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THE BYRDS: Eight Miles High

August 6th, 2019

The Byrds were the coolest looking band of the ’60s. In this video, David Crosby is wearing the coolest hat anyone ever wore in the ’60s. This is also one of the coolest songs of the ’60s. This is non-negotiable.

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REST IN POWER: Author Toni Morrison, ‘Towering Novelist Of The Black Experience’, Dead At 88

August 6th, 2019

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Illustration by Alexandra Compain-Tissier

NEW YORK TIMES: In awarding her the Nobel, the Swedish Academy cited her “novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import,” through which she “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Ms. Morrison animated that reality in a style resembling that of no other writer in English. Her prose, often luminous and incantatory, rings with the cadences of black oral tradition. Her plots are dreamlike and nonlinear, spooling backward and forward in time as though characters bring the entire weight of history to bear on their every act.

Her narratives mingle the voices of men, women, children and even ghosts in layered polyphony. Myth, magic and superstition are inextricably intertwined with everyday verities, a technique that caused Ms. Morrison’s novels to be likened often to those of Latin American magic realist writers like Gabriel García Márquez.

In “Sula,” a woman blithely lets a train run over her leg for the insurance money it will give her family. In “Song of Solomon,” a baby girl is named Pilate by her father, who “had thumbed through the Bible, and since he could not read a word, chose a group of letters that seemed to him strong and handsome.” In “Beloved,” the specter of a murdered child takes up residence in the house of her murderer. Throughout Ms. Morrison’s work, elements like these coalesce around her abiding concern with slavery and its legacy. In her fiction, the past is often manifest in a harrowing present — a world of alcoholism, rape, incest and murder, recounted in unflinching detail. MORE

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CINEMA: The Beloved

August 6th, 2019

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THE PIECES I AM (Dir. Timothy Greenfield Sanders, 119 min., USA, 2019)

BY JASMIN ALVAREZ Few authors have succeeded in capturing, with incomparable eloquence, the most poignant and heart-rending episodes of black history the way that acclaimed author Toni Morrison has in her haunting and deeply humane novels, for which she has been awarded both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize. “If there’s life on Mars, they’re reading Toni Morrison to learn what it means to be human,” muses Columbia University professor Farah Griffin in The Pieces I Am, an intimate and deeply-affecting tribute documentary honoring Morrison’s life and literary milestones.

Critically-acclaimed portrait photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders elegantly frames Morrison in a series of highly personal and revealing interviews. The film alternates between the narration of her biography and insightful discussions about the construction and criticisms of her most controversial novels (chief among them The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, and her lesser-known, yet insanely powerful, curated anthology of black history, The Black Book).

Morrison’s story begins in Ohio as she offers a window onto her family’s history and her upbringing as a working-class woman, reliving various transformational moments that would serve as the origins of her fascination with words and her awareness of their profound influence. The Pieces I Am then propels us forward with film footage of some of her life’s most monumental events: her trip to Stockholm in the 90s to accept the Nobel Peace Prize and bask in the reflected glory of an exceptionally-stylish Swedish after-party; her experiences as an editor at Random House in the 70s, where she worked closely with activist and academic, Angela Davis, and penned her first novel, The Bluest Eye; her book-tour with Muhammad Ali, whose biography she also edited and published; and her time as a professor at Princeton University.

Morrison also pauses to candidly unveil the more sensitive and vulnerable moments of her literary career, such as the early criticisms which claimed that her work would only ever be recognized and well-received if she expanded toward writing “white literature”—a criticism which, for years afterward, spurred her devotion to penning exclusively black stories that transcended the narrow scope of the “white gaze” to tell stories centering around the experiences of black women.

Interspersed between the narrative of Morrison’s life are observations, praise, and insights from Morrison’s closest colleagues, peers, and long-time friends like Sonia Sanchez, Walter Mosley, Fran Lebowitz, Hilton Als, and Oprah Winfrey—who zealously produced, and starred in, the film adaptation of Morrison’s Beloved in 1998. Fittingly, this moving and meticulously-crafted meditation on Morrison’s life culminates with the iteration of Sula’s closing words: “She. Is. Loved. She. Is. Loved.” Amen to that.

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TELEVISION: Mind Games

August 6th, 2019

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Have you ever opened Facebook and swore that it was eavesdropping on your conversation? Either you see an ad for something you were just talking about or, even creepier, just thinking about? Well that is just one example of targeted advertisements, which illustrates just how accurate data mining has become today. Online retailers can now predict a consumer’s purchasing plans based on google searches and web traffic. It’s what Wiliam Gibson dubbed pattern recognition. One of the break out docs at Sundance this year The Great Hack just hit Netflix and in our interconnected world it could be one of the most important films and terrifying films you see this year. The film dissects how Cambridge Analytica weaponized voter Facebook accounts for the benefit of the Trump and Brexit campaigns, using stolen Facebook data to create data points to build psychographic profiles of undecided voters. Cambridge Analytica then targeted these voters with a steady stream of curated propaganda to get the desired effect in the election. The film adeptly drills down on these old military “psych-ops” techniques and chillingly shows how they worked their black magic in the 2016 presidential election. It’s a film that will no doubt change how you consume social media, and will make you think twice the next time a new ad or political advertisement shows up in your Facebook feed. Which is a good thing. – DAN TABOR

