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Articles on this Page
- 05/14/13--02:00: _Nivek Ogre Is Total...
- 05/11/13--23:00: _South Korean Parent...
- 05/14/13--07:02: _Why isn’t Canada In...
- 05/14/13--07:40: _We Are Not Men: The...
- 05/14/13--06:40: _New York State of M...
- 05/14/13--10:05: _Guitar Moves - How ...
- 05/14/13--10:10: _The Conservatives D...
- 05/14/13--07:01: _The Canadian Compan...
- 05/14/13--11:34: _Noisey Canada Premi...
- 05/14/13--10:15: _The Conspiracy Theo...
- 05/15/13--04:41: _Prince Has Ruled Fa...
- 05/14/13--23:00: _Syria's Refugees Ar...
- 05/15/13--02:00: _The Wizard of the S...
- 05/14/13--23:00: _Some Rich People Ar...
- 05/15/13--03:30: _Pretty Girl Bullshi...
- 05/15/13--07:44: _Katie Got Bookz: Ch...
- 05/15/13--05:58: _A Few Impressions: ...
- 05/15/13--08:39: _VICE News: Triple H...
- 05/15/13--10:04: _Suck on the Monolith
- 05/15/13--11:22: _Art Talk: Matt Mign...
- 05/14/13--02:00: Nivek Ogre Is Totally Doomed
- 05/11/13--23:00: South Korean Parents Are Making Their Kids Get Plastic Surgery
- 05/14/13--07:02: Why isn’t Canada Intervening in Syria?
- 05/14/13--07:40: We Are Not Men: The Loveliest Chauvinist
- 05/14/13--10:05: Guitar Moves - How to Shred Like the Stooges' James Williamson
- 05/14/13--10:10: The Conservatives Don't Want Your Census Data
- 05/14/13--11:34: Noisey Canada Premiere: Crosss - Lucky Loki
- 05/15/13--04:41: Prince Has Ruled Fashion for Four Decades
- 05/14/13--23:00: Syria's Refugees Are Wedged Between Hells
- 05/15/13--02:00: The Wizard of the Saddle Rides Again
- 05/14/13--23:00: Some Rich People Are Building a Giant Clock Inside a Mountain
- 05/15/13--05:58: A Few Impressions: 'Gatsby'
- 05/15/13--08:39: VICE News: Triple Hate - Trailer
- 05/15/13--10:04: Suck on the Monolith
- 05/15/13--11:22: Art Talk: Matt Mignanelli
Nivek Ogre perched on a boulder near his home in the Santa Monica Mountains. Photo by Chad Elder.
In addition to logging time with parent-repellers like KMFDM and Ministry, Nivek Ogre (né Kevin Graham Ogilvie) is best known as the guttural screech that is synonymous with Skinny Puppy, who arguably invented electro-industrial in the early 80s. This pedigree, coupled with a history of serious drug use and a penchant for slitting his throat onstage, has led generations of depressed teenagers who are curious about things like Anton LaVey and animal sacrifice to embrace Ogre’s macabre worldview: one in which we are all currently coasting along on a dying sphere, counting down the hours until life on Earth is made impossible due to human stupidity, negligence, and aggression.
This month marks the release of Skinny Puppy’s 15th record, Weapon, which features a giant spider made of guns, bombs, and knives on the cover and a quote from atom-bomb developer J. Robert Oppenheimer in its liner notes. I recently spoke with Ogre about such joyful matters as the Fukushima meltdown, mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, and the giant “Machiavellian death shroud” that imprisons us all.
VICE: Here’s an almost stupidly obvious question to start with, but I’m curious: Why did you call your new record Weapon?
Nivek Ogre: I recently came to this weird gestalt in my mind that everything we do has the potential to either harm or cause good. This is a choice we all make with every action. But I view the human being primarily as a weapon, and a lot of the things that we’ve created have had disastrous effects on us as a species. Guns are a tiny element of a much larger iceberg that’s latticed throughout history.
Did the Newtown massacre spark this record?
No, this started way before: March 11, 2011, when Fukushima melted down. It was at that point that I began to view abstract things as weapons. Right now we’re being inundated with a huge amount of radiation, so much so that in April, the EPA relaxed the amounts of radioactive iodine-131 allowed in water in the event of a radiological disaster like Fukushima. It was three picocuries per liter, now it’s 81,000 picocuries per liter. Now here we’ve got a huge Machiavellian death shroud being pulled over people, all based on nuclear power, and the underlying reason for that energy system is a weapons system. My question here is this: What inhuman force could possibly allow this atrocity to take place?
Speaking of inhumanity, I’ve read that Jeffrey Dahmer once came to a Skinny Puppy show. Is that true?
Yeah. Apparently Dahmer came to a show in Milwaukee to stalk a victim. I heard it from some people at a hotel I was staying at. We were playing a club that was sort of a gay and straight club. He would hang out there, stalking his victims.
Getting back to the record, I keep listening to the second track, “illisiT.” In the chorus you keep repeating, “This is the Criminal Age.” Considering you started your career at the height of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, do you really think of 2013 as any more criminal than the early 80s?
Absolutely. At least during the Cold War, the military-industrial complex kind of trickled down [laughs], and that’s why there was this huge boom in the middle class. I’m not a proponent of this, but at least people’s day-to-day lives were a bit better, and there was a glimmer of hope. But if the 70s and 80s were the Plastic Age, today we’ve entered an age where we’re openly embracing criminality. Although there’s apparently less death from wars these days, so I guess we’re living in a comparatively more peaceful time. People are living longer.
I’m really worried about the average lifespan increasing, honestly. I’m concerned that people living longer is profoundly unhealthy, and creates a pretty serious strain on the economy—
Oh, you shouldn’t go there, Ben. You’re talking about eugenics.
That’s not what I mean, though.
No, I know. And look, I almost agree with you. There is a dark side of me that thinks that if we were all living like cavemen, things would be better. That’s for your generation to figure out. I feel like I’m fucking tipping the scales here at 50.
Weapon is out this month on Metropolis Records.
A South Korean woman who's had both nose and eye plastic surgery. (Image via)
As I'm sure you'll know by now, plastic surgery is a pretty big deal in South Korea. Remember last week when those photos popped up of all the South Korean beauty pageant contestants who looked exactly the same? Everyone was all, "Hey, those guys sure do love their surgery," with a brief chuckle, before moving on to autotuned Charles Ramsey videos and forgetting about the whole thing. Then, of course, the internet lost its shit in a monsoon of moral outrage and started to scrutinise why Korean girls are trying to look more Western and how awful that all is.
I decided to call up my girl Sparkles (not her real name), who recently returned to live in her home city of Seoul, to find out what the reaction there was like to all this commotion. Turns out the plastic surgery trend has already become a running joke, with girls laughing about the fact they probably all have the same doctor and teasing each other about not having their eyelids torn apart enough.
She also told me something else slightly worrying; that parents are pressuring their daughters into having cosmetic procedures. It all starts to get a little dark when weapons-grade stage mums are guilt-tripping their daughters into splicing up their faces and irreversibly changing them forever. Anyway, here's that chat.
A plastic surgery advert on the side of a bus in South Korea. (Image via)
VICE: What's the surgery scene like nowadays?
We have trends, like to tear the inner corner of the eye so it's more almond shaped. Or, for a while, it was liposuction and putting that fat into your forehead. It's hard to say if they're conforming to a Western ideal of beauty, though – no one will take a photo of a caucasian celebrity to the surgeon and ask for that. That idea may have started off only because white people generally have taller noses and larger eyes, so it's easy to describe it as a Western "look", but no one in Korea will say they want to look Western. In Korea, we call doing your eyes and nose the "basics" – they're the standard procedures.
That sounds like you're ordering a burger; "I'll just get the basics, thanks."
Yeah. Like, "Oh, you haven't even gotten plastic surgery yet? You should get the basics!" That's nothing. So many people do it that it's got to the point where people say things like, "But you only got your eyes and your nose done, it's not a big deal."
Do you have friends who have had plastic surgery?
I don't think I have a single friend who hasn't had some kind of procedure done. Everyone has something. Normally they pay for it themselves, but there are a lot of mothers who will pay for their daughters. Everyone is getting prettier and prettier and some parents don't want their child to be the "ugly" one. It's like in the 90s if you got a discman because your parents didn't want you to be the only kid at school without one.
Why did you decide to have surgery yourself?
It wasn't my idea; my mum kept saying, "It's not that big of a deal, just close your eyes, go to sleep and it's done. You wake up and it's with you for the rest of your life." She started saying that when I was in high school. She wanted me to get my nose done because she wanted that transition time before uni.
A South Korean surgeon showing before and after plastic surgery photos. (Image via)
Why did she want you to do it?
The main reason was – and this is true – that, in society, there's an idea that the prettier you are, the more benefits you get. People tend to be more inclined towards attractive people when they make decisions, like with jobs. That's the standard of beauty here, so everyone wants to be that way – the culture has made it normal. A lot of people don't think too deeply about it. They're like, "Oh I wish my eyes were bigger – OK, I'll go get it done."
Do you notice these benefits now that your face has changed?
I personally – not only in Korea, but while travelling – have noticed that people are nicer to me. I feel that I can get away with more.
You're going to rob a bank, aren't you?
No, I'm not saying I take advantage of it, but I feel like the way people treat me is different. It makes me feel like people were right; I read somewhere that, psychologically, people trust prettier people more.
Was it weird seeing your face for the first time?
I was on pain meds and sleeping medication for a week when I had my nose done, so I literally just slept. When I first saw
it, it was really weird. I thought it looked too tall, I didn't like it and I didn't think it suited my face. When I got used to seeing myself with my new nose, though, it was that feeling like when you go shopping and get the perfect outfit and you're happy that it's yours and you can't wait to wear it. It's that feeling times a million – just so amplified.
And your dad wanted you to get your ears done too, right?
Yeah, one was smaller than the other. He was very emotional about the fact that I would one day feel self-conscious at my wedding when I put my hair up. So weird.
A plastic surgeon in South Korea checking his nose job handiwork. (Image via)
Have you had anything else done?
I've had my eyes done, and that's really freaky because you have to stay awake. They use local anaesthetic on your eyelids and below your eyes. It was horrible because you can feel something going through your skin, like when they're tugging thread through it. I was covered in sweat because I was so nervous. I had it done at the same time as my nose, but it didn't heal well, so I got it done again. Initially it was my mum who wanted me to do that.
Were you scared before surgery?
I was mostly worried that people would be able to tell. I kept saying to the doctor, "Please can you do my nose as natural as possible?" And he sort of got annoyed at me and was like, "Why don't you just not do it then? Why would you get surgery if you don't want anyone to know?" His consultant told me not to worry and that humans are creatures of adaptation, which is true; I can't imagine my face before. It was meant to be eyes first then nose, but since I was so scared they just put me to sleep and did my nose first.
Do you ever look at old photos of yourself?
It's shit. Like I said, I can't even imagine my old face. Around the house, that's also a very lighthearted joke in our family. I'll say I have to set the photos on fire and my dad will throw me a lighter. The pre-surgery photos I've kept on Facebook aren't close-ups or in focus. At first I didn't care, but then I started making new friends, so I thought I should delete them. If someone asks me if I've had my nose done, I won't lie, but I'm not gonna be like, "Hi, I'm Sparkles, I got my nose done," you know? It's not a very common topic socially – people are more interested in which procedures you had done and where.
Are you more confident?
Definitely. The exciting thing was that I could change my hair for the first time. I always had long and wavy hair because different facial types suit different hair, so when I got it done I cut it all off. Also, with single eyelids it's very hard to wear make up; eyelashes look shorter and eyeliner and eyeshadow aren't visible. Now that I've got double eyelids I can do so much. It's fun!
