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DEEP THROAT: Q&A With Harry Shearer

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Illustration by EVERYBODY’S GOT TO BE IN A GANG

Harry Shearer — aka the voice of Mr. Burns, Mr. Smithers, Ned Flanders, Otto The Bus Driver and Moe the Bar Tender, aka Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls, aka the voice of reason on NPR’s Le Show, director of the muckraking Katrina documentary The Big Uneasy to speak out about the truth behind the flood of New Orleans — is a man of many hats, and the voices that go with those hats. His latest project, ‘Nixon’s The One,’ finds him donning the face and voice of President Nixon. Presented as a 6-part mini series that premiered on YouTube on October 21 and as a limited engagement live performance, Shearer and leading Nixon scholar Stanley Kutler combed through hundreds of hours of the infamous White House tapes made by the President while in office and reenacted some of the bizarre, historically significant and (often unintentionally) hilarious moments as if filmed on hidden camera in the Oval Office. He’s presenting ‘Nixon’s The One’ live with anecdotes about his research and an audience Q&A at Philly’s World Cafe Live on Monday October 27th. Earlier this week we got Harry on the horn. DISCUSSED: Nixon, Obama, the vast criminal syndicate that is contemporary American politics, the sinking of Louisiana into the Gulf Of Mexico, the Army Corps of Engineers, NPR censorship, SNL, Lorne Michaels and the Jews, and whether or not Ned Flanders is gay.

PHAWKER: Why do you continue to find Nixon fascinating all these years later?

HARRY SHEARER: Well I guess because he’s the most strangely screwed up, complicated, self-defeating while self-promoting guy that we’ve ever had in American public life. I first developed the serries then made it over in Great Britain and it showed on television over there earlier this year and I was thinking about it — why they would care? — and I realized because their history runs through this succession of grotesque, bizarre personalities who happen to have crowns on their heads, so Nixon was just another one those, except uncrowned. He’s a guy who, not to make insidious comparisons, he’s a guy who Shakespeare would have gotten his teeth into. He’s just such a twisted, folded-in-on-itself personality. For one thing he didn’t have the ‘let it go’ gene, there’s a scene in the series where he’s sitting with his Secretary Of State Henry Kissinger bitching — it’s really, really eating at him — ‘For the whole time of the Kennedy administration I was never invited, never invited to one social event in the White House.’ He’d been the vice president of course before Kennedy was elected. And nobody says to him, ‘You know, sir, Kennedy’s dead and you’re the president now, you could let it go’. He just doesn’t have that. In a way that’s what I think propelled him. He was a guy who wasn’t equipped with a lot of skills we think you need to succeed in politics. He wasn’t a good looking guy, he didn’t have the most likeable smile to put it mildly. He didn’t like small talk, he didn’t really hang out with strangers very easily, and yet he climbed to the top of the greasiest pole in America, I think partly fueled by just the unending flame, the high octane flame of all these resentments that burned within him. He could probably power a city the size of Akron, Ohio, just on his resentments.

PHAWKER: Tell me something you learned during the process of working on this project about Nixon that was totally new to you or unexpected.

HARRY SHEARER: Well the last scene in the last episode is the eight minutes before he resigns the presidency, before he delivers the speech to the nation acquitting the presidency, a monumentally humiliating moment in the life of any politician, especially this guy who worked so hard and fought so many battles and had been denied the presidency once and then got it, then to have to climb down from it. You ask yourself, what did he do during those eight minutes, it turns out what he does is especially bizarre given what I just told you about his absolute lack of gift for small talk — he makes small talk with the crew and cracks jokes with the crew. This tape had been floating around for years and I’d seen it and memorized it long since, it was a party thing, me and my friends would I would watch and laugh and recite it but I always thought it was probably goofy. When we were taping the show I happened upon something on the Internet, a guy had been on the White House staff and wrote a memoir among other things about that night he’d been in the room that night and he had the words that Nixon spoke after he delivered that speech because the tape stops when the speech ends, and the words were, “Have a happy Christmas fellas” and this is August 8, 1974. All of a sudden as we were rehearsing, it sort of clicked with me this wasn’t goofy, this wasn’t improbable, this wasn’t incomprehensible, this was Nixon not really living in the moment of humiliation, it was him already planning his next campaign for the rehabilitation of his reputation. In his mind I think those guys on the crew were gonna walk out of that room that night and go home to their friends and their families and say he wasn’t upset, he wasn’t depressed, he wasn’t angry, he was a nice guy, he was kidding around, he even wished us a Merry Christmas!

