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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: 8,158 Lies And Counting

January 19th, 2019

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BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Question: How can you tell if the President is lying? Answer: His mouth is open. So, after two-plus years of the President of the United States continuously lying through his dentures (the latest total by the Washington Post is 8,158 lies and counting) about his motives for failing to give a shit about the lives (literally) and SMUSlivelihoods of millions of American workers and their families, I feel it only politic to conduct a deservedly dubious in-depth re-examination of the veracity of his claims regarding the benefits ensuing to his dupable I’m-always-going-to-believe-anything-he-says-regardless-of-any-documented-evidence-to-the-contrary-and-besides-he’s-a-dedicated-racist-and-misogynist-so-why-wouldn’t-I-believe-him “base” from previously exaggerated, obfuscated and, above all, self-aggrandizing Trumpian legislative and executive actions:

With all due — albeit reluctant — minimal attribution to Jim Jordan:

1. The Great American Tax Reduction/Wealth Entitlement Act (yeah, I added a word or two of my own): The rich got vastly richer; the middle and lower classes got enough to load up on peanuts and cake. End of story.

2. Regulations (as antonymous of “protections”) severely reduced: Absolutely true, if you don’t mind getting poisoned, asphyxiated, or just plain dead before your time. End of story “II.”

3. Faster economic growth (read: leaps and bounds in the Jones Dowry): Yep, Wall Street loves it; working folks’ wages — not so much. Hey, Donnie, you gonna take that budget balancing act on the road?

4. Lowest unemployment in 50 years (or, Fast Food gets its mojo back): Yep, also. But 50 years ago your wages actually bought a whole lot more goods and services than today’s do taking inflation into account. Gimme a “regular” burger, skip the cheese, and I’ll have water to drink.

5. Wages rising: I think we’ve already covered that. Walmart workers will soon be riding to work in new BMW’s. It’s only a matter of time.
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CINEMA: Shattered

January 18th, 2019

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GLASS (directed by M. Night Shyamlan, 129 minutes, USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Like most critics and moviegoers, I have a love/meh relationship with M. Night Shyamalan’s body of work. While I enjoyed his last film, 2016’s Split, a genre-bending story of a man with 24 distinct personalities, I didn’t love it until those final moments when Night served up one of his patented pretzel plot twist endings. The big reveal at the end of Split is that the whole time you’ve been watching quasi-sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable, a film that I will argue birthed the superhero genre as we know it today. Split was the shot in the arm the director’s troubled career needed to get himself back into the big leagues and give himself carte blanche on his next project. Wisely he chose to ride that wave and finish the trilogy, bringing back Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson to cap off the story he started almost 20 years ago. Arguably, Unbreakable is M. Night’s best film to date, given that the twist at the end felt legitimately earned and the characters he created in that film were probably his most realized and three-dimensional. Like Unbreakable, Glass subverts our current expectations for this genre and it’s the unpopular artistic choices he’s made that reminds me of Unbreakable when it first was released.

Glass picks up shortly after Split, with the Horde (James McAvoy) on the loose and David Dunn (Bruce Willis) hot on his trail. In the time since Unbreakable, David has opened a security firm that allows him to keep the city safe during the day and clean up the Philly streets at night, nattily dressed in the The Overseer’s trademark green slicker. With the aid of his son (Spencer Treat Clark surprisingly reprising the role) as his ‘guy in the chair’ the father/son team is trying to find the Horde before he dispatches his latest batch of hostages. It’s at this point in the film, as The Overseer and The Horde finally face off in epic comic book climax fashion, that M. Night completely pulls the rug out from under the audience. Both David and Kevin are apprehended by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) and forced to spend three days in a mental institution in what is essentially gay conversion therapy for people who think they are superheroes. The elevator pitch is they have three days to give up on their superhero ways and admit they are just regular people who happen to be mentally ill or get lobotomized, since she believes the frontal lobe is what activates this super powers delusion. Things hotten up when it is revealed that Elijah Price, aka the supervillain Mr. Glass, is also institutionalized at this very facility and has been kept in a vegetative state due to his super intelligence and prior escape attempts.

The first act of Glass shows that M. Night knew exactly the film we expected to see, but once Kevin and David are apprehended the film morphs and changes from Unbreakable to Spilt and back again. It’s a bold choice given Night could have easily just cribbed a page from Marvel or even DC and turned in his version of (insert edgy superhero property film here), but Glass is its own monster by design and this messy hybrid is the ending the trilogy needs. These creative choices combined with the literal pile of plot twists heaped on the viewer at the end are already proving to be divisive for early audiences. But in a world where we have grown accustomed to filmmaking by committee for these kinds of films, Glass feels very much like a singular vision. The film concludes M. Nights career-long exploration of the ongoing transformation of humanity, this time introducing religious subtext to the weighty comic book mythology of heroes and villains.

