Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

Death of a curmudgeon

A brilliant and occasionally amusing one, but still: a curmudgeon.

Francis Crick was the most important biologist of the 20th century. Like Darwin, he changed the way we think of ourselves. First, with Watson, he came up with one of the few scientific blueprints known to the general public – the double-helix structure of DNA (though he left it to Mrs Crick, usually a painter of nudes, to create the model). Later, with Sydney Brenner, he unraveled the universal genetic code. Today, Crick’s legacy includes all the thorniest questions of our time – genetic fingerprinting, stem-cell research, pre-screening for hereditary diseases, the “gay gene” and all the other “genes of the week”… In Britain, they’re arguing about a national DNA database; on the Continent, anti-globalists are protesting genetically modified crops; in America, it was traces of, um, DNA on Monica’s blue dress that obliged Bill Clinton to change his story. If you’re really determined, you can still just about ignore DNA – the OJ jury did – but, increasingly, it’s the currency of the age. Crick called his home in Cambridge the Golden Helix, and it truly was golden – not so much for him personally but for the biotechnology industry, something of a contradiction in terms half-a-century ago but now a 30-bil-a-year bonanza.

“We were lucky with DNA,” he said. “Like America, it was just waiting to be discovered.” But Crick was an unlikely Columbus. The son of a boot factory owner, he grew up in the English Midlands, dabbling in the usual scientific experiments of small boys – blowing up bottles, etc – but never really progressing beyond. Indeed, as a scientist, he wasn’t one for conducting experiments. What he did was think, and even then it took him a while to think out what he ought to be thinking about. His studies were interrupted by the war, which he spent developing mines at the British Admiralty’s research laboratory. Afterwards, already 30 and at a loose end, he mulled over what he wanted to do and decided his main interests were the “big picture” questions, the ones arising from his rejection of God, the ones that seemed beyond the power of science. Crick reckoned that the “mystery of life” could be easily understood if you just cleared away all the mysticism we’ve chosen to surround it with.

That’s the difference between Darwin and Crick. Evolution, whatever offence it gives, by definition emphasizes how far man has come from his tree-swinging forebears. DNA, by contrast, seems reductive. Man and chimp share 98.5 per cent of their genetic code, which would be no surprise to Darwin. But we also share 75 per cent of our genetic make-up with the pumpkin. The pumpkin is just a big ridged orange lump lying on the ground all day, like a fat retiree on the beach in Florida. But other than that he has no discernible human characteristics until your kid carves them into him.

It’s Steyn, so naturally he goes from jack o’ lanterns to Cole Porter to Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire to space aliens seeding the galaxy—effortlessly and entertainingly, no less. And naturally, you’ll want to read all of it.


Steyn memorializes Fred

Shoulda guessed he’d have known him personally, if not all that well.

Rest in peace, Fred Thompson. He was a great American who lived a richer life than most of either his fellow senators or fellow actors. It was always fun when you’d stumble across him grilling someone on TV in that distinctive Tennessee drawl and it took you a moment to figure out whether it was a movie or a Congressional hearing. It happened to me a couple of months back when I came across the hugely enjoyable No Way Outwith Kevin Costner, Sean Young, Gene Hackman…and there’s Senator Thompson doing his shtick as director of the CIA. He would have made a very good CIA director. He succeeded at everything he did – law, acting, politics – until he decided to run for president. He would have been a very fine president, too, but he was not, in 2007, the best campaigner, which is a loss to America and to the world.

Amen to that. “A sharp mind in a sharp suit” indeed.


Great one gone

Just might have been the last of a vanishing breed.

Fred Thompson, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee, GOP presidential candidate, Watergate attorney and actor who starred on the television drama “Law and Order,” died on Sunday in Nashville. He was 73.

Mr. Thompson died after a recurrence of lymphoma, according to a prepared statement issued by the Thompson family. Mr Thompson, who had recently purchased a house in Nashville to return to Tennessee, was first diagnosed with cancer in 2004.

“It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of grief that we share the passing of our brother, husband, father, and grandfather who died peacefully in Nashville surrounded by his family,” the Thompson family’s statement reads.

“Fred once said that the experiences he had growing up in small-town Tennessee formed the prism through which he viewed the world and shaped the way he dealt with life,” his family said. “Fred stood on principle and common sense, and had a deep love for and connection with the people across Tennessee whom he had the privilege to serve in the United States Senate. He enjoyed a hearty laugh, a strong handshake, a good cigar, and a healthy dose of humility. Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of Lawrenceburg, his home.”

The REAL tragedy is that he didn’t win in his bid for president in 2008–although, with his integrity and sense of honor and patriotism intact, he’d probably be ill-suited to lead the kind of eye-gouging, bare-knuckles battles that will have to be fought if liberty is ever to prevail against the Goosesteppin’ Left. Those fights are going to require admitting that they’re not any sort of Loyal Opposition at all, but a dastardly enemy of Constitutional government who will stop at nothing to win; they’re going to require getting down in the gutter with them and fighting every bit as dirty as they do. I don’t think Fred would have been at all comfortable confronting that fact, sad as it is, and I’m as sure as I can be that he wouldn’t have been happy about it. But then, neither is anybody else, really.

That said, if there was anybody in the Senate–hell, in Mordor on the Potomac period (quote: “After two years in Washington, I often long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood”)–who understood the meaning and intent of the Constitution better than Fred, and who could articulate it in a more plainspoken, common-sense way, I don’t know who it would be. Bless him; may he rest in peace. I’ll use an old category from 2008 one last time for this post; it’s a reminder of a might-have-been that might have made a world of difference to us. And I’ll let Fred have the last word:

“Maybe I needed to be reminded of what an old-timer told me years ago after I’d had some success: ‘Just remember, son, the turnout at your funeral is still going to depend a hell of a lot on the weather.'”

Farewell, Fred. The nation needed as many of your kind as it could get, but unfortunately we only had just the one.


Well, this sucks

Bill sends word of this awfully sad news:

Cross posting from Caring Bridge, at Tamara’s request. She asked that it be shared here and anywhere I see fit, so please feel free to pass her words on:

Caring Bridge journal entry, October 9, 2015
Good-night, sweet prince/And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.*

Karl passed away this afternoon after fighting primary peritoneal carcinoma for 3 years and 7 months. After rallying with a burst of energy and lucidity starting on September 11th and lasting for almost 3 weeks, he died one day before our 23rd anniversary as a couple.

That would be Chef Mojo, Karl Bock, who I was fortunate enough to have become pretty good online buds with over several years. We talked a lot about the absolute necessity of getting the band up to Charlottesville for a show and a visit, and I never did manage it, and now I never will. I can’t tell you how much I hate that.

Karl was a good man, a smart guy, a fine writer, and a man who loved all the worthwhile things in life. I’m quite sure he was a most excellent cook, and I’m saddened maybe most of all that I never got to share that joy with him. I hope his wife is coping with the loss; I know he will have left a big hole in her life. I wish there was more I could say, or do. But there isn’t. That’s the shitty thing about grief and loss: you need help with it, your friends and family all want to help, and…there just aren’t words. Nothing anyone can say will take away the hurt. In the end, you just have to climb that mountain alone.

I’ve been reading Daily Pundit since the beginning; I think I started this blog up maybe a few weeks before Bill started DP, right around the same time anyway, and I’ve gotten to know Bill since then as a friend and sort of kindred spirit in so many respects. I’ve made some good friends through this blogging thing, people that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, people that I know and respect, and I’m very grateful for the fellowship that I have with them. I’ve met a handful in person, like CapLion just to mention one (another great guy, by the way), and that has meant the world to me. But out of all those relationships, I was probably closer to Karl than anyone else in my little online world.

When Bill brought Karl on board, he was such an amazing addition; he really brought a lot to the table, and his cooking threads were always a great read. His political commentary was always dead on too. I won’t say he’ll be missed; he already has been, for all too long now.

I wish I had gotten to Charlottesville to see him. I wish the God damned cancer hadn’t taken him. I wish his wife didn’t have to suffer this pain. I still have all the emails and IMs and such from him saved, and I wish that wasn’t all I had left of him. Bill links to this post of his, and if you’re not familiar with him and his writing, read it; it gives a pretty good overall feel for just who he was, and for the talent we’ve lost.

Farewell, Chef. I’ll never forget you; you had a huge impact on a guy you never even met in the flesh, and that ain’t nothing. It’s one of the curiosities of this odd technological world we live in that we become good friends with people we will never see face to face; it’s one of the curses of it that we still have to deal with losses like this, that we can’t all live forever; that good people still are removed from our lives too soon. That friendship is only temporary, that the time we have is so fleeting, that there’s always a clock ticking whether we realize it or not. See you on the other side, my friend.


