Saturday, April 25, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

As a child, I lived and breathed the Los Angeles Dodgers, who, reciprocally, couldn’t have cared less if I’d died an agonizing death from juvenile leukemia. As a person of accelerating decrepitude, I’ve come to find cooking shows more exciting than baseball, but still turn the Dodgers game on when, as is the case far, far too often, the Food Network turns itself over to Guy Fieri. You will be delighted to learn that I have had some wonderful ideas for making the game a lot more fun to watch.

I would love to see a new rule, whereby batting teams are able to station a Designated Interferer anywhere on the field. Let’s say your team’s pull-hitting cleanup guy comes to the plate. The manager would probably instruct the DI to run out into right field where he could attempt to rackle or at least trip the right fielder before he could get to a ball whacked into his jurisdiction. Think of the remarkable agility and athleticism the fielder would have to summon to elude the DI! 

In both basketball and football, players pound their chests, bellow into vanquished opponents’ faces, or perform little dance moves when they do something terrific. Baseball, though, has what my first wife used to call tender little baby feelings. In recent years, it’s become OK for players who’ve just done something notable to glance gratefully toward the heavens, but otherwise anything other than aw-shucks humility will inspire the opposing team to seethingly conspire to injure the offending player.

Can you imagine how much more fun the game would be to watch if the players whooped it up as their football and basketball counterparts do? As it stands, a batter who’s hit the ball out of sight must go into aw-shucks mode before the ball reaches the cheap seats, but what if he instead made a huge display, before rounding the bases, of gratefully fellaing his bat, sticking his tongue out at the catcher, mooning the pitcher, and shouting at the other team's dugout, "How did you like that, bitches?" This would ensure lots of Bench-Clearing Brawls, which, even though no one ever actually throws a punch, are almost invariably the most exciting part of any game in which they occur.

Attentive readers are well aware that I favor every major league stadium employing a small team of snipers to put a bullet in the thigh or even groin of any player who, on doing something notable, glances heavenward, as to acknowledge The Almighty’s intervention. No one who believes in a God who would help him hit a home run while countless thousands of innocents around the world are dying of juvenile leukemia deserves to live.  I know that some teams will balk at the expense involved, but they can save significant bucks by firing their stadium organists.

No music in the world, not even that played in churches in predominantly white suburbs, is as excruciatingly corny as that played at ball games. And for whom is it played? Surely not for the backward-capped Bud Light-drinking brodudes who are the sport’s most avid fans! 

As it stands, batters who are hit by 95-mph fastballs are required to pretend hardly to have noticed. To do the normal human thing and rub the injured area is seen as weak and effeminate. Baseball as badly needs a superstar with the chutzpah to defy this idiotic tradition, and to bawl without shame when struck by a pitch as it needs to get the players to stop slobbering all over themselves. Very few chew tobacco anymore. The constant spitting is purest affectation. Moderrn ball players, who drive Maseratis, own islands in the Caribbean, and have their eyebrows and facial hair styled at salons at which they leave $100 tips, spit because their antecedents were illiterate farm boys whose puppies had taught them that chewing tobacco was virile and pleasurable and wouldn't give them cancer.

Affectation is  the province of the weak and effeminate. 

Cut it the fuck out already, boyos.

Friday, April 24, 2015


Not Tiina. A stock photo.
In a spirit of inclusiveness, the enlightened have realized that it isn’t enough to be sympathetic only to gays and lesbians, but also to bisexuals and the transgendered. I have known many bisexual women — or at least women who’ve cavorted with other women a time or two, just to be able to say they had, or because they really liked it — and two purportedly bisexual men, though it looked to me, during our brief friendship, as though Bowie’s sole interest was in gals, and Danny’s in pretty young men. I’m proud to be able to point to a record of sympathy for the transgendered that goes back nearly to the beginning of this century.

I met Tina at one of the gala fetishfests my future bride Mistress Chloe hostessed in Santa Rosa, California, the one attended by the celebrated fetish photographer Eric Kroll. Arriving a bit late, she made an unforgettable entrance. In her very high-heeled platform shoes, she was close to seven feet tall, and strikingly pretty. We would learn later that, on the occasion of her 40th birthday, she’d treated herself to plastic surgery that had made her features rather finer, more feminine. She seemed a very nice person.