Like all things Philly, Pat, Geno’s and Jim’s fans will be fighting over whether or not M. Night properly bookended his superhero trilogy for the foreseeable future. It may not have been the ending we were expecting, and I think that’s why I probably enjoyed it so much. It’s delivers a rare satisfying closure for these stories, but still manages to leave the door open just a crack in case Night wants to revisit this world again. (Netflix series, anyone?) It’s the not just M. Night here but a completely committed cast led by Willis, Jackson and McAvoy who spend every second on screen bringing their A game to the story, fully realizing these damaged but ordinary people gifted with extraordinary abilities. Just as we see the threads of these character’s stories come together Night drops his final end game, one that is characterized by an all too believable bleakness that gives Infinity War a run for its money. While the realistic superhero film is beyond ubiquitous these days, Glass provokes as it proves there are still new ways to tell these stories and, more importantly, that they are still worth telling.

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN’S GLASS NOW PLAYING IN A THEATER NEAR YOU

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BEING THERE: Mineral @ Theater Of Living Arts

January 17th, 2019

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Photo by MATT SHAVER

Mineral was one of those bands that got me through high school. Cliché as it may be, those angst-filled, sometimes brittle, but always powerful vocals, and the noisy, feedback-laden guitar riffs spoke volumes to me – speak volumes to me. Formed in Houston in ’94, Mineral became one of the most important bands in emo, and their first full-length album, The Power of Failing (1997), has become a staple of the genre. Their songwriting was unapologetically honest, and the highly emotional lyrics were carried by epic vocal harmonies through song structures that usually took the listener from somewhere soft and warm up to wailing peaks that billow out to a feathery landing.

Mineral broke up in ’98 after the release of EndSerenading (1998), a less noisy iteration of their style that focuses more on gentle buildups, cleaner tones, and more cooperative guitar work between Chris Simpson and Scott McCarver. They got back together for a reunion tour in 2015, and released two singles toward the end of last year in celebration of their 25th anniversary. Their new material has the maturity you’d expect from a 25-year-old emo band, but without the you’re-trying-too-hard+it’s-missing-something vibe that plagues far too many legendary acts reborn. Mineral are also releasing a commemorative book containing an in-depth history of the band, which includes a 10-inch EP and previously unreleased photos.

“Five, Eight and Ten” is the first song on their first album, and it was the first song of their set last night at the Theater of Living Arts. Mineral rocked out in full Fender — McCarver shredded a Mustang, Simpson a Telecaster Thinline, and Jeremy Gomez a Jazz Bass. Their playing was pretty much without flaw. Every song was studio-worthy, with the exception of an accumulation of frequencies in the low-mid range, which was caused by Simpson’s low-end breeching Gomez’s bass territory. Because I was stationed right in the splash zone of their mud collision, I had a difficult time hearing McCarver, who was farther away from me on stage right, until he turned up his volume once the band started playing tunes from EndSerenading. I’m making this out to be a bigger deal than it was. They played phenomenally, and their sound for most of the show was very good.

Simpson hinted that there may be a new album to come, after an audience member shouted “New LP,” to which Simpson replied “Nudge nudge,” with a smirk. Wink wink. Between songs, McCarver made some remark that I couldn’t quite make out, and Simpson declared that we had all just witnessed a miracle. He said that in 25 years of touring, he’d never heard Scott utter a word to the audience. Whether that’s true or not, it made us feel special. Speaking of feelings, the crowd was definitely feeling lots of things – mostly nostalgia, I presume, for there were many older faces: no doubt fans who were around for Mineral before the breakup. One fan cried out “I’m weeping.” Understandably so, with the closing song of the encore being perhaps Mineral’s saddest song, “Parking Lot,” which begins:

I wouldn’t mind if you took me in my sleep tonight
I wouldn’t even put up a fight
I wouldn’t care if you took it all away today
I’m sure I wouldn’t even miss the pain

“Epic” is an overused word, but I promise that it’s appropriate for Mineral’s performance. I’m not one to set the bar high for reunion shows, but they absolutely shattered all expectations by far. One might think it difficult being an emo band after 25 years have gone by and the band members are all happy with families now, but their authenticity was monumental. We’ll miss you, Mineral. ‘Til next time. I know the 50th anniversary is going to be tight! – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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Win Tix To See Brendan Dassey’s Lawyers Discuss Making A Murderer 2 @ The Keswick Theater

January 16th, 2019

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Calling all Making A Murderer binge-watchers and true crime obsessives, we have a couple tickets to give away to see defense super-lawyers Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin at the Keswick Theater on Friday where they will discuss coerced and false confessions, unscrupulous interrogation tactics, and the wrongful conviction of Brendan Dassey whose case and post conviction process has captivated the world in the Netflix phenomenon Making A Murderer.

Laura Nirider is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago. Nirider represents individuals who were wrongfully convicted of crimes when they were children or teenagers. Her clients have included Brendan Dassey, whose case was profiled in the Netflix Global series Making a Murderer, and Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three, whose case was profiled in the documentary West of Memphis.

Steven Drizin is a Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law where he has been on the faculty since 1991. He served as the Legal Director of the Clinic’s renowned Center on Wrongful Convictions from March 2005 to September 2013. At the Center, Professor Drizin’s research interests involve the study of false confessions and his policy work focuses on supporting efforts around the country to require law enforcement agencies to electronically record custodial interrogations. Drizin co-founded the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) in 2008, the first innocence organization to focus on representing defendants who were only teenagers when they were wrongfully convicted. Drizin and former student Laura Nirider, who directs the CWCY, represent Brendan Dassey, a central figure in Netflix’s docuseries Making a Murderer.

