[stares and remains silent]: Lou Reed Was the Meanest/ Funniest Interview subject Ever

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Excerpts from his 2010 Spin interview:

You’re so closely associated with New York. But you haven’t written explicitly about the city since — 
I wrote a song for Cartier that you can download from my website. Have you heard that?

Yeah. “Power of the Heart.”
I did two songs for [2007’s] Nanking documentary: “Gravity” and “Safety Zone.” Have you heard those?

Not “Safety Zone.”
Research, research, research. It means everything. [Sighs] You were saying?

..You know, it’s funny. It’s making me think, like, if you were talking to Bill Burroughs, would you have said, “Now, Bill, they put together the new version of Naked Lunch. What do you think? Do you still feel the same way, Bill?” Can you imagine being put in a position where you’re trying to justify Naked Lunch? How are we supposed to answer that? You gotta be kidding me.

…Berlin has got this rap that it’s depressing. Are you joking me? You can’t handle it? You ever read Hamlet? Who are you talking to that’s so stupid? Are you joking? You’re kidding me.

Singing about gay life on albums like [1972’s] Transformer was definitely transgressive at the time. But now, playing with sexuality and gender is part of the mainstream. Do you feel like the center has come to you?
That’s truly a critic’s kind of question. I have absolutely no idea about anything.

Is that really true, though? Do you think your music has been something of a guide for people to learn about behavior they might not otherwise encounter?
[Reed stares and remains silent]

It’s easy to think of New York as this great incubator of bands. But that wasn’t the case for the Velvet Underground, was it?
Is this going to be all about the Velvet Underground now?

…This has nothing to do with music, so I don’t know why you’re asking, but fine.

What other younger bands do you like?
I’m not gonna list bands for you….

…Everything affects the way I make music. I don’t understand what you want to know. I could say “yes.” Would that be better?

From what I understand, tai chi has a spiritual component as well as a physical one. Has that spiritual component found its way into your music?
It’s a really profound study. I couldn’t possibly sum it up for you. The problem is that I don’t think you know what you’re asking about. When you say tai chi, you’re just saying a generic thing like yoga. If you want to ask a question, you should know what you’re asking about, don’t you think?

…It’s hard to find a story about you that doesn’t mention your reputation as a difficult interview. Does that perception bother you?
You could judge for yourself, can’t you? You want me to comment about other critics as though they matter. You save this question for last? I don’t know why you brought it up, seeing as we got along fine. Unless I’m mistaken. What answer do you want?

I want to know how you feel about the way you might be perceived.
You’re talking about critics and journalists. Listen, you’re not talking about music. I don’t want to get into this stupid subject with you. You brought it up. You shouldn’t have. We had a good conversation, and now we’re done. You feel better now? Did you find your angle? Do you think you did a good job?

The question wasn’t a trick.
I didn’t think you were trying to trick anybody. This is the kind of shit you wanted all along, and you saved it for last. What should I say?

I’m not looking for any particular answer.
You could’ve talked music, but this is what you wanted.

Haven’t I been asking about music this whole time?
You’re not interested in music. We’re done talking.

But tell us what you REALLY thought of it, Michiko Kakutani

Wow.  Feels like a moment of self-revelation here: “Readers given to writing comments in their books are likely to find themselves repeatedly scrawling words like “narcissistic,” “ridiculous,” “irritating” and “pretentious” in the margins.”

The premise of this tiresome new novel by the critically acclaimed author Norman Rush sounds as if it had been lifted straight from “The Big Chill”… The result not only lacks that movie’s humor and groovy soundtrack but is also an eye-rollingly awful read.

The novel’s preening, self-absorbed characters natter on endlessly about themselves in exchanges that sound more like outtakes from a dolorous group therapy session than like real conversations among longtime friends. Its title, “Subtle Bodies” — which refers to people’s “true interior selves,” whatever that means — is a perfect predictor of the novel’s solipsistic tone. Readers given to writing comments in their books are likely to find themselves repeatedly scrawling words like “narcissistic,” “ridiculous,” “irritating” and “pretentious” in the margins…

Douglas (who seems to have driven a lawn mower too close to the edge of a ravine) was the leader of the pack. Reminiscent of the charismatic genius figures in Iris Murdoch novels, he was an intellectual guru for the others, though it’s baffling why anyone would look up to such a pompous jerk….

There’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo about Douglas’s philosophy …and more portentous gibberish about his current mysterious work… The other members of this novel’s cast are either as insufferable as Douglas or as flimsy as paper-doll mannequins….

