With Friends Like These: Phony Outrage and the 21st Century Progressive Heterosexual Male

Standard

By Scott Ross

Tweet 46F58FB200000578-5142609-image-a-14_1512364840492

Tweet 2 46F58FA900000578-5142609-image-a-17_1512364926231

In April 2018, posts from an old, deleted blog of Joy A. Reid’s surfaced, embarrassing the MSNBC host (who just last December was forced to apologize for previous bigoted, anti-gay comments) anew. Those posts, from 2007, unearthed by Jamie Maz and re-posted on Twitter, concerned John McCain’s potential Vice-Presidential pick, Charlie Crist. In them Reid continually referred to the former Florida governor as “Miss Charlie,” and indulged in tired “faggot” stereotypes meant to impugn his masculinity — a tactic both impossibly passé and, curiously, still much in evidence, usually among what is laughingly referred to as the religious right. Since Reid presents herself as a liberal (she used to call herself progressive, and even plumped for Bernie Sanders, until he had the sexist effrontery to exercise his rights as an American citizen and run for President against The Chosen One) these remarkably recherché accusations of closeted homosexuality against Crist were more than humiliating to her; they were, potentially, ruinous to her now-lucrative career as a news actress. (Not ruinous enough, however; her self-contradictory “apology”… for remarks she claims she never made… appears to have been enough to save her. For now.)*

Glenn-Greenwald-Original_350

Among the many ugly and appallingly insensitive remarks Reid made in these posts — which Reid, bizarrely, claims must have been written by others who somehow managed to “hack” a defunct and deleted blog site in order to distress her and which the internet back-up organization The Wayback Machine has verified were not — were, as Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept https://theintercept.com/2018/04/24/msnbcs-joy-reid-claims-her-website-was-hacked-and-bigoted-anti-lgbt-content-added-a-bizarre-story-liberal-outlets-ignore/, items “promoting the ugliest and most destructive stereotype of gay men as pedophile predators by suggesting that anti-gay attitudes are based in ‘concerns that adult gay men tend to be attracted to very young, post-pubescent types, bringing them “into the lifestyle” in a way that many people consider to be immoral’ and that ‘gay rights groups seek to organize very young, impressionable teens who may have an inclination that they are gay.’”

In a response as predictable as it was nauseating, Reid made the utterly insupportable (and, as it turns out, wholly unsupported) claim that “an unknown, external party accessed and manipulated material from my now-defunct blog… to include offensive and hateful references that are fabricated and run counter to my personal beliefs and ideology. I began working with a cyber-security expert who first identified the unauthorized activity, and we notified federal law enforcement officials of the breach. The manipulated material seems to be part of an effort to taint my character with false information by distorting a blog that ended a decade ago. Now that the site has been compromised I can state unequivocally that it does not represent the original entries.” The Wayback Machine, as noted above, un-categorically denies this spurious and self-serving assertion. http://blog.archive.org/2018/04/24/addressing-recent-claims-of-manipulated-blog-posts-in-the-wayback-machine/

Moving on from this easily-discreditable claim Reid said of these posts “being attributed to me” (emphasis mine) that “I genuinely (emphasis hers) do not believe I wrote those hateful things.” She then went on, bizarrely, to further damn herself as a lifelong homophobic dogmatist, recalling that some of her “closest friends” (shades, to use a deliberately pointed word, of “some of my best friends are Negros” …) kept secrets “because they didn’t know what I would say, or if we would still be friends, or whether I would look at them differently.” Their secretiveness appears to have been wholly justified. Setting aside the inevitable question of just how “close” a friend must be who feels he or she cannot trust you enough to be open, especially concerning his or her sexuality, Reid’s attempt to justify her bigotry by asserting that, when she wrote these posts “a decade ago […] the country was in a very different place” are patently ridiculous. Alas, even her severest critics, as we shall see, follow directly on from that absurd statement.

Joy Reid thinks 2007 was “a very different place”? Try 1977, when I came out. Or 1987, when gay men were dying in their thousands, the President said and did nothing and the New York Times still refused to name their nearest survivors as anything but “longtime companions.” That country was “a very different place.” But a mere ten years ago? All these types mean — and you will see a sick-making plethora of examples of this historically ignorant thinking in the commentary of the young men I cite below — when they claim the country is not now what it was then is that, in 2007, there was no same-sex marriage. That is the sum total of their knowledge of the long fight for basic rights among gay Americans, a struggle which did not begin at Stonewall, but for which that watershed June 1969 event serves nicely as a foundation stone from which to measure modern progress.

And if I seem, once again, to be pillorying Millennials exclusively here, as I did in my previous essay concerning the current unthinking misuse of language, it is merely because the more interesting of the current crop of progressive YouTube commentators are, by and large, of that demographic. Reid, even at her most absurd, at least opines that she (still resolutely clinging to her central lie) hopes that “whoever corrupted the site recognizes the pain they have caused, not just to me, but to my family and communities that I care deeply about: LGBTQ, immigrants, people of color and other marginalized groups.” This, troublingly, actually puts Reid one up on the majority of young, heterosexual male progressive commentators, who, taken as a whole, never give a thought to any gay person’s feelings. It is as if they presume all of their followers are heterosexual. And for them, the latest edition of The Reidcapades represents only one thing: An opportunity to gleefully point up her hypocrisy.
Kyle Kulinski, on his 30 April “Secular Talk” video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HURRxvspz9A, wisely points out that Reid also Tweeted some of those old comments she now pretends she didn’t write. (Joy: “I couldn’t imagine where they’d come from, or whose voice that was.”) As a grammatical side-note to this piece I will point out that, should he ever see his remarks in transcript, Kulsinki’s millennial overuse of the empty filler word “like” ought to shame him into, if not silence, at least recourse to a professional speech instructor. I doubt it will. Nothing else appears to shame the man. (Although he certainly knows that MS-NBC is “shameless.”)

Kulinski remarks, “I give less than no fucks about what she said back then… akin to, like, me and friends of mine, who, when you saw something you didn’t like, in, like, high school, your reaction was, like, ‘Gay.’ Now, as South Park brilliantly points out, that doesn’t mean that, like, when somebody like me was saying that, I was saying, ‘Hey, being a homosexual is inferior, and wrong, compared to heterosexual.’ No, it’s something that developed over time, that become de-coupled with being hateful…” [Emphasis mine.] Since I have not seen the South Park episode in question, I cannot say with certainty what the intentions of Messers Stone and Parker were. However, given my past exposure to the series, I cannot believe those two would go out of their way to create an episode whose point is that it’s OK to say, “That’s so gay,” as long as you don’t actually mean “homosexual.”

“But,” Kulinski continues, digging his own grave with a fervor that recalls Joy Reid at her least self-aware, “that doesn’t mean that I haven’t at times, in jest, said, ‘Gay,’ or at times you would say to your friend, ‘Faggot’ — if you want to have an impact and hit him, ‘Faggot.’ Would I do that now? Probably not [emphasis mine]. But I would vehemently deny that when I said those things that was me being anti-gay, because it’s simply not. You can say those things and be, y’know, not politically correct but at the same time you’re not saying what people insist you’re saying…”

“Probably not.” Which I take to mean, “I might.” With the smug, tacit assurance that we would all know, he, like, didn’t, like, mean it.

“I’m in favor of gay marriage,” Kulinski foes on. “I’ve always fought for gay rights, but at the same time I also don’t bite my tongue…” [Emphasis mine.] In case you miss the point, the enlightened Mr. Kulinski is saying, “Don’t tell me I can’t say ‘faggot’ when I want to.”

With friends like these…

And I for one would like to see his battle-wounds for his gay rights “fight.” I’ve got 40 years’ worth of them, Kyle. All interior, I should add… so far. No one “fights for gay rights” only to claim for himself the right to say “faggot” when he chooses. No one but a hypocrite. You’ve only to substitute “black” for “gay” to comprehend how ludicrous Kulinski’s insupportable position is.

That Reid is a hypocrite as well does not let Kulinski off the hook he baited himself, and on whose barb he so eloquently flounders. It isn’t, you see, what Reid said that matters to the likes of Kulinski, only that she denies saying it. The lie is all that signifies. He actually seems to believe, despite the explicit evidence before him, that, because Reid says she’s now an ally, she is, ipso facto, no longer anti-gay. This self-ordained liberal-humanist-progressive champion and pundit (or, to use the term so often bandied about by the likes of Kulinski, “pundint”) is incapable, in his indifference to the hatefulness of what Reid wrote, to sense what is most obvious and salient about her: The woman says anything… if she thinks it will help her earn a paycheck. She was pro-Sanders, before he ran against The Queen; demonized him after. Because her bosses determined the contours of the debate, from which none shall deviate if she wishes to keep getting those lovely $30-a-day paychecks. Even little Kyle admits Reid is “a liar.” Yet he’s certain “she’s on the right side of those issues now.” Who says? She does.

For Kulinski, the issue at hand isn’t the ugly, hurtful, appallingly insensitive slurs Reid hurled. No. “The problem is that she’s a goddamn liar.”

Meanwhile, the allegedly upright Jordan Chariton reveals (also on 30 April) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKWerJ0aTyo that he, like Kulinski, cannot see the hideously tangled forest for the more obviously stunted trees… nor his own homophobia, even as he speaks it.

Chariton DacB_XJVwAAtYDn

“Do I wish anything [sic] ill will towards [sic]” Reid, he asks? “Absolutely not, I’m not that kind of person.” So what “kind of person” is Chariton? Like Kyle Kulinski, not the kind of person who is in any way comfortable with faggots. For Chariton, “If Joy Reid wrote nasty things about homosexuals, over a decade ago, I would think it’s a bad thing…” Well, there’s a ringing endorsement against bigotry. And “homosexuals,” please note, not “gay men.”

Again we see that mantra, “over a decade ago.” A decade ago was still well into the 21 century. But such progressives as Chariton don’t think they, or liberals generally, should have (to use their curiously un-ironic phrase) “evolved” on gay issues, I would suppose, before 2015, the year in which the Supreme Court found for the plaintiff in Obergefell V. Hodges. This seems, on evidence, to be a problem of perspective for many Millennials; what they themselves did not live through, they know little to nothing about. They’ve heard of AIDS, one supposes, but do not seem to understand its monstrous impact upon one especially vulnerable community, nor do they object when a hypocritical shill like Hillary Rodham Clinton, sensing a means of inserting herself into an obituary, praises Nancy and Ronald Reagan for “helping to start a dialogue” on a plague whose acronym neither would utter publicly and whose toll among gay men was so pronounced, and so devastating, that, after 1996 the National Mall could no longer host the AIDS Quilt as it was then constituted because its vastness was simply beyond the means of exhibiting in one place.

Further, “homosexuals” is a word which, revealingly, this progressive uses repeatedly, even as he rushes to assure us he “never had a problem with” his — presumably countless — gay friends. Even when Chariton does utter the word “gay,” he invariably stumbles over it, saying, “homo” first before correcting himself.

This, ladies and gentleman, is what, in poker and bunco circles, is called a tell.

“Joy Reid’s said a lot of bad stuff,” Chariton bravely observes. “And, by the way, I’ve probably written things ten years ago that I’m not proud of. We probably all have.” Speak for yourself, Chariton. I have written nothing about others in the last decade which it shames me to recall, or that was offensive to any racial, ethnic or even religious group (no mean feat for an atheist who is pretty much fed up to the teeth with the God-boys, few of whom exhibit the same restraint toward him). Nor to any sexual or physiological (so-called) “minority” within the wider culture. Why? Because, aside from not wishing to offend, and being aware that it is not kind to use language that is insensitive to others, I choose my words with care. Does Chariton?

“Let’s not be hypocrites here,” little Jordan concludes. “We can’t hold anyone to a perfect standard… We’ve all written things we’re not proud of.” I hear in this an echo of liberal Democrats and their “purity tests”: Expecting an alleged liberal to not write a string of deeply offensive remarks is, somehow, holding her to a “perfect standard” When, in your opinion, Mr. Chariton, does someone like Reid actually step over the line into hatefulness and bigotry? When she suggests queers should be murdered?

