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SIDEWALKING: Velvet Fog

January 12th, 2018

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Ben Franklin Bridge, 1:27 PM Friday by JONATHAN VALANIA

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CINEMA: Paper Trail

January 10th, 2018

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THE POST (Directed by Steven Spielberg, 115 minutes, USA, 2017)

CHRIS MALENEYBY CHRISTOPHER MALENEY FILM CRITIC Is Nixon done to death? With two movies out in the past six months alone, I have to wonder how much more we can squeeze out of the years between 1968 to 1974. It’s gotten to the point where they’re making prequels to classics like All the President’s Men; it won’t be long until they do a remake of it. Anyway, this year’s recycling of the journalistic wet dream that was the Nixon saga is The Post, which retells for film the real events of the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers and subsequent rise to national significance. The difficulty with discussing a historic movie is that we must separate the real events from how the film portrays them. In lauding or panning a historic movie, we do not pass judgement on the events themselves but on how the filmmaker depicts the events, and what they are trying to say about modern times.

So, just what were the Pentagon Papers? Well, for anyone who didn’t live through the events, or who didn’t pay attention in American History class, the Pentagon Papers were a study commissioned by Robert Mcnamara, the Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, that outlined the history of American involvement in Vietnam, and south-east Asia generally, from 1945 to 1967. The seven thousand page study showed how the government lied about the scope of the war, the aims of the war, and its ability to be won. They showed how the American government manipulated elections in South Vietnam, conducted illegal operations, and then lied about it all. When the Pentagon Papers were printed, the people were shocked. Imagine the naivete of the times! This was the first time in a long while, possibly ever, that the machinations of the American state were stripped bare, the first time people realized the government was lying to them, the first time people were told that the expressed morality of the United States government was at odds with the sheer brutality of imperialist capitalism.

The United States has been at war in one form or another for almost my whole life. We’ve been in Afghanistan since I was in kindergarden. We’ve been in Iraq since I was in second grade. Today, that list includes Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Niger, and a number of other top-secret locations, you can be sure. The point is, none of us are surprised anymore. Most of us aren’t even concerned. Sure there are distractions. Sure, the optics on it are better than in the sixties and seventies. But overall, we’re just numb. We don’t care how many civilians get blown up by drones, how many kids are murdered by security forces. Bush, Obama, Trump — nothing changes but the names and the numbers. And yet, as Kennedy states at the beginning of the film, we know that America never starts wars. We know we’re the good guys.

So it is commendable that what Spielberg wants to show us in The Post is that whistleblowers and leakers deserve protections to reveal the abuses of the state. They should function as a check on power; I’m sure James Risen would agree. The film glorifies the choice that the editors and publishers of the Washington Post took to print the Pentagon Papers, and it was a daring choice. Good on them. The trouble is that the biggest risk the characters run is losing a lot of money. Katherine Graham, the paper’s owner, runs the risk of seeing her whole fortune vanish if bankers withdraw from the Post’s impending Initial Public Offering. Everyone, she tells us at one point, has a lot to lose — a line that would be a lot stronger if she wasn’t speaking about a room full of millionaires. And this might be true to history, but is that the ultimate narrative concern? At a time when people are being threatened, jailed, even murdered by the government, is the most daring risk really to lose millions of dollars?

I appreciate what is going on in this movie. I think it is important to have a movie where people discover that the motivating ideology of their country is not as benevolent as the national narrative has lead them to believe. I like how the message is established with audio and visual quotes of real persons juxtaposed over the revelations of the Pentagon Papers. My problem is that this analysis of ideology and actuality does not go nearly far enough. The film never explores why the message and the facts become so mixed. Pride, it suggests, and inertia, are what kept us in Vietnam so long. A simplistic reading of history, to be sure.
And there is some difficulty, too, with how the film wants us to treat the press. We’re supposed to believe that all journalists are crusaders, fighters for the American dream, who defy unjust wars wherever they’re spotted. It’s like the Spanish-American War never happened. It’s like the Washington Post never printed the word ‘irrefutable’ in 2003. The narrative’s message is a simplistic treatment of journalism, just like its examination of Katherine Graham’s life is a simplistic examination of feminist theory. If all you want is reassurance in dark times, this might do the trick. If you need meat on the bones, well, stick to reading books or something. Start with David Halberstam‘s The Best And Brightest.

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IN MEMORIAM: David Bowie Will Never Die

January 9th, 2018

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This euology originally published in the wake of David Bowie’s death on January 10th 2016. We are re-posting it today on the occasion of his birthday and the kick-off of Philly Loves Bowie Week.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA The year is 1980 and 14-year-old me drops the needle on Changesonebowie in my bedroom, with the door locked because this is serious business, while staring at the album cover, trying to figure out how all these startling and seemingly disconnected musics — space-age psych folk, white plastic soul, zooming Brechtian glam, bloozy garage-punk, coked-up funk, Teutonic trance-rock, proto-electronica — came out of this one delicate man with impeccable hair and immaculate cheekbones. Thirty-six years later I still don’t have a good answer beyond this: Clearly, he is from another planet. Clearly.David Bowie Aladdin Sane

The year is 1983 and I am teetering on my seat, dizzy from the thin air  — and perhaps an illicit beer or seven in the parking lot — way up in the nosebleed section of the Spectrum for the Philly stop of Bowie’s Serious Moonlight Tour. Though we seemed miles away from the stage, there was no missing that hot mustard yellow double breasted suit and the curly shock of electric blond hair or that voice — river deep, mountain high, smooth as crushed velvet and sharp as shattered glass, it contained multitudes. You could hear the whole 20th Century in that voice.

