interviewer -- he's good!" Here is Paul Iorio's official home page:
>I'm Paul Iorio, an arts and entertainment writer/reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Phoenix, The Huffington Post, The Toronto Star, Newsday, The Village Voice, Spy magazine, Details magazine, the online edition of Playboy magazine, New Times, Cash Box magazine and other publications. (This list does not include the papers that have run my syndicated stories or the international publications that have published my reporting for Reuters.)
My photography has appeared in The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Huffington Post and other publications. (Photography site: http://www.paulioriophotos.blogspot.com
And my original music has been aired on leading alternative radio stations like KALX, KCRW and WFMU. (Music site: http://www.pauliorio.blogspot.com) MP3s at: http://www.soundclick.com/pauliorio.)
My daily blog on pop culture: dailydigression1.blogspot.com.
My stories published in 2012 are collected here:
www.iorioresume.blogspot.com). And here is a letter-of-recommendation from a senior editor who worked closely with me at the San Francisco Chronicle: http://editoroniorio.blogspot.com/
And here are audio excerpts of several interviews I conducted with pop culture icons: myspace.com/pauliorioo.)
I'm based in Berkeley, California, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org in Berkeley, California.
This website features hundreds of pages of my published writings.
And now, a few hundred pages of the published writings of Paul Iorio.
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Website Table of Contents
1. published in The San Francisco Chronicle: A one-on-one interview with poet Lawrence Ferlighetti, who reveals new details about Beat-era writers. October 28, 2000.
This piece benefited from the fact that I had just written a story on "Howl" for The Washington Post five months earlier that required vast research about the making of the poem. So by the time Ferlinghetti and I sat down for a beer at Tosca in the fall of '00, I was an expert on the poem and had come up with hundreds of questions I wanted to ask him.
The story has since been posted on numerous websites, including academic sites ranging from The University of Pennsylvania's to the University of Auckland's (widely regarded as New Zealand's best university), where it is currently assigned reading for a lit course.
It is also cited in Jonah Raskin's acclaimed book "American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl' and the Making of the Beat Generation."
2. published in The Los Angeles Times: Three-part feature on Roman Polanski's movie "Chinatown," featuring a rare exclusive interview with Polanski. (Part two presented here for the first time.) The 1999 piece was influential enough that it was later plagiarized on at least two separate occasions, most notably in a book published by John Wiley & Sons in 2000.
3. published in Los Angeles New Times: Cover feature on comedian Richard Pryor that includes my own eyewitness account of Pryor's last full-length concert ever. I'm still the only journalist anywhere to have ever written about it. (New Times's editing, which was minor (and counter-productive) to begin with, has been completely deleted here.)
Here is a page of my notes about Pryor's very last full-length concert anywhere, July 24, 1996.
4. published in The Toronto Star: The only story anywhere to have covered, comparatively, the immediate coverage by the major television networks of the 9/11 plane crashes. Riveting stuff.
5. published in The Washington Post: A popular feature in which physicians assess the accuracy of the medical and health information in feature films. (A lot of publications wanted to publish this one, and The Post won!)
I must have interviewed or contacted over a hundred medical professionals in order to find the half dozen who are quoted in my article. Here's just one page of my rough notes on contact info for sources:
6. published in The Washington Post: A tour of notable San Francisco locations in the history of Beat poetry (particularly Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"). (I have to thank my editor at The Post for encouraging me to expand the piece with quotes from Ginsberg's personal journals.) May 7, 2000.
7. published in The Chicago Tribune: A satiric piece on Katie Couric. (I'm really grateful that my editor got the joke and ran the story, because readers seemed to truly enjoy this one.) 2006.
8. published in New Times: The very first audiotaped interview with Trey Anastasio, the leader of the rock band Phish. (In the interview, I introduced Anastasio to a band he hadn't heard of before, Widespread Panic, who (with Phish) would soon go on to form the core of the hugely popular "jam band" movement of the 1990s.)
I conducted the Anastasio interview in January 1989, when he was still years away from success -- and years away from his first taped press interview. I must admit it feels like a near miracle that I thought to record such an unknown as Anastasio in January 1989 and that I managed to preserve the tape for so many years.
Please note that I'm choosing my words carefully when I say this is the first taped interview with Anastasio. It's the first, not merely one of the first. No journalist (or anyone else) has ever come forward with an earlier taped interview with him (if someone has such a tape, please feel free to show it to me). And the taped interview is packed with time references that date it as a January 1989 intevriew.
I actually interviewed Phish's Mike Gordon a full year before I spoke with Anastasio, but I didn't record that one; I did, however, save a handwritten letter Gordon sent to me, dated March 8, 1988, which I've scanned and posted on this site (I'm quite certain no music journalist anywhere has correspondence with Gordon that dates that far back!).
By the way, coming eventually to this website: the entire transcript of my January 1989 interview with Trey Anastasio!
9. published in The New York Times: A satiric piece on How Not to Blow Your Oscar Speech. (Nicely improved by an editor who rightly deleted a speculative section of the piece!)
10. published in The San Francisco Chronicle: Six separate mini-profiles of celebrities Dick Cavett, Edward Norton, Anne Heche, Daphne Rubin Vega, Carroll O'Connor and Jessica Alba. (Most of these profiles are presented here in abridged versions.)
My Anne Heche profile marked the first time Heche had ever been linked to Ellen DeGeneres in print. For the record, I spotted Ann and Ellen together on April 5, 1997, and interviewed Heche about Ellen on audiotape the next day. I filed my story on April 7, and the article was available on newsstands in the San Franicsco area on April 17. The story was released elsewhere on April 20, 1997.
So here is where one of the big celebrity stories of the nineties started, with this entry in my notebook, which I wrote at 5pm on April 5, 1997 (it's the first of several pages of notes):
Also, Dick Cavett's childhood remembrance of fellow Nebraskan Johnny Carson (my piece later formed the basis of a 2005 People magazine article).
11. Unpublished: An investigative report about jihadist Internet messages posted before the 9/11 attacks that suggest others had foreknowledge of the attacks. My findings are exclusive and have never been published anywhere else but here. The story was written, reported and researched in 2004 and 2005, and the final version here was written on April 25, 2005.
12. The Austin American-Statesman -- One-on-one interview with moonwalker Alan Bean, published (and later syndicated) by the paper (July 18, 2004).
13. Details Magazine: A controversial satiric piece about organized religion called "Choosing My Religion," in which I actually converted to the world's great (and not-so-great) religions -- all of them! Published in October 1994.
In my opinion, this is one of my funniest pieces, and judging from the response, some readers thought so, too (see letters-to-the-editor below, published in Details).
14. Cash Box Magazine: Grammy-winning composer James Mtume and I locked ourselves in the bathroom at the New York offices of Cash Box magazine for this interview on December 18, 1986 (it ran in the magazine on January 24, 1987).
One of the good things about writing for Cash Box was that no editor ever edited or revised or re-wrote any of my stories in any way (though there were one or two pieces where lines were mysteriously deleted or altered). And the results are here to see -- a solid body of work that includes stories that still resonate today.
15. Previously Unpublished: A brief verbatim exchange I had with actor Mel Gibson in 1999 in which I challenged him about his religious beliefs.
16. Spy Magazine: The popular "Dylan-o-Matic," which presents a method by which anyone can create their own Bob Dylan lyrics. It's still circulated on the Internet, even though it was published in the pre-Internet era by a publication that is (alas) now defunct. From 1992. I've posted a scan of the article below.
17. VARIOUS PUBLICATIONS: Reviews of performances by Tracy Chapman, The Pogues, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Ordinaires, and The Replacements. 1985 to 1989.
The Pogues piece is particularly noteworthy because it chronicles the band's very first trip to the U.S. in interviews with the original bandmembers and in a review of its first American show (which took place at around 3am or so in downtown NY).
18. SPY MAGAZINE: The Disneyfication of America. Satire (and some serious investigative reporting) on All Things Disney (including reportage about the creation of America's first Disney town, Celebration, which has since become a real place). The last half includes an all-too-real (and funny) conversation with someone at Disney about planning a Disney wedding.
The published version of the Disney piece was badly botched by my editor (the guy changed the word "Disneyland" to "Disney World," for starters!), who published the piece without running his changes by me. The article here comes from my original draft.
19. PREVIOUS UNPUBLISHED: Published here for the first time, a story that reveals new details about the recent private life of reclusive author J.D. Salinger. You'll read it only here (probably because many newspapers and magazines are, frankly, afraid of Salinger's legendary litigiousness).
20. THE WASHINGTON POST: A tour of obscure San Francisco locations, including photos by me. (March 24, 2002). I've included a scan of the story here.
21. PARTIALLY PUBLISHED IN THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: A one-on-one interview with Woody Allen, conducted in Beverly Hills on December 3, 1999. (Unpublished until now, though a small part of it was used in a story I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1999.)
22. Cash Box magazine -- Exclusive interview with Ray Davies, leader of The Kinks.
23. THE WASHINGTON POST -- Exploring Kurt Cobain's Seattle, 2002.
This is the original draft I submitted to The Post in May 2002 (give or take a few lines), not the version that was edited in Nov. '02.
24. UNPUBLISHED -- My audiotaped interview with activist Abbie Hoffman, several months before his suicide. In the interview, one can see how Hoffman was rapidly unraveling.
25. The San Francisco Chronicle -- A profile of film director Pedro Almodovar. [This is from the manuscript I submitted via email to the Chronicle; anyone who compares it to the published version will see exactly how lousy some of the editing at the Chronicle was back then (though, truth be told, they were some of the friendliest people you'd ever want to meet -- though, truth be told again, friendly ain't enough, especially when staffers have made errors in your last seven stories and are about to make an eighth, while trying to spin their way out of being blamed for it)].
26. LOS ANGELES TIMES, OTHER PUBLICATIONS -- Brief profiles of Barry Sonnenfeld, John Woo, Andy Partridge, Warren Zevon, Troy Garity (the first story about Garity in any publication) and David Rabe.
27. The San Francisco Chronicle -- An essay on The Paranoid Movie genre, with a scan of the Paranoid Movie Game gameboard that I designed and conceived for the newspaper.
28. Unpublished interview with Robert Goulet.
29. Unpublished travel story (with photos) about traveling alone as a teenager behind the Iron Curtain 31 years ago.
30. The San Francisco Chronicle -- The Making of "Jaws." Fresh interviews with the filmmakers reveal new details about the film.
31. The San Francisco Chronicle -- Essay on how the British lift bits of American pop culture and then sell it back to Americans as something new.
32. New York Newsday -- The Recycling of Woody Allen. (Note: This was wholly my piece, from idea to execution, and bears my sole byline, though in the print edition there is a nearby byline of another writer, in larger type, referring to other articles adjacent to mine, yet that other byline sort of makes it look like this was a co-written or co-researched piece, which it was not.)
33. SPY MAGAZINE -- Why It's Not So Smart To Be Smart Anymore. Humorous (but solid) investigative reporting.
34. PUBLISHED HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME -- "The Poetry of Borat Sagdiyev" -- Who knew he was a poet, too? 2007.
35. REUTERS -- My scoop about the reunion of Sly Stone's band The Family Stone. Reveals new details about the reclusive Sly Stone. Syndicated in major publications, including Billboard magazine.
36. THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- Profile of film director Mimi Leder.
37. THE NEW YORK TIMES -- A Jack Nicholson Quiz.
38. NEW YORK NEWSDAY -- Yet another Jack Nicholson Quiz.
39. PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED -- Exclusive interview with film director M. Night Shyamalan. The only interview with Shyamalan about "The Sixth Sense" conducted before the release of "The Sixth Sense" (apparently nobody else thought the movie would be a hit!).
40. PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED -- Exclusive interview with the late Nigerian pop star Fela Kuti (it may be the first one-on-one conducted after his release from prison in 1986).
41. PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED: Humor: Little-Known Popes in Papal History. Published here for the first time. 2007.
42. The East Coast Rocker -- "We Must Send These Fundamentalists a Clear and Sharp Message..."
An editorial on the Salman Rushdie affair (and on religious fundamentalists from Falwell to Khomeini), which I wrote in March of 1989 after attending a PEN reading of Rushdie's work in Manhattan that had been interrupted by a bomb scare. Published in The East Coast Rocker newspaper on March 29, 1989. (Thanks to editor Jay Lustig for allowing this controversial piece to run as I wrote it.)
43. "THE BUZZ," AN ORIGINAL FEATURE FILM SCREENPLAY BY PAUL IORIO. This is a fictionalized story of a non-fiction murder case that I solved in 1990 (see resume). "60 Minutes" and "The Village Voice" were both interested in doing a story based on my findings at the time -- until key sources became too afraid to talk on the record. Ultimately, with so many sources off the record, I found the only way I could tell the tale was to create this fictionalized version.
By the way, the screenplay is currently an inactive project business-wise (meaning that I'm not trying to sell it anymore), so there is of course no conflict of interest in my writing about movies for various publications (the screenplay was written before I reported about movies professionally).
Also, "The Buzz" is about a set of characters who I think would be interesting even if they weren't caught up an unsolved murder investigation. I definitely didn't want the story to be a typical whodunit that reveals in the last ten pages that the murderer is actually the nun or the butler! I wanted it to resemble real life, where we sometimes know full well whodunit but can't get anyone to listen to the truth or can't get otherwise decent people to side with the good guys. These days, in fiction it's a surprise when the person who you think did it actually did do it.
Copyright 1995. I started writing it in 1990, initially calling it "Number One Bullet," but wrote most of it in '94 and '95. I also revised it in '97 and further revised it in 2003, and that latest version is presented here.
I've posted "The Buzz" here: http://thebuzzscript.blogspot.com/
44. S i n g l e R o o m O c c u p a n c y
Original Feature Film Screenplay by Paul Iorio
I've posted a scan of the entire 130-page manuscript of
"Single Room Occupancy," published here for the first time
and available nowhere else.
This is the copyrighted version I wrote in 1995 and 1996.
There was movie industry interest in the
script at the time, though it was never made into a
feature film, and I'm not actively trying to sell it
The plot, which really intensifies in the last 50 pages
or so, is about the sabotage of a reformist political
candidate in Hoboken, New Jersey, and it is fiction.
Keep in mind that every word of this was written
before Thanksgiving 1996 -- many years before
"The Sopranos" was even conceived -- so you can see
how it preceded that program in terms of subject
matter (e.g., the NJ mob milieu) and characters (e.g.,
my character Diane Milano was invented and copyrighted
long before Meadow Soprano was!).
I've posted "Single Room Occupancy" here: pauliorioscreenplays.blogspot.com .
* * *
Some of the articles are presented here in original manuscript or updated versions.
All writing, reporting and research in all stories presented here by Paul Iorio (and there were no co-bylines on any of these pieces). All research in all Q&As by Paul Iorio. (Resume follows at the end.)
I've conducted countless interviews and asked
countless questions as a journalist since 1984 and
have always come up with and asked my own questions,
which have always been based on my own research and
reporting and natural curiosity and spontaneous thinking.
(There have been only three minor exceptions to this:
in 1996, my editor suggested I ask O.J. Simpson a
particular question; in 2000, my editor suggested
one -- only one -- of the many questions that I
asked Woody Allen; and in 1999, my editor again
suggested I ask actor Will Smith a particular question.)
My journalistic methods and work habits were most accurately described by a senior editor at The San Francisco Chronicle -- my main editor at The Chronicle -- who wrote this assessment in a letter of recommendation after working with me for three years in '00:
"Paul has an original way of approaching a story. His writing rarely needs much editing. And best of all, he is completely reliable." (See complete text of letter of recommendation at www.resumesidenotes.blogspot.com.)
Here are the stories!
(By the way, please be wary of editors who claim to have contributed any writing or reporting to these pieces. They didn't. As the cliche goes, success has many fathers...)_
There are stories of mine that are not included here that were more collaborative, but those articles are limited to the following: my stories for Reuters from '97 to '99, which I reported and co-wrote (as opposed to reported and solely wrote), as is the custom with most wire service reports in general. One other exception: a breaking news story I wrote for The Boston Phoenix in 2007, which was collaborative (and, by the way, those people at the Phoenix are first rate!).
Everybody quoted in all stories spoke on the record and on audiotape.
Stories, Written and Reported by Paul Iorio
(searchable text, below)
* * *
[FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE]
Lawrence Ferlinghetti on "Howl"
The Birth of Beat Pop Culture
By Paul Iorio
If the birth of the beat generation could be traced back to one event, it
would probably be the first public reading of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl"
45 years ago this month at the now defunct Six Gallery in San Francisco.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose City Lights Books published the poem in
1956, was in the audience that night and recalls the reading as an electric
event that galvanized the area's literary and arts community.
"Nobody had ever heard anything like that before," said Ferlinghetti,
sipping a Bass ale at the Tosca Cafe in the city's North Beach neighborhood.
"When you hear it for the first time, you say, 'I never saw the world like that
"Howl," widely regarded as one of the great works of 20th-century
American poetry, is a 3,600-word torrent of unusually vivid and hellish
imagery written in the long-line style of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"
and echoing the rhythms of jazz. It has also become one of the most popular
poems in U.S. history, having sold nearly a million copies in its City Lights
edition -- very rare for a book of poetry.
The poem, the target of a landmark obscenity trial in 1957, also helped
turn publisher and bookseller City Lights into the center of the San Francisco
poetry renaissance of the 1950s.