PHAWKER: How do you rank him on the scale of political evil? I mean, after all compared to the vast criminal syndicate politics has become, his crimes seem almost like misdemeanors…

HARRY SHEARER: Yes and no, I mean there were things he wanted to do that his staff defused, there’s a huge amount of incidents in the tapes where Nixon’s called for things that are still pretty shocking. He wanted to firebomb the Brookings Institution which is the slightly left liberal think tank in Washington. One of the roles his aides carried out was to amiably ignore many of his crazier schemes. It’s not for lack of wanting to that a lot of worse stuff didn’t happen on Nixon’s watch. He very clearly used the IRS to go after his enemies which is something that had been alleged in later administrations but we have iron clad proof of it in his administration and that’s not a good thing. He had, as he told all of us or at those of us that were voting age of that time, a secret plan to end the Vietnam War which actually was to prolong it by four and a half years until after his reelection campaign. And if you listen to the LBJ tapes there is pretty good evidence that LBJ told Nixon and the other candidate running to succeed Johnson in ’68, that he was going to start having cease fire talks with the Vietnamese and two days later there’s tape of LBJ discovering that Nixon had sent an emissary to the South Vietnamese president saying ‘Don’t participate in the cease fire talks because you’ll get a better deal when I’m president,’ and on tape LBJ calls him a traitor. And of course the blood of the assassination of democratically elected leader of a foreign country is on Nixon and Kissinger’s hands, a lot of stuff. So it’s, I don’t know how you rank him in the annals of, I wouldn’t call it evil, I’d call it evil-doing. But he has nothing to be ashamed of in the evil department, I think he’s right up there.

PHAWKER: You pointed out in interviews that lot of his domestic policies were actually to the left of Barack Obama.

HARRY SHEARER: Oh my god get, mind-splittingly to the left. Under his administration OSHA was started, the EPA was started, the Clean Air Act was passed, the Clean Water Act was passed. Nixon gave a speech late in his second administration calling for a ‘guaranteed annual income for all Americans.’ You can just imagine the number of wild horses it would take to get Barack Obama to deliver that speech. Nixon was not in his day what was considered a liberal Republican, those were the so-called Rockefeller Republicans, and he wasn’t really considered a hard right conservative Republican, which was the wing led by Barry Goldwater. He was a centralist republican in that eras republican party but I think in todays republican party he would have been primaried out if he had been an incumbent senator two or three cycles ago.

PHAWKER: In 2008, America voted for Bobby Kennedy and best I can tell they wound up getting Jeb Bush, do you not agree that if the election of Barack Obama proves anything it’s that voting doesn’t matter and until elections are publicly-financed they will continue not to matter because politicians will continue to be responsive to people that fund their campaigns instead of the actual people that elect them.

HARRY SHEARER: I think there’s a very good case to be made for that. I worked at the state legislature in California when I was a kid. Politics was very different then, it wasn’t as dominated by money as it is today. Even then I thought individuals can make a difference at the margins, the guy I worked for allowed me to get somebody who had been improperly sent to a mental hospital out of that mental hospital, back when we had mental hospitals, his opponent may not have allowed an aide to spend time on that particular cause. Might have but might not, so you know little individual cases at the margins might make a difference but overall national policy, big things I would have to agree with what you say. I think that you look at every other western democracy and they don’t do it the way we do so we’ve got to be right, right? You know they give candidates free time on television before the election, the elections are very short. In Australia it’s five weeks, in Britain it’s something like six weeks. Why does it take 18 months to elect a president? Well, so they can spend a lot of money and keep the broadcasters happy. It’s just a totally silly system that does good for the people that raise the money, it does good for the people that donate the money, it does good for the people that receive the money, mainly broadcasters, and it doesn’t do much good for anybody else.

PHAWKER: You’re 70-years-old I believe you have a bit longer institutional memory than me, can you recall a time where the political process in this country was so broken?

HARRY SHEARER: Well it depends what you mean by broken. I mean we hear a lot of calls these days for bipartisanship, but the worst stuff that ever happens in America is done by overwhelming bipartisan votes. I would give you the Iraq war resolution, I would give you the Gulf Of Tonkin resolution, you know usually when both parties agree on something it’s bad stuff, you know the problem isn’t that we don’t have more bipartisanship, the problem is smart enough partisanship. It didn’t take a genius when Mitch McConnell said ‘I’m gonna do my best to make Barack Obama a one term president’ it didn’t take a genius to figure out that meant you weren’t gonna be able to work with Republicans so you better damn well be able to work with your own party and I fault the current president for not having built the relationship. You hear this in whispers, because people don’t like speak ill of their party leader out loud, but you hear it in whispers that he never really developed relationships with people at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, even in his own party, that would motivate them to really go to the mat for him and I fault that much more than those nasty Republicans — they just did what the Republicans said they were gonna do! That’s one of the rare cases where you can say somebody said something in politics and they meant it and they delivered on it.

PHAWKER: Moving on, to new Orleans I’m assuming you read the Nathaniel Rich’s New York Times Sunday Magazine piece about Louisiana sinking into the Gulf of Mexico.

HARRY SHEARER: The piece about John Barry? Yes. Sure

PHAWKER: Can you comment on that?

