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INCOMING: Zen Arcadia

January 29th, 2020


 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally published in 2014 in the pages of MAGNET MAGAZINE. We are reprising it now on the occasion of a string of East Coast solo dates. He play the Queen in Wilmington last night and he plays a sold out show @ The Iridium in NYC tonight. Enjoy.

NEW DAY RISING

Bob Mould has survived the rise and fall of Husker Du in the 80s, Sugar going supernova in the 90s, a premature retirement in the late 90s, a detour into DJ culture during the twilight of the alt-rock gods in the early aughts and a wilderness period in the late aughts. And now, at 53, he is simply making the best music of his career. MAGNET goes to Portlandia to find out how that is even possible.

By Jonathan Valania

One day last month, Bob Mould walked into Portland Music Company, a beloved purveyor of amps, axes and snare drums that serves as armory for the Portlandian indie-rock wars. With his balding dome shaved down to stubble and white Gorton’s fisherman beard, his mouth a crooked scribble, Bob sort of looks like Charlie Brown as a middle-aged man. For reasons not immediately clear, Bob disregards the vast array of musical gear on display and peruses the MUSICIAN WANTED ads tacked to the wall. There’s the usual sad, desperate, Sharpie’d pleas of go-nowhere bands trolling for fresh souls to lure into their drain-circling miasma of FAIL.

ADVERTISING LOOKS AND CHOPS A MUST!

NO BIG HAIR!

CAREER! CAREER! CAREER!

Pathetic. Bob’s eyes begin to glaze over but as he turns to walk away, one ad catches his attention.

BAND SEEKS BASSIST INTO HUSKER DU & PETER, PAUL & MARY

That’s weird, he thinks, those are the exact words of the want ad that Kim Deal responded to when she joined The Pixies 1986. Intrigued, he reaches for one of the tear-away tabs with a phone number and the name CHARLES written on it. Suddenly Jason Narducy, who has been Bob’s touring bassist since 2005, and his biggest fan since the day he heard Workbook, appears out of nowhere and angrily rips down the sign, crumbles it up and storms off, like Lucy pulling away the football from Charlie Brown at the last minute. Startled, Bob’s face lights up with alarm and then dims to that defeated, deflated Charlie Brown look that betrays years of subsisting on on a daily diet of disappointment and quiet desperation. You can see it in his eyes: he feels foolish and unsettled and maybe even a little hurt. If I didn’t know that Narducy was married with children, I’d think it was a lover’s spat. It’s an odd, unflattering moment, uncomfortable to watch, and someone as intensely private as Bob must surely regret that it happened in front of a visiting journalist.  Fortunately, it never really happened.

CUT!

The camera stops filming and everyone on the film crew breaks out in laughter. Nailed it. Next.

The film crew is shooting a video for “I Don’t Know You Anymore”, the uber-catchy earworm of a single from Beauty And Ruin, Bob Mould’s 14th post-Husker Du album and easily his most vital and vibrant work since Copper Blue, maybe since Flip Your Wig. The premise of the video takes some explaining but it’s written by Jon Wurster — who’s been Bob’s drummer for the last six years, in between tours with Mountain Goats and the reactivated Superchunk — so it’s worth the trouble. Because if Wurster is not the the greatest drummers of the indie- rock era, and he could well be, he is certainly the funniest. So let’s break it down: Bob Mould runs into The Decembrists’ Colin Meloy at a Portland rehearsal studio. Meloy plays a slightly more Faustian version of himself and, with thinly-veiled ulterior motives, sets about convincing him that 7-inch singles are a relic of the past. Kids don’t line up to buy records these days, he says, they line up to buy smart phones. If you want to sell music these days, you have to convince people that it will make their lives better. From this exchange Bob gets the bright idea to convince ‘the kids’ that a 7-inch is, despite appearances to the contrary, actually some new, amazing and life-altering form of technology (which, if you think about it, is actually true if you take the word ‘new’ out of that description). Bob assembles the rest of the band for a kooky powerpoint presentation on how to pull off this hoax-cum-marketing-scheme. By the next scene the band has morphed into the marketing equivalent of the A-Team, outfitted with ridiculous matching blue shirts, bricked smartphone pendants hanging around their necks and staple guns, which were, once upon a time, the glue that literally held together the original social media: punk rock flyering. Hilarity ensues.

Now we’re in a gay bar called Crush, and a drag queen with huge Ann Margaret eyelashes and Betty Page bangs is rubbing Bob’s bald head like he’s Buddha. Bob blushes and then he fans himself. It’s getting hot in herre.

CUT!

The camera stops filming and everyone on the film crew breaks out in laughter. Nailed it. Next.

