fin, I wasted my time and ten bucks. On yet another studio-engineered CGI-top-heavy trifle.
But the most sobering statistic of all is this: it's a trifle that's already raked in more than $1.3 billion to date, as of mid-April 2018. A BILLION bucks! Man, what does that say about the movie-hungry masses, we the people -- just like P.T. Barnum said -- suckered into those reclining seats once again, and lobotomized by cunning commercial calculus in the Kingdom of Wah-Con-Job ?
© Copyright 2018 - 2020, John Hessburg & The Diction Aerie.
( Our thanks to Parker West & Pixabay for the slick graphic of a jungle cat. Just looka those eyes. )
(March 3, 2016. Re' Woven Tale Press Volume IV #2)
Sandra Tyler is editor-in-chief of a bright & energetic e-magazine that we consider among the best fine arts reviews in North America. It's called the Woven Tale Press. We warmly encourage you all to check her fascinating fare each month. Invariably it delights & stimulates new ideas in folks who live for color, candor & electric thoughts. Sandra posted this heads-up note on Google+ this morning: "We are always eclectic, but some real surprises this month, especially in beading and enamel works. Latest Press is out!" As always when I'm in town, I dropped everything & clicked into one of my favorite intra-cranial getaways...
Away on biz trips, we've been literally immersed in half-chilly Mid-Pac waters for much of the winter, so I missed a couple issues. This new issue once again is stellar, Ms. Tyler. "Eclectic" is way too tame a term. It's my opinion that this ish specifically is worthy of wide smiles, a good sea of them.
It's visually expeditionary, unsettling & soothing at nearly the same moment, page after page. Many of the fine art pieces are piquant, piquing the occipital lobe by finding fun new ways to convey torsion with tenderness. Some of the poems tempt, taunt, even tapdance deftly over the front porch of your frontal lobe; so that all you can say is, "Hey, I'm pushed to envy. It's gentle but it's there."
The metalworks of Annariitta Saarelainen provoke astonishment in the depth of field, & depth of feeling they can invoke in such small uncluttered pieces -- especially a bronze casting called "Birds," & then "Two of Us," a work of iron & clay with an ovoid Ovid core of mind/eye candy that you'll have to see for yourself. I'll bet you one curly copper Easter bonnet you'll be more than surprised. Also check the newly released video clip about how Ms. Saarelainen fashioned these pieces; it's mesmerizing.
Sophia Blackwell's poems are invariably flawless, honed by 800 garnet grit to a fine faretheewell.... "A drunk bends his inked neck to the rain's blades" -- proves it's possible to make incisions delicious, even in this best of times & worst of times. By the time we reach her set piece, "Revival," our faces are, quite willingly, "raised to the wild light." And I, for one, imagined a jostling sweaty crowd, eyes wide with chanting & the fever of fraternity, impelled to carve through billowing clouds of dry ice incense in deep sweeping scoops, all hands waving on high like pentecostal anemones. What I wondered was: are all these raptured people praising fumes in limbo at the altar of chance, or planning something down-to-earth -- even stark?
Ms. Blackwell's gift for dancing diction is ripe, restless & engaging.
Judy Stone's enamels are sere & beautiful, their rich colors flirting with the mind's eye like mesmer-vespers. "Burnt Offering" is so delightful; I turned back to that page several times -- just to re-remember the image precisely. That quirky ceramic gem was like a clever truffle that many people have stored away in a place -- way in the back of their brains -- where we all protect the myths that keep us safe, serene, resistant to chaos. Ms. Stone's piece made me think of a miracle, those rich colors surviving on a priceless Hamada Shōji vase near Nagasaki's core the morning after, still pulsing with expectant life & the connotations of a smirk.
And so, sunseekers; do take a sec' to check Sandra Tyler's Woven Tale Press. In fact, consider spending half an afternoon. Well worth your time with, say, a nice room-temp Malbec, a plate of fresh figs & some oven-warm artisan bread at your elbow. It's a rippin' good romp through some confidently beautiful minds.
-- John Hessburg
Editor, The Diction Aerie
Essay is © Copyright 2016-2020, John Hessburg & The DICTION AERIE.™ All rights reserved.
Photo is © Copyright 2016-2020, Donna Engelbardt & The DICTION AERIE.™ All rights reserved.