The year is 1984, I walk into the only edgy/cool fancy-pants hair salon in Allentown, PA, with the cover of Heroes under my arm. “This is what hair is supposed to look like,” I tell them. “Make me look like this.” When they get done, they insist I look just like the guy on the cover of Heroes, but looking in the mirror I can tell they are lying. A hard lesson was learned on that day: Being David Bowie is harder than it looks. Much harder.

The year is 2004, I am a journalist working on a magazine profile of the Polyphonic Spree who have been hand-picked by David Bowie to be the opening act for what will prove to be his David Bowie Aladdin Sanefinal American tour. We are standing in the support act dressing room — me and 12 gangly, funky-smelling Texans wearing white Jesus robes and dirty Chuck Taylors —  deep in the bowels of the Wachovia Center waiting for The Man Who Fell To Earth to pop in for one of those faux-spontaneous carefully-arranged candid shots for the Random Notes section of Rolling Stone. It’s noisy, hot and locker room-rific in here. When he finally arrives literally everyone gasps and the room falls pin-drop silent: It’s David Fucking Bowie. He is elegant and gracious and shorter than he looks on TV. I shake his hand just to prove to myself that this really happened.

The year is 2016. It’s the morning after I heard on the BBC somewhere around 2 AM that David Bowie died. I’m still having a hard time processing it. I feel like a part of me is gone. I’m driving around Philadelphia, the city where David Bowie recorded three albums (Young Americans, Live, Stage), going nowhere in particular. Philly is a big Bowie town. Back in the day, he would sell out the Tower six nights in a row and tickets were a whopping $5. WXPN is playing non-stop Bowie and I have the radio cranked up to 11. “Heroes” comes on and I crank it up to 12. It’s my favorite Bowie song. I lose it somewhere around the third verse, when he sings “I, I can remember…standing by the wall” and the back-up singers repeat his words back to him like horns. That’s when it hits me like a hammer: David Bowie is fucking dead. Tears roll down my cheeks like I’m watching the end of It’s A Wonderful Life. I flick on the windshield wipers even though it’s not raining. David Bowie Aladdin Sane

But as the song fades out it occurs to me that that’s not true at all. David Bowie is not dead. Because David Bowie will never die. Oh sure, that guy born David Robert Jones is gone, and that’s a terrible loss for his friends and family. But people like you and me, we never knew that guy. We knew David Bowie, or more accurately we knew the idea of David Bowie. Because in the end David Bowie was, above all things, an idea, a brilliant idea, but an idea nonetheless and you cannot kill an idea. Not even cancer can kill an idea. And that idea is this: we are the imagination of ourselves. We control the illusion and we can change it any time we want. We can be black, white, striped, gay, straight, bi, trans, Martian, glam, goth, hot funk, cool punk, old junk, a bottle blonde, a ginger, a jazzer or even drums n’ bass. There is no right answer. But sooner or later, you become yourself. That is the idea of David Bowie. And that will never die.

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INSTANT KARMA: Gonna Knock U Off Your Feet

January 8th, 2018

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BUSINESS INSIDER: White House adviser Stephen Miller was escorted off the set of CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday after a contentious interview with host Jake Tapper. Two sources close to the situation told Business Insider that after the taping was done, Miller was asked to leave several times.

He ignored those requests and ultimately security was called and he was escorted out, the sources said. Miller’s appearance on the cable network quickly went off the rails when Tapper pressed him on explosive claims about President Donald Trump that appeared in the book “Fire & Fury: Inside The Trump White House” by Michael Wolff.

Miller repeatedly attempted to pivot the conversation toward criticism of CNN, a favorite target of Trump’s. He then referred to Trump as a “political genius” and lamented his treatment during the interview, leading Tapper to reply that there was only “one viewer you care about right now.”

“I think I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time. Thank you, Stephen,” Tapper said, bringing the interview to an abrupt end. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller has been interviewed as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
The interview brings the special counsel investigation into President Donald Trump’s inner circle in the White House. Miller is the highest-level aide still working at the White House known to have talked to investigators.

Miller’s role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey was among the topics discussed during the interview as part of the probe into possible obstruction of justice, according to one of the sources. Special counsel investigators have also shown interest in talking to attendees of a March 2016 meeting where foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos said that he could arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin through his connections. Miller was also at the meeting, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

Papadopoulos was recently charged with lying to the FBI about Russian contacts he had during the campaign.
Earlier this year, Miller assisted Trump in writing a memo that explained why Trump planned to fire Comey, according to sources familiar with the matter. Eventually that memo was scrapped because of opposition by White House counsel Don McGahn, who said its contents were problematic, according to The New York Times. The Comey dismissal letter — drafted during a May weekend at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey — has also drawn interest from the Mueller team. MORE

NEWSWEEK: Senior White House advisor Stephen Miller was among the top-flight Trump 2016 officials in regular contact with campaign staffer George Papadopoulos, now at the center of a federal probe into Russian influence on the presidential election.

While the White House has looked to distance itself and President Donald Trump from Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials about his Russian contacts, the New York Times reported Friday the 28-year-old had been in regular contact with Stephen Miller and helped edit a major Trump foreign policy speech. Miller had not previously been identified in court documents.

According to emails seen by the Times, Papdopolous, named as a foreign policy advisor to the campaign, told Miller, now one of the most enduring and recognizable members of the administration, that Trump had an “open invitation” to visit Russia, at the guarantee of Russian President Vladimir Putin. MORE

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: It’s Mueller Time!