RELATED: How The Great Hack Terrified Audiences At Sundance, And Then Got Even Scarier

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CINEMA: Q&A W/ Director M. Night Shyamalan

August 2nd, 2019

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Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Philly loves an underdog. Rocky, Gritty, The Phillies, The Eagles et al. Add to the list our own M. Night Shyamalan. Like all good underdog stories, after a promising start he hit a bit of a rough patch (The Happening, Avatar the Last Airbender) but eventually reconnected with audiences by returning to his low budget genre roots with his stealth sequel to Unbreakable, Split. The Sixth Sense, the film that originally introduced us to the world of auteur M. Night, turns 20 years old this week, and in the course of the last two decades it has become synonymous not just with Shyamalan but with our fair city itself. It’s a film I still remember seeing opening weekend in my rural AMC. Like Unbreakable, it struck me as a horror film that was a bit ahead of its time. And if you say you saw that plot twist coming at the end back before the hype, I am going to have to call bullshit.

The Sixth Sense is the story of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a young boy who claims he can see spirits in his therapy sessions with psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) who is pining for his recently estranged from his wife. While everyone else in the horror genre at the time trying to make the nth iteration of self-aware slashers like Scream — and largely failing — Night made a film that feels like the current batch of elevated horror, since it works as both a film about human relationships just as much as it is a film about a young boy in Philadelphia who can see ghosts. It’s quiet, thoughtful and introspective, and blessed with a career highwater mark performances by Bruce Willis.

Instead of going Hollywood after turning in a film with a box office haul that was second only to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Night opted to stay in Philadelphia and continues to use our city as the setting for his stories. Seriously, you gotta love a man who produced a film that had Satan living in the Comcast building! To celebrate the 20th anniversary of The sixth_sense_ver3Sixth Sense, The Philadelphia Film Society recently hosted a 35mm screening at the Philadelphia Film Center. After doing an intro, M. Night came out to the lobby red carpet to humor me for a quick Q&A. Sporting a pair of super limited edition 76er Nike Jordan’s (there are only 10 pairs in existence, all given to local celebs, doncha know), Shyamalan was optimistic, humble and as grateful to be making films in Philadelphia as we are lucky to have him.

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: You know its kind of surreal, this is where they had the reception and the premiere of The Sixth Sense I think I was literally standing in this exact spot, it was an amazing memory, my wife was pregnant and she was feeling nauseous that day. I was like are you alright and I remember the anxiety of that day.

PHAWKER: This being the 20th anniversary of The Sixth Sense, I have to ask, knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time 20 years and give yourself any piece of advice, what would you say?

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: Be present. Because I didn’t even remember this whole thing when it happened. I was immediately writing Unbreakable and moving onto the next movie, making sure that they’d let me direct another movie again. I was just so worried about never making another movie again. I was like, before they say, ‘Hey, that’s it, it’s over, dude. We caught you. You suck. You’re no good.’ I was like, write another movie. Write another movie. So, I wrote Unbreakable as fast as I could and I really didn’t pay much attention to what was going on at the time.

Part of that’s healthy because the cultural thing that happened with the movie, it is better, to some extent, to not internalize that. But, I would have liked to just take it in a little bit more, I would tell my younger self to just enjoy it. I went from one stress to another stress, thinking like, I gotta make it, I gotta make it, you know? Rather than just enjoying the storytelling part of it.

PHAWKER: So speaking of Unbreakable, I loved Glass, it’s such a pure a representation of your directorial vision. Do you think the reason why it was so divisive is because we’re so used to this like mass produced filmmaking by committee with these superhero films?glass_ver2

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: Yeah, well, I didn’t find that it was divisive. You know, we had screenings around the world and even domestically audiences were super, super generous with the movie. So it was one of those things, half of the audiences knew Split and half of them knew Unbreakable, [each] really enjoyed kind of learning about the lineage of the other film. So, it was a really satisfying thing bringing two generations together like that. It was a beautiful thing. Funnily enough in preview screenings, at the end of our run on Glass, it was the kind of highest rated audience movie. Because two groups were bringing their love to the table together. So, it was really sweet.

PHAWKER: Do you feel vindicated at all with the success of it and sort of responsible for the comic book resurgence we have, considering Unbreakable in my opinion is like one of the best comic movies ever.

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: Oh, thank you brother. That’s really sweet of you. I’m just like everybody else. I love comic books and what they mean to us narratively, mythically and, how we kind of wish that we can wake up something amazing in us or that a spider will bite us or a lightning bolt will hit us. Whatever it is, so that someone will tap us on the shoulder and say, ‘I think you might be a superhero’ — that resonates with all of us and it did with me as a kid and as an adult as well.

PHAWKER: What’s your favorite comic book movie?

