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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Deadbeat-In-Chief

October 27th, 2020



BY WILLIAM C. HENRY What does the American taxpayer have to look forward to regarding the untold mega million$ in back taxe$, interest charge$, penaltie$, and a $400,000,000+ personally guaranteed debt owed to corrupt banks and dictatorial foreign governments by the current president of the United States? Answer: he/she/me/you SMUSwill be paying ALL of it off if the notorious deadbeat, tax cheat, known thief and traitorous Putin ass-kisser, Donald J. Trump, is re-elected.

Why? Because Donnie is, for all intents and purposes, DEAD BROKE and has literally NO MEANS left to obtain the funds necessary to pay off these debts other than to surreptitiously steal them from the United States treasury or to provide the creditors certain American government concessions or allowances and/or turn a blind eye towards their illicit activities against our democracy.

Allow me to repeat that: there are NO OTHER options for Trump, period! No individual, financial institution or government anywhere in the world will lend Trump any more money! EVERYTHING he or the Trump organization owns (which is considerably less than meets the eye since much of what he or his organization claims to OWN is simply under a “lease” or “management” contract) is already mortgaged to the hilt. He can’t beg or borrow so much as a thin dime anywhere from anyone. His only resort is to steal the necessary cash or provide something in trade for debt forgiveness. He is a U.S treasury embezzler in waiting! He is a DEADBEAT walking!

P.S. Another frightful little tidbit you might want to keep in mind is that this Charlatan in Chief could not obtain even the nation’s LOWEST security clearance were he not the president of the United States!

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OPEN LETTER: A Pennsyltucky Man’s Final Appeal To The Better Angels Of His Trump-Voting Family

October 21st, 2020



lincoln sunglassesBY DAnon Just after the 2016 presidential election I wrote an open letter to family members expressing my disappointment in their selections. With that letter I asked each of you to express your perspective in a response to my letter. I waited for a while and received no response from any of you. So, I reached out. Here’s what I heard—from my sister, “Well, the other side,” from my father—“Yes, he’s going to make American great again,” and from my mother—“Well, I didn’t know about any of this stuff. I don’t pay attention to the news.” Now four years later, the 2020 presidential election is essentially a contest of hate versus hope. If you review my letter from 2016 you can see that my fears have become a reality. It already was then. It’s just gotten much worse and will only continue to worsen. A country run on hate, racism, divisiveness, greed, xenophobia, fascism, sexual predation, and misogyny is what we’ve become. Is this okay with you? Does this jive with Christian beliefs?


Another reminder—I’m not affiliated with any party. I’m an independent. I’ve heard “Well, the other side” or “Well, he’s from the other side.” We are all Americans. Typically, Democrats and Republican platforms are somewhat identical because we all pretty much want the same things for this country. But as it was four years ago, this is not a contest of Republican vs. Democrat. It’s hate versus hope. Just look at the 2020 party platforms. The Democratic platform is very hopeful and includes ways to move the country forward. There is no Republican party platform in 2020. None.

And let’s touch on the Republican party a bit. The Republican party we’ve known no longer exists. It’s now the Trump party. The list of real Republicans breaking from him (i.e. current US Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, Cindy McCain, George Bush, Jeb Bush, Jeff Flake, Colin Powell, John Bolton, Justin Amash, William McRaven, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rick Snyder, Miles Taylor, Tom Ridge, John Kelly and Mad Dog Mattis) and voting Democrat is staggering. And he (Trump) is not a Republican at all. You’ve got to see that the party has been hijacked by a conman and his propaganda arm Fox News.

Now please try to release white privilege from your mindset. Let me remind my family once again that I am married to a recent immigrant. She was sworn in as an American citizen. She has every right and privilege that you and every other citizen in this country is blessed with. Also, our boys are not “white.” You may say, “Well, I don’t think of your family that way.” Well, that’s good. But others do and they’re being dog-whistled and prompted by a dangerous demagogue. My family is a target of this xenophobic, racist conman—yes, your grandchildren are now targets.

Who are these “others”? They are the base lunatics—proud racists, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other white power groups like The Proud Boys. They show up at rallies waving their Confederate and white power flags. They instigate riots and create chaos at peaceful protests and marches. This is right out of Nazi Germany’s playbook. This can’t be okay with you. This doesn’t align with your Christian beliefs.

So, can my Trump/Nazi comparison be dismissed? I don’t think so. His campaign started off by demonizing the entire population of Mexicans, Muslims, and all immigrants. Then came a plan for mass deportations. Then came separating children from their families at the border. Hitler did the same. This is how he rose to power.

Hitler disposed of 11 million people during his reign. He murdered not only 6 million Jews, but also 5 million other people. Who were those other people? They were gypsies, homosexuals, visual artists, writers, musicians, clergy, professors, the elderly, the press, the handicapped, Jehovahs, blacks, political opponents, Slavics, and their very own soldiers when they returned home after being caught as prisoners of war (John McCain, anyone?). He and his base supporters seem to be targeting the same folks. I’m sure you don’t hate any of these people.

When I look back a few years ago and think of this rally moment, this should have been the end of Donald Trump’s run—mocking a handicapped reporter and literally “kicking” out a 10-year old boy in a wheelchair and his mother from a rally.


    Like four years ago, I’m not saying you are racist. But you did then decide that racism isn’t a deal-breaker when casting your vote. This was very confusing for me then, since you never taught your family to be racist or hateful. I’m grateful for that, as you should be proud of that.

Clearly you are a devout Christian. You were raised to be one. You raised your own children to be one. This is important to you—attending services every week, choir member and director, organist, council member, etc. That is a very admirable dedication to the faith.

So how then does support of Trump reconcile with your core guidelines of your faith. Perhaps I am missing something, but I don’t see any alignment at all between the Christian life and Trump.

Donald Trump is a conman. He is morally bankrupt. He is hateful. He has disdain for your beliefs. He is playing you as a mark. He has made himself a false idol. He’s done the same in business where he has bankrupted six different companies, including a casino. How can anyone bankrupt a casino? That’s nearly impossible to do. Still waiting for those tax returns, too. UPDATE: $750 paid per year. Ugh.

Donald Trump is the poster boy for misogyny and sexual predation. How many wives? How many girlfriends on the side? 26 cases and counting of sexual misconduct. How many paid-off porn stars? How many pussies did he grab?

And does he really have a sexual interest in his own daughter? Well, he’s stated it multiple times on live television and on live radio.

And what of our illegal immigrant first lady? Yes, she came to this country illegally. But I guess that’s okay when it pertains to his own interests (i.e. hiring illegals to work at his golf clubs and hotels). And then there’s Fox News’ poor Megyn Kelly. It’s all just too gross (including the nepotism of hiring family members to lucrative government positions).