January 4th, 2018

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TIME: The special counsel is, like Trump, the scion of a wealthy family, raised at a boarding school and educated in the Ivy League. But the life choices of Robert Swan Mueller III, 72, suggest a decidedly different temperament from the one that occupies the Oval Office. Unlike Trump, who says he has few if any personal heroes, Mueller’s path was marked by a profound admiration for a role model he met at Princeton, a student a year ahead of him named David Spencer Hackett.

“I played lacrosse with David,” Mueller explained last year in a speech at West Point. “He was not necessarily the best on the team, but he was a determined and a natural leader.” Hackett’s decision to join the Marine Corps, and his death in 1967 while rallying his platoon during an ambush in Vietnam, moved Mueller to follow in Hackett’s footsteps. “Many of us saw in him the person we wanted to be,” Mueller said.

Trump once joked with radio shock jock Howard Stern that chasing women while risking STDs was his version of Vietnam, adding, “It is very dangerous.” He might have chosen a different analogy if he had served as Mueller did. Commissioned in the Marine Corps and trained at Army Ranger School, Lieut. Mueller led a rifle platoon in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. Wounded in combat, he received a Bronze Star with a V for valor as well as a Purple Heart and two Navy Commendation Medals.

Mueller told his West Point audience that his military experience instilled in him a desire to continue to serve his country. After earning a law degree from the University of Virginia and learning the ropes as an associate at a large law firm, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco, where he rose to chief of the criminal division.

In 1989, Mueller moved to Washington, where he soon took charge of the entire Justice Department’s criminal division. Under his watch, department lawyers prosecuted major cases involving terrorism, organized crime, drugs and money laundering. Although his voter registration said Republican, Mueller earned the confidence of leaders in both parties. In 1998, Democrat Bill Clinton appointed him U.S. Attorney for Northern California. Republican George W. Bush called him back to Washington as Deputy Attorney General, then picked him to lead the FBI in 2001.

Mueller’s first official day at the Hoover Building was Sept. 4. A week later, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington plunged the bureau into one of the most tumultuous periods in its history. Mueller’s challenge was to transform a primarily domestic law-enforcement agency into a global counterterrorism force–while breaking down cultural barriers to information sharing and pulling the paper-pushing bureau into the digital age. Many agents found Mueller to be bullheaded as he shook up personnel rules and rammed through technology updates. And he made mistakes, including a botched investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks in D.C., Florida, New York and New Jersey, in which an innocent man was hounded in the press while Mueller and his agents ignored the real killer. But overall, in the judgment of FBI historian Ronald Kessler, no director in the modern era “has had a greater positive impact on the bureau than Mueller.”

As director, Mueller worked closely with Comey, who was appointed Deputy Attorney General in 2003. Together, they threatened to resign in 2004 over a White House plan to preserve a program of warrantless wiretaps. Their frantic dash to the bedside of ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to ward off a delegation of White House arm twisters on a mission to save the program was a heroic high point for friends of Mueller and Comey–and an example of their sanctimony to their detractors. Either way, they won: Bush agreed to make changes to the program. When Mueller’s extended term at the FBI ended in 2013, few were surprised that Obama installed Comey in his place. MORE

FRESH AIR: Neal Katyal wrote the special counsel regulations when he worked under President Clinton. Now he lays out the legal issues that could arise if Trump tries to interfere with the Mueller investigation. MORE

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VADER UNPLUGGED: NY Times Grills Steve Bannon

January 4th, 2018

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WORTH REPEATING: My Life In The Ghost Of Bush

January 3rd, 2018

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THE INTERCEPT: Bundled against the freezing wind, my lawyers and I were about to reach the courthouse door when two news photographers launched into a perp-walk shoot. As a reporter, I had witnessed this classic scene dozens of times, watching in bemusement from the sidelines while frenetic photographers and TV crews did their business. I never thought I would be the perp, facing those whirring cameras.

As I walked past the photographers into the courthouse that morning in January 2015, I saw a group of reporters, some of whom I knew personally. They were here to cover my case, and now they were waiting and watching me. I felt isolated and alone.

My lawyers and I took over a cramped conference room just outside the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, where we waited for her to begin the pretrial hearing that would determine my fate. My lawyers had been working with me on this case for so many years that they now felt more like friends. We often engaged in gallows humor about what it was going to be like for me once I went to jail. But they had used all their skills to make sure that didn’t happen and had even managed to keep me out of a courtroom and away from any questioning by federal prosecutors.

Until now.

My case was part of a broader crackdown on reporters and whistleblowers that had begun during the presidency of George W. Bush and continued far more aggressively under the Obama administration, which had already prosecuted more leak cases than all previous administrations combined. Obama officials seemed determined to use criminal leak investigations to limit reporting on national security. But the crackdown on leaks only applied to low-level dissenters; top officials caught up in leak investigations, like former CIA Director David Petraeus, were still treated with kid gloves. […]

In another recent incident that gave me chilling insight into the power of government surveillance, I met with a sensitive and well-placed source through an intermediary. After the meeting, which occurred a few years ago in Europe, I began to do research on the source. About an hour later, I got a call from the intermediary, who said, “Stop Googling his name.”

In January 2008, after I received the first subpoena related to the CIA-Iran story in “State of War,” a series of procedural motions prolonged the fight over whether I would be forced to testify before the grand jury until after the 2008 presidential election.

I thought Barack Obama’s election would end the case. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema seemed to think so, too. In July 2009, she issued a brief ruling noting that the grand jury in the case had expired, meaning my subpoena was no longer valid. I was surprised when Obama’s Justice Department quickly told Brinkema they wanted to renew the subpoena.