By JOHN HESSBURG, Editor
A few weeks back, I was chatting with a lady buddy from Idaho on social media -- we were memory riffing, brain-jamming back and forth re' how fun it was to slide (slooowly, ruefully) towards adulthood during "The Weighty '80s" and the "Nihil...'90s." Hey, those wanton days of wonder, wit and wandering... when incandescent indie rock fed the fires of youth, and lured us like cliff Sirens away from maturity. Then jobs and spouses, stress, rent and yep, that pesky li'l thang called The Urban Grid yanked us inexorably towards the center line again and ... (sigh) back into the Moth-Eaten Myths of the Muddled Middle Class.
Between the summers of 1982 and 1999 I worked as a roving feature writer, investigative journalist, magazine freelancer, then start-up biz founder in likely the hottest rocking city in NorthAm at the time -- Seattle, Washington USA. Our Emerald City was the home of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Layne Staley and Alice in Chains, Chris Cornell and Soundgarden, to name a few of the now legendary groups that roared through that toddlin' town for much of the early-to-mid-1990s. Those bands were boss. Just hammer-down relentless. They wailed and thrashed, howled and hectored the forces of lame serenity long into countless rainy nights, back deep in the bowels of some of the coolest clubs ever touched by rock 'n roll regents anywhere in America.
Remember, too, the Worldwide Web was just beginning to take off in '94 and '95, with a hefty push from Seattle tech giants. There was a heady economic backdrop to the livewire rock scene -- as Microsoft, Aldus, Nintendo-America, Amazon and Starbucks all were rumbling to life like a chorus of incipient earthquakes. Those were days of stunning innovation, a surfeit of disposable income and fresh living ...
There were jackass joints jolting kids off their feet all over town. And most hip humans in Seattle -- who were young, employed and fit enough to hazard epic mosh pits -- loved them with a crazy milling love. The clubs were always filled on weekends, packed to a terrifying density, with grinny bodies spilling like bowling pins out the front door as legions strove to get in. There were hypnotically grimy dives like Crocodile Cafe' ("The Croc") and the Re-Bar in Belltown. There was Vain and that seedy nexus called the Off-Ramp where Pearl Jam ripped out its first few concerts with the name of NBA star "Mookie Blaylock" -- I'm serious as a lance in mid-arc. And who could forget the slaughterhouse-sardine clubs, those sonic steamrooms for aspiring gypsy psychopaths on Pioneer Square, back when 5 or 6 bucks got you a purple wrist stamp and a full Friday cover charge into maybe half a dozen of the best rock clubs on the West Coast, for bar-hopping that now, in retrospect, seems too astonishingly good to have been possible in anything but an MTV pipedream.
"Oh ah'm so jelly," my Idaho friend intoned, to which I said, "Yeppers, I am too. Way jelly of the folks who still get to live in Seattle, while the rest of us dough-boys are schlepping loads day-by-day through life here in Flyover Land." Aka, Minion-apolis and St. Paul, Minne-snow-tah, nerve center of all that is safe, pedestrian and within view of at least one park with swingsets. Or place where you can buy a pronto pup.
Seattle weekends for the young and foolish (most aspired to same) were a Moshin' Magnificat down on Pioneer Square, back when Alice in Chains still had lead singer Layne Staley and slappin'-da-bass-mon Mike Starr. Green River (which morphed into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, the latter group then coalescing into Pearl Jam) would rend the humid skies on Saturday nights, in dim grimy warehouses that seemed too dangerous for life -- like sets for dystopian MTV videos -- and actually did become them, later on.
I remember when Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard, plus a 3rd Pearl guy whose name I've always spaced on, used to munchie prowl at the Queen Anne Thriftway, just behind the view apartment I kept up there on Queen Anne Hill. Once I saw them line dancing, palms on shoulders, right-feet left-feet pointed just so in synch, down past the Captain Crunch aisle. My hand to God, it's true. They were a giddy lock-stepping trio like that iconic cover pic of Cream on their Good-bye album, and they moved like some spastic priestly newsreel, actually in perfect unison down that grocery aisle at nearly 3 am. The boys were having so much fun in their Fog o' Whatever... maybe it was only brotherhood and mirth. Well, this trio of Counter-Culture Titans spotted me -- a certified non-entity -- staring at them with a gaping vapid grin like some steam-rolled toad. And we all started laughing, fit to break our ribs.