At the time of the Six Gallery reading, on Oct. 7, 1955, Ginsberg was
living on Milvia St. in North Berkeley, and novelist Jack Kerouac ("On the
Road") was his houseguest. On the night of the event, the two took a bus into
San Francisco and then caught a ride with Ferlinghetti in his Aston Martin to
the Six Gallery, a combination art gallery and performance space at 3119
Fillmore St. near Union.
Six poets read that night, starting about 8 p.m. with Philip Lamantia and
moving on to Philip Whalen and Michael McClure. After a brief intermission,
Kenneth Rexroth, the host, introduced Ginsberg, who began his reading with
the now-classic line, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
Kerouac sat on the side of the low stage, drinking from a jug of
wine and shouting, "Go!" at the end of some of the long lines. The audience
of fewer than a hundred soon joined in with shouts of encouragement,
exploding in applause at the conclusion, as Ginsberg left the stage in tears.
(Gary Snyder had the bad luck to follow Ginsberg.)
"Allen was really a master performer," says Ferlinghetti. "He could really
turn the audience on."
Afterward, Ginsberg, Kerouac and others celebrated at a Chinese
restaurant, while Ferlinghetti and his wife returned to their apartment on
Potrero Hill, to the south. "I wasn't one of his gang, I wasn't one of his group
at all," says Ferlinghetti. "He sort of considered me a square bookshop
owner....I was not in the inner circle at all. I was not invited to read at the
'Howl' reading because I wasn't known as a poet." (Ferlinghetti, formerly San
Francisco's poet laureate, went on to become an even more popular writer
than Ginsberg; his 1958 book-length poem "A Coney Island of the Mind" has
sold more than a million copies.)
"I sent Allen a Western Union telegram that night saying, 'I greet you at
the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?" he recalls.
The telegram echoed the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman
after the former had read an early version of "Leaves of Grass" (but Ginsberg
didn't initially catch the reference, Ferlinghetti says).
Ferlinghetti did soon get the manuscript, which was subsequently revised
for months by Ginsberg, who dropped a fifth part of "Howl" and added "A
Footnote to 'Howl.'" The three-part poem and its "Footnote" were ultimately
compiled with nine other Ginsberg poems in a book titled "Howl and Other
Poems," the fourth volume of City Lights' Pocket Poets paperback series.
Problems arose when Ferlinghetti, looking to save money, hired a British
printer, Villiers, to print the book. This led to a customs seizure that was
quickly dropped, but not before it brought the book to the attention of the San
Francisco Police Department, which filed its own obscenity charges against
Ferlinghetti for selling the poem. The trial, which lasted through the summer
and early fall of 1957, ultimately cleared Ferlinghetti of all charges.
As it turned out, the bust gave a big publicity boost to "Howl," which
became a hit only after -- and probably because of -- the trial. "Allen was
totally unknown until the book was busted," he says.
Ferlinghetti, 81, was older than most of the beats but has outlived its
leading lights, including Ginsberg, who died in 1997 at age 70; Kerouac, who
died in 1969 at 47; and novelist William S. Burroughs ("Naked Lunch"), who
died in 1997 at age 83.
So when it comes to the beat era, Ferlinghetti is among those who have the
last word. Of Ginsberg, he says: "There wouldn't have been any beat
generation recognized as such if it hadn't been for Allen. He created it out of
whole cloth, really. Without Allen, it would've been separate great writers in
the landscape, it wouldn't have been known as the beat generation."
Of Kerouac, he says: "Allen was always saying ... Kerouac was gay, but I
thought that was really absurd. He was one of the biggest woman chasers I
And of the beat movement itself, he's still a believer: "The beat message
became the only rebellion around -- and it is still the same today. With the
dot-commies and the whole computer consciousness, the beat message is
needed now more than ever."
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, October 28, 2000. Thankfully, my editor didn't touch a word (ok, a copyeditor did correct a typo!).]
[PUBLISHED IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES]
A THREE-PART STORY ON THE MOVIE "CHINATOWN" (THE COMPLETE
VERSION PRESENTED HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME).
Roman Polanski on "Chinatown"
(Polanski, Towne and Evans Reveal Backstage Secrets)
By Paul Iorio
Several months ago, director Roman Polanski
watched "Chinatown" on laser disc with his wife
at their home in Paris. It had been a long time
since Polanski had seen the landmark film, which
he directed and didn't like very much at the time
of its 1974 release. At first, they planned to
watch only a half-hour of it but were soon hooked
and saw it through to the gruesome
Polanski's reaction to the film, 25-years after
its release, is inexplicably modest. "I like it
more now than I did then," Polanski
said in a rare, exclusive interview by phone from
a ski resort in the Dolomite
mountains in Italy.
Of course, many critics and fans have been far
less restrained over the decades, hailing "Chinatown"
as a near-perfect gem, one of the great
movies of the last thirty years, a film that
seems to improve with time and
repeated viewing. It's also arguably the
highest peak of Polanski's own
career, which includes such formidable peaks
as "The Pianist" (2002),
"Rosemary's Baby" ('68), "Repulsion" ('65),
"Tess" ('79), and "Frantic" ('88).
The film's plot centers on private eye
Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), who is
hired to investigate a supposed case of marital
infidelity. Gittes soon
stumbles on a government (and family) scandal
in which the former head of
the Los Angeles Water Department and
others are found to be diverting
water, stealing land, and committing murder,
while nefariously re-shaping the
Besides Nicholson, the film also stars
Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Cross
Mulwray, the wife of a slain Water
Department chief; and John Huston as
venal tycoon Noah Cross, Evelyn's
What does Polanski admire about the
film today? "When [Nicholson] comes
up to the door [of Evelyn's house] and
knocks on the door [and it slams in
his face]...And nothing happens. And we
hold like this for a long time," says
the director. "I [also] liked the
scene when [Evelyn] walks out of the
Brown Derby, when [Nicholson] says,
'I like my nose, I like breathing
through it.' Remember? I like that
shot when it starts with the page
going to fetch the car and doing
it in two profiles...[Today], maybe
I would cut two close-ups. I don't
know whether I would actually.
Maybe I wouldn't."
He is momentarily distracted by
his baby son Elvis, who is
crying loudly. "They brought my son
here. You want to talk to him? He's
[fourteen] months [old]," says Polanski.
What would he now change about
the film? "Little details here and
there," he says. "The lousy reflection
in the lens of [Nicholson's camera]
when he's photographing Hollis and
Katherine from the roof [at El
Macondo]...I wanted to [film] it
upside down and [was told], 'Oh
they will never understand it.
Why is it upside down?' Shit
yes, when you see something
reflected in the lens, it's always
upside down! It should be
upside down, it should be slightly
concave. That could [have been] better."
Robert Towne, 64, who won an
Academy Award for his "Chinatown"
screenplay, also likes the film
now more than he did when it was
released. He cites his own
favorite scenes. "[I like] the way
in which we worked the scene
with that wonderful character
actress [Fritzi Burr] who
was the secretary for Yelburton
in the Water department:
'Yes, yes, they own the water
department!' [Imitating Nicholson]
'I take a long lunch hour --
all day sometimes.' That
willingness to irritate her in
order to get information: very
few directors would insist on
Both Polanski and Towne were not fans of the picture when they saw
the rough cut of it in the spring of '74. "I finished the film and I looked at
the rough cut and as usual the rough cut is this very depressing moment for
a director," says Polanski. "And a director who does not have experience
[with] it is close to suicide at that stage. But even knowing that that very
difficult moment would pass, I still was tremendously depressed seeing the
rough cut. I showed it to a friend of mine...and was so ashamed when the
lights came up. And he said, 'What a great movie!' I said, 'Jesus, is
something wrong with him?' I truly didn't think that he could be right."
Polanski says he never once thought during the making
of the movie that it would become a classic. Neither did Paramount's
Robert Evans, who produced the film. "Up until the time the reviews
broke, we weren't sure whether we had a disaster on our hands or
something that was just different," says Evans, adding that most Paramount
executives openly predicted the film would fail.
From its birth as a sprawling first-draft script in '73, "Chinatown"
was never considered a commercial sure-shot. At first, even Polanski
passed on the project (at the time, he was busy in Rome). "I really
felt happy in Rome," says Polanski. "I was working there, I had a great
house and a bunch of friends with whom I worked. It just wasn't interesting
for me to go to make a film in Los Angeles."
Besides, Los Angeles reminded him of personal tragedy; four years
earlier, his wife Sharon Tate, pregnant with their child, was sadistically
murdered by members of Charles Manson's gang. "I had too vivid
memories of all those events of '69 [the Manson murders] and I didn't
feel like going to work there," he says.
But the calls from Hollywood to Rome kept coming, first from
Nicholson, who personally asked Polanski to direct the script, and then
from Evans, who apparently made the director an offer he couldn't refuse.
Polanski was soon on a plane to LAX.
What eventually followed was a pivotal eight-week writing session
in which Polanski and Towne dismantled Towne's script and then
painstakingly rebuilt it piece by piece. Their writing workday would
begin around 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning and would last until around seven
or eight in the evening -- and was usually followed by a night of hard
"I don't think there was a day that we worked that we didn't go out
and play at night," says Towne. "The mood at night was -- it was the 1970s.
We had a good time. Fooled around. I'll leave it at that." (Apparently, the
after-hours carousing continued even during the shooting: "[Nicholson]
could stay up until six in the morning [partying] but he would be there [on
the set] at eight or nine knowing his lines like nobody else," says Polanski.
"There was never any kind of problem with him.")
In the day, during the eight-week re-writing marathon, Polanski and
Towne were faced with the huge task of making the muddy script filmable.
"[The first draft] was gigantic and could not actually be shot the way it was
written," says Polanski. "But there were terrific things in it. The second
draft, I remember Robert [Towne] took a long time and then it was even
longer. There were many more characters and it was quite convoluted. We
sat down and with discipline tried to combine some things." Towne
concedes that if his first draft had been filmed as it was, "it would have
been a mess."
Most of the re-writing consisted of re-sequencing scenes while
organizing and clarifying the complicated plot. "We took the script and
broke it down into one-sentence summations of each scene," says Towne.
"Then we took a scissors and cut those little scenes...and pasted them on
the door of the study at his house where we were working. And the game
was to shift those things around until we got them in an order that worked."
"At an early stage in the writing of it, I remember...thinking, what
should be revealed first: the real estate scandal, the water scandal or the
incest?," says Towne. "As obvious as the answer became, that was the
first question I dealt with. And I did realize the water scandal had to come
first, a fairly obvious choice when you stop to think about it. But beyond
that, the rest of the structural changes of significance took place with
Roman, shifting them around back and forth."
Polanski says he "did more of a construction, the shaping up of the
plot...And also I worked on the dialogue in [a] way that people can go
crazy sitting with me because I like eliminating every unnecessary word."
He also put Gittes into sharper focus, partly by using a radical style
of subjective point-of-view (in which he filmed much of the movie over
Nicholson's shoulder). "[Most of] the events that happen are really only
seen by [Gittes]," he says "You never show things that happen in his
Towne and Polanski argued frequently during their collaboration.
"We fought everyday," says Towne. "We'd fight about how to get to a
"['Chinatown''s success] happened through a lot of arguments,
fights," says Evans. "There was [backstage] warfare throughout the
picture, but that's healthy."
Their most substantial disagreement was about the ending of the film,
in which Towne wanted Cross to be killed by Evelyn. Polanski insisted on
a more disturbing finale in which Evelyn is shot dead in front of her young
daughter Katherine. "We were arguing about the end and could not
agree...I was adamant about it...I did not believe in a happy ending in this
type of a movie," says Polanski.
With the backing of Evans, Polanski eventually won the battle over
the ending. "I wrote that last scene the way it is now," says Polanski.
"And I sketched the dialogue and I remember in the evening I...gave
[Nicholson] what I wrote down and said, 'Fashion it into your speech.'
And Jack very quickly jotted a few things of his and then we shot it at
literally five to midnight." (Today, Towne says Polanski "was right about
Many see the tragic ending as an echo of the horror of the Manson
murders on some level. That real-life tragedy also probably helped
Polanski turn Gittes into a credible detective. After all, the murder of
Polanski's wife turned the director into a sleuth for a time; in the months
before the killers were caught, he obsessively tried to find the culprits
Does Polanski think his own experience trying to track down his
wife's killers informed the film? "I can only tell you that every experience
helps you with your work. This, of course, did to a certain degree," he
says. "I am unable to tell you how much better the film is because I had
certain things happen to me. Whatever you do, you learn. And each next
movie has one layer more to make it richer."
Towne and Polanski made other changes to the script. The opening
scene where Gittes meets with his client Curly was originally written with
Curly saying he wanted to kill his wife, and Gittes telling him he's not rich
enough to get away with murder. And in fact the cut dialogue is missed
under close scrutiny; when Nicholson's character says, "I only brought it up
to illustrate a point," the audience now doesn't know what "point" he's
referring to, because the previous piece of dialogue is gone. (Gittes's
"point" is that you have to be rich to get away with murder.)
"That exchange I miss probably as much as any in the movie," says
Towne. "Because it really foreshadows [the] 'you've got to be rich to kill
somebody and get away with it' [theme]. He's really foreshadowing the
whole movie in a kind of nice way."
Two other sequences were edited out altogether: in one, Harry Dean
Stanton, playing a seaplane pilot who flies Gittes to Noah Cross's house,
hints at Evelyn's secret past. In the other, Noah talks about his love of
horse manure ("Love the smell of it," says Cross. "A lot of people do but,
of course, they won't admit it.")
By the end of the eight-week session, Polanski and Towne had
created a final working script. Unfortunately, they were also no longer
speaking with one another. "By the beginning of the shooting [in
September 1973], Roman and I had argued to the point where I did not go
onto the set. At that point it was just wiser to let him shoot the movie. But
that was really largely because of the end scene," says Towne.
Contrary to rumor, Polanski never tried to bar Towne from the set.
"I never barred him from the set," says Polanski. "He just didn't come,
because we [weren't] on speaking terms anymore by the time I started the
picture." (The two have long since patched up their differences
and even worked together again on "Frantic." Towne now says that
Polanski is "virtually...the only director that I would willingly work for as a
For the most part, the final screenplay was shot almost exactly as it
was written. "Once Roman and I agreed on the script, he held everyone's
feet to the fire," says Towne. "Whatever disagreements we had, they ended
when the script was written. Nobody said, 'well let's try it another way.'
That was the way."
During the shooting, changes were frequently suggested by Dunaway
-- and rejected by Polanski. "There were a lot of problems with Faye
Dunaway," he says. "Faye always wanted to change something. Some
nights I would...cross a couple words out. [She'd say]: 'Why are you
taking it out? I don't want you to.' I'd say, 'Okay, leave it, leave it. It's
not worth the fight.' Then she would come a half an hour later: 'You know
what? I thought it over, maybe you're right, we should remove it.' It was
like this every day. Or she would try to add something. 'Actually I don't
think it's a good idea, Faye,' [I'd say]. She would start fighting about it.
And it was like that continuously."
[Dunaway did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for
this article. But she did write about Polanski and "Chinatown" in a recent
book, "Looking for Gatsby: My Life," by Dunaway and Betsy Sharkey.
In the 1998 edition, she writes: "I thought Roman was thwarting me and not
supporting me (during the making of 'Chinatown')," and "Roman was an
autocrat, always forcing things." However, she also calls him "an auteur film
maker of the first order."]
Does Polanski think that Jane Fonda, who was up for the role at one
time, would've made a better Evelyn Mulwray? "No, he says. "Absolutely
not. I thought [Dunaway] was perfect. Nobody wanted Faye [initially].
Bob Evans didn't want her because he thought she was trouble. [But] I
knew Faye; she had a fling with a friend of mine...I didn't expect to have
any problems with her. So I fought for her. And I'm still very happy
we had her because whatever problems we had on the set -- who cares?...I
think she's terrific when I watch it now. It's really exactly how I saw the
part; she was the right age, she had the right looks, her acting was just
perfect for this type of character. I don't think anyone else would have
done it better. Same with John Huston."
Could "Chinatown" be made today in the current movie-making-by-
committee era? "I don't think it could, actually," says Polanski. " It would
really have to be [made by] someone who has enough muscle to pull
through all those things. Studios now have an enormous amount of various
executives who need to justify their existence by meddling into the creative
process. And there's a great rift between the creative branch and the
executive branch; [executives] are so envious of not being on the other
side...And they call themselves 'creatives.' There wouldn't be an executive
then who would dare to say, 'We are having a creative meeting' or 'We'll
send you the creative notes.' [Imitating a movie executive]: 'After our
creative meeting we came up with these five pages of creative notes which
we would like you to read.'...In those times, nobody would actually use this
language. The fact that they use it is very meaningful."
Polanski's apparent disillusionment with Hollywood isn't the only
reason he won't be showing up in town to make a film any time soon. He
still risks possible arrest for having had sex with a teenage girl in the 1970s, if
he returns to the States; he fled the U.S. in 1977 rather than face a probable
jail term. (He now lives in Paris with his wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner,
and two children and makes films outside the U.S.)
And Polanski says he is not close at all to settling his legal problems.
"How can I [return to the U.S.] with the actual state of the media?,"
says Polanski. "I don't want to become a product...Can you imagine what it
would entail showing up suddenly in Los Angeles? It would take a long time
before...closure happens. And I don't think I want it enough. I have family to
look after. I don't want to be in every tabloid."
SOLVING THE MYSTERIES OF "CHINATOWN"'S PLOT
By Paul Iorio
Decades after "Chinatown"'s release, there are still enduring mysteries
about its plot. Polanski and Towne talked with me about a few of them.