Perhaps Mr. Rush means all this to read as black comedy, but it’s not remotely funny or compelling. In fact, it’s impossible to work up any interest in hearing what these absurdly self-important and poorly drawn characters might have to say as they drone on about themselves…

At one point, Ned says to Nina, “Why are we even talking about this?” It’s a question the reader might well ask about this claustrophobic and totally annoying novel.

I can definitely appreciate an enthusiastic critical pan, but sometimes I wonder if the NYT needs to assign MK a new beat, if only to lower her blood pressure.  Maybe something in the Verlyn Klinkenborg line, appreciating sunsets and birds in the backyard or some such?

Can Pop Culture be Toxic? Call of Duty, the Geto Boys, etc.

Interesting piece in the NYT by three forensic psychiatrists, “Does Media Violence Lead to Real Violence?” making the case that recent research suggests that yes, in fact it very likely sometimes does.

There is now consensus that exposure to media violence is linked to actual violent behavior — a link found by many scholars to be on par with the correlation of exposure to secondhand smoke and the risk of lung cancer. In a meta-analysis of 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990, the psychologists George Comstock and Haejung Paik found that the short-term effect of exposure to media violence on actual physical violence against a person was moderate to large in strength.

This makes sense to me.  I’ve long felt that progressives and First Amendment champions can get themselves into a corner on this issue.  Whenever there is a mass shooting, conservatives reflexively start looking for a link to media violence.  Since lack of effective gun regulation is so clearly the more immediate condition for most such acts, and since the turn to blame “the media” so obviously seems to serve as a distraction technique deployed by gun-freedom absolutists, the liberal-progressive instinct is to insist that violent video games and other media must have absolutely no relationship to actual violence (and/or other social dysfunction).  It’s as if the only choice is all or nothing: violent video games and movies cause and are to blame for dysfunction, or are irrelevant to it. But while of course unregulated gun ownership is the overwhelmingly more significant problem, this does not mean that it is not a problem when emotionally damaged/ depressed/ angry young men spend years in basements in effect massacre-training on games like Call of Duty.  After all, as Buddha is sometimes said to have said (though maybe did not actually), “what you think, you become.” Consider Anders Behring Breivik, gunman in the July 2011 Norway massacre, who “played video games such as World of Warcraft to relax, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for “training-simulation”. He further told a court in April 2012 that he trained for shooting using a holographic device while playing Call of Duty. He claimed it helped him gain target acquisition.”  Or Adam Lanza, who, similarly, obsessively played Call of Duty. Does this mean Call of Duty “caused” the shootings?  No. But it does suggest that a hyper-violent video game could, in some contexts/ for some individuals, become toxic in extended exposure.

I thought about these issues when reading a fascinating interview in the magazine Sang Bleu with Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys, one of the founders of the “horror-core” genre of hip-hop incorporating imagery and lyrical content from slasher and horror films.  The Geto Boys produced the wonderfully laid-back, and oddly melancholy, classic “Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangster” (which Office Space turned into a kind of anthem for white suburban wanna-be’s) but also songs like “Assassins.”  Sample lyric (decided just to keep it to one line): “She screamed, I sliced her up until her guts were like spaghetti.”

The “conservative” position on horrorcore, or on other similarly extreme forms of pop culture (e.g. “torture porn” horror films — although of course there’s a race angle w/ the Geto Boys that isn’t usually a factor in those), is that it’s degenerate, probably dangerous, and should be banned or heavily restricted.  The usual liberal/”progressive” position is that while the lyrics/images may be disturbing, this is free artistic expression, and that if we try to ban or restrict it in any way, we’re behaving as bourgeois audiences always have in response to challenging, boundary-pushing art.

The interview with Bushwick Bill suggests that both positions might offer one necessary but incomplete piece of the full picture. To the typical (especially white) middle-class listener in 1990, a song like “Assassins” was unnerving, more unnerving than a slasher film, because it felt less mediated, more purely the self-expression of an anti-social, violent, and misogynistic point of view.  But Bushwick Bill in fact comes across as a thoughtful, surprisingly well-read guy who saw the Geto Boys’ music as not that different from what someone like Stephen King was doing in fiction or Alfred Hitchcock or Wes Craven in film — like them, exploring the potential of horror as a genre.

