The April weather in New Orleans has been so fabulous that I’m convinced we’ll pay for it this summer. It’s been cool, sunny, and not muggy. It’s something to hold on during the dog days of summer when it gets hot enough to melt your face and various extremities.
Jazz Fest started yesterday. I’ve gone from loving it to feeling conflicted. I rarely object to change but most of the changes they’ve made post-K have been, well, objectionable. The promoters and their apologists continue to tell us it’s a community oriented festival but they’ve priced most locals out. Oh well, enough bitching. Here’s a quick reminder of the Krewe of Spank’s 2017 theme, which says it all:
This week’s theme song was written by Lindsey Buckingham for Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 masterpiece Rumors. It subsequently became the closing number at most of their shows. We have three versions for your listening pleasure. First, the original studio track followed by a scorching 1997 live version. I believe it melted my face the first time I heard it. Finally, an orchestral interpretation by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Fleetwood Mac has been in the news of late with the announcement of their umpteenth lineup change. Lindsey is out for now. In a backhand compliment to his talent, they’re replacing him with two great musicians: Neil Finn of Crowded House and Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers. If this were a baseball trade, it would be a good one. I’m a diehard fan of both Neil and Mike, so I’m fascinated to hear Fleetwood Mac Mach 4444.
Now that I’ve geeked out, let’s jump to the break. I hope First Draft doesn’t trade me for a blogger to be named later.
We begin our second act with a piece that was inspired by a book. How inspirational. I’ll try to ration my use of that word from now on, which would be the rational choice.
For Muhammad Ali, it was the right comic at the right time. As Chicago writer Jonathan Eig recounts in his acclaimed biography Ali: A Life, the young boxer, then named Cassius Clay, was standing outside a skating rink in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, when a member of the Nation of Islam approached him with a copy of the newspaper Muhammad Speaks.
The man who sold him the newspaper — “a black brother dressed in a black Mohair suit, white shirt and a black bow,” as Ali later remembered him — hoped to convince Ali to go to a meeting. Said Ali: “But I had no intention of going to any meeting. But I did buy the Muhammad Speaks paper. And [one] thing in the paper [made] me keep the paper, and that was a cartoon.”
Not just any cartoon. In the list of cartoons and comics that changed history — think Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, Or Die” or Thomas Nast’s “Boss” Tweed caricatures — the four-panel comic “How We ‘Lost’ Our Language” in the December, 1961, issue of Muhammad Speaks is certainly more modest and lesser known. Yet its influence has been widely felt. By introducing Ali to the Nation of Islam, it not only helped shape the future of sports. It also changed the wider culture when Ali emerged as an outspoken political figure who championed black rights and protested American military involvement in Vietnam.
The name of the cartoonist was Eugene Majied. Michael tells his story at the Comics Journal.
Our next segment involves some somber shit so let’s close this one out with a tune about the champ so light and frothy that it floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee:
World War II was a bloody, horrific conflict but still had its ironic aspects. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union claimed to be polar opposites but were both totalitarian states that brutalized their own people and conducted wars of aggression. The United States fought for freedom while maintaining an apartheid state in the Deep South, which influenced the Nazis as you’ll see in our next segment.
Adolph Hitler Meets Jim Crow: There’s a great piece at the New Yorker by Alex Ross that captures the ironies I alluded to above, How American Racism Influenced Hitler. Ross, who is the magazine’s music critic, sticks the landing in writing about this sticky subject:
Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler’s regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public-relations strategy—an “everybody does it” justification for Nazi policies. Whitman, however, points out that if these comparisons had been intended solely for a foreign audience they would not have been buried in hefty tomes in Fraktur type. “Race Law in the United States,” a 1936 study by the German lawyer Heinrich Krieger, attempts to sort out inconsistencies in the legal status of nonwhite Americans. Krieger concludes that the entire apparatus is hopelessly opaque, concealing racist aims behind contorted justifications. Why not simply say what one means? This was a major difference between American and German racism.
Ross draws some apt comparisons between Germany between the wars and America in 2018. It’s simultaneously depressing and fascinating. The good news for us is president* Trump is an incompetent fool. The bad news is that he and his followers have stumbled into a template for an American dictatorship that could be used by someone who is NOT an incompetent fool. As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. Or as Bela Lugosi put it in Glen or Glenda, “Beware, take care.”
I was also struck by a passage in which Ross discusses Hitler’s view of himself:
What set Hitler apart from most authoritarian figures in history was his conception of himself as an artist-genius who used politics as his métier. It is a mistake to call him a failed artist; for him, politics and war were a continuation of art by other means.
