THE KILLING of Muammar Gaddafi and his son Muatasim was not a pretty sight. After seeing it once, I looked away when it was shown again and again on TV – literally ad nauseam.
Anarchist and ethnographer David Graeber – author of (among other timely works) Debt: the First 5,000 Years (2011) – doesn’t want to be known as the idea man behind OWS, but his vision of direct economic and political democracy is one key to the movement. Graeber helped organize the group that occupied Zuccotti Square. But, according to a report in Chronicle of Higher Education:
Three days after the protests began, Mr. Graeber left. Since then, he has kept a low profile because he wants to avoid what he calls an “intellectual vanguard model” of leadership. “We don’t want to create a leadership structure,” he says. “The fact I was being promoted as a celebrity is a danger. It’s the kids who made this happen.”
The 9/11 Commission Report has just been reissued with a new afterword. The following critique of it by the late Benjamin DeMott first appeared in 2004 in Harper’s Magazine. DeMott’s essay remains vital because it’s an act of imagination as well as an act of protest.
Staughton Lynd intended to read this speech at NYC’s Left Forum in 2008. He wasn’t able to deliver it then but First is honored to reprint his words here.
For a few minutes he was just another dead man. That was the easiest way for me.
For me? Strange.
He’s dead, and somehow the focus is on me.
It all happened so fast. I was in Cite Soleil. Waiting for Nebez, Raphael and Conan. We were about to meet with the community leaders to make three community centers, in three different parts of Cite Soleil, with cybercafé, adult education, clinic and housing.
Some of you know the story. It was briefly the rage in New York and London in 1998. But in my cultural backwater of Berkeley, where people were still plotting the revolution, I had never heard it. So when Robert the K, noted glass artist and critic, told me about a book he had just finished, I asked to borrow it. This book, Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960 was by William Boyd
“I know the Duke’s faults,” said Phineas [Finn], “but these men know nothing of his virtues and when I hear them abuse him I cannot stand it.” Anthony Trollope, The Prime Minister
What follows is not a review of the new collection of the late Ellen Willis’s rock criticism,Out of the Vinyl Deeps, but a sort of answer record remixed from old and new episodes in my own pop life. Hope it reads half as well as, say, Mouse and the Traps’ “Public Execution” sounded after “Like A Rolling Stone.” (Or did that Dylan imitation follow “Positively 4th Street”? Ellen—Mother of all Dylan critics—would’ve known!)
Henry Czerny, confident that he has the situation well in hand, sits at table and says, “I can understand you’re very upset.” Tom Cruise, sitting opposite, bares teeth, says, “You’ve never seen me very upset.” And he pulls from his pocket exploding bubble gum, which he hurls at the glass wall of a giant fish tank, and
Michael Berube, I gather, is upset. He complains that Benj DeMott read his book carelessly. It’s a wonder he read it at all. DeMott owned up promptly to a mistake, My bad, he said. He forgot to add, Your worse. What DeMott did was overlook a footnote. As bad goes, it isn’t much. Berube wrote the book, It isn’t much. Who would feel obliged to sift through the footnotes?
Pop star can’t resist pop quiz. Everybody knows Lady Gaga’s been flirting with Slavoj Zizek, but, hang on—as per Vanity Fair‘s kiss and tell column—Ke$ha is dating “radical” professor Fredric Jameson. This is an academic tycoon who knows how to $pend his time. The way he lives now sent First back to a passage where Robert Hullot-Kentor paused to wonder at Jameson’s knack for finding the green back not just of all things libidinal but of all things conceptual as well. Hullot-Kentor quoted—then queried—Jameson’s invocation of the investment values of “Adorno’s stock:”
“As for the current ratings of Adorno’s stock.”…Adorno’s stock? Its ratings? While these words beat about the ears, read also a few pages later that Adorno wants concepts “cashed at face value”. Cashed? Adorno wants cash for concepts?
Not long after Philip Roth published Portnoy’s Complaint, Jacqueline Susann went on the Johnny Carson show. Susann, we remember, had become famous for her pulp novel Valley of the Dolls, which triangulated, in what seemed an all-American way, ambition, sex and barbiturates. Everybody was a “user” in more ways than one. By 1969, the year Portnoy’s Complaint was published, the paperback version of Valley of the Dolls had been as inescapable in the supermarket as the Coca Cola trademark.