HARRY SHEARER: Well yeah, my comment would be it’s about time that the New York Times figured this out. It was a major story line in a documentary called The Big Uneasy that I did five years ago about the causes of the flood in New Orleans and about what was happening to Louisiana and it was wildly ignored by the East Coast media at that time because they had other fish to fry, but now since Superstorm Sandy I guess the picture has gotten the attention of the New York editors. John Barry is a hero, he sees the urgency of the need to save the disappearing wetlands of southern Louisiana, for us who live here and for the rest of the country because among other things a huge amount of the oil that this country still runs on goes through the port of south Louisiana, an awful lot of the seafood this country eats is frozen and Chinese and comes through Louisiana, You know, the whole country has an interest in this area surviving. Not to mention the cultural heritage that’s represented by this city surviving and it is a problem that is going to be encroaching on other cities as we go along. In my film, John Barry makes an interesting point. He says that because New Orleans is built on swamp if you build up the wetlands and rebuild that land that the Mississippi river has been building up for the last 7000 years New Orleans can survive sea level rise. It compares that to cities like New York which is built on rock. You can’t build on rock, so they’ve got a sea level rise problem that’s ultimately much more serious than ours.

PHAWKER: The film is great, Harry, I saw it in theaters when it came out, but I want to ask you about your battle with NPR over The Big Uneasy. Why did they essentially impose a blackout on the movie? Was it because you were calling out the Army Corps of Engineers who certainly know how to pull strings behind the scenes and shut people up? And that their false narrative of the overtopped levees had prevailed and a number of powerful people had a vested interest in maintaining that false narrative?

HARRY SHEARER: The closest I can come is I did a talk at the National Press Club a couple of years ago about this, and Peter Maass, the great investigative reporter is now The Intercept had written a piece for The New Yorker earlier that year about the toppling of Saddam’s statue in the early days of the Iraq war, about how that story was covered about how once the editors in new York, producers decided Iraqis are toppling Saddam’s statue they ignored the reports they were getting from their reporters over there in Baghdad and photographers saying there are only about 300 Iraqis here, this is all being done by Americans, ‘no no no I want you to do it’ you know they wanted the story that they wanted. I’d experienced this when I was a kid working for Newsweek, a really trivial story but the same thing. Once the guys in New York, or wherever the editing is done, get the idea of a template of the story in their heads the last thing they want is to have to break that up and say, you know what we were wrong it’s a whole different story now so stay tuned. I think it may be something as simple as and as stupid as human pride gone to extremes because I’ve seen, as I say now in three different situations early in Newsweek and then Peter Maass’s example in Iraq and then with the story in New Orleans. Why particularly NPR? I wish I knew. I’ve been bamboozled by that and I have no inside sources so I can’t really say. A friend of mine says when the choice is between stupidity and evil always bet on stupidity. I think In this case it’s the stupidity of pride that these guys in the news business think that their reputation depends on having gotten it right whether they did or not so they will defend that really hard.

PHAWKER: I have two more questions for you do you have time?

HARRY SHEARER: Yeah sure.

PHAWKER: You had an unhappy tenure at SNL. Nobody seems to be able to speak candidly about Lorne Michaels because they all want or need something from him or fear repercussions to their career. You seem to be beyond the reach of Lorne at this point so I was wondering if you could give your honest thoughts about Lorne, the show, and his place in the–

HARRY SHEARER: Well, I have no thoughts about the show because I haven’t seen it in, you know, many years, by choice. Lorne, you know I have been fairly outspoken about this over the years, even when I might’ve had something to lose but I just couldn’t help myself. People would ask me, this is not anything that I would go up and volunteer to say, but you know he was just the worst boss I’ve ever had in my life. And that was Lorne, and you know just in ways far beyond you’d think an employer would do, it seemed like psychological warfare of the most devious and darkest kind that went on every week and there’s something seriously going on in that guy’s head.

PHAWKER: I’ve heard others describe it as a culture of fear.

HARRY SHEARER: Oh it’s worse than a culture of fear. A culture of fear characterizes most of our corporations, this was very individualized. The very first thing he said to me when I showed up for work was, ‘I’ve never hired a male Jew for the company before, I’ve usually gone for the Chicago Catholic thing’ and I thought, well that’s a weird thing to tell me, especially since he’s Jewish himself. You know, it was just fair warning of what was to come.

PHAWKER: On a lighter note. Tell me something about Mr. Burns that nobody knows.

HARRY SHEARER: [assumes Mr. Burns voice] He’s going to live forever. [reverts to normal voice] I’m not privy to anything nobody else knows because I don’t write him, so I don’t know if he’s ever going to release the tension that is within Smithers, he’s my favorite character

PHAWKER: Did you say release the tension, were you alluding to the…

HARRY SHEARER: The yearning, the yearning?

PHAWKER: Speaking of sublimated homosexuality, I read somewhere that you don’t think there’s an ounce of gay in Ned Flanders?

HARRY SHEARER: No, no I don’t.

PHAWKER: I think that’s a perfect place to end on — whether or not Ned Flanders is gay. Oh, one more question, are there any Christopher Guest projects in the pipeline?

HARRY SHEARER: Not that I would know of but I talk to Chris all the time so I always live in hope.

 

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BETWEEN TWO FERNS: Brad Pitt & Louis CK

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Do you really need to know anymore?