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: The first Iron Man was excellent. Excellent. I remember meeting John (Favreau) at a party once and I told him, you know, I went over to him specifically, I just said, ‘I thought you did something really, really deft, this grounded humor and the way Robert really brought this flavor.’ Of course that became the Marvel brand, that type of humor. But at that time when I saw it, I was super taken because it was really super grounded. Even to this day, I still find it the most grounded of the MCU.

PHAWKER: Finally on that front I have to ask, if Marvel called you up, what would you want to do?

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: We’ve talked a couple of times. All good. I love what they do. They’re amazing.

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Democrat Disneyland

August 2nd, 2019

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BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Beam me up Bernie … and Elizabeth and Kamala and Kirsten and about a dozen other Democrat candidates! In what other-worldly universe, parallel or otherwise, does the following sound like a winning strategy? “Medicare For ALL, period, whether or not you like the private coverage you currently have OR might prefer to purchase instead;” “Open SMUSborders;” “Free healthcare and college educations for every American citizen AND everyone who enters this country legally or ILLEGALLY;” Did I mention COMPLETE sustenance as well? Oh, and yes, we’ll STILL maintain our military might! ALL of it fully paid for courtesy of the federal government (but YOU personally need not worry about having to fund it because that obligation is going to fall squarely on the backs of OTHERS as I’m about to further expound upon a few words from now) which is currently DROWNING in DEBT to the glub, glub of some 22 TRILLION DOLLAR$–very soon to rise to a mere 24 TRILLION DOLLAR$–which currently amounts to about $68,000 for every man, woman and child alive in America! But, not to Alfred E. Neuman about it, because that’s not OUR problem, right? Hell, we long ago shoved that off onto our GRANDCHILDREN’S and their CHILDREN’S wages, salaries, shoulders, budgets, pocketbooks and wallets which apparently politicians of ALL stripes, red, blue, and above all, YELLOW, don’t give one single SHIT about either because they’re not going to be around to have to worry about who’s going to have to pay it back! Anyway, obviously you fellows and gals to whom floating on this fiscal “cloud” applies haven’t even begun to recognize the fact that the vast number of VOTING Democrats in this broad, diversified country of ours inhabit the MIDDLE GROUND of reality’s turf, NOT the hinterlands! For Christ’s sake, candidates, wake up, stick a finger into the wind, recognize which way it’s actually blowing out there before you fully launch the kind of magic carpet that so many Democrat ballots simply are not and will not be willing to board!

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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THE DEVIL’S BIZNESS: Q&A With Philadelphia Lawyer & Rock N’ Roll Evolutionist James A. Cosby

August 1st, 2019

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meavatar2BY JONATHAN VALANIA By day he’s a mild-mannered Philadelphia lawyer, but by night James A. Cosby is a rock philosopher-cum-theoretician mapping out grand unifying theories about the origin mythos of rock n’ roll. Turns out it’s a lot more complicated than ‘the blues had a baby and they called it rock n’ roll’ and there is far more nuance in the grey zone between heaven and hell than is dreamt of in your Birth Of Rock Spotify playlist, Virginia. His 2016 book Devil’s Music, Holy Rollers And Hillbillies: How America Gave Birth To Rock N’ Roll ties together the seemingly disparate socioculturall strands of race and religion and economics — slavery, the dirty South, rural blues, hellfire and brimstone Pentacostals, hillbilly mystics taking up serpents, the transfiguration of gospel choirs, white Post-War prosperity and radio apartheid — into a coherent, illuminating and altogether convincing narrative. No mean feat, that. Because everybody knows heaven has better weather but Hell has all the best bands but few know why, we recently we got Mr. Cosby on the horn to talk shop.

PHAWKER: So what prompted you to write a genealogical history of early rock and roll?

JAMES COSBY: I’ve been writing some academic stuff in law, and then I started writing some essays and reviews for some online music sites and I always just had some questions in my mind about rock music, like ‘when did it start?’ You know, what was the first rock record? Why don’t I know that? Why is that not more well known, like how did it start exactly? And what’s the deal with Elvis, was he a cultural thief or not? Like, what was the deal with this guy? So I just started reading up on it and I was just really amazed at, you know, I found a lot of really amazing information. It sparked something.Attachment-1-21

PHAWKER: Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” is widely cited as the alpha rock and roll song, but you’re somewhat skeptical that it is actually the first rock and roll song, or that any one song could be definitively ID’d as such.

JAMES COSBY: In the book, I just basically say that’s the consensus number one. But I mean I think there are numerous other songs that could be the number one, and so I thought it was sort of fascinating that it’s so hard to determine. And I didn’t know– I hadn’t heard of “Rocket 88” until I really started researching this. It’s been a while now. But it is interesting, there are some people that would say it wasn’t until Elvis or Bill Hailey. Going back to the late forties, there are songs when you listen to ‘em, it’s like, man that sounds a lot like rock n’ roll. So I would agree it’s “Rocket 88,” but I think it is, it really is really hard to pinpoint a single song.

