Thursday, December 21, 2017

I’m Sorry I’m Angry, Too

As Donald Trump (I will never call him “President”) prepares to sign the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the top 1% in the history of the United States, I must apologize.
I’m sorry if I seem a little angry. I’m sorry if all my Facebook posts seem to be political. I’m sorry if I seem to have lost my sense of humor about politics (or anything else).
I was just trying to keep people informed. I was still laboring under the delusion that I lived in a democracy, a place where politicians actually gave a shit about what their constituents thought.
But a system where Congress consistently votes against the will of its citizens is not a democracy. And it’s not a democracy because it’s been gerrymandered to the point where there are no consequences for their actions.
I don’t find anything about Trump “cute” or “funny” or “amusing.” I’m grateful for SNL and Alec Baldwin and Bill Maher. I think Trump has led to some of SNL’s best writing ever (at least for their cold open; I wish I could say that for the rest of their show). I guess when you don’t have to worry about your basic needs being met, you have room to find the humor in these things.
But I don’t.
So know this (and this is addressed to Trump and the Republican Party): I will not buy your bullshit for one second and I will do everything in my power to bring you down.
The irony of Trump signing a bill right before Christmas that will raise taxes for most Americans —all so the richest 1% can get a tax break—is breathtaking. You make a mockery of public service. You degrade the offices of the presidency and Congress, as well as the standing of the United States around the world.
I will never give you (Trump) the only thing that you have ever wanted. Attention. Recognition. Validation.
You have always been and will always be nothing more than a vulgar and ignorant con man.
If I see you on a TV set, I will not look. I refuse to listen to your voice, because I know before the words even leave your lips that everything you say is a lie.
The photo today on the front page of the New York Times, with you and your Republican cronies posed on the steps of the White House like you’re the Radio City Rockettes, to brag about what you’ve just done, disgusts me.
And that goes for you so-called “moderate” Republicans, too, the so-called “voices of reason” who betrayed us.
I’m talking to you, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake—looting the U.S. Treasury on your way out the door. I will not listen to your grandstanding speeches on the floor of Congress, which cover how you personally profit from this bill. I will not buy your inevitable memoirs explaining how great you are, as you embark on your PR tour.
I will hound you at every public appearance, plane trip and supermarket line. You will not know a moment’s peace.
Lisa Murkowski: You will have to explain to the citizens of Alaska why you allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Susan Collins: You will have to explain to the citizens of Maine why you voted for this bill, even though you didn’t get the things you asked for.
Both your careers are over.
As for John McCain, you will have to make your own peace with destroying your legacy. I wish you luck.
As far as I’m concerned, this abuse of power ends now.
The only thing this bill will accomplish is the consignment of the Republican Party—finally!—to the dustbin or history, where it rightfully belongs.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars

 Lately, I’ve been wondering why I have no interest in the music that’s being made today. Is it because most of today’s music is being made by and for 19-year-old girls (I hesitate to call them women) or is there some other reason?
Fortunately, David Hepworth has explained it all for me (and you) in his cleverly written and endlessly fascinating new book, Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars.
To put it simply: there are no more rock stars.
I had already gathered as much when I recently went to see a show of rock star photographs by Michael Zagaris at the Milk Gallery in New York City. It suddenly dawned on me as I looked at pictures of Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, David Bowie and others: I had lived through the last era of rock stars!
Why aren’t there any more rock stars, you may ask? Well, basically, it comes down to two words: the Internet—that great destroyer of all things mysterious. And what is a rock star without mystery?
Dead, that’s what.
There have also been many changes in the music industry and in technology that have aided and abetted this process. With our new abundance of entertainment choices, suddenly mere pop stars aren’t so special anymore. In other words, if everyone is special, no one is special.
Hepworth traces the history of rock stars from 1955 to 1995, from the first rock star (Little Richard) to the last (Kurt Cobain). Along the way, he describes what was happening, musically and culturally, every year. (There’s also a great playlist at the end of every chapter, listing what songs/albums were popular that year.)
But what really makes this book better than most rock star biographies, is the cleverness of the writing. My favorite line may be his description of Madonna: “Madonna is a drama queen who achieves her full height only when bristling with indignation.”
Catty, but true!
Nevertheless, you may leave this book with a sense of sadness, much as I experienced when I watched The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special last night. You see, when I was growing up, I took Carol Burnett (and rock stars) for granted, never imagining that there would come a day when they would no longer exist. But the fact is, there will never be another Carol Burnett Show because a) there will never be another Carol Burnett and b) a variety show like hers would be too expensive to produce. (Bob Mackie used to design 65 costumes for her show every week!)
Similarly, there will never be another rock star because…well, read this book.
It may be the definitive last word on rock stars.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Richard Hambleton: Shadowman

On the subject of “great artists are not always great human beings,” I went to see the documentary Shadowman about the artist Richard Hambleton last night at the beautifully renovated Quad Cinema.
If you were in New York City in the early ’80s, you could not have missed Hambleton’s “shadow” paintings, quickly dashed off silhouettes that seemed to creep up on you out of nowhere. (His first project was actually his “Mass Murder” series that resembled the police department chalk outlines of murder victims.) These paintings are remarkable for their power to suggest something with just a few strokes, as were his subsequent paintings based on the Marlboro Man and rodeo riders.
At the height of his “shadow” paintings, he dropped out of the New York art scene and started painting landscapes and seascapes that were out of step with the graffiti and street art that were popular in New York City and for which he was known. It’s hard to describe how beautiful these paintings are. Someone in the film compared them to the landscapes of Turner, but even that doesn’t do them justice.
Eventually, Hambleton is rediscovered by two art dealers (including the socialite Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld) and is feted with two large shows, studded with models and movie stars. His paintings eventually sell for several hundred thousand dollars.
The flip side of this success story is Hambleton’s copious drug use and schizophrenic personality. (I know someone who lived in his Lower East Side building and she described it as a living nightmare.)
It’s hard not to read this movie as a commentary on mortality, as we see the beautiful, vibrant young Hambleton ravaged by skin cancer and scoliosis. The movie is both tragic and heroic, in that Hambleton keeps painting, right up until his death.
During a Q&A after the movie, the film’s director posited that Hambleton had “mental health issues” and, according to some psychiatrist friends, fit the profile of someone who had been abused as a child, because of the way he drew people to him and then pushed them away.
But I think Penny Arcade puts it best in the movie when she says that some artists (she mentions Van Gogh as another example) we “just can’t understand.”
Hambleton passed away on October 29, just three days before the “Club 57” show at MoMA, which features one of his paintings.