Trump has destroyed our country’s standing in the world and with its allies. We are now ridiculed around the globe. He treats our greatest allies as enemies—Germany, France, England, Canada, Mexico, Ukraine, “shit hole countries,” NATO, etc. His fawning over and bromance with the world’s most notorious authoritarian rulers should alarm you. Remember when Russia, the Taliban and North Korea were all our most ruthless enemies in the world? What happened? He has respect and admiration for murdering thugs but refers to our own veterans and military as “suckers” and “losers.”


US intelligence agencies (both the CIA and the FBI) concluded that Russia had indeed interfered in the 2016 presidential election (and both are reporting they are again doing this). Their investigations revealed that Russia was attempting to help get Trump elected. Trump’s and Fox News’ response? “This is a witch hunt led by Democrat-loving Robert Mueller.” Robert Mueller is a registered Republican that was appointed as Special Counsel by Jeff Sessions, Trump’s own Attorney General. His investigations led to the discovery of people in Trump’s campaign working with Russia for election help. The result of those investigations and those involved:

  • Paul Manafort, Campaign Manager—indicted, guilty, imprisoned (hoping to be pardoned)
  • Rick Gates, Campaign Advisor – indicted, guilty, imprisoned, time served
  • Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor—indicted, guilty, currently attempting to be pardoned (of course)
  • Jeff Sessions, Attorney General – fired by Trump because he rightfully recused himself from the investigations
  • George Papadopolous, Campaign Advisor—indicted, imprisoned, time served
  • Roger Stone (Trump’s old Nixon-loving weirdo buddy)—indicted, guilty, pardoned by Trump (of course)
  • Michael Cohen – Trump’s long-time personal lawyer—indicted, guilty, imprisoned, time served
  • James Comey—FBI Director—fired by Trump for telling the truth


So, witch hunt? Thirty-four Trump campaign personnel and Russian nationals charged and 113 total charges of crimes. This was not a witch hunt. Period. To this very day, Trump still denies Russian interference as both the FBI and the CIA say otherwise in both the 2016 and 2020 elections. But he knows better than them and the generals, right?

You’d be right to assume at this point that Trump should’ve settled down and behaved. But you’d be wrong. Not long after all these charges were announced, it was discovered by a whistleblower in the administration that Trump was again seeking election help from a foreign power—Ukraine. In his infamous quid-pro-quo call to the leader of Ukraine, Trump is heard asking for dirt on Joe Biden to help himself win re-election.  This is a CRIME! We all know the rest—the US House of Representatives, on two counts (obstruction of Congress and abuse of power), voted to impeach the man-baby. Yes, he was found guilty of both charges and IMPEACHED! So, why is he still in office? Complicit Republican Senators voted against removal. But not all Republican Senators voted in his favor (i.e. Murkowski and Romney). Two Russian pals (hmmm) of new personal Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani were both arrested, indicted and are serving time. Gordon Sondlund was fired by Trump as ambassador to Ukraine because he told truth under oath. John Bolton and Rick Perry both resigned purely out of disgust.

Trump’s biggest proclaimed hoax is about the current pandemic of COVID-19. He was first made aware of this threat to the country as early as January of this year. What did he do about it? Blame China (China Virus?). Blame health officials and the CDC. Blame Dr. Fauci. I say Fauci for President!

I believe the President is supposed to set examples for all of us. What example is he setting here? “Don’t wear a mask!” “No masks at my rallies!” This man is insane. There are now over 210,000 dead American citizens due primarily to his inaction, mismanagement, denials, and hoax claims. The US is now in the worst shape from this “hoax” than any other country in the world. We rank first in infections and deaths. What more is there to say? Make America Great Again? We’re Number One?!? Drink bleach and inject Lysol, America!
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CINEMA: Why The Caged Bird Sings

October 20th, 2020

Billie Poster


Billie Holiday had one of the greatest voices of all time. She was a woman of breath-taking talent and global popularity while also stirring controversy. She started a notable rebellion singing “Strange Fruit” which exposed the realities of Black life in America and earned her powerful enemies. Raw, emotional and brutally honest, Billie is filled with incredible, unheard testimonies from musical greats like Charles Mingus, Tony Bennett, Sylvia Syms and Count Basie.”

Then in the late 1960’s journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl set out to write the definitive biography of Billie. Over the next decade, she tracked down and tape-recorded interviews with the extraordinary characters that populated the iconic singer’s short, tumultuous life.

These incredibly intimate testimonies are not only told by some of the musical greats, but Billie Holiday herself is revealed through the eyes of her cousin, her school friends, lovers, lawyers, pimps and even the FBI agents who arrested her. Linda’s book was never finished and the tapes unplayed – until now.

With unprecedented and exclusive access to Linda’s astonishing 200 hours of never-before-heard interviews, BILLIE showcases an American legend, capturing her depths and complexity through the voices of those who knew her best. Painstakingly restored with footage and stills colorized by one of the leading color artists, it is an arresting and powerful tale of one of the greatest singers who ever lived, and of Linda Lipnack Kuehl, the woman who would sacrifice her life in trying to tell it. Premiers in select theaters and on-demand streaming on Friday December 4th.

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October 15th, 2020

Susan Werner


Houlon2BY JONATHAN HOULON FOLK MUSIC EDITOR Susan Werner is a helluva songwriter.  Just ask octogenarian British heartthrob Tom Jones or Canadian folk giant Garner Rogers, both of whom have recorded Werner’s stunning composition “Did Trouble Me.”  [Note:  there will be a forthcoming Wire on Garnet and his late brother Stan cuz let’s face it, you’ve never heard tell of ‘em and you shoulda done, mmmmmmmmmmkkkkkkay?] But this Wire does not concern Werner’s storied songwriting past — rather, we welcome her newest long-player, Flyover Country and it’s incredible lead-off track, “Long Live.”

Hometown songs often represent a sand-trap for songwriters:  they lend themselves to the sorta sticky sentiment whose eradication thereof Sid Vicious, among other noble combatants, died in vain glory… or something.  There are a few great odes to home, tho, including criminally underrated Texan songsmith David Flyover CountryHalley’s “Hometown” which leads off with this couplet:  “These brokedown buildings are home sweet home to me // where they sweep the trash they don’t want to see.”  Or how about the Cole Porter of the British New Wave’s Joe Jackson who began his “Hometown” with this line:  “Of all the stupid things I could have thought this was the worst // I started to believe my life began at seventeen.”  Halley and Jackson avoid the sentiment trap by teeing off emphatically — witheringly in David’s case and self-critically in Joe’s.