I remember I actually had enough scant shards of cool left to laugh at them laughing at me. Well, it was 17 seconds of bona fide soul uplinkage, so like Bill Murray said of the Dalai Lama's blessing in Caddyshack -- "At least I got that goin' for me, eh?" Then I gave Sir Eddie and his bandmates the quick nod, one thumb up and got the heck out of their dance. Because that's what you did in Seattle. Sycophants were not cool. Worse than that... they were lame. And that was a grimier slimier word than any F-bomb those days in Seattle. Nobody sane nor remotely able, at anything, ever wanted to be labeled "lame." It was the law. The law of the young and the free.
Funny thing is a few years later, after I'd quit writing for the Seattle P-I, a morning daily that we grim insiders used to dub "The Partially Intelligencer," usually on paydays -- well one day I got a call in my home office in a brightly lit basement of West Seattle, where I'd founded U.S. Dive Travel Network. It was Stone Gossard, rhythm guitarist for Pearl Jam. The band was due to leave for a big Australian tour and he'd found our website on Infoseek and AltaVista -- remember those torpid ancient search engines? So Mr. Gossard desired, while Down Under, to flee his bandmates for one week just to do some scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. He plumbed my insights over two phone calls, maybe 20 minutes each then prepped to buy a dive yacht package. I was, have to confess, feeling pretty stoked about serving rock royalty, but I was keen on heeding The Law.... Must. Not. Bow. Nor. Scrape.
Then when I mentioned there were liability releases to sign, Mr. Gossard lit into me like I was the essence of shameless LAME-ness. LAME-itude. LAME-inosity. His lingo was colorful, self-assured, half-scolding -- the way I usually am with people who shop as painstakingly, annoyingly detail-driven as I do. Maybe he was right. Stone Gossard was a cool guy, relaxed and friendly, rich as Midas and he knew we were just a little start-up then. Man, he wouldn't have sued us even if a blue-ringed octopus bit him on the neck at 20 meters down on the Aussie GBR.
But ahoy, I had me partners and me rules, me hearties and yo ho ho and a bottle of rum nothing I said would convince ol' Stone to sign our waiver forms required on all live-aboard diving yachts. Impasse baby. Rock wall impasse. I would not budge, nor would he. Now since I had partners counting on my admin, too; and since literally heads of G7 governments had traveled with us and signed the bloody waivers; as well as heirs to a fashion house in Rome had signed them; then one family guy whose brother owned the Seahawks signed 'em too; and so did another guy who ran one of America's info-tainment networks -- so by grunge nobody got on one of our yacht trips without a waiver -- not even my own Mom.... see?
And so the good Mr Gossard bailed. Polite but withering, he told me to hang it on my beak. Still wonder if maybe I had it coming. My cheeks burned for a week after that smack-down phone call. But not as deeply as they did in SeaTac Airport a few months later when Kurt Cobain's widow, the then voluptuous blonde beauty Courtney Love, was crouched over her baby Frances Bean, who dozed in a car seat next to the baggage carousel. She was cinching the kid in tightly and I happened to glance over and spot her from maybe 15 feet away. I smiled warmly, ready to chat a sec' and wish her well, since I love little kids; and the Beanie Babe was adorable. But Mizz Love stood abruptly, one hand on a hip and she stared at me; I mean drilled straight through my forehead with eyes so squinty dark, so deep with malice that they seemed to growl, "Don't even dream of coming over here to speak to me, peasant, or I will disembowel you with the splinters of your own cheap sunglasses." It's grim to speculate, but I still wonder if poor ol' Kurt, bent from years of chemical mayhem, considered teething on a loaded 12-guage barrel as the lesser of two evils? Because there was a visceral malignancy in the eyes of that Black Widow Mama -- something distilled, immediate, malevolent. And it played my ribs like ball-peen hammers in a death arpeggio on marimba keys.
Straight up, sunseeekers, Mizz Love's visage would have scarified the eyebrows off Count Dracula -- or even Nancy Grace. So who was I to this Queen of Vitriol, but a bearded lump with wire-rims? -- my wife used to call them "birth control glasses." And there I froze for a couple seconds like a cipher, a void, less than a grease spot on the floor of some forgotten mosh pit. Humiliated, drained of joy, I turned away and found my luggage, exiting the SeaTac Airport with not enough unscorched tail left to even tuck between my legs.