WHAT WERE NOAH AND HOLLIS ARGUING ABOUT OUTSIDE
THE PIG N WHISTLE?
Polanski says it doesn't matter what they were arguing
about. "It was probably about Evelyn," he says. "They had a lot
of things to argue about...It's not necessary to know what they were arguing
about...Since it's only someone relating that they were arguing, we don't
have to know what they were arguing about."
Towne has a more specific explanation. "Hollis was saying, 'you
corrupt old fart, you're still fucking around with the water department. And
I'm not going to deal with you in that matter, I'm not going to build that
dam, and I'm not going to tell you where your daughter is.'"
WHY DOES HOLLIS BRING KATHERINE TO THE EL MACONDO
HIDEAWAY IF THEIR RELATIONSHIP IS COMPLETELY
INNOCENT AND HE HAS NOTHING TO HIDE?
"Because [Katherine] is in town secretly, to see her mother," says Towne.
"She's keeping her from Noah."
WHAT MYSTERY OBJECT DOES GITTES SEE BUT NOT
RETRIEVE FROM EVELYN'S POND NEAR THE BEGINNING OF
According to Towne, the object was Noah's bi-focals (which Gittes
does retrieve in a later scene). The fact that it was in the pond at the time of
his first visit means Hollis had already been murdered by that morning.
(Evelyn, of course, had no idea he had been killed.)
WHAT DOES THE PHRASE "AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE" MEAN?
The enigmatic phrase "as little as possible" turns up in the last scene
and in the bedroom dialogue between Evelyn and Jake (incidentally, the two
passages written solely by Polanski, though the phrase was coined by
Towne). In many ways, it's the movie's defining phrase, since it points
to the title, a metaphor for an insular, venal, 'we-take-care-of-our-own'
type of precinct or community.
"A vice cop had said to me [before I wrote the script], 'you know,
you don't do much in Chinatown,'" says Towne. "He said, 'You can't tell
whether you're helping someone commit a crime or preventing one, so you
just try to not do much.' I said, 'Well, that's kind of an interesting approach
to law enforcement.' And in fact that was the beginning" of the whole
Returning to the Scene of the Crime
By Paul Iorio
Of course, one of the big stars of "Chinatown" is Los Angeles itself.
"This is a Los Angeles movie, not a Hollywood movie," says production
designer Richard Sylbert, who chose the locations for the film.
The sixteen main locations in "Chinatown" -- ranging from a
Catalina hilltop to Echo Park Lake -- present a vision of a seductively
urbane -- and corrupt -- city, circa 1939.
"Robert Towne had this thing about Los Angeles, about
the history of the city, and that's what makes it so profound," Polanski told
me. "Without that, you would just have another detective thing. It's
much more than a thriller."
As Towne says: "Roman repeatedly stressed the wisdom of
repeating...locations. In other words, if you've got one scene in
the department of water and power, make sure you've got two. It orients
Here are some of "Chinatown"'s more memorable locations.
1. Ida Sessions's Apartment.
IN THE FILM: Near the end of the film, the body of the murdered Ida
Sessions is shown in her apartment -- at 848-1/2 East Kensington Street
(onscreen and off) -- sprawled on the floor with a spilled bag of groceries.
(Sessions -- played by Diane Ladd -- was the SAG member who passed
herself off as Evelyn Mulwray to Gittes at the beginning of the film.)
IN REAL LIFE: Set in a hilly Echo Park neighborhood south of Sunset, the
apartment house, painted light green now as then, is split in half by a central
bungalow-corridor, just like in the film. Ida's place is in the back, now
protected by a screen security door (which the fictional Sessions sure
could've used at the time!).
COMMENTS: "It was picked [because] it was completely symmetrical and
had a long narrow passage in the middle of it, so that...you looked at it and
said, 'There can't be any problem here,'" says Sylbert. "But once you got
into that narrow corridor, the opposite happened, because narrow corridors
produce anxiety. And then, of course, you get to the door and the glass is
* * *
2. The Mar Vista Inn.
IN THE MOVIE: The Mar Vista Inn and Rest Home is where one of the
most breathtaking car escapes in the film -- and in film history -- takes
place. Gittes visits the home's elderly residents -- whose names are being
used without their knowledge in a land-laundering scam -- and ends up
fighting thug Claude Mulvihill, a former Ventura County sheriff. Dunaway
saves the day, swinging her car around the famous semi-circular driveway,
picking up Gittes and racing back onto Sunset as gunfire erupts.
IN REAL LIFE: The Inn is actually the Eastern Star Home (11725 Sunset
Blvd.), near a commercial strip in Brentwood at Barrington, and is
immediately recognizable from the film. One can stroll along the famous
driveway (and imagine Polanski's gunmen coming up the walk) and climb
the stairs to the entrance where Gittes battered Mulvihill's skull.
COMMENTS: "Every important building in this movie [had to be] white
and Spanish [and] had to be above [Gittes's] eye level," says Sylbert.
"And because it's above his eye level, it's automatically...harder for him to
go there visually...And he's a detective. And uphill is where he's [going]."
* * *
3. Noah Cross's Estate.
IN THE MOVIE: Gittes has lunch here with Noah Cross, who tells Gittes
to "just find the girl."
IN REAL LIFE: Cross's house is actually the mountain-top Wrigley estate
and horse farm on Catalina island.
COMMENTS: "When [Gittes] got off the boat, he walked on to that
wonderful dock where you can see the Avalon ballroom in the
background," says Sylbert. "And we cut [to] the Wrigley Ranch."
* * *
4. Echo Park Lake.
IN THE MOVIE: Gittes and associate Duffy spot Hollis Mulwray with his
"girlfriend" at the north end of Echo Park Lake. Aboard a boat, Gittes
surreptitiously photographs Hollis in a nearby canoe.
IN REAL LIFE: The lake looks exactly as it did 25 years ago. Its
trademark bridge, visible in the film, is now creaky and red, leading to a
damp island full of pigeons and palms. Located south of Sunset and north
of the 101, it also sports a boat station that rents out peddle-boats by the
COMMENTS: Sylbert says the lake is the perfect location "if you're doing
1939 and you're after something that says 'California' so clearly, which
that does, with the little bridge in it and the palm trees all around."
"When you start a movie like this you begin to understand that you
have to go to the old part of town," he says. "And that's why I came up
with Echo Park, and that's why Ida Session's house ended up in that area,
* * *
5. City Hall.
IN THE MOVIE: Near the beginning of the film, Gittes spies on Hollis at a
public meeting at L.A. City Hall in which Hollis states his opposition to the
building of a risky dam project. Meanwhile, Valley farmers, irate over
having their land dried up by illegal water diversion, protest by bringing
sheep into the meeting.
IN REAL LIFE: L.A. City Hall is located downtown on Spring Street.
COMMENTS: "The meeting was shot...in the chamber. All I did was put a
huge picture of Roosevelt on the wall," says Sylbert.
* * *
6. The Pig 'N' Whistle.
IN THE FILM: The fictional Pig 'n' Whistle restaurant appears in the film
as the backdrop for an argument between Cross and Hollis Mulwray,
captured in clandestine photographs by Walsh, Gittes's associate.
IN REAL LIFE: This is actually the Pacific Dining Car restaurant (1310
West Sixth St.), at Witmar Street and Sixth, just west of downtown L.A.
(The Dining Car was built in 1921, in the heyday of the Mulwrays.)
COMMENTS: The actual eatery was the place to eat and deal downtown
back when. (Sylbert took the photographs shown in the film.)
* * *
7. The Brown Derby.
IN THE MOVIE: After Hollis is murdered, Gittes and Evelyn Mulwray
meet over lunch at this swank restaurant. Gittes spends most of the meeting
being unjustifiably suspicious of Evelyn.
IN REAL LIFE: The original Brown Derby, representing the elegance of
old L.A., is now gone. In its place is a commercial strip called the Brown
Derby Plaza (and a vacant space where the actual Derby used to be) on the
3400 block of Wilshire, across from the old Ambassador.
* * *
8. El Macondo Apartments.
IN THE FILM: El Macondo is the so-called "love nest" in which Gittes
finds Hollis with a mysterious young woman (actually Katherine). Nicholson
climbs onto the red-tile roof and shoots photos of the two in the courtyard
below. (This is the scene Polanski said he wanted to show upside
down, in the reflection of the camera lens.)
IN REAL LIFE: The apartment building is now called Mi Casa, at 1400-
1414 Havenhurst Drive, between Sunset and Fountain. The stylish four-story
Spanish structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.
COMMENTS: Sylbert named it El Macondo after the name of a city in a
Gabriel Marquez novel. "It was perfect, " says Sylbert. "It was Spanish,
it was white, and we could get to the roof tiles and shoot down into the
9. 1712 Alameda, Chinatown.
IN THE MOVIE: Evelyn is shot to death by detective Loach in the final
sequence and Katherine is whisked away by Noah Cross, in front of Khan's
apartment at the screen address 1712 Alameda.
IN REAL LIFE: The final scene was actually shot on the west side of North
Spring Street in Chinatown, just south of Ord Street.
COMMENTS: Polanski says he filmed this scene at five minutes to
midnight on one of the final days of shooting after quickly scripting a new
ending hours earlier.
* * *
10. Evelyn Mulwray's House.
IN THE MOVIE: This is Evelyn's house -- at the non-existent 1412
Adelaide Drive -- where Gittes discovers a tell-tale piece of evidence in the
backyard salt-water pond. In a later scene here, he's forced to surrender
the evidence to Mulvihill.
IN REAL LIFE: Sources say the house is in Pasadena, at 1315 El Molino,
north of Mission.
COMMENTS: Sylbert says the house was an abandoned wreck before it
was completely renovated and redesigned by the "Chinatown" crew, who
even put in the pond.
"If you watch the scene carefully, you'll notice that when you're in the
backyard, you cannot see [nearby buildings]," says Sylbert. "Because in
1939, the whole image I was after was that there was nothing out there."
Sylbert also chose the place because one can see in a straight line
from the backyard through the house to the front entrance. "At the end of
the movie, when [Gittes] is waiting for Noah Cross, he's standing at that
back doorway and you can see the car with Cross pull up at the front
door," he says. (The practice of shooting action in one room through the
action in another room is virtually a Polanski trademark.)
* * *
11. The Oak Pass Reservoir.
IN THE MOVIE: The Oak Pass is where Hollis is found dead and where
Gittes has his nose sliced by a thug played by Polanski.
IN REAL LIFE: The location's real name is the Stone Canyon Reservoir,
one of the major reservoirs near the L.A. basin. It's in the Santa Monica
mountains above Bel Air and close to Benedict Canyon (not far from
where Polanski's wife was murdered in real-life).
COMMENTS: "The sluice that the body was in when they pulled [Hollis]
up -- that's there, too," says Sylbert.
* * *
12. Point Fermin Park.
IN THE FILM: Early in the movie, Gittes follows Hollis to Point Fermin
and watches him walk down a bluff to the Pacific, where fresh water is
being dumped in the middle of a drought. This is also where Gittes puts
stop-watches beneath the wheels of Hollis's car in a cul-de-sac.
IN REAL LIFE: This is Point Fermin, a public park on the coast of San
COMMENTS: "I made a cut-out [of a lighthouse] about 25-feet high...It
was a quarter-mile away from the camera so you could make it look like a
lighthouse," says Sylbert, referring to the scene in which Gittes lounges in a
suit on the bluff at twilight. (The real Point Fermin lighthouse was not in
operation at the time.)
Other locations in the film include: the "Hollenbeck Bridge," where
Gittes approaches a boy on a donkey; the place is actually in the Tujunga
The orange groves in the northwest valley, where Gittes is assaulted
by farmers, are in the Fillmore Orchards, near Santa Clara. Curly's house
was not in San Pedro but in Hollywood, a few blocks from Paramount
studios. And Katherine's house, at the onscreen address 1972 Canyon
Drive, is either in a neighborhood near Paramount or in the Hollywood Hills
(where the real 1972 Canyon looks much like the celluloid one); sources
The only backlot location in the film is the barbershop. "I built a
barber shop...so I could put an automobile outside the window and
overheat the engine," says Sylbert about the scene in which Gittes himself
The Water Department offices, the Hall of Records, Gittes's office,
and the room where the famous "sister/daughter" scene takes place were all
[From The Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1999; original manuscript and updated; part two of this piece is published here for the first time.]
[PUBLISHED IN LOS ANGELES NEW TIMES]
THE FIRST PART OF A MUCH MORE EXTENSIVE ARTICLE.
Richard Pryor, At Twilight on Sunset
An Eyewitness Account of Pryor's Last Two Concerts
By Paul Iorio
It's twilight on Sunset outside The Comedy Store between the billboards of
dead icons James Dean and Frank Zappa and just down the street from where
John Belushi shot his last speedball. Around fourteen comics are scheduled to
perform at The Store tonight, but there are no lines around the block and no ticket
scalpers on the sidewalk, despite the star power of one of the fourteen, the one
whose name appears on the outdoor marquee that reads: "Richard Pryor Tonight."
Pryor is about to perform what will become the last two shows of his life. It's
July 17, 1996.
Defying his own multiple sclerosis, he is set to take the stage at The Comedy
Store, the West Hollywood, comedy club where he created his best
material in the 1970s, the birthplace of his codger character Mudbone and a lot of
other prime stuff.
But expectations for a laugh are lower than the setting sun, since Pryor's M.S.
sometimes makes him not just unfunny, but incoherent. No reporters, except this
one, are on hand to witness Pryor's swan song.
Outside the club, stray Sunset Strip toughs walk and loiter. Inside, a couple
hundred fans file into the place, perhaps to glimpse whatever legendary fire
remains or to pay respect to a bona fide comic genius or to survey the shambles
of a collective youth lost to drugs, illness and the ravages of time. A solo pianist
plays "We're in the Money" and other jaunty tunes.
Five comics warm up for Pryor tonight. Though none could have touched him
back when, the openers are now the ones evoking most of the laughter, if not the
attention. The best is stand-up Mark Curry, star of the Nineties television series
Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, who kills live.
"Free Willy: some people thought it was about some brother in jail. 'Willy
didn't do all that shit, 'know,'" jokes Curry, as the crowd explodes.
And there are laughs for Argus Hamilton, the former Tonight Show regular and
writer for Pryor's TV show in the Seventies ("O.J. says to A.C.: 'I told you Costa
Rica not Costa Mesa!'").
By 10:00 p.m., the place is packed with Pryor fanatics and stand-up
aficionados. Pryor is late but no one seems to mind a bit. An exquisitely
pissed-off set by the very spontaneous Ellen Cleghorne takes everyone's mind
off the delay.
Then, at long last there's commotion at the back of the club as Marvin
Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" blasts from speakers. Two massive guys carry a frail,
thin, dapper man who looks, well, more like Mudbone than the person he used
to be. The full house stands and applauds vigorously but in a somewhat
ceremonial way, as if he were receiving some sort of lifetime achievement award.
Some in the audience seem to be taken aback by Pryor's physical deterioration.
The music stops, the crowd sits.
It's around 10:50 p.m. and, against enormous odds, Pryor has just reclaimed
the stage at the Comedy Store.
Pryor is wearing a red cap and sits in his wheelchair next to a stool that has
a glass of water on it. A handler puts a pair of glasses on the comedian and then
leaves the stage.
"These are glasses, right?" Pryor quips, calling the thick lenses "Coke
bottles." The audience, which is primed to laugh, laughs.
"I appreciate that you laugh at me no matter what I say," says Pryor. The
crowd laughs again. One senses that Pryor, like his early mentor Redd Foxx,
could die onstage clutching his heart, and the audience would roar at the bit.
"I'm gonna die soon," he continues. Twenty-five years ago, that line might have
kicked off a sidesplitter, like the classic in which he impersonates someone
panicking during a bad acid trip by repeating "I'm-gonna-die, I'm-gonna-die" like
a mantra-turned-tribal-chant. But tonight, it's decades later, and "I'm-gonna-die"
means I'm-gonna-die. A sexy blonde woman in the front center row is quietly
weeping, occasionally wiping tears from her face.
"People ask me, 'Are you pissed off?' I say, 'Yeah!,'" Pryor says.
Pryor tries to sip something but has major trouble bringing the cup to his
lips. There's a long pause.
"I hope you're as nice to other comics as you are to me," says Pryor.
"We love ya, Rich," yells someone.
"Yeah, babe," shouts another.
A waitress serves the front rows, and Pryor spots her.
"What're you doin'? Stealin' drinks?" he jokes. A hint of the old fire.
He sips and softly says, "Shit," at something private.
"Thanks for listening to me...It's been weeks since I saw my dick hard," he
says. This from a guy who used to joke his cock was "hard enough to cut
"Hold the mike up to you, sir," someone shouts. "So we can hear you."
"I don't want you to hear me," snaps Pryor. A long silence.
"Life's a bitch," he says, drooling a bit.
"And then you die?" adds a fan.
"Yeah, but when?" asks Pryor. "I don't mind hanging around, but shit!"
"When they said I had M.S., I said, 'I don't even know what M.S. is,'"
says Pryor. "Doctor said, 'Don't worry, you will.'"
A woman in the front row gets up to leave.
"Where you goin', pretty lady?" Pryor asks. The moment recalls a scene from
the movie "Lenny," where the Lenny Bruce character shouts, "Where're you
going?" to fans leaving a lousy show of his. But this isn't "Lenny," and he isn't
Lenny. Bruce died alone, broke and blacklisted; Pryor is dying with lots of friends
and fans -- and at least some money.