In hindsight, this was one of the earliest signals that Obama was determined to extend and even expand many of Bush’s national security policies, including a crackdown on whistleblowers and the press. Ignoring the possible consequences to American democracy, the Obama administration began aggressively conducting surveillance of the digital communications of journalists and potential sources, leading to more leak prosecutions than all previous administrations combined. MORE

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TRUMP + RUSSIA: Spies, Lies & Treason

January 2nd, 2018

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Since His Innauguration, Trump Has Told 1,950 Lies

January 2nd, 2018

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WASHINGTON POST: With just 18 days before President Trump completes his first year as president, he is now on track to exceed 2,000 false or misleading claims, according to our database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president. As of Monday, the total stood at 1,950 claims in 347 days, or an average of 5.6 claims a day. (Our full interactive graphic can be found here.)

As regular readers know, the president has a tendency to repeat himself — often. There are now more than 60 claims that he has repeated three or more times. The president’s impromptu 30-minute interview with the New York Times over the holidays, in which he made at least 24 false or misleading claims, included many statements that we have previously fact-checked.

We currently have a tie for Trump’s most repeated claims, both made 61 times. Both of these claims date from the start of Trump’s presidency and to a large extent have faded as talking points. One of these claims was some variation of the statement that the Affordable Care Act is dying and “essentially dead.” The Congressional Budget Office has said that the Obamacare exchanges, despite well-documented issues, are not imploding and are expected to remain stable for the foreseeable future. Indeed, healthy enrollment for the coming year has surprised health-care experts. Trump used to say this a lot, but he’s quieted down since his efforts to repeal the law flopped.

Trump also repeatedly takes credit for events or business decisions that happened before he took the oath of office — or had even been elected. Sixty-one times, he has touted that he secured business investments and job announcements that had been previously announced and could easily be found with a Google search. With the successful push in Congress to pass a tax plan, two of Trump’s favorite talking points about taxes — that the tax plan will be the biggest tax cut in U.S. history and that the United States is one of the highest-taxed nations — have rapidly moved up the list.

Trump repeated the falsehood about having the biggest tax cut 53 times, even though Treasury Department data shows it would rank eighth. And 58 times Trump has claimed that the United States pays the highest corporate taxes (25 times) or that it is one of the highest-taxed nations (33 times). The latter is false; the former is misleading, as the effective U.S. corporate tax rate (what companies end up paying after deductions and benefits) ends up being lower than the statutory tax rate. MORE

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I WAS A TEENAGE SEX PISTOL: Q&A With Legendary Punk Rock Guitarist Steve Jones

December 28th, 2017

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This week we will be re-posting choice Q&As from the past year. Today we present this reprise edition of this in-depth interview with Sex Pistols guitarist/songwriter Steve Jones, which originally posted on January 17th, 2017. Enjoy.

meAVATAR2BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR VICE  Steve Jones has been a lot of things in his 61 years: a love-starved bastard, a smooth criminal, a peeping tom, an insatiable man-slut, a master thief, an insufferable prog-rocker, a wouldbe Yacht Rock A&R rep, a SEX shop clerk, Chrissie Hynde’s pre-Pretenders fuck-buddy; a teenage Sex Pistol, a 23-year-old has-been, a sticky-fingered junkie, a shit-hot guitar-slinger-for-hire, Iggy Pop’s muse, a Fabio-haired solo artist, a buff and burnished Hollywood biker, a recovering addict, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a jailhouse motivational speaker, an ascot’d elder statesman of punk, a beloved LA disc jockey and a sexagenarian social media baller.

All of which is confessed in unflinching detail, with a nod and a wink and a pinch of Cockney slang, in Lonely Boy (Da Capo), his painfully honest, just-published must-read memoir, co-written with Ben Thompson. Recently we got Mr. Jones on the horn to discuss the following: Stealing Keith Richards’s favorite coat/Bryan Ferry’s gold record/David Bowie’s bass amp; his cloak of invisibility; his crap childhood; the tens of thousands of “birds” he’s “shagged”; his semi-tragic inability to forge a lasting relationship with a woman; learning how to read, write and spell after 40; an ex-illegal Brit’s perspective on immigrants and Trump; why he can’t stand being in the same room with Johnny Rotten; JonesyJukeboxwatching Glen Matlock shag John Cale’s wife; whether or not Sid Vicious kill Nancy Spungen; why Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is the Dorian Gray of seminal DOA punk rock debuts; the oft-derided virtues of Boston and Journey; and why he pissed on Elvis’ grave.

VICE: Let’s start at the beginning and work our way up to the present. In your pre-Sex Pistols days you were a very prolific and precocious thief. In addition to robbing a lot of unfamous people you also stole Keith Richards’ coat, Bryan Ferry’s gold record, the entire backline of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the middle of their infamous two-night farewell concert at the Hammersmith-Odeon in 1973. You refer to your ability to operate largely undetected in the shadows as “The Cloak.”

STEVE JONES: The Invisible Cloak, yeah.

VICE: Were you really that gifted a criminal? Or were the police so incompetent and security measures so insufficient back in those days?

STEVE JONES: Well it was that, that’s it. There was no security. No one had cameras. Even alarm systems in stores didn’t work that great. It was the perfect time to be a kleptomaniac for sure, but there was also an element of balls that you had to have. That’s where “The Cloak” came from. I would literally go to any high-end department store up the West End of London — Selfridge’s, Harrods, Hamleys — and work my way into the storeroom and convince myself I was meant to be there. And oftentimes people would actually, people who worked there would see me there, but I had this confidence about me that they wouldn’t even question what I was doing there. And I was like, 12 years old, it was remarkable how many times I did that and got away with it.