These are glory days for Bob Mould, valedictorian of the indie rock class of 1984; glowering godfather of alt-rock circa 1992; dark lord of the molten dirge circa 1998; shirtless dancing bear spinning the wheels of steel for the Blow-Off, his hugely successful gay-friendly DJ parties, circa 2002; celebrated warts-n-all memoirist circa 2011; and acknowledged American Master of punk-as-fuck-three-chords-and-the-truth tunesmithery circa now. If it looks like things are finally breaking his way, that was never guaranteed. It could have just as easily gone the other way. In October he turns 54. In rock n’ roll years, that’s 108. At this age you’ve either become a living legend or you’re just old and in the way. You’ve either become a classic or just another neglected wreck rusting in the back yard of the music biz. Perhaps mid-to-late aughts, when Mould released and toured a string of middling albums, a case could have been made that he was trending towards the latter. But in the wake of a high-profile autobiography, See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody and a like-titled tribute concert, “See a Little Light: A Celebration of the Music and Legacy of Bob Mould,” curated by Dave Grohl and featuring the likes of Britt Daniel from Spoon, Craig Finn and Tad Kubler from the Hold Steady, and No Age performing his songs at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, not to mention a pair of instant-classic late-career albums for Merge, Bob Mould has raised the curtain on third act that may well trump everything that came before.
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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

January 28th, 2020

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FRESH AIR: Amy Rigby was a sheltered Catholic teen from the Pittsburgh suburbs when she moved to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design and fell in love with the ’70s punk scene. “Downtown seemed to be where I felt comfortable,” she says. “It was grungy. It was dirty. It was dark. Everyone was smoking. It smelled of beer. And it felt like it was always really, really hot or really, really cold in New York back then.” Rigby spent years hanging out in the punk clubs before she found her calling as a singer-songwriter, playing first with Last Roundup and later The Shams. When she got married and became a mother, she expected to step away from the music scene. “I thought getting pregnant and having a child would mean that I would put all this foolishness away and that I would find something real to do with my life,” Rigby says. But it didn’t work out that way. Instead, Rigby drew on her own experiences as a wife and mother to create her 1996 album, Diary of Mod Housewife. “By the time I was making Diary of a Mod Housewife, I was singing for my life,” she says. “I decided I was not going to get down on my hands and knees and scrub the bathroom floor unless I could get up on stage and sing about it.” Rigby reflects on how she invented and reinvented herself as a performer and songwriter in the memoir, Girl to City, which Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker called the best rock memoir of 2019. MORE

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THE RENTALS: Great Big Blue

January 28th, 2020

 

January 28, 2020 (New York, NY) – Today marks the 34th Anniversary of the Challenger disaster. To honor the fallen Space Shuttle Astronauts, The Rentals are releasing Great Big Blue, a song based directly on the tragedy.

Outside the thermometer reads 31 degrees
Our families in the bleachers, bundled up so they don’t freeze

The inspiration for the song came after Matt Sharp accidentally came upon a video of raw, uncut CNN news footage of a select group of school children and families of the seven Challenger astronauts watching the take-off, and tragic aftermath, from the bleachers about 3 1/2 miles away from the launch pad, at Cape Canaveral.

The five unfiltered minutes of close ups of spectators’ faces left a lasting impression… “The scope of emotions, in those images, absolutely has had a profound impact on me,” states Sharp. “As the camera moves across these beautiful, colorful faces, all glowing with pride and joy; beaming with the optimism from the limitless potential of their children, the camera operator captured the best of what we can experience in this life. Then suddenly that joy fades into a haze of uncertainty and confusion; ultimately morphing into the horror and the worst of what we face in the human experience.”

Filled with pride to watch their children fly
Eleven Thirty, Eastern Standard Time

Sharp continues, “The song itself primarily focuses on the moments before the launch and that is why the music and melody have a more optimistic tone than what you expect from something associated with and inspired by such a devasting tragedy. In these moments, I was solely thinking about the great pride the mothers and fathers of the astronauts must have been feeling, just prior to lift-off and the equally, prideful rush the astronauts themselves might have experienced as they shared this monumental moment with their families and the rest of the world.”

The instrumental arrangement of “Great Big Blue” desires to reflect the myriad of colors contained in the themes of pride, optimism and abundant joy. Along with lead vocalist and lyricist Sharp, guitarist Nick Zinner, drummer Ronnie Vannucci, and a make-shift choir of gifted singers have all come together to convey this mix of basic human feelings and emotions. In the pursuit of this sound, with Dave Fridmann behind the mixing desk, The Rentals have reconnected to a musical approach and an exuberant sensibility that fans of their debut (Return Of The Rentals) are likely to recognize and appreciate.

It is with this heartfelt musical collaboration and sincere, thoughtful lyrics – inspired by our 7 American Heroes – that The Rentals wish to pay tribute and humbly dedicate the song’s 3 & 1/2 minutes to the loving memory of Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe and the families of the innocent victims, as well as, the NASA family at large. May their spirit and legacy live on, each time we look to the sky and audaciously dream to venture beyond the great big blue.

PREVIOUSLY: Q&A W/ Matt Sharp Of The Rentals

RELATED: UNDONE: The Complete Oral History Of Weezer

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BEING THERE: Blackalicious @ Ardmore Music Hall

January 27th, 2020

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

Halfway through a characteristically killer set from opener Reef the Lost Cauze [pictured, above], the Philly rap artist noted, “I expected more Black people! There’s not a lotta Black people here for a band called Blackalicious!” Reef’s rap swings hard and pulls nothing, offering in his trademark explosive delivery shrewd social commentaries that tend not to dodge the uncomfortable, even if he affixes a modicum of self-aware humor at the end — the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

His observation on the crowd was only half in jest. Wherever they stand with black audiences, Gift of Gab’s Cali crew has seen some more overall popularity in recent years, due in part to a bizarre 2014 appearance Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe on Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show,” where he “rapped” — no, that’s generous, even in quotes, let’s say “recited” — the lyrics to “Alphabet Aerobics,” a track from their 1999 debut EP A2G.