As far as hometown songs go, Werner’s “Long Live” is a hole-in-one (for the record, I have never and will never play golf) but first let us pause for a brief lesson in Songwriting for all you millenials out there.  Well, actually, let me initially mention that Werner’s Flyover Country is something called an “album” which is a collection of songs that may even have some thematic thread.  Get it?  Of course you don’t!  But, anyway, a “song” is different than a “soundscape” that is used as background noise in the War on Drugs.  Dig?  See, it’s got several components including three that Werner especially excels at:  (1) a “melody” i.e. a series of notes of varying lengths, some long, some short.  Check out how Susan sings the words “interstate” and “Super Eight” in the first verse of “Long Live.”  Instead of a staccato series of one beat mumbles, she actually elongates these notes to a full measure (that’s four beats for you musos out there).  Werner writes wonderful melodies and actually has the vocal chops to sing them.  (2) a “bridge” (sometimes called a “middle eight”) i.e. a variation on the the verse or the chorus that has its own melodic idea but somehows harkens and leads back to, usually, the verse.  With an ace songwriter like Susan, you hardly even notice the seams between the bridge and the rest of the song — it all just flows, man!  For further consideration of the middle eight, I recommend the Beatles (can you name all four?)  (3) “lyrics”:  yes, kids, actual words with meaning (and, no, that doesn’t require obviousness … but it requires something to which you’ll want to return).  Werner veers toward the corn field on “Long Live” with images such as “the water tower and the swimming pool // the county fairgrounds and the middle school.”  But, then, she hits you with this at the very end of her tale:  “So pardon me if I still give a damn.”  In other words, you can shove your hipster irony up your ass, Houlon.  My hometown made me who I am and I’ll sing it about as much as I fucking want to.  Of course, being the master she is, Werner achieves all of that with a sly wink in perfect pentameter.  Don’t mess with Susie!

Werner — who, indeed, hails from small-town Iowa, cut her teeth on the Philly folk scene of the early 90s when she was first starting out; she remains resident of the city where bad things happen.  For Flyover Country, she wisely enlisted local dobro legend Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner to produce and he, in turn, pulled in several of his colleagues from John Train [FULL DISCLOSURE: That’s my band.] including fiddler extraordinaire Jay Ansill who contributed significantly to that band’s early sound.  There are times when Flyover Country is sort of sonically reminiscent of John Train were those local no-hit wonders fronted by a far more capable singer and songwriter.  Hah!  The balance of Flyover Country is filled out by a small bluegrass combo led by Sarah Larsen (who was a mainstay of this century’s Philly folk scene Susan Werner2before moving to Maryland) on fiddle and former Huffamooser Kevin Hansen (still of Philly and still one its very best) on guitar.  I can’t say that I am intimately familiar with Werner’s entire catalogue — she has been produced by some serious heavyweights including Rodney Crowell — but it is hard to imagine getting a warmer sound than the one achieved on Flyover Country.  Kudos to Brenner and engineer Pete Rydberg of South Philly’s 1935 Studio for keeping the focus where it belongs:  on Werner’s songs and her beautiful voice.  How refreshing it is to listen to a record where I don’t sense a computer between me and what I’m hearing:  Flyover Country has the feel of an unfussy living room unburdened by digital ornament.  Did I actually just write that?

But where is this so-called Flyover Country anyway? If you ask me (a hardcore and unapologetic East Coast liberal elite), it starts just west of here, say, Montgomery County, and ends somewhere just shy of the Santa Monica pier. I dunno, man, this “reaching across the aisle” jazz seems pretty far fetched to me. I mean, what would that conversation sound like? “Hey, Elmer, have you read Shapiro’s latest, Shakespeare In A Divided America? How about that part where he reveals that none of other than Ulysses S. Grant once dressed the part of Desdemona? Far out, right?” “Well I don’t know about all that, Jon, but I tell you what: Gawd willin’ and the crick don’t rise, if those pizza eating pedophiles come this way, I’ll stand my ground and, then, I’ll stand back and standby too!” “Uhhhhhhh ….”

But Werner’s strength is empathy.  In writing about Flyover Country, she addresses among other things child abuse.  How’s this for a chilling line from “Only Later” another highlight of the record:  “Only later did we learn that the neighbors right near by had a daddy with an eye [that] didn’t wander far enough.” Ouch!  She concludes by reminding us (and I sure need some reminding as evidenced above):  “How all alike we were only later did we learn.”  Whether effortlessly moving from folk rock to bluegrass to rockabilly as she does in the album’s first three songs alone or singing about hometown subjects such as the barn radio or her daddy’s Eldorado, Werner’s Flyover Country is a place worth visiting, now more than ever.  I just hope it’s only later, as she sings, and not too late.

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BRIAN WILSON GOES TO THE MALL: An Appreciation Of Edward Lodewijk Van Halen RIP

October 8th, 2020



Hangley_BylinerBY BILL HANGLEY JR. Eddie Van Halen dies, and the word that comes to mind is “joy.” That’s m’lady’s word for his music, and she’s right. She’s a huge fan, and many are the nights we’ve spent with a bottle of wine and the pounding rubbery cartoon violence of 1984. What Eddie embodied, she always said, was “pure, male joy.” Not the meathead glower of your modern vomit-vocal metal. Not the prosthetic-penis fakery of your day-glo hair bands. But instead, from Eddie Van Halen, godfather to them all, true joy; the jolly roar of a chainsaw crossed with an ice cream truck. Open, generous, dressed for frights but promising delights. For all the cartoonishly-crass fist-shaking, pelvis-pumping sizzle of Van Halen’s best work, it was always as welcoming as an amusement park at the end of the pier.

Singer David Lee Roth was the carnival barker. Drummer Alex Van Halen powered the roller coaster. Bassist Michael Anthony propped up the facades and spun the cotton-candy background vocals.

And Eddie?

Eddie was the thousand-foot candy-colored plastic slide that dropped you from ninety feet up, spun you around sixteen times, tossed you into the air, and finally dumped you into the Pacific with a massive, joyous splash.

This was a great pop craftsman who launched flares of true genius. Not just any Dutch kid could take one of Michael Jackson’s best songs and – in Jackson’s own words – “not just blaze a solo … but make it better.” Eddie Van Halen didn’t just play on “Beat It,” he rearranged the tune in ten minutes in order to ensure that when it came cranking out of somebody’s car stereo, they’d have no choice but to stomp the gas. Resistance was futile.

The resulting rush was as American as the 20th century. Wanna feel good? Hit play on Van Halen and hit the road. Make speed. Move, baby. At its best, Van Halen was your car, no problems, and an open highway. Was there anywhere to go? Who cares? Let’s go anyway! Van Halen was the Beach Boys of the shopping mall age, and Eddie was the band’s Brian Wilson.Van_halen_flyer

And now Van Halen is truly over, and with it, a chapter of late 20th Century American history.

Because in Eddie and Van Halen we can see the beginning and end of a very particular American time and place: the sprawling postwar California suburbs that are smoldering as you read this. All great bands need a great scene, and for Van Halen the scene was the massive, folks-away cul-de-sac keg parties of the 1970s. The text to consult for a full, beer-soaked account is Van Halen Rising, by Greg Renoff, a tremendously entertaining band bio of the best variety: written by a fan, with a fan’s commitment to accuracy and detail, and focused entirely on the early years when the band was coming together and fighting for success.