To qualify to win, you must be signed up for our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us you want to do this. You get first dibs on concert ticket giveaways, breaking news alerts and other assorted be-the-first-on-your-block type shit. After you sign up, send us an email at Phawker66@gmail.com with your theory of who killed Teresa Halbach along with your full name as it appears on your photo ID and a mobile number for confirmation (this will not be saved, stored or sold for any reason). Put the words I WENT TO MANITOWIC COUNTY AND ALL I GOT WAS FRAMED FOR MURDER. The two best theories win a pair of tickets each. Good luck and godspeed!


False Confessions: Laura Nirider & Steven Drizin-Brendan Dassey’s Lawyers ft. in Making a Murderer 2 @ The Keswick Theater Friday January 17th

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BEING THERE: A$AP Rocky @ Liacouras Center

January 16th, 2019

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Photo by ALEX PATERSON-JONES

A$AP ROCKY’s latest LP,Testing, released last May, rocks a combination of eclectic, experimental head bangers and high-octane mosh pit fuel, perfectly-suited for live workouts on his current “Injured Generation” tour, which stopped at the Liacouras Center last night, with opening acts Smooky Margiela and Comethazine in tow.

Just 16 years old, Smooky took the stage first and owned it with a charisma much larger than his body size. Throwing down his now-blowing-up hits “Stay 100” and “Vlone Flex,” Smooky made it clear why A$AP has chosen him to join his creative collective, the A$AP Mob. Next up, St. Louis-based rapper Comethazine charged the stage with “Bands” and “Walk,” his two most popular songs, and whipped the crowd into a frenzy for A$AP Rocky’s impending arrival.

As the curtain rose, Rocky bounded across the stage to the strains of the new album’s lead-off single “A$AP Forever,” which samples Moby’s 2000 single “Porcelain” at length. The crowd erupted with his every word, and proceeded to sing along with every song, with the possible of exception of the unreleased track “Babushka,” which seemed to stump everyone but the super-fans. The stage set was three full-sized cars, along with a lot of fog and, during “Wild For The Night,” fireworks. There were multiple costume changes and elaborate stage sets throughout the night.

During the ballad “L$D,” Rocky ventured out to the farthest edge of the stage and sang the whole song flat on his back. You would think this slo-jam move might kill the energy he’d just worked so hard to fill with energy, but the crowd became mesmerized by this gesture and soon synchronized in a spontaneous massive sway. A$AP finished the show with a crowd request, “PE$O,” which is one of my personal Rocky faves. One of his earliest hits, “PE$O” now stands as a reminder of how far he has come as an artist. – ALEX PATERSON-JONES

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NPR 4 DEAF: Giving Public Radio Edge Since 2006

January 16th, 2019

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Illustration by JIM MCDERMOTT

FRESH AIR: Growing up, actor John C. Reilly remembers watching the comedy of slapstick duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and feeling very touched. It wasn’t just that the two made him laugh, Reilly says, there was something more. “The brilliant thing about their work when you watch it, it seems so nonchalant,” he says. “It seems like they’re doing it for the first time.” Then Reilly got a role playing Oliver Hardy in the new film Stan & Ollie and he realized just how much planning and precision went into those seemingly effortless physical comedy routines. “It requires this diligence with the timing,” he says. “It’s almost like a ballet or a piece of music that you’re playing when you’re doing it.”

The film explores Hardy’s relationship with his partner Stan Laurel (played by Steve Coogan) in the early 1950s, when the men were trying to revive their sagging careers with a stage-show tour in Britain. Reilly notes that the two comedians were very different temperamentally, and in their heyday, didn’t spend that much time socializing outside of work. But at this later time in their lives, during this theatrical tour, they were together in every train car, hotel room and theater backstage. “They didn’t have the luxury of going off and having two different lives,” he says. “They’ve both said that is when they learned to love the other man as a person, as a human being, as opposed to a component in the act.” MORE

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SET THE WAYBACK MACHINE TO NEVER: A Q&A With Jon Spencer, Legendary Blooze Traveler, Elvis From Hell, Noise-Rock Deviant & A Really Nice Guy

January 10th, 2019

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BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA With all due apologies to The Gun Club, Jon Spencer looks just like an Elvis from Hell. Where I come from that’s the highest praise you can confer on someone. And after 34 years of rocking righteously and outrageously, not to mention prodigiously — more than 40 albums and EPs, and countless singles and comp appearances spread across five different bands — he’s earned it. Back in 1985, his band Pussy Galore crawled out of the noise rock sewer of the Lower East Side and proceeded to define deviance downwards. They sounded like Einsturzende Neubauten raised on ’60s punk and no-budget sexploitation films instead of John Cage and Throbbing Gristle. They were the Heath Ledger’s Joker of ‘80s underground rock — they just wanted to watch the world burn. Or at least rock n’ roll — and burn it did. On a dare from Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore did a song-for-song extermination of the Stones’ Exiles On Main Street. Despite the fact that it was only released on cassette and the band only made 550 copies, millions now claim to own it. Their first EP was called Groovy Hate Fuck. Their second album was called Dial ‘M’ For Motherfucker [pictured, below right], only because their record label wouldn’t let them call it Make Them All Eat Shit Slowly. I think this speaks for itself.