Carson asked Susann if she had ever met Roth. No, she said, but that she would like to. Then she famously added, with the coyness of a Mickey Mouse Club graduate: “Of course, I would not like to shake his hand.”
Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is good enough to deserve a better title. I wish he’d just called it Twisted: meaning strange or perverted, but also, in vernacular usage, confused or misunderstood (as in “don’t get it twisted”). Isolating this double meaning illuminates the double consciousness at work throughout the album, which dropped late last year into a media landscape so hostile to personal expression that misunderstanding was to be expected as well as feared.
Your editor got to Drive-By Truckers’ last album Go Go Boots late but first time through I fell hard for “Everybody Needs Love.” It took me South to a forever young place. And the journey’s just started because “Everybody Needs Love” is a cover of a song by the great lost soul singer/songwriter/guitar player Eddie Hinton. I recalled that name from credits on the back of beloved Percy Sledge records from the 60s, but I really didn’t have a clue. Patterson Hood schooled me in Go Go Boots’ liner notes. Thanks to him for allowing First to reprint his Boots‘ tribute to Eddie Hinton here. (Now if he’ll just dub me a copy of Hinton’s Letters From Mississippi.)
I To Have or Not to Have?
So much attention has been paid to the Miami Heat—including myriad analyses of the nature of offenses revolving around a number of stars vs. one or two, what role players are all about, and how much experience/stature a contemporary coach hired (and presumably tutored) by Pat Riley must have—that it’s hard to have any new thoughts (feelings come easier) about Miami and LeBron James, who is becoming an enigma nearly as impenetrable as his thick tattooed arms.
Pride will vanish and glory will rot
But virtue lives and cannot be forgot
Peter Wood’s amazingly graceful little book, Near Andersonville, tells how a Winslow Homer painting of an African American slave woman was lost to history and then found. In an act of imagination that’s worthy of the painter’s, Wood gently brings home the undiminished power — and deep relevance to our own time — of Homer’s way of seeing his black subject from within.
Near Andersonville, Newark Museum of Art
A few years back, the Los Angeles Local of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union opened up the books to accept applications for 3,000 casual stevedore jobs. The positions paid well enough—about $28 per hour—but, as casual jobs, there were neither guarantees of regular work nor any benefits. Over 300,000 people applied. It was clearly a step up for a major percentage of the LA area’s physically fit, U.S. citizen/legal resident, drug-free blue collar workforce.
There was a time when someone with those qualifications (well, actually, you didn’t even have to be drug-free), could graduate high school or get discharged from the military on a Friday and start work in the steel mill on a Monday. If they didn’t like it there, they could hire into the auto plant on a Tuesday. There was a time when getting laid-off didn’t mean a near-permanent loss of income and career prospects. There was a time when going out on strike didn’t mean risking everything that you worked for.
I missed this heyday moment by a year or two. By the time I got my first full-time job in 1972, things were already beginning to turn to shit. Plant closings and permanent reductions in force were becoming part of the landscape and the country was about to be rocked by an oil crisis and a series of increasingly severe recessions. I was too late for the steel mill/auto plant thing but you could still fairly easily get a living wage job in a cookie factory or a warehouse and not worry too much about how you would survive if the plant closed or the boss fired you for being a smart ass. I traveled the country in the mid-70’s working a series of light construction and cannery jobs—many dispatched from union hiring halls or state employment agencies—that are being done today by undocumented immigrants at close to the same actual wage (not adjusted for inflation) that was prevalent back then.
For people who grew up on the Rockaway Peninsula, the gradual loss of our homeland was as senseless as it was staggering. Once a shimmering seaside summer haven for New York’s working families, over time huge chunks of our coastal “Everyman’s paradise” fell to ruin. Across this geographically isolated barrier reef on the southeast Queens, miles of waterfront property were transformed into desolate urban wastelands – for nothing. Everyone has an opinion. Some blame the City of New York for piss-poor urban planning policies. Others claim an accelerated influx of impoverished minority populations transformed Rockaway into “Welfare-by-the-Sea.” Or was it white flight that pushed things to the tipping point? By all accounts, Rockaway’s history has been a perfect shit storm. But perfect storms also bring awesome waves. Somehow, through it all, across the Peninsula, four generations of surfing dynasties survived.