Controversy.

I bought one Prince album in 1981 or so, and then went out the next day and bought all the Prince albums. One was “Controversy,” and the title track included this line:

Am I black or white?
Am I straight or gay?

With Prince, you never were entirely sure. Well, he was certainly black, but his sensibility, and his artistic vision, spanned too wide a panorama to be pigeonholed as pretty much anything. He was rock, pop, dance, funk, gospel when he was feeling it, playful, serious, falsetto, growly. Today I found a clip of a performance from earlier in his career, and he’s wearing a tiger-print kimono thing, matching briefs and thigh-high socks. But he also played guitar on a par with Eric Clapton, and performed like James Brown. Only better.

(Evidence.) Watch that. It’s great.

Someone on my FB feed today called him the African-American David Bowie. I think that’s pretty perfect. Always original, sometimes imitated, never duplicated. Plus fancy outfits;

Now we wait for the cause of death. As always, watch the local sources:

In a transcript of a 911 call released by the Carver County Sheriff’s Office, an unidentified male caller tells the dispatcher there is “a person … dead here,” says he doesn’t know how the person died and struggles to find the exact address of Prince’s home, which the dispatcher urgently seeks.

“You’re at Paisley Park, OK, that’s in Chanhassen,” the dispatcher says. “Are you with the person who’s …” and the male caller quickly interrupts to say, “Yes, it’s Prince.”

Multiple responders were quickly dispatched. An ambulance dispatcher soon canceled further medical help, saying, “confirmed DOA.”

Drug overdose? Who knows.

Lots of interesting tidbits in that story. I liked this one:

He became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001, and on at least one occasion went proselytizing door-to-door. An Eden Prairie woman told Star Tribune columnist C.J. in 2003 that she was stunned when Prince and former Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham knocked on her door. Prince introduced himself as Prince Nelson and spent 25 minutes at the woman’s house talking about his faith.

With that, I’m heading out for the weekend. I hope yours is good.

Posted at 12:42 am in Popculch | 53 Comments
 

Paddled.

I may be the only American not utterly fascinated by the late pinup Bettie Page, but I will usually read articles about her as I find them, because they often contain fascinating looks at life in midcentury America.

I may be misremembering some of the key details, but there was something about the Klaws, the brother-sister photography team who promoted her career. They ran a company that sold stills from Hollywood pictures, which people collected back then. They wondered why they couldn’t keep certain Tarzan stills in stock — the ones that featured Jane or some other woman tied to a tree. Then they realized there was a market for bondage photos. (Many featuring Bettie.)

I thought of that when I read this rather marvelous Jezebel piece on spanking in old movies.

Spanking doesn’t appeal to me erotically, but I certainly know it’s a Thing, and it’s pretty damn obvious there’s a rather large segment of the population who is totally into it. At least, if you could up all the actresses who were turned over men’s laps and swatted with hands, shoes and whatever else was at hand:

In early 1946, a woman from Carmel, California wrote the Hollywood fan magazine Screenland to say how much she had enjoyed the recent Christmas release Frontier Gal—not just for its lovely performers and dazzling Technicolor vistas, but for saving her marriage by teaching her husband to spank her.

After he’d returned from the war, she’d struggled to warm up to him again, she wrote, which caused a problem—and here was the solution. “In desperation, after seeing the show, he tried little Beverly’s philosophy,” wrote Mrs. J.B.M. “Daddies spank mamas because they love them. While this old-fashioned approach probably wouldn’t work in all cases, it did for us, and I would appreciate an opportunity to publicly thank Universal and Frontier Gal.”

The letter is mysterious—is it describing erotic play, or spousal abuse?—but the context is less so. Frontier Gal was one of at least five movies with scenes of women being spanked released in 1945 alone. Though the movie culminates in a minute-long spanking of its star Yvonne De Carlo, the plot device was so unremarkable as to not even make the reviews. From the beginnings of cinema up through the 1960s, a spanking was just a routine part of a certain type of screen romance: watch the supercut below.