But all brushes with the greats and near-greats were not as dire as nearly being Love'd to death at SeaTac. One sunny summer afternoon in the mid-1980s, there was an hour's chat in a murky downtown stairwell that reeked of rotgut wine and urine -- not far from Elliott Bay Bookstore and some rippin' nightspots. That interview with punk commando Henry Rollins still ranks among the most fascinating dialectics I've ever enjoyed. Rollins was a permanently scowling, raucously tattooed and muscular singer for the thrash-punk band, Black Flag, who wore tank tops and a buzz cut as his business suit. His SoCal followers revered him like THE high priest of anarchy. He did pack some mean lungs, too. But Rollins also was also a voracious reader of political tomes and manifestos, and among the most nimble wordsmiths I've ever had the pleasure of jousting with. Even he, Mr. Chaos Raker, would have caught my ending a sentence with a preposition, and he would have skewered me without mercy. Something up with which he would not put...
So why was Seattle's morning daily, flagship of the right-wing Hearst Corporation, even remotely interested in covering this punk apotheosis with a snarl and bull neck thick as a Minotaur? Because his lethally loud band was gaining traction with Seattle's tragically hip rock hordes, who were among the most tuned-in on the West Coast. And after a couple years on the roving night beat, I'd earned a rep for being flung with crazed immediacy by the City Desk, zero notice to prepare, into the wildest situations imaginable -- whether a daylong gunfight twixt Army Rangers and the Crips in Tacoma; or sweet-talking my way into the home of a prostitute couple whose toddler found a pistol under Mama's pillow and shot his baby brother, nearly killing him; or... yep, button-holing the rock throb du jour to hit our Emerald City -- then always emerging with a story. There was a lot of luck, you bet, but some brick-pounding hard work too. Seems invariably I'd find my way backstage, or catch a front man on break in an alley, then I'd grab a fistful of local color just in time for first edition -- by literally phoning in dictation to a sweating red-faced news clerk 20 minutes before the ink hit newsprint. My City Editor afflicted me with the nickname "Rockin' John," a tag that was flung with snark aplenty by fellow P-I reporters -- folks so cynical that most would not even spare Mother Theresa from a blue joke.
So Henry Rollins and I found a bistro near the old Cast Iron Pergola, grabbed some sandwiches and sodas, then toted our brown bags back to the stairwell of the upstairs punk club where Black Flag was booked to play in a couple hours. I had started the confab petrified, because Rollins was infamous for grabbing TV reporters' mikes and commandeering their interviews with caustic comedy like, "was your editor certain he'd secured a sentient human when he hired you?" But somehow my first couple questions piqued his better side and we hit it off. We gabbed like frat boys at a Starbucks -- about government's moral failures and the governed's moral lassitude, about new vectors in a now weary punk movement, and about whether he could imagine himself still barking Black Flag lyrics some day at the age of 40? I got a killer story from the guy, and can you picture my astonishment, just 3 weeks ago, turning on the History Channel to see Henry Rollins 30 years later, neck tats blazing away outside his dress shirt, narrating "Things You Didn't Know About..." such as articulate socio-political analysis of a long-gone gangster's speakeasy during the Roaring 20s? Isn't life hilarious, a romping stitch?
Then a couple decades ago in Seattle, a beloved friend named Howard Roberts (one of America's top session guitarists and a jazz master on the axe) passed away from cancer. Helped by his son Jay, also a searing jazz guitar player, I organized a fundraising concert for Howard's wife and little boy at Jazz Alley in Seattle, then one of the premier jazz clubs on the West Coast. The Roberts Clan were, and are, so dear to me, to many folks. I'd met Howard through my closest gal pal in Seattle, jazz singer Diane Schuur (who'd been Best Woman in our wedding), because Howard played guitar on her first GRP albums. Quirky and quick-fingered, ol' "H.R." was renowned in Hollywood and New York alike for playing lead guitar on a dozen seminal jazz albums such as "Antelope Freeway" and "H.R. is a Dirty Guitar Player" -- plus more than 50,000 pop singles -- including tunes that shaped American movie, TV and radio culture from the 1960s through the 1980s. Howard toured with the Stones, recorded with the Beach Boys and slung guitar on nearly every movie soundtrack Elvis ever recorded. He also cut the classic "DeeDee DahDah" soundtrack of Rod Serling's original Twilight Zone, and the lickety-split Beverly Hillbillies' licks, plus the haunting lead on "Shadow of Your Smile."