It’s a track that showcases Gab’s skills as the one of the fastest tongues of hip hop, for which he’s garnered renown over the past couple decades. Touring now in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of their first full-length record Nia, he and DJ Chief XCel sound as vital as ever on singalong-ready hits like “Deception,” and the Harry-Nilsson-sampled “Blazing Arrow,” and the mind-blowing “Chemical Calisthenics,” making Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements” sound like amateur hour. Pushing 50, Gab’s still got it. – JOSH PELTA-HELLER

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TYLER THE CREATOR & BOYZ II MEN: Earfquake

January 26th, 2020

Tyler the Creator’s IGOR won Best Rap Album @ The Grammys tonight.

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CINEMA: It Came From Outer Space

January 24th, 2020

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COLOR OUT OF SPACE (Directed by Richard Stanley, 111 minutes, USA, 2020)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Richard Stanley’s hotly-anticipated adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s Color Out Of Space is the director’s first feature film since he was fired mid-production from The Island of Dr. Moreau back in 1996. The daring documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau tells the insane story of the director getting fired from the film early into production, and chronicling him hiding in the nearby rain forest only to infiltrate the set as a costumed extra.

Color Out Of Space is the weird-beard Lovecraft-ian tale of every dad Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) who relocates his family from their New York City perch to his deceased father’s rural New England farm when his wife is diagnosed with cancer. One night a strange glowing meteor crashes into his front lawn and something begins to seep into the soil that contaminates the water supply and mutates the wildlife. If you’re familiar with the work of Lovecraft you know what to expect here as the entire family is either driven mad or horribly disfigured by the magenta-hued force unleashed by the fallen object’s radiation. Color Out Of Space is a long-awaited return to form for Stanley, who lends equal weight to his explorations of cerebral otherworldly influences as he does the story of a family coping with the impending death of their matriarch.

There are, of course, the expected Nic Cage freak outs and over-the-top character flourishes coupled with Stanley’s trademark ethereal atmospherics and quirky narrative detours. My favorite of these is the subplot with Nathan and his pack of Alpacas, “the animal of the future,” that inspires an intense monologue about the art of milking it. That aside, it’s how Stanley is careful not to let Cage go too far early on that gives his ultimate freak-out the gravitas it so rightfully deserves. I should probably warn you, if you’re checking Color out simply for Cage being unhinged, that isn’t quite the case here as Cage seems to be putting forth a genuine effort to act in the first half of the film. The rest of the cast holds their own against Cage, but Madeleine Arthur steals the show as Nathan’s “witchy” daughter Lavinia Gardner, adding some real dimension to ye olde goth daughter film trope.

Color Out Of Space is a slow, controlled descent into madness that enraptures the viewer with its nihilistic glow. Stanley works well within the confines of his restrictive budget to tell an ambitious story that seems to channel the rage and desolation of his banishment from Hollywood. The film will please fans of Stanley’s more cerebral approach to genre, while still packing in the tropes and Nic Cage freak outs that your run of the mill horror fans will flock to in the wake of the mainstream success of Mandy. I really dug Color, here’s hoping this is the beginning of a long and fruitful second act for Stanley.

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INCOMING: The Circus Is In Town

January 23rd, 2020

CC VINYL RELEASE POSTER1 REVISED

 

LISTEN: The Gliterest Rockinest Overtime-Paidest Boogiest Band In Town

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RIP: Terry Jones From Monty Python’s Flying Circus

January 23rd, 2020

via GIPHY

NEW YORK TIMES: Terry Jones, who earned a spot in comedic lore as a member of the British troupe Monty Python and also had success as a director, screenwriter and author, died on Tuesday night at his home in the Highgate neighborhood of North London. He was 77. His ex-wife, Alison Telfer, confirmed the death. Mr. Jones announced in 2016 that he had primary progressive aphasia, a neurological disease that impairs the ability to communicate.

Mr. Jones, four other Britons — Michael Palin, Eric Idle, John Cleese and Graham Chapman — and an American, Terry Gilliam, formed Monty Python in 1969. Their television sketch show, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” became a phenomenon, first in Britain and then in the United States when it was rebroadcast there in the mid-1970s. The show worked a surreal brand of humor that was markedly different from most television fare. It led to “And Now for Something Completely Different,” a 1971 movie that was essentially a collection of skits from the TV show, and then several other feature films.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Gilliam jointly directed the first film after “Something Completely Different,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975), and teamed up again on “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” (1983). Mr. Jones was the sole director of “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” (1979), the most successful financially. He also directed his own projects. And he was an author, both of scholarly fare like “Chaucer’s Knight” (1980), an alternative view of a character from “The Canterbury Tales,” and of books for children. The Boston Globe once called him “a warped Renaissance man.”