This story, Chariton claims, is not about someone “evolving, or not evolving.” Again, for him, as for Kulinski, it is only the lie Reid tells that matters, not what she is lying about.

Even those young progressive men with largely impeccable track records stumble over this one. David Doel, on his 25 April “Rational National” video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4fN0HkeOpo,  of the initial December 2017 story anent the catty Crist pieces Reid wrote on her old blog, “I didn’t cover it — because I didn’t think it was a big deal.” I submit that Doel might have thought it “a big deal” if he was gay… or genuinely cared about how gay men and Lesbians are vilified. He, no doubt, would protest that he does care, but his words belie his supposed progressive humanism.

David DoelDoel then quotes one of Reid’s more nauseating statements, to wit: “By screaming [as in “screaming queen”?] so loudly about making gay marriage a kind of litmus test for true progressives and humanity, they have embraced a fight that only a small sliver of the population can relate to, and put their credibility on the line by painting Barack Obama as an enemy, at a time when most Americans consider him their only hope.” A clear progression backwards, from todays’ phony “Resistance” to yesterday’s “Help us, Obama-Wan, you’re our only hope.” One begins to forgive Sarah Palin her “hopey-changey” crack.

To Doel, “Back then, it was more normal to think this way.” And by “back then,” remember, we are referring to the late-2000s! Doel fares better when he plays a staggeringly tone-deaf clip from — of all people — Jon Stewart regarding Dennis Kucinich’s genuinely progressive views on gay and transgendered rights, and whether he would nominate a gay man, Lesbian or transgendered person to the Supreme Court. (He would.) Stewart’s response? “All rise for the Honorable Justice Chick with Dick.” Doel correctly praises Kucinich (and other leaders, like Sanders, who has, from the early 1970s, always been an ally) for being on “the right side of history,” even as they were being made fun of for being so… and not merely by conservatives. As he notes, we might have expected so crude a joke from the likes of Dennis Miller. But from Jon Stewart? So when Doel refers to 2004 as “back then,” I begin to comprehend: For a 20-something Millennial, ten years is nearly half his lifetime. It’s nearly unfathomable, the way 25 years was to me when I was a child.

Doel does, correctly, hoist Joy Reid with her own petard when he quotes one of her own Tweets, in which she smirked at a Trump nominee, “Nobody tell her about The Wayback Machine.” Doel adds, “She should have taken her own advice.” However, to again quote his own words, he did not cover the December 2017 story because he “thought it was a nonstory… The issue here is that she is lying.”

At the risk of beating a horse not only dead but on its way to the Alpo cannery, Doel might care if he was gay.

But he ought to care anyway.

On his subsequent 30 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUugKeIqsiY, Doel doubles down on his blind heterosexist obsession. “My issue with Joy,” he says, “isn’t that she once held these backwards views on the LGBT community, because a lot of people did.” Once again, a young man equates 2007 with ancient history. And even if, as he avers, “a lot of people” held such retrogressive views that decade so long, long ago, does he also believe that such a mass should be excused for having them? I would submit that, if the targets of Reid’s remarks had been any group other than gay men and Lesbians, Doel would, quite properly, pillory them for the short-sighted bigotry they represent. No, to Doel, as to Kulinski, the problem is not Reid’s horrendous — and hideously rendered — prejudices. The problem is only that “she didn’t own it to begin with.”

On this follow-up video, Doel is joined by his dithering unseen partner Mary (or “@MarysR00m, Artist”) who, in extempore, makes Kyle Kulinski sound like a Rhodes Scholar and whose weird “co-hosting” is at best a puzzlement. “Speaking of the gay community, Mary opines: “Like, they know the way things used to be. Like, they are understanding.” (I would quote Mary in greater detail but, like, I just, like, can’t because, like, I could, y’know, like, vomit?) No, Mary, we are not “understanding.” We are fed up. We’ve heard bigots of Reid’s ilk all of our lives. We no longer pat them on the head, or pity them, or “forgive” their loud-mouthed impugning of us — the smug Rachel Maddow, who gushed about her MSNBC coeval’s splendid honesty, notwithstanding. And while I am aware that by harping on this at such length I am inviting comparisons to a broken record (ask your grandfather) if 2007 is your yardstick for measuring “the way things used to be,” I respectfully suggest you open your mind a little further and try to comprehend that a mere decade ago is not concomitant with recalling the Punic Wars.

By the end of this mind-numbing conversation, Doel returns to his well-warmed theme: Reid “forgets the homophobic views she held in the late 2000s.” [Emphasis mine.] “We know she’s lying. That’s the problem here.”

“The problem here,” it seems to me, is a young heterosexual male being selectively incapable of empathy.
Relief of a kind comes with Thomas’s 25 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57Gc-2gkNio, but only of a kind; such respite is mitigated by the more than occasional cringe once experiences while listening.

Thomas hqdefaultThe first such wince comes early on, when Thomas observes that what Reid wrote was “kind of homophobic” (emphasis mine) and that she herself was, “somewhat homophobic.” (Ditto.) “Kind of,” Jamarl? “Somewhat”? The way Jesse Helms was “kind of” a racist? The way Ezra Pound was “somewhat” anti-Semitic? (Although here I will grant that that exposure to Thomas’ commentaries has convinced me that he is seemingly incapable of, as my junior high school journalism advisor commanded, making war on modifiers.) He does, however, correctly observe that, “If a right-winger said [what Reid did], there would be outrage.” Yet he reminds us that he finds “some of this funny,” reserving his disgust, as with his contemporaries among the YouTube commentator class, for the hypocrisy of Reid and the identity-driven DNC.

Later he, quite properly, leaps with glee on Reid’s “I’m not homophobic; I have gay friends” remark, correctly linking it to the old “I’m not racist, I have black friends…” ploy as a prime example of paralogical political thinking.

As with his YouTube coevals, Thomas too imagines a Reid apology in which she admits to writing such ugliness “in the past, when it was somewhat more socially acceptable to say such things.” “In the past,” in this case, as I have pointed out repeatedly — if not at this point obsessively — means a mere decade ago. We are not, as is often the case with historically narrow viewpoints, referring to something said, or written, in the 1800s, or even the mid-1900s. Thomas is, like Kulinski, Chariton, and Doel, apparently incapable of understanding that 2007 is not The Dark Ages. America by that point already experienced Stonewall, Anita Bryant, the murder of Harvey Milk, the acquittal of his killer, Ronald Reagan, the AIDS pandemic, Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, The NEA Four, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue,” Fred Phelps and “God Hates Fags,” the murder of Matthew Shepherd, Brokeback Mountain, Milk, and the very public coming-out of Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris (among others) well before the turn of the century. 2007 is a mere wisp across the roiling surface of modern time. It is as yesterday.

To his credit, Thomas reminds his viewers that Reid already admitted, in December of 2017, that she had written such things. Yet while he refers to the Wayback Machine refutation of Reid’s spurious claims, he does so merely as a preface to the inevitable theme: Again, it is not the words she wrote, but her denial of them now that is the crux of the matter.

Thomas does, however — and nearly alone among his coevals — see through Reid’s phony righteousness. “I am more inclined to believe,” he notes, “that this is just the way she is, and just the way she was.” That at least is a step ahead of the simpering benefits of the doubt Chariton and others extend to her. Thomas further asserts that Reid’s perspective is merely one of party, and “problematic” for her because she is a mouthpiece of the Democrats, whose members “hug identity because they don’t want to deal with other issues… the economic realities of those identities.”

Yet, on his subsequent 28 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSyU19iWDN4, Thomas again finds Reid’s persistent speculation, bordering on obsession, with, and bitchy “jokes” about, Charlie Crist’s sexuality “funny but fucked-up.” While Thomas is a humanist, his susceptibility to sneering “jokes” about another man’s sexuality limit that humanism to a purely heterosexual — if not, indeed, heterosexist — perspective. If he had spent any time in the skin of a gay male bombarded from childhood with ugly, emasculating japes, or a Lesbian (or even a somewhat androgynous or “butch” looking straight female) subjected to the correspondingly-gendered jeers, I doubt he would find anything remotely amusing about such junior high bullying. As with Kulinski, Chariton and Doel, Thomas exhibits in this area, an alarming lack of empathy, something one would think was de rigeur emotional equipment for anyone calling himself a humanist or a progressive. But then, even the redoubtable Jimmy Dore is prone, when angry, to label this or that professional hypocrite a “cocksucker.”

Thomas further asserts that Reid could say, “It was acceptable, during that time, to say bad things about gays,” and that she merely took advantage of that. I don’t wish to belabor this, or to pillory Thomas at length, because he is not only far more relaxed and open-minded than most of his “progressive” compatriots on gay issues generally — and, specific to Reid, he alone at least states that it is not, as Reid asserted in 2009, “intrinsic” for heterosexuals to believe that “homosexual sex is… well… gross” but, like racism, “societally-driven.” He also points out that the worst of Reid’s commentaries during this time lay in her assertion that gay men are intrinsically pedophiles and predators seeking out “impressionable teens.” (I’ll let pass for the moment the fact that most people in the English-speaking West have no notion that there is a vast difference between a pedophile and an ephebophile, as witness the ubiquitous assertion that Judge Roy Moore, prone to hitting on 17-year old girls, is a “pedophile.” Or, further, that there is an equally broad distinction to made between an alleged pedophile and a rapist.) Still, Reid’s “Miss Charlie” epithet for Crist is “funny” to Thomas. And again, it wouldn’t be, if he was gay… or even empathetic enough to place himself in a gay man’s shoes. On the other hand, he maintains that Reid’s “pedophile” comment was “ghastly”; Kyle Kulinski never mentioned her use of such wretched stereotypes, nor did Jordan Chariton, or even David Doel. Only Glenn Greenwald — naturally suspect, I suppose, because he is gay — expressed outrage about that.

Yet while Thomas is entirely correct in his observation that Obama “evolved” on same-sex marriage in 2012 the minute the polls ran in its favor (just as his putative successor did in 2016) he lets Reid’s viewers off the hook by asserting of Reid that “if this is your disposition, and if people watch you knowing this is your disposition,” then doing so presumes she isn’t lying to them. But why would we assume this? Dissembling is what a hack does.
Cenk Uygar (who, of course, is not a Millennial) in his 5 Dec. 2017 video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e81J44QlKA4 defends Reid’s outing of anti-gay, Republican politicians. But her “outing” of Crist — always presuming he is homosexual, which he still denies — is one thing; feminizing him and employing the rankest queer stereotypes in order to do so, is quite another. In common with so many of his compatriots in the progressive movement, Uygar too lacks not merely an empathic perspective on homosexuality but betrays as well a rather stunning inability to perceive what is directly in front of him. But then, what can one expect from a man who backed Sanders in the primaries only to succumb to Trump Terror in the general, peddling fear and exhorting us all to vote for the more evil of the two lessers in that race, a woman he had to know was not one whit less reactionary, or frightening, than her opponent.

The most Uygar can muster, when quoting Reid’s disingenuous claim that “At no time have I intentionally sought to demean or harm” is to chide her as “Over-zealous in prosecuting the case against Charlie Crist.” I hear now, in my mind’s audio theatre, Robert Klein, anatomizing Watergate and citing the ubiquitous use of the term over-zealous: “Or O-Z, as we call it in the profession.”

Uygar of course is, as usual, incapable of any such appreciation of irony.

Alas, even the otherwise estimable Gordon Dimmack, in his 25 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI6VTjJXoac, reminds his viewers that Reid’s blog posts, written “a decade ago… could be considered [emphasis mine] homophobic.” I cannot determine Dimmack’s age, but he appears to be in his late 20s or early 30s and thus a possible Millennial. In any case, this ordinarily keenly perceptive young man simply cannot see Reid’s utterly despicable snark for what it was. I find this as astonishing in its way as I did a local NPR news director’s frequent assertions on his broadcasts throughout the spring of 2016 that the North Carolina General Assembly’s notorious House Bill 2 contained provisions “some say are discriminatory” against transgendered citizens when the bill’s sole purpose was legalized discrimination, and everyone knew it.