I was trying to be like Alfred Hitchcock and Edgar Allan Poe on that “Chuckie” song, and “Mind of a Lunatic” was my version of Psycho…. I always thought it was creative how they [horror film-makers] captured a mood in a moment—like a fear of the unknown. I grew up watching The Outer Limits, where people were afraid of what they didn’t know. I compared that to being an artist with a group from Texas. We were the unknown, and we had to give them intriguing or questionable stuff so they’d say, “Man what’s wrong with these guys? Why they saying that?” In order to be noticed in the South, we had to be shocking…. On the first Geto Boys album called Making Trouble, they had a song on there called “Assassins,” and that was really my introduction to horror core rap. That was my first time hearing rap like that. I started comparing it to movies. That’s what a New Yorker’s mind is like, you see a movie, you compare it to the things you see in the hood. That’s just how New Yorkers are, we compare it to things we know, things that we are familiar with, just like our graffiti names come from TV and comic books.

The interviewer asks, “You mentioned morals… You went to a biblical school, you were about to go on a mission in India, so how do you go from that to making these dark rap songs? Did you ever feel guilty about it?” Bushwick Bill replies:

It was never an issue. To me it was just being creative. I never in my wildest imagination ever believed that anyone would think I had done anything like that or was capable. To me, it was just being creative…. I applaud any musician that can be creative enough to make people feel like they are watching Wes Craven, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg or Steven King. It’s no different than Orson Wells reading the War of the Worlds. What the difference? It’s supposed to be entertainment. That was the sole purpose: to entertain.

(Not quite explicitly articulated in what he says about why the Geto Boys were viewed differently from Wes Craven is what could be called the Trayvon Martin effect, that is, how scary young black men appear to many Americans.) BUT — it gets more complicated as B.B. talks about how he felt it subsequently affected him to keep working in this style.  He started getting into drugs, and he now says that he lost his way in part because he was so entirely immersed in the Geto Boys’ violent, misanthropic material.

I was rapping about horrific situations and psychotic mentalities everyday. It started becoming a habit…. There wasn’t a balance, we were always talking about death and killing all day long, that’s it. Could you imagine that being your only food for thought?

To me, this points to certain limitations to the absolutist First-Amendment “progressive” position on media violence. Certainly horror and the horrific can produce valuable art and of course need to be protected by First Amendment principles.  And violent video games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto can have a lot to offer beyond their more obviously sensationalist content, e.g. clever and imaginative game design, the construction of virtual spaces and geographies, etc.

But “you become what you think,” the culture we consume does become our food for thought, and Bushwick Bill’s comments suggest that at least for some of their consumers and producers, the most extreme, violent, and misanthropic forms of culture can in fact, as the conservatives always insist, become toxic. And I don’t think it does the progressive position any favors to pretend that is never the case.

Taylor Mead’s Ass!

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I love New York Times obituaries.

In September 1963, Mr. Mead accompanied Warhol on a cross-country trip to Los Angeles. The entourage filmed scenes for what would become, in 1964, Mr. Mead’s first film for Warhol, “Tarzan and Jane Regained … Sort Of.”

Mr. Mead played Tarzan, edited the film and handled the sound. On screen, his sarong kept falling off while climbing trees, prompting a critic to say that he really did not want to see any more two-hour films of Mr. Mead’s derrière.

Warhol wrote a letter to The Village Voice saying that after searching “the vast Warhol archives,” he could find no two-hour film of Mr. Mead’s behind. “We are rectifying this undersight,” he said, and soon made what would become a little-seen cult classic, the title describing in three words precisely what the critic did not want to see (though the coarser Anglo-Saxon term was used instead of the French).

I kind of like the way the NYT has maintained a regime of prudery and delicacy that requires this kind of work-around.  The Times music listings for the band [Pissed Jeans] they call “****** Jeans” are always amusing: “His band, from Philadelphia, has a name that lies just on the other side of what’s printable here; it describes a basic bladder-related humiliation, something that happens to the drunk or scared or infantile.”  OK, that’s actually just kind of silly.

Check out the piece on the man J. Hoberman called “the first underground movie star.” Also, here is the IMDb listing for Warhol’s 1965 film, and its more-detailed Wikipedia entry.