VICE: So was it as much about the thrill of doing it as it was actually getting free stuff? JonesyJukebox

STEVE JONES: It was all about the thrill, to be honest. I mean, it was fine getting some free stuff that I didn’t need, but it was a survival mechanism is what it was. It was, you know, because of the trauma, I guess, if you want to call it that, after my stepfather fucking about with me. After that happened, I didn’t want to be at home, I didn’t feel safe at home. I had this urge on a daily basis to go out into the world and be on a mission. I couldn’t sit still, so that’s why I became a kleptomaniac.

VICE: Your fear and anxiety about your fucked up home situation aggravated your ADHD and may have been the root cause of a lot of the antisocial things you were doing in your youth?

STEVE JONES: It was grim. My upbringing was grim. I had a mother who didn’t really want to have a kid. I had a stepfather who definitely didn’t want me around. Life was good when I was with my Nan, from a very early age to about six or seven. By the time I was about six or seven we moved into this shithole in Shepherd’s Bush in a basement and that’s when the horrible vibes come, you know, and I just hated it. I couldn’t stand it. You know, I was in the way. I was a burden. That’s the feeling I got, you know, and I didn’t want to deal with it.

VICE: In the book you make a very frank and courageous admission that you were once molested by your stepfather. What advice would you offer to somebody who went through something similar to that as a child, who is now an adult but is still so consumed with shame and humiliation they can’t really confront it, even now.

STEVE JONES: I think that happens quite a lot, to be honest with you. I think not 1 in 100 but maybe 1 in 50, where some kind of weird shit happens to you as a kid. But the worst is when it happens to you when supposedly you’re in a safe place, at home, with your parents and, I mean, in hindsight, you know, the best thing to do is to fucking tell someone because when you’re 10 years old you kind of tell yourself that you had a part in it. You kind of made them do it. You know, and it’s when looking back at it, when you’re 10 years old, how the fuck do you know anything, you know?  Your totally taken advantage of, and the best thing to do is to talk about it. Talk about it one-on-one with someone if you don’t want the whole world to know. It definitely helps because that’s a big burden, that’s a big JonesyJukeboxsecret to carry around and it gives you fucking cancer if you ask me and shit like that, you know?

VICE: Totally. The truth shall set you free. Jumping back to your early life of crime — The Great David Bowie Heist is just hilarious and blows my mind. There’s this iconic moment in rock n’ roll history and there you are in the background sneaking off with everyone’s shit.  For the benefit of readers who haven’t read your book yet could you just give a summary of what happened?

STEVE JONES: Yeah, I was a massive Bowie fan, specifically a Spiders from Mars fan — as I was Roxy music, or Rod Stewart and The Faces, or Mott The Hoople. That was my time. When I was a teenager that was what I was obsessed with. Glam rock. Good glam rock, not shit glam rock. I went to what wound up being the farewell concert of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars and Hammersmith Odeon where I always used to go and see shows. I used to know that place like the back of my hand, and I went and saw him. I didn’t realize- well no one realized — this was going to be the end of the Spiders from Mars, and they did two nights and after the first night they left all their gear set up on stage, because they were going to play again the next night. The left some guy who was asleep, well he wasn’t meant to be asleep he was meant to be awake looking after the equipment, but he dozed off in about the fifth row and no one else was in this place other than him, me, and my accomplice.

We snuck on the stage started snipping microphones with some pliers, I took the bass amp, I took some of the cymbals. I didn’t take anything from Mick Ronson I don’t know why I didn’t but um, we loaded up my mini-van that I had at the time, dropped it off somewhere, came back for another round and, about to do some more damage, the guy woke up. He didn’t see me. I saw him starting to wake up and I split. I didn’t realize this was going to be such a big deal. I didn’t realize this was going to be the end of that phase of Bowie. It was on the radio the next morning that all their equipment had been stolen. And of course that made you feel a sense of pride and savor the infamy — hey ‘I did that!’ Like the arsonist who sets fire to houses and stands outside when the cops show up, watching it burn. Getting kind of like a “Yeah, that’s me! That’s me!” This nobody has made a little bit of a name for himself and no one knows it.

VICE: You met Bowie years later, did you ever tell him about this? MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Q&A With Johnny Rotten, Anti-Christ Superstar

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THE KING OF COMEDY: Q&A With Judd Apatow

December 27th, 2017

Apatow

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This week we will be re-posting choice Q&As from the past year. Today we present this reprise edition of this in-depth interview with Judd Apatow, which originally posted on February 17th, 2017. Enjoy.

meavatar2BY JONATHAN VALANIA By this point, everyone knows who Judd Apatow is, or at least everyone who’s had even a glancing interface with a cineplex marquee or has a non-delinquent cable account and a functioning funny bone. With writing, producing, directing or acting credits in nearly 40 films and 24 television shows, Mr. Apatow has become the Starbucks of comedy — dark-roasted, fairly-traded, consistently reliable, and blessedly ubiquitous. I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Mr. Apatow last Friday when he was in town for The Crashing Comedy Tour‘s stop at the Trocadero to promote his new show Crashing, [which kicks off its second season on January 18th]. DISCUSSED: Being the Starbucks of comedy, his Gary Shandling documentary, The Larry Sanders Show, Crashing, Love, working for Netflix, Dwight Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, Lena Dunham, the end of Girls, Artie Lange, Sarah Silverman, T.J. Miller, Bill Cosby, and how to survive The Age Of Trump without gaining 30 pounds and losing your mind.