He was a Renaissance man of sorts on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” as well. The many characters he played included an organist who tended not to wear clothes, a fellow known as the Amazing Mystico who could build buildings by hypnosis, and an assortment of middle-aged women. “The one thing we all agreed on, our chief aim, was to be totally unpredictable and never to repeat ourselves,” Mr. Jones deadpanned to The New York Times in 2009, when the group had a rare reunion at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York. “We wanted to be unquantifiable. That ‘pythonesque’ is now an adjective in the O.E.D. means we failed utterly.” MORE

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Q&A: Everything You Ever Wanted To Ask Monty Python But You Didn’t Have His Phone Number

January 22nd, 2020

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[illustration by ALEX FINE]

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally posted in 2007, hence the crappy-looking overcrowded layout. We’re reprising it today to mark the sad passing of Monty Python’s Flying Circus performer/writer/creator Terry Jones. Enjoy.

meAVATAR2 BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER In 1969 Michael Palin quit smoking, a pasttime he was quite fond of, through sheer will power. Having achieved a victory for mind over matter, Palin decided to raise the stakes — he would keep a diary for the next 10 years come hell or high water. What makes this enterprise interesting to people like you and me is that the decade he chose to document would also see the rise and fall and return of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In clean, dispassionate prose spanning some 650 pages, Palin documents the trials and tribulations of the daring, off-the-wall comedy ensemble from humble-but-edgy beginnings (the name Flying Circus was foisted on the lads by the bullying BBC) to globally-recognized comedy institution (when translated for Japanese television, it became Gay Boy’s Dragon Show). A promotional tour for Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years brings Palin to the Free Library tomorrow.


Phawker: Let’s start out with a localized softball: You mention Philadelphia rather fondly in the book.

Palin: I was just looking at that. That’s the beauty of diaries — you look back in hindsight and say, “Oh I love New York, I always loved going over there” and then I read the little entry and I couldn’t wait to get out of New York and Philadelphia was like the Promised Land. The good thing about diaries is they remind you of things like that. If I hadn’t written that down I would have just carried on with this misconception that New York was more fun than Philadelphia, which clearly it wasn’t. We came to Philadelphia two or three times, I remember once, which is in the diary, we get flown in to do the Mike Douglass show and the helicopter flight from New York landed on top of a huge skyscraper, we rushed down to the studio and thenpalindiaries.jpg back up to the helicopter and back to New York. Crazy times, not the way I’d like to travel nowadays.


Phawker: You also write in the diary that you went to the local public television station [WHYY] for a brief a 15-minute interview and it went so well you decided to do a whole special.

Palin: It was [public television who introduced Python to America] and when we went to these stations on promotional tours, it was a little like Beatlemania, albeit it on a much humbler scale. And I think we sometimes found it very difficult to play up to that. It’s one thing writing the show, but being spontaneously witty 23 times a day didn’t always work out. But I seem to remember we had a good interviewer that brought some sense out of us, as well as the nonsense.

Phawker: I was surprised to learn that the name Flying Circus was sort of foisted on you by the BBC.

Palin: Yes, we originally wanted to call it Owl Stretching Time or The Toad Elevating Moment or the Algae Banging Hour. We were determined that the show would be our own creation and that included the title. Of course, the title is very, very important. To have somebody else put a title on this mass of unconnected ideas that was Python was insulting. The BBC was very keen on Flying Circus — actually wanted to call it John Cleese’s Flying Circus. John, very wisely, was not to keen on having his name connected to a show that was untested and could be the end of his career. [laughs] So we agreed we should just make up a character and he could take all the blame if it all went badly. So I remember we all sat around one afternoon in John’s apartment off Knights Bridge. Up came the name Python as a surname. The name Mr. Python seemed very funny to us then. What will we call him? Brian Python? Eric Python? And somebody said ‘Monty’ and it for whatever reason made us laugh uproariously. So we agreed to give it the 24-hour test and see if it was as funny in the morning, and it was. So we went to the BBC and told them we wanted to call it Monty Python and they were annoyed, basically. ‘What does it mean?’ Nothing, we said. What does anything on the show mean? And so they begrudgingly agreed but with the famous last words that ‘in the future people will remember ‘Flying Circus’ but they certainly won’t remember ‘Monty Python.’

montypythonsillywalk.jpgPHAWKER: And when the show aired in Japan, the title translated as “Gay Boy’s Dragon Show?”

PALIN: Correct. Oh, the names for skits when translated were hilarious: Upper Class Twit Of The Year was translated as Aristocratic Number One Deciding Guy Show.

PHAWKER: In a sentence or two can you tell me what each of your fellow Pythons, in your estimation, brought to the table that made the show what it was?

PALIN: I’ll have a try. Terry Gilliam brought American-ness, which was very important. The rest of us were all from very similar background, all from provincial English towns and cities so he brought this trans-atlantic perspective. Terry also brought the animation, which before then had never been used like that on television show, and I think in many ways that was the key factor why Monty Python was remembered. Also it enabled us, as writers, to go from one sketch which didn’t connect to another. Very very important, helped the free form.