So when he says, "Where you goin', pretty lady?," the woman smiles at him
and says apologetically, "I'm going to the bathroom."
"I told my mom, 'Dad is fucking everyone in the neighborhood.' She said, 'Just
be glad he isn't fucking you,'" jokes Pryor. Fans laugh.
He pauses. "Bear with me." The audience is now silent enough that unrelated
laughter from an adjoining room can be heard.
Out of the blue, Pryor says, "Thanks, Jenny," referring to his ex-wife Jennifer
Lee, who he has since re-married and who handles his life and career with the
dedication of a true believer.
"I beat Jenny up sometimes a long time ago," says Pryor. "She's the first
woman who ever hit me in the mouth. [pause] Just because I asked her for some
The crowd applauds. Then, attendants come to carry Pryor offstage, the
audience gives him a standing ovation, and recorded music plays. He was
onstage for forty minutes. The applause seems as much for his courage as for
And his raw honesty is jarring in this Age of Spin, when celebrities pay
publicists nice money to hide scandals or twist them into something
unrecognizable. Pryor seems proud of his imperfections -- or at least proud of not
hiding them -- and freely jokes about his bad health, his lavish drug use, the
brothels of his childhood, even something as reprehensible as wife-beating. No
muckraker could possibly expose Pryor's dark side because the comic has
already scooped them.
A week later, on July 24, 1996, Pryor performs another show at the Comedy
Store, literally the last performance of his life.
This time he is feistier and funnier -- at first. With the small club packed
again, and no journalists present (except this one) again, Pryor gets some genuine
laughs when he refers to fellow M.S. victim Annette Funicello as "that
M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E bitch."
"Put the mike closer," someone yells.
"Fuck you!," snaps Pryor, and people howl. Pryor actually seems to like it
when the crowd is rude and less reverential, perhaps because he's then under no
obligation to be appreciative, or maybe because he's developed a taste for
After joking about "getting pussy in the rehab ward," the show takes a steep
dive. "I got a mouthful of shit," Pryor says, "and I can't..." He trails off.
Pryor pulls out a piece of paper and tries for minutes to unfold it. An uneasy
silence fills the place. It's almost like the scene in the movie "Born on the
Fourth of July" when Ron Kovic starts a public speech smoothly, but suddenly
and inexplicably stops dead as the audience watches in shock.
"Take your time," someone shouts.
Pryor continues trying to unfold the paper but his hands just aren't agile
enough to do it. His body is progressively failing him with every passing minute.
"We're not going anywhere," a guy yells.
"Neither am I," says Pryor, grumbling about not having his "big-ass Coke
bottle" glasses again. After several minutes, he finally finishes unfolding the
paper and stares at it for awhile. Now there's a new problem: he can't read it.
"This M.S. shit is getting to me," he says.
A handler brings Pryor a cigarette. Pryor flicks a bright red lighter once,
twice, and flames it the third time.
"Could you bring me a Number Twenty?" Pryor asks someone. A Number
Twenty, in Comedy Store parlance, is a martini.
"Yessir," comes the response from someone in the audience.
Smoke from Pryor's cigarette fills the air for an elastic, relaxed minute
In the spotlight, smoke hovers over the front rows like cumulus clouds that
are ready to drench and thunder with electricity. But the fire and fury don't
come. The crowd is silent.
"You all are very patient," Pryor says.
"We gotta be; we paid ten dollars," says someone, good-naturedly.
"Hey, don't start no shit!," Pryor says.
Through the smoke, Pryor lifts his Number Twenty feebly, as if he's Dave the
aged astronaut in the time travel sequence of "2001: A Space Odyssey." With smoke
and silence everywhere, the whole place seems to be caught in a time warp; a
minute ago we were in 1976 (wasn't that a minute ago?) and suddenly we're
transported to the present-day, where there's this old man onstage in the house
of his prime. Could this really be the same guy who thirty years ago had such
masterful physical control that he could impersonate a race car, run hilariously in
slow motion, or convince audiences he was having a heart attack by falling to
"I know I can't see, but when I wear the Coke bottles, then everybody knows
it," he says. He smokes his cigarette, his breathing now audibly labored.
"I'm glad I've got M.S. -- it's keeping me alive," he says. "Isn't that what
you said, Jenny?" Pryor was referring to Lee's much-quoted theory that if the
disease hadn't slowed him down, he'd have been killed in the fast lane by now.
Onstage, Pryor's cigarette burns to his fingertips, and he isn't physically
able to remove it. "Get this motherfuckin' cigarette out of my hand 'cause it's
burning me!" he blurts, real pain in his voice. A handler bounds onstage to take
As it turned out, those were Pryor's very last words onstage in a full=length
concert anywhere. He would never attempt another stand-up performance.
The half-hour show ends at 11:20 p.m., as two muscular guys carry him
offstage. Pryor is driven home.
[Parts of this story first appeared in New Times Los Angeles in October 1996; it's also the first chapter of my book on Pryor, re-written in late 2005. Incidentally, I audiotaped Pryor's last show.]
By the way, here is the Comedy Store program for Pryor's penultimate full-length concert, July 17, 1996.
[FROM THE TORONTO STAR]
The Immediate TV Coverage of the First Two Crashes on 9/11
(The Live Coverage Viewers Missed)
By Paul Iorio
By now, everyone has seen virtually every inch of television coverage of
the September 11th attacks around nine hundred and eleven times. It
sometimes seems as if every scrap of 9/11 footage ever shot -- whether taken
upside down near Ground Zero or from faraway Rockaway -- has already
been aired more frequently than the Zapruder film.
But most TV viewers never got to see the most riveting 9/11 television
coverage of all: the raw live footage of the seventeen minutes between the
first plane crash at 8:46 and the second at 9:03 am, as seen on the morning
In New York, television programming was largely knocked off the air by
the toppling of transmission antennae atop the Trade Center. And on the west
coast, almost everyone was asleep during the attacks, waking only in time to
see the first tower collapse.
So for those who missed it -- almost everybody -- there's now a website
library that has compiled streaming video of all major U.S. television news
programs from that morning, shown in real-time with ads intact -- plus a
generous sampling from overseas media outlets. (The site is run by a non-
profit online TV library called The Television Archive and can be accessed at
http://client.alexa.com/tvarchive/html. Its American network feeds are from
Washington, D.C., affiliates; MSNBC and the cable Fox News Channel are
not included in the archive.) [Note: the website has since been deleted.]
The coverage from 8:30-to-9:30-am is among the most engrossing ever
broadcast -- and some of the most inadvertently telling, too, since it clearly
reveals who among the anchors and correspondents got it right and who blew
it, who could think on their feet and who couldn't, as the ultimate breaking
news story unfolded.
There are surprises. For example, Charles Gibson, co-anchor of ABC's
"Good Morning America," did an unexpectedly fine job of covering the
moment when the second plane hit and was the only anchor on the three
major networks to immediately speak up and tell us what had happened.
Others, like Bryant Gumbel, the now-departed anchor of CBS's "The Morning
Show," contributed astonishingly awful reportage.
The first to break the news to America was CNN, which cut into an
advertisement at 8:49, three minutes after the first crash, with a live picture of
the burning north tower and the words: "This just in. You are looking at
obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center
and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into
one of the towers."
"Good Morning America" arrived second, at 8:51, with Diane Sawyer
saying, "We want to tell you what we know as we know it. But we just got a
report in that there's been some sort of explosion at the World Trade Center."
(And within a couple minutes, ABC correspondent Don Dahler was providing
terrific first-hand reportage via cellphone from near Ground Zero.)
Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" would have been third, coming a half
minute after "GMA," had he not dropped the ball. At 8:51, Lauer broke away
from an interview to announce that there was breaking news but didn't say
what the news was. "I have to interrupt you right now," Lauer told his guest,
the author of a biography on billionaire Howard Hughes. "We're going to go
live right now and show you a picture of the World Trade Center, where I
understand -- Do we have it? No, we do not." He then cut to 90 seconds of
ads before Katie Couric returned to the airwaves to report what had
But the real test of anchor mettle came at the moment when the second
plane hit at 9:03. "GMA"'s Gibson took control forcefully and calmly within
two seconds of the second collision, describing events in a brisk and firm
manner, explaining what was occurring in the live footage, and rattling off
facts from memory, while showing genuine emotion ("Oh, this is terrifying,
awful"), as a wilting Diane Sawyer murmured, "Oh my god, oh my god."
Gibson was so alert that he actually broke the news of the second collision
to his correspondent at the scene, who didn't see the plane hit. And within
twenty seconds, Gibson, the first on any network to mention the Trade Center
terrorist attack of '93, was speaking plain truth before his colleagues did: "So
this looks like some sort of a concerted effort to attack the World Trade
Center that is underway." That statement may seem cautious in hindsight, but
at the time was as far as any anchor had gone on the air.
On "Today," Couric and Lauer were upstaged a bit by a sometimes
excellent witness, Elliot Walker, a Today producer who happened to be
walking near the towers when the first plane hit. Walker was already being
interviewed by the anchors when the second plane crashed, and she
spontaneously stepped into the lead role during the ten seconds after the
impact, describing exactly what had happened, while Couric and Lauer, who
had presumably seen the same thing on the TV monitor, were silent (in
contrast to the talkative Gibson on ABC).
By all rights, every network should have been on equal footing at 9:03,
with live cameras fixed on the twin towers at the moment of impact. Still,
"The Morning Show" and CNN's "Live This Morning," which had shifted to
feeds from local New York stations, failed miserably in this crucial part of the
reportage, their anchors seemingly confused about what was obvious to
reporters on other networks. One ludicrous affiliate correspondent, picked up
on CNN, cluelessly floated the idea that the two collisions might have been
the result of "faulty navigating equipment."
CNN fared better when its own newspeople returned to the airwaves, in
time to report the Pentagon hit and the south tower collapse, which Aaron
Brown covered from a visually dramatic outdoor setting some thirty blocks
from Ground Zero, with the burning towers as a backdrop (a visual that has
since been seen in CNN promos).
Meanwhile, Gumbel proved he couldn't see the finger in front of his face
on this clear Manhattan morning, while also expressing little sense of horror
about what was unfolding ("wow" and "it's a terrible scene" were the closest
Gumbel, who seemingly had to be told about the second crash by an
amateur witness ("You saw a plane?," he asked a witness, incredulously),
interviewed several observers who all told him the second plane had
obviously been flown deliberately into the tower. Yet he kept asking each
source the same dim question: "Why do you say it was deliberate?," a
question he asked no fewer than four times between 9:03 and 9:12, while
repeating such phrases as vantage point and re-racking the [video] tape. (By
contrast, Lauer suggested it was something deliberate at 9:05; Gibson had
already done so at 9:03. Gumbel didn't come around until about 9:19.) This,
from the distinguished news division of Dan Rather and Ed Bradley.
If Gumbel seemed to somehow miss the crash of the second plane, he
was the only anchor who thought he saw non-existent third and fourth jets
approach the burning towers at 9:41. "Hold it, hold it!," said a near-panicky
Gumbel to his guest. "Two jets right now, approaching the World Trade
Center! We're watching! Hold on! [pause] I'm sorry, no...we can't tell
whether it was a plane or a 'copter."
Gumbel, who inexplicably wasn't joined by any CBS News correspondent
until Jim Stewart appeared at 9:15, did hit one high note, at 8:57, when he
interviewed a doorman at the Marriott World Trade Center, the hotel that
used to be between the two towers. The doorman began like a cocky New
Yorker ("How ya doin'?") but his voice started cracking unexpectedly as he
poignantly described the trauma he had just seen: a man on fire outside the
"I heard a guy screaming," said the doorman, seeming on the verge of
tears. "And when I looked over, there was this guy that was on fire. So I just
kind of like ran over and I tried to, like, put the fire out on him. And he was,
he was, like, screaming. I told him to roll, roll, and he said he can't. And
another man came over with his bag and kind of like put the flames out on
"Today" also had raw and revealing moments. At one point, Couric read a
Reuters report that opened a horrifying window on the hell that was taking
place on the upper floors of the towers: "A person who answered the phone
on the trading floor at interdealer-broker Cantor Fitzgerald, located near the
top of the World Trade Center, said, 'Were blanking dying,' when asked what
was happening, and hung up. There was screaming and yelling in the
background, and a follow-up call was not answered."
Several anchors and witnesses made observations that now seem
perceptive and even prescient in retrospect. Couric was more correct than
she knew when she noted (at 9:37) the possibility that another attack might be
in the offing at any moment; one minute after she voiced that concern, the
Pentagon was attacked. (And thanks to a quick and well-placed Jim
Miklaszewski, Today scooped everyone on the Washington crash.)
CBS's Stewart was the first to mention Osama bin Laden on the air (at
9:16). ABC's John Miller understood faster than anyone else that there was
virtually no way people trapped on the upper floors of the towers could be
rescued, because of the heavy smoke. Lauer was the first to note the
terrorists's high level of coordination and planning. Dahler, who heard the
first plane hit, correctly dismissed the early widespread notion that the aircraft
had been a small prop plane.
There were also moments of bad information. For instance, Sawyer tried
to put something of a happy-ending on the tragedy at 9:07 by stating, "There's
a small hope that the fire may have gone out from the first site" (Dahler
quickly extinguished that false hope). And Couric read a report, later
repeated by Lauer, that claimed a small commuter plane had hit the north
The tone of the anchors shifted -- almost uniformly -- as the hour
progressed, from denial and confusion to horror, with disbelief throughout.
After the first attack, everyone on the air seemed to take solace in the
possibility that it might have been a simple accident by a pilot who had lost
control of his plane and wrecked in an unlucky spot. But after the second
attack, it was self-evident to virtually everyone that there was no innocent
explanation for what was happening.
The 8:30 hour is also fascinating because it shows the 9/11 era
arriving as abruptly and violently as the edge of a hurricane after the placid
eye of the storm. "[It's]...a beautiful fall morning," Couric noted before the
tragedy. "A beautiful day here," said "GMA" weatherman Tony Perkins.
"...It's kind of quiet around the country [weather-wise]...it's too quiet, said an
inadvertently prescient Mark McEwen on "This Morning."
After the attacks, the weather was mentioned only in relation to the fact
that the collisions couldn't have possibly been weather-related.
All told, there were no lost tempers, no crying, no real panicking on the
air. There was also no single dazzling journalistic feat that might have
elevated one news team far above the others (something on the order of
scoring a cellphone interview with a passenger on one of the hijacked jets).
That said, the best coverage clearly came from ABC (because of Gibson)
and NBC (partly due to Miklaszewski), with almost everyone else way
[From The Toronto Star, January 4, 2003.]
FROM THE WASHINGTON POST
The "Howl" Tour of San Francisco
By Paul Iorio
Anyone looking for a unique way to visit the San Francisco area
might want to try touring the places where Allen Ginsberg wrote, revised
and publicly read his landmark 1955 poem "Howl."
The "Howl" (self-guided) tour provides a fresh view of Beat-era San
Francisco while also serving as a terrific excuse to visit some of the more
obscure neighborhoods in the Bay area.
"Howl," which turns 45 this year, is one of the seminal poems of 20th
century American literature, a defining work of the Beat generation and the
subject of an historic obscenity trial. Ginsberg, who grew up in New
Jersey and lived for many years in Manhattan, wrote it after living in
San Francisco for a year. (He ultimately stayed in the area for nearly two
years.) He and novelist Jack Kerouac ("On the Road"), who would later
join Ginsberg in Berkeley, were the most important of the Beat writers
(along with William S. Burroughs).
Written wholly in the Bay area, "Howl" was started on Montgomery
Street in San Francisco, was finished in North Berkeley, was partly
inspired by a building on Powell, was first publicly read in Pacific Heights
and was published (in '56) on Columbus Avenue in North Beach.
So where exactly did it all happen? Here's the guide.
1. The Marconi Hotel, 554 Broadway in North Beach.
IN 1955: When he arrived in San Francisco
in August 1954, Ginsberg
rented a room here and stayed for nearly two months, according to journal
entries compiled in the book "Allen Ginsberg: Journals Mid-Fifties." His
rent was six dollars a week, according to the book "Dharma Lion: A
Biography of Allen Ginsberg" by Michael Schumacher. On one of his first
nights here, he wrote in his journal: "Back alone in a Hotel and once again
the great battle for survival."
IN 2000: Today, the Marconi still stands across an
intersection from the
City Lights bookstore. The hotel, identified only by a small sign on its front
door, is located next to two sex clubs.
2. Ginsberg's Apt. at 1010 Montgomery Street in S.F.
IN 1955: The 29-year old Ginsberg wrote most
of "Howl" here, two
blocks east of the Marconi, after moving from flats at 755 Pine,
1403 Gough and the Wentley Hotel. Living on unemployment insurance,
Ginsberg settled in a first-floor furnished apartment (with a view of
Montgomery St.) in February '55 with his lover Peter Orlovsky, according
to his journal. "I sat idly at my desk...only a few blocks from City
Lights literary paperback bookshop. I had a secondhand typewriter, some
cheap scratch paper. I began typing, not with the idea of writing a formal
poem, but stating my imaginative sympathies," Ginsberg said of the poem's
genesis in the Schumacher biography.
IN 2000: The grey three-story apartment building is on the
northeast corner of Montgomery and Broadway (at the point where Montgomery
begins a steep incline). Walk up the street toward the north for a
marvelous view of the city's east side.
