It’s been a busy week in New Orleans. I’ve been hard at work helping with the Krewe of Spank’s theme, float, and throws. This year we’re having fake royals on our float and I’ve been the royalty wrangler. Krewe du Vieux floats are small so they’re customarily riderless. We had to get approval from the Mother Krewe to have riders. It should be fun. Here’s hoping they don’t fall off the float. All hail King Pratfall.
In other Gret Stet news, Governor John Bel Edwards kept his most important campaign promise and brought medicaid expansion to Louisiana on his second day in office. The Feds gave us the same terms they gave states who entered the system when it first came down the pipeline. Let’s call it the Jindal mulligan.
David Bowie tribute week continues here at First Draft with the theme song. It’s the second Bowie tune to make the grade/cut or whatever the hell it is. My only complaint about all the Bowie tributes is that they tend to recycle all the biggies so I have gone in the opposite direction. It’s what I do. Black Tie White Noise is the title track of a 1993 album. It features the vocal stylings of Al B. Sure. We’ll kick things off with the promo video, followed by a live appearance on The Tonight Show, which means we have to see Jay Leno-jaw but you have to take the bitter with the sweet.
This week’s edition will be mercifully brief because I’ve got a lot of shit to do. I do, however, have time to post a White Tie tune in rebuttal to Bowie’s cravat noir:
I posted that clip because I think of Bowie as the Astaire of rock: long, lean, elegant, and a snappy dresser. More oddball comparisons and strange analogies after the break.
Let’s continue this week’s festivities by explaining the featured picture:
David Bowie Is: It *was* an exhibition of Bowie related art, artifacts, and downright cool stuff that was staged in Chicago in 2014:
“David Bowie Is” happens to be a lot of things, most of them very good: testament to the dogged effort that underlies most successful self-invention; compelling argument for the man’s musical greatness; visit to funky grandpa’s vintage high-end thrift store; nostalgia trip for teenagers of the 1960s and 1970s; foundational material for the selfie era; the hippest lost episode of “Hoarders” you could ever imagine; and pretty good rock ‘n’ roll experience, thanks to liberal doses of Bowie music beamed in through headphones you are issued upon entrance.
The show was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in tacit cooperation with Bowie, or at least with his very well-stuffed archive, which he controls. Because of this, because the show sees itself as celebrating Bowie rather than critiquing him, it has nothing to say about the elephant in the exhibition’s concluding rooms, the marked decline in the music he made from, arguably, 1983 on. (Some would add that year’s chart-topping “Let’s Dance” LP to his streak of great records, but nobody is clamoring for a reunion of Tin Machine, Bowie’s late-1980s attempt to put the avant back in his garde.)
I happen to like Let’s Dance. but snooty art critics gotta snoot. Most people have no clue as to how hard it is to write a catchy pop tune. I hope Mr Snooty Critic doesn’t get burned by the serious moonlight:
It’s time to scoot on to an entirely different topic. If you think American satire is from hunger, this piece is for you:
Hungarian Satire: Hungary has a right-wing nationalist government. You might recall the way they treated Syrian refugees not long ago. It was not a pretty sight. A group of young Magyar pranksters have decided that the best way to deal with their xenophobic government is to mock it. The Guardian’s Holly Case and John Palatella have the details on how the Two-Tailed Dog party is trying to make a difference: one joke at a time.
Let’s move on to two articles about political extremists in the good old USA. The first piece was published in Playboy, which is now-titty free so people will take it more seriously. They’ve spoiled a perfectly good joke about only reading it for the articles. May all their centerfolds be stapled…
Anyway, the first article is about the intersection of Hollywood and radical politics in the 1970’s. It centers around this guy:
The Big Cigar: Bert Schneider was a big macher in Hollywood. Here’s how Joshua Bearman describes his relationship with Black Panther honcho Huey P. Newton:
The man in drag was Huey Newton, the 32-year-old leader of the Black Panther Party. Huey was a major cultural figure, a street- and book-smart kid from Oakland who had become an icon of the black power movement. His public displays of firearms, meant to protect the black community from overzealous police, had brimmed over into shoot-outs, including his own deadly encounter with Oakland police officer John Frey, for which Huey was convicted in 1968 of voluntary manslaughter. (He claimed he was unconscious during the shooting, and his conviction was overturned in 1970.) Now Huey told Bert he was in trouble again. “Bert,” Huey said, “you gotta help us.”
Bert and Huey had been tight for a few years, ever since Bert started raising money for the Panthers in Hollywood. Bert was a macher, as he would say, a producer at the vanguard of the New Hollywood movement that had changed American cinema; his credits included Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show, and he was working on Hearts and Minds, the Vietnam documentary for which he would win an Oscar. He had embraced the radical politics of the era, supporting activists including Abbie Hoffman, Daniel Ellsberg and the Black Panthers. He called Huey his “comrade and best friend.”