Great. Thanks, Sparkles!
Follow Camille on Twitter: @CamStanden
More from South Korea:
Canadian military helicopters landing in Afghanistan. via.
While the Americans consider enhanced support of Syrian rebel forces by supplying new military resources, Canada’s position on the troubled middle-eastern nation remains uncertain. Beyond some humanitarian aid, the Canadian government has been hesitant to pledge armed support, or even increase our acceptance of Syrian refugees—including those with close Canadian relatives. It seems that the extent of the Canadian action plan, when it comes to Syria, is to not take much action whatsoever.
That didn’t stop the House of Commons from holding an emergency debate on the Syrian crisis last Monday, in light of reports Assad forces allegedly used the deadly nerve-agent, Sarin gas, in a chemical attack on rebels. The debate came at the request of Bob Rae, the Liberal Party foreign affairs critic. He urged the Conservatives to consider improved measures helping Syrian refugees, but stopped short of proposing military intervention. Unsurprisingly no new initiatives came out of the debates. No shock there. Especially when Foreign affairs minister John Baird says he’s suspicious of backing rebels who may be involved with radical jihadists, and some would say Al Qaeda.
Terrorist links or not, the rebels in Syria aren’t so much different from western-backed Libyan fighters of two years ago when Canada and other NATO nations enforced a no-fly zone on the Gaddafi regime. That air support markedly favoured rebels, which ultimately turned the tide of the war and led to Gaddafi’s infamous downfall. And like their Libyan counterparts, Syrian rebels are from a country whose regime was in Bush’s original Axis of Evil, they’re mostly Sunni Muslims, and brutally ruled by an oligarchic family with a questionable human rights record. So what gives, Canadian government?
The reality is, the fallout from toppling the Gaddafi regime is not only still fresh for NATO countries (beyond the millions in expenses) it almost certainly informs their decision to not yet similarly intervene in Syria. While the hangover from the Benghazi attack continues to be a thorn in Obama’s side—from Republicans like the pro-Syrian-interventionist John McCain—it also highlights the volatility of the post-Gaddafi Libyan political landscape. Not to mention, the war in Mali was partially spurred by Gaddafi-armed Tuareg fighters returning to their country with their new war-toys in hand, courtesy of the deposed dictator. The fall of the Assad regime risks similar weapons proliferation and Assad has a chemical arsenal some fear militants could obtain. Recent reports state that Free Syrian Army rebels are defecting to the Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra likely doesn’t quell those fears either. Yet as Louay Sakka, a co-founder of the Syrian Support Group based in Washington told the Globe and Mail: “If you don’t fund moderate groups it plays into the hands of radicals. Whereas those nefarious groups have organized networks funding and arming militants, it could leave them as the de facto power against Assad in the absence of an alternative, credible and more moderate force the West needs to back.”
Syria is also located in an equally fragile region as Libya, one comprised of proxy powers and rival states. An escalation in the war could spill the conflict across regional borders. Then again, the lack of intervention seems to be leading to the exact same outcome. Predominantly Shiite-Iran backs the Alawite Assad regime, along with Hezbollah in Lebanon, while Israel sits nearby in a tenuous position.
To further complicate matters, the recent car bombing in a Turkish town along the Syrian border, which Turkey claims was done with the aid of Assad forces, risks dragging that country into the conflict. Luckily the Turks have said they won’t retaliate just yet, as it appears they, like other countries, are exhausting all diplomatic possibilities before formally entering the Syrian conflict as combatants. Yet when the chemical weapons line has been crossed, from a humanitarian perspective, the West should be very concerned if Assad forces are openly committing war crimes, and should respond in kind.
In Canada, hesitance to intervene may entirely stem from fears of a Libya-repeat or maybe we’re just being cheap: our government has been slashing internal departments and cutting back on spending—even to the military—for years now. Either way, their limited intervention speaks to the Canadian government’s recent, minimalist, performances in foreign conflicts. After all, they only gave France a cargo plane in the insurgent war in Mali.
In the end the Harper government may sit back, continue supplying supplemental humanitarian aid, and allow larger more invested nations like the US do all of the military heavy-lifting—unless pressure comes via Washington to tag along in a NATO mission. That being said, by staying firmly against intervention, the Conservatives may be trying to avoid the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum other western nations seem to be wrestling with ever since the two-year-old Syrian conflict began.
Follow Ben on Twitter @BMakuch
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Desperation is mostly inseparable from masculinity. Men strain for fame, for female attention, for sad, trivial triumphs over one another. We are a people perpetually trying to figure it all out—flexing in the mirror, using lines we've heard before, trying to seem bold and dignified. We're not cowboys or poets. If we are, we wear it as a disguise. Mostly, we are vulnerable and self-conscious and probably masturbating for the third time on a Tuesday afternoon, because we're off and that Lea Thompson scene in All the Right Moves just came on. We are not men, but almost. Note: columns may also contain William Holden hero worship and meditations on cured meats.
If the name Andrew Dice Clay has any significance to you, it is, inevitably, as the blockheaded, spectacularlyleathered obscenity-dispenser who once looked like some combination of Mad Max and Liberace, who now looks like the guy who lives downstairs from your grandmother and can get you a great deal on calling cards. The perfect avatar for all that slimy, bicep-smooching late-80s male machismo, slicking his hair back in every reflective surface, winking at girls in skirts and when the girls snort in disgust he holds up his arms with a "WHATS-A-MATTA-HONEY?" and then tugs on his crotch and lights another cigarette. The definitive representation of the swaggering, filthy, bombastic "I’M HERE, WATCH WHERE YOU’RE WALKING" New York City, a place memorialized in heavy-handed Spike Lee montages, scored to car horns and relentless come ons, all intolerance and impatience and flamboyance, every accent like bad parody.
Andrew Dice Clay is that man. He is so that man. He is throwing you against a motel minifridge and he is chewing the button off of your jeans. He is shouting in your ear as you place his takeout order, and he is telling you to make sure they don’t forget his extra fucking ketchup, sweetheart. But he is also something else. In a sense, Andrew Dice Clay is the greatest comedian you’ve never heard of.
On December 26 in 1989, under the direction of the recently departed Def Jam maestro, Rick Rubin, Dice Clay, the biggest standup comedian on the planet, recorded The Day the Laughter Died, a two-disc, completely unstructured album at Dangerfield’s (capacity: 250) in New York City. Here, Dice Clay abandons all of his recognized routine. The small, tourist- and couple-heavy audience, there in its post-Christmas malaise, awaiting nursery rhymes and gay bits, instead gets a set almost entirely devoid of conventional jokes. It is an hour and 40 minutes of him squashing the crowd like bugs, making fun of the ugly sweaters some pathetic guy from Texas is dutifully wearing because his girlfriend got it for him, and asking where the telethon for hunchbacks is. It is a lecture on, plainly, not giving a fuck. It is one of the greatest standup comedy albums of all time. It is Dice Clay as empowered and undeterred as any comedian will ever be.
His insults are aerobic exercises, welding together as appalling and devastating a collection of words as he can without preparation. The thrill is not in reducing women to bologna-lipped cum troughs, or men to ugly gnomes with dicks the size of Gameboy batteries, but in doing this at all, doing it on the spot, indifferent to your reception. He thrives in those sweaty, claustrophobic settings. He lives to be the adversary.
Louis CK had this to say about Dice Clay: “I see him all the time at The Comedy Store, and he struggles through his sets. But he does it on purpose. Dice is a really interesting case, because he really likes the dark side of comedy. I have a lot of respect for that guy. The act that he packaged into this ridiculous character is very boring to me, the stuff that’s on his albums. But seeing him live in a club in front of, like, 12 people is a great study. He really knows what he’s doing, and he is really interesting doing standup when he is more himself.
“He actually has a double album that nobody really knows about called The Day The Laughter Died. It’s him on Christmas Eve, and there’s almost no one in the crowd, and he’s fucking dying, and he’s fighting with people in the audience and getting heckled. People are walking out. He put it on an album, and this was at the height of his fame.”
His arena shows are about FUCKIN' HOOERS and quotidian inconveniences, texting and Starbucks menus and lane changes, because his audience of howling white philistines needs something they can process easily and celebrate. In that context he is only the balding loudmouth with a keep-my-dick-in-your-mouth-so-I-don’t-have-to-hear-you-talk-honey chauvinism. The audience salutes the mirage, and he respects it because it’s his, but he lives in its cold shadow. The real Dice Clay, The Day the Laughter Died Dice Clay, is fearless and precise. He’s at his best not during rehearsed material, but in improvisational moments, shredding subjects in the audience for their blind adherence to societal conventions. To Dice Clay, they exist specifically to be exposed. It’s not so much target practice as it is shooting a bazooka at an anthill. Frustration swirls into an indignation uninterrupted by reason or basic human respiratory functions until his voice is just a frothy, spitted sputtering of words. The Angry Guy is a tired archetype in comedy, but there is a real beauty in a sincere irritation devoid of all that shrill, contrived Sam Kinison rage. He talks in a whiny, half-annoyed, half-disgusted tone, as if someone just told him they shit their pants and wanted him to change them. He alternates between insouciance and window-pane-rattling God wrath. In the second season of Celebrity Apprentice, when explaining to Donald Trump why his team lost a challenge, he said, “We get there in the morning and there’s no bagels, there’s no butter…”
The real Dice Clay is self-aware, contemplative and insecure, still loud and brutish, probably wiping his hands on his jeans in the parking lot of a Wendy’s with the car idling, but none of that casual disregard for women, morals, and condoms. He is volatile and almost fragile. The man perched on stage with the Tony Manero cool, smirking and taking long drags from his cigarette is cemented back there in 1987, talking about Old Mother Goose (he fucked her). His latter-day Howard Stern appearances see him interrupting Howard’s GOTCHA revelations with "See the thing is" and "Ya not LISTENING tuh me" insistences.
He is someone who sees comedy, the stage, the canvas for performance, simply as an amplifier. When you know, with such profound certainty, exactly who you are, you are able to pretend to be anything else for recreation. Dice Clay has played the racist, the homophobe, the inattentive sex-haver, the repugnant philanderer. It was all for you, for them. It should be seen as no less a stain on his character than it is on Scorsese’s for portraying unrepentant gangsters as protagonists, than it is on Notorious BIG’s for portraying ruthless thieves as urban heroes. It is an artifice. It is a means of engaging, of grabbing you by the throat and making you reconsider why people behave the way they do, but more importantly, making you laugh at something that is ridiculous.
“Why do they call it multiple sclerosis? Can’t you get it just once? Everybody I meet’s got multiple sclerosis.”
He does three voices— voices women make, voices dentists and nerds and people who use Twitter make, and the voice he makes. You either get fucked or never fuck or fuck like he does, like some rabid Caligula disciple. He sees the universe in such absolute terms. There is no subtlety or room for nuance. As he once said, “I don’t understand bisexuals; you either suck dick or you don’t.” He is crude and indelicate, blowing money on garish furniture, his dih-vawse, blackjack, walking to get the newspaper in his underwear.
Few people have ever so willingly abandoned discretion and decency just for a laugh, detonating everything in sight and cackling as the pieces fall to the ground. He’s Paulie Walnuts making conversation on a car ride from New Brunswick to Binghamton to pick up stolen iPod Nanos. On Dice Clay’s podcast, which debuted last week, in the back of a truck in Las Vegas at two in the morning, a question from the audience about his favorite TV show growing up spiraled from “Petticoat-fuckin-Junction” to “Petti-cum-junction” to “Petti cum all over my fucking dick,” to a six-minute absurdist recollection of his first orgasm, which was reached when he had an itchy penis and decided to scratch it by having sex with a “furry glove that my mother got me at Sears.”