I thought of that when reading a piece at the Atlantic by Spencer Kornhaber about Kanye West’s Trump fetish:
But what’s clear is that for West, political allegiance flows from style first, not substance. “That don’t mean that I don’t think that black lives matter,” he said on tour, explaining why he would have voted for Trump. “That don’t mean I don’t think that I’m a believer in women’s rights. That don’t mean I don’t believe in gay marriage.” What attracted him, instead, were Trump’s “nonpolitical methods to speaking” that were “very futuristic.” In other words, he was interested in Trump as an aesthetic innovator—and even, perhaps, as an artist.
West’s notion of politics as an artform explains his latest controversy, too.
The artist as politician is not a new notion but the example of Hitler and the co-opting of Italian futurism by Mussolini gives one the jitters or, even worse, the heebie jeebies. Mussolini, course, drove Italy into that “maternal ditch” that Marinetti wrote about in The Futurist Manifesto.
Kanye has alienated a shitload of people with his fatal embrace of Trump. (Is there an album with Ted Nugent in his future?) Everyone should still “beware, take care” of these two Kanye men. Remember: Hitler was a con man too. Mercifully, Trump is a fucking moron who cannot shut the fuck up, which makes his Fascist tendencies less of a clear and present danger than they might be otherwise. O, maternal ditch.
Speaking of swastikas and dim pillocks:
Tabloid Headline Of The Week: I’ve dusted off this feature because of the hype surrounding the upcoming royal wedding. It’s a reminder that Prince Harry is a twit who costumed as a Nazi for a fancy dress party in 2005:
The Prince of Wales was not amused; not that he has much of a sense of humor. He is, however, a font of unintentional humor. Speaking of unintentional comedy, let’s shift gears. Hopefully, we won’t drive into Marinetti’s maternal ditch.
The Cherry On The Sundae: I usually try to avoid linking to two stories in one publication in this space, but that’s impossible this week. There’s a wild story by Ian Frazier in the April 23rd issue of the New Yorker about the secret life of maraschino cherry mogul, Arthur Mondella. It involves family, bees, red honey, and weed. Get thee to the New Yorker’s website.
Documentary Of The Week: Speaking of bees, I heard a lot of buzz about Netflix’s Wild Wild Country before checking it out. It’s the story of how members of Bagwan Shree Rajneesh’s sect/cult tried and failed to build a utopian community in rural Oregon in the 1980’s.
The documentary presents a balanced picture of the dueling sides and lets the viewer decide what they think. In fact, the advantage goes to the Rajneeshis in the first two episodes of the six-part film. Then the worm turns and shit gets real. Shit gets real seems to be the Adrastos phrase of the week. No shit.
I was alive when this was going on but don’t remember much of it. This ripped from the headlines story proves that the truth is stranger than fiction and other clichés. Of course, they’re clichés because they’re true. Like the filmmakers, I’ll let you decide what you think, except for this: the villain of the piece, Sheela, is bat shit crazy, her cute Indian accent notwithstanding.
Here’s the trailer:
Wild Wild Country is streaming on Netflix. I’m on my second viewing, this time with Dr. A. I give it 4 stars, an Adrastos Grade of A- and an exuberant Ebertian thumbs up.
Let’s move on to our favorite stolen feature.
Separated At Birth: This is something of a stunt. I saw Ronan Farrow on the Rachel Maddow Show plugging his new book, which reminded me of the whole “Sinatra may be Ronan’s baby daddy” mishigas started by Mia a few years ago. The kid sure looks more like the Chairman of the Board than the bloke who played Zelig and Danny Rose. Judge for yourself:
Frank and Mia wouldn’t be the first divorced couple to have a fling. Ronan is fairer but otherwise a dead ringer for Sinatra. I’m glad Frank’s goon sidekick Jilly Rizzo isn’t still around to knock my block off for saying that. I like my block and plan to keep it where it is.
Saturday GIF Horse: This GIF from High Society seems to indicate that Francis Albert and Der Bingle liked this week’s SAB. Bottoms up, gentlemen.
Weekly Benign Earworm: It’s another Fleetwood Mac song. Say You Love Me was written by Christine McVie way back in 1975. This is a retooled version featuring Lindsey Buckingham on banjo.
Saturday Classic: The first time I heard Eldorado I was blown away. I was lucky enough to see ELO play the whole damn album live in concert at a show headlined by Jethro Tull. I was in prog rock heaven that night.
That’s it for this week. Our closing meme shows the members of Fleetwood Mac 2018 with Anthony Mason of CBS News. Neil Finn had the good sense not to stand next to Mick Fleetwood. I guess Anthony drew the short straw and had to stand by the tall dude.