Rest easy, Blues Boy

I figured Jon Pareles, one of the long-time best of the music writers out there (he even had kind words for my own band in print a few times in the past, but don’t let that leave you doubting), would do not only himself but his subject proud with BB King’s obit. And so he did.

Mr. King married country blues to big-city rhythms and created a sound instantly recognizable to millions: a stinging guitar with a shimmering vibrato, notes that coiled and leapt like an animal, and a voice that groaned and bent with the weight of lust, longing and lost love.

“I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions,” Mr. King said in his autobiography, “Blues All Around Me” (1996), written with David Ritz.

In performances, his singing and his solos flowed into each other as he wrung notes from the neck of his guitar, vibrating his hand as if it were wounded, his face a mask of suffering. Many of the songs he sang — like his biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone” (“I’ll still live on/But so lonely I’ll be”) — were poems of pain and perseverance.

Be sure to read all of it. I have only recently found a real appreciation for King’s music myself, mostly by digging into his earlier work, which I had largely–foolishly–ignored all these years. Trust me, listening only to his latter-day offerings and thinking you know all there is to know about the Beale Street Blues Boy is about like disliking Elvis because all you’ve heard is recordings from about 1970 on. As is almost always the case with the true greats, it’s a nearly bottomless well, and the deeper you dig, the sweeter the reward. I like this bit especially:

Mr. King considered a 1968 performance at the Fillmore West, the San Francisco rock palace, to have been the moment of his commercial breakthrough, he told a public-television interviewer in 2003. A few years earlier, he recalled, an M.C. in an elegant Chicago club had introduced him thus: “O.K., folks, time to pull out your chitlins and your collard greens, your pigs’ feet and your watermelons, because here is B. B. King.” It had infuriated him.

When he saw “long-haired white people” lining up outside the Fillmore, he said, he told his road manager, “I think they booked us in the wrong place.” Then the promoter Bill Graham introduced him to the sold-out crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the chairman of the board, B. B. King.”

“Everybody stood up, and I cried,” Mr. King said. “That was the beginning of it.”

By his 80th birthday he was a millionaire many times over. He owned a mansion in Las Vegas, a closet full of embroidered tuxedoes and smoking jackets, a chain of nightclubs bearing his name (including a popular room on West 42nd Street in Manhattan) and the personal and professional satisfaction of having endured.

Through it all he remained with the great love of his life, his guitar. He told the tale a thousand times: He was playing a dance hall in Twist, Ark., in the early 1950s when two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove. Mr. King fled the blaze — and then remembered his $30 guitar. He ran into the burning building to rescue it.

He learned thereafter that the fight had been about a woman named Lucille. For the rest of his life, Mr. King addressed his guitars — big Gibsons, curved like a woman’s hips — as Lucille.

He married twice, unsuccessfully, and was legally single from 1966 onward; by his own account he fathered 15 children with 15 women. But a Lucille was always at his side.

Now that’s good squishy right there. I repeat: read it all.

BB had a strong influence on nearly every modern musician, particularly those of us plying our trade in what’s been called the Americana genre, whether they know it or not. His loss is a great one, but his music will outlive all of us. Rest in peace, BB King. And…thanks, for everything.


In search of Spock

I was kind of at sea when it came to mentioning the death of Leonard Nimoy, having nothing much to say that everybody else hadn’t already said. So I just held off on it and said nothing. I’m glad now that I waited.

“I loved Spock,” said President Obama, reacting to the death of actor Leonard Nimoy. Why? Because Spock reminds him of himself. The galaxy’s most famous Vulcan, the president wrote, was “Cool, logical, big-eared, and level headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.” Just like you know whom.

The president is not the only writer who has drawn comparisons between himself and Spock. I am also a Star Trek fan, but I admit I was somewhat confused by my rather apathetic reaction to Nimoy’s death. And as I thought more about the president’s statement, I realized he identifies with the very aspects of the Spock character that most annoy me. I don’t love Spock at all.

The 2009 movie has a backstory that is complicated and silly, and I am too tired to recount it in detail so you can read a synopsis here. Nevertheless, Star Trek is an enjoyable picture that is revealing of Spock’s awfulness. It shows how Spock (played by Zachary Quinto) is tormented, physically and mentally, by the fact that his mother is human, how Mr. Logic is actually a boiling kettle of fury, resentment, passion, and ambition. Spock is a jerk to his girlfriend Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who is way out of his league. He almost kills Kirk (Chris Pine). He is so overcome with emotion he relieves himself from duty in the middle of a huge crisis.

Spock is rude to his father. “I never knew what Spock was doing,” Sarek (Mark Lenard) tells Picard in “Unification 1.” “When he was a boy, he would disappear for days into the mountains. I would ask him where he had gone, what he had done; he’d refuse to tell me. I forbade him to go; he ignored me.” Spock and Sarek fight constantly throughout the Trek continuity, despite Sarek’s offering his son countless diplomatic opportunities that Spock invariably messes up. Then Spock ignores his father for years as Sarek suffers from Bendai Syndrome and dies.

And Obama likes this selfish jerk?

Well, he would, wouldn’t he? Continetti runs through a lot more of this sort of thing, all of it in good fun, winding it up thusly:

It’s in this scene where Data’s superiority to Spock is most apparent. Data not only has the mental and physical edge over practically everyone, he is curious and earnest and humane, while Spock is moody, flip, detached, and self-consciously superior. Data wants to fit in, while Spock displaces his anxieties over his bicultural heritage onto his family and work relationships. Data’s words and actions are the result of blind unerring computation, while Spock is a creature of inner conflict and envies his famous and high achieving father. I’d pick Data over Spock for my first officer any day.

What Leonard Nimoy’s death revealed is that there is a sizable portion of Trek fans, and of nerds in general, that identifies with Spock’s neuroses, his hang-ups, his self-loathing, that are attracted to the cold soulless abstractions through which he views life, who believe in the naïve and ineffective diplomacy in which he so thoughtlessly and recklessly and harmfully engages. I can’t help but find this revelation disturbing. One of those fans happens to be the president of the United States who, like Spock, has derided the notion of helping to end the slaughter of the Syrian Civil War as illogical while giving up leverage in his negotiations with Iran. It will take America some time to recover from the legacy of our Spock-loving president—though probably not as long as it will take my friends to stop laughing at me for writing this column.

Heh. Like I said: good fun, and none of it necessarily derogatory of an excellent actor’s skilled portrayal of a memorable but highly flawed character, although it may well be interpreted that way.

Oh, and Nimoy was great as Spock too. May he rest in peace.

Update! Okay, i just gotta say it: I like Spock and all, and Leonard Nimoy seems to have been a fine fellow. But when all’s said and done, I’ll take Bill Murray:

Step five: Leave yourself open to magical moments. It’s unclear how long ago this was, but Murray told a tale of being in a cab in Oakland and finding out his cab driver was a saxophone player. The driver, however, never got to practice because he drove 14 hours a day. So when Murray also found out the guy’s sax was in the trunk, he had him pull over, get out his horn, sit in the back, and play while Murray drove. “You know, that’s like two and two. It makes four,” Murray said. “Not only did he play all the way to Sausalito, which is a long ways, but we stopped and got barbecue. He was playing at what people would call a sketchy rib place in Oakland at like 2:15 in the morning. It’s like, ‘Relax, man. You’ve got the fucking horn. We’re cool here.’ He’s blowing the horn and the crowd’s like, ‘What the hell’s that crazy white dude playing that thing?’ And it was great. It made for a beautiful night. I think we’d all do that, if you saw that moment and you’re, as we say, available, you’d make the connection and you’d do it right.”

Step six: Stay relaxed and success will follow. “Someone told me some secrets early on about living. You have to remind yourself that you can do the very best you can when you’re very, very relaxed. No matter what it is, no matter what your job is, the more relaxed you are, the better you are. That’s sort of why I got into acting. I realized that the more fun I had, the better I did it, and I thought, Well, that’s a job I can be proud of. I’d be proud to have that job, if I had to go to work and say, ‘No matter what my condition or what my mood is, no matter how I feel about what’s going on in my life, if I can relax myself and enjoy what I’m doing and have fun with it, then I can do my job really well.’ And it’s changed my life, learning that. And it’s made me better at what I do. I’m not the greatest or anything. But I really enjoy what I do.”

I mean, come on; how can you not just love the guy? I’d wager he’s more fun to hang out with than any ten other Hollywood celebs you could name, from any era you can think of. Time spent with Murray would just about have to be time well spent by definition, no matter what you were doing. A positive, hopeful attitude like his is infectious, and it damned well ought to be, too.

Years ago I wrote a piece about New Orleans, and that’s what reading about Murray’s…well, adventures is probably the best word, I guess–always reminds me of. I’ve spent a goodly portion of my life chasing after that kind of spontaneous serendipity myself, and while it ain’t exactly been enriching in the monetary sense, I sure have had a lot of fun at it.