3. Ginsberg's Apartment in North Berkeley at 1624 Milvia St.
IN 1955: Ginsberg revised all three parts of
"Howl" (and its footnote)
here, moving to Milvia St. in September 1955 from his Montgomery
St. place. He paid $35 a month for a cottage in the back, according to
journal entries. "I have a house here...[with] a backyard cottage & private
backyard, quite big, filled with vegetables & flowers," he wrote in a letter
that is quoted in the book "Kerouac: A Biography" by Ann Charters.
(Ginsberg even wrote a poem about his new home called "A Strange New
Cottage in Berkeley," included in his pocket book "Reality Sandwiches.")
Other Beat luminaries lived in the neighborhood at the time, including
Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Robert Duncan. He left the cottage (and the
Bay Area) in June '56.
IN 2000: It's a three-story apartment house over a
garage (a "dingbat," in California slang), several blocks from the
University of California at Berkeley in a somewhat faded part of town.
A "poetry garden" honoring Ginsberg was recently dedicated on the grounds
of an elementary school across the street, according to the Berkeley Daily
4. The Six Gallery, 3119 Fillmore St. in the Pacific Heights/Cow Hollow
area of S.F.
IN 1955: The now defunct Six Gallery, an art gallery and performance
space founded in '54, was where Ginsberg first publicly read "Howl," on
October 13, 1955, a pivotal moment in Beat history. The event was
described by Schumacher in "Dharma Lion": "Jack Kerouac, sitting at the
edge of the platform, pounded in accompaniment on a wine jug, shouting
'GO!' at the end of each long line. The crowd quickly joined him in
punctuating Allen's lines...By the time he had concluded, [Ginsberg] was in
IN 2000: The Gallery is long gone but the neighborhood
at Fillmore and Union is thriving and commercially active, with many shops
selling, coffee,cigars, pastries and real estate. (The Gallery is now a rug shop
located just north of the intersection of Fillmore and Union.)
5. Mediterraneum Caffe, at 2475 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.
IN 1955: Ginsberg is said to have written and
revised his poetry at this
Beat hang-out near the UC Berkeley campus.
IN 2000: The eatery, across from Moe's Books on
Telegraph in the heart
of town, still features a sidewalk cafe and indoor restaurant.
6. The Sir Francis Drake Hotel at 450 Powell St. in SF.
IN 1955: The second part of "Howl" was
inspired by and written at this
hotel. Ginsberg once said the hotel looked like "the robot skullface of
Moloch" and that he "wandered down Powell Street muttering 'Moloch
Moloch' all night and wrote 'Howl II' nearly intact in cafeteria at foot [sic]
of the Drake hotel," according to "Dharma Lion." The hotel, he wrote in
his journals, "may be coming to eat me someday."
IN 2000: The Drake is one of the city's best-known
luxury hotels; on the
ground floor, at Powell and Sutter, is a coffee shop and outdoor cafe called
Cafe Expresso that is apparently a later incarnation of the cafeteria in which
Ginsberg wrote some of "Howl II."
7. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave. in North Beach.
IN 1955: "Howl" was first published in 1956 by
City Lights Books, the
publishing arm of the legendary City Lights Bookstore, co-founded in '53
by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who still owns it. It began as a paperbacks-
only shop but eventually expanded to include hard covers and a variety of
titles. In '57, Ferlinghetti and a store clerk were arrested for selling the
supposedly obscene "Howl"; the subsequent trial, which decided for City
Lights, made Ginsberg famous and turned his poem into a big hit.
IN 2000: City Lights remains one of the best-regarded
bookstores in the
nation and is still owned by Ferlinghetti, now 80. (And City Lights Books
still publishes on the top floor.) A handwritten sign in the window describes
it as "A Kind of Library Where Books Are Sold." Another sign offers this
variation on Dante: "Abandon All Despair, Ye Who Enter Here."
8. Vesuvio Cafe at 255 Columbus Ave. in North Beach.
IN 1955: Ginsberg and other writers (including
Dylan Thomas) frequently
drank in this North Beach bar next to City Lights. Ginsberg wrote about
Vesuvio in a 1954 journal poem called "In Vesuvio's Waiting for Sheila":
"Here at last a moment/in foreign Frisco...listening to the vague
conversation...anticipating leaning on the bar."
IN 2000: Still located on what is now called
Jack Kerouac Alley, Vesuvio
is a well-preserved Beat shrine. The Cafe has a colorful outdoor mural on
its north wall and an epigram painted over the entrance that reads, "We are
itching to get away from Portland, Oregon" (a reference to a supposed
"flea epidemic" of 1915, according to a Cafe flier). During a recent visit to
the cafe at 8:50 on a Saturday morning, I found around a half dozen
patrons already at the bar, all watching (and poking fun at) a western movie
from the Fifties on the cafe's television.
9. Foster's Cafeteria at 235 Montgomery St. (the Russ Building) in the
IN 1955: In January 1955, Ginsberg mentioned Foster's
so frequently in his
journal that one might think he worked there. He hung out at the cafeteria
mostly with Neal Cassady, Peter Orlovsky, Robert LaVigne and others in
the itinerant weeks before he moved to Montgomery Street. Typical journal
entries during this period include: "We go down to Foster's, I eat chili &
french fries" and "We sight Neal [Cassady]'s car pulling up...in front of
IN 2000: Foster's no longer exists, but the 31-story
Russ Building, built in 1927, remains an S.F. landmark. Located in
the financial district, the
building is home to many companies and shops.
[From The Washington Post, May 7, 2000.]
[FROM THE WASHINGTON POST]
Physicians Assess the Accuracy of Medical Information in Feature Films
By Paul Iorio
For many, movies are a big subliminal source of medical and health
information. Films insidiously teach us that people can eat fifty eggs
an hour, catch fire and be thrown out of closed windows without suffering
major health problems, though the uncinematic truth is a person can
easily be killed by a single blow to the head.
How accurate is such movie medicine? I asked a variety of medical
professionals for their diagnoses.
I asked about the medical info in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction,"
in which a gorgeous druggie played by Uma Thurman bleeds from the nose and
froths at the mouth after overdosing on heroin. Her date for the
night (John Travolta) panics and tries to revive her by injecting
adrenaline directly into her heart.
The scene may be memorable, but is it medically correct? Is it
possible to resuscitate an overdose victim by stabbing her in the chest
with a needle roughly the size of an ice pick?
Probably not, say some doctors.
According to several doctors, "Pulp Fiction"'s OD revival technique
wouldn't likely work. "The likelihood is much higher that you'd hurt someone
than help someone by doing that," says New York Hospital cardiologist Paul
Kligfield. "It's unequivocally never the first thing to do, even in a
Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" also features some questionable medical
information. At one point, Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) talks to Mr. Orange
(Tim Roth), who is suffering from a gunshot wound to his lower abdomen.
"Along with the kneecap, the gut is the most painful area a guy can get shot
in," says Mr. White. "But it takes a long time to die from it. I'm
Does it really take days? "If you have a gunshot wound to the abdomen,
the chances of having a significant injury are about 95 percent," says trauma
surgeon Michael Madden, clinical director of the New York Hospital-Cornell
Burn Center. He explains that if Mr. Orange's intestines had been punctured,
partially digested food would have leaked into his abdominal cavity, giving
him a quickly fatal case of peritonitis.
And is the gut really the most painful area to be shot in? "It depends
on where," says general surgeon James Mariadason. "There are people who are
shot in the belly who don't feel anything until many hours later."
Injury to the abdomen can be caused by less violent acts, like overeating.
Doctors say Paul Newman's character in "Cool Hand Luke" was behaving
foolishly when he ate 50 eggs, most of them hard-boiled, within an hour.
"I think you would get a protein overload," says gastroenterologist Martin
Finkel. "One would worry about over-distending the stomach and rupture."
"You'd cause such an obstruction to your gastric tract that you'd have
constipation for days if not weeks," adds Rose Ann Soloway, a specialist in
toxicology at the National Capital Poison Center. "That's something that
hard-boiled eggs do: they really slow up metabolism in the bowels."
There are certainly more dangerous things to ingest than eggs. In both
"Magnum Force" and "Heathers," characters die after drinking Drano-like
substances. But doctors say that sort of cocktail probably wouldn't kill you,
though it would inflict grievous injury.
Drain cleaner "is so caustic you can't kill yourself with it," declares
Finkel. "It's so caustic you can't get enough of it down."
It's also hard to swallow what happens after Mickey and Mallory of
"Natural Born Killers" suffer rattlesnake bites in Oliver Stone's film. The
unhappy couple search for an antidote at a drugstore. Doctors explain that
the local pharmacy is a highly unlikely place to find anti-venom. "The
chances of finding any would be very remote," says Soloway. "It's kept under
refrigeration, usually in medical centers."
Another famous Stone movie bite is the one he scripted for "Midnight
Express." After considerable abuse, the Brad Davis character bites off
the tongue of an adversary during a fight. In real life, the victim could bleed
to death or, at the very least, "speech would be affected and also chewing and
swallowing might be affected," says Steven Rosenberg, an oral surgeon.
A severed tongue isn't quite as perilous as the facial burns Max Cady
(Robert DeNiro) sustains in Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear." Near the end,
Cady's face, wet with lighter fluid, catches fire for fifteen seconds. And, after
that, he still plagues his former lawyer's family.
"A one-to-two-second burn when you're on fire would probably cause
significant damage. Fifteen seconds? That's absurd," says burn specialist
Madden. "He would have had third-degree burns on his face. That means all
layers of the skin would have been burned...The third-degree burns will not
kill him but the smoke inhalation might."
Of course, not all films are medically incorrect. Believe it or not, doctors
insist that it is plausible that the Harrison Ford character could have made
that famous leap to the river in "The Fugitive" without being injured. And
the leeches covering Humphrey Bogart's body in "The African Queen" would
have resulted in a loss of only a pint of blood, leaving him strong enough to
take on the Germans.
And it doesn't take a doctor to understand why movie-within-a-movie star
Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) emerges unscathed from a vicious fight in Woody
Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo." The reason? Baxter is in fact a bona fide
"I don't get hurt or bleed," Baxter says in the movie. "My hair doesn't
muss. It's one of the advantages of being imaginary."
[From the Washington Post, October 16, 1994.]
PUBLISHED IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
April 25, 2006 (in the print edition and online)
Streaming Katie's Consciousness
By Paul Iorio
If Andy Rooney gawks at my gams one more time I'm going to
flip, and I hope Bob Schieffer doesn't call me a "talented gal" again,
but maybe CBS can still show my legs in side-to-side banter with
correspondents, and if Lara Logan tries to upstage me I swear I'll
send her packing to CNN, and I hear they let you yell a lot behind
the scenes at "60 Minutes," so there's a good side to all this, but
please, sources, don't give me any forged National Guard documents,
and I really hope that Duke lacrosse scandal doesn't turn into the
next Jennifer Wilbanks disaster -- did I use the word "alleged" enough?
I'll have to rerack the tapes -- and if I do fall like Connie Chung, maybe I
can get a regular guest spot on "The New Adventures of Old Christine,"
a "Rhoda" for the Oughties, and don't forget the 31st anniversary of the
"Chuckles the Clown" episode of "Mary Tyler Moore" is coming up,
and it has been almost 54 years since the "Vitameatavegamin" episode
of "I Love Lucy," and maybe I can set up a confrontation with some old
guy at CBS a la Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King, but out here on the
plaza, I sometimes wanna click my heels twice and say there's no
place like a bank where I can deposit $300,000 a week, because
this is Katie talking, or is it the more elegant Katherine, the more
refined woman who I used to want to be? Sort of how Alexis Glick
seemed before Al Roker started being hostile toward her -- look,
I don't want to talk about what happened to Alexis, OK, because
this is Katie, and I want my bagel with novy not cream cheese, so
take it back, OK? I'll miss Matt and I'll miss Ann Curry even more
for being the Successor to Katie Who Everyone Knew Could
Never Succeed Me, someone who would scrub the base of the
Prometheus statue while I was interviewing Tyra Banks -- unlike
Alexis Glick, who I don't want to talk about -- so remember to always
hire a weak number two who could not possibly replace you, a good
insurance policy, and coming up in this half hour: Remember "The
Jetsons" -- "Stop this crazy thing!" -- well, flying cars may be finally
coming to a carport near you in another 50 years, says one expert,
and Matt, guess what song this lyric's from: "There were clouds in
my coffee, clouds in my coffee," and yes, it's "You're So Vain" by
Carly Fiorina, unfairly fired by Hewlett-Packard, and also in this
half hour, we'll talk to a woman who finds a diary in her attic that
proves her husband of 17 years is a lying cheat with three wives,
and what she did and what you should know about husbands who
don't always tell the truth, and have you ever played
paper-rock-scissors, a game I always lost in the schoolyards of
my youth, where the anger hardened so that Katherine, the elegant
Katherine on an isle untouched by man, soon became the
brilliantly blunt and fabulously direct Katie, who could beat the boys
at their own game and rub their noses in it -- "...7, 8, 9, 10, you owe
me a Coke!" -- and in this half hour, a man has a moment of truth,
when he realizes his wife is actually the stronger and smarter one --
what a brilliant man, wouldn't you say, Matt? -- and later: she was
a whistleblowee and he was the whistleblower, and five years later
they're happily married, and see how this couple made it work
because of one brave woman, and gas is now over $4 a gallon,
so I'm going to have to take on a second job to pay for it, Matt,
because 300K a week doesn't go as far as it used to, and in
"Today"'s jewelry segment, doesn't this diamond encrusted
iPod look smashing, Matt, and while I'm sitting on this couch stuffed
with emeralds, attended by assistants who serve my bagel with
novy not cream, I almost feel like Katherine...but back to Katie, and
coming up: What's love got to do with it, our guide to women who
say marriage is a great way to get rich not love, and have you
married a Keystone Husband, a mate who can't seem to do
anything right? Well, you're not alone, and we'll talk to the founder
of a new website, geenadavisforpresident.com, who is
trying to organize a write-in campaign for Geena Davis for
president in 2008, and maybe I can lure Ann Curry over to
CBS as permanent substitute anchor.
[Published in The Chicago Tribune, April 25, 2006.]
FROM NEW TIMES
THE FIRST TAPED INTERVIEW WITH TREY ANASTASIO OF PHISH
By Paul Iorio
Believe it or not there was a time when Phish was not one of the most
successful concert acts ever. Of course one wouldn't know that, judging
by the Phishmania surrounding the band's twentieth anniversary
Phish's exact birthday is December 2, 1983, when an early version of
the band played its first gig at the University of Vermont in Burlington.
But the group didn't establish its current lineup -- bandleader
Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell, and
drummer (and namesake) Jon Fishman -- until 1985.
The group's lean years were quite lean. Through the mid-Eighties, Phish
played mostly universities in and around Vermont to little or no notice.
By early 1989 it was not even the best-known band in Burlington, whose
most famous musical exports at the time were post-punkers the Hollywood
Indians, Pinhead, and Screaming Broccoli, and alternative popsters
In a previously unpublished interview with Anastasio that is
presented here -- apparently the earliest existing audiotaped
interview with the band leader -- he was clearly proud that Phish's
shows were attracting a few hundred fans on some nights. He was also
excited about new material he was developing for a tape that would
soon become "Junta," the group's first album, which they released
themselves around May 1989 (and which was re-released by Elektra
Records in 1992).
At the time of this interview, which took place in late January or
early February 1989, the band hadn't yet sent out its demo to record
companies, and the rock press outside of the Burlington
region hadn't so much as mentioned the word Phish in print. It would
be a year and a half before it signed to independent label
Absolute A-Go-Go for a brief period -- and nearly three years before
Elektra signed them.
I found out about the group only because I was exploring the Burlington
rock scene in 1988 for the East Coast Rocker, a New Jersey-based music
newspaper (in fact my first interviews with Mike Gordon date back to an
astonishingly early January 1988). I asked dozens of Vermont bands
to send me tapes. Among them was Phish, which mailed a 1987 demo featuring
four originals ("Golgi Apparatus," "Fee," "David Bowie," and "Fluffhead,"
all of which later appeared on "Junta") and two covers.
I eventually wrote about the group for the newspaper's July 19, 1989,
issue, calling Phish "an unlikely combination of the Grateful Dead
and Steely Dan" in a story that is one of the first to mention the band
in a publication outside the Burlington area. But my Anastasio interview
was never used in that story or any other piece for fourteen years.
Since then, Phish's sound has evolved into an inspired mix of
unpredictable rock and jazz elements, open-ended song structures,
and deliberate sonic weirdness that recalls the Grateful Dead's
experimental "Aoxomoxoa." On peak albums such as 1996's "Billy
Breathes," the group seems as if it is trying to capture the very
sound of freedom itself through soaring vocal harmonies and McConnell's
cascading keyboard playing. Though it has never had a massive hit on the
order of, say, Nirvana's "Nevermind," and is not as culturally resonant
as the Dead, it has become a wildly successful -- and lucrative -- concert
act. And the quartet is known for pushing the boundaries of live
performance to the level of conceptual art, with playful shows that make
imaginative use of things like vacuums and the Beatles' white album
(which it reportedly once played in sequence from start to finish live).
Initially not a critical favorite, the general consensus today is that
Phish is one of the most significant rock groups of the past dozen years.
But back in early 1989 Anastasio, then 24, was still toiling in
obscurity. In this edited transcript he speaks candidly (and is
obviously not coached by publicists), opening a rare window into the early
evolution of Phish and the making of its first album.
So here is Trey Anastasio, on tape, in my January 1989 interview with him:
PAUL IORIO: WHAT DOES THE DEMO INCLUDE?