Renoff’s book reveals the perfect party Petri dish of Pasadena: an endless sprawl of yards, pools and rumpus rooms, stuffed with Boomers’ kids, with money and cars and nowhere to go but to each others’ houses whenever somebody’s parents went away. California’s drinking age was already 21, but people acted as if it was still 18. High school meant weed, rock, beer and birth control. The five-buck-a-head backyard kegger was a summer standard.

And what those parties needed was bands. To play. For hours. And hours. And hours and hours and hours.

Eddie was a perfect match. Van Halen Rising describes an absolutely typical guitar nerd: weirdo loner teen, shacked up for hours at a time, piecing together solos from the stadium rock of the day. Clapton. Page. Alvin Lee’s “Going Home.” California’s first sight of Eddie Van Halen was of a kid staring at his sneakers playing note-for-note versions of what they already knew from the radio.

It took David Lee Roth – himself an extraordinary California story, a singer who couldn’t sing but who kept Eddie from devolving into just another self-indulgent 70s guitardroid – to shape the band into what became Van Halen. Roth’s unbridled ambition got Eddie out of the suburbs and into the LA clubs that made them both stars. Without Roth, Eddie might have spent his life basements, unraveling Steve Vai solos under the black light headphones and wondering if he could have been somebody.

But he got out. Van Halen left the keg parties behind just in time. Van Halen Rising describes a scene that grew well out of hand: cul-de-sacs lined with hundreds of cars, impromptu parties turning into massive drunken mini-festivals. Suddenly American teenagers had too much time and money and horsepower and real estate for their own good, and America had to clamp down.

So by the time Van Halen started hitting the pop charts, Carter had been replaced by Reagan, the national drinking age was officially 21, the sexual revolution had met the Moral Majority, and surfing safaris had been replaced by shopping safaris. The beach was out; the mall was in. The Beach Boys were out; Banana Republic was in.

Van Halen helped carry America across that great divide with its rock and roll intact. The band packaged the sprawling, raucous spirit of seventies rock into the kind of plastic container appropriate for sale at the Galleria. They shrink-wrapped all of “In A Gadda Da Vida” seventeen-minute madness into blistering three-minute singles like “You Really Got Me” and “Panama.”

And they did it with pleasure. The invited everyone in. The responses to Eddie’s death from people of all walks of musical life tell you how well they succeeded. Stroll down the boardwalk and there’s a lot of crap for sale, but when you pass the Van Halen booth, who could resist going in?

Hardly anybody, that’s who. Irresistible: that was Van Halen at its best.

And that might sound simple. But look at how few can do what he did – especially guitarists. One of the easiest things to do on guitar is act scary, and by the end of the ’70s there were a lot of wannabe-scary guitarists around. It’s not hard. Lots of people can make guitars scream or groan or roar like a chainsaw falling down a flight of stairs. Sometimes all you need to do is push a button or stomp a pedal.

But precious few players can make a guitar laugh. No pedal does that. Off the top of my head, the very short list includes Joe Walsh, Doc Watson, and John Scofield. Bill Frisell can squeeze out a wry chuckle. Jerry Garcia could make it giggle like it was baked.

But Eddie Van Halen could make a guitar open its mouth wide and laugh out loud, and when he did, the world laughed along.

These days there’s not much to laugh about. The suburbs are burning. The malls are closed. Kids party on Zoom. That warm California sun will kill you. Five bucks barely buys a cup of coffee, let alone all you can drink at an all-day California pool party.

But somewhere there’s a kid in a bedroom, headphones on, a guitar in hand, a sound in mind, who will change music again. It’s not working yet. It still sounds just like somebody else’s guitar. But when you do a little like this, and then a little like that, and then you press that like that – wow. That’s cool! That feels like…something.

RIP, Eddie Van Halen.

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CINEMA: Chelsea Girl

October 8th, 2020


ON THE ROCKS (directed by Sophia Coppola, 96 minutes, USA, 2020)

BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Sofia Coppola’s followup to 2017’s The Beguiled has the director once again returning to the themes of isolation and alienation that echo throughout her filmography, but this time exploring they hit a bit closer to home. Like 2010’s Somewhere, On The Rocks, which is both written and directed by Coppola feels very autobiographical as it explores the disorienting and dispiriting sense of psychic dislocation that can often creep into both marriage and motherhood. The film focuses on Laura (Rashida Jones), a successful author suffering from writer’s block, who suspects her husband/father of her children (Marlon Wayans of infidelity. When her globe-trotting playboy art-dealer father Felix (Bill Murray) comes to town to celebrate his daughter’s birthday, hijinks ensue when the duo decide to investigate Laura’s suspicions.

The ensemble cast of On The Rocks vibes like Coppola addressing the critics that have called her out for the primarily Caucasian casts of her filmography. That being said, her artistic choices here are inspired and apt. Rashida Jones turns in an engaging yet understated performance that really helps when acting opposite the more bombastic Murray. Marlon Wayans however is almost unrecognizable, having disappeared into a role that has the underrated actor showing a range we haven’t seen since his turn in Requiem For A Dream. He really digs deep into the drama of the situation, delivering a very weighted performance that still takes a rather comedic turn when he is confronted by Felix. While Murray has mastered this sort of tragic yet comedic personae in his indie outings, it’s great to see both leads show they have the chops when going toe-to-toe with the legend.

Digging into the character a bit, Rashida Jones feels like a pretty transparent surrogate for Coppola — a creative living in Soho with her two children and her husband, just like the daughter of a certain famous director. Given her working relationship with Murray, and his appearance in several of her projects, I’ve always been curious about their working dynamic — Coppola seems very pragmatic in interviews when compared with the more whimsical mercurial Murray. This film seems to speak to that by making Laura’s father an amalgam of both Murray and her real life father Francis Ford Coppola. It’s an odd mix of comedic sidekick and living legend that Murray hilariously pinballs back and forth between in his scenes.

On the Rocks is Coppola’s take the invariably male dominated sub-genre of The New York Film. That being the case, the film suffers a little from her reverence to the rules of said sub-genre a the cinematography errs a bit on the more traditional side compared to the dreamy and almost instagram-esque  look of Virgin Suicides or The Beguiled. There is an obvious focus on highlighting the cityscapes and locations, this is paired with the requisite High Jazz soundtrack.  As cliche as it sounds, New York is used as a character here in the film, and helps define this world of wealth and privilege to a certain extent. Thankfully Coppola has chosen to try to infuse this rather stereotypical white setting with a bit more humanity and diversity than its usually afforded.