PHAWKER: Alright, is there a couple other songs that could well be the first rock and roll song that you can just throw out?

JAMES COSBY: Sure. Goree Carter’s “Rock Awhile” from 1949. Some of the guitar in that, it’s like, you hear it and it seems a precursor to Chuck Berry. And when you hear it, it’s like, it’s just shocking to hear it in the late ‘40s.

PHAWKER: Okay, so tell me a little bit about the process of researching and writing the book. Any interesting road trips or surprise discoveries? I believe you went down to Memphis at some point.

JAMES COSBY: I started off– there are a lot of books out there, obviously, on rock, but I didn’t feel like anybody really tied it all together. Or, at least, not the way I was seeing it. And as far as how did the blues, Memphis, and Elvis, how did it really all come together? It seemed like whenever I read anything about rock history people would say, ‘Well, there was the blues and then all of the sudden there’s Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry,’ and I thought, well there’s gotta be more to this than that, you know? It didn’t just happen out of nowhere. Like how did all these different elements come together? And so, you know, I really wanted to go back further in the history leading up to the 1950’s instead of, you know, a lot of books that just start in the fifties, really. Maybe, maybe they talk about “Rocket 88”. So I did go to Memphis a couple times, just to look around, maybe sort of get a feel for it. The only person I’ve interviewed is Lloyd Price, who was an early rock pioneer. And otherwise, there’s so much already out there, I just needed to start piecing it together.

PHAWKER: So the irony of the title of your book, Devil’s Music, was a pejorative hurled at rebellious teenage music in the ‘50s to discredit it. But in truth — and your book goes a long way towards pointing this out — rock and roll really was birthed in large part by Christianity, or the Christian church more specifically. That, and slavery, and the agrarian society of the South, and Post-War prosperity etc. Would you agree that, you know, so much of this comes out of the Pentecostals and the Evangelicals and the sort of charismatic religious denominations, gospel music, the Hank_Williams_by_Jon_Langfordblack church experience.

JAMES COSBY: When I was trying to come up with a title for the book, I was trying to think, there’s so many factors like you’re saying. And so I was trying to think, how do I summarize all these people, the Pentecostal church, musicians, and bluesman, and so the devil’s music, so the term for early rock is also the term for the bluesman. So that’s sort of what I was thinking, that rock and roll really did sort of turn things upside down. And, you know, the blues, that was considered devil’s music, because they weren’t part of the black gospel music, they were very secular and, you know, sang about secular topics, sex and whatever else. And so it’s just ironic to me rock and roll is so mainstream now. Like, it’s shocking to me that there was a time when people really did think it was the devil’s music.

PHAWKER: So much of that early rock and roll seems really tame in 2019 — to 2019 ears. I mean it’s hard to understand no how offended people were when Ray Charles started taking gospel motifs and turning them into R&B — people really thought he was doing something really satanic. Look how conflicted Little Richard was — he wound up renouncing rock n’ roll and going back to gospel for a time. I think it’s hard for modern secular whites to relate to, but, like, the profound sense of guilt that some of these guys felt by leaving gospel music and doing rock and roll that was, in some ways, a tribute to where it came from.

JAMES COSBY: Right.

PHAWKER: So you dedicate the book to all the the African-Americans that came from The Delta in song and spirit, and something called the Kent Bangers. You lost me on that one: who is or what is Kent Bangers?

JAMES COSBY: It’s sort of an in-joke. I’m originally from Kent, Washington, and it’s sort of a reference to my group of friends that I grew up with that were all, you know, very much into rock and roll. The term came up in a song by a heavy metal group that came out of Kent, Washington called Metal Church, and they referenced ‘The Kent Bangers,’ and so I just always thought that was a cool reference.

PHAWKER: That’s a good name for a band — a British garage band. Let’s talk about Elvis, you think the importance or the power and the glory of Elvis has been overstated?

JAMES COSBY: Yeah, he’s such a– yeah, he still remains, like, the most complicated legacy of anybody ever, it seems like. But, you know, what I think I wanted to get in the book is, you know– something that got me started on this is I was reading up on sort of Elvis’s history with race, and I just started to realize that everything was in place in Memphis before Elvis came along. You know, like you had Sun Studios, you know, you already started to get this crossover racially, there’s amazing black radio, like WDIA– this was all before Elvis. And WDIA was famous as the first black music radio station, and B.B. King and Rufus Thomas were deejays. And then from there you get to Dewey Phillips who’s this amazing white guy who was a deejay in Memphis at the same time who really crossed the race line, like, really an underappreciated figure in this.

PHAWKER: That’s all true, but isn’t that the story of every Great Man in history about being the at the right place at the right time?