TREY ANASTASIO: Now we've pretty much got an album. We've got almost two albums' worth of material recorded. We've only got one day left of recording. What it includes is more originals. All fairly new songs, newer than stuff on the old [six-song] tape [from 1987]. Two of them are very new; we just finished them. Two of them are things we've been playing for a while but haven't gotten around to recording. We're a lot happier with it than with the demo. When we choose stuff for the album, I think the only thing on the demo that'll make it onto the album is "Fee."
IORIO: YOU WRITE THEM ALL, RIGHT?
ANASTASIO: Yeah, pretty much. Mike [Gordon] writes songs as well. One of Mike's songs that's going to be on the album is called "Contact." Actually it might not be on the album. See, we're having a hard time deciding what to put on the album. And I think that's the first thing we're going to do is talk with record companies and tell them we have all these songs.
HAVE YOU STARTED THE PROCESS OF SENDING THE [DEMO] AROUND TO RECORD COMPANIES?
Yeah, we've only just started talking to people [at record companies]. And we haven't really sent it out yet. We wanted to finish this last song. We [are performing on] three nights -- tonight, tomorrow, the next night -- in Vermont. And then we're going to Boston. And we're doing a mixdown on "Let's Go Out to Dinner and See a Movie," another Mike song. We talked to a guy at Rounder Records, we have a connection there, and they seemed pretty interested. [The band would eventually be signed by Elektra Records, not Rounder, in late 1991, after a short time with Absolute A-Go-Go in 1990.]
WHAT ABOUT THE GRATEFUL DEAD COMPARISONS? IT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF PEOPLE MAKE THOSE?
People are definitely starting to make the [Grateful Dead] comparisons less. But as far as those comparisons, there's nothing really wrong with it, considering that they're one of the most successful bands anywhere now. But the thing that's different about it is the kind of music we're writing now, the newer stuff is sounding less and less like that. No one in the band listens to the Grateful Dead very much.
DID YOU GROW UP LISTENING TO [THE GRATEFUL DEAD]?
I had a phase where I listened to them. I was more into Led Zeppelin in high school. I was a Led Zeppelin fanatic and so was the drummer [Jon Fishman]; he went to see them all the time and followed them around. When I got to college -- the last year of high school and into college -- I got into a little bit of a Grateful Dead phase but [grew] out of that and went into a sort of jazz phase. I mean I've seen Pat Metheny as many times as I've seen the Grateful Dead.
MIKE [GORDON] WAS TALKING TO ME ABOUT THE JAZZ ASPECT OF...YOUR MUSIC IN THE SENSE OF IMPROVISATION. DO YOU DO LONG EXTENDED JAMS?
Yeah, we've kind of been cutting [the jams] down to like one per set, two per set. But we do do that. That's definitely where the Grateful Dead connection comes in. As well as the fact that a lot of the people that come down to see us are hippie types.
YOUNG HIPPIES OR OLD ONES?
Umm ... young hippies. More like college -type hippies. You know what I mean? But actually when we play in Boston -- this is one of the great things that's happening to us in Boston right now -- it's not really that way. We're getting a different type of crowd. When we first started, we had much more of a Dead sound, even through that demo with "David Bowie," that song. So our following up here [in Boston and in Burlington] was definitely a "Deadhead" type following. And it still kind of is.
HOW DO [FANS] HEAR OF YOU?
Word of mouth.
ARE YOU GETTING PEOPLE WHO SHOW UP AT ALL YOUR GIGS?
Oh, yes. Definitely.
ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH A BAND CALLED WIDESPREAD PANIC?
No, I'm not
THEY'RE A BAND FROM ATHENS, GEORGIA, THAT HAS A FOLLOWING SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU'RE DESCRIBING. THEY REALLY GO VERY FAR INTO LONG-FORM JAMS AND ATTRACT A LOT OF DEADHEADS.
It's a great thing. I was talking to some girl from the BU [Boston University] paper [in a non-taped conversation], and she said the closest she had seen in crowds was actually the Radiators. I've never seen the Radiators. The word of mouth thing is working out real well. I think there's also a lot of people who like us because we do -- have you heard "Fluffhead" on the demo? -- a lot of stuff that's pretty different. [But] that's where the Dead connection really ends. A large bulk of what we do ... we don't play the same three chords over and over again. We do a lot of variety. Like last night, we did a couple jazz songs, "Take the A Train," "Satin Doll." Things like that. And then we'll do in the same set maybe a Led Zeppelin song.
BUT YOU LEAN HEAVILY TOWARD ORIGINALS.
But almost all originals. Usually not more than three or four covers.
WHAT DID YOU DO BY ZEPPELIN?
We did "Good Times, Bad Times."
SO WHAT'S YOUR NEXT STEP?
We're definitely going to keep playing live. But the album thing is important for a lot of reasons. We're pretty much done recording it. Like I said, we've got so much material recorded we could put out a double album. So I guess the next step is to try to get signed to a label, even if it's an indie. I think we'll do all right. Because if the distribution isn't that great, we've got such a big following -- we've got a mailing list now, we've got a hotline, and I think we'll be able to sell it ourselves.
I actually interviewed Phish's Mike Gordon a full year before I spoke with Trey, though I didn't record that one; however, Gordon did send me this handwritten letter, dated March 8, 1988, which I've posted here.
[From New Times, Dec. 25, 2003; by the way, it's a near miracle that I thought to record such an unknown as Anastasio in January 1989 and that I managed to save the tape for so many years.]
FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
How Not to Blow Your Oscar Speech
By Paul Iorio
Winning an Oscar causes people to do strange things in public. It inspires
honorees to perform one-armed push-ups, to kiss statuettes, and to lose not
only their shoes but their heads on the way to the podium.
Few have truly mastered the art of the acceptance speech or can hit just
the right balance of grace, wit, gratitude and -- most important -- brevity.
Should one tell a joke, make a political statement, offer a verbal
love letter? Or is it best to hold back and say little? Whom do you thank?
This is, after all, probably the largest audience a person will ever
address (particularly if the category is make-up), so it's a big
opportunity. "There's about one thousand million people watching you," the
actor Paul Hogan once said, "and you remember: one wrong word, one foolish
gesture, and your whole career could go down in flames."
But that needn't happen this year if award winners simply remember the
past and follow these pointers:
-- Go Easy on the Effusiveness.
The Oscar can cause winners to thank everything in (and out of) sight.
Avoid this tendency. Cautionary tales include the speech of John Patrick
Shanley, accepting the award for best original screenplay for "Moonstruck" in
1988, who thanked "everybody who ever punched or kissed me in my life and
everybody who I ever punched or kiss." Also, Robert DeNiro in 1981
thanked "Joey LaMotta, even though he's suing us" (he won for best actor for
"Raging Bull"). And at the 1980 ceremony, Robert Benton, accepting the
best director award for "Kramer vs. Kramer," said: "I would like to thank all
the people at Columbia past and present." And Ben Burtt, the sound effects
editing winner in '83 ("E.T."), even acknowledged "various otters and
-- Avoid Politics.
No, your win is not a mandate to negotiate with the Serbs in Bosnia. But
some winners get that impression. In 1973, Marlon Brando refused a best-
actor award for "The Godfather" and sent an activist for native Americans,
Sacheen Littlefeather, in his stead. Vanessa Redgrave mentioned "Zionist
hoodlums" in her remarks in 1978, and was booed for it (she won the best
supporting actress prize for "Julia").
Just because there are a "thousand million people" watching is no reason
to be nervous, though nervousness might be the only natural response. Even
the best of 'em lose it. Meryl Streep dropped and briefly lost her copy of her
speech on stage in 1983 when she accepted the award for best actress for
"Sophie's Choice." And Geraldine Page couldn't find her shoes when her
name was called in 1986 for the best actress award for "The Trip to
-- Don't Overdo It.
In an acceptance speech, as in a love letter, it's best to dial back a bit when
the feeling is especially strong. What might seem like an honest airing of
healthy emotion at the time often sounds out-of-control on rewind. Sally
Field's 1985 effusion is the gold standard of modern public embarrassment:
"I can't deny the fact that you like me right now, you like!" Second place
goes to Jack Palance for his one-armed push-ups in 1992.
-- Nervousness Can Cause Incoherence.
Even the sometimes lucid Jack Nicholson mystified everyone in 1984 with
his cryptic ramble upon winning the award for best supporting actor for
"Terms of Endearment." "I was going to talk a lot about how Shirley
[MacLaine] and Debra [Winger] inspired me, but I understand they're
planning an interpretive dance later, to explain everything about life," said
Nicholson, adding: "All you rock people down at the Roxy and up in the
Rockies, rock on." And Jodie Foster nearly missed coherence in 1989 with
"My mother...taught me...that cruelty might be very human and it might be
very cultural, but it's not very acceptable" (she won the best actress prize for
-- Use the Phrase "Without Whom."
"Without whom" is the perfect poignant phrase for any winning Oscar
speech. Everyone's life includes a "without whom," so by all means mention
yours. When Steve Tesich won the prize for best original screenplay for
"Breaking Away" in 1980, he used two "without whoms" in the same speech.
In 1975, Carmine Coppola -- co-winner of the Oscar for his original score for
"The Godfather, Part II" and father of the film's director Francis Coppola --
offered a fresh spin by saying that without his son, "I wouldn't be here.
However, if I wasn't here, he wouldn't be here, either."
-- Get Grandiose (Pretend It's a Nobel).
It probably feels like a Nobel prize from the podium, so go with the
feeling. Marcel Ophuls did in 1989, when he said "There are whole
countries to thank." And Laurence Olivier's acceptance of an honorary prize
in 1979 sounded like this: "In the great firmament of your nation's
generosities, this particular choice may perhaps be found by future
generations as a trifle eccentric."
-- "You Know Who You Are."
The phrase "you know who you are" can save many minutes of speech
time. Anjelica Huston used this time-saver in her speech in 1986, thanking
"the entire cast and crew of 'Prizzi's Honor' -- I don't want to mention any
names; you know who you are." Warren Beatty should've used the phrase
when he named 14 names in 1982 and thanked "so many more."
-- Try True Wit (But Only as a Last Resort).
If the Oscar host can usually be consistently funny, why can't the winners
be, too? Some can. Dustin Hoffman, for instance, looked at his Oscar
statuette from the podium in 1980 and observed, "He has no genitalia, and
he's holding a sword." And Stirling Silliphant, winning the best adapted
screenplay award for 1968 for "In the Heat of the Night," said: "I really have
no speech. The Writers' Guild doesn't allow us to do any speculative
[From The New York Times, March 26, 1995.]
BRIEF PROFILES OF VARIOUS CELEBRITIES
[PUBLISHED IN THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE]
Dick Cavett, in the Mountains of Marin
By Paul Iorio
In the green mountains of Marin County, California, talk show pioneer
Dick Cavett is playing hooky from his day job as narrator of the upcoming
Broadway stage version of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." "My
colleagues in 'Rocky' are sweating and laboring right now, and I'm supposed
to be there," he confides. "I feel like they're going to find where I'm hidden."
Cavett's hiding place, at least this afternoon, is Mill Valley, where he
is preparing to attend the Mill Valley Film Festival's tribute to him.
At 63, Cavett is still best-known for having brought witty, literate chat to
the airwaves with his ABC-TV talk show, "The Dick Cavett Show," which
aired from 1969 to 1973, and a PBS series, which ran from '77 to '82 -- shows
that regularly mixed artists and intellectuals with entertainers and
Today, Cavett doesn't host a TV series but is still infallibly witty and
spontaneous, able to come up with a funny joke at will. For
example, when a clerk from a rental car company interrupts us and asks to
see Cavett's driver's license, he quips: "Can't I just describe it? It's
What does he think of the current cultural landscape? His favorite show is
NBC's "Law and Order." "The early years of 'Law and Order' were as good
as anything that's ever been on television -- and it took me so long to realize
it," says Cavett, wearing a "Twisted Tales" baseball cap (named after the
show about animals he currently narrates on the Animal Planet channel).
Of his own talk show career, Cavett says his best show was the one that
featured playwright Noel Coward and the legendary actors Alfred Lunt and
Lynn Fontanne. "Jack Paar called it 'the greatest ninety minutes I've ever
seen on television,'" he says. "In a way, it was as good as it can get...I was
better than I was on other nights."
His most famous program is probably the one on which novelists Norman
Mailer and Gore Vidal nearly came to blows on the air. On that show, Mailer
made a surly entrance, refused to shake Vidal's outstretched hand, and
proceeded to insult Cavett, Vidal and another guest, New Yorker magazine
writer Janet Flanner. "I said [to Mailer], 'Would you like another chair to
help contain your giant intellect?' And he said, 'I'll accept the chair if
you'll all accept a fingerbowl,'" he recalls. "Mailer didn't quite get what
he meant out; a re-write would've done it."
"Then [Mailer] said the thing that I didn't know till then would anger me
most: 'Why don't you just read the next question off the question sheet,''" he
says. Cavett's famous response was "Why don't you fold it five ways and put
it where the moon don't shine?"
When the Mailer show was aired in Germany, where Cavett has a sizable
audience, the translator had difficulty translating the retort. "They were
baffled," he says of the Germans. "'Something about a moon on a shining
Other noteworthy moments in Cavett's career include candid appearances
by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a show in which segregationist governor
Lester Maddox walked off in anger, and one in which publisher J.I. Rodale
died during a taping (after saying, "I expect to live on and on").
He says network executives never objected to the controversy his shows
generated. "I think they were kind of tickled by the publicity," he says.
Cavett's observations about his celebrity guests are always fresh. On
Andy Warhol: "He had two tape recorders on at dinner...He said, 'One is
recording the other.'" On Johnny Carson: "To me, he's still the guy who I
first saw do a magic trick in [a] church basement in Lincoln Nebraska, when
I was ten or twelve." He also recalls coming upon a dissipated Judy Garland
in the mid-Fifties and initially mistaking her for a cleaning woman.
The last ten years have not always been kind to Cavett. His three-million
dollar house in Montauk burned down a few years ago, and he has recently
suffered from clinical depression. But he does seem genuinely happy to be
performing in "Rocky Horror," though he jokes, "I thought I was going to be
the guy who wore women's underwear and garters and high heel," referring to
the role that Tim Curry played in the film.
He's also considering a return to his roots as a stand-up comic with some
sort of one-man show. "I probably will" return to stand-up, says Cavett.
"Even revisit my old act and comment on it...if I could remember my old act."
When I ask about his reaction to the countless Cavett wannabes and
imitators over the decades, he answers by recalling an exchange between
Cary Grant and a fan: "A fan said, 'I would give anything to be Cary Grant.'
And [Grant] said, 'So would I.'"
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 2000; original manuscript.]
In 2005, I submitted this story (unsolicited) to People magazine, which
bought my idea so that it could then have one of its staff writers do its own version of the piece, which appeared in People on February 7, 2005.
Dick Cavett Remembers The Great Carsoni, Nebraska Magician
By Paul Iorio
Dick Cavett, the former talk show host, remembers a Johnny Carson
very few people ever saw first-hand: Carson the Nebraska magician.
The two both grew up in Nebraska, though Carson was 11 years older.
When Cavett was 12, in 1948, he and three of his friends went to see Carson,
who called himself The Great Carsoni in those days, in the basement of
the Westminister Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. To the pre-pubsecent Cavett,
Carson was already a local big shot, having landed his first radio show on
KFAB in Lincoln.
Cavett and his friends arrived at the church a little early for the performance
and visited Carson before his show. “My three friends and I went around to
see him before the show, which you never do with a magician,” Cavett told
this reporter in unpublished remarks from an exclusive interview, conducted
in October 2000. “We should have known better. But we were magicians, we
thought. And he gave us this really curt look as he was setting up his
stuff....He said, 'Oh, you guys are magicians? You like to do this kind of
stuff?' And he [showed us] a dazzling display of card fans and shuffles
and one-handed shuffles. It takes about 20 years practice to do a one
handed shuffle...He showed us how to do a better double lift and to deal
seconds. He was great.”
Then Cavett and his buddies took their seats in the basement for the magic
show -- and they were in for a big surprise. “We watched the show [with]
all the church people,” continued Cavett. “And [Carson] said, ‘There are
three guys in the audience I'd like you to meet.’ And he named us. ‘And
they are young magicians.’ And we felt like we were on the Ed Sullivan
Show. You might say, but he wasn't Johnny Carson then. But he was to
us because he had a radio show in Omaha. And I think his 15 minute TV show
came on a couple years later.”
The show ended and Cavett remembers seeing Carson make a celebrity exit.
“We watched him leave in what I think was probably a '44 Chevy and go off
glamorously in the night to be a star,” recalled Cavett. “Back to Omaha
and stardom. Probably with a low spare tire in the back.”
Cavett tried to explain the psychological reasons behind Carson’s magic
habit. “It's the syndrome of many kids who did magic as a hobby,” said
Cavett. “Magic is a great answer to the kid who feels a little socially
inept and can stay home and do something totally absorbing and then have
an amazing effect [in public]. The first time, people go, ‘How did
you do that?’ You can be hooked.”
Of course, he would later become friends in adulthood with Carson, who
reportedly had few friends by choice. “We didn't hang out a lot together, but
with Johnny if you hung out at all....” Cavett trails off, but his
implication was that anyone who hung with him even infrequently saw him
more than most. “He can apparently totally entertain himself without
hanging out with the boys and yet he likes to play poker and he has a
regular poker table.”
They were also professional rivals for a time, when Cavett hosted “The Dick
Cavett Show” on ABC opposite Carson’s NBC talk show. But it was an
apparently friendly rivalry.