While the film has this lighthearted comedic sub-narrative with Felix and Laura playing detective, the film also explores a kind of loneliness that we rarely see from a female perspective in cinema. This theme is intertwined with how complacency takes root in a relationship only to slowly unravel it by sowing the seeds of doubt. This doubt is accentuated by Laura’s own relationship with her father and his history of infidelity that’s left a lasting mark on our protagonist and how she sees men. While the film still has the echoes of pensiveness Coppola is known for, there is hope and a bit of growth when all is said and done, which is definitely something new for the young auteur whose default setting seems to be wallowing in melancholy.


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SMUS: POTUS = Public Enemy Number One

September 16th, 2020

Screen Shot 2020-09-16 at 10.08.29 AM


BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Taking into account, 1) the death toll is now nearing 200,000 and, 2) we have Trump on tape admitting he KNEW early on about the severity of the SMUSCoronavirus and, 3) he admits he KNEW it was an AIRBORNE virus and, 4) he didn’t so much as “request” or even “suggest” that Americans wear face masks or, god forbid, set an example by wearing one HIMSELF and, 5) he decided it would be more beneficial to his re-election prospects if he made wearing them a partisan, divisive, POLITICAL choice rather than a humane one, it’s predicted that some 35 million or so of you “basers” will still vote for the Upchuck in Chief.

Can you see where this is going? Shucks, I’ll bet you’ve already guessed it. Yup, I’m among the millions upon millions of Americans who’d like to know–a hundred thousand or more of whom are literally DYING to know–precisely when and why it was that you baser instincts born-agains decided that this oh so fetid fake facts formulator of yours would once again be your main man.

For starters, was it when you heard the bottom-feeding “buckpasser” complain about the “cupboards and shelves” of the national medical stockpile being empty–even though he’d had over THREE YEARS to fill them–when the virus came to our shores?

Could it have been when your official snake oil storyteller suggested that ingesting disinfectant or large amounts of hydroxychloroquine, or going out into the sunlight could cure people of the infection?

Or, was it maybe when the Deceiver in Chief said that ANYONE who wanted to get tested for the virus could do so?

Whoa. I wonder if it was when he gave that trillion dollar tax break to the richest Americans and a teeny tiny tidbit to you so he could brand it a “middle class” tax cut?

Was it perhaps when you heard that the Putin ass kisser decided not to even verbally condemn the Moscow murderer for offering bounties to the Taliban for the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan. The Dunce Cap in Chief says he didn’t even know about it. If you believe that, I got ANOTHER phony Trump business venture I’d like you to invest in.

Oh, I’ll bet it was when you learned that Trump said that electing Joe Biden would “invite terrorists into the suburbs” while at the same time the Prevaricator in Chief was forcing the Afghan government to release Talaban prisoners who are believed to have received Russian bounties for killing American soldiers. Can you smell the shit coming from the Crapper in Chief’s facial orifice?

Maybe it was when the Oval Office diarrhea disgorger stated there were some “very fine people” on both sides in Charlottesville, or perhaps it was after any one of the myriad of times he’s refused to denounce the bullshit and the fake, totally fabricated, vile, vitriolic, divisive, conspiracy crap spewed out by the likes of QANON, the NRA, the White Nationalists/Supremacists, the KKK, and EVERY OTHER racist Republican-approved rag, organization or website on planet earth.

Wait. Was it when the BONE-SPURRED FIVE TIME DRAFT DODGING DINGO denigrated our military leaders as nothing more than profiteers, and our military dead as simply losers and suckers?

Or maybe, just maybe, it was when Trump told his Department of Homeland Security to stop providing intelligence analysis on Russian interference in our electoral process. That would really be dear to your wannabe dictator’s heart now wouldn’t it?!

If not that, then maybe it was when he said he will defund and/or otherwise aid and abet the demise of the United States Postal Service in order to accomplish his re-election.

Wait a minute. Hold everything. Come on, admit it. I’ve finally nailed it, haven’t I? It was when he recommenced his disgusting “birther” bullshit with Kamala Harris as his racist 2020 campaign’s target du jour. I’m right, aren’t I?!

Okay. I understand. It’s hard to pick a single deciding malevolence when it comes to the Trump presidency. So many choices, so little difference between his mind-numbing malignancies and malices. And four years later you “basers” haven’t changed a bit. One is only left to wonder if imbecility, bias and masochism are embedded in the genes.

P.S. Nice job at all of the Divider in Chief’s rallies! I particularly liked the “no face masks” touch! You couldn’t possibly have shown more peabrained partisan unity when it comes to not giving a rat’s ass about the health and welfare of your families, relatives, friends or fellow Americans in general! Keep America Gagging!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up later stage 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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CINEMA: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

September 11th, 2020


TENET (Directed by Christopher Nolan, 150 minutes, USA, 2020)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC After months of delays,Tenet, the latest epic from blockbuster auteur Christopher Nolan finally hits theaters this week.The film that many hoped would kickstart theaters after the pandemic has been up until this point shrouded in secrecy. I was given the chance to review it for Phawker, but only if I viewed it in a theater, of course. Nolan is all about the theatrical experience and like the rest of his catalog, this film benefits from being projected as loud and big as humanly possible. While I was at first understandably hesitant to watch a film in a room full of people, this was to be a critic screening limited only to press, which for the KOP IMAX theater gave everyone plenty of space. Masks were also enforced, and to be worn throughout the duration of the film, so I felt comfortable finally making my return to the theater.

Tenet is the story of “The Protagonist,” no really, that’s his name. Played by John David Washington (son of Denzel) who we last saw in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. The film opens with a CIA mission that goes horribly wrong when “The Protagonist” is captured and chooses death over selling out his comrades and swallows a cyanide capsule. He miraculously wakes from “death” sometime later, only to find he was actually recruited by a mysterious organization called Tenet, and the whole cyanide capsule episode was simply a loyalty test. John’s character is tasked with tracking down the source of metal that has been “inverted,” so it flows through time backwards. For instance, if a bullet was made of this material, it would shoot back into the gun tearing backwards through its target rather than forward. After meticulously setting the logic for the film’s take on temporal navigation, Nolan spends the next two hours slowly unraveling these rules as the narrative chooses spectacle above all else.

The mysteries of time is the thematic throughline that spans Nolan’s filmography. This time he tackles time travel. Now keep in mind, the films that convincingly employ time travel as a plot device, and keep audiences engaged, are the ones that simplify it and stick to their established rules. After getting our feet wet with the whole inverted object McGuffin hunt we start on, the film then keeps adding elements and theories until it goes full on Back to the Future in the second act. At this point the film becomes a muddled and dense mess that will no doubt confuse and confound most, as we are tasked with contending with past and present versions of our lead characters. By the third and final act, Tenet feels like a masturbatory exercise as the director throws any and all logic out the window in the name of some of the most breathtaking action set pieces ever committed to film, which I can almost get behind.