It’s a wonderful exploration, with lots of GIFs and stills and that long supercut. It’s easy to see the visual appeal for a movie audience; the actress gets to poke a shapely butt skyward and wiggle a pair of even shapelier calves in protest, simultaneously throwing her mop of shiny curls around. Ooh la la, eye candy. That this stuff skated past the Hays Office is odd, that it was reflected in the larger culture is even odder. It turns out mom and dad may have been into all sorts of kink while we were sleeping in our flannel jammies.

More bloggage? This is what I’m going to be doing early mornings in Iceland. You won’t be able to keep me away with a machine gun. (Which basically don’t exist there, anyway.) It’s a piece on the great, public swimming pools/hot tubs of that country. I’ve already planned where I’ll be going, of course.

Haiti, cholera and the U.N., from Slate.

Now to take my non-stinging behind off to bed.

Posted at 12:18 am in Current events, Popculch | 44 Comments
 

I know right.

Saturday, cold wind. Sunday, cold rain.

“Fuck this weather anyway,” I said on my way out of the gym Sunday. “I know right,” said the guy at the front desk, which I gather is an expression of affirmation, with no obvious punctuation. I KNOW RIGHT. Kids these days.

It wasn’t a bad weekend, but the weather was atrocious. There was a little chilly sunshine on Saturday, and that was a big ol’ compensation for the breeze coming straight out of the north, but meh. So I spent much of the weekend reading. Softhearted me, I undertook Jim Harrison’s final collection of novellas, “The Ancient Minstrel.” I finally had to put it down on Saturday and go make lamb chops, because I had my fill of goatish old satyrs assaulting 15-year-old girls. The final piece in the collection features such a pairing, which would be defensible, to my mind, if this fictional 15-year-old did anything remotely resembling what a real 15-year-old would do when a senior citizen is pawing her body. Cry, maybe, or go limp, or ask for money. But no — she welcomes the sexual attention of a 66-year-old man, enthusiastically. She rolls her hips around, teases him with peeks up her shorts, pouts when they’re interrupted.

I have fucking had it, I thought, and went downstairs to throw some fingerling potatoes in the oven.

A 15-year-old isn’t exactly a child, but this particular theme, old guys with young girls, has been a regular in the Harrison canon for at least the last 20 years. And it has become, for me, increasingly cringeworthy. It’s odd to feel embarrassed for someone you admire so much. He wrote some outstanding fiction in his life, books I’ve treasured, read and reread to figure out how he did it, how he made these meandering, plotless stories so interesting. He had a voice that made me want to spend time in his head and look at the world through his eyes. His characters were always wildly flawed and often sexually reckless, but they were funny, and they weren’t felons, at least not the ones we might be expected to identify with. (I recall a vile, moneyed patriarch who raped a child in one, but that’s it.)

But age takes its toll on everyone, and a few years back, I noticed the same stories repeating themselves, and evidence of little or no editing, self- or otherwise. The last book I bought was “The River Swimmer,” which asks us to believe a young man might swim from somewhere on the west Michigan coast at roughly the Grand Rapids latitude to Chicago. In Lake Michigan. Is this magical realism? Kinda. But I found the impossibility of the act – and the fact this 17-year-old character has all the attitudes and wisdom of his 70-something creator – hard to get past. (Even in these half-baked stories, though, there were flashes of brilliance, the old better-on-a-bad-day-than-almost-everyone-else-on-their-best thing. Which is why I kept reading.)

This April-December sex thing is a bridge too far for me, though, but I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, now that he’s dead. I finished the story the next day. Spoiler alert: The character commits suicide on the final page. Good, I thought, and regretted ever knowing about him in the first place.

Do I have some bloggage? I think so…

A columnist in Indiana apologizes for not saying something sooner.

I find Vice wildly uneven, but this was funny: I played “The Boys Are Back in Town” on a bar jukebox until I got kicked out. It was sent to me by a friend who said his evening had been ruined by some douche coming into the bar where he was playing pool and fucking up his sick jukebox set with some Kiss shit. Been there! Feel your pain!