(Via Insty)


RIP Regbo

The CF community suffered a serious loss yesterday, although most of you might not know about it. My “cousin”, Captain Reggie Carpenter, USN, died suddenly in Buenos Aires, where he was serving as naval attache, capping off a distinguished three-decade career as a naval aviator and diplomat.

He wasn’t really my cousin; he was actually my first cousin’s cousin, but his family and mine had been tightly intertwined for our whole lives; our fathers, uncles, and other kinfolk were all close friends from childhood, and the subsequent generations have all retained a sort of extended-family relationship ever since.

Those of you who have been around these parts a good while may remember him as “Regbo,” his flyboy call sign, or simply as “Cuz.” He did a fair bit of writing for the site back in its early years under those handles; he preferred the anonymity of them, for obvious reasons.

Y’all also might remember a post I did years ago from NAS Oceana, where the band had gone to play Reggie’s change of command party at the O-club there. He was taking over Rampager squadron, VFA 83, after having served as XO of the Sunliners. We didn’t get paid for the gig, or at least not in money; we got paid with twenty minutes apiece in the F/A-18 simulators instead. Which just made it one of the most richly remunerative shows I ever did. Hell, just hanging out at the O-club, meeting and hearing the sea stories of these “casual American heroes” as Reg called them, was payment aplenty.

Reggie loved playing rock and roll guitar; he paid big bucks for a special-issue Clapton Strat, and graced stages all over the Middle East every chance he got while on deployment, with the not-quite-famous aggregation of rock-steady pilots and crew known in ready-rooms everywhere as Cold Cat and the Rampstrikes.

We used to vigorously debate all the time about the road not taken, in both of our cases; I had always wanted to be a pilot, and very nearly joined the Navy about the same time he did, until my dad talked me out of it. Reggie insisted that he’d have traded places with me in a heartbeat, getting to travel the nation and the world playing music and just generally having fun. I always told him to examine that sentiment very carefully whenever he was tossing his Hornet around the sky on a clear, gorgeous day–say, while inverted at Mach .8 or so. I’d remind him of the professional musicians’ life of seemingly eternal penury and debt. He’d come back with some guff about night carrier landings, and the argument was thus stalemated. But I’m pretty sure I won anyway.

He was a damned fine pilot, flying the A6 Intruder in the first sorties of the first Gulf War, then F14s, then Super Etendards off the Foch for a year as part of the officer-exchange program with the French. He graduated to the Hornet after that, and stayed in ’em for the remainder of his career. He was invited to join the Blue Angels and even toured with them awhile while he considered the offer; he eventually decided against it, and went to the War College instead. Back in his college days he got one of the highest scores ever on the Navy’s Pilot Aptitude test, and just moved on ever upwards from there.

Reg had a heart attack either on his way to or shortly after arriving at work yesterday morning in Buenos Aires (the family is still waiting for details on that); he’d just returned from an African safari with his beloved family. He was due to retire next spring; in fact, the last conversation I had with him was shortly before he left for the Africa trip. He asked if I wanted to attend his retirement party, and I assured him I did. We were talking about maybe having the band play for the festivities, in fact, and I was looking forward to seeing him again. He was 52, which is way too damned young to lose a guy like him. Hard to believe he’s gone so quick. He’ll be missed by all who knew him. For those of you who might want to leave a fare-thee-well comment, his Facebook page is here.


Rest easy, Reg, until we meet on the other side to pick some guitar and talk fighters and politics again. Your whole family was extremely proud of you, as well they might be, and your friends were glad and grateful to know you. Much love to you and your family, brother.


Death of a hitmaker

Good as Steyn is on politics and world affairs, he just might be at his best telling music-biz stories and writing obits for the talented-but-not-exactly-famous.

In 1990, Anthony Minghella (pre-The English Patient) made a film called Truly, Madly, Deeply, with Juliet Stevenson mourning her late lover, played by Alan Rickman, who turns up in spectral form to haunt her flat. There was a lot of that about at the time: The shorthand review of Truly, Madly, Deeply was “Ghost for grown-ups”. One of the things that made it “grown-up” was the music (Rickman’s character played the ‘cello, and Stevenson’s the piano) – and in particular the use it made of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”. Anthony Minghella told me that he thought numbers in musicals tended to be “transporting”, and he wanted this to be the opposite: even as Miss Stevenson is cavorting round her flat as Rickman’s ghost sings and holds his cello like a guitar, the scene emphasizes just how profound the emptiness in her life is. And that, said Minghella, is why it could only be “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”.

The song’s association with death pre-dates Truly, Madly, Deeply by a quarter-century. Many years ago, I used to date a nurse at the Royal London Hospital on the Whitechapel Road in the East End. We used to meet at the end of her shift in the pub next door, the Blind Beggar. I am told it is a rather bland and boring establishment now, but in those days it still had the residual seedy glamor of its old gangland associations. The Kray twins – Reggie and Ronnie – were the primo East End mobsters of their day, but they’d been having a few differences with the Richardsons’ South London gang. George Cornell had called Ronnie Kray a “fat poofter”. Ronnie didn’t mind the “poofter” but resented the “fat”. On the night of March 9th 1966, he got word that Cornell was drinking at the Blind Beggar, and went round to have it out. When he arrived, Cornell was sitting on a bar stool nursing a pale ale. “Well, look who’s here,” he sneered when Kray arrived. Ronnie got out his 9mm Mauser and shot Cornell just above the right eye. At the time, the jukebox was playing the Walker Brothers’ new single:

Emptiness is the place you’re in
Nothing to lose, but no more to win

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore…

George Cornell fell to the floor. But one of Kray’s bullets had found the jukebox, and caused the record to jump:

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore…

And that’s all George Cornell heard in the last few seconds of his life on the floor of the Blind Beggar. The following week, “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” hit Number One on the British charts.

Kathy Shaidle says she doesn’t care a rat’s ass about the Four Seasons; Steyn acknowledges he’s with her, and I’ll put a hearty “amen” to all that myself. But Mark’s smooth, mellow-yet-rollicking telling of the tale kindles in it an interest I would not otherwise have shared, which is just one of the marvelous things truly fine writing can do. So I’ll put an “amen” to this too: Rest in peace, Bob Crewe.


RIP Robin

I considered using “Tears of a clown” for a title, but that was too much even for me. Still: sad. So sad.

“There really are no words to describe the loss of Robin Williams. He was immensely talented, a cherished member of our community, and part of the Fox family. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and fans. He will be deeply missed.”

Indeed. Some of his best stuff was in his ad-lib interactions with fellow genius Jonathan Winters, as I believe I’ve mentioned here before. Google ’em if you haven’t seen it; it’s amazing, is what it is. They were two peas in a pod; wholly extraordinary, warped and unique, quick and smart and eclectic and just funny as hell. Now they’re both gone, and we’re the poorer for their loss. May Williams–and, for that matter, Winters–rest in peace.

A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants update! John J Miller goes there.


Damn, I’m old

Hate to hear this:

AC/DC are ending their 41 year career on a terribly sad note.

Plans were underway for a new studio album, their first since 2008’s monumental Black Ice, and a ’40th Anniversary’ world tour, 40 huge shows across the globe.

More than a month ago, founding member, rhythm guitarist, co-producer and co-songwriter Malcolm Young had a stroke, which left a blood clot on his brain.

When AC/DC reunited at the start of April to begin a month of rehearsals, in the lead-up to new album recording sessions, Malcolm discovered he couldn’t play. At least, he couldn’t play like he used to play.

Nothing has been officially confirmed, as of this writing, but friends and family members have been discussing what happened to Malcolm for the past couple of weeks. The blood clot, resulting from the stroke, is believed to be why Malcolm couldn’t keep working.

Although friends have described Malcolm’s condition as serious, it doesn’t mean he won’t recover. People do get better after strokes, and people do recover lost skills.

But friends and family of band members believe the decision was made last week to call it quits.

Media in Australia have gone ballistic today on rumours of The End Of AC/DC, and it appears the news got out ahead of a planned official announcement from the band and management.

Right now, that announcement is expected Wednesday, April 16, and a press conference has been scheduled.

Quite possibly the greatest pure rock and roll band ever–as the line from punk band The Last Resort goes, “No fuss, no muss, just pure impact.” Their sound was as distinctive and instantly identifiable as a punch in the face; they were fun, energetic, rhythmic, powerful, and driving–as complex and cathartic as it’s possible to be working in a three-chord medium that’s not exactly known for subtlety or intellectual depth, being more bludgeon than anything else. And they just kept right on cranking out good, solid stuff for forty friggin’ years.

AC/DC won’t continue playing and recording without Malcolm. It can’t be done.