Dimmack maxresdefault

Dimmack and I agree, however, when he avers that he is only surprised Reid didn’t claim the Russians hacked her old account; had The Wayback Machine not refuted her claims, I suspect she’d have gotten around to it in due course. And he does point out that Reid had already admitted writing previously cited statements and apologizing for having done so. Further, he absolutely nails her hypocrisy when he notes that Reid has not made similar comments about Crist since he switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party. He also cites her queer-baiting of celebrities such as Anderson Cooper and Tom Cruise in a manner that points up how obsessed she is, or was, with homosexuality, and correctly notes that alleged lefty “social warriors” like Reid only ever criticize those they don’t personally like… or who are in the “wrong” political party.

Dimmack and I agree, however, when he avers that he is only surprised Reid didn’t claim the Russians hacked her old account; had The Wayback Machine not refuted her claims, I suspect she’d have gotten around to it in due course. And he does point out that Reid had already admitted writing previously cited statements and apologizing for having done so. Further, he absolutely nails her hypocrisy when he notes that Reid has not made similar comments about Crist since he switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party. He also cites her queer-baiting of celebrities such as Anderson Cooper and Tom Cruise in a manner that points up how obsessed she is, or (to give her a wholly unmerited benefit of the doubt) has been, with homosexuality, and correctly notes that alleged lefty “social warriors” like Reid only ever criticize those they don’t personally like… or who are in the “wrong” political party.
Nor does An0maly, in his 28 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_F1CxY8oOoo, reassure.

While this weirdly iconoclastic Millennial performer quite properly cites Reid as “delusional” and exhibiting a “complete lack of self-awareness,” he can only offer a limp “I guess her blog posts were homophobic.” As with Kulinski, An0maly claims that he “support[s] the LGBT community,” and — also like Kulinski — admits that he made similar ugly remarks when he was a “young and dumb” 18. Reid, however, was not a teenager when she wrote those posts. She was an established figure at the Miami Herald, a self-proclaimed political expert, and knew damn well what she was doing: Appealing to what she perceived as the (nascent or explicit) bigotry of her readers.

An0maly-777x437
An0maly does, however, quite properly assert that Reid’s own citing of a remark she made in college to a gay male friend directly contradicts her “I can’t believe those words were written by me” justifications, and that her apology is negated by her denying she penned the very words she did in fact write. “They have no shame,” he bemoans, “they have no accountability”; he further calls out what he deems the “pandering and phoniness” of the pussy-hat apologists as “delusional activism.”

On the YouTube Channel Pop Trigger’s 1 May video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT5gyAkJMmo

meanwhile, the young (male) host Jason notes that Reid “had some blog posts from pretty much a decade ago that seemed kind of [emphasis mine] homophobic.” Once again we are confronted with a male Millennial “progressive,” this one presumably gay himself, who cannot perceive the evidence of his own eyes. No one in his or her right mind, giving Reid’s old posts even the most cursory of glances, could fail to see the militant viciousness of her remarks. “Kind of” homophobic? What would make them decidedly so? Saying “faggot”? After hearing this repeatedly, one strongly suspects the people commenting on these posts have not read them. They are responding purely to other commentaries. This gets to the root of what depresses one about social media generally, and YouTube commentators specifically: They don’t read. They merely react.

Concerning an item labeled, on Reid’s original blog, “Harriet Meyers and the Lesbian Hair Check,” Grace Baldridge, one of Jason’s female co-hosts, chimes in, “Okay, that’s fair.” The two then share a giggle. Grace, who is Lesbian, also thinks that “gay” as an epithet was acceptable, and doesn’t wish “to tear anyone down now” for their homophobic statements in the past. Again, we are talking about statements written a mere ten years ago. I won’t go so far as to label this young woman a self-hating Lesbian, but Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What does it take to get these kids to call a bigot a bigot? Actual blood on the woman’s hands?

Habibi maxresdefaultIt is with great relief, then, that we turn at last to Sahil Habibi, The Progressive Voice. On his video of 26 April he alone — significantly, the youngest-looking at least of all the Millennial male commentators cited here — calls Reid’s posts “homophobic” with no qualifier, ridiculing Reid’s claims of having been “hacked” in addition to her “disgusting homophobic past.”

Why is this young man seemingly alone in his ability to perceive the bleeding obvious?

 

I have always preferred the rank, explicit sexual bigotry of the right to the snickering public “acceptance” of parlor liberals like Joy Reid; at least we know who our enemies are. With Democrats — Sanders, Kucinich, Nina Turner and a select small group emphatically excepted — we never know.

Neither, it seems, do we really know about young “progressives.”

________________________________________

*It also, predictably, made the increasingly un-hinged Rachel Maddow gush like Old Faithful. But of course; these obscenely over-compensated types always protect their own… unless they’re on a rival network.


Text Copyright 2018 by Scott Ross

Articles concerning Joy A. Reid and which contain more of her posts from her defunct blog The Reid Report:

https://www.mediaite.com/online/exclusive-joy-reid-claims-newly-discovered-homophobic-posts-from-her-blog-were-fabricated/

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/business/media/joy-reid-homophobic-blog-posts.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2018/04/25/msnbcs-position-on-joy-reid-isnt-cutting-it/

https://theintercept.com/2018/04/24/msnbcs-joy-reid-claims-her-website-was-hacked-and-bigoted-anti-lgbt-content-added-a-bizarre-story-liberal-outlets-ignore/

https://twitter.com/Jamie_Maz/status/986674364979523597

Advertisements

The long audition: Fosse, Me, and Sam Wasson’s “Fosse”

Standard

By Scott Ross

“To be on the wire is life. The rest is waiting.” — Karl Walldenda, quoted in All That Jazz

(Warning: Memory ahead.)

Bob Fosse has been a touchstone in my life for exactly four decades now. That conscious connection was forged on my 13th birthday, in 1974. The night before, my parents took us to see a dinner theatre production of Cabaret, a show I’d fallen in love with via the Original Cast Recording, which I’d borrowed from the Olivia Raney Library in downtown Raleigh (gone now, alas, as is that dinner theatre.) The next day, a Saturday, my best friend Michael and I went to the movie, brought back for some reason nearly a year after its big Oscar ® win. (The soundtrack LP was another of my birthday presents that year, my mother not quite understanding the difference between it and a cast album.)

cabaret ST

Cabaret OBC 15515788

At the time, I was a sufficient musical theatre novice that I preferred the show to the movie; I missed the “book” songs the movie’s producer Cy Feuer, the director Bob Fosse and the scenarists Jay Presson Allen and Hugh Wheeler jettisoned from the score; I also missed the Lenya figure, and her Jewish suitor. (She’s there, but her role is significantly diminished, her dilemma assumed in the movie by the Marissa Berenson character, lifted from Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin follow-up The Last of Mr. Norris.) I didn’t know, not having yet discovered Isherwood’s books, or the details of his life, how much more closely Cabaret on film dovetailed with his original stories, and with his own biography. But I loved the way the movie was put together; was amused by its nonchalant approach to sexuality; excited by the editing and by the choreography of the cabaret numbers; enthralled by Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli — and, although I didn’t yet comprehend why, with Michael York’s Isherwoodesque physiognomy.

photograph_of_michael_york_as_brian_roberts_from_cabaret_available_in_4_sizes_framed_or_unframed_buy_now_at_starstills__03380

Michael York as Christopher Isherwood, more or less.

Isherwood 29422854

Isherwood around the time of his days in Berlin.

I didn’t quite realize, not being fully conversant as yet with the possibilities of irony in staging musicals (and not having discovered Stephen Sondheim; that would come in a year or two) that what Fosse had made was not a traditional musical but a dramatic movie with musical numbers. Only later would I fully understand that by keeping the song-and-dance — save the ersatz Nazi anthem “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” — within the confines of the Kit Kat Klub, the filmmaker was able to exploit his stars’ talents (and his own) while keeping the action grounded in the drastically crumbling reality of 1931 Berlin and to comment ironically, as had Harold Prince in his original concept for the stage show, but here in purely cinematic terms, on the story’s arc and the characters’ predicaments, erotic and otherwise. I would come to ruminate on this aspect of Fosse’s Cabaret in due course, as I realized who I was, how my feelings for Michael had altered, and that he had his own very personal reasons, not yet shared with me, for his own amusement over the movie’s homosexual implications.

Cabaret_Screw_Max_81206133_thumbnail

Brian: Oh — screw Maximilian!
Sally: I do.
Brian (after a shocked pause, smiles): So do I.

These less personal and more thematic revelations came to a head later, after seeing the movie again, on television in September of 1975. That infamous broadcast contained one of the most bizarre acts of censorship I’ve ever encountered, even to this day. I fully expected the movie’s many uses of the word “screw” (“Fuck” in the European release) would be axed, or over-dubbed. What I was not prepared for was that ABC, terrified of the moment in Cabaret that made explicit that Sally Bowles (Minnelli) and her erstwhile beau Brian Roberts (York) have both been sexually involved with Helmut Griem’s erotically ecumenical Maximilian, would simply drop the audio in the middle of the scene. At first, I assumed this sudden silence to be a technical glitch, but when the sound was restored immediately after that funny/shocking dialogue (Brian: Oh — screw Maximilian! / Sally: I do. / Brian [after a shocked pause, smiling]: So do I.) I had the uneasy feeling that something else was at play. And it was — the same Puritan impulse that would later greet Fosse’s Chicago, Dancin’ and All That Jazz: How dare he suggest that there was such a thing as sex in the world! Not merely, in George Carlin’s ironic phrase, “Man on top, get it over with quick” sex but transgressive, unusual, non-normative, non-procreative sex!

Dancin - Timothy Scott Valerie - Jean Miller. Cynthia Onrubia. Martha Swope

Timothy Scott in the Dancin’ first national tour, with Valerie-Jean Miller and Cynthia Onrubia. Photo by Martha Swope.

Flash-forward to December 1979 and my first trip to New York as a theatre-mad 18-year-old, seeing Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ at a matinee performance. Ann Reinking was out, as was her wont — although I intuited how exhausting the show must be, it was only later that I understood just how grueling that three-act marathon was for Fosse’s dancers — but the experience was transformative nonetheless. I was especially impressed by a brilliant young dancer who, coincidentally, shared two of my names; I simply could not take my eyes of Timothy Scott whenever he was on-stage. While he was, physically, definitely my “type” (or one of my types, anyway) it was his technique, his expertise, his energy and his sheer stage presence, especially in the “Big Noise from Winnetka” trio, that made him irresistible. (When I got home, I wrote him a fan letter; disappointingly, it went un-answered.) A trained jazz dancer, Scott seemed to me the perfect masculine embodiment of the Fosse style. And my own psyche was no less Art-and-Beauty orientated than Fosse’s, save that his concentration was on the female of the species, mine on the male.

Timothy Scott

Timothy Scott’s Playbill headshot.

Then, in the winter of 1980, All That Jazz. A movie that obsessed me to such a degree that, as stage manager of a little theatre production of Life with Father that season, my nightly exhortation to the troupe over the tannoy at the top of Act One was Joe Gideon’s somewhat shame-faced, “It’s showtime, folks!”

Scott by Rowell 1980 IMG_0003

Rowell Gormon, Life with Father‘s Reverend Dr. Lloyd, gave caricatures to the cast and crew as closing night gifts. In mine, he captured my Fosse phase perfectly.

That summer I staged, and performed in, a pair of dances for a local revue, one of them my memory, not entirely accurate, of Cabaret’s “Money, Money,” for myself and my friend Lisa. Discovering that Fosse, who did not enjoy the usual and requisite ballet training of his peers and lacking the terpsichorean vocabulary to express to his dancers precisely what he wanted from them, charted his ideas through the use of stick figures, was an encouragement. Although I was far less conversant with the nomenclature of dance than Fosse, I was able to work out my choreography (such as it was) that way, and did. There was enough enthusiasm on that stage to make up for my choreographic inadequacies, but what mattered most to me was creating an homage to one of my idols.

money

In retrospect, I realize that my interest in Fosse began much earlier than my seeing Cabaret, at age 11, with the 1972 telecast of his Liza with a Z, one of the entities that conferred on him a still-unchallenged Triple Crown as recipient of the three major, nicknamed, show-biz awards (Oscar®, Tony®, Emmy®) in a single year. I just didn’t, at that moment, know who he was. I got a much clearer sense of him the following summer, on seeing his movie debut, the heartbreaking Sweet Charity, on television.

Liza_With_Z_PCT31762


So, Bob Fosse: One of the handful of true American originals, and a repository of show-biz tropes that, yoked to what he saw as his own physical defects, became a style. Adored and, if not reviled, at least dismissed, in equal measure. Capable of astonishing on a regular basis, yet a simulacrum of his own limitations. Endlessly fascinating while, at one and the same moment, and in some elemental fashion, personally repellent.

Wasson Fosse 17415010

On that last point, I suppose Fosse joins a not so very select list; some of the creative artists whose work I most admire were, or are, problematic as people. As someone (sources vary) once noted, he who would eat sausages or respect the law would do well not to find out how either are made. The same holds true of admiration; best to maintain a distance, or risk discovering that one’s heroes possess feet of purest clay. That axiom presents a problem for those who, like me, are by nature intensely curious, particularly about the work they love and the people who make it. Although as a reader I am at best a sort of literary magpie, flitting from one shiny object to another, I am especially enamored of biography and what my best friend and I think of as “the backstage stuff.” Yet, do I dare find out too much about my idols?

Add this: The very nature of the human psyche and the human heart militates against complete understanding. How many of us fully comprehend ourselves, and our own motivations, let alone those of others? How far can empathy extend? How does even the most incisive, competent biographer make sense of what is, essentially, inexplicable? The best know they never can. Externals give clues, but clues only. And thanks to the various schools of psychology, and our own imperfect grasp of them, head-shrinking is now a game any number can play— and, alas, do. And the more noted the subject, the greater the impulse to analyze.

These personal, exhaustive (and, admittedly, exhausting) ruminations are occasioned by my having finished reading Sam Wasson’s fat biography Fosse (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.) Wasson’s monograph on Blake Edwards (the wonderfully titled A Splurch in the Kisser) held me, even at its most academically pretentious, and his little book on Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.) was often enchanting. And given my nearly lifelong fascination with Bob Fosse, the pull of the book was damn near irresistible.

And so I have emerged on the far side of Fosse even more depressed than usual.

If that is explicable due to my own chronic condition, coupled with its subject’s love affair with death, it is so only in part: I’ve long been conversant with that aspect of Fosse’s psychology. Indeed, as a more-than-somewhat obsessive aficionado of All That Jazz my first, uncensored thought when I heard, in the autumn of 1987, that Fosse had died was, Well, he finally got to fuck Angelique. Less than Bob Fosse’s own darkness, then, it was the sheer, almost unrelenting, piling up of incident that got to me; six-hundred pages’ worth of neurotic dissipation can do that to you.

bob-fosse

But is that due to Fosse — or to Wasson’s Fosse? When I read Kevin Boyd Grubb’s Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Works of Bob Fosse in 1990 I was certainly moved, but the principal emotion I felt afterward was exhilaration — the sense that Fosse’s best work, seen on film or experienced in the moment, mitigated his darkness, even his death. But in Fosse, that very work is itself buried under the relentlessness of detail. The book is not a poison-pen biography by any means. Yet what you carry with you is, not the indelible imagery the man left us but the overall, debilitating miasma of his life. Or, in any case, of the life Sam Wasson describes. In its way, Fosse is the literary equivalent of Star 80, the director’s 1983 meditation on the brief life and brutal death of Dorothy Stratten. The dread sets in early, and never abates.

The sense of unease begins with Wasson’s death-watch chapter titles, which open with “60 Years” and devolve from there; the last is “One Hour and Fifty-Three Minutes.” Any life can be measured in those terms, of course, and I suspect that no one would have appreciated those chapter headings more than Bob Fosse. They’re like those shock-cuts that recur in Star 80 and which so unnervingly portend a grisly finish that the viewer feels trapped in a hell too visceral to walk away from. This viewer did, anyway; the images, veiled and uncertain at first but attaining full and hideous definition by the end, still linger from my initial (and only) exposure 30 years ago. Although I didn’t care a great deal for Lenny, Star 80 is the one Fosse movie I simply cannot imagine ever sitting through again. The infamous open-heart surgery in All That Jazz was a jolly romp through springtime clover by comparison.

While Wasson sings the praises of Martin Gottfried’s Fosse biography All His Jazz and never once mentions Kevin Boyd Grubb in the text, his end-notes indicate that he has quoted from Razzle Dazzle extensively, if selectively. While it is true that Grubb’s book has been faulted for its errors, it at least had the virtue of having been written by an expert in dance, and not by a sexual neurotic: Gottfried, whose long and risibly suspect tendency to determine dread homosexual underpinnings in all things theatrical, and to oppose them rather hysterically, reached a kind of nadir in his review of Pippin which, notoriously, hailed Fosse’s staging as having returned choreography to a heterosexual norm at long, long last. The image one gets is of a Broadway theatre in which squads of screaming nellies, wrists limply a-flail, routinely invaded the stages of every musical, humping each other’s legs (and other body parts?) while Gottfried, aghast, watches, helpless and terrified.

Pippin chorus
Ben Vereen and the Players in Pippin.

Wasson too, despite his avowed adoration of movie musicals, seems curiously loathe to approach homosexuality in any direct manner. For a field — dance — which has long attracted young gay men, that’s a striking omission. Fosse’s bête noire Michael Bennett is noted in the book as Donna McKechnie’s one-time husband, and later as a notable loss to AIDS, but the leap from one to the other is entirely mental on the part of the reader. As is Wasson’s citing of Fosse’s jealousy over Ann Reinking’s relationship, whatever it was, with the dancer Charles Ward; Wasson tells us that other Fosse dancers assumed Ward was gay, but elides over that, never acknowledging as Grubb does that Ward was, for many of Fosse’s Broadway corps, their first friend and colleague to succumb to the virus.

dancin 26-1e041-riedel1-300x250

Fosse’s ambisexual corps in Dancin’.

Fosse was quoted (in a New York Times interview from the time of Pippin which Wasson ignores, and which Gottfried presumably never read) as — to use a certain recent Presidential term — evolving in his attitudes toward his gay dancers: “Always before if I found a male dancer I knew was homosexual, I would keep saying, no, you can’t do that, don’t be so minty there. This time, I used the kind of people they were to give the show individuality, and they were so happy about it. I think it helped the show.” In a book necessarily drenched in its subject’s sexuality and in his fascination with sex, this omission is telling.

I don’t mean to belabor the point; after all, Fosse’s heterosexuality is integral to his work, and to the dances he created that occasionally scandalized the prudes, much as Joe Gideon’s “Take Off with Us” routine in All That Jazz shocks his collaborators. But, again, the slow realization, by audiences as well as the characters on-screen in All That Jazz, that Roy Scheider’s Gideon has actually done it, that he is going to depict two men and two women dancing romantic and sexual pas de deux in a musical was, in 1979, one of those absolutely galvanizing movie moments, like the achingly almost-ménage à trois in Fosse’s Cabaret, that heralded not merely tense anticipation and a gradually released pleasure in those movies’ gay audiences, but a complete relaxation about erotic variation on the part of the filmmaker himself.

cabaret - menage

The sexy, brilliantly staged, and acted, invitation to a menage in Cabaret.

19861-takeoffwithusfosse

The mesmerizing male pas de deux in All That Jazz.

Which brings us rather neatly to the major disappointment of Fosse: While film-freak Wasson illuminates the making of Bob Fosse’s quartet of movies — all that “backstage stuff” — with admirable detail and scholarship, the finished products are not treated with the same consideration. This, from an author whose previous books exhibited a boundless enthusiasm for movies and a keen, if occasionally academicized, grasp of critique, is puzzling at best. Yes, Fosse is long already, but if that were the editorial concern I would note that the Houghton Mifflin typeface is generous, and could surely have been reduced to a fractionally smaller font. Overviews are sometimes dangerous, but in the case of a book like this, they’re almost de rigeur, especially as Wasson is too young to have seen Pippin or Chicago or Dancin’, or even Fosse’s Broadway swan-song, Big Deal, and is thus at a critical disadvantage in conveying his subject’s theatrical achievements. None of Fosse’s later shows, aside from a rather poor, scaled-down Pippin, was videotaped for posterity, even in the now-standard archival format; you’d either have to have been there or be the sort of writer John Anthony Gilvey proved in his superb Gower Champion biography Before the Parade Passes By, to reproduce the sensation of those historic dances by and for those who never got the chance to see them. But film is (at least for the moment) eternal, and each of Fosse’s quartet of movies is available for perusal and rife for commentary.

dancinorig460

Blane Savage, Ann Reinking, Charles Ward and Sandahl Bergman in Dancin’, photogrpahed by Martha Swope.

Wasson seems so intent on the shock value of ending Bob Fosse’s history, and his book, at the very moment of his death that nothing is said about his legacy in the 26 years since he left us. Surely, a word or two, if only in an epilogue, is due to what has been done with Fosse’s choreography, and his shows, subsequently: Say, the popular revue Fosse which, while preserving his choreography, also misinterpreted and diminished it. Or the phenomenally popular “stripped-down” Chicago revival, little more than staged concert but one that, nonetheless, proved the worth of the show decades after its chilly initial reception. Or the subsequent, rather facile and misguided (if massively popular) movie version, made by people (such as Craig Zadan) with impeccable backgrounds in theatre who nonetheless felt the need to “explain” why the movie had musical numbers. If you have to create a reason for the numbers in a musical, why are you making a musical at all?

Fosse is, despite these many cavils, a thoroughly engrossing book. Wasson’s many interviews with Fosse’s friends, lovers, colleagues and dancers give it an aspect of laudable completeness and verisimilitude. I daresay that few recent books on the theatre have had greater scope, and Wasson’s organization and arrangement of these disparate details is more than admirable. (Think how much he must have had to leave out!) He allows those who loved Bob Fosse, even as he exasperated them, full sway to convey their emotions, some of them remarkably fresh decades after the fact. He also gives Fosse’s detractors enough rope to hang themselves quite nicely: Hal Prince claiming Fosse ran his entire oeuvre off the energy of his, Prince’s, original staging of Cabaret; Stephen Sondheim observing that he never bought Fosse’s darkness as anything other than a pose, and judging that the man who turned his own, much-remarked upon, physical limitations into a style “saw the last 20 minutes of Follies” and made a career out of it. (What was Fosse doing, then, before 1966?)

It is, finally, the numbing piling-on of dissipation that is the chiefest aspect of Fosse, and the most dispiriting. Thesis biographies, like thesis plays, rarely get beyond a narrow point of view; the thesis is all. Thus: The endless sexual conquests that make Bob Fosse seem like a real-life version of the Dean Martin “Dino” character in Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s Kiss Me, Stupid, in danger of a headache if he doesn’t have sex with a different woman every single night of his life. The insistence, odd in a man whose love of and respect for women suggests a kind of nascent, if foot-scuffling, feminism, on his partners’ absolute erotic fealty to him even as he indulged himself satyrically… and even as he recognized the absurdity in himself. Yet the gentle, apologetic visionary of Shirley MacLaine’s memoirs, the driven soul whose genius could be ruthless and cruel even as he was begging everyone’s pardon for it (“One more time, please… Forgive me”) is in scant evidence here, as is the filmmaker whose apotheosis of style in the service of content, the magnificent Cabaret, won him a deserved place in movie history and whose self-lacerating All That Jazz stands as a model of staggeringly effective cutting. Instead, we get: The chain-smoking that reached such heights of madness that, during periods of intense working concentration Fosse often burned his own lips; the drinking; the drugs; the manic-depression. All of it doubtless real, and much of it contributing both to Fosse’s self-made myth and to his early demise… but much of it as well repetitious to the point of authorial obsession.