Zika is coming. Congress is not hustling to find the money to fight it. Quelle surprise.

Premature death rates for middle-aged white women are climbing; the WashPost looked at one. A sad, familiar story.

OK, then, Monday awaits. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, J.C. BURNS!!! Enjoy yours.

Posted at 12:11 am in Popculch | 50 Comments
 

Baby’s first existential bleakness.

My first exposure to the work of Franz Kafka came sometime in high school. I read “The Metamorphosis” and “In the Penal Colony,” one as assigned reading, the other just because. The term “Kafkaesque” was being thrown around the culture, and I thought I should know what it meant.

(This led to a sub-fling with the French existentialists, but after “No Exit” I realized these frog poseurs were best for reading in public, or casually displaying on top of a notebook in a cafe or pizza parlor. “This? Oh, yes – I’m into Sartre,” etc.)

I’m sure the assigned piece was “The Metamorphosis,” as I recall my stern-but-amusing 20th Century Literature teacher (this was in high school, senior year) chortling over the first line: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” (This may vary, depending on your translation. I like “gigantic insect” better than “monstrous verminous bug,” which I found online.) “In the Penal Colony” kind of blew my mind, or at least the descriptions of the harrow did.

So imagine my surprise when I looked at the Facebook feed of a former colleague and discovered “My First Kafka,” or Kafka for children. From the Amazon reviews:

This kid’s book is a great one for the intellectual parents in your life. Sedate the kid in front of the TV with Spongebob blasting and read yourself this beautiful book. Look around and the shattered remains of your life and fall into a beautifully illustrated pit of existential despair.

I was so square, I read my kid Beatrix Potter. If you ask me, those animals knew existential despair, especially Peter Rabbit.

Of course, if you want existential despair you can hardly do better than this:

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.24.18 PM

I generally power through winter with only my fair allotment of whiny bitching, but lately I think something changes in my body at this time of year, and I actually am physically colder. Because I’ve been freezing all week, and the above makes me want to weep. (When I visited San Francisco a few years back, we left Detroit in the middle of a standard withering summer heat wave. The first few days I strolled the night streets in a T-shirt, looking quizzically at the tiny Asian girls shivering in down jackets and wool hats. Within two days I had adjusted, but never put on anything thicker than a hooded sweatshirt.)

Speaking of which, some friends of mine are eloping to San Fran/Napa Valley in a couple of weeks. They’re trying to get reservations at the French Laundry, but they’re booked for months. Any of you Californians know the secret number to call?

So, bloggage:

You saw the Daily News front page. It looks like Eduardo Rafael Cruz is having a difficult time dealing with those New York values.

The headline’s not in all caps, but it should be: 20,000 LESBIANS IN THE DESERT: WELCOME TO THE DINAH, A WORLD WITHOUT MEN.

I usually try to post three links, but shouldn’t 20,000 lesbians count double? I think so. And with that, I wish you a happy weekend.

Posted at 12:29 am in Detroit life, Popculch | 70 Comments
 

Ghost, with bullwhip.

So Alan and I were watching “Robert Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” on HBO, and within the first five minutes, we get to the infamous bullwhip picture. The camera holds for a long, long time. There are voices of others who knew him, and the bullwhip picture stays on the screen. Stays and stays, for a few long minutes.

“Something’s wrong here,” I said.

“It’s a choice,” he said. “In your face.”

“But it makes no sense,” I said. “Even for in your face, this is too long.”

I fast-forwarded, and sure enough, the picture was somehow frozen, while the audio played on. Played a little with forward and reverse, and it happened again. I couldn’t get past the bullwhip picture just by hitting play.

Very strange. A ghost in the machine.

I love Robert Mapplethorpe’s work, and always have. A great artist. I wish I could be an artist like that. His work will outlive all the yammering of all the idiots who couldn’t — can’t — handle it.