While Angus Young is the more famous, and more recognisable, AC/DC is most definitely Malcolm Young’s band, he started AC/DC, under the guidance of big brother George Young (ex-Easybeats, and co-producer) and encouraged his younger brother Angus to join him, and take on the world.

Malcolm Young has been the quiet motivator and boss of the band for four decades, co-writing nearly all of AC/DC’s classics, and making sure nothing happened to harm or damage the band’s reputation, or disappoint the fans who’ve stuck by them for decades.

His passion for the band and its music, and integrity, were so intense, back in the 1970s he used to have fistfights with his younger brother, Angus, in the studio, when disagreements about a sound or riff couldn’t be resolved. Proper punch-ups, teeth were lost, blood was drawn.

So that’s it. AC/DC are coming to an end.

All good things do, I guess. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Lots more at the link, all worth a read if you’re into this sort of thing at all; AC-DC was nothing less than a huge and utterly unique slice of rock and roll history, encapsulating all the best of the genre and generating a staggering number of good sea stories along the way. Best wishes to Malcolm and all his family.

(Via Maet)

Update! Thanks to Q for his update in the comments; sounds as if things are still up in the air for the band at the moment. All the best to ’em no matter which way the ball ends up bouncing.


A special place in Hell

Fred Phelps is in it at last:

Fred Phelps, a colossal jerk, died Thursday in Topeka, Kansas, at 84, after a long life in which even his few admirable achievements (a series of civil rights cases that he filed as an attorney) stemmed from a deeply disagreeable personality (he loved to pick fights with his neighbors). He was the kind of person no one wanted to be around: a lawyer disbarred by his colleagues, a preacher disowned by every denomination he ever espoused, a father rejected by his children—even, in the end, the children who emulate his worst characteristics.

Ordinarily, such an unpleasant and despicable man would not make much of a stir by dying. But Phelps was different from the garden-variety grinch in one important way: He had a thirst for notoriety and a genius for getting it.

Yeah, most particularly from “liberal” “journalists” who wished to use him as a club to beat the Right with, conveniently ignoring the fact that the loathsome scumbag was a Democrat Socialist who never renounced his ties to that crime syndicate masquerading as a political party, and ran for office several times as one.

Ultimately, however, even Phelps could not keep this going forever. Westboro has been caught between two forces. One is the small group of journalists who went beyond the inflammatory picket lines to show the Phelps family as it really is: representative of nothing more than their own dysfunction. The other is the larger community of decent individuals who decided to give the media another, fresher story. Starting with the motorcycle riders of the Patriot Guard and quickly spreading to high schools, college campuses, and legitimate churches, a movement arose to build human walls between the Phelpses and the cameras.

The overwhelming majority of Patriot Guard bikers (of which I have been one on more than one occasion) are, of course and as always, decidedly not “liberals,” I feel obliged to note. Doesn’t matter that much, I guess, but…well, maybe it does, considering how often the Left decides to tar the entire Right with any vile crackpot claiming allegiance to it that they can find while sweeping their own endless cavalcade of vile malefactors under the historical rug–or, as with Hitler, actually claiming they’re right-wingers to throw everyone off the scent eternally rising off of Progressivism’s rotten carcass.

In any event: burn, bastard, burn.


Aww, no

And then, depression set in.

Harold Ramis was one of Hollywood’s most successful comedy filmmakers when he moved his family from Los Angeles back to the Chicago area in 1996. His career was still thriving, with “Groundhog Day” acquiring almost instant classic status upon its 1993 release and 1984’s “Ghostbusters” ranking among the highest-grossing comedies of all time, but the writer-director wanted to return to the city where he’d launched his career as a Second City performer.

“There’s a pride in what I do that other people share because I’m local, which in L.A. is meaningless; no one’s local,” Ramis said upon the launch of the first movie he directed after his move, the 1999 mobster-in-therapy comedy “Analyze This,” another hit. “It’s a good thing. I feel like I represent the city in a certain way.”

Ramis, a longtime North Shore resident, was surrounded by family when he died at 12:53 a.m. from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, his wife Erica Mann Ramis said. He was 69.

Ramis’ serious health struggles began in May 2010 with an infection that led to complications related to the autoimmune disease, his wife said. Ramis had to relearn to walk but suffered a relapse of the vasculitis in late 2011, said Laurel Ward, vice president of development at Ramis’ Ocean Pictures production company.

The next paragraph begins, “Ramis leaves behind a formidable body of work…” and that’s damned sure the truth; when it comes to making really funny, entertaining films with a serious side embedded in ’em, there’s probably never been anybody better. As Ace says, the mans had a lot of funny in him. RIP Harold; you will surely be missed.

Update! No Ramis reminiscence would be complete without Jonah’s fantastic Groundhog Day analysis:

Here’s a line you’ll either recognize or you won’t: “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.” If you don’t recognize this little gem, you’ve either never seen Groundhog Day or you’re not a fan of what is, in my opinion, one of the best films of the last 40 years. As the day of the groundhog again approaches, it seems only fitting to celebrate what will almost undoubtedly join It’s a Wonderful Life in the pantheon of America’s most uplifting, morally serious, enjoyable, and timeless movies.

Amen to every bit of that. One of my favorite movies of all time, Groundhog Day is, and Jonah really does it justice with this article. If you only ever thought of Ramis as merely another comedian, you need to think again; read Jonah’s piece, then watch the movie again–and pay attention. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a masterwork, one of the best movies anybody ever did. Which, for a guy who did as much good work as Harold Ramis did over the years, is saying something.

Ingmar Bergman, Roberto Rosselini? Not to be too dismissive of them or anything, but Ramis touched far more people with Groundhog Day than they ever will, and will be remembered longer for it. When you can imbue such seemingly light-hearted, even frivolous material with such depth and intelligence and warm humanity, and do so with a touch that is in no way didactic, cloying, preachy, or obvious, well, you’ve done something right. Really, really right.

And yes, the scene where Murray at last wakes up to the morning of the first day of the rest of his life and asks McDowell “What can I do for you…today?” still chokes me up a little. Jonah calls it “…what many believe is the best cinematic moral allegory popular culture has produced in decades — perhaps ever.” He–they–ain’t wrong. If Ramis never had done anything more than this one movie, he’d be well worth remembering, and honoring.

And yes, I like It’s A Wonderful Life a lot, too. So there.


American badass

That would be Bill Overstreet.

Bill relates, “Not long after (the March 6th Mission), I had a freak accident. I think it was a mission to southern France. While over enemy territory, a burst of flak cut my oxygen line. Since I was at about 25,000 feet, I soon passed out. The next thing I knew, I was in a spin, engine dead since the fuel tank it was set on was dry. Somehow, I recovered from the spin, changed fuel setting, got the engine started, and dodged the trees that were in front of me. Then, I looked at my watch. Ninety minutes were not in my memory. I had no idea where I was, but remembered where I had been headed so I reversed it. I was able to find the coast of France and headed for Leiston. By this time, I was low on fuel, so I landed at the Fourth Group base. The officer I talked with was Captain Mead, who had lived a couple of blocks from my home in Clifton Forge, Virginia. To top it off, the mechanic who repaired my plane was “Hot Cha” Tucker, a former schoolmate, also from Clifton Forge. I still have a picture of Tucker and me with a P-47. Many weeks later, this story got a lot of publicity – Lowell Thomas on radio, newspapers and TIME magazine.“

Another mission that didn’t turn out as expected occurred when Bill flew with a sinus infection. He and his group were escorting a sortie of bombers, and in chasing German fighters away from the flight, he engaged in a power dive from 30,000 feet, chasing after a Messerschmitt Bf 109. The extreme change in pressure caused his eyes to swell shut, blinding him. Bill was able to keep his plane in the air by control feel, but had no way to determine his heading or carry out a landing. Calling on his radio for help, one of Bill’s mates, Indicated that he could see Bill’s plane and gave him instructions to get the plane pointed in the right direction, then got on his wing and together the two made their way back to the base in England. Bill was talked through a straight-in approach and landing. It took several days under the care of the Base’s doctors before the swelling had gone down enough for Bill to see again.

Believe it or not, that’s just for starters; read on for some truly incredible tales of fighter-jock derring-do. Overstreet just passed away this past weekend; may he rest in peace. I’d say they don’t make ’em like him anymore, but having spent a fair amount of time over the years with Navy and Marine pilots and a scattering here and there of SpecWar types as well, the fact is…well, they do. And for that, we can all be grateful.

(Via Dave in Texas)


Tragic loss


When a fan told Ray Price that he sounded like Hank Williams, the young country singer should have been thrilled. It was 1953, not long after Williams’ death, and Price had taken over fronting the revered musician’s band.

But Price did not take the comment as a compliment.

“A red light went off,” he recalled years later. “Going home that night, I told the boys, ‘I love the lot of you, but you sound like Hank.'”

