June 2009 Archives
Well, Gay Pride Week has come and gone from my neighborhood—only the municipally applied lavender stripe down lower Fifth Avenue remains—but it’s always an opportune time to enjoy Matt Lucas’s “Lesbians” song on YouTube. I first saw this—years ago, before Little Britain, before Lucas earned his crown as the funniest alopecia-afflicted writer-performer since Mike Nichols—while in London on assignment for Vanity Fair. I was nearly asleep, half-watching a show called Shooting Stars (in which Lucas played an adult-sized baby named George Dawes) when this bizarre moment shook me awake.
Evidently, Lucas is playing both Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Tim Burton’s movie of Alice in Wonderland. Not a stretch.
...when I want to find out, without obfuscation or unnecessary rhetoric, what’s going on in Iran, I turn straight to the New York Times. But when I wanted to find out, without obfuscation or unnecessary rhetoric, whether or not Michael Jackson was really dead, I turned straight to the New York Post and the Daily Mail.
Some talented British comics have done what amounts to a remix of all the contentious Palin-Cleese sketches: “Dead Parrot” plus “Cheese Shop” plus “Argument Clinic.” They’ve even recreated the beiges and browns of the early-’70s BBC. It’s brilliant.
No doubt the skinny young moptop was trying to be friendly when, as I left the supermarket, he congratulated me for “rockin’ the reusable”—meaning my non-disposable grocery bag. He was flagging down passersby on behalf of some green group, asking them “Do you have a moment for the environment?” But I was nevertheless... rankled. At this time of year, after college has let out, this particular block near my home becomes a stalking-ground for undergraduates doing advocacy work and soliciting signatures for petitions. I find it a nettlesome business, daily dodging nice kids asking me if I have time for the environment, gay rights, affordable housing, and so on—the implication being that if I don’t stop to yak with them, I don’t have time for these issues.
Yet I feel for these callow twerps, for I was once one of them, only worse. In the summer of 1985, I worked as a canvasser for the New Jersey branch of PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), a consumer and environmental lobby founded by Ralph Nader. Not only did I actively knock on doors in the suburbs rather than just pester urban pedestrians; I asked people for money. And what’s stranger still is, a fair number of them wrote out checks to NJ-PIRG on the spot.
I still can’t believe I did this. It’s not only against my inherent nature even to leave the house (let alone appear on the doorstep of a stranger’s); I also have doubts about the very effectiveness of this sort of street-level twerp deployment, even if I believe in the causes themselves.
Yet when I look at what’s happening in Iran, where two thirds of the population is under the age of 35, I’m reminded that youthful activism can be a powerful, wondrous thing. (As opposed to, say, this.) With lives on the line and freedom at stake, young Iran has no time to indulge in twerpitude.
This Friday evening, I will be among those drinking bourbon and talking out his arse at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s celebration of the favorite son of Indianola, Mississippi: Craig Claiborne (1920-2000), the great writer, reviewer, and food editor of The New York Times in the formative years of higher food consciousness. I grew up reading Claiborne and cooking from the cookbooks and columns he compiled with Pierre Franey.
This event is already sold out, so I don’t even know why I’m posting about it, except that I’m just tickled to serve on the same panel as my favorite living food person, chef/author/instructor/TV host/loverman Jacques Pépin. Me and Pépin—it’s like an air-guitar enthusiast sharing a stage with Jimi Hendrix.
My old school chum Sam Hoffman has just returned with a second season of Old Jews Telling Jokes, the most briliant idea in its conceptual simplicity since the Post-It Note. Whereas Season 1 was devoted to the Old Jews of our Central New Jersey upbringing, Season 2 is dedicated to Old Jews of New York City. I attended part of the filming and was astonished to see the roster of talent that Sam had rounded up—everyone from civic leaders to sociopaths. As Kurt Loder would say, do check it out....
While I understand the strategies and realities that compel The New York Times to be groovier and winkier than it once was—the flotilla of hip-hop-savvy critics it now employs, the David Pogue tech videos that are really comedy videos—I kind of miss the old days when the Times was the voice of God, and a fusty, granddad-like God at that, particularly averse to slang, nicknames, and any hint of informality.
So I was delighted to see that this week, the Times felt compelled to describe Duff McKagan, the former bassman of Guns N’ Roses and current bassist of Velvet Revolver, as “musician and songwriter Michael McKagan, known as Duff.” You seldom see the Times go to such dorky lengths anymore. Back in 1987, for example, the Times was dutiful in describing U2’s lead vocalist as “Paul Hewson, who goes by the name Bono Vox,” referring to the singer later in the same article as “Mr. Vox.” Today, Bono is a regular contributor to the Times’s Op-Ed page, under the byline... Bono.
Perhaps this week’s retro-Times nose-holding approach to McKagan’s nickname is attributable to the fact that he was the subject of an article in the Business section—namely, the weekly “Frequent Flier” column, in which regular business travelers share their tales of airport zen and woe. McKagan is a businessman of sorts, so it must be pointed out that “Duff” is just a handle, a tool of his trade.
Regardless, no one, in print or otherwise, ever refers to Duff McKagan as Michael McKagan. In over twenty years in the public eye, he has been Duff. Writing him up as Michael McKagan is tantamount to describing Jay Leno as “the comedian and television host James Douglas Muir Leno, known as Jay.” It’s absurd, and endearingly Times-ian.