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BEING THERE: Malala Yousafzai @ The NCC

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014


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.


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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


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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.


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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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BEING THERE: Wiz Khalifa @ The Piazza

Monday, October 20th, 2014


As the sun dropped on a warm late October afternoon, the gates opened for the Forbes’ first ever Under 30 Music Festival at the Piazza in Philadelphia. The festival is a partnership with Global Poverty Project, the organization that runs the annual Global Festival in NYC. Both events are free ticketed events for anyone who took specific action against extreme poverty on social media — watching a video on extreme poverty, tweeting about it, or even taking a selfie and hashtagging about Global Citizen.

WORTH REPEATING: High Infidelity

Monday, October 20th, 2014


NEW YORK TIMES: It’s hard to imagine now, but there once was a time when you could not play any song ever recorded, instantly, from your phone. I call this period adolescence. It lasted approximately 30 years, and it was galvanized by conflict. At that time, music had to be melted onto plastic discs and shipped across the country in trucks. In order to keep this system running smoothly, a handful of major labels coordinated with broadcasters and retailers to encourage everyone to like the same thing, e.g. Third Eye Blind. This approach divided music into two broad categories: “popular” and what I liked. Lest history remember industry versus indie as a distinction without difference, I should point out that mainstream rock was genuinely awful in the two decades before Napster. Classic rock gave way to glam metal, which was vanquished by Nirvana and grunge, whose promise quickly curdled into the cynical marketing strategy known as “alternative.” From Journey to Smash Mouth, the major-label system peddled an enormous quantity of objectively hideous music in its waning years. In a now-famous 1993 essay for The Baffler, the musician and recording engineer Steve Albini described how this system pauperized bands to enrich a series of middlemen. The structure of most contracts meant that artists paid back almost all their royalties in managers’ and recording fees. The occasional hits profited the artists far less than they did the labels, whose marketing departments ignored most of their catalogs to focus on the hits. For a majority of bands, signing with a major label was the first step toward going out of business. Albini called it “the problem with music”: the major-label system acted as an anticurator by making good music harder to find. For me, adopting an indie-snob identity (subset punk) didn’t just solve this problem and provide me with a lifetime of sound-as-art, it also gave me something to talk about with other pointy-haired youngsters I ran across. MORE

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BEING THERE: Gerard Way @ The Trocadero

Saturday, October 18th, 2014


Last night a sold-out crowd at the Trocadero Theater bore witness to the evolution of former My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way from a leather-wrapped wild boy to a suave, Kool-Aid-haired thin white duke in a dark blue suit. Way and his tight four-piece backing band, The Hormones, spent an hour throwing out darts of finely-honed New Wave-y rock from his debut solo album, Hesitant Alien, to the delight of the loud and raucous crowd. It is fitting that the Troc would be one of the first stops on Way’s first solo tour given that in 2006 the venue hosted a special MTV concert featuring My Chemical Romance that helped elevate the band’s profile before the release of their magnum opus – the Queen/Pink Floyd influenced The Black Parade. The following seven years found the band burning through drummers like Spinal Tap and playing a ton of shows all over the world but only releasing one more proper album before quietly imploding. In August, Way revealed that he had relapsed into alcoholism during the making of the band’s final album, an relapse that led him to break up the band for fear that his young daughter would grow up without a dad. Way is back on his own and seemingly happy, healthy and forward-looking.

Friday’s set list was all material from Way’s solo album plus two surprise covers from opposite ends of the spectrum. The first was a traditional English folk song from 1906 called “The Water Is Wide” (that Way recorded for Kevin Smith’s man-becoming-a-walrus-man movie Tusk) re-arranged as an achingly beautiful piano ballad. The second found Way intentionally slurring his way through an awesomely sludgy cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Snakedriver,” that sounded like someone playing a vinyl version of “California Girls” by the Beach Boys on the wrong speed to make  it sound groovy and satanic. Twin highlights of the set came back to back, first with a gorgeous and melancholy “Drugstore Perfume” that channeled the cold dark jangle-and-tambourines of the early Velvet Underground and the anthemic piano-driven “Brother” which featured a soaring chorus and great harmonies from Way and his bandmates. The night, and for that matter the path that brought Way to this moment was best summed up during “Millions.” Way introduced the song by thanking the crowd for supporting him and allowing him to keep making music and saying that the song was about saying “I Quit.” It meant much more than that though. On this night it was a powerful, uplifting cry of affirmation — the sound and words of someone having the strength to walk away from a toxic situation and make a new start, just like Way did. – PETE TROSHAK

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A Q&A With Judge John Hodgman, Actual Person

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Illustration by DONKEY HOTEY

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have a pair of tickets to see John Hodgman tonight at Underground Arts, all you have to do is send us an email at FEED@PHAWKER.COM telling us the name of the character he plays on The Knick. HINT: The answer is somewhere in this interview.