Not satisfied to be merely a standard-bearer of honky tonk, he began to experiment by tinkering with rhythm and later even adding lush strings, reshaping country music with a vibrant new energy that continued long after the 1950s and ’60s.

Price, 87, died of pancreatic cancer Monday at his home in Mount Pleasant, Texas. His death was announced by family spokesman Bill Mack.

Price is easily my favorite country singer; the man really knew his way around a lyric, with a wonderful voice and phrasing that rivaled Sinatra’s. Up until just recently, he was still touring, and still sounded great. What a loss to the world.

Wonderful stuff, and one among a great many; check out “City Lights,” “Heartaches By The Number,” or “Invitation To The Blues” for more. Rest easy, Ray, and thanks; we’ll never forget you.


Another great one gone

Glenn is right to keep bringing up The Stuntman (and Barbara Hershey); it’s excellent. But my favorite O’Toole movie is and shall remain My Favorite Year. Not as sweeping and grand as Lawrence, sure; not as dark as Stuntman. But I still like it. Gotta love his dad’s sense of humor, too; I mean, “Peter O’Toole”? Come on, man; that’s better than NASCAR driver Dick Trickle.

May he rest in peace; like so many we’ve lost in recent years, we shan’t see his like again.


On the third day, he rose from the dead

My God. We thought the lib-media Juibilee of Praise for Saint John of Kennedy was bad.

The South Africa that Mandela leaves behind is a land in search of a people. There is no milk and honey. Instead there is a desperate scramble for a way out of the country by every race and creed able to agree only on wanting to leave. Post-Apartheid South Africa is an experiment that Western liberals love to admire, but that nobody seems to want to actually live in.

“The people of South Africa, led by the S.A.C.P. will destroy capitalist society and build in its place socialism where there will be no exploitation of man by man, and where there will be no rich and poor, no unemployment, starvation, disease and ignorance,” Mandela wrote.

Today 77 percent of South African households face food insecurity and most teachers are not able to teach students how to read independently. The Communist utopia of universal literacy, plenty and equality has not come and isn’t coming.

To many white liberals, Mandela has taken his place in the pantheon alongside Gandhi and the Dalai Lama as a Third World saint who led a resistance based on forgiveness and acceptance. This need for Third World saints that led to a white cult growing around Gandhi and the Dalai Lama has more to do with the decline of spirituality in the West than with the reality of the three political figures who like most leaders understood the value of symbolism when it came to cloaking their more human agendas.

Mandela was neither a monster nor a saint. Instead he occupied a troubled middle ground which saw him employ terrorism and align with unambiguous monsters like Castro and Gaddafi. The man who preached a utopian creed with a violent edge proved to be a pragmatist. If there is any virtue to take away from his life, it is that when push came to shove, he chose pragmatism over ideology.

They would never do such a thing. All they need to know is that he was a Marxist, and that’s good enough for them. For what it’s worth, my own take is pretty much equivalent to the Diplomad’s: as Marxists go, we’ve surely seen worse. But he was still a Marxist.

I was always conflicted about Mandela, admiring his courage but highly doubtful about his politics and of what he and the ANC would bring to South Africa. I never met him, but did meet several ANC representatives at the UN and elsewhere, and, to say the obvious, had serious problems with their anti-USA and pro-USSR proclivities. While I worked at the UN, Mandela was the cause célèbre of all right thinking people and, naturally, of UN diplomats. The UN passed countless resolutions condemning apartheid, demanding freedom for Mandela, and, of course, condemning the Reagan administration’s approach to dealing with South Africa.

The ANC was a lost cause; they did not believe in democracy, and had a large element of thuggery in their ranks. Many were terrorists who had received training in Libya, and were out for revenge and blood. Mandela, however, was more complicated than I had thought. He had had his violent phase, but only after trying peaceful opposition to apartheid. Both in and after coming out of prison, he proved an extremely intelligent negotiator and compromiser, reaching understandings with Botha and De Klerk, and turning down the volume of the anti-white message of the ANC. He seemed to have an understanding that whites and other non-blacks were essential for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa. He also, surprise, did not go full Mugabe. He won election–although the vote counting was suspicious–served his term, trying to unite blacks, whites, Asians, and others into accepting the new post-apartheid South Africa. He did not try to drive the whites out, and did not go around confiscating farms and businesses. He did not encourage revenge against whites and sought a reconciliation of the races. A practical politician, he turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption among the ANC, finding it better to let the party members expend their revolutionary fervor making money. At the end of his term, he stepped down. Yes, he stepped down. That is an amazing thing in Africa; he stepped down on completing his term of office. It does not happen much on that continent. He, however, never got over his deep mistrust of the USA, and despite his credentials as a victim of human rights abuse, refused to criticize Qaddafy, never gave up his fervent admiration for Castro–who, ironically, runs a racist regime in Cuba–and remained very anti-Israel.

I think the comparison to Lincoln that I’ve seen here and there is fair enough: they were both flawed men whose tyrannical tendencies can charitably be overlooked after their deaths, especially in light of their achievements in freeing an oppressed people. A historic leader? Sure. A great man? Possibly. A saint? Hell no, liberal bleating and genuflecting notwithstanding.


Veterans Day

Great story.

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — The last of the Doolittle Raiders, all in their 90s, offered a final toast Saturday to their fallen comrades, as they pondered their place in history after a day of fanfare about their 1942 attack on Japan.

“May they rest in peace,” Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, said before the three Raiders present sipped an 1896 cognac from specially engraved silver goblets. The cognac was saved for the occasion after being passed down from their late commander, Lt. Gen. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, who was born in 1896.

May they rest in peace indeed. And here’s a couple of of photos from the Warbirds Over Monroe airshow this past weekend:

My two all-time favorites, the F4U Corsair and the hallowed P51 Mustang. My four-year-old daughter took that shot, believe it or not.

Never have seen a wing walker before, as many airshows as I’ve been to. It was AWESOME; she was dressed as Wonder Woman, and that’s just what she is, too. Lots more about her, with some great photos, here.

Update! I should mention Ashley’s pilot, Greg Shelton, and his plane, a Super Stearman with the 450-horsepower Pratt and Whitney engine rather than the standard 220hp Contintental. Hearing that thing roar as they flew by, you could easily tell this was a high-performance aircraft, and Shelton really flew the hell out of it. If you ever get the chance to see this duo perform, don’t pass it up. Absolutely thrilling, that’s what. My kid just loved it, too, clapping her hands, laughing, and jumping up and down like a mad thing. Highly recommended; any Warbirds gathering is as good a way to celebrate Veterans Day as I can think of right offhand.


“Thank you, Mom. Thank you so much. I love you.”

A beautiful story about a remarkable life.

During one of the years of our time in Chapel Hill, she worked with my father and some family friends to arrange for the family to live in the UK. For one year my father switched parishes with the Rector of Esher outside London. She was determined that we would see as much as we could. That summer my parents wanted to take themselves and their four children on a long family vacation touring England and Scotland; we had a minivan in which four children could sleep, and a tent for my parents.

My mother, despite her frequent experience with tents, was not a Lonely Planet kind of traveler. She liked a nice chocolate mint on the pillow when the maid turned down the sheets on her comfy hotel bed. But on a young minister’s salary, it was camp out or stay home, and she was not going to miss her chance to see the Lake Country of her beloved English Romantics – or miss the chance to instruct her children in history and architecture by touring cathedral towns and museums.

So we traveled from one campground to another, all the way up to Scotland where, even in August, the nights were cold and damp. One night we were camping in the highlands near Ben Nevis, and the chill was unbearable. She sent my father down to the little store at the campsite to find something, anything that could help her stay warm. The only things he could see that might conceivably be of some use were the day’s newspapers; he bought every newspaper in the store and laid them between their sleeping bags and the air mattresses and inside the sleeping bags to provide a little insulation.

As Mom told the story, it was a little warmer, but not much – and now with every breath or movement, there was the irritating rustling of the newspapers, creaking and shifting. She lay on her back on the uncomfortable mattress as the air grew colder and colder. At last she was so cold and so uncomfortable that she couldn’t lie still. She sat straight up in the tent and said, “I just can’t stand this anymore!”

My mother was very knowledgeable about many things, but she did not understand what can happen on cold damp nights when water condenses on the underside of a canvas tent. As she sat up, her head struck the tent and a shower of icy water drenched her. Completely defeated for one of the few times in her life, she lay back on the damp mattress in misery.

As she lay there, she heard something else: a hissing sound. An air mattress was leaking. She would tell us that that was the moment when she realized that her love for my father wasn’t infinite; she was hoping that the leaky mattress was his.

Walter Russell Mead just lost his mom, and my sincerest condolences go out to him. She sounds like quite a woman indeed, of a kind they just aren’t making anymore.