As an adolescent, allowed to perform in the appalling world of Chicago burlesque, Fosse was likely initiated into sex at an early age, and in circumstances so exceptionally ugly even he lacked the intestinal fortitude to depict them fully in All That Jazz. This may or may not account for his love/hate relationships with women, but it is undoubtedly horrid, and terribly sad, and may go a long way toward explaining his life-long struggles with suicidal depression. “In today’s world,” Fosse was quoted in the late ’70s, “everything seems like some sort of long audition.” For him, that call-back process may have had its central metaphor in the approach/avoidance of death, but that didn’t necessarily make his accomplishments deathish.

FilmMag1-746x1024

The first page of Bernard Drew’s 1979 American Film article on Fosse and All That Jazz.


 

If my response to Wasson’s book seems excessively personal, that’s because it is. Bob Fosse’s work has meant so much to me through the years that I feel compelled to defend him against what is, in the end, a biography more interested in the man’s personal flaws than his measurable achievement. I’m also aware that my veneration of Fosse is entirely subjective, and selfish; his gradual physical debilitation, as much as his death, deprived me of what I most wanted from him: More.

There is a great deal to admire about Fosse, but I wish the man whose best movies turned my head around and altered my world and whose self-indulgent, occasionally vulgar but more often exhilarating Dancin’ I count as one of the seminal theatrical experiences of my youth, had gotten a more sympathetic biographer than Sam Wasson. “Sympathetic” in the sense, not of condoning his subject’s excesses as a man and as an artist or adorning him in mindless hagiography, but in the wider meaning: As one who expresses an understanding of the art itself, and knows that when dealing with a creative person the work, in the final analysis, is what really matters.

Everything else is just marking time.

1Bob Fosse – All That Jazz

Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross

Of departed felines, former friends, and tinnitus

Standard

By Scott Ross

3217692

January, 1984. A quondam fellow player and uneasy friend — we met during rehearsals for the first southeastern production of Sweeney Todd, at St. Mary’s College in Raleigh in 1982 — is holding auditions for his second production of P.S. Your Cat is Dead. Victor’s persona is one I am never quite certain I really like, and while we share a great many interests in common (theatre, musicals, movies, men) and while he is capable of great kindness, I find him in many ways appallingly spoiled, strikingly closed-minded, overly theatrical and verging on the obnoxious if not actually tipping over and wallowing.

I had been flattered, a year or so before, to be asked by Victor to play the male role in Leonard Malfi’s odd one-act two-hander Birdbath for a course on directing he was taking at N.C. State, and which went well enough even though I neither cared for the play particularly nor enjoyed performing in it. I don’t recall his being an especially insightful director, but he was relaxed enough (for Victor) I also don’t remember any special tension during rehearsals. Still, I wasn’t eager to spend the requisite month and a half of weeknights in his company. In addition, I was going through an extremely rough patch in my own life, having recently been canned from a job and subsisting on a dispiriting diet of temp jobs, car-less and anxious about my future. I had also, after 11 years of occasional acting, grown vaguely dissatisfied with the avocation and simply did not relish the prospect of once again trodding them well-worn boards.

There was another reason for me to be wary: As a teenager I had read Kirkwood’s later novel, based on his play, and went on to read most of his books. While Cat, as a novel, strongly indicated a looming romance between its leading (male) characters, the bisexual burglar Vito and the seemingly heterosexual actor Jimmy Zoole, it’s the only one of Kirkwood’s fictions to embrace that possibility: In Some Kind of Hero, the single overt homosexual coupling is born of terror, and not repeated. In There Must Be a Pony, the central character’s sexuality is pretty much ignored. And in the dread Good Times, Bad Times, and despite the Separate Peace-like closeness between the two adolescent male protagonists, actual homosexuality is acknowledged only in attempted rape of one of them by an unhinged ephebophile. (And fuck you, WordPress Spell-checker; if I’d wanted to write, “pedophile,” I would have done so.) In American Grotesque, Kirkwood’s account of the questionable prosecution by Jim Garrison of Clay Shaw for the murder of JFK, the authorial “I” only gets near the sexual act in approved, heterosexual, circumstances, when — or so he would have us believe — he succumbs to one of New Orleans’ more persuasive, female, prostitutes. Something in Kirkwood seemed ashamed of his own sexuality, and when he revised Cat as a play, and despite the bisexual Vito’s desire for it, the author removed all inferences of something homoerotic occurring between Vito and Jimmy. So I had begun to distrust Kirkwood’s more-than-somewhat hypocritical prudery on the subject.

But to continue…

On the Sunday night of Victor’s Cat auditions, my best friend Mike and I made certain we were nowhere near the theatre. Would that we had gone somewhere other than my apartment. Algiers, possibly. ‘Round about nine, Victor called. As I was renting the upper floor of his elderly aunt’s home and had no telephone of my own, I couldn’t very well pretend I wasn’t there. Very few actors had shown up for read, he said, and would Mike and I pleasepleaseplease come down to the theatre and audition?

I demurred.

He begged.

We auditioned.

And were duly cast: Myself as Jimmy Zoole (the out-of-work actor whose girlfriend has just left him, on New Year’s Eve; who subdues the burglar who has broken into his home for the third time; who ties the hapless felon to the kitchen sink of his studio apartment; and whose eponymous feline is ailing at the veterinarian’s) and Mike as the new interest of Jimmy’s ex.

We were not exactly thrilled by the news.

Cast as Vito, the hapless house-breaker, was Victor’s friend Chuck Morton. I didn’t know Chuck and had never seen him perform, but he had played Jimmy in Victor’s previous production of the play and was now essaying (or is it “assaying”?) the other lead. That this endeavor was not going to be a garden-party was brought home to me on our first rehearsal. Victor chose to meet with Chuck and me solely, to discuss the play and the roles and what he wanted from this production. Since Jimmy and Vito are on-stage almost constantly — alone together, for the most part — this seemed eminently reasonable. Until, that is, Victor kicked off the proceedings by reading aloud to us a newspaper review of that earlier show, emphasizing every negative anent Chuck’s performance as Jimmy.

His rationale was that Chuck had been miscast; that he, Victor, had himself not conquered the problem; and that this was what he wished to avoid now.

I was appalled. I don’t care much for deliberate cruelty, and this seemed to me unconscionably cruel. Had Victor said these things to Chuck in private, that would have been a different matter. But exposing my co-star, whom I had just met, to a string of unflattering critical observations with me in the room was not a move calculated to win me over. I was deeply embarrassed for Chuck, and shamed for myself, sitting there listening to it.

It went downhill from there.

Victor’s penchant for indulging his short temper, a quality I did not care for in his personality, reached its nadir one night a week or so before we opened. We were rehearsing the moment, shortly to cost me dearly, when Jimmy discovers Vito’s handgun on the kitchen counter. He picks it up and, being an actor, plays with it: He aims the gun and presses the trigger. Click. Encouraged, he aims again. Click. A third time. Bang! The unexpected recoil puts him on his ass. I no longer recall whether Kirkwood wrote it this way in his script, but Victor blocked my actions as follows: First empty round, hold the gun out with one hand. Second empty round, aim it over my shoulder like an over-confident sharp shooter. And, for the “bang,” hold it in both hands and strike a pose out of some crime thriller. Simple enough, and reasonably clever. I went through the motions in what I thought was a fairly fluid series of movements. Wrong! Again. Wrong! Finally, Victor demanded, with rising inflections that indicated his annoyance at me, that I count to three for each pose.

Aloud.

Already frazzled, and liking my erstwhile friend less and less by the minute, I had what, for me, constituted a rare moment of public rebellion, no doubt fueled by mounting frustration on any number of fronts. I am normally easy with direction, and seldom show temperament in the theatre except when goaded by commands I either don’t understand, or to which I take strong exception. (I had a similar blow-up on Sweeney during the final dress. I had been trying, without success, throughout rehearsals to get the musical director to help me over that, for me, exceptionally high note on the lyric, “But in tiiiiime…” in “Not While I’m Around.” When I got to it, and faltered and he said, “Use your falsetto voice,” I instantly snapped, “I don’t have a goddamn falsetto voice!” Which, if you’ve never used one, is true enough.) But, in general, I maintain a placid temperament with the people with whom I work, and do not like it one bit when others fail to extend that basic courtesy to me in turn.

My reaction to Victor’s command, spoken with smugness that verged on a sneer, may have been somewhat childish, but I suddenly felt less like an actor than an automaton. I posed, pointed, and spoke, mechanically: “One, two, three.” Posed and pointed again: “One, two, three.” Again, dully: “One, two, three.” This precipitated a screaming fight, the memory of which I do not enjoy and which did credit to neither of us. When Victor remonstrated loudly and without the gloves, I shot back something on the order of, “If you want a robot, get one to replace me!” and stormed out of the hall.

I was quite seriously on the verge of throwing it up. I’d never quit a production before, no matter how miserable I may have been, but this was shaping up to be a major disaster. The less salutary features of Victor’s character were, as happens when a friendship is peaking and about to go into decline, dominating my apprehension of him: When one begins to fall out of love — and a close friendship is in its way very like a romance, without the eroticism — one is finally left only with what one dislikes about the loved one. And there was little about Victor I still liked, let alone loved. Somehow he talked me back into the rehearsal space, and we went on, albeit with very little energy or enthusiasm on my behalf.

As I’ve said, one of Victor’s least salient qualities was a penchant to over-react. More than once I’d been the recipient of an elaborately set-up presentation of some movie or other on laser disc at his parent’s house — although in his 30s, he was still living at home — until the day I finally sighed, “Victor, do you have to make a production out of everything?” The theatre was small, so Victor’s loud sighs from the audience when he was displeased were as audible as the actors on the stage. And, as I was wearing contact lenses at the time, I was also treated to his wildly emphatic body-language. On the final dress, when either Chuck or I — I no longer remember which — skipped a page or two of rather crucial (and complex) dialogue, Victor’s displeasure was as plain to me as my co-star. It was only through the intervention of one of his actor friends that he refrained from stopping the rehearsal cold and forcing us to go back; she, wisely, restrained him, reminding him that, once we opened and were performing for an audience, we would have to find our way back in real-time, flop-sweat and all.

At the final dress, Victor got his quiet vengeance. In reverse order of importance, the characters in P.S. Your Cat is Dead are as follows: The ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, the ex, and, sharing equal weight, Jimmy and Vito. Partly because Victor was enamored of the notion of my being seen typing at a desk (composing my new novel, presumably) as the lights came back up after the final fade and largely, I think, to get at me, I had in essence the first bow. The least, in other words, of four. (Chuck enjoyed the final bow, by himself.) Being assigned first bow is a humiliation I endured twice in my brief acting life, both as the final fruit of friendships hanging in tatters. It’s an insulting, deliberately demeaning thing to do to a performer — and, trust me, the actor knows he’s being humiliated.

But there was more horror yet. The worst, in fact, I’ve ever encountered on a stage, because its effects still dominate my life.

As Victor was producing Cat at a certain theatre in Raleigh, from which entity he’d rented the stage, we were given, as part of the deal, its usual property mistress, Maureen. (Her name has not been changed to protect the guilty.) I was no great fan of this woman, although she’d done me no harm… yet. What bothered me about her was that she allowed herself to be a living door-mat to, and all-purpose gopher and babysitter for, the theatre’s artistic director. He, who, for once, shall go nameless — all three of them — was (and is) an astounding megalomaniac, the classic big fish in the very small pond that was Raleigh theatre at that time, and (along with his then-wife, who admittedly was one of the area’s better actors) a fabled user of others. Maureen, then, could always be counted upon to drop everything in her own life and rush to take care of the pair’s spoiled, bratty young son. She seemed to have little identity outside the reflected glow of their somewhat dust-mottled limelight.

I mention all this for a reason. (Wait for it, wait for it!)

It was, then, Maureen’s job to load the handgun I would be using in the first act properly, with two empty chambers and one, strategically placed, stage blank. Now, I no longer remember which night during our two-weekend run this occurred, but I can vividly recall that, as I raised the gun over my shoulder and pulled the trigger, expecting the click, a mind-numbing explosion detonated next to my ear. I had the presence of mind, comprehensible to almost everyone who’s ever performed on a stage, to react in character, reversing my usual pratfall in favor of a drop forward. But the remainder of the act was experienced by me in a state close to shock — my ear throbbing, every noise on that stage perceived as if through a filter of lead.

This accident is surely forgivable, and would be… if accident it was. I’m not wholly persuaded of that fact. My reasons for what is admittedly a somewhat paranoid doubt are two-fold: a) I was at that time a theatre reviewer for a local weekly, and as such not beloved by many, and certainly not by [Blank-Blank-Blank]; and b) a few nights later, it happened again: The gun once more mis-loaded by Maureen… who was not, to my knowledge, ever notably incompetent or mistake-prone and who would do anything, anything at all, for [Blank-Blank-Blank].

Once, as Ian Fleming observed, may be happenstance; twice, in this instance, omits coincidence and heads, rather pointedly, straight to what Fleming referred to as “enemy action.”

I didn’t know, at the time, just how much damage Maureen’s little “mistakes” had done, to my hearing and to my equilibrium. My balance has never been what it was before, and I am the unhappy recipient of an increasingly maddening case of tinnitus: What is, most euphemistically, often referred to as “a ringing in the ears” is in fact a chronic affliction I wouldn’t wish on Maureen herself. Barbra Streisand, who also suffers from tinnitus, once summed it up by saying she “can’t hear the silence.” You never do. Ever. And as you age (or as I age, anyway) the volume increases exponentially. What seemed to affect a single inner-ear only gradually takes over both. There has not been a moment of any day in the past three decades when I could, or can, in that eloquent phrase of Streisand’s, hear silence.

The sound of that high-pitched, unvarying static, day and night, for 30 years creates a layer of unexpected tension which, in one already afflicted by chronic anxiety to accompany his major depression, is sometimes nearly unbearable. I brought up Cat once, on Facebook, and both Mike and Chuck remarked that they never, or seldom, think about that experience. They’re exceedingly lucky. I can’t go a single day without being reminded.

Lest this little memoir suggest that this production was a complete loss, I should mention two, very pleasant, outgrowths of the process. The first was getting to know Chuck; he’d known Victor long enough, and his own persona is relaxed enough, that he was able to psychically roll his eyes over our mutual friend’s more outrageous demonstrations. Victor’s aged mother was coping with cancer the entire time I knew her son; sadly, she died while we were in rehearsal. Although Chuck grieved for his loss, as I did, Victor’s slightly melodramatic swoonings led Chuck to remark, after he’d left the room, “It must be tough to be orphaned at 33.”

The second was getting to write, with Chuck, a song for the production. I no longer recall whose idea this was, or why it was deemed necessary, but as a person for whom music is, despite my near illiteracy, an absolute essential and whose passion for lyrics, and lyricists, is nearly boundless, I leapt into this unexpected collaboration with great joy. Particularly since Chuck, who is musical in the very best sense, composed a lovely, lilting melody for my words. We set the lyric together, Chuck suggesting revisions, me re-working phrases, him tweaking the notes. We ended up with something of which I was almost inordinately proud. I also had the great pleasure of performing the vocal on tape, to Chuck’s accompaniment, for the first act opening.

I tried, in the chorus-less lyric, to capture Jimmy’s loneliness, his budding relationship to Vito and the unexpected meeting of two disparate lives, and some quality of Jimmy’s own, questing mind. (And, although I likely didn’t recognize the fact then, my own.)
How are you feeling?
How is your life?
Is it appealing,
Or reeling with trouble and strife?

Are you acting out your fantasies,
Or waiting all night by the ‘phone?
Are you planning to join the party,
Or pretend you can party alone?

Are you charting out new horizons,
Or sailing without direction?
Are you looking for someone to love,
Or afraid to make a connection?

If you have more questions than answers,
Someone new can make you believe
No matter what time of year it is,
With two,
It’s true
It can be New Year’s Eve…

Although I’m still pleased by the structure, sans chorus or refrain, the lines of each verse until the very last ending in a question-mark, I’m now bothered by a couple of things in that lyric. I loathe the use of “party” as a verb, for one thing. (“Pretend you’re a party alone” would be better.) The “phone” and “alone” rhyme is trite. And “trouble and strife” is a ready-made cliché, too overused to be of value.  Perhaps “reeling and troubled with strife” might take the curse off it? Still… while the shade of Johnny Mercer is hardly wailing with envy, the rest of the lyric seems all right to me. And anyway, if you start revising the work of your 23-year old self and don’t know where to stop, you never will.

The music, however, far outshone those words; it’s plangent and quietly bittersweet, and it’s played on my mental jukebox with fair frequency for nearly 30 years.  (Chuck, who plays with the band Bellflower, tells me that, “occasionally they let me sing a lead and sneak in one of my songs,” of which “New Year’s Eve” is one. I asked only that he give me a chance to revise the lyric before he does so again. It’ll never be a classic set of verses, but I do have a few ideas to at least make it a bit less cringe-worthy.)

I did not see Victor for quite some time, after Cat. When we ran into each other one night after a play, he made a point of apologizing to me for his behavior. Likely I did as well, for my own. But the friendship was long-dead by then. Whenever I have expressed to another person a concern that some course of action (doing a play, living together) would risk ending a relationship, I’ve usually been proven right — to my cost, and with absolutely no sense of satisfaction that the outcome was precisely as I suggested was possible. In the case of Cat, my inability to remain firm in the face of my own apprehensions, cost me a hell of a lot more than a friend.

Pass the silver ear-trumpet, Eliot.

________________________________________

Post-Script

I passed the foregoing to Chuck, who kindly corrected a couple of my errors, and shared his observations. I think, at the risk of coming off a touch self-serving, adding his insightful and beautifully expressed words is instructive. If nothing else, they prove that his heart is kinder than mine.

Chuck writes: Wow. These memories are so vivid for you, Scott, whereas I had forgotten (or repressed) many of them years ago. There was so much else to let go of where Victor was concerned that I have come to think of the two productions I did with him as only the most public of it. Victor was on a journey of his very own that had little to do with reality, and more to do with his perceptions of himself and the world. Being theatrical was all Victor had; it was his entire identity. He was never able to hold a job, and it was thanks only to his many repeated inheritances from an assortment of wealthy relatives that he lived so very well.

Victor had no monetary limitations, so he never did have to acknowledge the real world. The theater was his every dream, but it rejected him cruelly. Despite degrees in theater and directing from some of the finest universities on the planet, he proved to have no talent for any of it. It was a great sorrow to him. I saw him perform several times, and struggled to say kind words after. It was sad to watch a man’s only dream crash and burn.

I stayed in touch with Victor for many years, although our relationship suffered often from Victor’s excesses. I remember a poorly thought out trip to New York, where I burned through my money for the week in the first day trying to keep up with Victor’s frenzied spending at bars and expensive restaurants. I remember a very awkward dinner party at his house where drugs played a role in a disastrous evening. I remember many times running into Victor at area bars and clubs, and tiring of hearing the same stories shouted in my ear time after time. “I just returned from New York where I saw the most FABULOUS play.”

[Personal Note the First: I can attest to the absolute veracity of that statement. It’s Victor to the very “t” in the middle of his name.]

Still, although Victor lived with his father in the same house until his father’s death a few years ago and contributed nothing of value to my life or anyone else’s, you just had to love the guy. It was almost as if his faults were his most endearing characteristic. The stories I could tell – the ’67 Firebird driven drunkenly through the JC Penney’s all the way from sporting goods to women’s wear, the many drunken scenes at area gay bars, and a bunch of loud lunch dates at upscale restaurants all over town (although never the same one twice).

After Victor’s father died Victor was placed in a nursing home where as far as I know he lives today. He cannot move, nor is he connected to the here and now in any way. He has been bedridden with some unknown malady for about ten years now, his infinite money going to keep him alive in a hospital bed with tubes and apparatus. I haven’t been to visit him there in a couple of years, for which I feel somewhat guilty. It is hard not to love a friend who so clearly loved me […]

One redeeming characteristic Victor always had was that he at least meant well. Small consolation for the actual harm he frequently caused.

The production you speak of was the last time I attempted acting. I only dabbled with it for a year or two, and two productions with Victor were enough to convince me to leave it alone. Yes, the production we shared was by every definition a disaster. Even still, I remember it fondly as one of my greatest adventures.

The song we wrote together is the first I ever wrote in collaboration, recorded, and performed in public. I thought it was a good song, and yes I still dust it off and play it once in a while.

The best thing to come from this awful production however is that I came to know Scott Ross. For that reason alone it was worth doing.

[Personal Note the Second: I hope I conveyed, above, my mutual feelings anent Chuck. I certainly meant to.]

________________________________________

I don’t know why I retain such vivid memories of things and places and people and events, when usually I can’t recall without prompting what I did yesterday afternoon. Of course, memory itself is suspect, as I now gather that what we think we remember is often our memory of remembering… which makes rather a hash of almost every memoir ever written, or even any memory we have. (Or think we have?) Am I remembering what actually happened, or did it not happen at all, or did it happen entirely differently than I remember? When others say they have no memory of events we’ve shared, I now start questioning myself: Did private emotions heighten the sense of things for me in a way that alters reality itself in the recall? Or did I just retain a sharper mental image of what happened, for reasons having to do perhaps more with my emotional states, and my own obsessions?

Is, as the King of Siam would say, a puzzlement.
Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

Standard

Note: This was written in 2016. It’ll be (incredibly, to me) 49 years this summer.

By Scott Ross

Forty-seven years ago, on the morning of 22 June 1969, my family was living in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. It was a lovely summer morning, pleasant and dry, and as we didn’t have a subscription to the Sunday Columbus Dispatch, someone had always on that day of the week to walk down to the little general store nearby and pick up a copy of the paper. It was either my turn, or I volunteered, I no longer recall. After I paid for the newspaper, I walked back home, looking at the front page. The banner headline said that Judy Garland had died, at 47.

I was a very naïve child, in many ways. In part, I suspect, because I seldom voiced my inner thoughts, and therefore seldom had my misconceptions corrected. (You get verbally slapped down enough times, you learn to keep things to yourself.) Example: For several years during early childhood I was convinced that the people we saw on television lived inside the box, and somehow magically sprang into action when we turned on the set. The only thing I knew of Judy Garland, at that time, was that she was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, which we watched every Easter. And while I no longer believed that people took up residence inside our black-and-white(!) Sylvania television console, I must still have maintained some notion that film froze the people on it, or that movies were, somehow, live. So Judy Garland’s age really puzzled me. How could that young girl be 47 years old? She looked only a bit older than my sister. And 47 — why, that was 12 years older than my father!

I think of that walk back home every year at this time. Sheltered in the Ohio midlands, in a place that was something between a large town and a small city, I had little idea what was going on in the outside world. (Mt. Vernon is one of my lost Edens; if it was a cocoon it was a cocoon I had been happy to nestle inside.) And that summer, a great deal was going to go on, very soon, in America at least. I certainly had only the vaguest notion, despite odd stirrings within my own self for years, what a homosexual was, and wouldn’t have understood what was about to occur in a place called Greenwich Village. Whether or not grief over Judy Garland’s death had anything at all to do with the furious reactions at Stonewall — the playwright Doric Wilson thought it hadn’t, and he was there — the almost umbilical connection between “Miss Show Business” and many of her gay male fans was very real, and something I would come to understand quite well, some six or seven years later.

Garland obit

When I shared the following dialogue from my play A Liberal Education on Facebook Doric, who has since died, gently set me straight (so to speak) on the tempting Garland connection. When I thanked him and said I would consider revising the scene, he replied that I shouldn’t change a word. I loved him for that. We never met in the flesh, but I miss him. He was a wonderful writer (his play on Stonewall, Street Theatre, should be required reading for every gay boy and girl), a kind man, and a living link to that moment that altered so much, for so many.

Anyway, here’s the dialogue in question:

NICK: David, tell them your theory.

JO: Oh, goodie—theorizing.

DAVID: Well, we were talking—on the way over—about the differences in gay behavior.

JO: There are differences?