And Howard Roberts was a tutor, a guitar mentor to creative livewires, from Uncle Meat himself, Frank Zappa, to Seattle cartoonist Gary Larson (yes the guy who drew those deadpan talking cows), to Tacoma's favorite son, Steve Miller of "Fly Like an Eagle" and "Space Cowboy" fame. We tried hard, but Frank Zappa was too ill with cancer to attend, so we phoned Steve Miller and the Gangster of Love promised to show up at our memorial concert. And he did, playing 2 long sets to a wildly cheering SRO crowd. The concert rolled and rollicked until well past 2 am, with some of the best blues jams Seattle had ever seen. I was asked to emcee the gig, and at intermission I repaired to the Green Room to chat with the artists.
Asked Steve Miller about a thing that had bugged me since college: "On your song "Space Cowboy" -- man I love that piece -- y'know I've always wondered what really does this mean... "cuz I speak with the pompitous of love" ? Mr. Miller flashed a sideways grin and said, "Hey man, it means whatever you need it to mean. You're a poet, right? Well you know how these word games work..." I will never forget that dervish tilt to his face, not for the rest of my life. Never had I felt more encouraged to write, by anyone. Then I read the guys, and Howard's wife Patty, a lyric poem I'd written for him, imagining H.R. standing there in his ever-present shades and windbreaker, arguing with God, yeah deftly wheedling God almighty, just after passing away. They said I should read "Inaccessible Blue" from the stage as part of the memorial; even Howard's son encouraged me, but I declined. It wasn't ready yet. Not nearly enough pompitous, man.
We all were too deep in grief. I was sorely missing our 3 a.m. chats at oddball all-night cafes in Seattle, all that fine unfettered phantom genius of Howard Mancel Roberts. So much I didn't feel collected enough, not yet, to knit the diction into what Howard's life deserved. That poem became a lyric later in the 1990s and now it's a saddish drifty fusion tune, like an an odd rubato chant, lurking down in one of these Diction Aerie blogs...
BTW: Iconic comic artist Gary Larson, of "The Far Side" fame, also came to Howard's music wake. You remember the guy who drew all those cynical talking cows, who plotted mischief behind their farmers' backs, and the cartoon of God designing a great white shark, wondering "Should I put a happy face on the uvula?" Gary studied jazz guitar with Howard on the side. At the funeral jam, he lurked in back most of the evening, shoulders glued to the cold concrete wall, comfy and cocooned in deep shadows, never saying a word to anyone until I walked over to thank him for attending. He was clad in dark sunglasses like his teacher, with a brownish hoodie pulled over his forehead like some steel-cool icon of an early gangstah rapper. Sure would have loved to share more of a chat with Mr. Larson, but that would have been like pulling teeth; he was so magi-cosmically shy. Fascinating human being.
Two more things I'll never forget about the late great Howard Roberts were: first his nickname of "The Phant" -- short for "Phantom." That's because he had this uncanny ability to actually melt, to vanish suddenly at a party or meeting, when you'd barely turned your head for two seconds to grab your beer from a table. It was breathtaking how he pulled it off, time after time, for years. All his friends loved that about him and at the memorial concert we swapped "Phantom" legends, about who got nailed with the most devastating or artistic "Phant" maneuver. Howard Roberts was cooler than life itself, but humbler than a shepherd with his tribe.
Also, Howard owned a lot of amazing vintage guitars, scads of them. But one was beyond special and he let me play it a couple times in private jams. It was an original hollow-body 6-string model, brilliant black laquer finish, which Les Paul (co-inventor of the electric guitar) designed solely for him, then signed in metallic paint. I still have a framed monochrome photo of HR playing that sublime instrument, the guitar world's equivalent of a Stradivarius violin. He signed the pic in gold ink, writing... "Here's to the Big Now." So we put that shot on his concert poster and billed the memorial -- "Live...in the Big Now." Live, as in rhyming deliberately with both words -- "thrive" and "give."