By the time Pussy Galore flamed out in 1990, Spencer had started Boss Hog with his then-squeeze/now-wife Cristina Martinez, who had joined Pussy Galore as a guitarist when she was 16 despite not knowing how toDialmCDcover play guitar. Fronting Boss Hog, she would go on to to become the clothing-optional pin-up queen of the shit-rock scene, commanding the never-ending adoration of a certain breed of unshaven garage-rock ne’re-do-wells in stripey t-shirts, eyelash-fringing bangs and black beat-to-fuck Chucks. She was a Suicide Girl before there was Suicide Girls. Over the course of four LPs and four EPs spanning the better part of 30 years, Boss Hog sounds like a velvet glove cast in iron, like a bra on fire, like the neck-snapping, man-crushing supervixens of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! started a garage-punk band on the side to fill their down time when not neck-snapping and man-crushing and the whatnot.

The next year Spencer would team up with Mister Judah Bauer (gee-tar demolition man) and Mister Russell Simmins (fuck-beat maker extraordinaire) to form the The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and when their wonder-trio powers activated they were a whirling, strobe-flashed cyclone of sweat, sex, and pure adrenaline. The music was an unholy marriage of lunar rockabilly, feral blooze skronk, garage-punk splatter, and extra-wide bell bottom funk-soul brotherhood, narrated madly by a reverb-drenched Spencer frugging, mugging and wailing like Little Richard with a mouthful of Buddy Holly, culminating in 1994’s Orange — arguably THE party album of the decade, if not the 20 Century. Cue the balletic, gravity-defying car chase at the beginning of Baby Driver to get a taste. If Pussy Galore was fuck-you music — and it was — JSBX was just plain fuck music, and don’t think the ladies didn’t take notice. At the gigs, Spencer was only half-kidding when he would invariably declare at some point in the show: “This is the part of the record where I want everyone to put their hands in the air and kiss my ass ’cause your girlfriend STILL loves me!” If ever a man was built to be famous, it’s Jon Spencer. It never quite happened, but the truth is he never really tried that hard to be, like, red carpet TMZ famous. Fuck that noise. He’s famous with all the right people, which is the best kind of famous.

Anyway, and then some stuff happened that you can find out about on Wikipedia. Blah, blah, blah. Fast forward to circa now. The JSBX is, tragically, kaput (see below). And after a few years of silence, Spencer has struck out on his own with his debut solo album, Spencer Sings The Hits!, a rollicking collection of needle-pinning garage-punk thuggery and spazzy proto-industrial-electro scree going mano-a-mano atop bulldozer beats and the occasional clanking percussion that sounds like a monkey wrench swung upside a rusty heating pipe. Think Einstürzende Neubauten meets The Music Machine narrated by a shitfaced Wolfman yowling and growling into an empty garbage can. Spencer is currently on a tour in support of the new album — new West Coast dates were just added — which brings him to Johnny Brenda’s for a WAY sold out show January 10th, aka tomorrow night. Last week we got him on the horn to chew over all the aforementioned.

DISCUSSED: A day in the life of a Blues X Man; Shithaus; attending Brown; Pussy Galore; artistic authenticity; Boss Hog; life under Trump; the death of science in the post-factual era; Baby Driver; Andre Williams; Steve Albini; going solo 34 years later; and the sad and lonesome death of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; sigh.

PHAWKER: I’m curious as to what’s the typical day in the life of Jon Spencer these days? You still live in New York?Extra-Width

JON SPENCER: Yeah, Cristina and I still live in New York City. I mean right now it’s a little atypical because we just were traveling for the holidays and now Cristina’s sick with a cold, so I’m playing nursemaid. A more typical day, I don’t know, I spend most days just kind of, since I live in New York City, sort of all by myself. Trying to do more touring, you know, and these January dates, that’s part of that. I don’t really have a really good exciting “typical day” sort of stuff. More mundane, I suppose. If I am at home, I’m doing more kind of take care of the house sort of stuff, like shopping and cooking and laundry and things like that.

PHAWKER: You guys live in Manhattan the last time I checked?

JON SPENCER: Yes, we still do.

PHAWKER: Right on. So music is still a full time concern, right?