“Johnny Carson was always my best ally, he was always a friend, and I could
call him with problems when I started out and ask him what do you do when
Bobby Kennedy's just been shot. How do you do the show?,” he said.
He recalls a dinner he once had at Carson’s house. “We had a great time, had
dinner at his house and then we went out,” he said. “His house looks like
an Olympic venue, the one he had then. Tennis goes up miles over that way,
a pool over this way, and then a great house of weights. Drums. A
But even in 2000, Cavett still seemed amazed that he witnessed the Carson
magic at such an early stage. “To me, he is still the guy who I first saw
do a magic show in Wesminister Church basement in Lincoln, Nebraska,” he
said. “...So it sort of floors me that I first met him back there.”
[unpublished, though it was the basis of a 2005 People magazine article.]
[PUBLISHED IN SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE]
Edward Norton, After Hours
By Paul Iorio
Edward Norton has just finished a long day working with Brad Pitt on
the new David Fincher movie, "The Fight Club," and stops in at Red, a
West Hollywood restaurant, for a late night cup of tea with me. We take a
table in an outdoor cafe area but the lousy faux jazz-fusion blasting over the
speakers is too loud for conversation. Norton tries talking over it, but the
music is clearly getting on his nerves.
"Let me get them to turn this stupid music off," he says, slightly pissed and
standing up. He walks inside Red (this is the second time he's tried to get
them to turn it down). Through the window I can see him talk rather
intensely with someone. Suddenly the music quiets considerably.
It's as if Norton has briefly turned the restaurant into his own movie
set, even controlling the soundtrack. And it's this sense of control, of
dominating his environment -- whether giving a performance on
camera or an interview in a cafe -- that has become a Norton trademark.
Tonight, he's eager to talk about the movie that much of Hollywood
is talking about, the controversial "American History X," in which he stars as
a reformed neo-Nazi.
As Norton admits, the film is not everybody's cup of tea. It's a
full of graphic violence, tough dialogue and an unsympathetic central
"The film is not an easy entertainment, that's not what it's [meant to
be]," says Norton, sipping tea. "It is not going to be an easy sit. It's
not sort of an escapist entertainment. But I think it's a film you'll still
be very much talking about over dinner two nights later."
Norton, 29, could've avoided controversy by choosing a safe surefire
studio blockbuster as his next project. One must remember how
recently The Edward Norton Phenomenon emerged. His career didn't evolve
gradually through years of work in bit parts and b-movies. His debut film,
"Primal Fear," was a big hit that earned him an Oscar nomination for best
supporting actor. In quick succession came the acclaimed "The People Vs.
Larry Flynt" and Woody Allen's musical-comedy "Everybody Says I Love
But he says he acts partly because it's a way of not choosing to be just one
thing in life. "I've always had a hard time choosing between different
potential modes of existence, and acting is a really fun way of being an
experiential dilettante," he says. "You can dip for awhile into all
kinds of diverse realms of experience and expression and then
escape without any of the consequences of actually having chosen it
as a life. And I like that....It's like the way I might have been."
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 1998.]
[PUBLISHED IN THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE]
Anne Heche, Pioneer
[the first story anywhere to link Heche with Ellen DeGeneres]
By Paul Iorio
Ellen DeGeneres drives up to the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills in a new
Porsche Carrera, gets out and smiles wide. And why shouldn't she smile?
She's on the cover of Time magazine this week and stars in the most talked-
about TV show on the air. But there's another reason for the big grin: she
spots a friend across the driveway.
Her friend, actress Anne Heche, looking glamorously lithe, waves and
walks over to her. Heche and DeGeneres hug and talk, all laughter, blonde
hair and charisma. As the spring sunlight comes through the trees at a late-
afternoon angle, Heche is full of motion and warmth, juggling conversations
with DeGeneres and a couple others.
Almost everything that makes Heche a compelling movie star is evident in
this moment with DeGeneres; Heche is impossible not to watch as she
energetically deals with several people at once, exuding a mixture of control
Heche, 27, has the personality of someone who has had to fend for herself
from a very young age. And it comes across onscreen and off. For example,
in the film "Volcano" she's pushing a bus, dragging bodies from the path of a
lava flow, rescuing patients at a hospital and making suggestions to Tommy
Lee Jones's character. She seems hyper-competent.
So it's no surprise to discover that in real life Heche (rhymes with the
letter 'h') actually did have to fend for herself from a very young age --
from the age of 12, when her father found out he had AIDS.
She helped support her family by appearing in dinner theatre productions
in Ohio. "At twelve years old, I didn't understand that every kid didn't go out
and earn money for their family," she says, taking a cigarette from a hard
"My dad was a closet homosexual," she continues. "Because he wasn't
willing to admit to himself and others that he was that, he ended up
When Heche talks about DeGeneres's coming-out on TV, her enthusiasm
is clearly informed by hard-earned wisdom. "It's incredibly brave," she says
of DeGeneres. "Ellen's a pioneer in this world where there's never been an
admittedly gay lead actor on television."
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, April 20, 1997; original manuscript,
updated and abridged.]
[PUBLISHED IN THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE]
Remembering Jonathan Larson (and an Awful Phone Call)
By Paul Iorio
Daphne Rubin-Vega, the actress who played Mimi in the original
production of Jonathan Larson's musical "Rent," remembers an awful phone
"[Actress Idina Menzel] called and was really upset," she recalls. "And I
could tell by her voice something was wrong. Then she said, 'Jonathan.' And
I knew. I knew. You just know."
The news was that the thirty-five year old Larson had died suddenly and
unexpectedly of a ruptured aorta in his Greenwich Village apartment. It had
happened a couple hours after the final dress rehearsal for the workshop
production in 1996.
When she starts to talk about Larson's death, Rubin-Vega, normally
exuberant and feisty, becomes quiet, talks slowly, looks down at a fixed spot
on the floor and puts on a black jacket. When she zips up the jacket, she's
now completely dressed in black.
"[Cast members] walked to the New York Theatre Workshop
and...everyone cried," she recalls, referring to the hours after his death. "And
it wasn't just out of, how could this person who is always in your life and in
your face everyday all of a sudden be gone. But it was, like, what are we
gonna do about this show? It's not finished. It was, like, it's not done."
The cast quickly channeled its grief into making "Rent" one of the most
successful musicals in recent Broadway history. The show has gone on to
win Tony awards, Obie awards and the Pulitzer prize for drama, while its
soundtrack became the fastest-selling Broadway CD of the decade.
While grateful for "Rent"'s success, Rubin-Vega was also initially
ambivalent about all the attention. "After Jonathan died, [the curious] started
to swarm, and it was sensationalized," she says. "This very organic high-
voltage thing became a sideshow attraction, a freak show."
Rubin-Vega, who joined the production in 1993, remembers "Rent"'s
evolution. She says the 1994 workshop version of the musical was very
different from both the 1996 New York Theatre Workshop production and
the show that exists today. "'Glory' was called 'Your Right Brain,'" she says.
"It was the same melody but it was another song and was about other
stuff...'Without You' was sung by the lesbians. 'Seasons of Love' was there.
'Rent' started the show but the actual songs were in different places. There
was so much editing going on. Songs were cut, verses were cut."
In her dressing room, she eagerly offers an example, belting out a playful
verse deleted from "Out Tonight": "You want to be an alley cat?/Well, let's
act like we've got nine lives/Let's cut off all our hair and wear ugly
glasses/You wanna act like a brat?/Pick up men who cheat on their
wives?/Let them spend like a millionaire/And leave them flat on their asses."
Sometimes it's hard to know whether she's primarily a singer or an actress.
If she had to choose only one career, which would it be?
"Don't ask me to choose," she says, and then turns the question on me. "If
you can only choose one testicle, which one would it be?"
"The right one, it's the one I like," I joke.
She laughs for a long time about that.
One thing's for certain: she has been heavily influenced by Larson. "I'd
go to his house and hang out and play music and pretend I was as prolific a
writer as he was at the time but actually have him help me bang out stuff...He
was always game to write and play."
But she's not satisfied with simply talking about Larson; she breaks into
song, reciting an original unrecorded lyric about him called "Graduation
Day": "If you were here today you would/Hear the sound of people shouting
for more/How can anybody say you're not around?"
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 1999; original manuscript and updated.]
[FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE]
Jessica Alba, at the Dawn of Her Stardom
By Paul Iorio
It seems as if Jessica Alba, who stars
in the new Fox series "Dark Angel," can't
escape her beauty anywhere. When the sexy
19-year-old actress walks down hallways,
people stare admiringly. Even during my
recent exclusive interview, someone walked
by the private area where we were talking
and, apropos of nothing, said,
"See you, pretty woman."
At the time, Alba was busy talking
about Malaysian princesses.
And Alba does have the fluid, flawless
beauty and grace of a storybook princess --
except it's for real. That's probably part
of the reason why she was chosen by no less
than director James Cameron ("Titanic") to
star in "Dark Angel," which Cameron
created with Charles Ehglee.
In the futuristic series, set in the
year 2020 in the U.S. Pacific northwest after a
quasi-nuclear catastrophe, Alba plays Max, a
genetically altered superwoman pursued
by the military officers who made her the
way she is.
The show, which airs on Tuesday nights
starting October 3rd , also stars John
Savage ("Deer Hunter") as military leader
Lydecker, and Michael Weatherly as
Max's ally Logan.
Cameron says Alba got the part because of
her strong audition. "She didn't
hold back in the auditions," Cameron said at
a press conference. "You could see
[other actors] sort of backing up and off
Alba clearly enjoys playing Max, a
role that allows her to use her special
genetic powers to batter and decimate
assorted bad guys. "[Max] can
physically do whatever she wants," says
Alba. "She realizes, yeah, I can
go kick someone's butt...but she has fun
Alba comes to her role from a diverse
background. She was born in Pomona,
California, and grew up mostly in southern
California, Mississippi and Del Rio, Texas,
the daughter of a U.S. Air Force officers.
"My father's family...two generations ago
were all Mexicans and came to California and
settled," she says. "My mom's dad is from
Denmark and her mother is
At age 15, she lived in Australia for
around a year to be in the TV series
"Flipper." And at age 16, she studied
acting in New York under playwright
David Mamet and actor William H. Macy.
"My main acting teacher was
Bill Macy," she says, "and he taught me
not to act." She says her
influences include Susan Sarandon, Sally
Field, Olympia Dukakis and Jessica Lange.
And she has been influenced by Cameron,
who has released nothing as a producer or
director on the big or small screen since
"Titanic" -- except "Dark Angel" (which
is not directing). "It really reminds me
of my roots as a guerilla film maker...doing
films in 21 days, really rapid fire," said
Some critics are already saying that
Alba is better than "Dark Angel"
itself. "I've never heard that before,"
she says. "I hope we can make
the show better and lighter."
Alba's next project is the feature
film "The Sleeping Dictionary,"
co-starring Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn
and directed by
Guy Jenkins. "It's a love story between
an English officer and a
Malaysian princess," she says.
Of course, it goes without
saying who plays the princess.
[Published in The San Francisco Chronicle;
from my original manuscript of September
13, 2000; published on 9/24/00.]
[FROM THE S.F. CHRONICLE]
Carroll O'Connor's Blues
By Paul Iorio
When the grieving gets tough, the tough get...creative.
That could be Carroll O'Connor's credo these days. When his son Hugh
killed himself while on cocaine two years ago, O'Connor was devastated. But
he soon converted his mourning to energy, bounding back with a fireball of
anti-drug activism. Now he has emerged with a haunting play, "A Certain
Labor Day," which will make its premiere in San Francisco.
O'Connor is the author and star of the two-act play; he appears as a
washed-up labor leader whose younger son has a problem with booze. And,
yes, he freely admits his real-life son was the model for the alcoholic
"If my son had not killed himself, I would have asked him to play the part
of Tony," O'Connor says, his eyes reddening and filling with tears.
He pauses, stares downward and shakes his head: "He was an addict, he was
an addict." He drifts briefly into fond remembrance: "He was a lovely
character, Hugh was. There wasn't a mean bone in his body."
In the play, the anguish does sometimes seem autobiographical. At one
point, O'Connor's character is desperate as he talks about his son: "Help me!
How do I reach this beautiful kid of mine? Why is he lost?...Why am I in hell
before I'm dead?"
O'Connor sips ice water on this Saturday evening in a Westwood church
where he's rehearsing the drama. "A play should center on a crisis," he says.
"If the crisis overcomes the people, it's a tragedy. If the people overcome the
crisis, it's either a melodrama or a comedy."
George C. Scott was originally set to co-star, but dropped out because he
needs "a little aorta operation," says O'Connor.
O'Connor plays Gerry Maher, a relic of post-war American liberalism, a
sort of politicized Willy Loman, who is "living helplessly in a mean time [of]
no ideals, no ethical guidance, just strategies for personal glory."
That also happens to be O'Connor's own view of the 1990s. "But that
doesn't make me a doomsayer," he says. "Because I've lived long enough
now at the age of 73 to see the country take several changes. I'm old enough
to [have] listened to people say, 'the country is ruined.' Then it turns out not
to be ruined."
He is similar to his character in some ways. Both are politically liberal.
Both have no patience with racism or anti-Semitism. Both are in their
seventies. And both are solid supporters of unions. "The first union I ever
joined was at 17-years old," he says proudly, quickly naming eight others he
has joined since.
O'Connor comes off kind of like a liberal trapped in the body of
a conservative, with a lifestyle that seems almost old-fashioned in contrast to
his politics. Unlike others in show business, he's been married to the same
woman, college sweetheart Nancy Fields, for 46 years; and it's obvious
they're still in love with each other.
He hates drug use. He dislikes pretension. He's fond of straight talk. His
jokes are funny but they're not really jokes; they're sharp insights. He is by
turns outspoken, passionate, persuasive, and lots of fun -- a natural populist.
Truly, success has not gone to his head or even near it.
O'Connor's roots are in the theater, even if his success has been mostly on
the small screen (with TV's "All in the Family" and "In the Heat of the
Night"). He appeared in his first play around 50-years ago, at his alma mater,
the University of Montana. In the early Fifties, he moved to Ireland and
performed in much of western Europe.
Among other things, his experience abroad mercifully allowed him to miss the
worst of Joe McCarthy's red-baiting in the U.S. "I went to Ireland in 1950 and
didn't come back till '54," he says. "I was lucky. I was away in those years when
they were hunting [leftists]."
When he returned to New York, he found occasional work as an actor in
the theater and later in movies (most notably as a doomed gangster in the '67
cult film "Point Blank," a trucker in '62's "Lonely Are The Brave," and as
Casca in the '63 re-make of "Cleopatra"). But Broadway has never been
hospitable to him.
"I've been a flop on Broadway twice," he says. "Once in '83 with 'Brothers'
[which he directed] and 'Homefront' in '84. So, I'm not crazy mad to run back
O'Connor sees "All in the Family," the blockbuster TV show in which he
played the bigoted Archie Bunker, as a series of one-act plays produced
weekly for thirteen years.
"I always thought we were doing these little plays on 'All in the Family,'"
he says, adding candidly: "I take credit for being the one who was driving
every week towards a little play....I don't say that everybody else was going
another way. But I was the principal. We used to sit around the table and I
used to say, 'Now, why would anyone want to see this?...What human truth
or crisis makes it worth watching."
What is his favorite episode of "All in the Family"? "There was one very
important one, where Archie and Mike get a little boozed and they discuss
the origin of racism," he says. "...Archie and Mike were locked in a liquor
room, a storeroom."
He expresses his affection for "American laboring guys" like Bunker, even
as he observes that "a lot of people in trade unions...are very conservative-minded."
O'Connor, who worked as a longshoreman in his youth, adds: "They really don't
like working shoulder-to-shoulder with black people...They still have their
racism to overcome."
[Published in The San Francisco Chronicle, September 21, 1997.]
FROM THE AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
35 Years After the First Moonwalk...
A Practical Guide to Walking on the Moon
Alan Bean Describes What It Really Feels Like to Walk in the Ocean of Storms
By Paul Iorio
In the 35 years since humans first walked on the moon, the concept of moonwalking
has changed from a scientific activity seen in indistinct video images to a possibly
practical matter. With space tourism in the air everywhere, and private companies
making or planning their first forays into space, moonwalking has become something
that the average person could possibly do in the very near future.
People are beginning to think of visiting the Sea of Tranquility the way
they used to dream of visiting the Gobi desert or the Himalayas.
Questions are being asked. What sort of camera works best on the moon?
Can your space suit be punctured by sharp moon rocks? Is it possible to
jump too high? Only a dozen Earthlings have known the answers to those
questions in a first-hand way -- and they are, of course, the 12 who
walked on the moon between July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong first
set foot in the Sea of Tranquillity, and December 1972, when Gene Cernan
became the last person to moonwalk.
Alan L. Bean, the fourth person to walk on the moon, describes his experience
with a painterly sense of detail and color, perhaps because he's the one
moonwalker who is also an accomplished visual artist. He visited the moon
nearly thirty-five years ago, in November 1969, as part of the crew of
Apollo 12, which included the late Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr., and Richard
F. Gordon. (Bean was also a resident of the space shuttle Skylab II in 1973.)
On October 13, 1998, Bean spoke about the practical and aesthetic aspects of
moonwalking in an unusually vivid (and exclusive) interview that had been unpublished
until now [July 18, 2004]. Here is an edited version of it:
IORIO: WHEN YOU STEP OUT ON THE MOON, WHAT DO YOU SEE?