She was indeed a very nice person, albeit one with a ravaged heart. She’d always felt herself to be female, but had fathered no fewer than five children — including triplets — before deciding to transition. Her estranged wife, understandably, hadn’t been thrilled to discover Hubby’s intention to become a woman, and vindictively denied Tina access to the kids, which devastated her.

She worked as a checker in a supermarket down in Marin County. It turned out that she was a drummer. Mistress Chloe and I were at the time finishing up the Mistress Chloe album Like a Moth to Its Flame, and it occurred to me that a backing band featuring Tina on drums and our friend Mistress Antoinette on bass (she owned one, and had taken lessons), would almost certainly attract much attention.

Tina accompanied us to a big fetish event in San Francisco one evening. We were denied admission when it emerged that Mistress Chloe, a citizen of the UK, needed to display her passport. Our informing the doorman that we found this idea idiotic somehow failed to change his mind. Tina, fetching in a black latex minidress, and, as usual, nearly seven feet high, was wonderfully gracious about our change of plans. We repaired to a bar on Geary Street popular with persons in transition, and she danced up a small storm, reveling in her new-found femininity and allure as she watched herself on a mirrored wall.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dem Bones

It now emerges, via the new book One Nation Under God by Princeton history professor Kevin Kruse, that it was in response to the New Deal that American Christians began selling as godly the every-man-for-himself worldview of The Right. Big Business, hating the idea of the little guy getting a fair shake, hating even more the idea that their own obscene wealth might be attenuated, enlisted such ordained scumbags as the Rev. James Fifield, pastor to Hollywood stars, the glamorous and wealthy, to convince the staunchly moronic American electorate that it was actually Satan behind the idea of the government intervening on behalf of the poor and old and weak. 

Never mind that two major planks in Jesus’s platform had been compassion and charity — not the tax exemption kind. According to Rev. Fifield, it behooved the discerning Christian to read the Bible as he or she would eat fish — to enjoy the delicious flesh after having discarded the bones. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” one learned in Mark 10:25. A bone! Proverbs 19:17 taught that "whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed." Another bone! Matthew 5:42 urged the faithful to "give to the one who begs from you." Was there no end to the bones in this salmon? “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” Matthew 25:40  cautioned, “you did for [Jesus].” Oh, the boniness! The infernal boniness! One was almost content to give up on fishes, and change his order to loaves!

In the course of explaining how to save American democracy yesterday, I suggested that political candidates be hooked up during televised debates to lie-detecting apparatuses that would administer a mild electric shock if they lied. I acknowledge that it would be woefully immoderate to advocate the public crucifixions of purportedly Christian politicians who live in mansions while others are eating out of supermarket dumpsters and sleeping on the sidewalk. I instead support their being made to wear crowns of thorns — the awful tight-fitting, Mel Gibson kind, that which induces lovely cinematic rivulets of blood down the sides of the face.

In terms of the eye of the needle, I would require Christian (and other!) candidates for national office take an oath of poverty, whereby they would agree to live while in office on what someone subsisting at around the 33rd percentile in their districts lived on. My intuition is that most pols are vainglorious enough to be content with fame and power, and, in some cases, the slim prospect that their names will go down in history. On leaving office, they can always write (or have ghostwritten) their memoirs for generous advances.

Speaking of politicians, can someone explain to me why the lame-duck ones don’t cut the proverbial crap and speak actual truth during their last months in office? I get that the Democratic National Committee would be apoplectic if Barack Obama treated himself to an orgy of candor, but when are we going to get such candor if not in a pol’s lame-duck period?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I Save American Democracy! (You're Welcome.)

--> I have some wonderful common-sense plans for saving American democracy. The obvious first thing we need do is outlaw political advertising. For the most important offices, many people vote on the basis of which candidate’s are the more compelling attack ads on television, with the result that they are voting for neither the candidate’s policies nor even personality, but for how effectively the advertising agency he or she has hired can manipulate us emotionally. The more money candidates raise, the more they can spend on television advertising, and the more “we” wind up voting for one ad agency or another. Candidates typically raise money by allowing themselves to be put in the pockets of very rich campaign contributors. This, of course, is inexpressibly disgusting.
I propose that the electorate make its choices based on a short (campaigning should begin no earlier than three months before the actual election) series of debates to be broadcast on public television. Why a three-month campaign? Because after around 90 days, the candidates, desperate, start lying even more brazenly than before (and sucking up to their donors) while the electorate, sick to death of hearing the phrase, “…and I approve this message,” 45 times per hour, becomes so indignant as to lose all reason.