BY JONATHAN VALANIA John Hodgman is full of shit. Full to the brim and stuffed to the gills with the stuff. And that’s a wonderful thing for you and me — as representative members of the human race that enjoy a good chortle and maybe even a guffaw when circumstances merit — because John Hodgman’s wizardly ability to turn horseshit into pure comedy gold, and to do so with a straight-face, a high-handed loquaciousness never-ending and the kind of ornate, self-aggrandizing syntax usually reserved for the mustachioed stovepipe-hatted men who tie women to railroad tracks in flickering black and white films is his great and generous gift to humanity.  So send him a thank you note. Or even better yet, tell him in person tonight (Friday October 16th) at Underground Arts.

To stir up interest in tonight’s show amongst you, the great unwashed, we got the honorable Judge John Hodgman on the horn, asked him some harmless questions and let him carry forth with a Gilded Age grandiloquence not heard since Grover Cleveland was in the White House. DISCUSSED: His late-in-life marijuana experimentation; unwashed folk singers and their threat to huanity; the sadistic psych doctor he plays on Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick (starting Clive Owen); playing the hypersexual and oversharing Bernie on  Married; Ayn Rand’s deconstruction of Charlie’s Angels, the Hobby Lobby hullabaloo, and how to sincerely grow an ironic mustache or ironically grow a sincere mustache in a way that does not make you look like a card-carrying member of NAMBLA. Impossible, you say? Well, Impossible is John Hodgman’s middle name. Actually, I lied. His middle name is Kellogg, but that is a discussion for another day.

PHAWKER: Can you say something so I can get a recording level?

JOHN HODGMAN: This is John Hodgman Speaking. I affirm that I have agreed to this interview, and I’ve agreed to being recorded. The sound of my voice is my signature. Proceed the first question.

PHAWKER: Before we get into the questions I have, can you tell me what we can expect on tonight at Underground Arts in Philadelphia?

JOHN HODGMAN: Last time I performed a full show in Philadelphia, I thought the world was going to end, at the end of 2012, according to ancient Mayan prophecies, and the visions I had while bathing in absinthe. You may have noticed that the world did not end, and I found that to be profoundly humiliating, and a little annoying. Because when you get to where I was in my career, in 2012, 41 years old then, now 43. And having published three books of fake facts, and having been on every television show I ever cared to watch. And I met the President of the United States and George R.R. Martin. Truly, what else was there for me to do?

So, I spent 2013, now almost all of 2014, in a basement — not everyday, about once a week — in a basement in Brooklyn where I live, at a venue called Union Hall, where I started telling stories, in order to figure out what I was thinking about now that the world had not ended. Comedy stories, you understand. What I found was extremely liberating. I told these stories, and the secret show that I did in the basement in Brooklyn. It was fine, because you need to tell the kind of arch-weirdo-absurdist jokes that I was known for, but equally fine to shed the persona of the Resident Expert at the Daily Show, or the Deranged Millionaire. I had written those books with fake trivia, and instead talked about John Hodgman, actual person, husband and father of two human children, and professional John Hodgman impersonator. By the end of another year, by the time the year anniversary of the world not ending had passed, I had discovered I had no more than one whole show that I wanted to present again for the people of the United States, and parts of Canada, until I’ve died.

So, over the course of 2014, I keep generating newer and newer material as I go along. The consequence is, I am making stories of a more straightforward and personal nature than perhaps people are used to. I’m shedding, quasi-literally, the disguises that I wore as a performer before, in order to stand before the audience, totally literally quasi-nude, and just speak of myself. When I speak of quasi nudity, that is to say that I do take off all of my old costumes, and then speak, for a long time as myself, John Hodgman, regular person. At the end of it, I do change into a dress, so that I can perform as Ayn Rand in 1981, the year before she died. The change has to occur onstage. I sense that because of the light, they may want to bring sunglasses, because my semi-nude body reflects a lot of light. It doesn’t last long before I am clothed in Ayn Rand’s costume. Essentially, the show is about a lot of things. It is about costume changes, real and imagined. It’s about my late-in-life experimentation with marijuana. My human children, that I refuse to acknowledge, I pretend that I’m telling stories about my cats, and Ayn Rand. Surf shops, and other things. Ultimately, it is about starting over. We all have to start over one way or another. Maybe you lost a job, maybe you’re out of a relationship, or maybe the world doesn’t end the way it was supposed to.