So, got a better sleep last night, and felt enormously better on Wednesday, which was reasonably full — a radio interview, a regular old interview, lots of reading. Here’s something I read – Charlie Pierce on Ted Cruz, plus high dudgeon:

Make no mistake: Ted Cruz is running an explicitly theocratic campaign. (His well-worn Constitution seems to be missing Article VI, Section III. You know, that whole thing about banning religious tests for office.) He has mashed up radical Tentherism, talk-radio conservatism, and religious extremism into a great ball and he is running to lead a revival in this nation based in end-times Protestant eschatology. It is Dominionism 101. (There is more than a little irony present when Cruz mocks the president as “the chosen one,” when there is considerable evidence that Cruz was deliberately raised to believe that of himself by his crazoid preacher father.) When Steve King says he prayed his way to endorsing Cruz, and that he did so “hoping that god would raise up a leader,” he’s not kidding, and I promise we’ll get to that later. But the thing about it is, not only is Ted Cruz running an explicitly theocratic campaign, he’s running a very good explicitly theocratic campaign. Of all the true believers in Ted Cruz on that stage, nobody believes more truly in Ted Cruz than the candidate himself.

I also read a bunch of stuff about blood-borne illnesses, but no need to cut and paste that.

And now I’m going to listen to some Merle Haggard, just to make sure the day’s artistic content covers a pretty wide spectrum. Merle to Mapplethorpe. Have a good Thursday.

Posted at 12:10 am in Popculch | 58 Comments
 

Your digital assistant, and no-show.

I have a deadline at lunch today, and it means I’m going to have to write through blog time. So accept this photo of a typical cool-weather evening on my couch —

sleepywendy

— and a few links. (Wendy is quite the snuggler, when the snugglee is possessed of body warmth. Once the weather warms up, she’ll be back on her tuffet.)

I admit that I have yelled at Siri in the car. I have told her she’s a stupid fucking twit, that all I want is a sense of the traffic between me and downtown, and how should I phrase that request so you can understand it?! I wonder if I’d be so profane if her name was Sam, and she was a he. The Atlantic explores the issue.

Donald Trump says one thing, backtracks. Oh, how long 2016 will be.

Dahlia Lithwick with a genius proposal for Merrick Garland.

Back for the end of this long week tomorrow.

Posted at 12:15 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 53 Comments
 

Why does health taste so boring?

I ate a ton of vegetables today. Spinach and mushrooms for breakfast, cauliflower soup for lunch, broccoli and a li’l salad at dinner. Of course, now what I really want is a bologna sandwich and a mess of potato chips on the side.

Bologna, mayo and a bunch of crunchy iceberg lettuce on white bread — this is a secret shame of mine that I indulge maybe once a year. I haven’t done it for a while; maybe this weekend. I ask you, though — if vegetables are so uniformly great for us, why don’t we crave them more? Why is it a chore to eat them consistently? Why aren’t our bodies more adapted to a plant-based diet?

Why do we want to put cheese on everything? Why is sugar so great? Why is whipped cream (with lots of sugar) something you want to dive into, but broccoli, meh?

I’m thinking some dessert is in order, but I made Alan take the dark-chocolate sea-salt caramels I bought at Costco for Valentine’s weekend to his office, so I wouldn’t eat them all. Sigh. February. It just never gets better.

But there’s less of it to live through than we already have. March starts spring and spring-like activities. And by this weekend it’ll be in the 40s.

So how was your Presidents Day? I worked on one thing that became the only thing, and tomorrow it’ll be a big thing. That seems to sum it up. My hard-working boss is on vacation this week, which means a shifting of duties, and, today, three emails from him. The last one was replied to by one of my colleagues to the effect that we didn’t want any more emails from him. They weren’t bad emails, just the can’t-help-yourself sort. Beaches aren’t all that great, at least when you have iPhones.

Which seems like a good transition — beaches, reading, food stress — into the bloggage, an essay about Oprah and forgiving oneself for not having a perfect body:

My epiphany was this: Oprah is one of the most accomplished, admired, able people in the world. She has an Oscar to keep all her Emmy Awards company. She creates magic for other people and herself on the regular. So if Oprah can’t do permanent lifelong weight loss, maybe it can’t be done. Oprah is also crazy rich. If Oprah can’t buy permanent lifelong weight loss, maybe it can’t be bought. And that sucks.