JAMES COSBY: Right, right. No, that’s true. I mean, I think Elvis takes it to a whole other level. Huge social dynamics were changing — it was literally the beginning of the end of Jim Crow, and there was this sacred/secular line with rock music being considered obscene at the time. You know, so many things happening all at once and Elvis was Jon_Langford_Elvisliterally timing-wise and geographically just at exactly the right place. He was both incredibly talented and incredibly fortunate to be at that exact place at that exact time. And you can’t underestimate that, I think also, that he had, I think because he was white, he just had this different attitude towards music. And in a sense that I think he already knew like, he already knew he was gonna be accepted, like if he crossed the race line he was probably gonna be accepted by America. And Marlon Brando and James Dean are already on the big screen being rebels, you know? These young white guys being [anti-establishment], Elvis really was heavily influenced by their attitude. It’s complicated, he was incredibly talented — but black guys were not gonna cross that race line first, you know, you’re not gonna see a black guy on the silver screen telling off the cops, you know?

PHAWKER: Right, a handsome charismatic white guy could get away with being a threat to society, but certainly not a handsome, charismatic black man in 1950s America. I mean it’s all rather tame now, but at the time he was, you know, Elvis Presley shaking his hips was the coming of the decline of Western civilization –it also seems like from another planet now, right? Where do you think rock and roll stands now, do you think it’s spent as a cultural force? Or does it continue to be relevant or groundbreaking?

JAMES COSBY: I mean, I think it’s, yeah, I mean I think rock as we knew it, like classic rock, blues-based guitar, is over as, you know, the huge force that it was. And, you know, there’s still a lot of really great rock bands out there but they really are these small, niche acts, and they don’t necessarily pack arenas and unite people the same way.

PHAWKER: Yeah. Okay, last question here. If the Martians landed on your front lawn today and said, you know, what is rock and roll, what song would you play for them?

JAMES COSBY: Oh, man. Uh, I’d say “Johnny B. Goode.”

PHAWKER: Because?

JAMES COSBY: Because it’s just electrifying. It’s also, it really is– in that opening guitar, you really do hear the hillbilly and the R&B in it.

PHAWKER: Chuck Berry’s never really gotten the full due he deserved as a writer. People are like these are very catchy songs that everyone knows, and they’re iconic, and they’re incorporated in so much rock and roll, all that is true. But he barely had a high school education, and he invented a whole new telegraphic way of writing songs — as poetry, really, not just rhymes. What he captures in those verses is very, very, vivid. I mean, there’s like, there’s whole novels in those songs.

JAMES COSBY: And he really connected with black teens and white teens, he was really in touch with what was going on, and he really did establish a whole mentality for rock and roll as a youth movement — the excitement of it.

PHAWKER: And then the powers that be went after him because he was a threat, you know, he was a successful black man and was just sort of throwing it up in their faces, and you know, went after them with that whole Mann Act thing. I mean, I think the same could be said about sending Elvis into the Army, he was never the same after that. He went in this like smoldering vision of carnality and came out a pretty boy movie star making largely inane music.

JAMES COSBY: I think that was the plan all along. He always saw himself as a pop star, as did his manager Colonel Parker, and then rock and roll came along, so he became a rocker, he really embraced it. In the late fifties, nobodyTNG_Langford-History300 really thought rock and roll was gonna last more than a couple years. Elvis was already a big fan of all the big pop stars from Dean Martin to Frank Sinatra. And so that was sort of their plan, too, it’s like, they wanted to stay in the mainstream, so when rock and roll turned out to be a fad, he would still be relevant. And so going into the Army would get them in the good graces of the mainstream, and he wanted to come out and be a movie star and do musicals. I think we’re still kinda unravelling his legacy and what it means. There was just a documentary last year where people are still trying to sort out ‘Was Elvis a good thing, a bad thing as far as race?’

PHAWKER: Let’s talk about that: was Elvis a good thing or a bad thing as far as race goes? Was he just simply appropriating black music — essentially stealing it — and profiting from it, or was he opening a window on it, was he leading the world back to black music ultimately?

JAMES COSBY: There’s a lot of layers to it, and I think when it comes to race Elvis was really progressive. He had a lot of very strong personal connections with black people. When I went to Memphis, like across the board there, every person you see, every person you talk to was like, that ‘He was the real deal, like he really cared about black culture.’ The flipside of that I think is that he benefited so much from black culture that, you know, he sort of reflects institutionalized racism.

PHAWKER: Yeah. The institutionalized racism part of this is that a black man couldn’t have had the same success with that sound, that look, those moves, etc., it had to be a white man. But at least he was a better messenger than goddamn Pat Boone, who took all the sex and danger out of any of the black music that he was covering. To tie this back to your book, you mentioned towards the end Public Enemy teaming up with Anthrax to do a version “Bring the Noize,” but famously in another PE song “Fight The Power,” there’s Chuck D saying ‘Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me, straight up, the racist was simple and plain,’ and then Flava Flav comes in with ‘motherfuck him and John Wayne.’ Did you, in your studies of Elvis, did you find any indication that he was, you know, not just a product and beneficiary of institutionalized racism, but that he was racist?

JAMES COSBY: No, and I actually talk about it a lot early on in Elvis’ story, black people like B.B. King and Rufus Thomas and on and on, people that knew him really well back in Memphis, even when they didn’t necessarily get along other guys at Sun Studios, they were like, ‘Elvis was different’ like he really did cross over that line.