In 1990 the New York Times said witnessing his standup is to “come to a fresh realization of what a Nazi rally must have been like.” But to say he is just some wretched misogynist is an inaccurate, lazy hypothesis reached by a generation prone to immediate outrage. On Howard Stern, Dice indirectly admitted to his wife regularly licking his asshole; in a Slate interview he talked about how exciting it is when the girl gets on top and “bangs the shit out of you.” He says he doesn’t watch porn because it’s artificial and implausible. He has an entire bit about being “Richard Nixon in that ass,” and he talks about girls needing to make sure there aren’t any toilet paper bits in their vaginas because he loves to eat pussy. He is maybe not a Romantic, but he is not a lecherous date rapist either. Dice is an instigator; as eager to elicit a human response as he is curious what the response will be. He is the deal with it dog, a giant neon billboard of him squeezing a waitress’s ass with "HI, HATERS" written in blinking Christmas lights at the bottom.
There is a kind of spectacular wrongness and stridence to the Dice Clay persona that is almost charming, the way it captures a specific place and time in America. It is like seeing a cartographer’s map before the discovery of a spherical Earth. Whether or not he—Andrew Clay Silverstein—actually is this person should matter little to the audience’s consumption of his act; there was and is something identifiable about it, a familiarity that you can recognize and that makes you smile, even if it also makes you groan. He is the taste of cheap light beer or your uncle farting on the couch in his sleep. He is a character you could revile if he were real, but repackaged as a comfortingly blatant imitation. Laugh at this guy you recognize without worrying about him calling you a faggot. He is someone so willing to be the douchebag, debasing himself for our enjoyment.
Photo by Adrienne Brawley, via
If you see him now, the aesthetic is the same, but Dice is more subdued—kind of a lumpy, deflated, stubbly symbol of excess, of hubris stretched thin over a smoldering ball. He holds his cigarette but rarely lights it, compulsively putting it to his mouth, waving it around, holding this whole routine like a relic from a better time. You wait, you nod, you chant along to the bits in unison. If you’re patient, there’s something else there, too.
Previously by John Saward:
John Saward likes O.V. Wright and eating guacamole with no pants on. He lives in Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @RBUAS.
Hip-hop is having a renaissance right now in the city of New York, where it seems like every other day a new MC rises up out of the five boroughs with an even more unique style and approach to the music than what we thought was possible before. Motley crews like the A$AP Mob, the Beast Coast, and World's Fair have given us a reason to love rhymes again. We've written a lot about this stuff, but sometimes words don't do it justice. So, we've linked up with scene insider Verena Stefanie Grotto to document the new New York movement as it happens in real time, with intimate shots of rappers, scenesters, artists, and fashion fiends.
This week Verena caught up with everyone from Brooke Candy, Black Dave, Chase 'n' Cashe, and Bodega Bams to super model Omahyra Mota, and then she went shopping for Purina dog food. Check back every week or so for more photos.
Photographer Verena Stefanie was born and bred in Bassano del Grappa, Italy. The small town is not known for hip-hop, but they do make a very tasty grape-based pomace brandy there called grappa. Stefanie left Bassano del Grappa at the age of 17 to go and live the wild skateboarding life in Barcelona, Spain, where she worked as the Fashion Coordinator for VICE Spain. Tired of guiding photographers to catch the best shots, she eventually grabbed the camera herself and is now devoted to documenting artists, rappers, style-heads, and more. She recently directed a renowned documentary about the Grime scene in UK and has had photo features in GQ, Cosmopolitan, VICE, and many more. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @VerenaStefanie.
Guitar Moves - How to Shred Like the Stooges' James Williamson
Harper talkin' smack. Original image via.
The Conservative government has been in power for about nine years, and we're starting to see the destructive nature of their more ideologically driven policy changes. Recently, the Tories have had to backtrack on their temporary foreign worker program (which allowed employers to pay non-immigrant foreign workers less than minimum wage) after the Royal Bank of Canada brown. In Alberta, prison guards went on an illegal “wildcat” strike because the newly Conservative built “mega-jails” in the province made them feel unsafe. This week, we're seeing the results of another misguided Conservative policy decision: the 2010 decision to scrap Canada's mandatory long-form census and replace it with a voluntary National Household Survey, the results of which were released last week.
Collecting accurate data about the population of a country is extremely important, not just for the federal government, but also for provincial and municipal governments, advocacy groups, charities, media, academics, and even for researchers in the private sector. The accuracy of census data is ensured by the fact that it's mandatory, and the change to a voluntary survey means that certain demographics are not properly represented, particularly amongst new immigrants, aboriginals, and the poor.
The results of this voluntary census-replacement have been branded with the disclaimer “We have never previously conducted a survey on the scale of the voluntary National Household Survey, nor are we aware of any other country that has.... It is difficult to anticipate the quality level of the final outcome.” Amongst other revelations that are likely to be brought to light, it's already been revealed that the NHS information on immigration fails to correspond with information collected by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. Frances Woolley, an economics professor at Carleton University, has pointed out in the Globe and Mail that employment equity in Canada will be hurt without accurate information on the number of immigrants and visible minorities in the country.
Somewhere in the recesses of your mind, you might remember the news cycle when this decision was first announced. Anyone who understands the importance of reliable statistical data was appalled. This included then-NDP leader Jack Layton, who tried to hold an emergency debate about the issue in Parliament, and Munir Sheikh, the former head of Statistics Canada who resigned in protest of the Conservative decision. Munir Sheikh recently resurfaced to pen an op-ed in the Globe and Mail, commenting on the methods used by StatsCan to come up with its data. In particular, the agency had to use numbers from the previous census to “anchor” the data from the NHS. As Sheikh puts it: “The 2006 long-form census will continue to be used as an anchor to adjust other surveys and the longer we continue to use it, the less reliable it will become... At some point, it will become a process of garbage guiding garbage.” The longer we go without a mandatory long-form census in the future, the more inaccurate the data will become.
The Conservatives claimed the census was being replaced because, as it existed, it was an invasion of privacy, citing possible jail time for refusing to fill it out. It’s kind of a flimsy excuse, given that jail terms were possible according to law, but no one had ever faced them for failing to fill out a census. Critics of the decision correctly pointed out that the Tories were removing an effective tool for advocacy groups and media. If there's a shortage of reliable data on the Canadian population, then there's also a shortage of reliable data on things that the Conservatives have fucked up lately.
68% of people given the National Household Survey actually filled it out, compared to the 94% completion rate of the 2006 long form census. In 2006, Statistics Canada suppressed data on 200 communities across Canada due to a lack of reliable data. This year, they've suppressed data on 1128 communities, which amounts to almost a quarter of all Canadian municipalities. The communities in which data was suppressed—including many aboriginal communities—might be the ones that require accurate data the most. As pollster Nik Nanos told the CBC, “we can't have the same level of confidence in the numbers as we did in the past, because what Statistics Canada has to do is tweak the numbers in order to approximate where they think things are.” If StatsCan has to move the numbers around to make them work, then it almost defeats the purpose of having a voluntary survey in the first place. Who needs accurate data when you can just make things up?
Meanwhile, Tony Clement, former Industry Minister and current Treasury Board president, is rehashing the “privacy concerns” argument from 2010 claiming, “We've balanced off the government's continual need for data with privacy concerns. I think we've found the right balance.” Ironically, for a government that prides itself on being responsible with tax dollars, the scrapping of the census will mean that the government will be less able to focus its resources efficiently. Particularly in the rural areas of Canada where Conservative support lies. Saskatchewan, which went completely Tory blue in the last federal election, was hit worst by the data, with StatsCan suppressing data on 43% of its communities.
Without proper information about where government resources need to go, then it follows that the government's use of resources will become less efficient. Basically, they'll be spending more money on less rewarding ends. But hey, if it helps keep the media from knowing where Conservative policies are failing, then it all balances out for the Tories, right? Meanwhile, provincial and municipal governments are hampered with the same questionably accurate data, which will only grow worse in future unless the long form census is reinstated.
Both Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Tom Mulcair have taken issue with the survey results, but as politicians, they can't say out loud that Canadians should be forced to fill out the long-form census, because it could be considered condescending, especially towards people who speak English as a second language, have a low level of literacy, or work all goddamn day and don't want to deal with some stupid government documents when they could be relaxing on the couch, watching the fourth season of Arrested Development on Netflix with a margarita and a blunt. But, as I am not a politician, I can say it. Filling out the census is, like jury duty or paying taxes, a responsibility that should be, or perhaps needs to be, taken on by the residents Canada, and it won't happen unless it’s mandatory.
Follow Alan on Twitter: @alanjonesxxxv
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A screencap from Canipre's website
As you may already know, Voltage Pictures, the company responsible for the movie The Hurt Locker, (as well as a million movies you've never heard of) is currently in court, attempting to get an Ontario-based internet service provider to release the names associated with over 1000 IP addresses that they claim belong to people who illegally downloaded their copyrighted material.
These IP addresses were gathered by an extraordinarily douchey company called Canipre, the only antipiracy enforcement firm currently offering services in Canada.
Canipre, as a company, offers to track down people who are illegally downloading copyrighted material from record companies and film studios. According to their website, they have issued more than 3,500,000 takedown notices, and their work has led to multimillion dollar damages awards, injunctions, seizure of assets, and even incarceration.
But it's not like Canipre is doing this just to get rich. In a recent interview, Canipre's managing director Barry Logan explained that it's about much more than just money—he's hoping to teach the Canadian public a moral lesson:
"[We want to] change social attitudes toward downloading. Many people know it is illegal but they continue to do it... Our collective goal is not to sue everybody… but to change the sense of entitlement that people have, regarding Internet-based theft of property.”
Here is a screenshot of the front page of the Canipre website as it appeared when I visited it this morning.
The image you see in the background is this self portrait, by Steve Houk.
I contacted Steve and asked if they had sought permission to use the picture. Steve said, "No. In no way have I authorized or licensed this image to anyone in any way."
So, just to be clear: Canipre has written "they all know it's wrong and they're still doing it." Referring to copyright theft. On top of an image that they are using without the permission of the copyright holder. On their official website.
Here is another screencap of their site. The image you see in the background this time is this image by Sascha Pohflepp.
I contacted Sascha and asked if Canipre had permission to use this image. Once again, they did not.
What's even more remarkable with their use of this image is that the photo is available under the Creative Commons license. Meaning that, if Canipre did want to use the image for free, all they would have to do is attribute the photographer. Which they did not do.
In closing, here is another quote from Barry Logan, that Canipre executive we heard from earlier, "[Canadians have] a pervasive sense of entitlement... [Illegally] downloading content should also be socially unacceptable.”
We have reached out to the photographers who took the other images used on the Canipre website, and will update this post as they respond.
UPDATE I: Steve Houk's image seems to have been removed from the Canipre website.
UPDATE II: Steve Houk wrote us a few minutes ago to say:
I sent them an e-mail via their website. I identified the image, told them that it is my creative property under copyright and requested that they either remove the image from their site or compensate me for its use.
I also told them that it was disheartening to see a company the champions intellectual property rights to pirate someone else's creative work.
I ended up getting a flurry of phone calls and e-mails from a guy named Barry Logan.
Logan claimed that the company used a 3rd party vendor to develop their website and that the vendor had purchased the image from an image bank.
I pointed out to Logan that if that was true, he had basically paid his vendor to rip off other people's creative work. Logan told me that he would contact his web provider and have the image removed. He also told me that he would provide me with the name of the website developer and the name of the image bank where they obtained my photo.