Thanks to Spike Lee I know John David Washington isn’t a bad actor, but he just doesn’t hook into the Nolan cadence here, he feels stilted and uncomfortable in his performance. Nolan also tries and fails miserably to employ comedic one-liners at various points in the script, through Washington’s character, in an attempt to offset some pretty disturbing scenes of domestic violence. Speaking of which, Elizabeth Debicki sadly spends the majority of the film, as nothing more than the damsel in distress, or an object to be fought over as “The Protagonist” and her abusive, inverted arms dealer husband battle over her fate. The only winner here is Robert Pattinson, who excels in Nolan’s world. He quickly eclipses “The Protagonist” as his partner Neil, who seems to know much more than he lets on.

Dense and pretentious, Tenet will irritate even the most dedicated Nolan fans with its curiously flawed similarities to Inception. This film desperately wants to be clever but instead comes off as frustrating and confusing as it sacrifices the director’s trademark grounded logic that usually make his films fantastical yet plausible. Still the film is visually stunning and its approach to its inverted action sequences are worthy of the hype. But I honestly think the script should have probably baked for a few more years to hone the film’s chronology a bit more and iron out some of the rough dialog that Nolan himself has seen fit to obscure with overly aggressive sound design. Tenet is arguably the weakest link in Nolan’s otherwise stellar filmography, and serves as further proof of the old adage that all directors try to make the same film over and over again with steadily diminishing returns.

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CINEMA: The Dudes Still Abide

September 4th, 2020


BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC (directed by Dean Parisot, 91 minutes, USA, 2020)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Shrouded in rumor, and two decades of production delays, many fans feared Bill & Ted Face The Music was going to be a lot like the epic disaster that was Guns and Roses’ Chinese Democracy, when it finally hit screens. With word trickling out every once in a while, praising the concept or the script, touting it as a worthy successor to the series, which for the third film in a franchise is basically unheard of; the longer we waited the more they began to question these rumors as nothing more than insider generated hyperbole to get the project moving. But as the story goes, it was Steven Soderbergh himself, who is a producer on the project,  that we have to thank for finally getting this project moving. After loving the script so much he gave it that final push into production, so we could have one final excellent adventure with our favorite time traveling duo.

Bill and Ted Face the Music picks up with Bill & Ted 25 years after the events of Bogus Journey, with the duo having yet to complete their final task foretold by the “Great Ones” from the future: writing the song that would unite the world. Their band’s popularity has run its course and they’ve gone from filling the Grand Canyon, to barely filling taco night at the local dive bar. But when time begins to collapse in on itself, the pair are visited by the daughter of Rufus (George Carlin), Kelly (Kristen Schaal), who lets them know they now only have 74 minutes to write the song, or existence as we know it will cease to exist. From here the film splits into essentially two narratives. The first is Bill & Ted hitting the Circuits of Time to steal the song from their future selves, only to make things worse when they encounter several cartoonishly bizarre future Bill & Teds, a la Bogus Journey. The second features their two twentysomething music savant daughters taking Karen’s time travel pod and collecting historical musical figures to be in their father’s back up band, al la Excellent Adventure. 

Being a young kid into heavy metal in the 80s, Bill & Ted hit particularly hard in my preteen years. I was just starting to watch Headbanger’s Ball when the Bogus Journey soundtrack hit, and it was on constant repeat, that is, until Nirvana shattered the music world in the mid-90s. That being the case, I approached this film with great trepidation since I didn’t want to watch my heroes old, broken and disenfranchised. Instead the film begins with Bill & Ted still the consummate optimists, with the film using the completion of the song as the metaphor for that eternal plight of the unattainable dreams of youth. Bill & Ted, much to their family’s dismay are relentlessly trying to solve this puzzle they were tasked with, and it’s only when their daughters get involved and the world begins to come crashing down on them, that they realize the answer may have been in front of them all along.

The returning cast here are all known quantities, with Winter and Reeves still somehow embodying that youthful spark and radiating a knowing innocence. With the passing of George Carlin, who gets a great nod in the film, Kristen Schaal takes the reigns as their chaperone from the future. Schaal’s brand of awkwardness and dry delivery is an excellent addition to the cast along with Ready or Not’s Samara Weaving as Bill’s twenty something daughter. Samara is a joy to watch on screen with an endless reservoir of enthusiasm for any role she tackles and is honestly one the most talented new actors working today.

For fans of the series, the film keeps the cartoonishly goofiness you’d expect. Face the Music is hardly your slick big-budget Hollywood spectacle, and instead leans into its budgetary restraints which makes for some truly bizarre moments. Like when we witness a muscle clad version of Bill & Ted in prison, who attempt to kill our heroes for their phone booth. There’s a charm to how the camp is employed and given the script is by longtime scribes Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon it’s easy to overlook its shortcomings, since you’re completely lost in the story. It’s no easy task to combine two films that are so different in tone as Excellent and Bogus, but it feels natural here as the two stories have an ebb and flow here that calls back to some of the best moments of the previous entries. This all transpires with a charming wholesomeness that is downright moving as it really uses the relationships of Bill & Ted and those around them, to really give the film it’s warm and gooey center. Message: Be Excellent To Each Other!

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EUREKA: New Covid-19 Study Is A Game Changer

September 3rd, 2020



ELEMENTAL: Earlier this summer, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee set about crunching data on more than 40,000 genes from 17,000 genetic samples in an effort to better understand Covid-19. Summit is the second-fastest computer in the world, but the process — which involved analyzing 2.5 billion genetic combinations — still took more than a week. When Summit was done, researchers analyzed the results. It was, in the words of Dr. Daniel Jacobson, lead researcher and chief scientist for computational systems biology at Oak Ridge, a “eureka moment.” The computer had revealed a new theory about how Covid-19 impacts the body: the bradykinin hypothesis. The hypothesis provides a model that explains many aspects of Covid-19, including some of its most bizarre symptoms. It also suggests 10-plus potential treatments, many of which are already FDA approved. Jacobson’s group published their results in a paper in the journal eLife in early July.

According to the team’s findings, a Covid-19 infection generally begins when the virus enters the body through ACE2 receptors in the nose, (The receptors, which the virus is known to target, are abundant there.) The virus then proceeds through the body, entering cells in other places where ACE2 is also present: the intestines, kidneys, and heart. This likely accounts for at least some of the disease’s cardiac and GI symptoms. But once Covid-19 has established itself in the body, things start to get really interesting. According to Jacobson’s group, the data Summit analyzed shows that Covid-19 isn’t content to simply infect cells that already express lots of ACE2 receptors. Instead, it actively hijacks the body’s own systems, tricking it into upregulating ACE2 receptors in places where they’re usually expressed at low or medium levels, including the lungs.

In this sense, Covid-19 is like a burglar who slips in your unlocked second-floor window and starts to ransack your house. Once inside, though, they don’t just take your stuff — they also throw open all your doors and windows so their accomplices can rush in and help pillage more efficiently. The renin–angiotensin system (RAS) controls many aspects of the circulatory system, including the body’s levels of a chemical called bradykinin, which normally helps to regulate blood pressure. According to the team’s analysis, when the virus tweaks the RAS, it causes the body’s mechanisms for regulating bradykinin to go haywire. Bradykinin receptors are resensitized, and the body also stops effectively breaking down bradykinin. (ACE normally degrades bradykinin, but when the virus downregulates it, it can’t do this as effectively.)

The end result, the researchers say, is to release a bradykinin storm — a massive, runaway buildup of bradykinin in the body. According to the bradykinin hypothesis, it’s this storm that is ultimately responsible for many of Covid-19’s deadly effects. Jacobson’s team says in their paper that “the pathology of Covid-19 is likely the result of Bradykinin Storms rather than cytokine storms,” which had been previously identified in Covid-19 patients, but that “the two may be intricately linked.” Other papers had previously identified bradykinin storms as a possible cause of Covid-19’s pathologies. MORE

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BOOKS: America Agonistes

September 2nd, 2020

The Quiet Americans


NEW YORK TIMES: Once upon a time, there was a nation that saw itself as a beacon to the world. It would lead, as John Quincy Adams put it, by the gentle power of its example. If it all sounds a bit grandiose to us now, it did, too, to Graham Greene, the English author of the 1955 spy novel “The Quiet American.” Greene liked to complain that Yankees were “plump, smug, sentimental, ready for the easy tear and the hearty laugh and the fraternity yell.” He was particularly galled by American pretensions to purity in foreign affairs. “Innocence,” he insisted, “is a kind of insanity.”

Scott Anderson’s enthralling new history of early Cold War espionage takes its title from Greene’s classic — and shares much of its disillusionment. Anderson, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and author of several books, including “Lawrence in Arabia,” follows the story of four C.I.A. operatives — Michael Burke, Edward Lansdale, Peter Sichel and Frank Wisner — from their heady early exploits through their government’s ultimate betrayal of its own idealism. Anderson, whose own father once helped create foreign paramilitary squads as an adviser to the Agency for International Development, casts his characters’ narrative as a tragedy, both personal and national. After a decade of flawed postwar spy games, by the mid-1950s much of the world had come to see the United States as just “one more empire,” Anderson writes, “one that lied and stole and invaded” like the others.

Lying and stealing and invading, it should be said, make for captivating reading, especially in the hands of a storyteller as skilled as Anderson. All the characters of “The Quiet Americans” could have stepped from a film set — and some of them actually had. Burke, a James Bond figure “before James Bond existed,” had been working as a screenwriter before being recruited by the C.I.A. He could just as often be found hanging out with Ava Gardner or sharing bourbon and pancakes with Ernest Hemingway as he could be dispatching infiltrators to Eastern Europe.

Indeed, for all their ill-advised or bungled covert ops — which included coups from Tehran to Guatemala City — it is impossible not to be a little swept up in the spectacle of this bygone era when intrepid individuals actually shaped history, even if it was often for the worse. Anderson quotes an erstwhile ornithologist who had joined the Office of Strategic Services, the C.I.A.’s World War II precursor, lamenting the office’s breakup once the conflict had ended. “Jesus H. Christ,” the operative griped, “I suppose this means that it’s back to those goddamned birds.” MORE

FRESH AIR: We’re used to a world in which American intelligence services operate with enormous power and reach. Our guest today, writer Scott Anderson, has a new book about the early years of the CIA, when America was victorious in World War II and former soldiers were improvising a campaign of spying and covert operations to contain and undermine the nation’s new adversary, the Soviet Union. It was a time, Anderson writes, when Americans wielded great moral authority in the world and nations struggling to throw off colonial rule looked to the United States as a beacon of freedom and democracy. Anderson concludes that the CIA’s rigid commitment to anti-communism and willingness to topple democratically elected governments squandered the goodwill the U.S. held in the developing world and led to a disastrous war in Vietnam. Anderson tells the story through the lives of four young men who played important roles in the CIA. Scott Anderson is the author of two novels and four books of nonfiction. In 2016, he authored a story about the modern history of the Middle East which took up an entire issue of The New York Times Magazine called “Fractured Lands: How The Arab World Came Apart.” He spoke to me from his home in Fleischmanns, N.Y., about his new book, The Quiet Americans. MORE

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CINEMA: The Stranger

August 28th, 2020


TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY (dir. by Johan von Sydow, 78 minutes, USA, 2020)

BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Growing up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania, situated just a stone’s throw from the Mason Dixon line, we didn’t get a lot of celebrities coming through our neck of the woods. In fact, in the ten plus years I lived there, the closest we got was an extra from 12 Monkeys – and Tiny Tim, who came through one year with the traveling circus. I was probably eight or nine at the time and I remember two things about that day. One was he did “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” and to this day I have never again heard a sound like that come from a human being. Second thing was, well, you know how most people are terrified of clowns? Well, they haven’t seen Tiny Tim in full clown, singing in a high falsetto. It was a kind of surreal experience that has haunted/fascinated me since.

Johan von Sydow’s documentary King For A Day, based in part on Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life Of Tiny Tim, Justin Martell’s definitive tome on the eccentric musician, is a near-flawless bit of filmmakin that successfully liberates the man from the myth. Utilizing animation, the film begins with Tim’s humble beginnings as Herbert Butros Khaury, an awkward, androgynous Lebanese/Russian teenager living in 1940s Manhattan. Herbert didn’t seem to fit in anywhere, that is until he discovered his unconventional voice that would land him his first steady gig, literally singing in a circus midway Freak Show. The narrative steadily builds from there as we see Tiny’s rise to fame, through archival footage and talking heads, as the world becomes fascinated with this enigma of a man. Interviews with fans, friends and family are offset with excerpts from Tiny’s personal diaries to deliver Tiny’s take on a particular situation.

It’s this perspective that gives us a unique insight into the man as we experience, through his eyes, not only the dizzying heights he rose to in his life, with his marriage to his first wife, which was the second most watched TV event ever.  But the devastating lows that followed when America soon tired of Tiny, relegating him back to the circus, which is where I happened to discover him in my youth. This on its own would be more than a satisfactory narrative given Tiny basically dies right off camera after a live performance, but there’s much more to the story here. While most of us are familiar with this living curiosity, the film sheds some much needed light on Tiny’s musical career as the likes of Wavy Gravy, Tommy James, and the late Jonas Mekas extol the virtues of Tiny’s very distinctive sonic palette and his diverse catalog of recordings. This is brought full circle by our narrator, a surprisingly somber and restrained  “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Unlike Justin who penned the book, Johan wasn’t a fan of Tim before the film, which really rounds out the doc. He didn’t come to the project with any nostalgic baggage, he just wanted to tell this man’s story in the most subjective way possible. He does this by not only presenting the misunderstood, wistful genius you’d expect, but the complex womanizer as well, sometimes in painful detail. King for a Day is as much a thought provoking take on the precarious nature of celebrity as its the story of Tiny Tim’s tragic life. Johan never gets lost in the superficial weirdness of his subject, instead he makes sure every bit of interview, musical performance or photo further humanizes a man who for most of his life was reduced to nothing more than a freak show oddity in the twilight zone of inexplicable celebrity.