PHAWKER: It wasn’t a cynical move, he really loved that music, he was really moved by that music.

JAMES COSBY: Yeah, right, absolutely.

PHAWKER: I think that’s a good place to leave it. This was your first book, are you working on a follow-up?

JAMES COSBY: I am, I’m working on a second one right now, I’m hoping to start shopping around in the next few months. It sorta picks up right when this one left off, like in 1960 and it’s just looking at modern rock and sorta again trying to combine the music and the sociology of it and just trying to get some clarity about modern rock — the ‘60s into the’90s, basically.

PHAWKER: Do you have a working title for it?

JAMES COSBY: Yeah, it’s basically The Triumph of Rock Music: A Story Of Rebellion, Mental Health and Jesus, 1960-1997– well, I’ll just leave it at that, The Triumph of Rock Music.

Artwork by JON LANGFORD

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CINEMA: Born To Run

July 31st, 2019

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From trailblazing, Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe (Netflix’s Master of None) and Melina Matsoukas, the visionary director of some of this generation’s most powerful pop-culture experiences, including Beyonce’s “Formation” and the Nike “Equality” campaign, comes Makeready’s unflinching new drama, Queen & Slim.

While on a forgettable first date together in Ohio, a black man (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and a black woman (Jodie Turner-Smith, in her first starring feature-film role), are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. The situation escalates, with sudden and tragic results, when the man kills the police officer in self-defense. Terrified and in fear for their lives, the man, a retail employee, and the woman, a criminal defense lawyer, are forced to go on the run. But the incident is captured on video and goes viral, and the couple unwittingly become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people across the country.

As they drive, these two unlikely fugitives will discover themselves and each other in the most dire and desperate of circumstances, and will forge a deep and powerful love that will reveal their shared humanity and shape the rest of their lives. Joining a legacy of films such as Bonnie and Clyde and Thelma & Louise, Queen & Slim is a powerful, consciousness-raising love story that confronts the staggering human toll of racism and the life-shattering price of violence. In theaters November 27th.

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TRAILER: The Lighthouse

July 30th, 2019

If Eraserhead was an old timey sea chantey. Coming October 18th from Robert Eggers, the director of The Witch. Starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattison.

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How Jefferson University’s Chance To Be A World Leader In Marijuana Research Went Up In Smoke

July 29th, 2019

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PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: When Charles Pollack created a marijuana research center in 2016 at Thomas Jefferson University, his idea was considered visionary. It was a chance to fashion Philadelphia into a global hub for marijuana education and innovation, and would help drive Pennsylvania’s ambitions to become the “Silicon Valley” of cannabis research. Three years later, the center is in shambles.

Pollack, the founder, was forced to resign in April after he self-reported that he had sexually harassed a female subordinate. He had sent her amorous emails and slipped notes under her door, overwhelming her with unwanted attention, according to documents reviewed by The Inquirer. She rebuffed all his advances.

His departure set in motion a series of changes and revelations that have tarnished the university’s reputation and threatened the future of his creation: the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp. A chorus of detractors, from former employees to key donors and leading marijuana researchers, are calling the center’s implosion “a tragedy” and “a disaster.” Former advisers accuse the center and Jefferson of ethical lapses completely unrelated to Pollack’s personal foibles.

Pollack held lavish conferences, gave a key contract to a friend who never delivered, and grew uncomfortably close to industry. Then after his departure, the center revoked two research grants with elite institutions that shattered its credibility in the research community. “They’ve squandered and p—ed off the entire cannabinoid community,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, who served as the Lambert Center’s research director until June.

Critics say the center’s close relationship with its primary benefactor’s firm, an international hemp corporation called Ecofibre, has left it open to accusations that the Lambert Center had become little more than a research arm of that company. “The potential was there for them to be at the forefront of the most important [medical] trials in the world,” said Sue Sisley, a prominent researcher in Arizona who had served on the Lambert advisory committee. “I hear scientists are concerned they’ve become hacks for Ecofibre.” The company, she said, now calls the shots about the center’s mission and research.

Jefferson administrators maintain that the Lambert Center has only undergone a necessary change in direction to position itself for the future. “Change can be hard for people,” said John Brand, the university’s vice president of communications. “This happens all the time in hospitals, as well as in other businesses.”

After Pollack left, Jefferson appointed Rajesh Aggarwal, a Jefferson bariatric surgeon who had no prior cannabis expertise, to become Lambert’s interim director. He fired the paid staff of four people in May without consulting the center’s advisory committee. Then he dismissed those advisers, dismantling a who’s who of international marijuana researchers and entrepreneurs. MORE

legalize-marijuana CROPPED

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VIAGRA BOYS: Sports

July 28th, 2019

You don’t need to have erectile dysfunction or a crippling amphetamine addiction to loathe the oppressive and oversaturated infatuation with all things sports-related in pop culture today. Luckily, the Swedish post-punk outfit aptly named Viagra Boys has already done it with their summer 2018 single “Sports.” What’s lost in the depths of flaccidity and pill-popping is recovered as a concoction of equal parts cocaine and malt liquor; a hungover voice for absurdity and postmodernism. What may very well be the ramblings of a stimhead 36 hours deep into a binge as he attempts to achieve sleep via blackout could just as easily be a fresh, poetic critique of the contemporary apocalypse that is the Corporate Sports Industrial Complex. I, for one, will continue to enjoy “Sports” whether it’s basketball or gettin’ high in the mornin’. — PEYTON MITZEL

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CINEMA: Always Is Always Forever

July 26th, 2019

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SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this until after you see the film if you are one of those people who likes to go in with a blank slate. The following is the full monty.