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Weed Doesn’t Cause Low IQ, Shoddy Science Does

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Artwork via DOPE MAGAZINE & THE WEED BLOG

WASHINGTON POST: Now, a new study out from the University College of London provides even stronger evidence that the Duke [study's] findings [that marijuana causes low IQs] were flawed. The study draws on a considerably larger sample of adolescents than the Duke research – 2,612 children born in the Bristol area of the U.K. in 1991 and 1992. Researchers examined children’s IQ scores at age 8 and again at age 15, and found “no relationship between cannabis use and lower IQ at age 15,” when confounding factors – alcohol use, cigarette use, maternal education, and others – were taken into account. Even heavy marijuana use wasn’t associated with IQ. “In particular alcohol use was found to be strongly associated with IQ decline,” the authors write. “No other factors were found to be predictive of IQ change.” MORE

INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES: The findings will be presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual congress in Berlin. The chair of the annual congress, Guy Goodwin, from the University of Oxford, told BBC News: “This is a potentially important study because it suggests that the current focus on the alleged harms of cannabis may be obscuring the fact that its use is often correlated with that of other even more freely available drugs and possibly lifestyle factors.” MORE

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GIRL TALK & FREEWAY: Suicide (feat. A$AP Ferg)

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Girl Talk and Freeway’s collaborative EP, “Broken Ankles” featuring Waka Flocka Flame, Jadakiss and Young Chris, was released this past spring via Datpiff. Following Allen Cordell’s outstanding and over-the-top video for the EP’s debut single, “Tolerated,” artist Lisa Ramsey has now created an equally awesome and extreme “Simpsons”-based animated video for the remix of “Broken Ankles’” “Suicide” feat. A$AP Ferg. It presents an alternative reality where Freeway and A$AP Ferg both star as Bart Simpson-esque characters, while Girl Talk is represented by Milhouse. There’s an army of Barts wielding guns, a badass version of Lisa Simpson, a stoned Maggie and a cameo by an eyball-morphing Krusty The Clown.

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INCOMING: Exiles On South Street

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

 

This just in from 215 Festival organizers:

This week, The 215 Festival — Philadelphia’s literary arts festival, featuring readings and events with some of the city’s greatest writers (and some pretty good ones from more far-flung locales, too) — will ramp up, and we couldn’t be more excited. That’s for a few reasons. One is that the 215 Fest is one of our favorite times of the year. Another is that we’re proud and honored to welcome this year’s writers and authors — a lineup that is proof positive that Philly’s literary scene is fresh, robust and totally ready to party. But maybe most of all, we’re excited about where the 215 Fest is this year: South Street.

Allow us to explain: Since we rebooted the 215 Festival in 2013, we’ve accidentally also turned it into a festival that celebrates neighborhoods. After all, this is Philadelphia, that great city of neighborhoods. And over the last few years, we’ve been lucky to throw events in East Passyunk, Fishtown, the Eraserhood and more. But when we considered what to do for this year’s Fest, time and again, South Street came up. Why? Well, for one, the South Street/Headhouse Square area features more independent bookstores than any other locale in the city: There’s Brickbat Books, Headhouse Books, Garland Of Letters, Mostly Books, Wooden Shoe and more. (Ever check out the Thrift For AIDS book section? It’s pretty great.) More than that, South Street plays host to a wide variety of reading series year-round at venues like Tattooed Mom and L’Etage. And beyond all of that, like any good Philadelphians, we all owe a debt of gratitude to South Street. And as the street is ever in the process of reinventing itself, imagine our surprise when, the more we looked at it, the more we realized that South Street isn’t just the home of cell phone stores and hookah shops anymore; it’s actually the city’s most organically-occurring literary destination. Looking at it that way, there was no other place that made any sense for the 215 Fest.

So starting this Thursday and running through Sunday, won’t you join us for any of these amazing, free readings and other events in the South Street area? As always, we promise your mind a great time. We can’t wait to see you.

 

Festival schedule after the jump…
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BEING THERE: Malala Yousafzai @ The NCC

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Photo by PETE TROSHAK

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, one Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, in the midst of a light saber duel to the death with one Darth Vader, Dark Lord Of The Sith, declared: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” He was not kidding. Nobody in this galaxy has proven the verity of Obi-Wan’s prophecy more incontrovertibly than Malala Yousafzai. One day she was just a tiny voice for advocating for the right of girls to get an education in then-Taliban-controlled Swat Valley. And then the Taliban sent two men to kill her. They boarded her school bus, shot the 15-year-old in the face and left her for dead. But a funny thing happened, she didn’t die. Instead, she became more powerful than the Taliban could possibly imagine. The whole world was outraged, and the attempted assassination backfired: instead of silencing Malala, she now has the whole world on her side. Last week she was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Last night she received the Liberty Medal Award from the National Constitution Center. When she addressed the crowd, her message was unsurprising: governments should spend money on educating people instead of spending money on bullets and bombs and death. You would think this would go without saying, but sadly it does not. So somebody’s got to say it. And when nobody else had the courage to speak up, Malala stood up and said it out loud — said it louder than bombs — and became a living martyr. She has literally devoted her life to the cause of justice and enlightenment. May The Force be with her. – JONATHAN VALANIA