So long to not much

As you can tell from my title, I no longer see any reason to bother about the problem Jonah mentions here:

I’m not a big fan of speaking ill of the dead soon after their passing, so I was reluctant to write my column today on Helen Thomas. But the swirl of phoney-baloney praise and love for the woman was just too much. And since she would probably not be back in the news again, I waited a couple days and then took my shot (I see Jonathan Tobin felt likewise).

Okay, this ought to be fun.

In the movie Animal House, the Deltas are put on trial for their antics. When offered a chance to defend themselves, the best argument the fraternity’s president can come up with is, “But sir, Delta Tau Chi has a long tradition of existence both to its members and the community at large.”

Yep. Gonna be fun.

Hamas was less interested in Thomas’s role as a path-breaking feminist icon than in the fact that, at a 2010 White House Jewish heritage event, she growled into a camera that the Jews should “get the hell out” of Israel (or “Palestine” in her telling) and go back to Poland, Germany, and America. That statement, cheered by Hezbollah at the time, was too much for Hearst, which quickly ushered her off to retirement, where she cultivated her status as a truth-teller martyred by the Zionists who control everything in America.

In most obituaries, this incident comes out of the blue, often chalked up to the fact that her parents were Lebanese immigrants (an odd slap at Lebanese Americans). There’s no mention of the fact that her hatred of Israel — and of supporters of Israel — was a constant for most of her career.

Indeed, if you go back and look at many of her famously tough questions of U.S. presidents and press secretaries with that in mind, what seems to many as skepticism about U.S. foreign policy is better understood as special pleading for Israel’s enemies. “Thank God for Hezbollah,” Thomas told a CNN cameraman in 2002, according to the Washington Post. Israel, she added, was responsible for “99 percent of all this terrorism.” Her first question of President Obama referred to members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban as “so-called terrorists.”

She was a hideous, hateful old gargoyle, eaten up by her bone-deep loathing for Israel and the Jews, Republicans, conservatives, and any and everything not spawned by the evil Left. She was just another in a long line of proto-reptilian carny “journalists” that crawled fully-formed from the squalid nest of liberal-fascism, sucking up to Democrat Socialist tyrants while doing her level best to attack and discomfit Republican presidents and other politicians. She was a gutless, unprincipled, dishonest hack, unworthy of the respect, admiration, or even tolerance of anyone possessing character, a conscience, and a soul. She was a stain on the national character, a blight on our posterity, or she would’ve been had she risen to any meaningful level of real importance.

But she didn’t. She was a bit player in a poorly-produced off-off-off-Broadway show. Nobody took her all that seriously; even most on the Left knew her for the insignificant sideshow barker she actually was. But you’d never have known it from her ostentatious displays of self-importance, her pompous dismissals of anyone who got in the way of her lickspittle toadying to liberal-fascist power brokers.

She will be forgotten inside of five years, by all but the most starry-eyed of liberal j-school students and the more hateful of their squawking “professors.” And that oblivion will be well-earned, and all to the good. I had already forgotten about her, to tell you the truth; when I read she had died, my first reaction was surprise at being reminded that she hadn’t already. And I’m someone who’s expended a fair amount of words denouncing the awful termagant here and elsewhere.

She was, above all else, an arrogant, ignorant, and despicable fool. She was of that particular strain of nothing that is nearly invisible in normal circumstances, but still leaves a bad odor wafting up from the bottom of your shoe.

Indeed, NPR’s media correspondent, David Folkenflik, observed in his obituary that Thomas “put a premium on shoe-leather reporting out of view.” He fails to mention any stories Thomas actually broke.

The New York Times managed to identify a scoop: Her reports of her phone conversations with Martha Mitchell, the emotionally disturbed wife of Watergate-era attorney general John Mitchell. Mrs. Mitchell had a habit — owing in part to her reported alcoholism — of getting drunk and telephoning whoever would listen to her rants. Most reporters stopped exploiting Mitchell once it became clear how ill the woman was. Not Thomas. She happily transcribed the calls, even reporting how Mitchell’s young daughter was begging her mother to get off the phone with Thomas. “Don’t talk to her, she’s no friend.”

Or as journalist Andrew Ferguson once put it, “Everybody admires Helen, though nobody can tell you why.”

The best answer I can come up with: She had a long tradition of existence.

There’s a better one than that: she was a dyed-in-the-wool, reliable liberal-fascist, a useful idiot for a noxious cause. As such, all her sins were preemptively forgiven by her fellow travelers.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. She never was worth much more than a moment’s irritation, really. But at least she can finally serve a useful function in death: the fleeting, transitory amusement of her betters.


Getting old sucks: farewell to another old friend

So tomorrow–today, actually–I become a man. Officially, undeniably, and at long, long last. I do a difficult, painful thing I don’t want to do, because I know it must be done, and I am the guy who must do it. I know a good few folks who have been waiting for the sudden onset of manhood in me for a long time, without ever really expecting it to ever happen. I hate to disappoint them, or discomfit them, or disrupt any comfortable illusions, but it’s actually going to–regrettably. I don’t look forward to it. In fact, I’m dreading it way more than I expected to. It just hit me a couple hours ago, and I’m only now grasping the full import of it.

See, tomorrow–today, actually–I have to shoot my dog.

My friend Al is going to help me. He’s offered repeatedly to do it himself while I cringe indoors, but I can’t let him. It’s my dog, it’s my responsibility. It would bother the hell out of him, despite his protestations that he has no emotional attachment to the dog and can therefore do it without much in the way of psychological blowback. He’s an old country boy, grew up on a farm, and knows about the harsh realities of life and death. But I know him better than that; he’s good and decent and softhearted deep down; he’d hate it, and it would gnaw at him. If it’s going to gnaw at anybody, it needs to be me.

We”ll give her something she loves to eat, slip her some doggie phenobarb to sedate her, and then…two in the head. She’ll never know what hit her, and will go out happy and content. Or so I tell myself. After seeing as much death as I have in recent years, up close and personal, I know one thing for certain: death is NEVER easy, and that whole “died instantly” business you always get on the TV news after a bad car wreck is a myth the living tell themselves for their own ease. Hell, half step on a cockroach sometime, and watch how it squirms around trying to get away. Even when life consists entirely of creeping around in the dark eating garbage, all creatures still cling to it with amazing ferocity. That’s just how it is. I expect some very unpleasant twitching and thrashing around, even from beyond the wall of consciousness. This, from a creature I actually care about, who has shared the vicissitudes of life with me for a long time now. It’s going to suck.

The dog’s name is Bert. She’s a she; don’t even ask about the name, it just seemed to fit at the time. I got her in spring of 2000, right smack in the middle of the dismal end of a romantic relationship I never should have embarked upon in the first place, and which wasn’t worthy of the schoolboy anguish I slopped over it like water. I didn’t know it was ending at the time, but it was, and way too late to be of any help, too. I was wrapped up in a fantasy, kidding myself about what I was, what she was, and what the hell we were doing. I was way old enough to know better, and in the process let down a lot of people whose opinions mattered to me, and still do. The girl is now…well, who knows? I sure don’t, and I ain’t about to ask. May she have joy and prosper, for all her days. The dog just sort of turned up at a particularly fraught moment in my deliberations, and was representative of a turn in the road I never saw coming but took with alacrity once it was in my windshield and obvious.

I picked Bertie up at a gas station near my mom’s on a chilly, rainy April day. I had ridden by the place about three times, saw her standing stoically out there, went in and asked the cashier about her. The guy said, “I dunno, she’s been out here about four days now.” I went straightaway and bought a collar, a leash, a bowl, and some food. Went back, called her over, patted her on the head, then opened the passenger door. She dove up onto the seat, curled up as I started up and drove off, and went to sleep like she’d lived there her whole life.

I hadn’t had a dog in years, nor did I particularly want one at that time. I was a confirmed cat guy, and couldn’t imagine living without one or two of those. Dogs? Nah. I loved ’em, had ’em since I was a kid, but…nah. Cats are easy; put out some food, change the litter, and scratch behind their ears when they pile up on your lap. Dogs are quite a bit more complicated. As wonderful as they are, as deep and satisfying as the rewards of sharing your life with one can be, they require a good bit of effort. It was effort I wasn’t interested in expending at the time. I had enough going on already.

But shit, she was out there in the cold rain, man. Just sitting there on her haunches, big bat ears pricked up, waiting for somebody, anybody, to come along and love her a little. Enough to get her out of the rain and give her something to eat besides scraps from the garbage, at least. Somebody had to help, and I was the only guy around.