BY DAN TABOR AND JONATHAN VALANIA Once Upon A Time In Hollywood , Quentin Tarantino’s Manson-adjacent Hollywood hippie fantasia, is a fuckin’ hoot — let’s just make that clear up front. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, who is kind of an amalgam of Tab Hunter, Fabian, Ty Harden and James Garner. You know, basically your typical ‘50s handsome leading he-man with a big pompadour and an even bigger gun. The year is 1969 and old school Hollywood dawgs like Rick are finally starting to feel the culture shifting tectonically beneath their feet. Echoing Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead Or Alive, Rick’s claim to fame is a shoot-’em-up Western TV series called Bounty Law that ran from 1958 to 1963. Rick even has a funny story about his near miss attempt to land the role in The Great Escape that elevated McQueen to Hollywood A-list status. We learn that Rick burned his TV bridges when he walked away from Bounty Law in search of greener pastures in feature films that never materialized. When we catch up with Rick six years later, he’s a bloated, broken-down alcoholic who has been relegated to playing the heavy in guest spots on American television shows and starring in B-movie spaghetti westerns overseas. DiCaprio does a surprisingly vulnerable and utterly convincing take as a cracked actor who senses his days in Hollywood are numbered if he doesn’t snag a hit. Rick Dalton is peak Leo.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood pairs Dalton with his former stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) whose been reduced to earning his keep as Rick’s gopher/drinking buddy after a career-ending incident on the set of The Green Hornet TV series co-starring Bruce Lee. Cliff is that breed of unflappable, lantern-jawed, tough-as-nails stunt man that helped pioneer the craft with their human cannonball fearlessness — he’s a honey-haired Hal Needham in a Hawaiian shirt. Pitt is grizzled to perfection here, which lends a certain verite to his performance given that most stuntmen were 10 years senior to the actor they were doubling, and his cool-as-a-cucumber swagger rivals Tyler Durden. Cliff Booth is peak Pitt.

The final piece of this trifecta of leads is ‘60s It Girl Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Rick’s Cielo Drive neighbor. Just coming off The Wrecking Crew, starring Dean Martin as a boozy Bond send-up, Tate is newly married to director Roman Polanski who is basking in the reflected glory of his 1968 masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby. Like Cliff, Tate also has a connection to Bruce Lee, who choreographed her martial arts scenes in The Wrecking Crew. Completing the circle is the fact that Tate introduced Lee to hip-hairstylist-to-the-stars Jay Sebring (the basis for Warren Beatty’s character in Shampoo, and the man who gave Jim Morrison the Alexander The Great coiff he rocks in the iconic Young Lion photos), who then recommended Lee for his career-making role as Kato in The Green Hornet. Effortlessly channeling that dewey mascara-and-gogo-boots ‘60s Hollywood starlet vibe, Robbie is nothing short of breathtaking on screen.

At the very top of his game, Tarantino masterfully weaves together Dalton’s off-screen life and his fictional filmography with the real world events and celebrities of the era. Take for example a fictional film Dalton did on hiatus called The 14 Fists of McCluskey, which was cribbed from Roger Corman’s Secret Invasion. Tarantino even goes so far as to borrow a behind the scenes story from Corman’s production, switching out Edd Byrnes for Rick Dalton. In Once Upon A Time… we learn that Fabian was slated to play the Rick Dalton part until he broke his shoulder on The Virginian and Rick got the call to replace him. In real life, Edd Byrnes got his gig on the Secret Invasion when Bobby Darin ran off with a Czech girl. It’s the kind of deep cut old Hollywood meta that only a devout scholar of mid-20th Century La La Land like Tarantino would even think to pull off.

Tarantino has been saying recently this might be his last film and the script for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood contains multiple thinly-veiled parallels to his own career. Rick and Cliff are two men that come from a very different time who made their name playing tough guys in the ‘50s. Tarantino pioneered tough guy nouveau cinema in the ‘90s, bringing to life some of the greatest badasses ever committed to celluloid. Like the boozy white male privilege of Rick and Cliff, Tarantino’s penchant for high body count ultra-violence and un-PC tough guys dropping F-bombs and racial epithets at an astonishing rate has been retroactively flagged as “problematic” by millennial re-appraisers. These new school Hollywood millennials nipping at Tarantino’s heels IRL are represented in the film by the Manson cult which includes Lena Dunham as a high-ranking Manson chick who runs Cliff off the Barker Ranch for snooping around.