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Q&A: Tig Notaro Will Not Go Quietly

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

 

BY JONATHAN VALANIA If Tig Notaro never existed we would have never thought to invent her, which not only points out the shortcomings of our imagination but also the depths of her originality. A tall drink of water in low-slung jeans with Billie Jean King hair, she speaks in a laconic drawl that is either medicated or chill to the point of Zen. She doesn’t so much tell jokes as construct these elaborate verbal Rube Goldberg devices Of Funny and at the end, when you finally stop laughing, you’re like ‘I can’t believe that worked.’ If you’ve never heard her Taylor Dane bit, scroll down to the bottom and watch it before you read any further. Go on, we’ll wait. Psych! Anyway, for the rest of you that have heard that bit, I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know when I point that, a few years ago, within the space of a month she got pneumonia, the C. diff, then she split up with her partner, then her mother died and then she was diagnosed with cancer. And somehow she managed to alchemize all that horror and agony into something funny and laugh-affirming. Louis CK tweeted afterwards: “In 27 years doing this, I’ve seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo.” She plays the Trocadero Friday November 7th. DISCUSSED: Richard Pryor, Texas, Paula Poundstone, lesbians, cancer, Mississippi, her forthcoming memoir, 43-year-old tomboys, and Knock Knock It’s Tig Notaro, her forthcoming Showtime special.

PHAWKER: You were born Mathilde Notaro, how did that become Tig? Why did you get that nickname?

TIG NOTARO: My brother just gave me that nickname as a kid because he couldn’t pronounce my real name and it just stuck.

PHAWKER: Tell me about growing up gay in Mississippi and Texas, that could not have been easy. I’ve been to both on numerous occasions and Mississippi in particular always struck me as a place where the opposable thumb is a relatively recent development.

TIG NOTARO: I’m sad to hear that. I feel great pride being from the south. I’m well aware of certain views on the south, but you can find ignorance in all parts of the country, not just the south. Just like you can find beauty in the people and places all around this planet, including the south.

PHAWKER: Oh, absolutely, you’ll find stupid everywhere, but it just seems like bigotry and anti-intellectualism is more deeply engrained and codified south of the Mason Dixon line.

TIG NOTARO:  I am confident my experience growing up would be comparable if I had grown up in most any other place in the country, except for the fact that I was only loved and accepted for exactly who I was by my family and friends.

PHAWKER: On a related note, Googling you I found a surprising large number of stories that identified you — often in the headline — as LESBIAN COMEDIAN TIG NOTARO. How do you feel about that? Don’t really care? Or do you resent being categorized as such, or even find it somehow insulting, as if they’re saying, “she’s pretty funny…for a lesbian”?

TIG NOTARO: I define myself in numerous ways, and even in my inner dialogue, I try to steer clear of labels on myself. And I try to not pay much attention to headlines, whether it be sexuality or gender or the press defining my style on stage, etc.

PHAWKER: Who are your primary influences as a comic and what was it about them that drew you to their work?

TIG NOTARO: I was always a huge fan of stand-up as a kid- Paula Poundstone and Richard Pryor. My mother and I would always watch Joan Rivers when she hosted The Tonight Show, and it was always such an event to experience together. It was a fantasy of mine to pursue comedy as a career, but I never in a million years thought it would ever, ever be a possibility.

PHAWKER: Funny is, obviously, a subjective thing. Private jokes are always the funniest but they only work because you have some shared experience or common ground with the person you are sharing it with. What is the secret to making a room full of strangers laugh? For that matter what is the secret of making everyone in the room laugh at the same thing?

TIG NOTARO: The formula must remain a secret, I’m sorry. But I believe no matter what you do, you need to work extremely hard and love what you do. And with comedy you probably have to have a pretty good sense of things and the world around you, because when you are bringing it all back to a club to tell everyone, you really need to know exactly what you saw or what you think you saw. And chances are, people saw it to, but didn’t realize it until you pointed it out to them.

PHAWKER: You famously managed to make a roomful of people laugh at the most unfunniest thing in the world: cancer. That is the comedy equivalent of that Guinness Book Of World Records picture of the man pulling a locomotive with his teeth. How did it occur to you that A) I should use my cancer diagnosis as a bit and B) I’m going to say it with a smile because the sheer cognitive dissonance will make smoke come out of people’s ears?

TIG NOTARO: Well, authenticity is something I always strive for and so to discuss anything other than the adversity that had taken over my life, would have been all wrong to me at that moment in time. Which more than anything was the driving force that prompted me to be so open and honest.

PHAWKER: You have a role in Transparent, which stars Jeffrey Tambor as a family man who is transitioning into a woman, tell me about the show and how you got involved? Can you relate to Jeffrey Tambor’s character? Do you enjoy being a girl, as Phranc used to say, or do you ever feel you were miscast the play, as it were?