Terry Jones, well, it’s hard, he’s my writing partner. But he had great persistence and commitment to Python, and like Terry Gilliam, very cinematically-inclined. He wanted to be a film director since the late ’60s and that pushed Python beyond being a TV sketch show. Along with Terry Gilliam and myself, he also worked out the stream of consciousness theory of Python. John and Graham weren’t so interested in the theory, they just wanted to write funny sketches with a group of people that were sympathetic. Terry Jones understood that Python could be different and saw intellectually how it could be different.

Graham Chapman, possibly the best actor of us all and had a very manic kind of inventiveness. His mind would go in directions that nobody else I knew could or would, just all these wonderfully weird connections that brought that surreal quality. Like John, he could also play the straight man. When he plays the Colonel saying, “Stop! This is all getting silly!” You don’t think of him as a comedian doing a TV show, you believe him as a colonel telling you to stop being silly. As with John [Cleese], he had this great ability to look justmontyflyingcircus_2.jpg like the Establishment, yet send it up completely from within.

John had a certain manic intensity in his performances, which I’ve not seen anywhere else except Fawlty Towers where he waves his fist at cars that don’t work and all that. Just wonderful to behold, and a very sharp writer. There’s a lot about John that you would think would disqualify him from doing comedy: this sort of intellectual legal mind and a rather serious way of looking at the world and he could turn that a few notches one way or the other and it would produce the most wonderful comedy writing. Also, and this can’t be underestimated, in comedy size is quite important. It helped in some of those sketches it helped to have two very tall men in the cast, especially when the rest of us weren’t especially tall.

Eric [Idle]? Very quick, very deft, very fast with jokes. Loved puns, loved wordplay and could play those cheeky Cockney characters — “Nudge, Nudge” being the best of those. Outside of comedy he was also the best businessmen amongst us, understood rights and deals, which the rest of us didn’t.

PHAWKER: Funny you should say that, if you were the Beatles I would describe you as The Sensible One. At least that’s the way you come across in the diary — a certain serenity and focus. Everybody else seems to be a little bit of a victim of their own excesses — whether it’s ego or alcohol — and you seem very centered.

montylifeofbrian3.jpgPALIN: Well, maybe because it’s my diary and history is written by the winners. I avoid confrontation as much as possible, I prefer to get on with people. And I have a longer fuse than, certainly, John who used to get very irritated at things. Quite early in life I realized there were things you just couldn’t change and you were banging your fist on the wall if you tried to change the way the BBC worked or whatever. Not to say I couldn’t get upset about things as well. But I brought a certain conciliatory side to Python. There were times when nobody wanted to work with anybody else or this one didn’t want to work with that one and I just thought ‘well, I like them all so much’ and I would often act as mediator on these occasions.

There was a centrifugal force that kept Python together from the beginning. I mean, we weren’t the perfect six people to write together or anything like that, we all had different lifestyles and ways of behaving, but if you can control desire to fly out from the center, it actually created something very strong, very powerful and very funny. Because the one thing we all enjoyed was making each other laugh, so I suppose I was responsible for keeping that little group together for as long as possible.

MONTY_PYTHON

 

PHAWKER: One thing that struck me was that the book covers 1969 to 1979, which is pretty much Woodstock to Studio 54, and yet there is almost no mention of drug use. I think the most tawdry thing that happens is the SNL cast sneaks into your bedroom at the Essex House for a ‘smoke.’ How is this possible? Its the ’70s!

PALIN: Well, you have to be careful what you say these days — you have to say you don’t inhale. When Imontypalin01.jpg was editing I would ask myself, “Do I put in that so and so did a line of coke or not?” but it didn’t happen with Python. Eric knew more people that did drugs than anyone else, but we didn’t really get involved at all. Although I think Graham smoked and we all did some marijuana. But it wasn’t central to the work and I think it’s important to say that because there are people who say ‘You guys must have been high as kites when you did this’ when in fact we weren’t and with the exception of Graham, fairly sober. If anything we used alcohol more than drugs.

PHAWKER: I was a little shocked to see how narrow the profit margins were for the Pythons in pretty much all the deals they struck. And likewise it was a little disconcerting to learn that half the Pythons were bankrupt by the end of the ’70s.

PALIN: Well, we never made a great deal from the BBC shows themselves — we were paid something like 200 pounds a week. The only money we saw was from foreign sales, specifically America when PBS bought the series, but even then it wasn’t a great deal of money. And then in 1974 when we made our first movie, nobody apart from a few rock groups were willing to back us financially. We made Holy Grail for [$400,000]. That’s just the way it was, we had a very strong and devoted fan base, but there wasn’t the big numbers that delivered a lot of money. It wasn’t until after Life Of Brian that Python offered any real financial security. And as the diaries show, everyone was off doing other things — commercials, script-doctoring, voice-overs — just to support ourselves. There’s never been crazy money in Python, it’s now coming along pretty nicely but to be honest Spamalot probably pays us more than anything else we’ve done. And that’s Eric’s show.