And so... when Howard handed his Les Paul "Strad" to me one afternoon in the Post-Intelligencer photo lab, where they'd been shooting stills for my first feature piece about him, my hands literally trembled. It felt like daft impertinence or sacrilege. Like a street punk wielding Thor's own hammer, then being required to die right afterwards.
When Howard passed, Les Paul FedEx'd me a tape in his honor with a personal spoken tribute, which I played on stage. You could have heard a mouse tail twitch throughout the entire club. Respectful silence crowned the voice of Les Paul. Folks listened with devotion...
Producer Dave Grusin also mailed me an elegy tape for HR's memorial. And Messrs Grusin, Paul, Miller, Zappa, Larson, all his buddies... showed they knew that Howard flew like an eagle, in this world and the next. What a night that was at John Dimitrou's wonderful Jazz Alley nightclub, just down the street from the original Seattle Post-Intelligencer Building, where that 35-foot neon globe -- the first Daily Planet perhaps? -- turned slowly in the night for half a century, a city landmark proclaiming, "It's in the P-I."
Like Jim Morrison's City of Night, I've always loved Seattle and the Puget Sound it clutches... and there was just one more epic night of rock I can't forget...
THE WHO and CLASH at the TACOMA DOME -- back in the early 1980s. Covering this face-melting event for the P-I, I got to stand about 25 feet in front of Pete Townshend's amp stack for most of the concert at Seattle's concrete Kingdome. Now in those days newspapers reported that The Who were the loudest rock band ever to perform in a stadium concert -- even louder than a Boeing jetlinat take-off. (Boeings of course were made in Seattle.) Well that night, holy Hannah -- the Who and the Clash rocked the Dome to smithereens. The volume caused cellular damage, near bleeding in your tympanic membranes, I mean it. Wonderful roaring. Glorious fallout fury.
The Clash were sharp, played hard, and struck fan gold with "Rock the Casbah," "London Calling" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" They pumped the kids into a state of frenzy and delight. But their opener still paled next to... the legendary Who.
Buddy and fellow late-night rambler Gene Stout, the PI's rock reviewer and I were wearing airport runway ear protectors as we bathed in The Who's sheer wall of furious sound -- which often topped 120 decibels... and the manic tub-thumping deeeep 16th-note riffs from John Entwhistle, the Who's bass player, actually set up alarming vibrations in our collarbones and ribs. Messrs Townshend, Daltry and Entwhistle closed the show with this syntho-hook-rich rocker -- "Baba O' Reilly." Then their encore was -- oddly -- the Beatles' "Twist and Shout." Go figure? Years ago I found an amazing pirate vid clip on YouTube of Townshend -- in his sailor-striped T shirt -- playing windmill power chords on those songs at the Kingdome. And the best part was this -- right on a perfect beat as he slashed out the last of 5 chords of "Baba", Townshend hurled his guitar 20 feet in the air, turned on his heel and strode like a boss off stage. And as he vanished into shadows that guitar hit the floor EXACTLY on the instant of the last chord-beat. Some 60,000 dazzled fans yelled and stomped so loudly, in absolute rockin' joy, that the concrete walls, I kid you not -- the Kingdome shook!
So here's the lead I wrote for that front-page piece (which our City Editor somehow let into the paper) --
"If walls really do have ears, then there's one helluva lot of stone-deaf concrete in the Kingdome this morning."
All Hail the rockin' royals who tore up that Dome back in their day -- the Stones, the Clash, The Who...
And hail to the kids -- who really are alright -- in this rainy, grainy, gritty city cauldron of grunge 'n glory that Peter and The Who just rocked to shreds that evening... Talkin' about the Emerald City. Our city. Our beloved Alma Mater. Alma Pater. Alma Wild Water. Our Seattle.
Man alive, that city. How Seattle slew.
By John Hessburg
I was raised by parents who never let even a nuance escape their attention, and who taught us four Hessburg siblings, usually with humor, that to poke fun at overweight people -- in fact at anybody outside the norm -- was a kind of cringe-worthy ignorance akin to that of a redneck bigot. When one of us kids would comment on a stranger's weight, in a store or restaurant, Dad often jutted his front teeth over his lower lip, making that "Duhh" sound of the archetypal ignoramus. Then he'd arch one eyebrow, just so, as if to whisper, "No need to be an oaf here."