Bert was an aggressive, persnickety asshole from Day One. She would try to lord it over any other dog in her reach, even to the point of real fighting. When she did fight, there was never an ounce of give-up in her, even with dogs way bigger than her; she would scrap herself exhausted, even in clear defeat, and then get up and try to give chase when she’d gotten her ass whipped. Which wasn’t often. I had to kick her off of a poor old golden retriever that was literally twice her size once; the girl who was walking it through the neighborhood looked at me like she had just watched me murder her grandma. When the hair on Bert’s back stood up and she started that stiff-legged strut they do, I knew I better grab her and yank her back from the brink of combat quick, even if her target was not in plain view. It was always a lead-pipe cinch there was one.

She was mean and cantankerous; she bit every girlfriend I had the whole time I had her, along with a small handful of cable TV installers, phone company guys, miscellaneous handymen, and at least one practicing member of the clergy. She absolutely loved my brother, who would play with her and rub her and rile her up until she was doing circles around the yard at eye-tearing speed, tongue hanging out, barking at the sheer irrational joy of it all.

She was tolerant of my cats, but never affectionate with them the way my pit bull, Cookie, is. She would get pissed off and generally upset any time I ventured out of her sight and she couldn’t follow; I would take her out to pee before leaving the house for a bit, bring her back in, leave, and then come back a minute later for something I’d forgotten only to find she’d pissed on the floor, almost always right by the door. Sheer spite, and we both knew it.

To this day–her last–if I don’t let her in the bedroom when I go to sleep, I can expect a lot of whining and whimpering until I let her in to curl up beside the bed, or crawl up under it. I tried keeping both dogs in crates down in the basement once, with nice soft bedding and all that, when Christiana was still alive. I tried that briefly. The din she put up was something awful; you should have heard it, you really should. Like she was being jabbed in especially tender places with hot, jagged knives. Anybody who heard that anguished racket would laugh scornfully at those sheltered, unworldly souls who refer to waterboarding as “torture.” Cookie was fine with it; she loved her crate, and still does. I suspect Bert would have been fine with the crate too, if it had just been in the bedroom where I was.

She was way too smart for her own good, and it got her into trouble now and then. She was sneaky, cunning, devious. She had techniques for stealing food off of plates if someone was careless enough to get up for a moment that bordered on the supernatural. She was feisty and playful, and had a really good doggy grin, which inarguable fact you can verify below. Christiana used to call her Princess Dainty Paws, because of the regal way she pranced around our backyard–lifting her front paws in a nearly perfect show-horse strut, tail stiffly up, head held high in dignity and grace–and would absolutely refuse to go out in the rain at all, ever. Christiana HATED that dog. She was one of the women Bert bit, naturally.

She has stuck to me like glue for more than thirteen years now. She was unequivocally and unalterably My Dog from Go–devoted, attentive, protective, affectionate, and faithful. She was a year and half or so old when I found her, or so the vet estimated. That would make her nigh on fifteen now, which is a respectable lifespan for a danged old hound. She has hip dysplasia and is blind in one eye, among assorted other ailments and maladies. It is time for her to go get some rest. It is time for me to have some too.

I knew–had to admit, more like–that the clock had wound down to its last few ticks the other night, when she was lying on the floor in her usual spot in front of my chair and just pissed herself, without ever moving a muscle. She didn’t even know it had happened, just laid there in it without making either sound or move. This was most assuredly NOT spite; what it was, was feeble helplessness and near-oblivion. I had to pick her up, clean her up, and clean the floor under her. It pissed me off at first, until I realized what had really happened, and then it made me quite damned sad.

She is curled up happily by my chair as I write this, her obituary. I write it knowing that I am the only person on this earth who actually gives a damn.

She had a pretty good run, I guess. I dread telling my daughter almost worse than actually doing the ghastly thing; every day when I pick her up, she says, “Are Cookie and Bert waiting for us at home?” After tomorrow–today–I will not be able to say “Yes, of course they are” anymore. My daughter is assuredly NOT going to be happy about this. The pit bull, twice Bert’s size and way more capable of doing real damage to very nearly anything if circumstances warrant, tough and big and strong and jolly, is suddenly going to have to deal with being the alpha after seven years of getting bullyragged all to hell and gone. It’s going to be odd all the way round, for everybody. That’s life, I guess; Cookie gets a battlefield promotion, and Bert goes wherever old souls in worn-out bodies go sooner or later. Comes to us all, as they say. Doesn’t mean we like it.

In direct contravention of my recently avowed “once they die, I’m done, no replacements” policy, I’m already thinking about getting a puppy.

So long, ya crotchety old knucklehead. I’ll miss ya, and that’s the truth.


Pfouts update

You folks may remember my obit for my dear departed friend Chris Pfouts from a couple of weeks ago. What I forgot to mention is that his brothers in the Exiles CC were putting together some way cool shirts to sell in his honor; those shirts are now done and available, and can be purchased here. Buy early, buy often; all sizes available, all colors available as long as you like black, all proceeds go to benefit Chris’s family. Which, being a lifelong writer and all, he died in near penury, so they could use the help.

Also, Meiji asked in the comments to the post if any of Chris’s writing was available online, and I never got around to answering. Short answer: no. Longer answer: there used to be an International Tattoo Art website with some of his columns for that mag up there, but it seems to have gone down the same memory hole ITA itself did once Chris got sick enough to be unable to continue prodding it along. Even longer answer: somewhere in all the flotsam and jetsam crammed into my squalid little hovel, I have a box with all those old Iron Horse mags with the Junkman columns I mentioned in my post. My intention, assuming that that box still exists somewhere other than in my imagination exclusively, is to dig those suckers up, dust ’em off, transcribe those columns, and archive them here. It will take some time and doing, but that stuff was everything you want good writing to be, and it needs to have a home on the Intarwebs someplace for posterity’s sake, before Obama and the UN turn the whole WWW into a pile of infuriating, government-sponsored tripe useful only for tracking those foolish or desperate enough to dare bothering with it.

There are some of you out there who will read that stuff and go, “Meh–what the hell is he talking about?” There are others whose hair will be blown back and whose spines will tingle like mine did when I first saw ’em, and those people really, really need to experience that exhilaration. So, I’m gonna get started on that just as soon as I am able. Meanwhile, go buy yaself a shirt you can be proud of. The design, featuring a motto of Chris’s after he had gotten shot in the knee in Williamsburg, before it became a yuppie playground and was still hard and nasty in all the less amusing ways:


I lost a brother

I’ve been agonizing over this for a week now–I know it has to be written, I don’t want to, and I really don’t know how to start. I don’t even know how to voice it; do I go with flip and cheery and kind of hipster-doofus-ish? Do I go all somber and serious? Do I try to be funny? Do I try high-minded and literary (well, as close as I can get, anyway) or stick to my usual lowbrow, profane snark?

It has to be done, and I want it to be perfect. I want it to be something that he’d grin over reading, maybe chuckle here and there, now and then nod his head in approval.

There was a guy used to comment around here quite a bit; he went by the nom de blog threeleggedbunny. You CF lifers will likely remember him, because his comments were always well put together, with a tangy zip to the writing that had a kick like good wasabe. He always knew whereof he spoke; he didn’t just throw stuff out there off the cuff. Writing was everything to him, and he didn’t joke around with it, although he could make it seem like he was if that was his aim. He made it all look easy.

If he wasn’t pretty well-informed about a subject, he just didn’t write about it; he might converse about it–would, in the interest of educating himself, which he was always and forever doing–but writing for him was too important to trivialize. He could make banality profound. He wrote exclusively about things that mattered to him, things that he knew a good bit about. And he knew a good bit about an amazing variety of subjects.

He thoroughly enjoyed my writing, encouraged me, prodded me without hounding me, and actually was responsible for getting me paid for it for the first time. I owe him more than even he probably knew.

I don’t want to write this, I really don’t. But it’s gotta be done.

Chris Pfouts was his name. He died a couple of weeks ago, way too young, of complications from Hep B, which he’d been fighting for years. He was one of the best writers I know of, or ever expect to.

He loved old Indian motorcycles; rat rods; good, toothsome old American music; his gorgeous, formidable daughter Kim; art of all kinds; quality beer; hot, reckless, spirited women; guns and other weaponry, especially the oddball and esoteric; architecture; history; and, of course, good writing. He loved people generally too, although he’d deny that up and down, and be annoyed at my suggesting such. Or he’d pretend to be, briefly and unconvincingly. He was eternally fascinated and entertained by the strange, willful folks who walk the road less traveled of their own resolute volition, usually to their own great detriment.

We had a hell of a lot in common.

Walking around New York or New Orleans with him was a revelation and an education; he was especially fond of those cities, and would point out some nondescript building, crumbling edifice, or pocket park along the way and go into a dissertation of the history of the spot that left you A) fascinated, and B) in awe of the depth of his knowledge. He’d forgotten more of the history of those two places than any ten prideful natives will ever know.