Sure does. But maybe it’s OK, too. There’s a size 16 woman on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Relax. Eat the bologna.

What else? Vanity is dead. Now there was a lovely young woman, if at little untalented at being a pop star. And she died of an inflammation of her small intestine, begging for money on GoFundMe. Life’s not all it’s cracked up to be for anyone.

Think I’ll turn in early. Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 12:11 am in Popculch | 45 Comments
 

A laff riot.

What to start with today, humor or not? Let’s go with humor. Guess what our old friend Mitch Albom is up to? Musical comedy, that’s what:

In regard to bestselling author/journalist Mitch Albom’s new musical comedy stage farce, Hockey: The Musical, the puck will drop mid-May.

…But what will the show be about – beyond, you know, hockey? “In a nutshell, it’s about what happens when the universe, or God, decides there are too many sports in the world, so one has to go,” Albom said. “Hockey has been chosen to be eliminated from the world, but a fan comes forth and begs and says, ‘No, not hockey! Please, please not hockey!’ The deal is, if he can find 5 pure souls to explain why hockey shouldn’t be eliminated, heaven will relent and choose another sport.”

This is almost too wonderful for words. I’m amused by the fact, after I posted this on my Facebook page yesterday, that many people simply assumed it was a parody. After all, it merely tumbles around the usual Albom tropes — five people, a God who worries about inexplicable things like how many sports there are in the world, a Heaven that’s as accessible and ordinary as the conference room down the hall, the whole bit. (You wonder why anyone would strive to get to a heaven that sounds like it’s decorated with posters of kittens hanging from tree branches, and small talk about which sports to abolish.)

Tickets go on sale in two days, if you’d like me to snag you a pair. My heart goes out to the poor Free Press saps who will be roped into promoting this crap.

So, another Wednesday. The governor gave his budget presentation today. You could hear the protestors clamoring outside the hearing room, and he looked rattled by it. Keep in mind this is a guy who was famous for never using a prompter or even notes when he made speeches; he just knew what he was going to say, and said it, up to and including lengthy addresses like the state of the state. Today was a different kettle of fish.

Flint has changed the balance in a rather big way. Interesting times.

How about a little more levity, then?

Mardi Gras in the Upper Peninsula:

@travelmarquette #fattuesday #bravingthecold #marquettemichigan #lagniappe #shoplocal

A video posted by Spice Merohants Of Marquette (@spicemerchantsofmqtmi) on

Unzip your parka and show us your tits, honeys! Soon it’ll be the weekend.

Posted at 12:10 am in Current events, Popculch | 50 Comments
 

Dip?

The Super Bowl is this weekend, which always reminds me to check my grocery coupons in the Sunday paper to see what the potheads at the Kraft and Pillsbury test kitchens have come up with to amuse us. Never do I get such a strong sense that drugs were involved than when I behold the recipe suggestions. A football field made of lime Jell-O, with yard lines of piped-on Cool Whip. A dip in a hollowed-out bread bowl in the shape of a football. Cheese-stuffed everything.

The year I was a journalism fellow, we threw a Super Bowl party for the overseas journalists, and i tried to come up with the most ridiculous possible nosh, and settled for something fairly pedestrian — guacamole in a low, rectangular dish, with sour cream piped-on yard lines, and PATS and PANTHERS in the end zones.

Of course, if cheese-stuffed deep-fried Doritos had been invented then, I’d have made those. I’ve been weirdly interested in this preposterous recipe for a few days, but I’m not invited to any parties this year, and there’s no way in hell I’d make them for two people. So another year will pass without experiencing cheese-stuffed deep-fried Doritos. I vow that I will pass the time trying to figure out how to add bacon to the recipe.

What’s your favorite Super Bowl food? Don’t say chili; it’s pedestrian.