JON SPENCER: Yeah, I mean I consider myself lucky that I’ve been able to do it as a full time concern since the mid ‘90s.
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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Before The Big Fall

January 10th, 2019

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Artwork via WHAT THOR TOLD ME

BY WILLIAM C. HENRY How do I hate the orange man who lives in a white house of pain and the theater of cruelty he has staged for the past 24 days? Let me count the ways. For starters, folks, did you know that the Texas REPUBLICAN U.S. Representative whose district includes more southern border — 820 MILES — than ANY other politician in the southwest does SMUSNOT want this COMPLETELY ASININE WALL constructed! But, this completely ASININE Republican President of ours DOES! And, to make matters even more horrendously ASININE, this completely ASININE Republican President of ours believes that nearly a MILLION government workers and their families are little more than “throw-aways”! For God’s sake, he’s going to see to it that they don’t get PAID until and unless he gets his ASININE WALL! Think about that, folks. How would YOU feel if YOUR employer hadn’t presented you with a paycheck for the past THREE weeks, and you don’t even know when the NEXT one will be issued?!

And that’s not the only DISGUSTING aspect of this INTENTIONAL, ASININE, President-created, OBSCENITY! Think about the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens like you and me who were previously able to sustain THEIR livelihoods through the spending of those paychecks! They too are getting thrown under this ASININE President-driven bus! This ignorant, racist, petulant, binky-sucking, completely ASININE excuse for a President has decided that either he gets his requested funding to build his wasteful, hate-bred ASININE WALL of bias and bigotry, or he’ll continue to withhold payment from MILLIONS of government workers and those whose livelihoods are dependent upon those incomes — for YEARS if necessary!

And are you aware that DEMOCRATS in Congress have indicated a willingness to adequately fund a TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY (as opposed to a completely ASININE Trumpian Middle Ages-type) “barrier” wherever necessary along the entirety of the U.S./Mexican border. A truly NON-ASININE “barrier” that would include extensive “drone” and land-based camera and motion-sensing capacities as well as significant increases in border security manpower, equipment and facilities. In other words, overall MODERN border security and IMMIGRATION POLICY that ACTUALLY WORKS rather than an ASININE WALL that illegals could easily circumvent, (a) by climbing over it using such “high tech” equipment as LADDERS, or (b) by crawling under it using such “rocket science” innovations as TUNNELS, or (c) simply by walking through it employing such “high tech” tools as HACKSAWS or even more “sophisticated” portable battery-powered versions available at their local Home Depot! Did I forget to mention utilizing Nobel-worthy inventions like dynamite?

Here are a few facts, folks — and, yes, I know how much the Oval Office Orangutan HATES facts — (a) Orange Mane HIMSELF has publicly acknowledged/stated that illegal immigration is at its lowest level in 17 YEARS!, (b) the overall NUMBERS of immigrants aren’t creating this phony crisis (which the completely ASININE wall wouldn’t do ANYTHING to reduce anyway), it’s the FACT that our callous, biased, disgustingly out-of-date immigration policy/system isn’t equipped to handle/deal with even the LEGAL immigration of MEN, WOMEN, CHILDREN AND/OR FAMILIES, period!, and (c) you haven’t heard the Pongo mention so much as a single goddamn WORD about these FACTS! I swear to God, when are we finally going to lock this moronic, racist, criminally ASININE son-of-a-bitch up!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up septuagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.

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Win Tix To See David Sedaris @ The Keswick

January 10th, 2019

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Illustration by RANDY GLASS

This is neither the time nor the place for johnny-come-lately arrivistes to learn about the 11 acclaimed and beloved books of caustic elegance David Sedaris has published since failing upwards from his job as a Christmas elf at Macy’s in 1992. Today we are not serving your kind, so try Wikipedia. Sorry to be harsh, but the Keswick show is way sold out, so this one goes out to the lifers, the true believers, or perhaps more aptly, the true non-believers. You and me, pal, we’re the loonies. Did you know that? I bet you didn’t know that. But enough with the Sondheim references already. We have a couple pair of tix to see David Sedaris at the Keswick tomorrow night — and get this, one pair is FRONT ROW! To qualify to win them, you must be signed up for our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us you want to do this. You get first dibs on concert ticket giveaways, breaking news alerts and other assorted be-the-first-on-your-block type shit. After you sign up, send us an email at PHAWKER66@GMAIL.COM saying as much (or that you were already signed up) along with the correct answer to the following trick question: What year did David Sedaris graduate from Princeton? Put the words ME SIT PRETTY SOME DAY (HOPEFULLY AT THE KESWICK) in the subject line, along with your full name as it appears on your photo ID and a mobile number for confirmation (this information will neither be shared nor stored, FYI). Good luck and godspeed!

RELATED: Our Wacky 2006 Q&A With Amy Sedaris

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

January 10th, 2019

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FRESH AIR: For about 48 hours in December, Kevin Hart was slated to host the 2019 Academy Awards. Then Hart was called out for homophobic jokes and tweets he made in 2010, and the Academy asked him to apologize. Hart insisted that he already had apologized. Finally, after some back and forth, Hart stepped down from hosting, saying he didn’t want to be a distraction.

Now, barely a month later, Hart says he’s “over” the Oscars controversy. Nevertheless, he sat down for a long conversation with Fresh Air in which he reflected on the whirlwind of the past few weeks in the larger context of his comedy career. Hart notes that the jokes in question were made nearly a decade ago and that, at the time, they seemed in line with the risqué comedy he had grown up watching. But he adds he has a different perspective now. “The bad part about being a comedian is that sometimes you just aren’t funny,” he says. “Sometimes to grow as a comedian, you got to go through the stupid part.”