PHAWKER: One of the most profound passages of the diary is Terry Gilliam’s explanation for Graham Chapman’s alcoholism and how it was connected to him coming to grips with his sexuality and the courage it took to come out publicly back then. I imagine being openly gay in England in the late ’60s was a pretty tough row to hoe.

montygraham-chapman-706021.jpgPALIN: Oh, yes. There were one or two really outrageous people who had sort of gone public, but Graham didn’t fit into that mold at all. Graham was a pipe-smoking, son-of-policeman — and of course none of these things preclude you being gay, but at the time you just wouldn’t have thought Graham was gay. I mean all his work mates and friend and Cambridge chums were, as far as I know, all sort of boring and British and straight. So it was quite a big deal that Graham declared openly that he was going to live with David [Sherlock]. I mean, you weren’t courting imprisonment as you might have five or ten years prior, but there were a lot of voices against homosexuality in the media. I think it’s mentioned in the diary that The Gay News was being prosecuted and the Pythons contributed towards their defense because we thought freedom of speech was being impinged and all that kind of stuff. But in the first instance, it was brave of Graham to do that. Because of his upbringing, he was very provincial, not London-cosmopolitan at all, and once he made that decision [to come out] it really loosened him up and he said “Now I’m going to live how I want to live.” And unfortunately he’d taken to drinking quite a bit as a doctor in training; apparently the bar was open all night at Bart’s Hospital. And it became quite excessive, really, but he was a lovely, lovely man.

PHAWKER: It says on Wikipedia that the Python cast was at his side when he died, is that true?

PALIN: I was there, and John was there. I just happened to be there. He was very ill and in hospital, and I just thought, “I should go down there, it may be his last night.” And I was there with John when he died.


PHAWKER: The British are notorious for bad teeth and in the in the diary you keep a running tally in the diary of your struggles to avoid the classic “skinny English teeth.”

PALIN: It’s funny the things that wind up becoming a running theme in your life. I discovered I had somemontypalin4.jpg kind of periodontal condition right around the time Python was starting and so I associated that lovely time with a certain amount of pain. I’m very serious about my teeth and it was the beginning of a course of treatment that took me about 20 years. And now I know that the last thing you do is have a glass of wine after gum surgery, but in those days we just learned from our mistakes.

PHAWKER: Is is accurate to say that the Pythons were the de facto comedy analogue to the Beatles?

PALIN: People say that, I wouldn’t have said that myself, but oddly enough Python was much liked by rock groups, and it wasn’t just the Beatles. Led Zeppelin was one of the investors in Holy Grail. There was something about us that musicians particularly liked, maybe it was because we seemed a little dangerous, we weren’t particularly Establishment. They thought we were friends, and of course we were. And it wasn’t just George, Paul McCartney would stop recording his album just to watch Python when it first came on the telly back in 1969. Also, the Beatles broke up almost exactly the same month that the Pythons were formed, I think it was October 1969. Also in our material, there was a whimsical side as well as a hard side — there was Jones-Palin material as well as the Cleese-Chapman material, so there was a Lennon-McCartney dynamic. You give them the hard stuff, but mix it in with the surreal and the whimsical.

PHAWKER: How did the recent furor amongst fundamentalist muslims over the political cartoons in Danish newspapers compare to furor created amongst fundamentalist Christians when Life Of Brian came out?

life_of_brian.jpgPALIN: Well, there never was a fatwah and I don’t think we had a sense of being vilified we just knew that certain people hated what we did. And it wasn’t just Life Of Brian, there were voices in the media back then that just thought Python was subversive and irresponsible and cruel, and of course it wasn’t. Bits of it might have been, but as a whole it wasn’t. But it was a more benign atmosphere then. Now you see images of people burning copies of Danish newspapers or pictures of the Danish Prime Minister — if they can find one — in continents 7,000 miles away. I mean, nobody knew about Python in Asia. Our opposition were much more closer to home — they were churchmen, or anti-gay, or just thought we were trying to corrupt the youth of the world. And they made it clear they didn’t like what we were doing, but there were no threats. And I think now it is slightly different.

PHAWKER: What is the status of Python, any chance you guys will work together again?

PALIN: No plans at the moment and I can’t really see it happening, but there are different views on this. We have always said that Python was six people writing and performing resulting in a balance which for some extraordinary reason really clicked to produce an enormously diverse range of funny material. So without Graham, it’s difficult. We could get together and write, but then to perform who plays Graham’s parts? And if you bring somebody else in immediately Python isn’t quite what it was and I’m wary of that. Everyone is doing other things and so I don’t see a Python reunion on the horizon, but you never know.

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THEATER: Hamlet @ The Seaport Museum

January 22nd, 2020

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Houlon2BY JON HOULON THEATER CRITIC I’ve been on this heavy Shakespeare trip for several years. It started with the library scene in Ulysses where Stephen Dedalus expounds his theory of Hamlet. Something about the Ghost actually being Shakespeare’s dead son, Hamnet and Shakespeare playing Hamlet. The usual biographical number that so many like to play on Willie the Shake. But Joyce drew me in. He always does.

Ron Rosenbaum’s book, The Shakespeare Wars, pushed me further into what’s become somewhat of an obsession. Rosenbaum found his way into Shakespeare — in terms of a lifelong passion — via Peter Brook’s late 60’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Something about that performance led Rosenbaum (also known for his book Explaining Hitler) to a recognition of what he calls Shakespeare’s bottomlessness: no end to interpretation i.e. just when you think you’ve got Will pinned, another angle appears. The recently deceased Harold Bloom — arguably the greatest Shakespearean of our time — quoting the play itself called his book about Hamlet, Poem Unlimited.