I did notice that they took down my photo, but I have not heard back from Logan regarding the name of the developer and where they sourced my image. I plan to contact Logan later today if he doesn't get back to me. [sic]
We'll update again when/if Steve hears back from Mr. Logan.
UPDATE III: Brian Moore, the guy who took this photo, which also appears on Canipre's webiste (screenshot below) also wrote us:
That's amazing. No, I did not give them permission as far as I know.
Go get 'em. Let me know if you need anything (quotes, content, etc.) from me.
Brian's photo, like Sascha's, was available under the Creative Commons liscense, meaning Canipre could have legally used this photo had they provided proper attribution.
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I first met war photographer Giles Duley a month ago, to talk about his work both before and after he became a triple amputee in Afghanistan. Giles's most recent trip since we spoke was to Jordan, where he documented the arrival of Syrian refugees after a long journey across the border. Here's his account of new arrivals to the Zaatari Camp. – Jamie Collins
The nights become so bitterly cold that I’ve taken shelter in a portakabin staffed by UNHCR doctors. We sit, sipping tea, fighting our tiredness, waiting. It’s nearly 1AM and there's still no sign of any refugees arriving. Restless, I go outside to join my colleagues, who are sharing a cigarette in the starless night. Suddenly we are silent – in the distance we can hear buses and then out of that cold dark night they start to arrive. The first to appear is a young girl, maybe five years old, dressed in a cream coat walking with a purpose beyond her years, followed by two young mothers clasping their children, wrapped tightly in blankets to protect them from the cold. They make their way into the large military-style reception tent where they will be processed, fed, given medical attention and finally allocated their own plot within Zaatari Camp.
I watch as more and more arrive; tens, hundreds and, by dawn, nearly 2,000. A man wearing a suit; holding his kid’s hand; an elderly couple struggling to carry their meagre possessions; a pregnant woman in tears; a young man carried across the rough ground in his wheelchair. Each face seems haunted; etched with exhaustion, uncertainty and fear. The scenes are reminiscent of so many earlier wars, faded black and white images of civilians uprooted, forced to flee with only what they carry, memories of lives they had. But this is not some terrible past, this is now; the plight of those displaced by the ongoing war in Syria, a war that grows more violent and brutal each day.
The numbers are almost beyond comprehension: more than 70,000 people killed, over four million displaced and more than one million refugees registered by the UNHCR. In Jordan alone, there are 340,000 refugees, many in the tented Zaatari. This number is expected to rise to over one million by the end of the year.
Those with chronic or war-related disabilities face the greatest challenges. Often fearful of receiving treatment in government hospitals they have little option but to flee Syria. While charities, such as Handicap International, are able to provide physiotherapy and some support, the realities of living in a refugee camp with a disability are hard to overcome. Many choose to leave the camp and to privately rent homes in the area. However, rents have nearly trebled, funds are limited and many properties are unsuitable.
Over the following days I meet and photograph some of the refugees, listening to their stories. Men, women and children who are the individuals behind the numbers, everyday people who have lost everything, all control of their lives, who now face a bleak future as refugees. No home, food insecurity, unable to work, unable to attend school, with limited medical care and often with extended families to support. For this to be their only option, one can’t help but think what hell they must have left behind.
This conflict is unbearably complex, with answers hard to come by and rightly debated. Yet while we ponder the rights and wrongs of arming the Free Syrian Army, talk of the red line that will be crossed with the use of chemical weapons and discuss the ramifications of intervention, it seems we are missing the one simple truth. Each day, innocent civilians are being killed, maimed and forced into a refugee’s life. We should prioritise their protection and support without debate.
Zaatari Camp, Jordan. 30th March, 2013.
Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesduley
Check out some more of his work by clicking here
And learn a little more about him by reading this:
A cross-lighting ceremony that took place near Tupelo, Mississippi, in late March following a Ku Klux Klan rally in Memphis, Tennessee, that was organized to protest the renaming of three parks in the city built in honor of the Confederacy. It is a “cross lighting,” not “cross burning,” because these Klansmen “do not burn, but light the cross to signify that Christ is the light of the world.” Photo by Robert King.
n the middle of an unkempt park in Memphis, Tennessee, stands an oversize bronze statue of a Confederate lieutenant general astride his mount. Its subject, Nathan Bedford Forrest, is considered by some to be one of the most infamous and powerful racists in American history. The first official leader of the Ku Klux Klan, some historians allege that Lieutenant General Forrest’s most heinous act was ordering his troops to slaughter hundreds of surrendered soldiers at 1864’s Battle of Fort Pillow, more than half of whom were African American. Others celebrate him as the physical manifestation of the South’s ethos during the Civil War and beyond: a rebel hero who relentlessly campaigned for his cause until it became untenable; he never gave up, even after his death.
Unveiled in 1905, the Memphis News-Scimitar reported that the masterfully sculpted monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest (or NBF) would “stand for ages as the emblem of a standard of virtue.” And today it seems the newspaper’s prophecy was correct, except for perhaps the “virtue” part. As of 2013, “that devil Forrest,” as he was infamously nicknamed by Union General William T. Sherman, is still sprinting across a Tennessee ridge on his stallion, kicking up dust in a city with historically tense racial relations.
Pink granite tiles and modest bronze headstones that look like plaques skirt the sculpture. General Forrest and his wife, Mary Ann Montgomery, are buried underneath. NBF’s more celebrated moniker, at least in some circles, is the “Wizard of the Saddle,” a nickname he earned for his wondrous equestrian talents in battle, and one that calls to mind the highest modern-day rank of the KKK—the Imperial Wizard.
The latest controversy surrounding the park and statue came to a head in early February, when the Memphis City Council unanimously voted to change the name of Forrest Park to Health Sciences Park (at least temporarily; a special commission is still in the process of deciding its final name as of press time), in line with the downtown medical-student facilities of the University of Tennessee that surround it. Two other Memphis parks—Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park, named after the president of the Confederacy—were also renamed by the City Council, with the reasoning that they were publicly funded reminders of an era that could be considered offensive and unwelcoming to the majority of the city’s residents, 63 percent of whom are African American according to the 2010 census.
Shortly after the City Council’s decision, a man identifying himself as Exalted Cyclops Edward announced that his chapter of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was planning a massive rally to protest the renaming of the three parks. “It’s not going to be 20 or 30,” he told local NBC affiliate WMC-TV. “It’s going to be thousands of Klansmen from the whole United States coming to Memphis, Tennessee.” Later in the month the city granted the Loyal White Knights a permit for a public rally to be held March 30 on the steps of the county courthouse in downtown Memphis, one day before Easter and five days before the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel.
It was an eerily familiar scenario for Memphians. On January 17, 1998, around 50 members of the KKK held a rally at the very same courthouse in what they claimed was an attempt to protect their “heritage” in the lead-up to MLK Day and that year’s 30th anniversary of his assassination. Outnumbered by counterprotesters, the Klan’s vitriolic screeds incited a small riot that resulted in looting and the ill-prepared police force teargassing the entire crowd.
One Memphian and self-proclaimed member of the Grape Street Crips seemed to take the Klan’s threats to return to his city very seriously. Following the announcement of the planned rally, 20-year-old DaJuan Horton posted a video on YouTube in which he states that he’s organizing a consortium of local gangs—some rivals—to unify and show their discontent on the day of the rally. Local and national media suddenly became very interested in the impending event, whipping a diverse cross-section of the city into a frenzy.
“They gonna come to Memphis, Tennessee… where Martin Luther King got gunned down,” DaJuan says in the video. “You’re going to come here and rally deep—really, really deep, in my language, just to talk? No, it’s not gonna happen like that. When you come to Memphis, Tennessee, we’re gonna rally right across from you, and it’s gonna be Young Mob, Crips, Bloods, GDs, Vice Lords, Goon Squad… I’m getting on the phone with them daily. I’m talking to the big guys, the big kahunas. I’m talking to the Bill Gates of the gang wars. You come to Memphis, we’re going to be waiting on you. It’s versatile down here. We got every gang you can think of; we’ve got the fucking Mob down here. Bring your ass on.”
Had the City Council’s decision to rename the park sparked a potential showdown with what many law enforcement agencies consider America’s oldest terrorist organization and a mega-alliance of the country’s most violent gangs? Or was the Klan struggling to retain relevancy in an era when race relations have progressed so much that the US has elected a black president twice over? I traveled to Memphis about a week before the rally to meet everyone involved and find out.
This bronze statue of Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest has stood for more than 100 years in a Memphis park that, until February 2013, was named after him. Photo by Robert King.
M y first order of business in Memphis, a wonderfully diverse and eclectic city that has been hit hard by economic woes in recent years, was to interview the protagonists of the situation at hand. Long-serving council members Myron Lowery and Janis Fullilove spearheaded—or were at least the most outspoken about—the decision to change the names of the parks.
“Change produces controversy, and that’s what we have in this case,” Myron, a middle-aged black man who has the bluntly authoritative look and demeanor unique to experienced local politicians, told me. “Many people don’t want to change, they want to live in the past with the memories that they had. And whenever there comes along an idea to offer to compromise, they object to it because they say, ‘This is history, and you can’t change history.’”
What, I wondered, were Myron’s thoughts on NBF, a man who has been dead for over 130 years but still haunts Tennessee’s largest city from beyond the grave?
“Nathan Bedford Forrest was a racist,” he said. “He was head of the Klan—‘Oh, no, it isn’t the same Klan today as it was yesterday’—it was still the Klan… I’ve referred to the Klan as a terrorist organization. In fact, I call them the ‘American Taliban’ because of who they are and what they do.”
No stranger to controversy, Myron’s counterpart Janis has been arrested on alcohol-related charges four times in the past five years (all the while serving on the council), and told me she was once shot at by a police officer while marching with MLK (the bullet left a hole through her wig). On the day we met she wore a fiery red suit and short, bleached blond hair. Forrest Park in particular, she said, had been a source of contention since 1904, when the remains of NBF and his wife were reinterred at the base of the statue after they were exhumed from nearby Elmhurst Cemetery. She was present at the rally in 1998, where she was “trampled and teargassed,” and told me that this time around she had received multiple death threats from anonymous parties who disapprove of the council’s decision to rename the parks. I asked her if she was prepared to accept responsibility for any resulting fallout.
“I do, yeah, I take the blame,” Janis said, “even though I’ve got death threats—they gonna hang me, ‘Nigga, we gonna get you.’ Fine. I don’t know if it was the Klan, [but it was] somebody… OK, so what. Hang me.”
My next question addressed accusations from the Klan and other Confederate-history enthusiasts: Was the Memphis City Council—made up of six whites and seven blacks—trying to erase the city’s controversial past?
“The bottom line, at the end of the day, the names of those parks are not going back to what they once were. It’s going to change… So if Nathan Bedford Forrest is their hero, fine. Take his statue, put it in your backyard, your front yard, put it wherever you want to put it.”
Earlier in the day I had met with Lee Millar, spokesperson for the Memphis chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) who wears a gray beard that wouldn’t be out of place in the late 19th century. Last year, Lee and his fellow SCV members raised the funds to install a massive stone engraved with the words forrest park at its perimeter, facing the street. He showed me a few emails from the parks department that seemed to approve its placement. But a few weeks back, a city maintenance crew had removed the stone in the middle of the night and relocated it to a municipal storage garage close to the city zoo. This happened without warning, Lee said, and virtually in tandem with the announcement that the parks’ names would be changed. Lee also said he considered the entire ordeal to be underhanded and detrimental to Memphis’s history.
DaJuan Horton (center, in the black tank top), a member of the local Grape Street Crips, recruits friends in east Memphis to participate in a counterprotest of a planned KKK rally on Easter weekend. Photo by Robert King.
“It’s just idiotic,” he said. “Look at the Jews over in Germany, they keep parts of the prisons there as a reminder. This is all history for Memphis and America, and history should not be erased. You should add to it and enhance it, but don’t get rid of it, because you always want to know about your past so you can go forward in your future.”
Lee added that he was also frustrated that the KKK had seemingly co-opted the entire ordeal for its own means. “I think the Ku Klux Klan capitalized on the controversy to stage a rally in Memphis, to gather attention for themselves, to bring awareness more to the Klan [than NBF].”
About an hour later, Lee and I visited what, less than a month ago, had been known as Forrest Park. NBF’s statue watched over its domain, glaring down at us as if he were about to lead his garrison into battle. The artist who created the statue, Charles Henry Niehaus, was at the height of his craft. An American sculptor who throughout his career stayed true to the neoclassical training he received in Germany, Charles is best known for his 19th-century depictions of US President James A. Garfield, Moses, Louis IX, and other meticulously rendered statues of historical figures scattered throughout the States. His depiction of NBF is perhaps his most controversial work, but judged against the rest of his oeuvre, Charles was just doing his job: NBF looks merciless and singularly determined.
Lee introduced me to a man standing in front of the NBF statue with a cigar in his mouth. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, one of his white-gloved hands was stuffed in his pocket, pushing aside a jacket that halfway covered what appeared to be an authentic, standard-issue Union general’s uniform. He introduced himself as General Ulysses S. Grant; the resemblance was striking. I didn’t hesitate to ask the good general’s opinion of NBF, perhaps one of his greatest rivals. “I have a very healthy respect for Nathan Bedford Forrest,” he said with the cadence of a proper Southern gentleman.
Later, when I asked him about the city’s decision to change the name of the park—which, of course, he disagreed with—he broke character and introduced himself again, this time as E. C. Fields Jr. A local high school principal, reserve police officer, SCV member, and historical reenactor, E. C. appeared to be a prime example of a highly educated and well-spoken man who apparently had no agenda regarding the naming of the park other than his love for history.
Feeling like reality was slipping from my grip, I got right to the point and asked E. C. if he thought NBF was racist.
“No,” he replied with a drawl. “He had the culture of the country at the time. He had no personal vendetta against any group of people; he was fighting for what he believed in.”
What, exactly, did NBF believe in? I wondered but thought it would be futile to ask a man so enamored with the history—or perhaps a certain type of history—of the Civil War. But it seemed to be the crux of the matter, the murky but bold ethos of a man who’s proved nothing but divisive in the annals of history.
Later, while perusing the few books written about NBF, I may have discovered the answer. In the foreword of the 1989 edition of John Allan Wyeth’s preeminent NBF biography, That Devil Forrest, Western Michigan University history professor emeritus Albert Castel writes: “Despite all the rhetoric from the South’s politicians and editors about ‘States Rights’ and ‘Southern Nationalism,’ [NBF] had no illusions about [the Civil War’s] true purpose: ‘If we ain’t fightin’ to keep slavery, then what the hell are we fightin’ for?’”
After his death from diabetes-related issues in October of 1877, NBF was buried in Elmhurst Cemetery in accordance with his will. His body’s disinterment and its transfer to Forrest Park by Confederate sympathizers over 25 years later could cause one to wonder what their true motives were. While it would be very difficult to remove the statue regardless (Councilwoman Fullilove told me it would require a court order), throwing NBF’s corpse into the mix adds a macabre element to any such attempts politicans have avoided until now.
NBF’s grave isn’t much different than the man himself: stubborn and resolute. Born dirt poor on July 13, 1821, in what is now known as Chapel Hill, Tennessee, NBF was the most unlikely of heroes. The oldest of seven brothers and three sisters, he became the head of his household when he was around 16, following the death of his blacksmith father. Almost completely illiterate throughout his life, NBF had still managed to amass a sizable fortune as a speculator, plantation owner, and slave trader. After the so-called War Between the States broke out, he enlisted in the Confederate Army even though he lacked formal military training of any kind. He was, however, a natural tactician and courageous woodsman, and quickly shot up through its ranks. By the time he was named lieutenant general, NBF had recruited a large and intensely loyal force culled from the South.
Perhaps the most feared and dangerous soldier in the Confederacy, NBF’s greatest contributions to humanity were his innovative battle techniques, some of which served as the basis for US military tactics well into the 20th century. Tennessee-born poet and novelist Andrew Lytle once described NBF as a “spiritual comforter,” due to the mythical status he attained during the Reconstruction era. This may be why NBF was appointed the first head of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1800s.
Historical reenactors E. C. Fields Jr. and his spouse portray Union General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife. They believe the city’s decision to change the name of the parks was wrong. Photo by Robert King.
M y initial contact with Edward, the mysterious, hulking Exalted Cyclops (the title bestowed on Klavern, or local chapter, leaders) who had called the rally and appeared on local Memphis newscasts wearing a ski mask, happened a couple weeks before my arrival in Memphis. I had called the number of a Tennessee “Klan hotline” listed on the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’s website. I left a voicemail, requesting an interview, and a few days later I answered a blocked call. It was Edward. He invited me to meet up for an interview with him and his associates before the rally in Memphis, as well as a cross-lighting ceremony a couple hours’ drive away in Mississippi that would follow. We had arranged to conduct the interview at my hotel shortly after I arrived. “Don’t be freaked out when you see a 300-pound guy with a hood on standing outside your room,” he said. I told him I would try my best.
The hotel meeting never happened, and after a series of intermittently returned calls and emails, Edward finally told me to meet one of his underlings outside a local restaurant. He instructed me to keep an eye out for a purple car that was “loud as hell.”
Arriving at the restaurant at the specified time, I spotted a purple compact sedan. Its driver, who was wearing a camouflage wraparound mask and hood like those used for bird hunting, pointed down the road and peeled off. We followed him for a few miles, ending up at the mouth of a dirt road that led to a field of trash and discarded tires that looked like the perfect location to film a murder scene. The driver emerged, still wearing his mask and revealing a pear-shaped frame swathed in black military-style fatigues to which various patches featuring Klan-related imagery had been sewn. He was talking on the phone, I assumed to Edward, and motioned to keep my distance. Then he hung up and said, “OK, we’re good now.”
Seconds later a beat-up truck rolled up and parked next to us. Three young men—in their late teens or early 20s—exited. One of them was black. Great, I thought, they are going to think we set them up.
The anonymous Klansman looked nervous. He waved to stay back and put the phone up to his ear. “We gotta change locations,” he said after hanging up, and instructed us to follow. We drove around for another few minutes, tailing the purple car once again, when Edward called me: “It’s all good, come back. My security guy just got spooked by those kids. They’re just metal scrappers.”
On our return to the disused dirt pit, we were ushered toward the back of the lot by our masked chaperone. Along the way we passed a 20-something man in a black hoodie holding a German shepherd on a leash at bay as it bared its teeth and barked viciously. The entire scene was so absurd that there wasn’t room to be scared.
A large black truck parked across the field came into view. Two men were inside, one of them wearing a ski mask. It was Edward. He exited and approached while his driver peered at us through his sunglasses. I introduced myself and asked how much time we had for the interview. “Until it gets hot, I guess,” Edward said and explained that earlier in the day he had received information that African American ex-military sharpshooters who were now gang members had traveled from Detroit to stalk him and his fellow Klansmen before the rally. It sounded ludicrous, but then again I was standing in the middle of a garbage dump talking to a member of the Ku Klux Klan in 2013.
Our interview in the field wasn’t particularly informative and mostly consisted of the same rhetoric that can be found on most Klan websites, coupled with regurgitations of what Edward had already said to the media: the Klan was based on Christian principles, they were defending the white race’s “loss of rights,” and their criticisms about President Obama. (“Well, yeah, I’m very happy with him. [laughs] I have got to say he’s made the Klan a lot stronger.”) He also told me that he was introduced to the KKK at the age of three.
It had been mentioned in the local press that while the Klan had been granted a permit to protest in Memphis, they were forbidden from covering their faces during the rally. I found this ironic, considering both of the Klansmen I was speaking to wore masks. Were they worried about retaliation?
“Yep, absolutely, because they don’t understand us,” Edward said. “They think we’re just a straight hate group and want to kill people, and we’re not that way. I’m just concerned about them knowing who I am. I have grandkids, I have kids, and I don’t want, you know—my house has been shot up twice already since this has aired on the TV.”
There was a rumbling in the distance, and seemingly out of nowhere a middle-aged man appeared on a four-wheeler with a younger black woman seated behind him. After they passed, I asked Edward what he thought about “race mixing,” as the Klan commonly refers to interracial relationships. “That’s disgusting,” he said. “Stick with your own race. That’s a horrible thing.”
Minutes after the four-wheeler had driven off, Edward said he had just gotten word that the cops were on their way. He added that he’d spotted a police radio on the ATV that just passed us, and he’d see me at the rally on Saturday. None of it made much sense, and I wondered if the whole thing was a setup, but it didn’t matter either way. They were already in the truck, on their way to wherever it was Klansmen hang out. The hefty masked man who had taken us to the lot waddled his way back to the purple car, and I followed to mine. It was time to go back to the hotel.
A KKK member who would only identify himself as Exalted Cyclops Edward (right) and his associate agreed to be interviewed in a junkyard a few days before the rally in Memphis. Photo by Robert King.
T he following afternoon I arrived at DaJuan Horton’s apartment to speak with him and fellow members of the Grape Street Crips about how their plans were coming together for the counterprotest. DaJuan clarified his statements from the YouTube video that had brought me here, saying he had been organizing other local gangs under the banner of an alliance he had named Divine United International—DUI. He explained that they weren’t looking for trouble or violence, they just wanted to show the Klan how to hold a rally in Memphis. Smoking blunt after blunt, it wasn’t far-fetched to believe that DaJuan and his buds could pull off a low-key and ultimately peaceful event. But, understandably, I was a little dubious.
The Crips’ volition and mission seemed to waver in the smoky haze, with DaJuan saying things like, “The KKK can’t wear their masks at the protest, but that doesn’t me we can’t wear ours.” He also had his friend, whom he referred to as “Shooter,” show off his handgun. Shooter said DaJuan wasn’t allowed one because he was “too trigger happy.”
I asked DaJuan his opinion on NBF, and what he thought about the renaming of the eponymous park. “I researched and learned who he was,” he said, “and he really did some stuff for them, but I don’t really care for it. They can name the park what they want to name the park. I don’t care what they do with his body, I don’t think it’s important or nothing like that. I don’t mean to sound mean, but that’s just how I feel about it. I can see it from their angle, that he really means something to them, but that’s their stuff.”
We made plans to meet again in two days, a Thursday, so that I could tag along with DaJuan and his crew while they drove through neighborhoods on the east side of Memphis in an effort to enlist more people to join them to oppose Saturday’s Klan rally. I followed him as planned, to a street on the east side of town that quickly filled with kids who seemed enthusiastic for the cause. There was a lot of “Fuck the KKK!” and ruminations on why the Klan was granted a permit in the first place, but no one seemed to have a clear vision, except to express their outrage in some sort of fashion on Saturday.
After the impromptu meeting in the street with his friends, DaJuan took me to Robinhood Park—a Section 8 housing complex that, he told me, was strictly Bloods territory. About 150 of Robinhood’s residents watched as we rolled in, many of them dressed in red, and children rapidly fired cap guns at us. We loitered around for about 15 minutes as DaJuan tried to explain the mission of DUI and why he wanted as many gang members as possible to attend the rally. A few listened, but most were hesitant to talk. Eventually a white woman appeared who looked to be in her early 60s and asked us to leave before we caused any problems. DaJuan agreed, and we parted ways. I wasn’t convinced that he would be able to pull off his plan to align the local gangs against the Klan, but given all the strange occurrences of the past few days, I didn’t think it was entirely out of the question.
A week before the Klan rally in Memphis, a Mississippi chapter of the KKK who were planning on attending the event held a “practice rally” outside the Tishomingo County Courthouse. Photo by Robert King.
O n Saturday morning, the day of the rally, the forecast was rain. I was supposed to accompany DaJuan and his comrades to the county courthouse, but he said they weren’t quite ready yet and told me to come by his apartment in one hour. When I arrived he wasn’t there but drove up about 20 minutes later. By this time, the gray sky had opened up into a drizzle.
DaJuan told me he wouldn’t be going to the rally, nor were any of his recruits, because the Klan wasn’t worth being cold and wet all day. “White people don’t mind the rain,” he said. “I just don’t have a good feeling about it.” He said that he might reconsider if it stopped raining, and that he planned to carry on DUI’s mission, but it was apparent that there was not going to be a standoff of Clockwork Orange proportions between the Klan and local gangbangers. It was a relief on some level, and judging from reports in the local news, it would be nearly impossible for the Crips or anyone else to get remotely close to the Klan. About ten square blocks had been cordoned off by the Memphis Police Department and an assortment of other regional law enforcement, who would reportedly be out in forces that numbered around 700. The Klansmen would be isolated, shuttled in on city buses and confined to a fenced-in area on the courthouse steps. Spectators and counterprotesters would be funneled in to a separate pen and required to pass through metal detectors and undergo random searches. Downtown Memphis was on lockdown, and many neighborhood businesses had closed for the day. Reports estimated that the rally cost the city $175,000.
The massive police presence, which included multiple SWAT units, hundreds of vehicles, mobile surveillance-camera towers, and cops in full riot gear, ensured that the rally was kept under control. As about 50 Klansmen filed in from the buses and through the courthouse, they amassed on the steps, waving KKK flags alongside what appeared to be a dozen or so skinheads and members of other white-supremacy groups. It was far from the thousands Edward had promised.
Klansmen took turns shouting into a megaphone, but it was hard to see or hear anything from the media tent that had been purposely situated behind a SWAT truck and other vehicles. They occasionally chanted “White power!” in unison. The rain continued to pick up, and the small group of antifascist counterprotesters who had gathered a few blocks away from the rally had been dispersed or cordoned off in the civilian area. DaJuan and his crew were nowhere to be found. As the local reporters bemoaned having to stand out in the cold and rain on a Saturday, I began to think the modern-day Klan had turned it into what was basically a historical-reenactment society who yearned for the “good ol’ days,” whatever that means. I left the rally early and went back to my hotel to dry out before the cross-lighting ceremony in Mississippi that had been planned for later that evening.
Shortly before dusk I arrived in a small country town outside of Tupelo, Mississippi, about a two-hour drive away from Memphis. I was warmly greeted by Nicole, wife of North Mississippi White Knights of the KKK Imperial Wizard Steven Howard, outside their home where the cross lighting was to be held. She told me Steven was still on his way back from the rally in Memphis, and that she’d been unable to attend because she had young children to look after. Steven, who is known for his shimmery, red Klan robe, was one of the main speakers at the rally, although I had no idea what he or any of his fellow Klansmen had said because of the way the cops had them positioned—they were effectively yelling into a brick wall.
The rally in Memphis was largely a nonevent, with a massive police presence that completely separated the Klan from the counterprotesters and all but blocked the media from even getting a clear shot. Photo by Robert King.
From the looks of the handful of people gathered on Steven’s property—which appeared to consist of a single-wide trailer amid a couple acres of wooded land—there wasn’t much doing. Then, all of a sudden, a cavalcade of vehicles drove up and, one by one, parked in Steven’s front yard. By my count, there were approximately 100 Klansmen and women in attendance.
After dinner a half-dozen men got to work constructing the cross for the impending lighting ceremony, wrapping pieces of wood in burlap and pouring diesel fuel over their handiwork. Soon enough, it was time to “robe up.”
I took the opportunity to talk with Steven—who is 31 and speaks with the enthusiastic charisma of a natural-born leader—for a few minutes as he donned his cherished red robe. He told me that he had served as a marine in the Iraq War, and that some of his fellow Klansmen had also been in the military. “When they strung him up on the bridge and shit, his body burning and shit, that’s when I was over there,” he said in reference to the four Blackwater Security contractors who were killed, burned, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah that spans the Euphrates River.
As he finished buttoning his robe, I asked him about his thoughts on the afternoon’s rally. “I think they had too much police protection,” he said. “I think that’s ridiculous. I know a lot of people said they didn’t even hear us; a lot of people said they couldn’t even see us.”
Steven went on to tell me that the reason the cross lighting was happening so late was because the convoy of Klansmen who had trailed him from Memphis was alarmed by a strange vehicle they thought was following them. They pulled off to the side of the road, forcing their pursuer to do the same. It turned out that the vehicle in question contained a local television news crew. “They got out and they were two white guys, but their film crew—their camera crew—was Indians… not Indians, but they was chinks and gooks and niggers, and I was like, ‘Naw, you can’t come to my house, man.’” Then he thanked me for coming out, saying that I was welcome anytime.
As Steven’s fellow Klansmen made their final preparations for the cross lighting, I spoke with a 26-year-old from Baltimore who said he had recently started a local Klan chapter following his wife’s firing from a local Walmart for, what he believes, were racists reasons. He told me that he had helped develop an online application and screening process, as well as a chat room, for the North Mississippi White Knights, and that his local Klan—which at the time consisted of him, his mother, and a friend—did a lot of good for his community. When I asked for specifics, he told me that they sometimes organize trash pickups in nearby parks. Another 26-year-old I spoke with, a Grand Dragon from Virginia, showed off his vintage green robe.
I also met two members of the Supreme White Alliance, a white-supremacist skinhead group. They said they had driven through the night from Cincinnati, Ohio, to attend the rally and were planning to do the same later that evening to get back in time for their day jobs.
As I was speaking with the two men, someone called out with instructions to pick up makeshift torches that had been dipped in a barrel of diesel, ignite it, and proceed to the hollow behind Steven’s house that seemed custom-made for lighting crosses on fire. I watched as, one by one, a hooded figure asked each attendee, “Klansman, do you accept the light?” They did.
Taking a look around the circle that had formed around the cross, I was surprised to see so many young faces among the grizzled Klansmen. Some of the freshly initiated looked like teenagers. The ceremony that followed included a dedication to Nathan Bedford Forrest, but first Steven performed his ritual duties as an Imperial Wizard. A red KKK banner, as well as a black Nazi SS flag, flapped ominously in the background.
“Klansmen, for God!” he shouted, his declaration echoed back by his guests. “Klansmen, for Mississippi! Klansmen, for the Loyal White Knights!” Steven then instructed his audience to march clockwise before continuing what might as well have been an incantation. “Klansmen, for the National Socialist Movement! Klansmen, for the white race! Klansmen, approach the cross!”
“Don’t turn your back on a fiery cross,” someone shouted to the crowd as it was set ablaze.
Considering that just a few hours earlier, I’d felt certain that the Ku Klux Klan was in the throes of death and a united America was finally prevailing, the Klansman’s warning was the soundest advice I’d heard all week. Bigotry in America, it seemed, wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
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Deep within a mountain somewhere in west Texas, The Long Now Foundation are hard at work building a 500-foot clock that's been designed to run for 10,000 years. I know that sounds a bit like the folly of a Lone Star oil billionaire, but apparently this massive clock is going to adjust the manner in which we understand time itself, so I suppose that counts as having a purpose.
The team behind the construction – boasting names like Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine and, somewhat bizarrely, Brian Eno – want the clock to help destroy the short-term thinking they believe is plaguing society. Their aim is to engage the population so we all properly consider the ways we should be preparing for the future.
The giant clock might seem a slightly excessive way to do that, but when you've got Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos investing £27.5 million in your project, you don't really need to worry about excess.
Executive director Alexander Rose talked me through the concept.
VICE: Hey. So what's up with this gigantic clock?
Alexander Rose: The clock is an iconic project to inspire other people to get the conversation going about long-term thinking. I was once giving a tour to some IBM engineers and one gentleman said, "You know, this is never going to work. In 3,000 years, they're going to be sacrificing virgins on this thing and all the blood is going to drip into it and it's not going to work." And I said, "That may be, but before you walked in the door here, you weren't thinking 3,000 years in advance, so it's already working."
Well, what we hope to do is make something so mythic and crazy that people want to tell stories about it and it becomes a meme that can be called upon. When people tell you that you can't do long term things, there will always be the 10,000 year clock.
I guess so – at least until the 10,001th year. What inspired the clock, Alexander?
"The Millennium Clock"; a clock that ticked once a year, bonged once a century and the cuckoo would come out once a millennium. If you make it "forever" or of an astronomic time scale – of millions and billions of years – it dwarfs the human experience and it doesn't feel like there's anything you can do that's important in that time scale. So we thought, 'What is the human civilisational moment?' If you look back to the last ice age, when agriculture started, that's when large parts of the planet started having what we now call civilisation. So that was chosen. If we can look back 10,000 years, then we can look forward 10,000 years.
I kind of see what you mean. Why Texas?
The current location was one that came as part of the funding from Jeff Bezos. When Jeff offered the property in west Texas, it was all private and allowed us to get going much faster. It had the attributes of being high in the desert, which is a great preservation environment away from cities – good for something lasting, away from the churn of cities and wars. We also wanted that distance so that people would have to travel to it, and while travelling they would have some of the conversations that we're hoping they will have. Then, on their way back, they'll hopefully have changed a little bit.
You’re building a giant alarm clock, aren’t you? The future is going to be so pissed.
There are elements of the clock that we're leaving undone for future generations and anniversary events. The idea is that there will be a cool mechanical thing that happens on a year, a decade, a century, a millennium and then a tenth millennium. We'll only build the year and decade ones, then the others would be left for other people to build in the future.
How are they going to know how to program it? Is there a manual?
Over 10,000 years, the platform dependence goes all the way back to the fundamentals of language, so we started looking at ways of making a modern Rosetta Stone by micro-etching silicone and then casting that into long lasting metal, like nickel. We've created a Rosetta disk, which has thousands of languages with parallel information on them so that anyone who found the disk could hopefully understand as many of the languages on the disk as possible. The later steps may be including some of the documentation alongside the clock and other projects that have several major world languages as part of that.
With the Rosetta Project, we created the broadest language database and archive in the world. We literally had to collect stuff out of shoeboxes in Papua New Guinea, and we now have documentation of over 2,500 to 3,000 languages. We etched that into silicone using a gallium ion beam and casted that onto nickel so that it could last for a very long time.
That’s pretty amazing. So how long do you think it will be until the giant clock is finished?
I'm not sure.
Do you have an estimate?
Do you know how much it will cost overall?
Well, this interview seems to have drawn to a natural close. Thanks Alexander.
All images by Rolfe Horn.
Follow Camille on Twitter: @camstanden
Read what we think will happen in the future:
Hi I'm Bertie, this column is basically a place for me to call bullshit on girl related things I think are stupid.
Twenty-four hours on, Angelina Jolie's decision to undergo a double mastectomy is still everywhere. Not only was it the first thing I got asked about when I got into work yesterday, but since then it has dominated my Twitter and Facebook feeds and generally just followed me around the internet like that pop-up guy who keeps wanting to share his camgirl secrets with me. I wouldn't normally let Ang get away with overwhelming my life with her ridiculously perfect face, but it's pretty obvious that she has done an incredibly brave thing. Deciding to share her experience with every single person over breakfast via The New York Times is not something we should underestimate, either – can you imagine waking up and millions of people are talking about your breasts? That's not something little girls dream about. Or actually, god, maybe it is and I'm just an incorrigible optimist.
It's difficult to empathise with somebody you've never met, but the internet seems to be doing a good job of showing support to a woman who, faced with an 87 percent risk of cancer, bravely decided to follow those numbers and have both of her breasts removed and replaced with implants. Sure, you might have had to sit through The Tourist and maybe you still harbour a fierce grudge about that, but it seems like you'd have to be either stupid or wilfully insensitive to belittle Jolie's predicament – especially as it's implied in the NYT piece that she'll be forced to tackle ovarian cancer at some point, too.
Unfortunately, there are lots of stupid and wilfully insensitive people on the internet and they're all tweeting the same gag about feeling sorry for Jolie's fiancé, Brad Pitt. (Because ew, can you imagine being married to a woman with no breasts? Poor guy.) Hey, I'm not saying everyone should be completely torn to shreds by this and start weeping into their laptop keyboards, but is a woman – any woman – getting a double mastectomy really something you want to use as fodder for shit jokes about tits? I'm not going to pretend I'm outraged, I've seen DaddysMoney.com and I'm fully aware that the internet's capacity for idiocy far exceeds whatever energy I can muster to damn it. It just strikes me as being really, really lame:
Oh wow, congratulations on being the worst people on Twitter guys. Way to turn a story around. While it's no surprise Twitter is throwing up some bullshit, I'm actually more interested in trying to work out how and why anybody could have that immediate reaction. (That's called empathising, BTW.)
Here are some theories.
THEORY #1 – THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT A MASTECTOMY IS
This one doesn't actually seem that far-fetched, because judging by Zumani Nutli's tweet, some people seem to be of the opinion that Angelina basically did a DIY jobbie of unzipping and "removing" her breasts from the safety of her own walk-in wardrobe. (I don't know if you read the NYT piece, Zamani, but it took three months and it's not cosmetic.) Oh Ang, how could you take your health into your own hands and make a huge life-changing decision for the benefit of your entire family like that? Brad will cheat for sure.
THEORY #2 – THEY'VE NEVER SEEN A WOMAN'S BODY IN REAL LIFE
If breasts are really the only thing keeping a marriage together, then Emma Watson, Cara Delevingne and Kaya Scodelario might as well start preparing for lives of lonely spinsterdom. I'm not being a bitch, I'm just saying: the idea that a man would leave his beautiful fiancée because of an uncontrollable obsession with boobs? Ridiculous. Doubly ridiculous is the idea that Brad Pitt would ditch Jolie because she underwent a surgical procedure to stop her getting cancer. These are the type of guys who like to think they're Hunter Moore even though they've never had a real relationship, the kind of guys who prefer enhanced breasts to real ones anyway. If they'd read the article properly (she's had implants) they probably would've been tweeting about how lucky Brad was that his girl had had a boob job.
THEORY #3 – THEY'RE "TEAM JEN" (DUH, THIS IS OBVIOUSLY IT)
There is one obvious reason why a whole bunch of people would feel compelled to be rude about Angelina Jolie, and you don't have to look hard to find it. If there was going to be any one factor that could unite the concern of @alberthoward360, @morrismonye and @AllTheOtherCunts, who's to say it isn't a deep love, reverence and respect for Rachel from F*R*I*E*N*D*S? There are times, though, when even the most devout worshipper of the layered hair and sassy, snappy retorts of the queen of the late 90s needs to step back and say, "Look, Jen is a strong woman and she took a serious blow when Brad and Angelina announced their relationship. But I need to put my personal feelings about this woman to one side and appreciate the difficulty of what she's going through."
BB, Jen will understand. I promise.
Follow Bertie on Twitter: @bertiebrandes
Previously – Things That Hollywood Thinks Are Punk
Katie reading this book in space, presumably with Chris Hadfield.
Sup? Sorry it’s been a while, but the thing about Gettin’ Bookz is sometimes I receive so many at once, that when it actually comes to readin’ bookz the process takes a bit longer than expected.
Anyhooch, today I’m here to tell you about an effervescent book called All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman from Coach House Books. The pace is fast, and it moves precisely in a direction you come to realize quickly. By that I don’t mean it’s predictable, I mean that you get buckled into a little two-seater whip and taken all around Toronto on a course that’s already been set. The premise being there are approximately 249 superheroes in Toronto and we happen to become privy to that world because a normal guy, like us, marries one of these superhuman exceptions to humanity.
Look, I know what you’re thinking, my roommate loves comics too and I am perpetually in the “zzz” zone about them—but that’s why the especially surprising, and affecting, parts of the book came out in full force for me. Those parts really shine through in the intermittent, “extra” character descriptions of the superheroes Kaufman throws in between chapters. Names like Mr. Opportunity (“He knocks on doors and stands there. You’d be surprised how few doors get answered”), You’reright!, Small Difference, and dozens more basically just end up being pretty concise descriptions of people you already know.
What makes the characters so ordinary is the same thing that makes them funny, endearing, and relatable—they are just normal people and they are worried about the same things you are. They are tired of fucking up and being defined by their most intense traits, but they accept, some faster than others, that these things are not going away. And it takes almost the whole book for you to realize Kaufman had all along been planning to kind of put his arm around you, smile and be like, “It could be you!” and that’s what makes this book so dang getable.
Maybe you are scared of cute, light things you know you’ll end up liking, but get over it! Because it’s like 21 degrees outside right now and you can probably finish this thing sprawled rudely on a bench like someone who is new to seasons. I liked it so much that when I finished the book, I called Andrew up and had a chat.
VICE: How did the anniversary edition of the book come about?
Kaufman: It was all Coach House, they told me it was ten years, the fact that it’s been in print ten years is totally worth celebrating. It’s such a strange book to have reached the amount of popularity that it has. She asked me if I wanted to do another pass, edit it, and add stuff. And I did start doing that and I quickly realized I was just taking out everything that was good about the book. So much has happened to me since I wrote that book that I felt like I was a completely different person and I was unable to go back to that mindset. It’s very romantic, very optimistic, very forthright in those convictions and like ten years later... I was literally ruining the book by editing it.
One of the most popular features of the book is these in-between chapters where you just get a bunch of descriptions of different superheroes, so we came up with 30 new pages of those. So it’s not so much the director’s cut, as “now with added bonus material.”
That’s interesting that you didn’t have those just kicking around. You didn’t think you could get that voice back, from when you originally wrote the book, but I found that the new sections matched up so well—there wasn’t any divide for me.
[Laughing] I didn’t say I couldn’t get the voice back, I could get the voice back, I couldn’t get the optimism. The joy!
It is a little bit, eh? It made me think that I’ve just gotten lazy with my optimism. I wrote that book before I had kids, before I had a mortgage, any of these commitments and obligations. Back then optimism was just…easy. Now I’m middle aged and optimism is something that I’ve let slide. As you get older you have to work harder to keep fit and to stay optimistic. So it was kind of like a wake-up call. [Still laughing]
I got the sense, with the superheroes, that by the end you were pulling a trick on the reader. I already knew versions of these characters through friends and even myself—I wondered if that was your intention or not?
Kind of both. I used to do a zine called Scruffy, I don’t know if you even know what I mean by zine?
Yes of course I do! I wasn’t born in 1997.
I don’t know! This was way back in ’92 or ’93, the last issue I did was called “If My Friends Were Superheroes” where I took all my close friends and exaggerated their personalities into superhero powers. When I got done with that it was like, “Oh that was so much fun!” It seemed like such a rich metaphor to run with. So that’s where the book came form, a conscious attempt to exaggerate people’s quirks, what makes them interesting and special.
You take these quirks that a lot of people would look at as negative and turn them into positive things, or insomuch as they’ve finally accepted these shitty things they do.
I love that idea. That’s one of the ideas I’m most fascinated with. That everything comes with it’s opposite packed inside of it. If there’s something you do that makes you powerful, then I guarantee that ability also has a dark side that makes you seem arrogant or freakish or makes you vulnerable or in some way. I think everything comes with both sides.
That’s all anyone is trying to do anyway, accept themselves.
And there’s nothing you can do about it!
Nope, you’re totally fucked. Speaking of dark sides, you’re from Wingham, Ontario but you have Winnipeg listed as one of your favorite things. Why, dude?
I have a love/hate relationship with Winnipeg. Are you from Winnipeg?
No, but everything I’ve heard about it does not make me want to go there.
[Laughing] It’s like, this amazing town! But it’s -30, and it’s the only place in Canada that you really see the evidence of the genocide of First Nation’s people. It has the same arc as Chicago. At one time Winnipeg was the financial capital of Canada—then they built the Panama Canal—and overnight, because everything didn’t have to be shipped across the country, the financial acumen of the town just disappeared. So you have these amazing, beautiful twelve-story Art Deco skyscrapers standing alone and then four blocks of two-story run down strip malls and then another one of these [skyscrapers]—it’s just this beautiful paradoxical city that has no reason to exist, but does.
It makes a lot of sense to me you were living there when you wrote this book. The book seems so packed, it hits the ground running, did you have a fully formed idea in your head or did you just start writing?
All My Friends Are Superheroes was the best writing experience I’ve ever had. And the metaphor when I talk about it is this: I was working full time and I hadn’t published anything. So this book was the first work I had ever published. I really felt like I had a Trans Am in my garage, and every night I would go out to it and play around with it and try to get it on the road. Then I finished it, and Coach House published it. It did really well, so all of a sudden I was a mechanic. And that’s still a transformation that is bewildering to me.
I bet. Maybe you can fix my car that doesn’t exist one day. Can you tell me about Perpetual Motion Roadshow?
Wow, I haven’t thought about that in ages. Jim Munroe put it together. He found a network of individuals through the States and then put a bunch of writers in a car and you just did a tour of American cities going from weird venue to weird venue and crashing on people’s floors. It kind of marked the end of an era for me. It was draining. It was being on tour with no budget.
It would be a bit different than touring in a band cause you’re just doing it one on one every night with no amps.
We did a reading in a bookstore in Cleveland and the owner warned us it was going to be a small crowd, they’d done their 30th anniversary party the night before and all the regulars were at that. So, we go down in the basement and we’re all sitting in the seats and there’s maybe 25 or 30 chairs and there’s ONE GUY. So the four of us get up and he looks around and realizes he’s the ONLY. GUY. And he can’t leave! And you can see it in his eyes, “You can’t leave, you’re the only guy!” So I read first that night and it was totally humiliating and hard to get going, so I didn’t want to just throw it off so I totally did a half decent reading and put myself in the performance and that broke it for me. It was like, if I can get it going for this situation, then the rest of them are going to seem simple.
He sounds like a trooper. Hey, you should send me some zines.
Follow Katie on Twitter: @wtevs
The challenge Baz Luhrmann had in adapting The Great Gatsby to film was similar to what Walter Salles faced with On the Road: how to stay loyal to the era depicted, while still retaining the rawness of the original text. Salles did a great job of capturing the ambiance of 1950s America, but it could be argued that his Dean and Sal didn’t have enough zeal—enough of that desire to live, live, live.
The old saying is that a good book makes a bad film, while a paperback potboiler like The Godfather makes a great film. But this wisdom is derived from the idea that a good book is made by the writing, and if it’s adapted into whatever, its magic is lost. As just about every (film) critique has already noted—and they’re right, if repetitive—most of what makes The Great Gatsby great is Fitzgerald’s prose. We allow the classics to get away with so much because we love the characters. But when older stories are revived for film, the issue of the past and present must be rectified. But that lack was not a function of anything missing in the actors or the general direction as much as it is a result of the passage of time, the encasing of a book in the precious container of "classic" status.
When adapting Gatsby to the big screen, the main questions Baz Luhrmann faced were: What will work? And, like Romeo and Juliet before, How do I make this older material live in a new medium for a modern audience? And somehow Luhrmann managed to be loyal to both the original text and to his contemporary audience. The jazz music of the 20s was raw and dangerous, but if Luhrmann had used that music today, it would have been a museum piece—irrelevant to mainstream and high culture alike, because they would’ve already known what’s coming. There have been objections to his use of 3D, but frankly it’s a nonissue. It works, and is neither distracting nor game changing. You just deal with it because you want to. It’s fun to watch.
The critics who’ve ravaged the film for not being loyal to the book are hypocrites. These people make their living doing readings and critiques of texts in order to generate theories of varying levels of competency, or simply to make a living. Luhrmann’s film is his reading and adaptation of a text—his critique, if you will. Would anyone object to a production of Hamlet in outer space? Not as much as they object to the Gatsby adaptation, apparently. Maybe that’s because Gatsby is so much about a time and a place, while Shakespeare, in my mind, is more about universal ideas, ideals, and feelings. Luhrmann needed to breath life into the ephemera and aura of the 20s and that’s just what he succeeded at.
A film, of course, relies on an immediate tension in a fundamentally different way than a book. And barring the most cinematic of texts, films developed from literary sources must run along a tighter thread. Once Gatsby’s mission of wooing Daisy back is accomplished, some of the wind is taken out of the story. We don’t really care about their relationship as much as we care about Gatsby’s overblown efforts to rise in social and economic status to get her back. And this is a universal and rarely accomplished goal that is still relevant today, made even more so by the director’s use of modern window dressing. Gatsby’s desire is revealed to be that of a 16-year-old boy: not only does he want to win Daisy, he wants to control her affections. It reminds me of my high school relationships, where I tortured girlfriends for getting fingered by other boys when they were freshmen. Just move on, dude. We are obsessed by his obsession but aren’t significantly moved by his accomplishment of the goal.
Also, one downside of Nick's being so obsessed with Gatsby that he has to resort to therapeutic writing about their friendship is that it in essence makes their friendship that much greater. How long did they actually know each other? They weren’t that close were they? And what makes Gatsby’s greatness so appealing to Nick? That he did a lot of shady deals and made a lot of money? That he was in love with a woman? That he said “old sport” all the time and was generally charming? Was he in love with Gatsby? Fitzgerald had many reasons for being obsessed with Gatsby-like characters in his personal life (Monroe Stahr also merges business and romantic obsession in The Love of the Last Tycoon), particularly because Fitzgerald was unable to marry Zelda until he became a literary success. But Nick, outside of the action, doesn’t have personal stakes in the story, and while placing him in an institution raises his stakes, it makes his obsession with Gatsby even more convoluted. But maybe Luhrmann’s reasoning is that this sort of confusion is interesting, and who could fault him for that. Or maybe he just loved Gatsby and if they could have just gone on living side by side, just as Toby and Leo did in real life, all would have been fine. That actually sounds like a good movie, too. But I guess it’s been made—it’s a show called Entourage.
In the end, Luhrmann made it work, and that’s all that matters. The movie held together. We watched the story, we felt things, we were transported, and we were engaged.
More James Franco from VICE:
Nathan Bedford Forrest is considered by some to be one of the most infamous and powerful racists in American history. The first official leader of the Ku Klux Klan, some historians allege that Lieutenant General Forrest’s most heinous act was ordering his troops to slaughter hundreds of surrendered soldiers at 1864’s Battle of Fort Pillow, more than half of whom were African American. Others celebrate him as the physical manifestation of the South’s ethos during the Civil War and beyond: a rebel hero who relentlessly campaigned for his cause until it became untenable; he never gave up, even after his death.
There's an equestrian statue of Forrest in Memphis's Forrest Park, and lately it's been at the center of the city's often shaky race relations. This February, after the City Council demanded the statue be removed and the park renamed, the local KKK announced its plans to hold a massive rally in protest. And we were there to watch it all go down.
Premiering Monday, May 20, Triple Hate is a documentary about Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Memphis City Council, the Klan, the Crips, Ulysses S. Grant, racism, and the specter of history.
Read the full story in "The Wizard of the Saddle Rides Again" from the May issue of VICE.
Ken Baumann, after getting his ass kicked at prom or something.
It’s usually kind of confusing when an actor or athlete or musician writes a book. Unless they’ve paid a ghostwriter to make something that seems like the actor/athlete/musician could write, usually it’s a good idea to duck your head between your legs and pretend it never happened. It’s like you can’t be successful at everything, right?
Enter Ken Baumann. Baumann is best known for his role as Ben on ABC Family’s teen-drama show, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but offscreen he’s of a wholly other mode. Besides spending his TV dollars as publisher of Sator Press, an independent publishing house that traffics in ambitious genre-defying prose, he’s just dropped his own brain-bending first novel, Solip, from Tyrant Books.
The book is unlike anything you’d expect from an actor, or any other kind of person for that matter. Over the course of 149 pages, it cobbles together a mesmerizing string of tones, following a Beckett-ian narrator who by turns sounds drugged up, prophetic, furious, wistful, demanding, and pissed. It’s full of plagues and horses and strange winds—the kind of book you read in a sitting, then read again to find out what you just put in your body, and then read again to try to find the map of where you are now. Quicker said: it’s fucked.
Ken and I exchanged some emails to talk about the novel, acting, and being a person.
VICE: When and where did you write Solip and where are you now?
Ken Baumann: Most of the book was written between October 2009 and February 2010, in Los Angeles. I live in North Hollywood. I would work on it for about an hour per day, sometimes longer. I often stopped writing after having typed out 455 words. This happened many times, which felt weird, but confirmed that there was a rhythm to the work, and that I shouldn't feel bad about walking away from its concentrated, sickly voice after only an hour or so. The largest edit happened after Michael Kimball sent me a fat package of its manuscript all marked up. He's a brilliant writer and an acute editor. I took most of his advice. I only am now feeling like I can be rid of the book's grammar. I've been answering these questions with my phone and on my computer in my house and at an amphitheater where my wife and a group of friends were about to perform Shakespeare. I feel lighter now, but I feel just as dumb, if not dumber.
You’ve said that you didn't feel like you wrote Solip, but found a voice and were discovering what you were supposed to say as you went along. Do you think writing and acting bleed into each other, like you are playing a role of someone typing under a specific set of conditions or constraints?
That's a good way of framing it, yeah. I often feel like consciousness and my pulsing, icky, charged idea of self is a performance, too—that I only write or act to get out of my head and instead try to borrow someone else's for a while. Writing is definitely more lonely, but it also feels more pure, in that the voice can really be anything and I can let myself be beholden to it. If I were to just open up and say whatever on most sets, I wouldn't have work. Ever. Unless I was also a "goof" and a "really funny guy," and then I'd work in every recent comedy movie, probably. And there's a similarity to both actions when the going's good—when I completely forget my body and head and just fall into some imaginary problem for a while. Everyone's an actor. Look at the high-finance assholes of the past 30 years. I just try to get paid to lie in a benign field, which is what art is.
You mentioned the frame here, and there's a line in the novel that says, "Ain't a performance without a frame." I laughed seeing the word "ain't" in there just now, because it reminds me how often the book changes how it speaks and who it seems to be speaking to, which I think is most often itself. What is the frame of Solip?
I'm wary of naming that frame, but I also don't think I feel one that's solid or even interesting. The people who so willingly lay out exactly what a thing is, or preload its audience with guidepost phrases or ideas or genres, whatever—those people confuse me. But I know that once I had finished the book, it still creeped me out and it felt unfamiliar enough—far away from some blatant X meets Y—that I decided it was worth publishing. Maybe its frame is the weird child that I still feel like I am, marooned in a library in a land of greasy worship, hoping to find a portal to places that feel strange but more true than the desert around.
Do you see this novel as "set" anywhere? Obviously there is a room the narrator seems to be contained in at certain points, but the center shifts so often, and yet there's a very feverish sense of atmosphere to the tone of the book. I wonder, even if there's no clear setting, if you had or have some idea of the layout of the landscape, at least as you approached it during the writing? Perhaps the epigraph from Mahler is important here, "The call of love sounds very hollow among these immobile rocks.”
I’m typing this response in an oncoming 102-degree heat, which feels appropriate. That quote feels like a perfect human exclamation to me, especially in the face of the pornographic want of the "human spirit" that so many new books and movies show off. You've talked about this a lot. I think the thin layers of aching mass that sustain our species could not give less of a fuck about our success or our ability to spiritually move one another, and kinks in the biosphere's disease factory sort of point to a system that's trying to kill us. So that epigraph seemed perfectly suited to both Solip and the cheap transcendence being tossed around by our silly, rapacious little species. It's hysterical, romantic, and doomed. The setting of the book got clear as I wrote it. I did a lot of research about white torture and sensory deprivation, and I think there's a part of me that fantasizes about committing myself to such a chamber, if only for the exotic and total silence. I'd last a day. But I kept thinking about what a voice might sound like after an impossibly long duration of total physical deprivation. How the mind would sing, still. I watched the movie Cube when I was a kid, and I still think about it, especially the idea that this massive and geometric structure is somehow encased in an endless sea of other cubes, being shuffled like a puzzle under some cruel stochastic process, and why. Maybe this book is just a C-movie knockoff of Cube, but without any lights on. I don't know. I'm still scared enough of looking back into the book that I want other people to find out for me.
It seems like film could be pointed out as a big influence on the space of the book overall, like suddenly I'm imagining being stranded on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey and hearing HAL 9000 read this book to me before he kills me in my sleep. Besides the acting, how does your love of film/specific directors influence the way you choose to tell a story?
Well, 2001 is my favorite film, and I have tried to cool my idolization of Kubrick to little success. I love the way Kubrick's movies are loaded with meaning and precision—I curse myself almost every day for not working hard enough to become a new iteration of Kubrick—and his films also feel severely nonhuman that way, which is great. He parallels human stuff like mythos and action and emotion, with the opaque meshwork of chaos and stasis and arbitrary dreams. That aim seems as holy as one could shoot for with art. I hope Solip does something similar. I want to read writing that attempts the camerawork in Irreversible, or the abject pace and light of Antichrist, or the grotesque geometries of The Passion of Joan of Arc. Sometimes I can't help but think cinematically just walking around, which plays right into the purchasing fields of a lot of industries—sometimes I feel so saturated and targeted with common narratives that I want to burn the brunt of my hair off and only speak in garbled psalms. My wife told me once about this kid in high school who went to work on an organic farm in Italy for a summer, and that he came back to New Mexico barefoot, wearing the same outfit for the rest of the semester, only speaking newly learned Italian quietly and to himself, unable to socially function. I know that the real madnesses aren't voluntary, and are actually terrifying and hurtful and hard to cope with, but I think that being so soaked by certain formulaic lights and sweaty glints and winky push ins is just as nuts, and less fun because it makes a lot of people broke.
What are you most afraid of?
Previously by Blake Butler: Anton Chekhov Versus Jeffrey Dahmer
Mignanelli's paintings may seem simple at first glance, but spend more time with them and you'll start to admire the patterns created by light and energy. We spent a day with Matt at his studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and talked about his work, life, and strong American work ethic while eating some amazing pizza.
Check out more of his work here.