Rachel Aviv on compromised or despised people

I’m a fan of the New Yorker Out Loud podcast– that and Slate’s Culture Gabfest have recently moved past Fresh Air as my go-to podcasts for this kind of thing.  I listened to a conversation with author Rachel Aviv about her new piece about the medicalization of pedophilia and child pornography, The Science of Sex Abuse,” as well as “other articles she has written on socially marginalized, compromised, or despised people.”  Her topic in the new piece — organized around the arrest and legal odyssey of a man charged under the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act — is the ambiguous legal status of pedophilia, which is sometimes treated as something of a “thought crime”, such that what is criminalized are certain desires as opposed to actually committed acts.  Her tentative conclusion, articulated more explicitly in the podcast interview than in the piece, is that pedophilia may in fact not be a medical condition at all, but simply a crime like any other.  (I actually was not entirely sure I understood why we should not judge sexual desire for children to be a medical disorder.  It seems somewhat inevitable that such desires are going to be understood either as “evil” or as a medical condition, and the latter seems more palatable and manageable for any practical purposes.)

Anyway, this was a rearing-of-the-author-function case in which I suddenly realized that several of Aviv’s pieces had made a big impression on me without my realizing that they were by the same author.  Most recently, “Netherland: Homeless in New York, a young gay woman learns to survive” (Dec. 10 2012), a haunting portrayal of homeless gay teenagers in NYC; and also “God Knows Where I Am: What should happen when patients reject their diagnosis?” (May 30 2011), an investigation into a bipolar, psychotic woman’s death brought on by her own refusal of treatment.

Aviv is great — a mesmerizing narrative storyteller whose pieces always probe deeply into difficult questions about those our society marginalizes or who marginalize themselves.  She’s a 2004 Brown graduate and has also written for N+1, which the New Yorker seems to be treating as their development league lately.

Sounds like she’s working on a book — I’m sure it will make a splash.  Here’s her website with links to articles.

Bringing Up Hush Puppy: Free-range Child-Rearing in *Beasts of the Southern Wild*

As I watched the in-many-ways great Beasts of the Southern Wild I kept thinking about recent debates and publications I’ve read about child-rearing, specifically those that discuss the tension between “helicopter” or over-protective vs. “free-range” parenting and related issues.  I recommend therapist Madeline Levine’s new book Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, [link to NYT review] which covers a lot, but perhaps offers as its biggest take-away the lesson that parents who believe they can control every facet of their children’s experiences are both kidding themselves and damaging their kids by denying them the potential to achieve autonomy/ become their own people.  I also thought about the much-discussed recent Elizabeth Kolbert New Yorker piece “Spoiled Rotten: Why Do Kids Rule the Roost?” which compared American middle/upper-middle class child-reading methods with those of the Peruvian Amazonian tribe the Matsigenka, in which six-year old children uncomplainingly clean, do household chores, and fish for, clean, boil, and serve to others crustaceans from the river.  (Whereas the typical elite American kid apparently is too busy nurturing his special, college-admissions-bait talents to do anything as mundane as household chores.)  Bringing up Bebe, which everyone seemed to be discussing his summer (even if they, like me, had just read reviews of it — although I did glance through it at one point), is also part of this conversation, in its advocacy of French-style parenting that expects children to behave in more responsible/ autonomous ways.

The New Yorker published an interesting letter in response to Kolbert’s article from an anthropologist named Nicholas Emlen who wrote,

During my recent nineteen months of anthropological fieldwork in Matsigenka communities, I, too, was impressed by the self-reliance and maturity expected of children. But Matsigenka hands-off parenting also has its disadvantages. I met several young children who had suffered serious, permanent injuries while cooking and hunting without adult supervision. Additionally, Matsigenka parents generally do not encourage their children to pursue education beyond primary school—although in recent years, many Matsigenka parents have begun to think of education as essential. To this end, these parents are trying to be more supportive of their children’s intellectual development, allowing them to spend afternoons doing homework, rather than collecting firewood, for instance. While Kolbert hopes that her sons will pitch in and “become a little more Matsigenka,” many Matsigenka parents are modifying their parenting strategies so that their children may one day become a little more like Kolbert’s sons.

So anyway, I was thinking about these sorts of questions while watching the movie.  Beasts of the Southern Wild stars a rather incredible child actress, Quvenzhané Wallis (who was in fact six during the movie’s filming!), playing the six-year-old Hush Puppy who lives with her single father Wink in “the Bathtub,” a fictitious bayou community in Louisiana.  And, like the children of the same age in the Matsigenka, she catches and cleans her own crustaceans; there’s a memorable scene in which all the adults chant for her to “beast” a crab, which means to snap it in half and suck out the meat. (We went to the movie with a vegetarian friend who found the Man vs. Beast dynamics a bit much throughout.)

The events of the movie, which reminded me a little of Zola Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, occur before, during, and after a massive Katrina-like storm that floods the Bathtub and leaves Hush Puppy, Wink and their friends stranded and floating in a house turned house-boat. Hush Puppy is an almost absolutely “free-range” child– or we could use the word neglected, or even abused.  Her mother has vanished and she does not even live with her father, who has his own shack next door.  She eats canned cat foot, and (this was a pretty hilarious moment, actually) starts a semi-functional gas stove by donning a helmet-face mask and lighting the gas with a flame thrower.  (This does not turn out well.)  Wink cares for and seems to love his daughter, but often ignores her and sometimes hits her.  Before the storm, she wanders around completely unsupervised.  In many ways, not just shellfish cleaning, her experience seems more like that of a Matsigenka child than a contemporary middle-class American.

In the still used for the movie poster, above, Hush Puppy is running with her hands full of fireworks.  Having recently supervised my kids as they used sparklers, I winced at the sight of her holding what seem to be much higher-power firecrackers in a setting where all of the adults are falling-off-their-chairs drunk.  On the other hand, she is certainly having a blast.

The movie continually prompted me to spiral through a series of reactions along those lines.  First, something like “oh no!” — judging her father to be criminally neglectful —  and then a counter-reaction of recognizing that Hush Puppy gets to experience things and sensations that the film represents as intensely meaningful and valuable.  Yes, her father and his friends are always drunk and Hush Puppy appears to be in grave danger of injury throughout the movie, but we see her immersed in a vivid world in which she interacts with the natural world and animals and nature, learns quickly how to take care of herself, and develops a fierce loyalty to her community and friends.

The movie could definitely be accused of romanticizing the Bathtub’s primitive world, and there are whiffs of pretty familiar strains of nostalgic, even slightly noble-savage-type valorizing of that world as a refreshing antidote to the sterile, heartless bureaucracy that is contemporary middle-class life — represented by the professional-class administrators who try to keep Wink and Hush Puppy in a disaster-relief tent city after they’ve been forcibly evacuated.  (The review in Salon took this approach, even suggesting that is offers a “dangerous political message.”)

To my mind, though, although I can certainly see the reviewer’s point, the movie is best approached as a non-realist (and often rapturously beautiful) fairy tale that, notwithstanding inescapable Katrina parallels, is certainly not trying to offer any sociologically accurate view of rural Louisiana or anything like that.  (I thought it was telling that it’s based on a stage play.)  Sarah commented that the whole Bathtub community reminded her a bit of the Popeye comics’ world.  Or maybe the fictionalized Okefenokee Swamp of the Pogo comics?  A wildly fantastical vision of a little girl’s dangerous idyll among the cat-fish, dogs, and wild boars of her imagination-infused surroundings, and a somewhat wishful (and yes, romantic) fantasy of how a child could live in a state of continual risky wildness.

Memo to self: demand that the kids procure and prepare fresh crab dinner for us this weekend.  Beast it!

Ann Arbor man punched during literary argument

Too awesome!

Ann Arbor man punched during literary argument

Posted: Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 3:24 p.m.

A 34-year-old Ann Arbor man was sent to the hospital with a head injury after another man punched him on Saturday during a literary argument, according to police.

Ann Arbor police Lt. Renee Bush said the man went to a party at a home in the 100 block of North Ingalls Street at about 2 p.m. on Saturday. Bush said the man was sitting on the porch with some people he had just met, talking about books and authors.

The 34-year-old man was then approached by another party guest, who started speaking to him in a condescending manner. An argument ensued and the man was suddenly struck in the side of the head, suffering a cut to his left ear, Bush said.

The man’s glasses went flying off of his head and fell to the ground, with one of the lenses popping out of the frames, Bush said.

Police were notified of the incident at 10 a.m. Sunday when they responded to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Ann Arbor in the 500 block of North Maple Road. The man was being treated for his injuries there, she said.

The incident occurred at about 9 p.m. and the men had been drinking for several hours, Bush said.

The incident still is under investigation.

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at kylefeldscher@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.

As a friend commented, “literary criticism ain’t beanbag”!  And never forget the awesome power in this sport of “a condescending manner.”

I’d love to know more about what precisely they were arguing about.  First work of detective fiction, Edgar Allan Poe or Wilkie Collins?  Sentimentality of Uncle Tom’s Cabin a political strategy?  Emily Dickinson’s work necessarily to be read in its original manuscript/fascicle form?  Twilight vs. Hunger Games?

p.s.  To clarify, I do not think it is awesome that this poor soul went to the hospital with a head injury…