DAVID: Not for nothing, sweetie, but some men are gay and some are—
(He stands and throws his arms up and out in a “v”)
gay!

JO: Thanks for the clarification.

NICK: I mean, you take me. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to swish—

DAVID: He tried once. At a New Year’s Eve party? Pathetic.

JO: (Singing) I can’t camp—
(SHEREE joins in)
—don’t ask me.

DAVID: Whereas I might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign. Anyway. I was thinking, about Stonewall. And as far as I can gather, that little shin-dig was thrown by a whole lotta pissed-off drag queens and effeminate Hispanic boys and oh-so-butch ladies—

NICK: Drag queens and nellies and dykes—

JO: Oh, my!

DAVID: Exactly. Has anyone ever made the connection that, the week those girls said, “Get over it, Miss Cop,” Our Lady of the Rainbow had just doffed her ruby slippers for the last time?

NICK: Isn’t it funny to think that Judy Garland just might be the unofficial mother of the whole modern gay rights movement?

SHEREE: Hysterical. Does that make Liza Minnelli the step-mother?

JO: Please.

NICK: You have to admit, if you take anger, frustration and high temperatures and compound them with grief, you’ve got one very volatile combination.

DAVID: So, the next time some slab of overfed gay beef gives me shit for camping, I’m just going to sing him a few bars of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.”

Text copyright 2016, by Scott Ross

Why CAN’T Johnny (and Janie) Write… STILL?

Standard

Note: A couple of nights ago I saw a chilling bit of video in which high school students confess they know nothing about American civics. That’s frightening enough. To add a little frisson of horror, one of them pronounced the word “Senate” as Senay.” Draw your own conclusions.

By Scott Ross

The notion, idealistic if not indeed romantic, that education (or at least, access to it) implied literacy was snuffed out in me at 24. During my visit to a very ivy college in Vermont, and picking up a copy of the campus paper, I was appalled by the sub-literacy of the reporters. My subsequent (and brief) tenure as a student at Middlebury rammed home the realization that even being the wealthiest of scions, and graduates of elite Eastern prep schools, did not guarantee literacy. My Freshman Writing professor was even driven, late in the semester, to spend an entire class period going over what I considered the basic, fundamental grammatical elements of composition. Although I had been making freelance money as a published writer for some time, I was not rendered smug by this revelation, that the tony graduates of even tonier Establishment schools, enrolled at a more or less exclusive secondary institution, simply could not write their way out of the proverbial wet paper bag. Could not cobble together the most elemental components of a coherent, thoughtful sentence (let alone paragraph.) Could not write, as our British cousins say, for toffee.

I’m not referring here to writing which is trite, or insipid, in content. I mean the sheer inability by the writer to structure a basic phrase that reads with fluidity and sense. And what really disturbs me is that the careless habits of my own epoch seem to replicate, to expand, to become ever more jaw-droppingly insensate with each each succeeding generation. Not only does there seem no immediate remedy, there seems no hope.

When listening to music at work I am subject to my PC’s Windows Media player. Since most of the discs I bring to the office from my personal collection are film soundtracks, I often have recourse to search the Microsoft “Find album information” application and, just as often, to enter the track listings myself. (Bear with me; I promise this digression has a point.) As I bring only the CD itself to work with me and not the jewel box and inserts, I am usually unable to reconstruct the titles without doing a Google search for the disc, often a specialty-house, limited edition recording. This morning, for instance, I was looking for the titles that make up Jerry Fielding’s score for the bad remake of The Big Sleep. One source listed them thus:

1. Main Title 3:29
2 Meet General Sternwood / Chasing Smut 2:49
3 Marlowe Tails Geiger / The Head Shot 4:27
4 Blood Stains / Owen Taylor / Follow That Van 3:04
5 First Mars, Then Brody / Brody’s Story 2:00
6 Brody Takes A Bullet / Where Is It / Tailing Marlowe 2:22
7 Shadow On The Wall 0:51
8 Late Night 0:45
9 The Man With The Gray Car / Here’s To The Truth, Harry 1:47
10 Agnes’ Story / Hunts Garage / Just Fix The Flats 2:27
11 Cuffs And Guns / The End Of Canino 3:12
12 The Good Guy Never Gets The Girl / Marlowe To Sternwood 0:53
13 The Truth 1:28
14 Blanks / The Last Of Rusty Regan 2:24
15 End Title

The results for Fielding’s The Nightcomers were even worse:

1 1M1 Main Title 2:45
2 1M2 The Smoking Frog 2:08
3 2M2 Bedtime At Blye House 3:03
4 3M1 New Clothes For Quint 0:36
5 3M2 The Children’s Hour 1:22
6 3M3 Pas De Deux 1:26
7 3M4A Like A Chicken On A Spit 0:57
8 4M1 All That Pain 0:59
9 5M1/6M1 Summer Rowing 2:04
10 6M2 Quint Has A Kite 1:01
11 6M3 Act Two Prelude: Myles In The Air 0:55
12 6M4 Upside Down Turtle 1:36
13 7M1 An Arrow For Mrs. Grose 0:32
14 7M2 Flora And Miss Jessel 1:12
15 7M4 Tea In The Tree 1:02
16 7M5 The Flower Bath 2:22
17 8M1 Pig Sty 1:38
18 9M1 Moving Day 0:55
19 9M2 The Big Swim 3:32
20 9M4/10M1 Through The Looking Glass 2:42
21 10M2 Burning Dolls 2:07
22 10M3/10M4 Exit Peter Quint, Enter The New Governess; Recapitulation And Postlude 2:01

Do you notice anything?

If you don’t, I’m sorry to tell you that you, my dear, are part of the problem.

So is the WordPress spelling checker, which doesn’t notice the plethora of needless, and utterly mind-numbing, capitalizations of connective and modifying words that any reasonably well educated user of English understands implicitly are, even in a title, written in the lower case.  “Where Is It”: Aside from having no punctuation mark, the two upper case “I”s are unnecessary. Ditto the capital “O” in the “on” and “T” in the “the” of “Shadow On The Wall”… Both “with” and “the” in the first phrase and “to” and “the” in the second in “The Man With The Gray Car / Here’s To The Truth, Harry.” The “the” in “Just Fix The Flats.” The “and” and the “of” in “Cuffs And Guns / The End Of Canino”… and on and on and on throughout both sets of (or should I say “Both Sets Of”?) track listings. After scanning the first few such barbarisms the eye begins to glaze, the mind to becloud. Even song, or music cue, titles cannot be capitalized willy-nilly and without recourse to proper usage. Somewhere, I like to think, the shade of the very intelligent Jerry Fielding is shaking his head in disgust.

Yet a worse thought obtrudes: Was the composer himself responsible for this? Since a) these things show up regularly, on every music website, regardless of the composer whose work is listed; and that b) one never used to see these errors on the old soundtrack LPs,  I rather think Fielding — and Bernstein, and North, and Williams, and Barry et al. — are off the hook.

Never mind for the moment that, on the evidence of one’s emails and even a casual glance at social media commentary, spelling is at an all-time nadir and correct punctuation has gone the way of the dodo even in the so-called papers of record… particularly regarding the possessive; even the New York Times prints “CD’s” when what surely is meant is “CDs.” Unless the unspecified item in question belongs to Charles Dance, Cecil DeMille or (who knows?) Claude Dukenfield. For these and other careless, mindless errors I now see no remedy short of enforced mass re-education, compulsory brain-washing or, perhaps, in the most intractable cases, cerebral surgery. But whence this weird, manic, almost obsessive, adherence to (if I may be permitted the use of a phrase most often seen in an economic context) over-capitalization? Is it total ignorance? Guess-work? Or worse, the complete conviction of the “writer” that he or she is on the side of the linguistic angels? Surely it didn’t come from the physical evidence around them; even the splashiest picture-storybooks for children usually get this right. Or at least, they did when I was a child.

Look: I am not the finest speller in the world. I routinely bottomed out of spelling bees in grammar school, and no innovation of modern technology has been of greater boon to me than SpellCheck. But if, as and when I am unsure of myself, I seek the answer. When I was in fourth grade, a representative of Funk & Wagnalls (infamous to us then as the slightly suggestive punchline of a wonky Dick Martin running-gag on Laugh-In) visited our class. This was during the Punic Age, when such sops to naked capitalism in the public schools raised no eyebrows (they should have) and were appallingly routine. In any case, and although I’ve long since divested myself of the physical talisman itself, I’ve never forgotten the little pin-back buttons the agent passed out. They read, “We never guess. We look it [not “It”] up.” F&W were appealing to us, not merely to get our parents exercised about investing in a pricey set of encyclopedias; the publisher was, however market-driven its reasons, inveigling us to check our sources. To be better than we were. The motto of my state (Esse quam vederi: “To be, rather than to seem”) builds, in a philosophical manner, on this. That of my eventual college, Hampshire, goes further: Non satis scirie. “To know is not enough.” To think you know, and to act on that misapprehension, is altogether too much, as well as too little. How much human misery might have been avoided else? Not that anyone but cranks such as myself are made miserable by poor (or non-existent) grammar. But if an error is indulged in long enough, it lodges in the popular lexicon, and becomes permanent.

That’s One Hell Of A Horror For Me To Contemplate.

screen-shot-2013-01-08-at-1-00-15-pm


Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross

A good balance: Andre Previn at 85

Standard

Note: This was written in 2014. Previn is 89 now.

By Scott Ross

previn_ung

Of his early days scoring music for the movies Andre Previn once noted, “When I composed, I heard my music played by the orchestra within days of completion of the score. No master at a conservatory, no matter how revered, can teach as much by verbal criticism as can a cold and analytical hearing of one’s own music being played. I would mentally tick the results as they came at me: that was pretty good, you can use that device again, that was awful, too thick, that mixture makes the woodwinds disappear, that’s a good balance, and so on.” When one reads that statement, and remembers that Previn began arranging for MGM at 16 (and composing at 17) some indication of his proficiency, beyond the tender year of his initiation and the innate talent he must have shown the brass at the Musical Department, emerges.  For a quick study, as young Andre quite obviously was, those instant analyses were clearly more than merely formative. One need only look glancingly at the great innovators of the scoring game — Waxman, Herrmann, Rózsa, Raksin, North — to comprehend how invaluable that immediate resource must be to increased facility and, when applied with genius, to artistic advance.

previn yourfavoritexmas5_firestone720 Previn André+Previn+-+My+Fair+Lady+-+Purple+vinyl+-+LP+RECORD-483443

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previn’s is one of those names I learned early, from the back of the My Fair Lady soundtrack LP (and the front of the Firestone Julie Andrews Christmas album) in my parents’ record collection. It was only later that I was introduced to his work as a composer, conductor and — most joyously — a jazz pianist and bandleader. When a man has been an integral component of your musical life for almost as long as you’ve been alive, you may naturally be somewhat defensive about him. As with his contemporaries, the Sherman Brothers (at their high school graduation Previn played a duet with fellow student Richard M.) I bristle at criticism directed toward Sir Andre’s musicianship. Gary Giddins, one of our finest contemporary critics, not merely of jazz, with which he made his name, but of movies, is absolutely vicious on the subject of Previn (as he also is on Quincy Jones), and for reasons I cannot wrap my brain around; his comments on Duke Ellington’s score for Anatomy of a Murder on the Criterion edition drip with notably poisonous contempt for Previn’s similar endeavors. Why?

But then, jazz writers tend themselves toward more than a little defensiveness on the subject of composition. Hence the dubious, and more than slightly hysterical, assertion by so many jazz aficionados that Ellington is the greatest of all American composers, a claim that falls apart on the evidence. A great songwriter, surely (although the contributions of Billy Strayhorn to Ellington’s oeuvre cannot be overstated) and an interesting composer of some fine movie and ballet scores (Anatomy, The River) but hardly on a par with, say, Gershwin, in symphonic endeavor. For that matter, Ellington’s individual songs are no better than those of Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Frank Loesser — which is to say, of the highest quality but hardly beyond it. And where Arlen and Porter bestow joy on their listeners, Ellington inspires admiration. Not exactly the same thing.