Last summer I got myself over to England to chase the poem without end. I saw the entire Henriad at the Globe in one day, standing in the yard, leaning against the stage. Falstaff even plucked the ghastly gift shop baseball cap — depicting the Globe itself — off my head and used it as a phony crown in the play within a play scene in Henry IV pt. 1. The one where Hal plays his father, the King, and then switches roles with Sir John allowing the withered knight his best chance at royalty. I got the hat back.

I also journeyed up to Stratford and caught two performances at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Like the Globe, the RSC is a beautiful theatre and the costumes and surroundings alone made the trip worthwhile. The closest I actually got to a Rosenbaum-like epiphany, however, was a very modern production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream at London’s Bridge Theater. An amazing display watched from the floor of the theater with the actors performing on raised platforms, the fairies suspended on cloth swings, part actors, part gymnasts. It didn’t hurt that Gwendoline Christie from Game of Thrones starred as both Titania and Hippolyta. “Elegant” does not begin to describe her charms.

Still, I continue to look for a deeper way in and took myself down to the Independence Seaport Museum last Sunday to see Dan Hodge’s Hamlet. The play was performed in the round facing the Delaware. Passersby strolling along the American Water (I kid you not: there is an actual sign across the river in Camden with these words) watched us — the audience — watch the notorious play within the play of Hamlet. Just the sort of hyper-voyeurism our post-human era demands. I wondered what they thought? Spam? A lot? [*groans* — The Ed.] This Hamlet was a free performance so I’m hesitant to snark out but, you know, I didn’t go from unknown folk singer to the top of the Phawker masthead by following my mother’s advice: if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. The rest is silence, mom!

I’ve been to quite a few stateside Shakespeare productions over the past few years and I gotta say that an American accent simply fails the Bard. I’m not sure exactly what it is but WS wrote for the English cadence and something terribly stilted results without it. Robert DaPonte played a credible Hamlet at the Seaport but when he delivered words like “this most excellent canopy, the air”, they fell flat rather than floated on actual air as they do when given the proper British pronunciation.

Anyway, I profess no expertise when it comes to theater and, with the exception of Shakespeare, generally try to steer clear of it. For all I know, Hodge’s actors hit their marks and performed adequately if not memorably. If you want a memorable Hamlet, try the otherwise execrable Mel Gibson’s take from 1990. I hate to admit it but he sorta nails the Prince’s madness, feigned or real. He is, however, overshadowed by Helen Bonham Carter’s very real madness that leads her Ophelia to a watery death.
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TELEVISION: The Witcher Is Bewitching

January 21st, 2020

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In the cold cruel world of The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, aka the Great White Wolf and a bunch of other cool nicknames, slays demons while he wanders through life, wondering when he will encounter his “destiny.” Geralt is played by Henry Cavill, who’s swapped his Man of Steel muscle suit for a white wig and golden eye contacts. Created by Lauren Schmidt, The Witcher is based on a series of novels and short stories written by the renowned Polish novelist Andrzej Sapkowski. The opening scene of the first episode — a deer in a snowy, densely-packed forest drinking cool water from a small stream gave me Twilight deja vu. As the actual characters are introduced, we learn about Geralt (though most people simply call him “Witcher”) who is a mutant child of magic and human, born to fight and conquer any and all demons that cross his path.

One of the most interesting aspects of The Witcher is the deliberate ambiguities. Multiple times throughout the series’ eight episode run, comments are made that are not explained nor addressed until towards the end, like the “Law of Surprise” or the events leading up to the war with a neighboring country called Nilfgaard. Through most of the episodes, the timeline is scattered, which can cause the viewer to become confused and slightly unsure about what is going on. Depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing, this may seem like a negative but I think it’s part of the show’s considerable charm. At first, I did not feel this way. However, by the conclusion of the final episode when the method to Schmidt’s madness becomes apparent, the plot twists — of which there are many — hit like a train. I believe that Schmidt and her team have created the most interesting and daring medieval fantasy drama since Game Of Thrones. Chock full of evil sorcerers, corrupt magical officials, singing jesters, and a child with a cursed spine, The Witcher is a must-see for people who like that kind of thing. In my opinion, the best way to kick off the New Year is with a killer show featuring blood, gore, suspense, and an adorable side-kick horse named Roach. – RACHEL TESON

THE FIRST SEASON OF THE WITCHER IS NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX

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MLK: Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory

January 20th, 2020

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TIME: Even after the Supreme Court struck down segregation in 1954, what the world now calls human-rights offenses were both law and custom in much of America. Before King and his movement, a tired and thoroughly respectable Negro seamstress like Rosa Parks could be thrown into jail and fined simply because she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus so a white man could sit down. A six-year-old black girl like Ruby Bridges could be hectored and spit on by a white New Orleans mob simply because she wanted to go to the same school as white children. A 14-year-old black boy like Emmett Till could be hunted down and murdered by a Mississippi gang simply because he had supposedly made suggestive remarks to a white woman. Even highly educated blacks were routinely denied the right to vote or serve on juries. They could not eat at lunch counters, register in motels or use whites-only rest rooms; they could not buy or rent a home wherever they chose. In some rural enclaves in the South, they were even compelled to get off the sidewalk and stand in the street if a Caucasian walked by. The movement that King led swept all that away. Its victory was so complete that even though those outrages took place within the living memory of the baby boomers, they seem like ancient history. And though this revolution was the mlk-x-obey.thumbnail.jpgproduct of two centuries of agitation by thousands upon thousands of courageous men and women, King was its culmination. It is impossible to think of the movement unfolding as it did without him at its helm. He was, as the cliche has it, the right man at the right time. MORE

INQUIRER: What we don’t celebrate, what we suppress, is King’s other great teaching: that if we wish to throw off the racism and militarism that have stained our history, we must reform our very economic and social system itself. That’s the prophecy we ignore – strenuously – every King Day. It appears increasingly in writings toward the end of King’s life, but its foremost statement was the sermon “Beyond Vietnam,” delivered April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York, and in slightly different forms elsewhere. King, among other aims, gave the sermon to explain why he, a minister, had joined the antiwar movement. King calls for the United States to abandon the war – but that’s only a first step. The true drama begins when he declares that the “war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.” What follows is an agonized protest: “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” MORE

MARTIN LUTHER KING: My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in mlk-x-obey.thumbnail.jpgthe world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. MORE

AMERICAN RADIOWORKS: Martin Luther King Jr. felt poorly the night he delivered this speech, the last one of his life. The venue was a mass meeting held in the Bishop Charles Mason Temple Church of God. Andrew Young, who was with him at the time, said King initially decided not to speak at all that night. King and his small entourage – including Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, and Benjamin Hooks – had led a march that day protesting low pay for black garbage collectors in Memphis. A rainstorm was gathering. King decided he was too sick to preach. He asked his best friend, Abernathy, to speak instead. Once in the church, Abernathy felt King would have to speak to the crowd, so he phoned King and asked him to come down. Abernathy promised that he would still do the preaching; King would just have to say a few words. Abernathy spoke for more than half an hour, his words energizing the crowd. That called up the spirit in Reverend King, and he spoke that night without a single note in hand. In a speech Benjamin Hooks delivered a decade after King’s death (also featured in this anthology), he recalled King’s final sermon: “I remember that night when he finished, he stopped by quoting the words of that song that he loved so well, ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’ He never finished. He wheeled around and took his seat and to my surprise, when I got a little closer, I saw tears streaming down his face. Grown men were sitting there weeping openly because of the power of this man who spoke on that night.” King had warned in previous sermons that he might die before the struggle ended. It was not the first time he told listeners he’d “seen the promised land.” King had been living with death threats for years. MORE

ABC: After Dr. King was shot and before his death was announced, I remember too seeing on television the powerful climax of the speech he had given just the night before. In some ways, that speech is more indelibly etched in my mind and memory than his more famous “I Have A Dream” speech of 1963. I read later that King was exhausted that night, April 3, 1968. He begged off speaking but finally agreed to address the audience at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple Church of God. His final words are chilling to hear or read even today: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life,” he said. “Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!” The next day, Martin Luther King was killed by an assassin’s bullet. He was just 39. Had he lived, he would have turned 81 on Jan. 15. MORE

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The Man Who Made MLK The Prince Of Peace

January 20th, 2020

 

WIKIPEDIA: Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987) was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, pacifism and non-violence, and gay rights. Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was a leading activist of the early 1947–1955 civil-rights movement, helping to initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge with civil disobedience racial segregation on interstate busing. He recognized Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s leadership, and helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen King’s leadership; Rustin promoted the philosophy of nonviolence and the practices of nonviolent resistance, which he had observed while working with Gandhi’s movement in India. In 1948, Rustin traveled to India to learn techniques of nonviolent civil resistance directly from the leaders of the Gandhian movement.

In 1953, Rustin was arrested in Pasadena, California for homosexual activity. Originally charged with vagrancy and lewd conduct, he pleaded guilty to a single, lesser charge of “sex perversion” (as consensual sodomy was officially referred to in California then) and served 60 days in jail. This was the first time that his homosexuality had come to public attention. He had been and remained candid about his sexuality, although homosexuality was still criminalized throughout the United States.

Rustin served as an unidentified member of the American Friends Service Committee‘s task force to write “Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,”[11] published in 1955. This was one of the most influential and widely commented upon pacifist essays in the United States. Rustin http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7028/6709092599_9dbdd8686c.jpghad wanted to keep his participation quiet, as he believed that his known sexual orientation would be used by critics as an excuse to compromise the 71-page pamphlet when it was published. It analyzed the Cold War and the American response to it and recommended non-violent solutions.

Rustin took leave from the War Resisters League in 1956 to advise Martin Luther King Jr. on Gandhian tactics. King was organizing the public transportation boycott in Montgomery, Alabama known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. According to Rustin, “I think it’s fair to say that Dr. King’s view of non-violent tactics was almost non-existent when the boycott began. In other words, Dr. King was permitting himself and his children and his home to be protected by guns.” Rustin convinced King to abandon the armed protection.[12]
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