Schneider, along with his old friend and fellow mogul Steve Blauner, decided to help Newton escape to Cuba. It’s sort of the radical chic version of Argo. Like Schneider, Blauner had more money than sense: they created and produced The Monkees. Hey, hey, it’s a cash cow.
We move from left-wing to right-wing crackpots with our next article:
A View From The Fringe is an examination of the influence of the John Birch Society on the radical right by the New Yorker’s Thomas Mallon. The Birchers were sort of the Free Masons of conservatism: a secretive group with oddball rituals. And their pernicious influence permeated the 1964 Goldwater for President campaign:
There was also his [Goldwater’s] ongoing attempt, in the run-up to the nomination and throughout the Presidential campaign, to thread the needle in the matter of the John Birch Society. Founded in 1958 by the businessman Robert Welch, the society was the most robust political fringe group of its day, intent upon thwarting any U.S.-Soviet coöperation, withdrawing America from the United Nations, exposing Communists in the federal government, and impeaching Chief Justice Earl Warren. Rick Perlstein, in his 2001 book, “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus,” summarizes the trimming strategy: “Goldwater would take the line that Robert Welch was a crazy extremist but that the Society itself was full of fine, upstanding citizens working hard and well for the cause of Americanism.” Throughout the 1964 race, Goldwater availed himself of Bircher money and manpower at the risk of being soldered, by his opponents, to the Birchers’ more addled views, the most notorious of these being Welch’s suggestion that Dwight Eisenhower had consciously acted as an agent of the international Communist conspiracy.
The association of Goldwater and the society helped to take both of them down. By 1968, Richard Nixon, a needle-threader extraordinaire, had captured the Presidency and cemented an identification with conservatism despite being loathed by the Birch leadership for a lack of true belief. Nixon had famously withheld his applause when Goldwater declared, at the 1964 Convention, that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”; two years before that, he had been badly bruised by the society during his failed run for the governorship of California. (Screeching Bircher resistance during the Republican primary had left him exhausted for the general election.) After Nixon reached the White House, the dignified, mainstream sufferings of the “silent majority,” not the rants of the Birchers, became the engine of his feinting, flexible conservatism, which pivoted most audaciously with his decision to visit China in 1972.
As much as I hate to say it, score one for Tricky Dick. Barry Goldwater did an excellent job of mainstreaming his image at the end of his life but his ’64 effort was nasty, brutish, and pandered to the worst elements on the American Right. Sound familiar?
I heard muttering about the Birchers during my childhood. My father had an architect friend with whom he was very close for many years. One day, I heard them having a loud argument in our family room followed by the architect leaving in a huff. It was the last time I ever saw him. I asked my father what all hubbub was about, bub. It turned out Mr. Architect was an ardent albeit covert Bircher, and asked my Dad to join. Lou was horrified and not only declined but gave his old pal the old heave-ho. I asked him why and he said, “They’re nuts. They think Dwight Eisenhower was a Communist and you know how I feel about Ike.” I did: Eisenhower was his hero and favorite President. Mr. Architect seemed like an ordinary guy but turned out to be a wingnut. It was an early lesson in extremism for me. They’re not only ranters who chew on carpets, they can be the mild-mannered man next door.
It’s time to circle back to our Bowie theme with the next two segments:
Documentary Of The Week: It’s a swell look by the BBC into the making of the album that made David Bowie a superstar: The Rise and Fall Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I’m not going to grade, or even degrade, it since I’m posting it now:
Hope you enjoyed your trip to Sufragette City. Wham-bam-thank-you-m’am.
Saturday Classic: I know you’ll be shocked to hear that a Bowie album is involved. Scary Monsters is a personal favorite of mine. It reminds me of living in San Francisco and working at Tower Records in North Beach while trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Get ready to be Fa-Fa-Fa-Fashionable circa 1980:
Of course, the scariest monster on the horizon in September, 1980 was the looming Reagan-Bush administration.
That’s it for this week. I have another den day ahead of me, which consists of inhaling a mixture of spray paint, glitter, and reefer smoke. I may attend a second line in memory of Bowie led by Arcade Fire and the Preservation Hall band afterwards. I got a kick out of this description of the event in an article at Offbeat.com:
The two bands and other mourners/revelers will meet at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter at 4pm to kick off the parade, which they have dubbed “Pretty Things.” According to a Facebook event page, the groups have requested that attendees come dressed in their “best Bowie outfit or something more strange.”
I wonder if anyone will show up wearing a snazzy suit, which was Bowie’s favored stage attire for most of his career. I expect Ziggy Stardusts to fill the streets of the Quarter. No imagination whatsoever unlike, say, Victor Buono as King Tut: