“GG Allin – Son of Evil” by Dan Moxham

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When my wife opened the package from Amazon.com and noticed this book, she barely … but distincntly … raised an eyebrow and said … in that smart-ass way I’ve grown to dread and love … “Oh .. what a ‘wonderful’ purchase you made.” My wife forgets that GG Allin, the notorious poop-eating self-mutilator from New Hampshire played a pivotal role in an internship she had prior to when we got married. You see, I had a videocassette of one of GG’s legendary “performances” that magically shot out of a toilet somewhere … sanitized, by the way … and landed mysteriously in my VHS collection (I swear). Anyway, when the mentor in charge of my then fiance’s internship learned I had a videotape of GG’s shenanigans, he desperately begged to see it. I loaned him my tape … for educational purposes … and my wife got high marks on her internship. Granted, much of that was due to my wife’s talent, but I imagine some of that had to do with the madman from New Hampshire.

But I must start at an earlier date. Let’s start 29 years ago in the year 1985.  I was reading the punk zine “Maximum Rock N’ Roll” and there was a letter in the letters section that caught my eye.  It was from a performer who called himself “GG Allin” who bragged about pooping on stage and eating said poop, in addition to beating the snot out of audience members and causing other mayhem to himself and others.  Being all of 15-years old, I laughed hysterically.  In fact, I hadn’t laughed this hard since I read a synopsis of the John Waters’ film “Pink Flamingos” three years earlier in Danny Peary’s seminal alt-cinema book “Cult Movies.”  Here … I thought … was a real-life version of a John Waters-film character. 

I kept tabs on GG over the years, eventually scoring a bootleg cassette my first semester of college in 1988 of a live performance GG did from Texas in 1985 when he performed with a band called “The Texas Nazis.”  The quality of the tape was terrible, but while I heard GG perform many “songs,” the highlight was GG baiting the audience with violent sexual taunts and threatening to throw his poop on them. This odd cassette, which also contained some answering machine messages for GG, as well as some tracks from Nico’s first solo album “Chelsea Girls,” was a prized selection in my tape library during my college years.

During this time, GG threatened to commit suicide live on stage … and to take some audience members with him, but always seemed to find himself in jail when said moment arrived. While I don’t doubt his sincerity in his mission, the execution of his plan always seemed to be hindered by his drug abuse and penchant for always doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Which of course, led to his death by drug overdose in 1993.

Dan Moxham’s book “GG Allin – Son of Evil” may not be the definitive biography GG fans have been waiting for, but it is a worthy document nonetheless. The book is not a straight biography, per se, but it is a chronicle of GG’s misadventures over the years, along with song lyrics, rants, and poetry. It’s more of a compilation than straight biography. But considering the fact that no major publisher … or even minor publisher of note … is announcing any GG biography in the near future, Moxham’s book will have to do. Trust me, there’s more than enough bile to send shivers up the most jaded masochist’s spine. And credit is due to Moxham putting pen to ink to memorialize the most notorious rock and roll performer of all-time. As much as I admire Marilyn Manson, he doesn’t even come close.

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“American Psycho” (2000) dir. Mary Harron, scr. Guinevere Turner

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One of the best satirical films of the last 25 years, Mary Harron’s and Guinevere Turner’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s notorious novel “American Psycho” is an excellent mix of comedy, horror, and social satire.

Originally written in 1991, Ellis’s novel was so controversial that the original publisher, Simon and Schuster, decided to let Ellis keep his $300,000 advance for writing the novel and shelved it. The rights were eventually picked up by Vintage (Random House’s highbrow quality paperback division) who published it in paperback.  Unfortunately, many of the book’s early critics focused solely on the graphic murder scenes, which … while they are indeed disturbing … only comprise a small percentage of the actual book.  A New York Times critic called it “a how-to manual on the torture and dismemberment of women.”  Yes, it’s true that the lead character Patrick Bateman hates women.  He also hates homeless people, homosexuals, Jews, African-Americans, prostitutes, his fellow privileged white friends, bartenders, waitresses, his fiance, his mistress, dogs, rats, dry cleaners, live concerts, etc.  Just because a book’s lead character is a misanthropic, misogynist a–hole serial killer, doesn’t mean the story, let alone the author, supports that viewp… ah, what’s the use in even explaining this? Look, many people don’t like Ellis’s book for a variety of reasons, but the hysterical overreaction (and sole focus on Bateman’s misogyny, which again, is just one component of his overall misanthropy) was completely misguided and a product of the ultra-politically correct early 1990s. The fact that “Psycho” is now considered a literary classic bears this out.