Previn Paint_your_wagon_PMS1001

It is true that Previn’s Broadway and movie musical scores are often less interesting than those of his contemporaries, but that may stem to a degree in his working so often either with lyricists who were not operating at their highest (as with Comden and Green on It’s Always Fair Weather) or those who were floundering artistically and whose projects with Previn were not, shall we say with kindness, their finest (Alan Jay Lerner on just about everything after the Broadway Camelot.) Yet even within these projects are musical gems that glitter, however feeble their light. I’m thinking especially of items like “Gold Fever” and “A Million Miles Away Behind the Door” in the bloated but entertaining 1969 movie of Paint Your Wagon, the former performed with splendidly laconic musicality by Clint Eastwood, the latter containing what may be my very favorite lyric (“There’s so much space between / The waiting heart, and whispered word…”) There were occasional glories (the Previn/Johnny Mercer score for the London Good Companions, if not the show itself, and Previn’s superb collaboration with Tom Stoppard, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour) and, here and there, the odd success d’estime (the needless and polarizing opera of A Streetcar Named Desire.) It is, then, not for his theatre compositions that Sir Andre will be best recalled.

Previn KL_GantryCov72

Previn’s movie work is far more varied and successful.* He wrote a fine jazz-based score for Two for the Seesaw, a spectacular one for The Subterraneans, and there is real, disturbing power in some of the others: The propulsive, whirling, dangerous main title theme for Bad Day at Black Rock; the elegiac dissonance of Long Day’s Journey into Night; the soured waltzes (precursor to Jerry Goldsmith’s similar writing on The Boys from Brazil) and ominous percussion of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; the uneasy ecclesiasticism of Elmer Gantry.

Previn KL_FortCookCov72

Previn Irma_La_Douce_UAL4109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Previn’s comedy scores are even better, particularly those he arranged for Billy Wilder. He composed a pleasing waltz and juggled Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” into and around the short score for One, Two, Three; adapted part of the Gershwin trunk for the reviled but surprisingly plangent Kiss Me, Stupid; wove Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come To” into an ironic statement for, and added another comic waltz to, The Fortune Cookie. For Irma La Douce, Previn both adapted Marguerite Monnot’s original stage melodies and composed his own, as it were, contrapuntal score. It’s a tribute to his gifts as an arranger that you can’t tell the difference between his work and Monnot’s unless you know the London or Broadway (or original French) Irma. The love theme Previn wrote for Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine is among the most achingly beautiful ever composed for a movie romance, comic or dramatic.

previn-and-russ-freeman

previn MFL 2010102416032132f

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previn’s great (pace Mr. Giddins) jazz legacy is his series of small-combo recordings, often with Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne, many of which concentrated on a single Broadway or Hollywood musical (Pal Joey, My Fair Lady, Bells are Ringing, Li’l Abner, Gigi, Camelot) or a specific composer (Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke.) As often as not, however, these glittering, exquisitely tempered albums feature Previn’s own sprightly, infectiously melodic compositions, rendered either in piano solo (or, as in his collaboration with Russ Freeman, duo) or with bass and drum. (Latterly, Previn’s collaborators have included Ray Brown, Joe Pass and even Itzhak Perlman.) Since their debuts, these superb sessions have been non-pariel. To this day only Terry Trotter’s series of Sondheim scores arranged for trio on Varèse Sarabande have come close to the lilting, gentle, playful originality of the “show” discs produced by Previn & Co.

Previn, whose conducting for movies goes back to the late 1940s, took on his first symphonic assignment in 1967 (the Houston Symphony) and went on to lead the LSO, the Pittsburgh, the Royal Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Phil, not always to the satisfaction of all. Indeed, it is, oddly, as an orchestral conductor that Sir Andre has interested, and satisfied, himself the most, and me the least — a surprise considering how efficacious his Hollywood work with the baton had been. His “classical” recordings often eschew effective tempi, either rushing or worse, elongating to the point of acute boredom. His recording of Peter and the Wolf, which he also narrates, is charming, in part because of that lovely, soft Mid-Atlantic accent of his.† But in general he neither inspires nor excites on the podium as the greatest conductors routinely have, and do.

Previn André+Previn+-+Inside+Daisy+Clover+Soundtrack+-+LP+RECORD-476586

Similarly, some of his creative decisions have been decidedly perverse. His collaboration with his then-wife Dory (née Langdon) on the songs for Inside Daisy Clover would make sense only had the filmmakers retained the contemporary backdrop of Gavin Lambert’s splendid original novel; since they set it instead in the 1930s, the Previn songs, such as the anthemic “You’re Gonna Hear from Me,” otherwise very fine in themselves, sound no more like they were written during the Warren-Dubin Depression era than Jay-Z’s raps for the recent The Great Gatsby actually reflect the 1920s.previn - no minor chords bk2785

As a raconteur and (somewhat reluctant) Hollywood survivor, Previn hit a personal high-water mark with his delicious memoir No Minor Chords, in which a few of his colleagues, past and contemporary, come in for some wickedly appropriate drubbing. Previn’s memories also make good copy for other biographers: His having to quite literally lock Alan Lerner in an upstairs office in order to get a single couplet out of that notoriously recalcitrant wordsmith, for example, or his reaction to Lerner and Leonard Bernstein’s wonderfully scored but theatrically appalling White House musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Watching with glazed eyes as a silhouette of Lincoln ominously crosses behind an upstage scrim at the end of Act One, Previn recalls thinking, “I’m going mad.” That may be the single finest epithet I’ve ever heard for that rather historic Broadway bomb.††

Andre Previn turned 85 yesterday. Thank you, Maestro, for the pleasure you’ve given me nearly all my life. On balance, your own balance has been very good indeed.

________________________________

*Previn was nominated for some 13 Academy Awards® for scoring and composition, and won four — all for adaptation: Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi; the same Porgy & Bess whose existing prints the Gershwin heirs are currently buying up and destroying; Irma La Douce; and My Fair Lady.

†Previn was born in Berlin, where he lived with his parents to the age of 10 before, as with so many assimilated German and Austrian Jews of that time, fleeing to America.

††That’s not a condemnation of the show’s score, which is full of glories. But as Stephen Sondheim once noted of his former West Side Story collaborator, Bernstein always aimed big, making his successes even bigger; subsequently he would not have, in Sondheim’s words, “a mini, mingy failure; he would have a big, pretentious failure.”*Previn was nominated for some 13 Academy Awards® for scoring and composition, and won four — all for adaptation: Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi; the same Porgy & Bess, all of whose existing prints the Gershwin heirs are currently buying up and destroying; Irma; and My Fair Lady.


Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross

No there there, Or: Vacuum-packed literary criticism

Standard

By Scott Ross

My current reading is Kevin Baker’s Dreamland, a pastiche that posits the way various lives, real and imagined, intersect in New York City during the early years of the 20th century. I picked up this fat paperback at my favorite second-hand bookshop after a cursory glance at the back cover indicated it was comparable to E.L. Doctor’s Ragtime, one of my very favorite American novels. Not that I wanted Ragtime Redux; few things are more dispiriting than bloated imitation. But having recently fallen in love with Helene Wecker’s similarly placed, rhapsodic fantasy The Golem and the Jinni, I was in the mood to discover how another writer, new to me, tackled what is in many ways a defining period of recent history, terrifying in its (to us moderns) jaw-dropping poverty and rampant criminality.*

Dreamland

Setting aside for the moment my reactions to Dreamland, I was struck, on first sitting down with it, by a lengthy quotation on the back cover, from a review in Esquire — or rather, by one particular observation by an unidentified critic that positively maddened me. “Dickensian in scope and intellectual breadth,” writes the anonymous scribbler, “Kevin Baker’s (dare it be said?) masterpiece is Ragtime but without the sprawling misanthropy; Tom Wolfe but with characters that are human, not merely theoretical; Dreiser but superbly written; Sinclair Lewis but with a mystic’s heart.”

I cannot quarrel with the reference to Wolfe, and admit to a profound ignorance regarding both Dreiser and Lewis, only one of whose novels I’ve read. But I admire Doctorow almost inordinately as a stylist, and Ragtime in particular as an example of the unfettered brilliance of a prose-poet on a par with the Fitzgerald of The Great Gatsby and a literary experimenter on the order of a modern Faulkner. The snideness of the critical remark aside, the more I read of Kevin Baker’s (dare it be said?) masterpiece, the more incensed I became on Doctorow’s behalf.

There is scarcely a page of Dreamland that does not present some fresh atrocity perpetrated on either an animal or a human being, occasionally both at once. This is not a criticism. It was a brutal time, and an especially brutal place. Several years ago New York magazine printed an excerpt from Luc Sante’s Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York entitled “These Are the Good Old Days,” in which the stunningly casual horror of the City’s haunts from 1840-1920 as described by Sante was the stuff of nightmares, particularly in its depiction of the many ways one could disappear forever in the Bowery — not coincidentally the setting for much of Baker’s novel.

Sante’s piece was a vision of Hell undreamt by Dante, where life was cheap and violent death as common as the rats and the cockroaches and the pestilent disease that made survival past infancy something of a miracle in itself. Baker’s world is that of Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives, of obscene Tammany corruption running hand-in-glove with appallingly cavalier capitalist exploitation, of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and cops beating female strikers with impunity, where even the smallest pleasure is paid for with grotesquerie and humiliation. No serious writer — and Baker, whatever my reservations about the ultimate worth of the tale he’s telling, is certainly that — could, describing the place, avoid steeping the reader in all that was vile and insupportable about it.

But what about that “sprawling misanthropy” of Doctorow’s? I Googled the review in question, seeking an explanation, and locating the critique on the Esquire webpage. (“A Jew, a Lithuanian, and an Erudite Dwarf,” March 1, 1999.) There was the review, all 300 words of it, by one Adrienne Miller, a former Esquire Fiction Editor. Would Miller, in the space allotted, define her terms? She would not. She merely hurls her little semantic Anarchist’s bomb at Doctorow et al., and moves on.

RagtimeDoctrorowHardcover

Given that Ragtime is, for all its stylistic dazzle, one of the most achingly humane novels of the past 40 years, and taking into account the historical parameters common both to it and to Dreamland, whence Doctorow’s “sprawling misanthropy”? Or is that Miller, in common with so many of her ilk, is, as I suspect, on the one hand parading her erudition (“Look! I’ve read Doctorow, Wolfe, Dreiser and Lewis!”) and on the other, and — secure in the knowledge that few readers will be willing to admit that they don’t know what the hell she’s talking about — tossing wild, context-free and utterly unfathomable brickbats at her literary betters? We’ve seen this sort of thing before: The sweeping put-down that says, Logic, or even rudimentary rules of composition, be damned: I’m slapping that pesky author [or artist, or filmmaker, or composer] down, and the devil take the meaning along with the hindmost: The off-hand insult that challenges without recourse to anything like precedence or example or even a simple definition of terms.

Even presuming one has a passing knowledge of the work of the artist being referred to, Miller’s statement represents a kind of academic and critical shorthand that, on its face, and even below the skin, means absolutely nothing. It’s the literary equivalent of schoolyard bullying. And it’s practiced all too bloody often. (John Lahr used to do it all the time, in the pages of the New Yorker.) I’m not talking about fairness here… although that, too, is in short supply. Nor is my veneration of Ragtime definitive; it’s merely how Doctorow’s novel strikes me, viscerally, emotionally and intellectually. You’re free to find it meretricious, or self-consciously arty, or even misanthropic if it strikes you so, but for the love of critical honesty, not to mention readability, at least have the decency to explain your goddamn terms. Tellingly, Miller does so for Wolfe (“with characters that are human, not merely theoretical”), with Dreiser, and with Lewis; Doctorow’s magnum opus she merely dismisses, as “sprawlingly misanthropic.” In what way? No, sorry — Madame cannot be bothered.

To quote E.B. White in another context: If this is what passes for serious criticism now, then I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.

spinach - carl rose and e b white

________________________________________

*Poverty in 21st century America is every bit as pervasive, if not indeed even more so, only with a few more modern conveniences… which the complacent, of course, very much hold against those poorer than they.

Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross