Friday, November 16, 2012

A Tragic Confluence: Charles Manson and the Danse Macabre

It was a terrible, tragic confluence of illness, character, and chronology. And Charles Manson's mental state prospered.


We all began as kids...

His messengers were much like him – outsiders, dispossessed, the psychotic, the poor and desperate. Yet under the shambling guise of California hippies, replete with guitars-by-the-bonfire, no-money, communal living and free love, they murdered with glee.

Manson knew the end of the world was nigh, that African-Americans were plotting to subsume white culture, that he was the only guy who recognized this and the only way to get control was to ignite a race war – to kind of get the jump. Hence, ‘Helter Skelter’, a term he borrowed from his very own personal prophets, the Beatles, a term that, for Manson, implied a significant military strategy.

So he'd sent out his Zombie-Hippies at night, and they would return to the compound/commune fresh from successful sprees of premeditated, debauched murder. One of his victims was over eight months pregnant. Manson became a proud, energetic leader. He had plans to expand.

All of this happened just a few months before Woodstock. Flower Power had grown a malignant, creeping vine yet no one noticed. Manson demonstrated how fragile the whole leaderless, youth-based, drug-oriented subculture really was.

Mental illness in full flight

Whereas Bonnie and Clyde wouldn’t have had much of a career in our retina-ID, DNA, chopper-patrol, insta-cash, WiFi world, so Manson, without the off-the-grid, tie-dyed infrastructure of late 60s California, would have been just another sick hipster, hustling street corners, knocking off dime stores, to be killed in a knife fight at the back of a pool hall at 3 a.m. and forgotten forever.

The times don’t always make the man. And the man doesn’t necessarily make the times. (When it goes wrong, they embrace and whirl each other across the floor in a danse macabre while the rest of us line the walls, Easter Island-like, to witness a timeless, terrible harmony.)

Sometimes they make each other.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Laugh-In. Sit-In. Bed-In. Be-In.

The first thing you noticed about Laugh-In (1968 - 1973) were the colors, unknown to network television until then. (Color TVs had been around for a few years, but no one maxed the possibilities).The swirling paisley, the gliding stripes, the undulating tie-dyes. Suddenly, ‘Gunsmoke’ made no sense. 'Bewitched' played in a Victorian drawing-room.

Alan Sues, the kiddies' pal

Then you had the attention-deficit-disorder-Jean-Luc-Godard jump cuts. Nothing lasted more than a laugh. No point. On to the next skit. Sock it to me baby…

It was a non-stop party somewhere in Malibu, maybe, after dinner-by-the sea and white sand, where real groovin’ hippies commingled ‘round a roaring fire with anachronistic swingers like Peter Lawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Goldie's bikini
 It was never supposed to work so well. Laugh-In began as a one-time special — then skipped down the streets of Burbank like an day-glo clown, snatching Emmy awards and championing Hollywood careers.

No single TV show nailed the west coast pre-Manson 60s zeitgeist quite like Laugh-In… Interracial couples, thinly disguised drug references, micro-mini skirts, left-wing politics, anti-establishment…

Through it all you had two tuxedoed lounge-lizards, Rowan and Martin, a smart guy/dumb guy Vegas routine, vaudeville zapped by hellzapoppin’. Incongruent enough to be cool … One of its young writers took thick notes, underlined ‘Controlled Anarchy’, jumped a Greyhound, and headed east.

Very interesting..
 It was hugely influential with pithy slogans that go-go danced their way into the slinky lingua franca. It opened doors on a wild house party that was just tame enough that squares felt hip, and just square enough that the hip could condescend.

Vietnam. Drugs. The draft. Kent State. Racial inequality. Joplin/Hendrix/Morrison. Assasinations. The protests… Pigs off campus… What’s so funny?

Out of misery is born magic.

A poem by Henry Gibson
No surprise the show ended along with the Sixties — that is, pre-Watergate. No place for bikini-clad jokesters — too vulnerable, too kooky… A more serious society required less serious comedy.

But then, one evening, unnoticed and without fanfare, a ghost-driven black cadillac began a dusty path across the country, from Burbank to the Big Apple, with crates of restless souls in the trunk, moaning for prime time, about to go Live from New York.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Marilyn Monroe: August 5, 1962

"Bound to adore you, fatherless child"

Au revoir Marilyn...if there's a wish, pay your visit to Mr. Dickens. For he, like many another literary man, is bound to adore you, fatherless child."

- Norman Mailer

"Dream baby dream...forever"

- Alan Vega/Suicide

Help I feel life coming closer
When all I want to do is die

- Marilyn Monroe

Ah... the patron saint of Beautiful Losers.


They got it wrong. Narcissus wanted to drown.

... Her appeal? ... just make it back into her arms and nothing could ever get you. No guilt. No nothing. Held forever in the soft embrace of death and forgiveness.

She once called the ocean 'a big mother'. She knew.

So she might say... “This evening it’s only us. Forget all before and all to come, stroll the sand 'til twilight and watch the waves roll in.”

"Dream baby dream...
Maybe it was the way she ignored fate, just tempted it, at night her eyes in a come-hither and lips parted, while each morning, unsure and weak, she steadied her sanity against the walls of her own tomb and bled out the voices in her head. That took real guts.