PHAWKER: I don’t need to read your resume back to you, but you know and I know that you are incredibly prolific. Nearly 40 films and two dozen TV shows that you either wrote or produced or directed or acted in. You’re sort of like the Starbucks of comedy — you can’t go more than a block or two without running into a Judd Apatow joint, and I don’t mean that as a diss. I think Starbucks is a fine brand and I’m very thankful to see them when I pull off the highway in the middle of nowhere. But anyways, getting back to my question, which is basically, how do you juggle all of this? It’s just exhausting to read your CV. What’s the typical day in the life of Judd Apatow?

JUDD APATOW: Well, I think a lot of it is about building a team. You know, when you work LoveNetflix_on a TV show you are working with a group of people and if you have a strong writer and strong leaders and staff, then I’m able to spend time breaking stories, reading scripts and looking at edits. I don’t like to spend a ton of time on sets, I try to hire great directors and not interfere, and then, in editing, watch what they did. If they miss something we might try to re-shoot something at some point, which rarely happens, and be about making sure we close strong. And so, I’m able to jump between shows. I’ll say “why don’t you guys take a run at an outline” and they’ll write the outline and I’ll read the outline, and then I’ll give notes and say “here’s my notes, read and rewrite it” and I’ll come back again, so I can pop around. But with each show I’m helpful in different ways, some shows, like Crashing, I thought directing would be helpful just to set a style. On Love, for Netflix, you know, we’ve hired all these incredible independent film directors like Joe Swanberg, Michael Showalter and Lynn Shelton, so I focus more on the scripts.

PHAWKER: But do you set specific working hours? Like “I’m up at 8 and I’m done at 6”?

JUDD APATOW: Yeah I mean, I drop my daughter off at school at 8 o’clock then I try to be home by 5-5:30 everyday. And then if a couple of nights a week I try to do stand-up or something like that, and every once in a while it completely collapses but that’s what the goal is.

PHAWKER: And do you really work in a high-rise building that says JUDD APATOW’S OFFICE in big letters on the side like in Maria Bamford’s imagination?

JUDD APATOW: We have a small building where we do JuddApatowOffice copyeverything. I only have about eight employees that work for me. But I’m usually editing one of the TV shows in my office as well, but we keep it pretty lean for the most part. I get confused if there are too many people around.

PHAWKER: We’ll get to Crashing in a second, I have a couple preliminary questions I wanted to hit you with first. I hear you’re working on a Gary Shandling documentary. I love Gary Shandling, can you tell me something about Gary Shandling that most people don’t know, or wouldn’t expect?

JUDD APATOW: Well, Gary was a very spiritual person so in addition to the comic evolution he went through he was also very interested in Buddhism and Eastern religion and he combined those ideas with his approach to his writing. He talks a lot about getting to the truth of things, letting go of your ego so you could really be yourself and find out who you are, and that’s what The Larry Sanders Show was all about. It was about people whose egos got in the way. He used to say “people love each other, but show business gets in the way” and he lived a very interesting life. I love making documentaries. My friend Michael Bonfiglio and I made a documentary about Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry for 30 for 30, and we have another one coming out at South By Southwest about this band, The Avett Brothers, and we followed them while they recorded their new album with Rick Rubin.

PHAWKER: Oh wow.

JUDD APATOW: And that will be premiering in March. Yeah, so, I like Gary, I like to get closer and closer to the truth, so documentary is very interesting to me.

PHAWKER: Last question on The Larry Sanders Show, which you wrote for. The show portrayed show business as this viper’s den of weaponized narcissism and crippling insecurities and psychological warfare, is that still a fair assessment of the industry?Larry-Sanders1_1

JUDD APATOW: Well, you know, show business is driven by making money, and when you make people a lot of money they like you, and when you make people less money they like you less. And then everybody feels this need to be accepted but there is a natural decay to anyone’s career. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but usually painful, and it’s a very interesting world. You know, if you make a living and a ton of money then your phone rings. My wife and I always laugh about how one Christmas when I had a very successful year I got a lot of Christmas presents from a lot of different people and then this year, at Christmas, I got like one present: my air conditioner guy dropped off a bottle of wine. You know, it’s all ups and downs.

PHAWKER: Final season of Girls. Any thoughts on putting a period on the end of that show?

JUDD APATOW: Well it’s fun to try to land the ship, you know with The Larry Sanders Show we had a year or two to talk about what the conclusion of the story would be. So it was very exciting to try and decide the final spot where you would leave all of them because some of them had matured, some of them haven’t at all; some relationships are thriving some are falling apart, and I’m really happy with how it ends. I think it’s very surprising and very strong.

PHAWKER: And have you and Lena Dunham talked about doing something new going forward?

JUDD APATOW: Lena, Jenni and I would like to do something else, we just get along very well and creatively that’s so rare. But it all depends on the idea. You can’t force it unless you have an idea you are just as enthusiastic about. I’m sure we are going to talk plenty about it.

PHAWKER: Ok, let’s dig into Crashing here, which is ostensibly the reason we are speaking on the phone today. I’ve seen a few snippets but I’ve not actually seen a full episode, for the benefit of readers who have seen none of this, can you explain the premise of the show?

girls-final-picJUDD APATOW: Well, the premise is about a guy whose wife cheats on him and he has dabbled in stand-up comedy but now he has decided to move to New York City and give it a shot. The other interesting part about it is he is very religious, and so a lot of this show is just this person trying to not lose his soul in the dark world of comedy. And it’s about young comedians, it’s about people who aren’t good yet, and how hard it is to survive when you haven’t figured out how to do it. Stand-up comedy is one of the only professions that you learn on your feet. You have to fail in front of crowds to learn and get better.