TIG NOTARO: The creator, Jill Soloway, is someone who has been a friend of mine for a little while, so I had the luxury of knowing her in the casting process. My part is very small- like if you blink you’ll miss it- small. But it was still so fun to shoot. I am so incredibly excited to see the entire series, I truly think its going to change people in the very best way. No, I don’t feel miscast in the slightest! I feel like I got the role of a life time. I enjoy being female, but I also enjoy mainly just feeling like a 43 year old tomboy.

PHAWKER: Explain the premise of Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro, your forthcoming Showtime special.

TIG NOTARO: The premise is I tour the country with a fellow comedian, in this case it was my very talented friend Jon Dore, and instead of performing at traditional venues like a comedy club, we perform at non-traditional venues, such as the homes, barns, farms and cul de sacs of fans all around the counry. The experience of shooting this was great. It is an idea I had for a while, and even did this on the road quite a bit in previous years. It just was never something that was financed by a network to air, and being that these shows I previously did were so fun, I thought this could be a great idea as a television project. And fortunately Showtime got the idea right away and were generous enough to produce it.

TIG NOTARO: Reportedly you are currently working on a memoir, what can you tell me about it? Can you share a scene or anecdote? I am polishing it up as we speak. The book is about those well publicized 4 months of hell my life turned into. Even with all of the interviews and the album doing so well, that 30 minutes on stage at Largo was just a peek into all I had been experiencing. The book goes much deeper into that whole experience. No spoilers- you have to buy the book.

PHAWKER: How is your health these days? Are you cancer-free?

TIG NOTARO: My health is great as far as I know. I see my oncologist every few months and keep getting news that I’m still in remission. I feel very aware of how lucky I am to have come out of everything.

TIG NOTARO PERFORMS AT THE TROCADERO ON NOVEMBER 7th

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CIA MAN: Ben Bradlee & The Mystery Of The Missing Diary Of JFK’s Suddenly Dead Mistress

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

 

DAILY BEAST: Suicide was not uncommon among the Mad Men of the Cold War, and Janney makes much of the timing of the death of Washington Post publisher Phil Graham, whose suicide in the summer 1963 was preceded by a notorious breakdown in which he grabbed the stage at a gathering of national newspaper editors and, drink in hand, proceeded to call them all assholes, and reel off the names of women sleeping with Kennedy, before bursting into tears. For Janney, the unhinged newsman had to die, because the dark forces plotting to kill Kennedy knew they needed a compliant press for the cover-up.

One newsman who did survive those years was the father of Watergate, Ben Bradlee, a bit player in the Mary Meyer murder mystery. Bradlee was married to Mary’s sister Toni, and played a role in the search and subsequent disappearance of her diary. Shortly after Mary was murdered, Bradlee reported (years later, in his memoir) that he and Toni received a frantic call from one of Mary’s friends, the artist Anne Truitt, (whose alcoholic husband James Truitt also lost the plot, moved to Mexico, and later sold the story of Mary smoking dope with JFK to the National Enquirer) telling them to rescue Mary’s diary.

Superspook Angleton and Ben Bradlee ran into each other while breaking into Mary’s house to search for the diary that night or the following day, but no one ever told a straight story about exactly when they learned she was murdered, why they were at her house, and precisely when they arrived. Janney finds all this further proof of conspiracy. The fact is, it’s astonishing these people could remember who they had ordered assassinated, given the amount of alcohol they consumed at lunch.

Bradlee was plausibly involved in the diary search as a family member, but the fact that he waited more than 30 years to reveal his role in handing off a piece of possible evidence to the CIA in one of his town’s “enduring mysteries” says everything about his reputation as a great American journalist. Janney confirms what I and others who have studied the era have found, that Bradlee was mobbed up with the CIA, as were many of the most prominent Cold War journalists. MORE

RELATED: Less well known was Meyer’s friendship with then-Harvard professor and LSD guru Timothy Leary, whom she visited several times at his office in Cambridge, Mass. Janney’s book contains the most exhaustive account to date of Meyer’s communication with Leary, who died in 1996. MORE

RELATED: When I was writing my book in D.C. in 1996 and 1997, I became aware of a cult of believers who were certain, absent any proof, that Mary had turned JFK on to LSD, and that she was behind the moves toward rapprochement with Russia and Cuba that he seemed to have been making in the months before he was killed. Mary Meyer had to die, the theory went, because she knew why “Jack” was killed, and maybe even—since CIA men were her friends and lovers—who was behind it. MORE

RELATED: Also missing from the history books is a diary that Meyer is said to have kept, which her brother-in-law at the time, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, sought to retrieve sometime in the 24 hours after her death. Bradlee said the diary contained mostly sketches, but Janney said he believes it held a detailed account of her affair with Kennedy, and may have revealed who might have wanted her killed. There are conflicting accounts of what happened to the diary. Meyer’s sister, Tony Bradlee, said she burned it. Damore claimed to have located a copy. There are questionable secondhand accounts claiming it was turned over to CIA spymaster James Angleton. MORE

RELATED: In 1952 Bradlee joined the staff of the Office of U.S. Information and Educational Exchange (USIE), the embassy’s propaganda unit. USIE produced films, magazines, research, speeches, and news items for use by the CIA throughout Europe. USIE (later known as USIA) also controlled the Voice of America, a means of disseminating pro-American “cultural information” worldwide. While at the USIE, according to a Justice Department memo from an assistant U.S. attorney in the Rosenberg Trial, Bradlee was helping the CIA manage European propaganda regarding the spying conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on June 19, 1953.