“Ultimately,” Hart says, “I have 10 years of separation in between the time that was brought back up and now, and I think those 10 years acted as a great example of change. And in order for people to evolve, you have to accept their change.” Hart’s new film, The Upside, represents a further evolution of his career. In it he plays Dell, a man who, trying to get his life back on track after serving prison time, gets a job as a caretaker for a wealthy quadriplegic man, played by Bryan Cranston. Hart describes his role as “something a little more serious.”

“You’ve seen me high-energy. You’ve seen me be the guy who’s responsible for the funny,” he says. “In this particular case, it was a little different. It was about me embracing the life of somebody that’s real, and making sure that I gave a performance that made people invest in the relationship between the two characters.” MORE

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Q&A With Holy Holy Bassist And Longtime David Bowie Producer And T. Rex Architect Tony Visconti

January 9th, 2019

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Artwork via SHAPERSOFTHE80S.COM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally published in January of 2016, three days after David Bowie passed off this mortal coil. We are re-posting it because it’s Philly Loves Bowie Week, duh. Holy Holy kicks off a UK tour in February, click HERE for tour dates.

mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA The DJ Murray The K – the Geator With The Heater of his day — was known as the proverbial ‘Fifth Beatle’ for his tireless Fab Four boosterism during the initial waves of Beatlemania. Legendary producer Tony Visconti is the Fifth Bowie. There are others who, it could be reasonably argued, deserve the Fifth Bowie mantle, namely Brian Eno who collaborated on the vaunted Berlin Trilogy (Low, Heroes, Lodger) in the late 70s and more recently on 1995’s Outside, and Mick Ronson who from 1970’s The Man Who Sold The World to 1973’s Pin-Ups was “jamming good with Weird and Gilley” and boy could he play guitar. But Visconti is the rosebud in Bowie’s attic, recording 13 albums over the course of the last 47 years with The Thin White Duke. He was there at the very beginning (1969’s David Bowie) the middle (1975’s Young Americans through 1980’s Scary Monsters) and the very end (2013’s The Next Day and the just-released Black Star).

It is well-documented that Bowie habitually traded — some would say discarded — sidemen and collaborators after an album or two, always shape-shifting into someone or some thing different. The fact that Bowie called on Visconti for so many albums over so many years speaks to the depth of his trust and reliance. That alone would be enough to qualify most people for Crucial Person Of The 20th Century status. But in addition to forging all those Bowie classics, Visconti was also the architect of all those classic T. Rex albums, not to mention Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, three Thin Lizzy albums, and countless other credible works stretching back to 1968.

However, the album that brings us here today is Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World, which Visconti produced, arranged, and, arguably, co-wrote, despite the fact that the songwriting credits on the album sleeve say otherwise. He also played bass on allholy_holy_o2_tix_1000sq the tracks, along with Ronson and drummer Woody Woodmansey, both of whom would go on to become Ziggy Stardust’s backing band The Spiders From Mars. Long considered one of Bowie’s lesser works, the album was largely forgotten before Nirvana covered the title track. If it sounds more like the time and the place of its making than most Bowie albums, that’s because it is the bridge between the psych-folk dabblings of late 60’s Bowie and the Brechtian glam-rock crunch of his classic early 70’s work and all that would come after. Bowie was too low on funds to promote the album with a proper tour and the album quickly vanished into the hashish mists of the early 70’s.

Holy Holy — a new-ish group featuring Visconti on bass and Woodmansey on drums, and quietly underwritten by Bowie — is on a mission to change all that. They are currently in the midst of an American tour that stopped at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville back in January and touches down at the Tower Theater on Saturday, April 2nd. In the wake of Bowie’s death, the concerts have become, in the words of Billboard, “strange, mad celebrations” of his life. Though the band won’t talk about it, presumably at Bowie’s behest, the tour, along with Black Star and the remarkable, next-level videos that accompany it, are all part of Bowie curating his own death. He was, after all, the man who sold the world. To be clear, the latter is all theoretical, I spoke with Visconti shortly before Christmas, three weeks before Bowie’s passing, when none of these questions were in the air.

PHAWKER: I’m a big fan of the many artists and albums that you’ve produced and it’s a huge honor to speak with you.

TONY VISCONTI: Thank you.

PHAWKER: Okay, very good. Okay so tell me, what is the impetus for doing an extended American tour performing The Man Who Sold The World with Holy Holy?

TONY VISCONTI: Well, a year ago I did four Holy Holy shows on a dare for Woody Woodmansey just to get back up on the stage and do it, and it really made me very excited to even contemplate it. But I had to put in about — I said yes — it took about three months of practicing before it even really even got up to that standard again on my bass playing. And then I went off and did the four shows and it was so exciting. I just want to do this like part of every year I want to work with Woody and his band. So I proved to myself that I still had it in me.

PHAWKER: Initially, there were four shows over in the UK. Are those the ones you’re talking about?