She was — and went the way of — all flesh. It's puzzling — with her unseen — she has become even more.

That baby doll voice whispers a prayer more than a promise... And you leave her alone at dawn. You're supposed to. Just like everyone else before.

For she belongs now on the coastline, wet hair, and cold salt spray running dark rivulets down the curved glass of her face and body.

Strange the way things work out. A sepulchral blonde asleep and curled on mink, dreaming of life ...forever"

...and Ever

Monday, February 13, 2012

Capucine: Snow Angel

‘Capucine’. One word, an icy brand distilled from the warmer ‘Germaine Hélène Irène Lefebvre’. But then her elegance didn’t permit intimacy. And that was her appeal. A snow angel with dazzling detachment.
Who would believe such a thing?
Born 1928. A Parisian model at 17, then into films. She was surprisingly adept at comedy, a genre strangely receptive to manic depressives. Without darkness we can’t know light?

She was saved from suicide more than once, but who would believe such a thing? The cheekbones, the plush lips, swept-back mane, the porcelain skin, who would believe it?

It’s 1952 and she lands a 2-week modeling gig aboard a French cruise ship and shares a cabin with Brigitte Bardot, 17, a chorus dancer. O pillow talk. Who would believe it?
With Peter Sellers
“Men look at me,” she opined, “like I'm a suspicious-looking trunk, and they're customs agents.” There’s a difference between beautiful and pretty — and in the face of beauty men grow wary, weakened by exposure to the spiritual, anxious to resume a cosmetic, manufactured appreciation.

She also said, “"Every time I get in front of a camera, I think of it as an attractive man I am meeting for the first time...” All the best faces know — instinctively it seems — the camera is a mirror in which you
Poor Snow Angel
slowly, with great art and artifice, seduce yourself, make love to the flesh and fear and forget-me-nots that are you. But therein lays disease and finally, after injecting one too many color chemical emulsions at 1/60th of a second — a kind of walking madness. Narcissus didn’t drown. He couldn’t tolerate the terrible pain of perfection — even his own.

So in 1990, she ended herself. A bi-polar decision lending a polar patina of white frost spangled like sapphires trailing the gorgeous curve of her neck.

The word 'Capucine' is French and refers to flowers. But poor snow angels, they never live to see spring.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sonny Liston: A Phantom Punch from an Unseen Fist

There’s was always something about Sonny Liston. Always rumours. Maybe the mob connections. Maybe the way he threw the second Ali fight, or his weird death in Las Vegas.
Nobody punched harder

It was as if he saw something out of the corner of his eye, a phantom, something fleeting and cruel.

Maybe he was waiting for something, a meeting that he could delay if he just belonged somewhere for once, if he just punched hard enough, if he only endured enough pain because pain — both delivered and received — lets you know you're alive. So he tried: nobody punched harder and with more debilitating force than Sonny Liston.

He had to. He had to smash his way out of poverty and jail and racial discrimination and… you know this tune — it’s 12-bar blues but in a minor key.

People spoke of his silent stare — eyes of a corpse, face drained of blood having taken such savage beatings at so young an age. But Sonny never complained, never explained. He didn't have to — because it was always between Sonny and the Big Man, not people. Shit, people were trouble. Best to avoid their bank accounts, their push-ups bras, their handguns. Best to fight then flee into the night.
Just as he expected - a Big nothing

That something he saw, that shadow boxer, that bemused trickster who led him pawing through the black & white crowds of yesterday’s newsreels, heaving cigar smoke and screams, the women all hollow-eyed girlfriends, coiled off men’s arms, the men themselves straining veins and broken fedoras.

And so in May/65 Sonny once again met the newly minted Muhammad Ali. (Of all the men I must battle, why O Lord do you face me with the best of them — ever?)
Iconic photo. Ali/Clay over Liston

Previously beaten by Ali even though he had managed to lace nitric acid on his gloves and grind them into Ali’s stinging eyes, this time Sonny said screw it and took the fall just half-way into the first round.

First round? Sure. If you’re going to drop, why take a beating? Makes sense. They called him a stooge — and a lot worse. Some people called it a phantom punch. They had no idea how right they were. Sonny had seen the Phantom all his life... leaning in the corner of a jail cell, by his bed as he lay back, cut and gutted, having survived one more predator. Anyway, some say the mob had threatened his wife and children - which makes sense because Sonny Liston was no quitter.

After that loss he boxed in Europe, did well, but never got back to The Garden. Meanwhile, Ali danced around him and out into the whirling kaleidoscopic stratosphere of 1960s pop culture heroism. Sonny couldn’t shake the grey smell of backstreet whore houses, always the shadows, the pay phone whispers, the film-noir headlights sweeping his motel window and god knows who’s going to get out of the car with something heavy in their hands.

"Lord, you made the night too long"
It's appropriate Sonny died alone in Las Vegas, a city that always been uneasy around strength. The Phantom raised His fist for a final, merciful blow. And Sonny lowered his arms, unguarded now, exposing his ragged soul, and closed his eyes to Nothing, just as he had expected. A Big Nothing.

And then down he fell for the infinite count to a white sea of foam canvas, he a silent cipher, just damaged goods drifting over the planet, more a ghost than a demon, less a man than a wordless tale of a brave spirit fighting forever under endless blows from unseen fists.