That's one reason why last week, while cruising the Huffington Post, a short-yet-piquant article caught my eye, entitled "Yet Another Reason Advertisers Should Embrace Body Diversity," by Rebecca Adams. As a kid in middle school, I always hated being the thinnest guy in the locker room or at the beach, so I truly get it when some of my gal buddies talk -- on social media or at parties -- about the fear and loathing they suppress daily when their weight starts blooming a bit.
Regarding women's bodies, academics have ID'd a covert "tyranny of slenderness" engrained deeply in contemporary culture, Ms. Adams wrote. This powerful social pressure is perpetuated by the super-thin pro models that abound in almost all women's magazines and websites nowadays. Though the knee-jerk default setting for advertisers targeting women is to use ultra-skinny models, Adams declared that actual scientific research still has yet to prove this strategy sells more products, more effectively, to any women.
In a recently published study, Baylor University researchers wanted to determine if the “slimness sells" axiom holds any water, so they surveyed 239 women ages 16 to 65 to learn how much each woman internalized the "thin = sexy+beautiful+more feminine" ideal. They randomly divvied the females into 3 groups to see if they would buy purses linked to various body types highlighted in advertisements. Ms. Adams wrote that one group was shown five ads for handbags with "skinny" models, while another group was shown five handbag ads featuring "average-size" models. (These were the identical "skinny" models from before, just Photo-shopped to look chunkier). The third group was shown ads with no models at all, just handbags. Researchers also collected the ladies' basic demographic info plus their body-mass index.
Ms. Adams wrote that "of the 239 women in the sample, only 30 percent were what the researchers called "high internalizers" who fully subscribed to the thin ideal. The other 70 percent were either ambivalent (45 percent) or "low internalizers" who rejected the thin ideal (25 percent). Ads with ultra-thin models only convinced women who were "high internalizers" to buy the handbags; otherwise model body size had no direct impact on the effectiveness of an ad -- the "average size" models worked just as well as the "skinny" models. Fun facts about those "high internalizers": these women were younger, consumed more media, earned more money and were generally unhappier with their bodies than the other women in the study."
The Huff-Post article also said that "if advertisers pander to the insecurities of a small percentage of women, then also they're likely alienating 70 percent of female consumers. It seems that a wider range of bodies are just as effective, if not more, at selling products, so perhaps that's incentive enough for advertisers to embrace body diversity on a wider scale. Until that actually happens, it might be helpful for women to keep in mind that previous research has shown that only 5 percent of women can actually achieve the thin ideal -- just something to consider while you're being bombarded with nearly 3,000 ads" -- every day in all forms of media.
Imagine that; what a glut of rubbish, what a surfeit of mentally tarnishing inanity -- 3,000 ads per day x 365 days = 1 million 95 thousand ads each day, pouring down like a tropical gully-washer! That stat boggles the brain.
Plopping a tart cherry atop this hot fudge sundae, this Reality Face-Plant for the Fashionistas, I later found an agitated post by one prominent woman I know on social media, (who has thousands of followers, both middle class and well-heeled, mind you) and who read Ms. Adams piece then railed...
"I am SO SICK of (effete metrosexual) men controlling the women's fashion industry. Enough is enough, already!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
REACTION FROM A TYPICAL AMERICAN GUY (who trusts Madison Avenue about as far as he can deadlift a freight car.)
Yesss! Finally. Great to hear women actually shouting this, standing up to the Fascist-leaning Fashionistas. You are right on the beam, ladies... Go tell it on a mountain, over the hills and everywhere.
Let me make it plain. Men do not lay awake at nights dreaming of Matchstick Marjie and her Sullen Sisterhood of Purse-lipped Anorexics, the Cosmo Girl Wannabes.