TONY VISCONTI: Yeah that was 2014 and then that was so successful that we went and did last year, no, this year actually, we did about 14 shows in the UK and Scotland and Ireland and then we went to Japan and did four shows so we’ve done 22 shows so far and we know it works and we know the fans love it and also the other thing Jonathan is that The Man Who Sold The World was never performed live when David Bowie was in the group. So we thought we could do it, and I mean it’s a very strong album. A dark, strong album.

PHAWKER: Yeah. Um the band is called Holy Holy which is the name of a song David Bowie recorded around the time of when the album was made, but was not on the album — in retrospect, I think it would have made a good lead-off track — can you explain why? It’s a really good song.

TONY VISCONTI: I think it was an afterthought, and we had already stopped and I was already onto my next project, so Bowie recorded that without me.

PHAWKER: Oh okay, it was recorded after the album tracks.

TONY VISCONTI: Yeah, I was working with a group called T. Rex at the time, and so I had to rush off to my next gig.tony-visconti-1970-haddon-hall-sept-14

PHAWKER: A little band called T. Rex. I’m a huge fan of those records and I wish we had time to get into all of that but let’s stick to Bowie. I hope you don’t mind talking a little bit about the making of The Man Who Sold The World, and the circumstances around that time. That’s cool with you?

TONY VISCONTI: Sure, that would be great, yeah.

PHAWKER: Wikipedia suggests there are competing narratives about the making of the album and the exact provenance of the songs so I just want to read a few things back to you and tell me what you think, if that’s how you recall things or otherwise.

TONY VISCONTI: Okay.
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IMMIGRANT SONG: Q&A W/ Comedian Amir K

January 9th, 2019

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HenryPhawkerPortrait-1BY HENRY SAVAGE As an Iranian immigrant, Amir K grew up straddling a language barrier that would later help him craft his outsider wit and deftness with character comedy. With hilarious impressions of his father, people you may find in traffic court, and Mexican St. Patrick’s Day, Amir was able to tackle most topics with a comedic flare. Coming up, Amir K’s worst nightmare was that he would fall short of achieving his dream of becoming a successful stand-up comedian and he’d wind up just being the funny water cooler guy at work, only able to crack jokes during lunch breaks and monotonous meetings. So, after a series of unfortunate events that led to him losing his real estate business, Amir moved to LA with a renewed intent to make his dream a reality. Fast forward 10 years and Amir has landed a supporting role in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo, a season on Mad TV, and appearances on Big Bang Theory, Adam DeVine’s House Party and Comedy Knockout with Damien Lemon. We got him on the horn in advance of his appearances at Punch Line Philly January 10th through 12th.

DISCUSSED: Comedy as a childhood defense mechanism, working on Argo, Iranian-American families, straddling language barriers, learning English, touring and the tender mercy of Ben Affleck.

PHAWKER: What got you interested in comedy?

AMIR K: I was always a class clown type of guy or some shit. And you just develop the wit. For me, I guess it was a defense mechanism. I was always a big kid. So I would just, like, use my words a lot, right? And that was the way I could get the upper hand on somebody, I guess. So, I just became good at roasting people, and coming up with stuff on the fly. Maybe just coming here at an early age too, you know, learning a funny way to get myself to fit in. I don’t know the psychology of it, but it definitely shaped me, because my brother’s totally different, which is weird. He’s a little more reserved, he’s not as quick to like, bust somebody balls, right? I am. I guess being a younger brother, maybe that has something to do with it. But it’s so weird how you find that psychology has to do with a lot of early experiences in your life. The way that you develop your personality in a way.

PHAWKER: How did having to overcome the language barrier impact your comedy?

AMIR K: I do a lot of characters, like different voices. And I think that came for me, learning how to speak English at an early age by mimicking people in my neighborhood. I just started speaking English. How the hell did I pick it up? Because I remember just watching the other kids. I remember their mouths moving and I was like, “What is the shit they’re saying?” Yeah, I remember having that thought as a kid, and then just one day I was talking like them [So that’s probably how] I got that ability to change my voice or adapt to however somebody else’s talking. I think that helped me with the accents and characters. So it’s just weird because I look back on it, my brother was a little older when we moved here, so he got a different experience. I was like five years old. He was like seven. Mentally I think your brain develops at a different rate, right? So I probably was a little more traumatized by the whole experience.

PHAWKER: I always heard that English as a second language is one of the hardest languages to learn because it has like such weird and random rules.

AMIR K: So many rules and exceptions! So I’m glad that I came when I was younger, dude, because it really is a mindfuck when you’re older. When you’re over the threshold of really picking up the language like a sponge, it gets so weird. You hear like weird accents and people not being able to conjugate verbs correctly and all that shit. I’m glad I came when I came.

PHAWKER: Tell me about moving here from Iran.