Interestingly, Ellis later admitted Bateman WAS based on him, but only because like Bateman, he was obsessed with buying and consuming things, which made him miserable instead of happy.   From an interview Ellis gave to “The California Chronicle” in 2010 “[Bateman] was crazy the same way [I was]. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because of my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumerist kind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself. That is where the tension of ‘American Psycho’ came from. It wasn’t that I was going to make up this serial killer on Wall Street. High Concept. Fantastic. It came from a much more personal place, and that’s something that I’ve only been admitting in the last year or so. I was so on the defensive because of the reaction to that book that I wasn’t able to talk about it on that level.”

Bateman is someone who knows he’s not normal … knows that he is, in effect, a psycho.  So he overcompensates by aggressively trying to fit in.  Like an alien studying what it’s like to be human, he obsesses over all of the material possessions in his life and others: clothing, cars, food, restaurants, business cards, workout machines, audio-video equipment, pornography, etc.  He reads obsessively and expresses all the so-called popular viewpoints in public (anti-nuclear weapons, anti-racism). Yet inside he hates everything and everyone around him, including himself.  As Bateman explains, “…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.”

Christian Bale delivers, in my opinion, his all-time best performance as Bateman.  Leonardo di Caprio and Johnny Depp were once slated to play Bateman.  And while I think they would have done a good job, Bale is the perfect choice.  Not only is he a terrific actor, Bale is British playing an American with an American accent. While Bale’s accent is impeccable, there’s still something slightly off about it.  Since Bateman is a monster pretending to be a human being, Bale’s characterization is frighteningly perfect.  Bale said that a large part of his characterization was based on watching Tom Cruise being interviewed on talk shows.  According to Harron, Bale told her he was struck by Cruise’s “very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes, and he was really taken with this energy.”

The idea of having a female director and screenwriter behind the film version of “American Psycho” may seem like a cynical ploy to keep feminist critics at bay.  But Harron has always been a terrific director (“I Shot Andy Warhol,” “The Notorious Bettie Page”) and Turner struck the correct balance between the novel’s humor and horror.  Overall, the two created a classic and a film, while it got some respectful notices when released, remains severely underrated to this day.

The attached 20-minute plus summary of clips contains many spoilers and also very disturbing violence, sexuality, and language. It is not safe for work or children.   But if you have a strong stomach and a highly evolved sense of humor, “American Psycho” is one hell of a movie.  It is one of those films that you will not have an indifferent reaction to.

An interpretation of “Catcher in the Rye” from “Six Degrees of Separation” (1993) dir. Fred Schepisi, scr. John Guare

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I’ve been on a J.D. Salinger kick recently based on my total absorption into the new 12-pound David Sheilds / Shane Salerno Salinger bio that came out last week. At some point, I may give some thoughts on this book and Salinger, but in the meantime, here’s a terrific critique on Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” delivered by one of the characters from the film adaptation of John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” Will Smith plays the character giving the analysis and it’s a nice reminder that Smith is a very good actor when he’s not playing some variation of the Tom Cruise-inspired cocky jacka– that sadly makes up many of his more, um, renowned roles. Playing the other roles here are Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland, and Ian McKellan. A damn fine and sadly ignored film if I do say so.

“Searching for Dave Chappelle” by Jason Zinoman

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Determining the reason why Dave Chappelle walked away from a rumored $50 million deal with Comedy Central when he was ostensibly on top of the American pop culture pyramid is a parlor game many comedy and entertainment junkies have engaged in for nearly a decade.  New York Times writer Jason Zinoman doesn’t really present any new theories in his insanely readable 54 page Amazon Kindle Single “Searching for Dave Chappelle,” but it’s the best profile on Chappelle’s career I’ve ever read and provides a lot of food for thought not only about comedy, but also about race, success, fame, spirituality, and happiness.   Along with Joe Eszterhas’s “Heaven and Mel” and Joshua Davis’s “John McAfee’s Last Stand,” “Searching for Dave Chappelle” is a fine example of how damn good a Kindle Single can be.

And if you like what you read, you should really pick up Zinoman’s terrific book on 1970s horror films “Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror.”

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An excerpt from “I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real or Imagined)” by Chuck Klosterman

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The link above will direct you to a sample chapter from the upcoming Chuck Klosterman book “I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real or Imagined).” (What?! You haven’t preordered it yet?) This chapter is about all the musicians Klosterman hated from 1984-2003 and how he came around on some of them … or just didn’t care anymore. Like most of Klosterman’s criticism, much of it is funny and provocative. However, a particular passage stands out:

“Somewhere in 2003, my ability to hate the Eagles (or Coldplay, or Dave Matthews, or Mumford and Sons, or whoever) just evaporated. I could no longer construct antipathy for random musicians, even if they deserved it. My personality had calcified and emancipated itself from taste. I still cared about music, but not enough to feel emotionally distraught over its nonmusical expansion into celebrity and society. And this was a real problem. Being emotionally fragile is an important part of being a successful critic; it’s an integral element to being engaged with mainstream art, assuming you aspire to write about it in public. If you hate everything, you’re a banal a–hole . . . but if you don’t hate anything, you’re boring. You’re useless. And you end up writing about why you can no longer generate fake feelings that other people digest as real.