Every red-blooded man who genuinely loves women -- who's ever enjoyed a healthy and lasting relationship with one, who delights in her friendship as much as her female pheromones -- only cares if women are comfy in their own skin, if they smile daily with that sly-wry joy of life that lights up a room, if they like to laugh and play a little every day -- sometimes roughing it in the mountains or on the seashore -- if they truly delight in their own femininity and wear it stunningly some days when the spirit moves (like flying a wind-fluttered flag with flash, flesh and flourish), and if they give their guys the freedom to be boys and men in fusion (not PC-crippled, skinny-jeans-imprisoned, doe-eyed little shaved-chest sycophants -- as idealized by Madison Avenue metro-sexual mutants -- who get stoked on selling aftershave and ridiculously self-indulgent Italian sports cars and watches as heavy as a hockey puck that you could pawn to pay for a full year of your kid's college tuition).
Damn the torpid ads, full speed ahead... We are with you, good sistahs. Most men are with you, most of the time -- if the truth were to penetrate that insidious P.C. fog that traps most honest thought today, in nearly all the mainstream media.
There are millions of old-fashioned newly-enlightened men all across America, in fact all across the G8 nations -- good men eager to relish the company of good women -- fed up with this media-generated crap, foisted on us all by shadowy beings with a grayish natty-noir vision of their own sexuality, guys who would love to depict most women 24-7 as pre-pubescent boys, never smiling only pouting, lingering in some eternal Turkish bath where the sun never shines.
And the reason these murky mad-men depict women that way in their ads is that they have -- either from utter lack of desire (or lack of cojones) -- probably never dated a woman, kissed a woman, loved a woman or really listened to a woman longer than the time it takes to bark an order to their assistant. Ergo, what the hell gives them any authority to decree just what a quintessential post-modern woman should look like? Or feel like? Or BE like?
BTW: A fun fact... Ms. Adams article was topped by a monochrome photo of five beautiful plus-sized women -- African American, Asian, Caucasian and Latina -- all of them considerably more ample than the skinny chicks you see dominating women's magazines today. Every woman in that Huff Post photo was aglow, healthy-looking, just delightful in fact. Oh, and did I mention -- sexy? Big time.
Read it & weep, Madison Avenue.
Note to all my women friends who wrestle daily with these body-image demons injected wantonly into their urban psyches by "mad men" -- remember that even in their heyday, back in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, fashion models like Twiggy and Kate Moss were retro-chic, risibly passe' just a month or two after they peaked.
Now today in 2015, women that skinny and pale seem so... so mid-20th Century (fox).
But please don't poke fun at them, boys and girls. That would be unbecoming...
© Copyright 2015-2020, John Hessburg & The DICTION AERIE.™ All rights reserved.
Special thanks to photog Rene Pister, & Pixabay, for the image of this beautiful woman above.
By Jack Larrison
© Copyright 2015-2020, Jack Larrison & The DICTION AERIE.™ All rights reserved.
A friend of mine recently sent me a photo in a prominent fashion magazine that showed two "gangstahs," lily-white boys with gaudy neck bling and sideways ball caps, juxtaposed with a shot of two apparently metro-sexual guys preening with pursed lips, like Zoolander wannabes, in ultra-fine GQ suits. His caption was “Swag is for boys. Class is for men.”
Au contraire, mon frere. We hope you were being facetious here. No offense intended, but let us please cut through the baloney... These are all Sheep in Wolves Clothing -- both the Wannabe Wolves of Wall Street and the Hoods with Hoodies in da 'Hood. As depicted by these graphics at least, "Class" is for media-whipped Dilberts and herd-minded corporate clones who've been co-opted into this metro-sexual look that self-ordained high priests in the fashion industry, drunk on their own hubris, push as THE way to dress, to live, to be -- to be cool in the hardscrabble chase for urban "success."
What a stale joke, what silliness -- lame, transparent, devoid of soul. And this Beastie Boy faux gangstah chic, which scared little suburban boyz who crave wolfpack acceptance in the vacuum made by absentee fathers, eagerly don in equally herdlike affectation -- is just as ridiculous.
But at least it's raw and partly masculine, and therefore annointed with a little bit of sincerity.
Remember, fashion trend-seekers: Look deep, look past the Sheep in Wolves' Clothing. Methinks they are all posers more worthy of pity than censure. Once more advertising barons, millions of us out here want you all to get a life and stop this surfeit of balderdash you dish out daily as if it were Holy Writ. We are finally hip to your schtick and it is neither cool nor funny anymore. Just deadly dull and stoked with hubris.
Like John Lennon said, dudes -- "Dig it."
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