Bradlee was officially employed by USIE until 1953, when he began working for Newsweek. While based in France, Bradlee divorced his first wife and married Antoinette Pinchot in 1957.[7] At the time of the marriage, Antoinette’s sister, Mary Pinchot Meyer, was married to Cord Meyer, a key figure in Operation Mockingbird, a CIA program to influence the media. Antoinette Bradlee was also a close friend of Cicely d’Autremont, who was married to James Jesus Angleton. Bradlee worked closely with Angleton in Paris. At the time, Angleton was liaison for all Allied intelligence in Europe. His deputy was Richard Ober, a fellow student with Bradlee at Harvard University. MORE

RELATED: On December 13, 1952 a Mr. Benjamin Bradlee called and informed me that he was Press Attache with the American embassy in Paris, …He further advised that he was sent here by Robert Thayer, who is the head of the C.I.A. in Paris. His phone number here was Rhinelander 4-2595.

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EARLY WORD: Confusion Is Next

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

 

The Thurston Moore Band plays Boot N’ Saddle
on 10/25 in support of the just-out The Best Day.

PITCHFORK: The Best Day is not the first music Thurston Moore has released since becoming the most famous—and, in some circles, most reviled—divorcé in American indie-rock. It is, however, the first time he’s released a song-oriented album under his own name since his highly publicized split from long-time wife/bandmate Kim Gordon. And given that Moore’s traditionally used these solo albums to explore more intimate, emotionally resonant songcraft than Sonic Youth’s gnarled guitar jams normally accommodate, it’s not totally unreasonable to expect he’d use this opportunity to reflect upon the recent upheaval in his personal life in a more poetic way than contentious interview sound-bites allow. But with Sonic Youth officially on indefinite—or is it infinite?—hiatus, The Best Day proves to be not so much a revelatory, introspective antidote to Moore’s best-known band as a serviceable, equally high-voltage substitute for it. The album may not approach the metal-meltdown extremes of last year’s one-off with Chelsea Light Moving, but it does leave the drumstick-scraped guitars and humming amplifiers plugged in, displacing the acoustic quietude of 2007’s Trees Outside the Academy and 2011’s Demolished Thoughts with a distinctly Sonic Youth-ian discord. MOORE

SALON: The centerpiece of Thurston Moore’s fourth solo album, “The Best Day,” is an 11-minute pagan guitar jam featuring some of the boldest lyrics the man has ever written: “You draw a circle around the holy fortress,” he sings. “Animals they sing and adore you.” With its tensely churning guitars and occultic imagery, “Forevermore” summons Tolkein and Crowley and even Hammer Horror icon Christopher Lee to show the weird and world-conjuring power of romantic desire. In other words, it’s a love song—or at least Moore’s version of a love song. Any treacle or schmaltz or heart-on-sleeve professions of devotions are elbowed aside by noisy guitars and an engagement with weird corners of pop history from Zeppelin to “The Wicker Man.” Last year Moore moved to London—specifically, to a small village on the city’s outskirts called Stoke Newington—after more than 30 years in New York, where he served as an avatar of the city’s boho sensibilities. Whether that move was motivated by the need for a change of scenery or by the dissolution of his marriage to Sonic Youth bassist/singer Kim Gordon is largely beside point. What matters is that the transatlantic relocation has given Moore a whole new underground to explore. He’s part expat, part anthropologist. Just as “Low” was David Bowie’s Berlin album, “The Best Day” is Moore’s Stoke Newington album, a collection of songs defined by the particulars of locale. MOORE

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Probably some of the anger directed at Moore comes from the fact that many fans idolize Gordon, and hoped that whatever the couple had was too groovy to fail. Online, Prinz became a target. “I’m so defensive about her and my relationship,” Moore admits. “The character assassination of Eva—who I fell in love with—I felt very sore about.” He becomes subdued. “Me, I get it”—he’s a rock star and fair game. “But she is this beautiful feminist intellectual, and there are all these feminist intellectuals who are attacking this other woman, and I was like, Wait a minute. They have the wrong number on this.” On The Best Day, he sings—I assume to or about Prinz—“Animals they sing and adore you / Intuitions flash before you … /That’s why I love you for evermore.” “The record is just me at 56 years old having a change-of-life scenario, madly in love, trying to deal with my responsibilities as an adult,” he says. “It’s hard to be an adult playing rock and roll.” The point seems to be that he’s found something with her that he needed. “People keep saying how—” and he pauses. “When I say people, I mean my mother. She keeps saying, You’re so happy and open in the last few years. And I am happy and open. That’s all there is to it.” MOORE