So, Eric Zorn asked the other day if it’s sexist to describe Hillary Clinton as “shrill,” even if her voice does occasionally rise into the higher registers. I didn’t have to think for a second before thinking yes, it is sexist, and we should stop using that to describe not only Hillary but any woman. I think we’re just going to have to stop it the same way we stopped telling our black friends that they’re great dancers. Because “shrill,” even if it describes a person with a high, screechy voice, is making common cause with Rush Limbaugh and all his minions. You sound like the people saying stuff like this. Speaking of shrill.

Just one bit of bloggage before the weekend starts. Planned Parenthood was blocked from using public funds to serve poor women in Texas, and so had to stop serving them. Guess what happened? Pregnancies rose. Color me astounded, and I wonder what happened to the aboriton rate.

Whatever your Super Bowl plans are, I hope they include cheese. See you Monday.

Posted at 12:15 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 88 Comments
 

A starman waiting in the sky.

It’s touching, how widely beloved David Bowie was. Of course I loved him, and my friends loved him, but lots of the stuff I like no one else does. But Bowie was apparently everyone’s favorite, including wingnuts who, if a gender-fluid, bisexual, chain-smoking weirdo were to move next door, would consider moving away or at least refuse to loan a cup of sugar.

But that’s art. It unites people.

I have no special Bowie stories. My college roommate’s father, Walter Tevis, wrote the novel “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” adapted for the movies and the role that made a pop star into an actor. She went to the premiere in New York, but I don’t recall one special thing about it, although I’m sure there was. I was especially moved by the recollections of oddballs and misfits and queer kids everywhere, who found a role model in Bowie. Tom and Lorenzo’s brief tribute was just right:

(For) these two fashion queens, David Bowie’s entire existence was a celebration of oddness; a seven-decade manifesto that taught us not only that we didn’t have to be normal if it didn’t suit us, but that the pursuit of abnormalcy in one’s life can be an aesthetic, philosophical and most importantly, moral choice with true value and rewards.

I see Jolene already posted the NYT obit in the comments yesterday, but I think they also hit the nail on the head when they identified cabaret as a big influence on Bowie’s career. Of course. I’m just grateful that I grew up in a time when I could turn on one radio station — just one! — and hear Bowie, the Beatles, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin and others, all under the umbrella of American pop music.

Folks, I’m tired tonight. It’s nearly 10 and I’m still waiting on Alan to come home. He was up at 5:30 a.m. to catch the first presser at 7. I’d already left for the gym, and Wendy was so discombobulated and insulted at having been left alone in the house, unwalked, before the sun even came up that she left a dirty bomb on the bath mat. That’ll show us!

Speaking of Wendy, Kate asked me the other day to find the story about Detroit arson that ran in the Detroit News a couple of years ago, the one that made me think I’d found Wendy’s parents. Did I mention this? Can’t recall. Long story short: I’m reading this pretty good story about Detroit’s “culture of fire,” the weird arson tradition the city has, which thrives in a place with so much standing around, waiting to burn. There was a passage that said something about a guy being awakened by his Jack Russells barking at the blazing house next door. I looked at the picture…

wendysmomanddad

…and I said, “Wendy, is this mom and dad?” Of course I can’t be sure, but she was surrendered to a shelter just a few miles from this house. The dogs have the same undocked tails, brindle patches and other traits that suggest she wasn’t bred by someone who keeps horses, too. The CSS on the story is all fubar, so I dug up the pic through a separate search to file it away.

Lance Mannion reposted this blog sparked by “Spotlight” today, and it reminded me of when the events he described happened — when his little boy was struggling in Catholic school, and how the church dealt with it, by suggesting, and then requesting, and then requiring, that Lance and his wife withdraw their second grader in the middle of the year. It turned out their son had Asperger’s and a couple of other learning disabilities, and the school just couldn’t, or didn’t want to, deal with it. This happens all the time in private schools, and also in charters, so just remember that the next time someone talks about failing public schools. Because they alone can’t tell kids they have trouble teaching to go someplace else.

Young Mannion is fine today, and enrolled in college.

Well, hey, whaddaya know — it’s 10:30 and Alan just got home. Signing off and see you tomorrow.

Posted at 12:25 am in Popculch | 30 Comments