AMIR K: I was born in Iran, and I came when I was five. You know what’s so crazy, is that it must have been very traumatic as a young kid. Imagine coming from a place where you speak the language, you can understand everybody, and then all of a sudden they just take you and you don’t know what the fuck is going on, you’re a kid. You just come into this other place, and now I’m going to kindergarten with fucking people that I can’t even understand what they’re saying. Like what? And I remember bawling my eyes out the first day. I was just like crying for my mom. It got to the point where my mom had to come and be an assistant there until I got assimilated to being around these other people that I didn’t know. I had separation anxiety. That probably did something to me mentally.
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JAZZIN’ FOR BLUE JEAN: Q&A W/ Donny McCaslin

January 8th, 2019

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SVolkBY STEVE VOLK One spring night in 2014, an aging British gentleman walked into Bar 55, a tiny Greenwich Village jazz club, where he listened to a band that honked and squalled in the most beautiful array of colors. The old man was so good at maintaining a low profile that he blended right into the tables and the crowd, and it was only later that people both inside and outside the bar were made aware of this show. David Bowie’s Blackstar, his final album, released just two days before he died in January 2016 was born, many years earlier, when his brother first turned him on to jazz and he bought himself a saxophone—the album representing a lifelong home and destination. But it only became a going thing after Bowie attended that show and reached out to bandleader Donny McCaslin, to ask if he would work with him on his next album.

The rest is a sad and beautiful piece of history—Blackstar serving as a fitting capstone to Bowie’s career because it sounded like, well, like David Bowie, without sounding like anything he’d done before. But this is a living history, which goes on living not only in the usual way we like to frame these things—In our hearts and memories! Or Whenever we play the record! This history is living in the heart of David Bowie’s last bandleader, McCaslin, who already had Grammys up on his shelf when the master came calling, yet found himself careening into entirely new creative territories ever since.

Beyond Now, McCaslin’s first album after Blackstar, served as a kind of summation of the Bowie McCaslinBowie experience—marrying up his unique brand of modern, “stadium jazz” with an art rock sensibility and even a couple of powerfully redone Bowie tracks, including the funereal “Warzawa,” which McCaslin somehow made even more epic. The new record, Blow, however is another thing altogether, and sounds a lot more like Bowie by sounding less like Bowie overall.

McCaslin has incorporated the Bowie colors into his palette, in other words, and is forging ahead. McCaslin, still inspired by the recording of Blackstar, and listening to alternative music at a voracious clip (he emailed me a list of the artists he was diving into most deeply) wanted that sense of collaboration again, so he enlisted a series of vocalists to make this new album, with no worries, he says (as you’ll see below), about what genre the music fits. The result is music as bracing and immediate as a killer pop song but hits the jazz pedal, hard, and winds up defying all categorization. The Donny McCaslin Group performs at The Foundry at Fillmore Philly on Saturday January 12th as part of Philly Loves Bowie Week.

PHAWKER: I have to confess this first question comes from just by being a dad, I’ve got 6-year old fraternal twin boys, but what was it like growing up in a musical family? Having that opportunity to play music with your father on stage?

DONNY MCCASLIN: I grew up in a household of divorce, so I lived with my mother and I would see my father one day a week, usually on Sunday. From the beginning, my father would drive to my mother’s house during the week with his Wurlitzer Piano. I lived kind of in the country so he would carry it from the house up this dirt path around a circle of redwood trees up to a barn, and set up the Wurlitzer piano and then we would jam.

I was temperamental, sometimes we would play for five minutes and I’d get really frustrated, and we’d call it off. He never complained, he’d just take his piano back down the driveway. Other times we would play for hours, so he was really supportive from the beginning. He included me in his group when I was far too inexperienced to have any business playing with those guys. He was always supportive, even when I really struggled. It meant alot to me, it was a tremendous gift he gave to me and it’s one that I try to give to my children too.

PHAWKER: As you were coming up, were you listening to equal parts, rock and jazz? What were your interests and tastes?

DONNY MCCASLIN: I mean to go really deep, my first thing was John Philip Sousa, then it was Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, ACDC, and then it was jazz. Even when I was first getting started and getting enamored by jazz, I always listened to rock music and other things too. I was lucky that Santa Cruz was a small town but there’s a lot of culture happening there. So I was exposed to alot of reggae music growing up. I heard Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, The Mighty Diamonds…all those bands. My father’s band, they played a little bit of R&B/Funk, and then I used to hear Tower OF Power, and I’d go hear them live. So I was always interested in a broad thing, my sister was super into Aretha and The Motowns, I used to listen to McCaslin_Blowthat alot.

PHAWKER: I’m going to ask you about a couple specific songs, and I’ll start with one that you wrote, “Bright Abyss.” It’s such a wonderful track and I’m going to get into a mystical and sort of oddball question. That song for me it so correlates with a particular emotional experience. I’m curious to what degree you feel like you find these songs or they find you?

DONNY MCCASLIN: Music is emotion first, and as I listen to a song and I fall in love with it, it’s the emotion that hits me first. It’s not like this interval, or this chord, or sequence is what does it, it’s always emotion for me. So I think that’s something that when I’m working on writing a tune, and when things start to come together, it’s usually based around an emotional experience. Maybe an experience that I thought about that directly influenced the process, or it happens while I’m in the middle of it. Music is always emotional for me and it’s something that I try to exude in the music I put out there because it means so much to me.
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Via BuzzFeed