There needs to be more awareness about the cultural impact of reverse engineering, particularly as it applies to fandom and revulsion. It’s the most important part of describing the day-to-day import of art, which is ultimately what criticism is supposed to do. But there are no critics who can admit to their own reverse engineering without seeming underinformed. It’s like arguing that the greatest Russian novel ever written happens to be the only one you ever finished.”

The link above takes you to the full chapter, as opposed to the small excerpt of the chapter that’s in the print edition of Entertainment Weekly this week. And if you like what you see, be sure to check out any of Klosterman’s non-fiction books, especially “Fargo Rock City” and “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.”

James Ellroy’s Hollywood Confidential

How’s this for an introduction, folks?

Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I’m James Ellroy, the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey d–k. I’m the author of 16 books, masterpieces all; they precede all my future masterpieces. These books will leave you reamed, steamed and drycleaned, tie-dyed, swept to the side, true-blued, tattooed and bah fongooed. These are books for the whole f–kin’ family, if the name of your family is the Manson Family.

Do I have your undivided attention, now?  Good, now check out acclaimed crime author James Ellroy’s (author of “L.A. Confidential,” “American Tabloid,” and “The Black Dahlia” among other classics) wonderfully sleazy TV series “Hollywood Confidential” which exposes the fetid, rancid, rusted underbelly of Tinsel Town.

Part 1: Dead Women Own Me:

Part 2: The Scandal Rags

Part 3: Serial Killers

Part 4: Dames and Delinquents

Part 5: The Dark Side of Hollywood

Part 6: Hot Spot Homicide

“You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation” by Susannah Gora

The movies written, directed, and produced by John Hughes have a complex legacy. They are beloved and reviled by many and I can understand both reactions. First, the criticisms. Yes, the Hughes films oftentimes portray a one-dimensional view of adolescence, primarily showing teenagers as misunderstood lost souls in a world of uncaring and/or buffoonish adults. Yes, the Hughes films almost exclusively show a white (allegedly) middle-class view of the world.  Yes, the Hughes films seem to exaggerate class and social differences in high school to increase the drama of his stories. And lastly, the Hughes films are sometimes too cute and cleverly written, giving adolescents an idealized world where they are smarter and funnier than all of the grown-ups around them.

Now, for the good stuff. It’s clear Hughes truly liked his teen characters, took them seriously, and most importantly, treated their concerns with the same gravity that teens often took them. Just because most of us have had life experiences that help us take life’s disappointments and setbacks in stride, we often forget how such setbacks can seem like the end of the world to a young person. It’s this sensitivity that still makes Hughes’s films resonate today and why many of them still hold up. They certainly hold up much better than the self-conscious “Heathers,” which comes off as someone trying too hard to make an anti-Hughes film.

Susanna Gora’s “You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried” is an in-depth look about the making of Hughes’s most iconic teen films (“Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” ” Some Kind of Wonderful”), but also looks at a couple other Brat Pack films (“St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Say Anything”) and even includes a chapter on the impact of the music of these films, as well as the fallout of David Blum’s infamous “New York” magazine article that coined the phrase “brat pack.” There’s also extensive interviews with cast members, fellow writers/directors, studio executives, and others who were part of the creative process that brought these films to the screen.  Even if you dislike some or all of the films, Gora’s book is a terrific analysis of an era of American film that’s too often dismissed.

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“We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001” by Eric Davidson

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Back around 1996 or so, while I was record / CD shopping, I heard something great over the store’s music system.  The music I was hearing was similar to a lot of the punk rock I enjoyed over the years, only it was much more aggressive, loud, and crude.  It also  sounded considerably less polished, like it was recorded on someone’s home tape recorder.  Yet the drums, bass, and guitar still bled through loud and clear.   I asked the clerk what it was.  He replied it was the New Bomb Turks and showed the sampler CD it came from, a $7.99 blast of joy with over 70 minutes of music called the “Cheapo Crypt Sampler.”  As more songs blasted out by such bands as the Devil Dogs, Teengenerate, The Mighty Caesars, The Gories, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Nine Pound Hammer, and The Oblivians … among several others, I knew I not only had to have this sampler, but to also check out more bands of this ilk.