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FROM THE VAULTS: Bill Bruford’s Landmark New Yorker Profile Of Lucinda Williams Turns 20

August 27th, 2020



NEW YORKER: The musician David Byrne once compared the intuitive writing of Bill Buford to the work of the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński. Since 1995, Buford has contributed nearly fifty pieces to The New Yorker. He has written about a wide array of subjects, including his butchery apprenticeship in Tuscany, the connoisseurs who seek the perfect dark chocolate, and the art of breadmaking in Lyon, France. The New Yorker’s former fiction editor, he has also published three books, including “Among the Thugs” and “Heat.” One of my favorite pieces by Buford is “Delta Nights,” a ruminative Profile of the country-blues singer Lucinda Williams, published in 2000. Williams, Buford observes, is an amalgam—a musician capable of working in a multitude of genres and conveying a variety of keen emotions. Like some of her musical influences, she’s gifted with a voice so rough and husky that the singer Emmylou Harris once described it, in Buford’s paraphrasing, as “capable of peeling the chrome off a trailer hitch.” Her music often calls upon, and simultaneously subverts, Southern narratives. Her work, Buford writes, “is more poem than song, a surrealistic invocation of Southernness not unlike the kitschy religious shrines and turquoise serpents and bottle-cap Christs in Lucinda’s own house. It’s a bit of mythmaking, by a poet of loss, about a place that’s receding from experience, and that might never have been there in the first place.” Williams’s explorations of the Delta in her music echo Buford’s own childhood recollections of the South. At the core of the region’s mythos, he notes, in languorous ripples of prose, is a love affair with the notion of loss and dispossession. Williams’s earthy musical tones and biting verses exquisitely capture this sense of loss. It is her ability to transform personal melancholia into vibrant, evocative strains, Buford discovers, that captivates listeners—and offers a raw glimpse into the genesis of a singular musician’s artistic journey.—Erin Overbey, New Yorker Archive Editor

NEW YORKER: It’s a damp Delta night in January, and we’ve pulled into Lambert, in Quitman County, Mississippi, at one time a modestly prosperous cotton town, now reduced to a rather curious thing. The railway station—stripped down and operated in an only-one-man-needs-to-run-it kind of way—is still functioning as an agricultural freight stop, more or less as it always has, but it seems to be the exception. The town center consists of two rows of Main Street-like buildings, vaguely Victorian in design, relics of nineteenth-century antebellum cotton commerce, almost all of them abandoned. One of these would have housed the barbershop, or the bank, or the post office. Now they’re home to whomever, whatever, anybody, nobody. One was the Rexall drugstore. (The “x” in Rexall has broken off.) The feeling of the place is of impoverished improvisation, variations on a squatter’s theme, and Lambert’s empty buildings have been taken up by anyone who has the know-how to crack open a padlocked door and get the electricity turned on. As we pull in, flames leap out from a corner, the only light on a street without street lights: it’s a barbecue, the pit constructed from fallen loose bricks, right out on the sidewalk. The town seems to be deadly desolate, and yet, weirdly, it is also busy with people.

It’s Saturday night, and we’re in the heart of the heart of the Delta, the homeland of the blues. Our drive began in Clarksdale, near the birthplace of Muddy Waters, and continued through the very crossroads where Robert Johnson, seventy-two years ago, was supposed to have done his legendary transaction with the Devil, exchanging his soul for a satanic facility on guitar. And for half an hour we’ve been on county highways, all straight lines and right angles, cutting through plowed fields of cotton and soybean, seeing no other vehicles, no people, no lights except the distant dull blue of a farmhouse television, and then this explosion of busyness, in this place near no place, an embellished dot on a road map. We park, get out. Main Street is thrumming—a heavy, amplified bass coming from behind a number of boarded-up store-fronts. We pick a solid, thickly painted door, which gives after I push against it, and it opens up to the sweet, acrid smell of a woodstove, a smoky array of blue and green lights dangling from an overhead pipe, and, atop a stage in the corner, a sixty-year-old man in a two-piece suit and brown patent-leather shoes—Johnnie Billington playing electric guitar.

This is the first stop on a visit to Delta juke joints, and it’s impossible not to be impressed by that profoundly unmodern, unreconstructed feeling that you still find in the South. I’m here because of an interest in Lucinda Williams, the Louisiana-born singer and writer, and although she isn’t with me tonight (she’s in Nashville, singing with the North Mississippi All Stars—as it happens, a Delta blues band), the Delta has served Williams as a highly personal, emotional reference library, something she keeps coming back to in her music, for images or metaphors or, sometimes, for its famous twelve-bar arrangements and its flattened blue notes. Williams is forty-seven, and, obsessively working and reworking a small collection of tunes, has created a concentrated repertoire of around three dozen exceptionally powerful songs. For a thirty-five-year effort (Williams began playing when she was twelve), that works out to about a song a year, and it’s still possible to see a live show in which she gets a little carried away—and she always seems to be on the verge of getting a little carried away—and hear almost the entire œuvre, as was the case about eighteen months ago at New York’s Irving Plaza, when Williams’s encores went on longer than the act, and the audience emerged, after nearly two and a half hours, thoroughly spent, not only by the duration of the program but also by the unforgiving rawness of the songs. They’re unforgiving because they are so relentlessly about pain or longing or can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head sexual desire, but most often they’re about loss, and usually about losing some impossible fuckup of a man, who has got more charm and charisma than a civilized society should allow, and who never lives up to any of the promises he made when he was drunk, on drugs, in lust, in love, incarcerated, in pain, insane, in rehab, or, in some other essential but frustratingly appealing romantic way, unaccountable. He’s usually from Baton Rouge, Louisiana (and a bass player), or from Lafayette, Louisiana (and a bass player), or from Lake Charles, Louisiana (and a bass player), or maybe from Greenville, Mississippi (and a bass player), and the songs come across as both very Southern and also painfully autobiographical. Ouch! you think after you’ve heard Lucinda Williams for the first time, this girl has gone through some shit. Her songs are not traditional rock and roll, if only because they are more written, more preoccupied with the concerns of language and image, than most rock tunes. They’re not country, although there is an occasional twangy country element. They’re not folk, even though “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” her 1998 album (and her first commercial success), got a Grammy award for the best contemporary-folk record of the year. And they’re not blues, even though they are informed by something that might be described as a blues attitude. MORE

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