Instructed by Manson to slaughter Tate and make it “witchy,” Charlie’s angels of death call an audible at the last minute when they arrive at Cielo Drive and realize Rick Dalton lives next door. As children of television who witnessed the pitiless frontier justice meted out by Dalton’s Wild West terminator on Bounty Law every week, Manson’s hippie assassins muse on the wicked irony of using violence “to kill those they learned violence from” and decide to off Tate’s next door neighbor instead.  And so, Tarantino goes out guns a-blazing as the film ends in a literally scorching blood bath wherein the Manson creeps get their brutal comeuppance, just like Hitler and the Nazi creeps got theirs at the end of Inglorious Basterds. Message to all you cocky whippersnappers: do not fuck with these tough old motherfuckers, because they will end you.

And Sharon Tate lives happily ever after.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD NOW PLAYING IN AREA THEATERS

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BEING THERE: The Rolling Stones @ The Linc

July 24th, 2019

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

Getting old is not for pussies. But let us not kid ourselves, there is no shame in living a long life, especially if you are a man of wealth and taste. By design, you don’t realize this until you get there but growing old is the best revenge. It gives you the license to finally admit to yourself just how silly and absurd you have been lo these many years. And that, my friends, is freedom.

The Rolling Stones are as old as the devil — maybe older. They’ve been around for a long long year stole many a man’s soul to waste, was ’round when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain, killed the czar and his ministers, shouted out who killed the Kennedys, when after all it was you and me, etc. They are now whatever it is that comes after old. I mean, they’ve been a rock band for more than a half century in a business where most bands don’t last five minutes. I remember being in high school in 1983 when Mick turned 40 and Rolling Stone put him on the cover and served him a heaping bowl of crow with the headline WHAT A DRAG IT IS GETTING OLD. He turns 76 on Friday. People started calling them has-beens decades ago. Terry Gross’ husband called them “blown out satyrs” as far back in 2002, which is the last time I saw them play. That was 17 years ago and they were already a band for 40 years by that point.

It’s not even clear how they are still alive. They’ve lived a life style that should have killed them all ten times over, especially Keith Richards — but it turns out you can’t kill Keith Richards. Not even Keith Richards can kill Keith Richards, and not for lack of trying. (Sadly, you can kill Brian Jones, rest in power Adonais) Nor is it clear why they are still doing this, other than they still can and besides what the hell else are they going to do? Or maybe they are living so large they actually need the $116 million they will reportedly earn on their No Filter tour, which stopped at the Linc last night. Both are valid reasons, frankly, and the second one is pretty fuckin’ baller, I think we can all agree. But either way, this much was made clear last night: even though they dress like they covered themselves in honey and shot themselves out of a canon through Liza Minelli’s wardrobe closet, they can still do the devil’s business as per their satanic majesty’s request.

Their best songs are like portraits of Dorian Gray. “Start Me Up” can still make a grown man cry and a dead man come. “Dead Flowers” was deathless, just like Gram Parsons is deathless, even in death. “Paint It Black” sounds like 21 Century prophecy uttered 53 years ahead of its time, and “Sympathy For The Devil” is no less an artifact of high art than Picasso’s “Guernica” or Dante’s “Inferno.” “Gimme Shelter” sounded better in the men’s room than any song has a right to. It was there that a sunburned drunk at a urinal loudly proclaimed to everyone and no one all at once: “We are here to see the Rolling Stones back from the dead, life is good!”

Despite all the Sisyphean aggravation and the sweaty indignities of navigating the seven circles of Hell that is the Rock N’ Roll Industrial Complex on a stadium scale — the 40 minute wait in line to get thru the one metal detector that was open while four metal detectors stood by unused, TSA-style, only to be told you are at the wrong gate and you need to go to the next gate and get in the back of the 40-minute line and do it all over again, getting socked $14 for a lukewarm 14-ounce can of Stella fucking Artois and then being told a cup of ice to go with it would cost another $7, only to get down to the floor and be told by security you can’t bring a can onto the floor and being handed a cup, not to mention the oppressive ominipresent stench of deep fryers that reek like a whorehouse at low tide on a hot day, oh, and then it started raining, Altamonts are made of this, Mick, just sayin’ — deep down, we all knew this was true and the grunted assent of a plurality of urinating middle-aged men made it unanimous: the drunk was right. Rock is dead, long live the rock! – JONATHAN VALANIA

RELATED: Cocksucker Blues is an unreleased documentary film directed by the still photographer Robert Frank chronicling The Rolling Stones American Tour 1972 in support of their album Exile on Main St. The film came under a court order which forbade it from being shown unless the director, Robert Frank, was physically present.[1][4] This ruling stemmed from the conflict that arose when the band, having commissioned the film, decided that its content was embarrassing and potentially incriminating, and did not want it shown. Frank felt otherwise—hence the ruling. The court order in question also enjoined Frank against exhibiting Cocksucker Blues more frequently than four times per year in an “archival setting” with Frank being present. MORE

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