PHAWKER: Late-in-life experiments with marijuana?

CINEMA: The Killing Fields

Friday, October 17th, 2014


FURY (2014, directed by David Ayer, 134 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC War films are most interesting not just for the stories they tell but for the insight they offer into contemporary attitudes towards war. Former Navy officer David Ayer writes and directs the new WW2 thriller Fury and his story is determined to show us that the best thing about going to war is to reveal what a man can achieve once he allows himself to be dehumanized. It’s an attitude missing from the WW2 Hollywood propaganda films of the 1940s and certainly different from the more morally complex films veterans made after the conflict. Ayer’s Fury seems unique to our times in its unquestioning embrace of soul-deadening violence as a personally transcendent force. It’s the sort of war film one might expect from a country that for a decade-plus has been at war and its appearance should give more peaceful souls a disturbing shudder as we expand our wars in the Middle East.

Returning to WW2 to tell a story is a way for its creator to place a moral certainly in his characters and to deny the paradoxes involved in war. Fury‘s opening moments lay out Ayer’s moral framework with a shamelessly symbolic scene in which Sergeant “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) kills a lone Nazi soldier and sets free his white stallion. Wardaddy returns to his tank crew soon after, confronted by Cobb (Logan Lerman, star of the Percy Jackson films), a green recruit from accounting who was sent to the front to be his gunner. Germany is still strong but believed to be on the verge of its final collapse leaving Wardaddy and his grim tank crew with the task of smashing one village after another on their way to Berlin.

Before they head into battle Wardaddy makes it his job to desensitize Cobb. We already know that Wardaddy will shoot a prisoner rather than transport him but here he forces the gun into Cobb’s hand and demands he shoot a prisoner in the back. Cobb refuses but after further hazing from the crew Cobb finally attains killing machine status, ultimately joining in the crew’s post-killing chant, “Best job I ever had!”

This joy of killing may exist in the heat of battle but it is not often found in the films that were made after World War Two, when the experience was fresh in the country’s mind. The theme that comes up in so many of those films is that of men trying to hold on to their humanity in a world gone mad. Paths of Glory, Pork Chop Hill, and the war films of Sam Fuller all explored the contradictions of violently doling out death in the name of freedom in ways that denied easy answers. With Fury, Cobb finds transcendence once he inures himself to the idea of killing, finally achieving manhood and respect amongst his battle-hardened brethren.

It makes for a deeply conservative perspective on war and it is a conservatism whose viewpoint is ingrained throughout the film (I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise from a director who just helmed an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle). After tumultuous battle scenes hoping to top Saving Private Ryan, things turn quiet as Wardaddy drags Cobb up to an apartment in a newly occupied village. Wardaddy has spotted a female form in the window and with guns pointed he and Cobb invade the woman’s living quarters. Once there they discover not only the woman with the gun but a young female cousin hidden under the bed, and Cobb and Wardaddy set up a perverse version of a double date. Giving the pair of women eggs to cook, they sit down to eat, after which Wardaddy orders Cobb, “It you don’t take her in that bedroom I will.” Cobb does, and the young couple’s coupling is suddenly framed as consensual sex between two young adults rather than an occupying army’s raping and pillaging. It’s only when the tank’s Latin crewman Garcia (Michael Peña from Ayer’s End of Watch) and his swarthy pal seek to share the carnal spoils that the idea of rape enters the scene. Before the contradictions of this scenario can be hashed out it ends with a big nullifying explosion and quickly we’re moving on for more glory via gory confrontations.

Pitt is so charismatic and the battle scenes are so tense (though not particularly well-mounted) that it is easy to go along with the film’s dehumanizing perspective: you’re either with Wardaddy and his crew or you’re with the Nazis. Shia LaGoof (nee LaBeouf) even anoints the proceedings with bibllical verse as a crew member named “Bible.” This crew of morose psychos nonetheless portray a moral surety our government would like its citizenry to feel towards our current Middle East adventures, and Ayer’s film does a great job here of stoking a wartime-y fervor (lines like “God-damned Nazis!” are frequently shouted). At least Fury strikes a slightly more honest promise for its soldiers, as a cost for your glory expect dehumanization and death. That these ugly realities are not indicted but glorified amounts to a Hollywood prophecy that our current wartime madness will continue indefinitely.

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Cost of the War in Iraq
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