Not, of course, that they had a great deal to start with. For which reason, I advocate wholesale disenfranchisement. It makes no trace of sense to me that some semiliterate imbecile with a We Kicked Their Ass and Took Their Gas bumper sticker should have exactly the same number of votes as the head of the political science department at Harvard. If prospective new citizens must pass a test, why not voters too? It is in no way unreasonable to deny the vote to one unable to correctly answer this question: What is the USA’s official religion? (A) Christianity (B) Islam (C) Buddhism (D) None of the above. One unable to point out on a world map the general whereabouts of the Middle East shouldn’t be allowed to help decide who’ll be in charge of sending 19-year-olds to die there defending Our American Way of Life.  Is it too much to ask a prospective voter to have some very basic understanding of The New Deal, for instance?

In view of the fact that the answer to the religion question above was (D), my strong personal preference would be to forbid political aspirants’ displays of piety. In the UK, major political leaders make no bones about their atheism. That, along with Black & Green chocolate ice cream and infinitely prettier supermarkets, is one of the things about which the Brits may be proudest.

Instead of telling us where they worship — faithfully, earnestly, every Sunday without fail! — I believe our own candidates should disclose their IQs. I wouldn’t want someone to vote for Candidate A over Candidate B because of a 14-point IQ differential, but should the electorate not be offered this food for thought? I’d also require all candidates to take the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), as prospective employees of many corporations must. If this rule had been in place in the late 1960s, we might have been spared Richard Nixon.

I believe that any male candidate advocating unequal protection under the law for homosexuals and the consensual kinky should be hooked up to a penile plethysmograph and shown gay porn. Those shown to be aroused will be offered a choice between public disclosure of the test results, on the one hand, or, on the other, announcing that they’ve decided to spend more time with their families. Somewhere in South America.

This may seem extreme, but I would also hook candidates up to polygraph machines before key speeches, and especially before debates. Should the machines detect that they’re lying (that is, speaking), they would receive a moderate electric shock. Do not ask me to believe you wouldn’t enjoy watching a political candidate twitching in discomfort until he or she could take no more and blurted, for instance, “I’m a venal little Koch-sucker who’ll do or say anything to get into a position of power, and you’d be better off voting for your neighbor’s cat.”

Oh, before I forget, I think lobbying should be declared a capital crime. I understand that such a declaration will affect organizations I support — the ACLU, Amnesty International, Green Peace, and so on — no less than the accursed NRA, but I believe we’ll still come out way ahead. If an organization wants one of our — stifle your guffaws, my dears! — leaders to know something, it can send him or her an email, with a lovely professionally designed PDF attached. I am available for design consultations.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Night Punk Was Born in Los Angeles

Three years after my group CMilk -- signed to Warner Bros. and produced, rather poorly, by a famous English producer -- agreed that we'd delighted audiences long enough, I played some new songs for an A&R guy at a publishing company, the sort who wore a silver coke spoon in his chest hair and started every other sentence with the word hey, as though to remind the listener how wonderfully candid he was being. He did a bit of this and a bit of that on the side, including some promoting, and said if I put a group together, he could guarantee a lucrative Canadian tour.

I'd never heard of such a thing, but put a group together anyway, starting with a prodigious Italianate teenage drummer who idolised his counterpart in Deep Purple, which made me nervous, but who'd painted his drums pink, which I loved beyond my ability to express. He was joined by a grizzled (28-year-old) bassist who'd been with the Motels, and a young guitar hero who could play 64th-note triplets up where the frets get really narrow. I was iffy on the guitar heroics, but was assured that audiences had come to demand them.

I taught them 16 of my songs, which I fancied to be rather Nick Lowe-ish — tuneful, you see, poppy, often droll. I imagined, given the guitarist's Marshall stack, that we sounded rather like Cheap Trick, albeit with not-as-good lead vocals (mine!). I named us The Pits (as in my answer to Cole Porter's 'You're the Top') and decreed that what we played was (stand back!)...Maximum Pop. I rang the publishing company A&R guy to relate the glorious news and discovered he'd stopped taking my calls.