We once attended a–well, I don’t know what to call it; a gathering, a service, a conclave, a pep rally? I dunno. But it was a Unitarian Universalist Church event in New York City. His girlfriend at the time, a beautiful, sweet Jamaican woman named Marie, was a devoted member, to Chris’s boundless bemusement, befuddlement, and occasional irritation. He smuggled in a bottle of wine for the two of us, and we proceeded to get righteously high-schooled and just looked on in amazement, giggling hand-over-mouth now and then like kids in school at some of the more risible goings-on. Pete Seeger played, which was why Chris had wanted to come in the first place. I remember one especially sickly-looking whiter-than-white woman off to the side beaming in absolute ecstasy, her sanctimonious fervor shining off her pasty face like a klieg light, trying to clap along in time with “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It.” And failing utterly, and hilariously. Chris apologized to me again and again over the years for dragging me out to that, but I had a ball.

He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Columbia University journalism school. I don’t think too many people knew that about him; he never made a big deal of it, or even mentioned it at all to me. I found out about it from the author bio of one of his books. I asked him about it right after, and he didn’t have a lot to say beyond, “So?” Which is an attitude, a humility, that we could probably do with a lot more j-school grads sharing.

He was the editor of International Tattoo Art magazine, probably–no, certainly–the best hands-down of the surfeit of tattoo mags out there these days. In the last few years, he expended considerable effort trying to arrange things with his publisher so that I could take over running the mag when he either retired or died. He was adamant about it; I didn’t know how to tell him that I’d lost interest in tattoos long ago. When I first started getting them, they were a way of setting yourself apart from the common herd; nobody but convicts, sailors, and bikers had ’em, and you could still get pretty sharpish disapproving looks at the grocery store over ’em. Now, they’re a rite of passage, a means of including yourself in that same herd. They’re background noise, if even that, and not much more.

I have no regrets whatever over my tattoos, contrary to my dad’s dire predictions, and I still enjoy seeing good work. But I no longer have the interest to devote the time and energy required to run a magazine exclusively about them, and I haven’t in a long time. Couldn’t tell him that, though; I felt honored that he was so damned adamant about me taking up his legacy, and his faith in my ability to do it. It would have been a good, steady gig, which I haven’t had in too long; I’d have taken it if it had ever worked out, honestly, and just tried to fake my way through. But I know I would have sucked at it, and let down my friend in so doing.

Years before that, he was editor of Iron Horse magazine, which is how I met him. Back in the early 80s, I used to buy every biker mag I could get my hands on, each and every month. Easyriders I subscribed to for years, and Outlaw Biker, Supercycle, Biker, Hot Bike, and a couple of others I used to buy at a newsstand here. First of every month, I’d check in daily until I had ’em all, and I’d drink in every word like a thirsty man at a desert oasis. I was new to biker culture, and as has always been the case with me when I get interested in something, I burned for all the knowledge I could get, and chased it to the point of obsession. The newsstand owner/clerk knew me by name, he knew where I lived. He knew my phone number because I had given it to him so he could call me when Iron Horse came in.

I loved them all, but Iron Horse was special. It stood apart. Iron Horse in those days was extraordinary, it really was. Some “serious”, reputable publication–New York Times, maybe? the WSJ? I can’t remember–in some kind of bizarre, unanticipated roundup and review of biker mags once called IH “the Atlantic Monthly of biker magazines,” and they were right. I remember Chris being as careful as he could to hide his pride in that. But I knew, and I asked him one time about it, and he sheepishly admitted it.

About two years ago, he called me to tell me he was pitching his publisher with the idea of resurrecting it, and wanted me to basically run it for him. I don’t know when I’ve ever been so excited. In terms of sheer knee-weakening, leg-wetting thrills, it was right up there with Sun Records expressing interest in signing my band, or meeting Traci Lords in Frederick’s Of Hollywood. I immediately contacted my friends Marc Danziger, Iowahawk, and Billy Beck to enlist them as writers, but nothing ever came of it; as I understand it, my being employed at the time by a, ummm, rival publication was, shall we say, problematic. Ah well; it would have been GREAT. I would have been relying on Chris a great deal for everything from schooling in the nuts and bolts of editing, to steering me to worthwhile feature subjects, contacts, and interview subjects, to the direction the mag would take, and maybe my biggest sorrow is that we never did get to work together on a project like that.

Anyway. He edited IH for years, and wrote a great monthly column under the pen name The Junkman. All the writing in Iron Horse was always a cut or three above the rest of them, and the Junkman was a few more cuts above that. The stuff was simply amazing; the essays would start off hard and throbbing, wrap around themselves several times like Little Egypt dancing for her life, and then come back around to be tied up in the neatest little package you ever saw at the end. The theme was always sustained, even though it was often deliberately obscured in the middle. But always, always, always, it jumped back up to slap you in the face at the end. I used to literally get goosebumps reading it. You wouldn’t even believe how much I used to look forward to getting my hands on that mag every month.

That’s the way it is with all the best art: you establish the premise, you circle it, play with it like a cat with a mouse, even pretend to abandon it and walk away for a bit. Then you swoop in and tear its head off at the end. I try to run my rock and roll shows that way, and even succeed spectacularly now and then. The best stand-up comics do it that way–which, by the by, Chris did a night of standup some years back, a gutsy move I can’t even imagine making myself. Most classical music is built around that format. Theater, movies, you name it. Chris did it in the biker mag genre, demonstrating an intellectual sophistication in a relatively obscure place most squarejohn types would never even think to look. Hell, most bikers probably didn’t. But for those of us who got it, it was a truly beautiful thing.

So after a few years of reading and just digging the hell out of Chris’s work in Iron Horse, I wrote a letter to the mag expressing my deep appreciation. He wrote me back, and thus began a correspondence that went on for a few years (I still have every letter he ever wrote me, and treasure them). Then we kind of lost touch for a year or so, as often happens.

During that time, my band got our first gig in NYC, and we went and did it. A few weeks later, I got a blistering, disappointed letter from Chris, howling at me to wit: “How the hell could you possibly come and play New York without letting me know, you selfish, soulless putz?” Next time we played there, we finally met face to face, and so began a friendship that would go on for more than twenty years.

I still have a copy of the manuscript for his novel; he wanted me to proofread it, as well as offer any suggestions I might have had for punching it up and pulling it together. I told him at the time that I wouldn’t dream of presuming; now that I’m trying to write a novel of sorts myself, I realize how outlandishly impudent of me it would have been to critique it. And I didn’t. I read it, told him I liked it a lot (which I did, and do), and we left it at that. Writing a novel is fucking HARD, people; I never even imagined how hard it is, so it ain’t for me to jump on anybody’s efforts in that direction, no matter how much they may respect my own work.

There are lots more stories I could tell, but I guess I’ll wrap it up. Chris published some really good nonfiction books: Lead Poisoning, True Tales of American Violence, Safe In The City, Hula Dancers And Tiki Gods. All of them are worth whatever you might have to pay for them.

As an old-school biker type, the kind you don’t see near as much of as you used to, Chris had a thing about the overuse of the word “brother.” Like “extreme” or “awesome” or “genius,” it gets thrown around so much nowadays as to be rendered very nearly meaningless (Google “don’t tase me, bro” for a sad example). Back in the day, when a biker called you “brother,” you knew that this was a man you could count on for anything at all; if you needed help, he would bring it, no matter what, and you would do the same for him, without hesitation.

It used to annoy Pfouts to no end to hear some amateur drunks at the bar tossing around “brother” after knowing each other about twenty minutes. As something of a half-assed old-school biker myself, I understood it, and still do, even though I have to admit to being guilty of it myself sometimes nowadays. But I do try to watch it, and exercise a little discretion.

When his first published book, Lead Poisoning, came out, he sent me a copy. On the flyleaf was the inscription: “To Mike: a true brother.” I can’t even begin to tell you what that meant to me, and still does, and always will.

He was pretend-grouchy and irascible in a way that will be familiar to anyone who ever knew an old-school biker; funny; smart; talented; curious; intellectually rigorous; tough as nails and hard as rocks; honest; fair-minded. He had integrity; he loved to laugh.

Farewell, Chris; I miss you already, and will love you always, my brother. Your writing touched me deeply, brought me joy, and matters to me to this day. Likewise your opinion on just about anything, which was always thoughtful, intelligent, and skillfully expressed. Wherever you are now, I hope the beer is cold; the women are sexy, smart, eager, and generous-hearted; the bikes are running good; the music is loud and proper; and the writing cuts like a sharp, sharp knife. Say hello to Larry Brown, John Kennedy Toole, and Buk for me. I hope to see you there someday; I hope you think I did you justice here.

Closing words of wisdom, from Pfouts himself, a man who understood and knew, just dead solid knew: “Winklepickers and kickstarters do not mix worth a damn.”

Read and heed, baby.




"America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards." – Claire Wolfe, 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution

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