By 1996, a lot of so-called punk / grunge / alternative / whatever bands had gone mainstream and signed with major labels.  While some of these bands would occasionally hire someone like Steve Albini to dirty up their tracks, most of it sounded polished.   The punk I was hearing on the Crypt sampler was a revelation.  Unlike the Nirvanas or Green Days of the time, these songs weren’t politically correct … or even remotely political.  The songs weren’t mopey tributes to alienation.  They weren’t trying to change the world, nor were they full of irony and ennui.  Instead, like AC/DC at their best, almost all of the Crypt songs were about drinking, f–king, and fighting and the bands played like their lives depended on it.  It reminded me of wild 1950s rock, only with increased aggression and lots of really really bad language.  I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.

This genre of punk rock never really had a name … and arguably still doesn’t.  However, former New Bomb Turks member Eric Davidson came up with the term “gunk punk” for his  book on the genre that may or may not have a name.  That book “We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001” is a wonderful overview and introduction to this unheralded and indescribably awesome genre.  The book covers many bands, not only the ones mentioned above, but also The Cramps, The Dwarves, Union Carbide, and my hometown favorites, The Candy Snatchers (who were previously featured on Dave’s Strange World) among many, many others.  Many thanks to Mr. Davidson for not only writing this awesome tome, but for keeping the spirit of important, rarely acknowledged, and kickass genre alive.

If you’ve never heard any of these bands, please check out these fine tracks which are some of my favorites of this genre:

The Devil Dogs, “Big F–kin Party”

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “Backslider”

New Bomb Turks, “Mr. Suit”

Nine Pound Hammer, “Feelin’ Kinda Froggy”

 

“The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever” by Alan Sepinwall

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Since the late 1990s, it’s now a cliche to point out that television is more groundbreaking and artistically challenging than motion pictures.  Yes, we do get the occasional artistically challenging film (“Black Swan”), but the most artistically challenging subject matter is now on networks such as HBO, AMC, Showtime, etc.  Hollywood is more interested in churning out superhero sequels and conservative rom-coms than lead characters who are flawed.

“The Revolution Must Be Televised” by Alan Sepinwall is the first book to analyze these groundbreaking television shows and their impact on culture.  Sepinwall starts with the HBO show “Oz” and then devotes extensive analysis to shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Shield,” “The Wire,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Mad Men,” and “Breaking Bad” … among other shows.   If you’re a fan of any of these shows, this book is a feast of behind-the-scenes details and cultural analyses.   The fact that it’s taken this long to see a book that chronicles and celebrates the late 1990s – new Milenium of artistically audacious series TV is proof enough that the medium is still not taken as seriously as film, which has become way more conservative than anyone could have ever imagined.

One criticism I have of Sepinwall’s book is the lack of focus on comedy.   With “Sex and the City,” “Arrested Development,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Louis” in the bloodstream, you wonder why he didn’t give a token shout-out to these revolutionary shows.   But what’s there in this book is very, very good.  And if you’re a fan of any of these shows … or just a fan of quality drama … this book is a must.

“Pictures at a Revolution” by Mark Harris

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Easily one of the Top 5 best books I’ve read about American film history is Mark Harris’s terrific 2008 tome “Pictures at a Revolution.”  “Pictures” focuses on the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967 and through chronicling the genesis, production, and release of these films, Harris makes a strong argument that this was the tipping point between the Hollywood of old and the “new Hollywood” that emerged in the 1970s.  If you enjoyed Peter Biskind’s seminal 1970s Hollywood chronicle “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” “Pictures” is a worthy prequel and, arguably, just as complex and readable as Biskind’s famous book.

However, please note that while Harris focuses extensively on the five Best Picture nominees of 1967 (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “Dr. Doolittle,” “The Graduate,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and “In the Heat of the Night”), this isn’t the limit of the tale that “Pictures” tells.   Harris paints vivid portraits of the creative forces behind these films (Mike Nichols, Warren Beatty, Arthur Penn, Stanley Kramer, Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Norman Jewison, Rex Harrison, Faye Dunaway, Francois Trauffaut, Buck Henry, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Anne Bancroft, and Joseph E. Levine among several others) as well as other films from the era that were also making a huge impact (“Jules and Jim,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Blow Up,” “The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady,” “A Patch of Blue” among several others).   While “Pictures” may not be as gossipy as Biskind’s classic, it serves as a wonderfully entertaining social history of how 1960s Hollywood reflected (and in many cases, resisted) the cultural changes that swept the nation during that tumultuous decade.  If you have any interest at all in film or social/cultural history, Harris’s book is a must-read.

Favorite anecdote:  Warren Beatty is showing “Bonnie and Clyde” to Warner Brothers studio head Jack Warner.  Warner advised that if he has to get up to go to the bathroom, the picture will not work.  Warner excused himself three times to use the restroom.  At the end of the screening, Warner advised that the film was terrible because it was “a three-piss picture.” Beatty tried to flatter Warner by saying that “Bonnie and Clyde” was an homage to the gangster movies that made Warner Brothers a huge success in the 1930s.  Warner’s reply: “What the f–k’s an ‘homage’?”