Unable to bear the thought of my recruits' eyes misting over when I admitted we wouldn't be seeing Saskatchewan and the Yukon Territory after all, I got us a quick midweek booking at the celebrated Whisky a Go Go on actual Sunset Blvd., where I delighted our audience of around 14 by sticking my head at every opportunity into one of the teenage drummer's mounted pink tom toms. (My ears are ringing still!) We affixed pictures of ourselves to light poles throughout Hollywood, and our fame spread. Its booker asked if we'd like to open for Devo for three nights at West Hollywood's Starwood, whose stock in trade was smirkily narcissistic lite-metal acts with recent record deals.

I knew little about Devo except that they were from somewhere deep in the American outback and were kooky, seemingly for kookiness's sake. After Arthur Brown's celebrated performance at the Shrine Auditorium in support of The Who many summers before, a great many locals had taken briefly to setting themselves afire, but Los Angeles had otherwise never shown much interest in kookiness. In the wake of David Bowie's show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in the autumn of 1972, a group called Zolar-X had taken to dressing head to toe at all times in skin-tight silver lurex and claiming not to be able to speak a terrestrial language, but everyone except the long-suffering staff of Guitar Center had ignored them.

Thinking of opening for Devo — we with our lovely tight-in-the-crotch bellbottoms and long hair, layered in the popular "shag" style, our 64th-note triplets and my own occasionally on-key evocations of Boston's Bradley Delp's falsetto – the phrase blow them off stage came to mind.

We turned up for our sound check. A couple of slightly disreputable-looking girls wandered in to watch, leeringly. Life was wonderful. I realised we'd also been joined by a dweebish guy who looked, in glasses of the sort that nobody with any panache had worn since Harry S Truman's presidency, like a refugee from a high school electronics club. His nondescript features arranged themselves into an expression of mock fascination as the guitar player's nimble digits headed inexorably for the top of his fret board. Apparently duly chastened, the dweeb slinked back out into the sunshine and smog. But then, a moment later, while the guitar player was still going diddly-diddly-diddly at a speed guaranteed to fill our dressing room with rapacious nymphets while poor Devo played to the bar staff, here he was anew, brandishing a remarkable joke guitar of his own, with around 48 strings. As our guitarist bent back at the waist, closed his eyes, and lifted his face to the heavens, fingers a-blur, our antagonist - and let us here begin calling a spade a spade: Mark Mothersbaugh — did likewise. I giggled in spite of myself, but thought: Just wait until tonight, pal, when The People, who I'm assured have come to demand guitar heroics, decide.

Guess again, Johnny. What to my wondering eyes should appear glaring vengefully up at us when we took the stage for our first set but every pimply, misshapen, or otherwise irredeemably dweebish past member of a high school electronics club in LA and his girlfriend, and oh boy, were they in no mood whatever for tight-in-the-crotch bellbottoms and evocations of Boston. We finished every song either to deathly silence or gentle hissing. And then Mothersbaugh and his men came on in their wacky matching jumpsuits, all herky jerky rhythms, robotic movements, and bleating declamation, all fervently...kooky. And the misshapen, pimply, and irredeemably dweebish were in absolute ecstasy. 

Now, as our dressing room remained the loneliest place in Los Angeles, 'twas another phrase entirely that came to mind: Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, though of course I knew very well. Seven years before, I'd been one of Iggy Stooge's most fervent and well-placed (writing for national magazines) early fans. Nine months before, in London, I'd been one of the first living Americans to get wind of the Sex Pistols, produced by the same guy who'd produced CMilk, and had found 'Anarchy in the UK' transformatively exhilarating. But what on earth did the arty, staunchly arch Devo have to do with punk?

This: the Starwood gig made the misshapen and disenfranchised who attended it realise their numerousness. None could deny it now: they were a bona fide constituency, capable of supporting a...scene! Suddenly, punk was everywhere. 

The Dils! The Weirdos! The Screamers! The Germs! The Dickies! The Thises! The Thats! The most unlikely places - restaurants in Chinatown (few had heretofore suspected that LA even had one!), bars formerly popular with 72-year-old barflies in birdshit-caked baseball caps glaring murderously at their own drinks in mid-afternoon — became key venues for the new music. The curmudgeonly restauranteuse Esther Wong emerged as a key impresaria even though (or, it occurs to me as I write this, because) her English was intelligible only to those with a few stiff drinks in them.

Suddenly there were as many awful, brazen imitations of the Sex Pistols and Clash about as there'd been awful, brazen imitations of the Rolling Stones a dozen years before.

As in every pop music upheaval, most of the would-be-cashers-in on the trend got it all wrong, neither less nor more in LA than elsewhere. In theory, punk made musicians long on vim and vision but short on chops feel they had nothing to apologise for. In practice, a lot of no-talent bozos began offering their not having been troubled to learn to play their instruments as inherently noble, as a manifestation of the True Spirit of Rock. But if rock and roll had really been reclaimed from the virtuosos and smirky narcissists, how was it that local boys Van Halen's debut album was outselling all the punk groups' put together by a factor of around 1000 to 1?

In a year or so, when everybody got fatally fed up with punk's chaos and cacophony, it began to be pushed aside by self-described power poppers in narrow ties, most notably The Knack, who raised the smirky narcissism bar to an altitude heretofore unimagined. ("...but the little girls understand," indeed!) Within two years, Motley Crue, the worst group in the history of Western popular music, had become the city's darlings. Whereupon a new phrase sprang to mind: Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

Monday, April 20, 2015

When We Kiss…Fire

I see, belatedly, that Bruce Springsteen’s son Sam has embarked on a career as a firefighter in a place called Monmouth County, New Jersey, even though wanting to be a fireman is an ambition out of which most American boys grow by the age of around seven, at which age they start dreaming of being a cowboy instead. By around 14, many have come to aspire to careers in the adult film industry, imagining that getting to interact sexually with a lot of large-breasted blondes will be fun galore, rather than tedious and demeaning and poorly compensated.

What is fun galore is imagining the conversation with his father during which Sam decided on firefighting as a career path.

SAM: Papa [pronounced in the European way, with the accent on the second syllable], I’ve decided what I want to do with my life.

BRUCE; Do I gotta ask you again, son, to use just half of Papa.

SAM: Sorry?

BRUCE: Just use one of the two syllables. Pop or Pa.

SAM: While we’re on the subject of forms of address, may I ask again why Evan [his elder brother] got a bank vice president’s name, and I got a janitor’s?

BRUCE: After Ev, me and your mama were worn out fighting with our brand consultants. We were going to name you Forbes, as in the magazine, but they wouldn’t hear of it. “

SAM: Anyway, I’ve decided what I really want is to get an MBA. I’m thinking Cornell, or MIT’s Sloan School of Management, or, in a pinch, Goizueta School of Business down at Emory.

Papa — sorry: Pa — why are you not saying anything?


BRUCE: “Why ain’t you saying nothing?”

SAM: Huh?

BRUCE: It’s the way our brand consultants want us to talk. Like most of my audience talks. Salt-of-the-earth speech is what they call it. Double negatives. Ain’t. That sort of thing. And what are you going to do when you get your MBA?

SAM: I’m thinking I’d like to be a commodities trader, or maybe manage a hedge fund. I’m thinking I’d enjoy working on Wall Street, and wearing $2700 Italian suits. I’d like to spend $125 on a haircut, and drive a McLaren. Why are you groaning, Pa?

BRUCE:  You know how you’re going to get an MBA? Over my dead body is how.

SAM: Oh, perfect. Evan gets to be a singer-songwriter, and Jess [his sister] gets to be an equestrian. I’m the only one who doesn’t get to be what his heart is telling him to be?

BRUCE: Maybe not. Jess wanted to be an equestrienne. The brand consultants said no way. Equestrian was bad enough, they said. And they happened to like the idea of Ev’s being a singer-songwriter. It’s a time-honored tradition, they said, big rock stars having kids and siblings who want to follow in their footsteps, but who aren’t very good, like Bob Dylan’s kid Jakob. I think Pete Townshend’d daughter made an album. And Paul McCartney’s boy James.

SAM: How about Marlon Richards? He’s an art gallery curator.

BRUCE: There’s a bad apple in every barrel.
SAM: All right, then. I’ll be a singer/songwriter if it’s so important to you.
BRUCE: Nope. The rule’s only one per family. The brand consultants have been thinking something earthy and noble. Something requiring strength and courage. Something that benefits, you know, others.
SAM All right. I’ll be a lifeguard.
BRUCE No, you won’t. Too seasonal.

SAM How about one of those guys who holds up a little sign and shepherds little kids through crosswalks near elementary schools?

BRUCE Warmer, and therein a hint. Much warmer. Infernal.