THE THURSTON MOORE BAND PLAYS BOOT N’ SADDLE ON SAT. OCT. 25TH

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JIM MORRISON: Fat Is Beautiful

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

HUFFINGTON POST: In a new video excerpt from a 1969 interview with Doors frontman Jim Morrison finds the singer emphasizing that “fat is beautiful.” The video was released by Blank on Blank, a new online PBS series that animates old interviews between journalists and their famous subjects. This one finds Morrison talking about his experiences gaining weight and how “great” he felt when he packed on additional pounds while in college. MORE

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Q&A With Benjamin Booker, Blooze Hammerer

Monday, October 20th, 2014

 

BY JONATHAN VALANIA It’s been quite a year for Benjamin Booker, hand-picked opener for the Jack White’s Lazaretto tour, going electric at Norfolk, going crazy on Letterman — not bad for a 25-year-old community gardener from New Orleans. Booker broke onto the scene earlier this year with his righteous, trance-inducing blooze hammering self-titled debut, shot thru with dizzyingly ecstatic Delta blues demolition and the most shiver-inducing lupine howl heard since the day Tom Waits gargled broken glass and washed it down with gasoline when he was, like, nine. Sounds like John Lee Hooker in the electric chair, and smells like victory. He’s in the midst of his first headlining tour, which brings him to World Cafe Live tomorrow night, so last week we got him on the horn last week, having roused him from bed at the crack of noon. Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen the future of the past, and it is in good hands. DISCUSSED: LA punk; The Gun Club; how hip-hop killed the blues; Jack White; Jackie Shane, the legendary cross-dressing soul shouter from the ’60s; wearing a dress in Nashville just to fuck with the squares and why his Navy officer dad and Christian conservative mother do NOT approve.

PHAWKER: Tell me about your upbringing.

BENJAMIN BOOKER: I grew up in Virginia. My dad was in the Navy. We moved to Florida, where I mostly grew up, went to school in Gainesville, then eventually I moved to New Orleans.

PHAWKER: Why New Orleans?

BENJAMIN BOOKER: To take a non-profit job — I help tend community gardens and work in the neighborhoods.

PHAWKER: When/how did you discover the blues?

BENJAMIN BOOKER: When I was 14. I was originally very into punk, but when you keep tracing that back it leads you to the blues.

PHAWKER: Why do you think the audience for blues music, which was the hardcore gangsta rap of its day, is middle aged white men, not young or even middle-aged African American men?

BENJAMIN BOOKER: I think that hip-hop killed the blues, at least for young black men.

PHAWKER: You cite the Gun Club, that’s a pretty seminal but obscure influence for a 25-year-old to cite. By my count, you were seven years old when Jeffrey Lee Pierce passed away. How did you discover the Gun Club?

BENJAMIN BOOKER: When I was investigating LA punk I eventually came to them. I just really liked his voice and his lyrics, the things he sang about where unlike anything else going on in the LA punk scene.

PHAWKER: You have a one of the most remarkable and distinctive singing voices to come along in many years. How did you arrive at your singing style.

BENJAMIN BOOKER:It’s just the sound that came out when I opened my mouth and started singing

PHAWKER: Is it true that your parents are very conservative folk and don’t approve of your music or your decision to pursue it as a career or is that just part of your legend?

BENJAMIN BOOKER: No, it’s true, they don’t approve. It has caused me a lot strife in my family. Both my parents are very devout Christians. My mother doesn’t even really listen to music, so it’s less the music than the lifestyle, spending every night in dive bars, etc. They were starting to come around a bit, see that it is possible to make a living doing this, but then I dressed in drag when we played in Nashville [at Jack White's Third Man Records], and they REALLY didn’t like that.

PHAWKER: Why did you do that? Was it a tribute to Jackie Shane, the legendary cross-dressing soul singer from the 1960s?

BENJAMIN BOOKER: I just thought it would be fun. We were in the Nashville, the Bible Belt so I thought I’d stir things up a little. Besides where I live in New Orleans, that kind of thing is no big deal. Men and women wear skirts all the time.

PHAWKER: Had you ever done that before?

BENJAMIN BOOKER: No, and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. It caused me a lot of strife with my family.

BENJAMIN BOOKER PLAYS WORLD CAFE LIVE TUESDAY OCTOBER 20th

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ARTSY: Can’t Get There From Here

Monday, October 20th, 2014

We’ve always loved these illustrated landmark maps and this one of Philadelphia by Tyler illustration instructor Mario Zucca is next level shit. You can buy it on Etsy HERE.

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PURLING HISS: Learning Slowly

Monday, October 20th, 2014

From the new Weirdon (Drag City). This sounds like it could’ve come out on Gerard Cosloy-era Homestead Records. That is a HUGE compliment, by the way. They play JBs Oct. 22nd.

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