PHAWKER: And comedian Pete Holmes is the star, and it’s roughly based on his life experiences, is my understanding. Is this accurate?

JUDD APATOW: Well, that’s the seed of inspiration, and, you know, it goes its own way. But when he was first starting out he slept on a lot of comedian’s couches because he couldn’t afford an apartment, and he was from Chicago and there were a lot of great comedians when he started out like John Mulaney and Hannibal Buress and Kumail Nanjiani, and that’s what happens here. He sleeps on Artie Lange’s couch for a few days and he sleeps on Sarah Silverman’s couch for a few days then T.J. Miller, so in addition to seeing his world we see their world. It’s kind of like he is stepping into other people’s shows

.

PHAWKER: I love Artie Lange, I worry about him, in fact every night I say a prayer for him and I’m not even religious. How is Artie doing these days? I know you are out on the road with him right now. [EDITOR’S NOTE: You can read our 2014 interview with Artie Lange HERE.]

JUDD APATOW: Working with Artie has been great, he hadn’t acted in 14 years when he did the show, and he really is a brilliant actor. He is able to play himself and be honest about his life and his struggles while also being funny and this is a unique opportunity to hear what he thinks about all of this, and we had a great time. We laugh about how reliable he was. We keep telling him he going to get a reputation of a reliable person if he doesn’t watch himself.Artie_Crashing

PHAWKER: You have been a very vocal critic of Bill Cosby who is on trial for sexual assault right now, right here in my backyard, in Philadelphia. Two questions about that: how do you think that is going to play out?

JUDD APATOW: Well, you know, I mean, because I think what is most important is that all of these women were hurt, and just the fact that it is going to trial, and all the evidence hopefully will come out is a very big victory for all of his accusers. He hurt a lot of people and these are the type of injuries that affect people for the rest of their lives. You don’t heal quickly from this kind of assault. And I’ve met a lot of the people who are survivors of [sexual assault], and you can see it, in one second, what it did to them. It’s sad because he’s such a brilliant artist but very sick, who hurt enormous amount of people — we’ll never know how many. I just feel for the people who were hurt that them speaking up will lead to more people speaking up about this kind of crime because if we don’t listen to people they won’t come forward.

PHAWKER: Knowing what we know about him, how do we deal with his body of work then? Can we still laugh at Fat Albert?

JUDD APATOW: I personally don’t care too much about the issue. I think it’s weird for [TV networks to broadcast re-runs of his work] like none of this happened, but I don’t feel militant about it. I can’t listen to it or watch it without knowing the mind of the person who created it, so it spoils it for me. And when you re-listen to those comedy albums there are a lot of ideas in there that make sense now. You notice how many of the pieces are about some hostility towards his wife or his family, or feeling like he was in a cage and wanting to do what he wanted to do. I mean he has a lot of routines about Spanish Fly.

PHAWKER: Literally, I know. His M.O. with his victims was an early stand-up bit.

JUDD APATOW: There are a lot of dark bits about getting in physical fights with your wife and chasing your wife, but people can still listen to it and separate it. People can do whatever they want to do, as long as we take the time to hear from the people whCosbyRapeFamouso he victimized.

PHAWKER: Two quick questions about Donald Trump. First of all, how are you coping with the onset of the Age of Trump, and are you at all concerned, considering that you’ve been a very vocal and public critic of him, are you at all concerned about any personal blowback or career repercussions? Are you expecting to have your taxes audited?

JUDD APATOW: I just think there are certain moments in history when we are supposed to speak up. And so I wouldn’t know how to not speak up in this moment. That would feel wrong, and there’s not much more to it than that. There are a lot of things happening that are clearly wrong, a lot of things which are clearly illegal, and people need to make some noise, we need to let senators and congressman know that if you support him when he does these things, you know, such as fighting for a travel ban which is clearly against our Constitution, then we are all going to vote you out at the midterm, or the next election. That’s the only thing that is going to change this, is the legislature realizing that they’re all going to lose their jobs for not saying “I agree with some of what Trump believes but he is doing a lot of things that are clearly against what this country stands for.”

PHAWKER: Did you see the videos from the Chaffetz’s Town Hall last night?

JUDD APATOW: Yeah.

PHAWKER: Oh my God, they were vicious, beating all his fraudulent denials and evasions of the truth into the ground. It was beautiful. The woman dying of cancer who depends on Planned Parenthood for treatment asking why he is taking that away from her? Or the little girl asking ‘Do you believe in science? Because I do.’ Ka-boom!

JUDD APATOW: I did. Things only change when these politicians get scared for themselves. Most politicians are very selfish and they are only interested in their careers so they don’t want to go against the Republican Party but there is an enormous amount of Congressman and TImeTrumpNOTHINGTOSEEHERESenators that are terrified right now. [Trump is a very unstable] person dealing with some very complicated domestic and international issues, but how many bizarre things can happen per day? We are all getting numb to it. It is certainly scary times and we all need to fight for what we think is right, whatever that is for each person.

PHAWKER: Last question: As a comedian, what do you make of the fact that he cracks jokes, but I’ve never ever seen him laugh at anybody else’s jokes, or laugh ever.

JUDD APATOW: Well, if you had a bunch of friends and one of them didn’t laugh I wonder what your opinion would be of him. I mean, people who don’t laugh are troubling. Laughing is how we connect, it’s how we say ‘I understand.’ It’s how we say ‘I care about you. I love you.’ It’s how we say ‘What you are telling me is important to me.’ So someone that never laughs — unless it’s chuckling about how you hurt somebody — it scares me. I don’t think it’s normal.

PHAWKER: Very good. Listen sir, thank you very much. That was a great interview, thank for giving me all this time, thanks for all the great stuff you’ve done over the years. I look forward to what’s coming next.

JUDD APATOW: All right, thank you. I look forward to reading it.

CRASHING SEASON 2 PREMIERS SUNDAY JAN. 14TH ON HBO

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IN ORWELL WE TRUST: Q&A With Pulitzer Prize-Winning National Security Reporter Tom Ricks

December 26th, 2017

george_orwell_1984

 
EDITOR’S NOTE: This week we will be re-posting choice Q&As from the past year. We start with this still-timely interview with nat-sec reporter Tom Ricks, which originally posted on May 25th, 2017. Enjoy.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA Under the darkening skies of the late 1930s, liberal democracy was on the ropes and fascism and totalitarianism was on the rise, reason and common sense were overwhelmed by racist entreaties, economic misery and nationalist fury, press freedoms were under attack and the facts had become a matter of opinion. Sound familiar? Two less than distinguished men rose to the occasion: a tarnished, boozy politician named Winston Churchill and a sickly, failed novelist named George Orwell. Although they did not know each other, Churchill and Orwell would lay down the intellectual and political framework — in soaring oration and sonorous prose — that turned back the rising tide of illiberalism.

In the process, both would become great men, not just men for their season, but men for all seasons — including the the post-factual age we call the here and now. Which is what prompted Pulitzer prize-winning national security reporter Tom Ricks to make them the dual subjects of his latest book, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight For Freedom. Ricks is currently a contributing writer to Foreign Policy and a security advisor to the Center for the New American Security think tank, prior to that he logged in 25 years as a distinguished Nat Sec reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He’s authored six books, including 2006’s Fiasco, his jaundiced eyewitness account of the Iraq War, which went to number one on the New York Times bestseller list. In advance of his appearance at the Free Library tonight, we got Ricks on the horn to discuss how the writings, orations and actions of Churchill and Orwell impacted the then and how and why they continue to speak to the now.

DISCUSSED: H.L. Mencken, Joseph Stalin, Martin Luther King, T.S. Eliot, Leon Trotsky, General Franco, the Spanish Civil War, Hitler, Mussolini, tuberculosis, booze, Wikileaks, fake news, the Battle Of Britain, alternative facts, Trump, illiberalism, climate change denialism, Lech Walesa, the Invasion Of Iraq, Alger Hiss, Andrei Sakharov, the Katyn Massacre, Letter From A Birmingham Jail, the Second Boer War, John Lennon, Neville Chamberlain, Edward Snowden, The Mitford Sisters, Keith Richards, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, Animal Farm, 1984, and the sun setting on the English Empire.

PHAWKER: Thank you for taking the time to do this. thomas-e-ricks_person_image.original I really love the book and thought it was incredibly timely, which is actually where I want to start. What prompted you to write this book in this time? Clearly you recognized some contemporary resonance.

TOM RICKS: Yeah, well, I was beginning to feel uneasy about three or four years ago about how people talked about free speech. Both on the left and the right it seemed to be less appreciated than in the past. People seemed more accepting of limitations on free speech. And at the same time I was going back and reading 20th century journalists, partly just to look back for my own entertainment and curiosity at who stood up, who’s worth reading now. I started with H.L. Mencken and found him absolutely anachronistic. Then I went to S.J. Perelman and didn’t find him funny at all. I found E.B. White had pretty good prose, but really wasn’t speaking to our times. I found Hemingway irrelevant. And then I picked up Orwell, and his prose style seemed so fresh and so contemporary that it made me stop and think. And the realization came to me as I was writing the book that I think he really invented the modern op-ed style of opinion, which is based on straightforward, clear writing. The statement of an observation of facts. The explication of those facts and then conclusions from those facts, which is the basic 650 or 700 word op-ed piece.

PHAWKER: It’s not only free speech that’s endangered, we’re living in the time when liberal democracy seems to be on the run. There’s a passage here on page 45 where you write that “many people, especially the young and engaged, thought that liberal capitalist democracy was tired and failing. They felt that the only two ways forward were fascism or communism, beckoning from Berlin, Rome, and Moscow, ending the Western way of life.” How does that speak to now?

TOM RICKS: I think it does very much, which is this time of ours is kind of similar internationally to the 1930’s in that, as I wrote in the book, democracy, and especially liberal capitalist democracy, seemed to be faltering and did not seem to speak to the people. In America, to the white working-class, especially. I have to say, related to that, is the sense that facts don’t matter. People can make up their own facts. I think my favorite passage in the whole book is at the end of the chapter on Spain when I quote Orwell talking about how he came back in England, read the newspapers, and saw battles described that had never happened. Heroic acts of soldiers that had never occurred. Just absurd representation by both the left and the right of the facts of the matter, which would have set him on his lifelong course to always put the facts before party. To always insist that you cannot suppress information because it supports your ideological position to do so.

PHAWKER: That’s actually getting to a point I wanted to raise about your Churchill&Orwelldescription of 1984, you write that Orwell asserts that “collecting the facts is a revolutionary act insisting you have the right to do so is the most subversive action possible.” Again, this has a very contemporary resonance in light of Trump’s war on the facts and observable reality. Your old stomping ground, the Washington Post, felt the need to put the motto, “Democracy dies in darkness” on their front page every day.

TOM RICKS: I gotta’ tell you, I hate that motto.
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INCOMING: Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!

December 23rd, 2017

norman-rockwell-a-christmas-homecoming-1948-e1276912114970

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