BEAN: It looks bright outside but you're fairly dim inside...It's like coming out of the house at night onto a patio that's super brightly lit...You're saying, "Look at this! This looks so different than when I was inside.'"
It looks scarier. You're saying, "Look at this place, it's not like any place on Earth. And I hope my suit doesn't leak because if it does, I'm dead. And look at those rocks. And look, there's Pete [Conrad, Commander of Apollo 12] over there, jumping up and down -- that looks like fun." And then you let go of the ladder to start to move and you start to wobble around, and you think, "I'm going to fall down and I don't want to; I might cut my suit."
...If you've looked at TV [footage] of Apollo 11...you'll see they're bouncing around continually at first. It's easier to stand up when you're bouncing around....If you try to stand still in a spot, it's much more difficult than just kind of moving around a little bit, because naturally you'll move in the direction you're leaning, and that'll keep you from leaning farther.
IF YOU HAD FALLEN, COULD YOU HAVE PUNCTURED YOUR [SPACE SUIT]?
BEAN: We worried about it, we worried you could. You've got a cover layer over it but we said, "Those rocks are sharp." It's funny: you know things and yet you don't know them until they really happen...I fell down a couple of times on the moon -- most people did -- because there are dust layers there, and under the
dust are rocks, and it's like you’re running through snow, and there are rocks under the snow that you don't
see. You trip every once in a while.
But with light gravity, things fall much more slowly, so when you trip you start to fall down much more
slowly. Sometimes you can run under your body and catch yourself, where on Earth you would've really
fallen down. Nothing happens real fast like on Earth.
,,,To get up, just give it a little push with your hands and you'll stand right back up again. The first time I
tried to stand, I gave a push with my hands and nearly went over backwards I pushed so hard...
Someday, when they have the Olympics up there in a big dome, it'll be fun. It'll be fun to watch the high
jump, because they're going to jump fifteen feet or something, and they're going up very slowly and keep
going up and up, almost like a football. Then they're going to come down very slow....No telling what pole
vaulting would be like up there!
DID YOU HAVE THE TEMPTATION JUST TO JUMP AS HIGH AS YOU COULD [ON THE MOON]?
BEAN: We did that, but don't forget we were in these bulky suits, so even though you could jump and go
up a long ways, it was so slowly that you went up and were pulled back.
What I found was the problem was not jumping up high but...the minute you jumped off the ground, you
never pushed through your center of gravity really perfectly. On Earth, you jump up and land right down
again, so it's no problem. But [on the moon], you're going up, and all of a sudden you see you didn't push
through your center of gravity, and you see you're starting to lean to the left.
When I was running [on the moon], I always felt that I was over-rotating forwards, backwards, left or right,
and each time I landed I would think, I've got to hurry up and land, I'll never make it." And then when I
would touch down, I would push off and try to make a correction in the other direction. Then I would
overcorrect. [laughs] So it was like I was reeling across the moon....It was a constant balancing act almost.
You had to look where your foot was going to land every time. You couldn't run and look ahead, because
you'd go into a crater. You had to make sure you didn't step on rocks or twist your ankle...It would be fun to
do it in a bubble without the suit on.
YOU SAID EARLIER THAT, VISUALLY, IT'S LIKE NOTHING ON EARTH. BUT IS THERE ANY
POINT OF COMPARISON?...IN YOUR SEVEN AND THREE-QUARTERS HOURS [ON THE MOON],
WAS THERE ONE MOMENT WHEN...YOU SAID, "THIS LOOKS LIKE THE MOJAVE"?
BEAN: It looked like volcanic fields that we had practiced on in Hawaii and Oregon and Ireland and
Mexico and some in the southwest [U.S.]...except there's a lot more dirt around [on the moon]. With the
dirt on Earth, the rain washes most of it away, particularly the fine stuff, so usually the volcanic fields...have
more rock exposed. Up there, the rocks are around but all the little chips that have been knocked off the
rocks are still there.
So I thought, initially, it looks sort of looks like volcanic fields....However, it never looked like any place on
Earth because of the incredible sun, because the sky is a patent leather black instead of a nice blue and
because nothing moves up there. The only things that moved when we were up there were the two of us and
our shadows. Nothing else moves. We'd never been to places like that on Earth. Even in the desert you can
look up and see maybe a wisp of a cloud go by....It's so still, so dead. I never for one second felt like this
could ever be a place on Earth, even though parts of it looked like other places we'd been. It's an unearthly
place, an out-of-this-world place.
AND YOU TURN AROUND AND LOOK AT THE EARTH...AND IT'S THIS BLUE WATERY MASS?
BEAN: You're on this [moon] that's black and white and the whole universe is black and white, except on
Earth. And there is this blue and white marble. And also, it changes. You do some work and look at the
Earth an hour later, and it has moved 15 degrees. So some clouds have moved to the right, the part that was
in the shadow 15 degrees has come out.
WHAT'S IT LIKE UP THERE [ON SKYLAB]? YOU WERE THERE FOR FIFTY-NINE DAYS IN
BEAN: We weren't cramped -- we had a big Skylab. I've never heard anybody come back from space for no
matter how long and say, "Well, we didn't have enough room." Because when you can float around...it
always seems like you have enough room. I've never heard an astronaut say the spacecraft was too little, but
I've heard lots of astronauts say, "We need better food" or "We've got to invent a better sleeping bag" or
"We've got to get bigger windows because we can't see out." As [lunar module pilot] Bill Anders on Apollo
8 said, "It's like going through Yellowstone Park in a tank and looking out the little window."
...People complain about the fact that it's kind of messy up there for pooping and urinating. It's like
camping out [but] not as much fun as on Earth.
WHAT [FEATURE] FILM BEST CAPTURES THE SPACE EXPERINECE?
BEAN: "Apollo 13," easily. "Apollo 13" was as good a movie as could be made about space flight as I
[From the Austin American-Statesman, July 18, 2004]
UNPUBLISHED (PRESENTED HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME)
Alarming Pre-9/11 Messages Foreshadow Attacks
In Chat Rooms, Hints of Coming Hijacker Attacks and Other Plots
By Paul Iorio
Newly uncovered messages, posted on an Islamic extremist
website before September 11, 2001, show that militants were
talking up terrorist plots similar to those of 9/11 prior to 9/11.
There was also talk of staging a nuclear 9/11 in which multiple
couriers would smuggle a small piece of a nuclear device into the
U.S. and assemble it here for detonation.
The postings, uncovered by this reporter and then investigated
by both the elite Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and the United
States Capitol Police (CP), raise disturbing questions about
whether others knew about the 9/11 attacks beforehand and
whether recent terrorist acts might have been partly coordinated
through private Internet message boards.
The Capitol Police learned about the messages, which (among
other things) included explicit and violent death threats against
three U.S. Senators, from this reporter in April 2004, a few
months before the CP closed roads around the Capitol amidst
widespread speculation that there had been threats on individual
members of Congress and Senators. (Without having contacted
the Capitol Police, I was phoned by two special agents of the CP
on April 22 and asked to be called back "immediately" about
the postings I had uncovered; the CP probably found out about
my findings because I had contacted members of Congress for
comment on the messages.)
The documents come from a leading Islamic information and
discussion website, http://www.ummah.com/, which calls itself "The
Muslim Directory." A participant in its chats, in the months before
9/11, calls for the assassination of three U.S. Senators and the
head of the Central Intelligence Agency, and advocates action
similar to the hijacking and anthrax attacks that occurred weeks
and months after the messages were posted. There is also
advocacy of a rail attack similar to the one that occurred years
later in Madrid.
One participant in the Ummah discussions, whose screen
name is Abdullahmuaz, suggested as early as November 2000
that militants use a hijacked airplane as a missile. "The hijacking
could've been used so wisely," he wrote in 2000, referring to a
hijacking in November 2000. "The Russian hijacked
plane could have...flown to Gaza..it had to first land in telaviv so
that they didn't suspect...but they didn't realize what would happen if
the lone hijacker felt sleepy, etc....I am giving you ideas, you have
to modify them...if I give you the exact plan..you will be caught
before you even carry it out..." [The messages here are being
quoted with their original idiosyncratic spelling and syntax.]
Clearly, Abdullahmuaz, in almost every posting, seems to
be coaching fellow militants as if he were advising or guiding those
who were about to stage attacks. An interview with an agent of
the JTTF focused partly on the possibility that Abdullahmuaz
might have coordinated attacks through his messages.
In a 2004 interview, the JTTF agent was more alarmed by
another finding: a message I uncovered that was posted at
9:46 PM (ET) on September 10, 2001, on the usenet service Deja News.
It's a sort of fundamentalist Muslim death sermon titled "Death"
by a Sharif Muhammad in which he quotes a passage from the
Koran: "'Wherever you are, death will find you out. Even if you
are in towers built up strong and high.’"
Muhammad then says the same thing in his own words: "No
matter how long one lives, nothing will save him/her from death.
Strong towers won't save him."
And he talks about the nobility of being a martyr for Islam,
echoing the beliefs expressed in the letter found in the luggage of
hijacker Mohamed Atta and distributed to his fellow terrorists.
"[Death] emboldens the believer to do Jihad," writes Muhammad.
"...The most honorable death is to die for the cause of Islam, to
be a martyr of faith."
Abdullahmuaz also wrote messages in the period just before
9/11, one of them endorsing the idea of a poison attack on
America a few weeks before the anthrax letters were sent.
In another message, Abdullahmuaz plots a nuclear 9/11.
"Another very good option would be to try to smuggle in small
nuclear devices into the US each small piece brought by a
different courier and then assembled in the US," he wrote.
The messages uncovered here were posted on an
Ummah.com message board and preserved in Ummah's 2001
archive, which was accessible through a back door to the
Internet called the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, a
search engine capable of retrieving vanished websites from
years ago. (To find a past site, simply type a URL into the
Wayback Machine and click on links to Internet pages dating
as far back as 1996.) The Ummah messages presented in this
story were found through the Wayback Machine. In order to find
these messages, this reporter put the URLs of more than a
hundred Muslim extremist and al Qaeda websites into the
The founder of the Wayback Machine, Brewster Kahle, says
there have been no instances in which documents obtained through
the Wayback machine were later shown to have been unreliable in
some way. "Our data is reliable," he says.
"The stuff here is used in court," Kahle adds.
The Ummah website still exists today but in a much tamer
form. Even Ummah's formal categories of discussion have
been revamped; some chat groups in the pre-9/11 months were
subtitled "...crisis, war and Jihad"; by contrast, one chat category
is now called “quiet and peace," and there is no mention of jihad
as a suggested topic. (Representatives of the site would not
answer a request for comment for this story.) The messages
quoted here were found on a private message board labeled
"protected"; they were blocked to those without a password,
but the blocking was not always effective enough to keep this
reporter from accessing some of the messages.
It is little wonder the documents are labeled private and
protected: the messages often involve violent and specific
threats. Few are more graphic than a posting from Abdullahmuaz
from June 11, 2001, that says, “George Tenet Gun Him Down...
make it a suicide thing.”
He also posted a series of less explicit messages in the months
before September 11th that seem to allude to the terrorism to come.
“Americans we made them focus on infrastructure,” Abdullahmuaz
wrote on May 9, 2001. “All their energies and efforts would focus on
infrastructure, while we hit them you know where.” It's unclear what
he means by the phrase "you know where."
“[An attack] has to be massive on scale to have effect,” he wrote
on April 24, 2001. “Their civilians. their children. it doesn’t have
to be army personnel. go for what is easy."
In a call to action on the same day, he wrote: "Let's give it to
them now -- all fronts."
And he returns repeatedly to the idea of using poison as a weapon.
"Poison them as a nation..arsenic..anything slow would do," wrote
Abdullahmuaz on April 25, 2001. "Their water supply should be
another target..if you could open a gas pipeline and pump cyanide
or just something cheap like carbon monoxide even, that would
be good..this is a good recipe for spies amongst you as well."
"Keep quiet or do something big...poison their water supply..
[mess up] their air traffic or rail control...bomb their ammunition
depots..set fires..fires are so f-----' easy...you guys are not thinkin,"
he wrote on April 7, 2001.
His advocacy of a "rail control" attack is worthy of note in light
of the train bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004, which many
have called "Spain's 9/11." The poisoning of the water supply has
recently been shown to be an al Qaeda plan.
Representatives of the CIA, the U.S. Homeland Security
department and the 9/11 Commission were approached for
comment about this report but did not respond.
[Unpublished; presented here for the first time; this final version was written on April 25, 2005, updated 2009.
I should note that even the greatest investigative reporters would agree that a journalist is a citizen first and a journalist second, and they would also agree that if a reporter uncovers an apparent plot of this sort, he should report it immediately to law enforcement (providing, of course, that it does not violate any confidentiality agreements with sources.]
[PUBLISHED IN DETAILS MAGAZINE]
Choosing My Religion
Converting to the World's Great (And Not-So-Great) Religions -- All of Them
By Paul Iorio
If everything were to go wrong, it's somewhat comforting to know
organized religion would take you in -- no matter who you are or what you've
done or what you really believe.
But first you must convert. What religion is best for you? Which one
offers a sensible plan for eternity, no-fault redemption, praying that gets
results, easy admission to heaven, and a moral contract that's non-binding?
To answer these questions, I set out one morning to convert to the world's
great (and not-so-great) religions. Within hours, I grew certain of only one
thing: becoming holy was not the best way to expand my sexual options,
since many faiths prohibit even the most mundane erotic activities. Islam, for
example, forbids masturbation.
"It's a sin," says Abdul Hai of the Islamic Center in Chicago.
"You can't even masturbate with your wife?," I ask.
"How come you do masturbating with your wife?," says Hai.
"Mutual masturbation -- that would be okay, right?," I ask.
"I don't think so," says Hai.
So for those sometimes feel sex is too private to do in front of
another person, Islam is clearly not the way to go.
Muslims also bar lechery. "Even if you gaze at the face of a woman out of
lust, it is forbidden," says Muhammed Salem Agwa, an imam at the Islamic
Cultural Center in New York. (Sunnis and Shiites largely agree on such
I then tried the Mormons. First thing I found was they take marriage very
seriously. Not only do they nix sex before marriage, they believe in marriage
after death. This, of course, raises the question of whether one can file for
divorce in eternity.
"As far as getting a divorce in the eternities, I don't think so," says an
elder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. "If you lasted until the eternities
with your marriage, it's pretty much going to last forever."
"But if you do get a divorce in eternity, do you split the soul 50:50?," I
"Good question," he says. "I never thought of that. I'll have to think about
Judaism actually regulates the penis itself; circumcision is recommended
for converts. (For the uninitiated, adult circumcision is usually performed
under a local anesthetic and requires several stitches you know where.)
Next, I checked out the best ways of getting to heaven. For
Catholics, I found the password to heaven is a simple, "I'm sorry." Evidently,
the deal for Catholics is this: Commit any sin during the week, confess on
Sunday, and you're pardoned, no matter what the offense.
Catholics can even envision forgiveness for Adolf Hitler. "If at the end,
Hitler had been truly sorry for the things he had done, then the possibility of
forgiveness is there in a theoretical sense," says Father Kevin Madigan of the
Blessed Sacrament Church in Manhattan.
"Is there any point of evil beyond which you say, 'No amount of
repentance will redeem you?,'" I ask.
"No," says Father Madigan.
Catholics aren't the only ones with a loose forgiveness policy. Listen to
Pentecostal pastor Donald Lee of the Healing Stream Deliverance Church in
New York: "One of the people we're affiliated with is Son of Sam," he says,
sounding a bit like Dan Aykroyd's E. Buzz Miller character on the original
"Saturday Night Live." "We've prayed with him a number of times, and he's
really strong now in the Lord."
"That seems way over the top," I say. "If Son of Sam doesn't go to hell,
then who does?"
"He doesn't go to hell because he's totally repented. In this case, he really
meant business with God," says Lee.
"What sins won't you excuse?," I ask.
"When you experience the power of God and then you blaspheme it, you
mock it," Lee explains.
Other religions have their own quirky, irredeemable acts. What sin do
Lutherans consider unforgivable?
"To die in unbelief," says Dale Hansen, the pastor at St. Luke's Lutheran
Church in Manhattan.
"But then if I believe before I die, I'm forgiven my previous unbelief?," I
"That's right," says Hansen.
With this much forgiveness going around, heaven must be mighty
crowded, right? Not according to Jehovah's Witnesses, who claim heaven
has a tight guest list of exactly 144,000. Apparently, admission depends on
who you know. Each apostle gets to bring along 12,000 guests, says Elder
Eugene Dykes of Kingdom Hall in Columbia, South Carolina.
Despite stiff competition for admission to heaven, one can still have a shot
by following as many religious rules as possible. Among them are the Ten
Commandments, which raise complex ethical questions. For instance, would
I be considered unholy if I break the First Commandment by believing Al
Green is God?
"Oh, no, no, no," says Adriano Hernandez of the Broadway Seventh-Day
Adventist Church in Manhattan.
"Al Green is a great guy, but he's not the supreme being of the universe,"
notes Glenn Evans of the Singles' Ministry of the First Baptist Church of
"Believing Al Green is God means you're going to become a total servant
of Al Green," says Father Madigan, "and whenever he calls you on the phone
and wants you to do something, you're going to do that. I don't understand
how you can worship Al Green as a god."
"I think you're pulling my leg here," says the very smart Leslie Merlin of
Brick Presbyterian Church in New York.
If the Ten Commandments are strict, just think of Judaism, with its
additional 613 commandments. How do you know if you're violating, say,
commandment 537? "It's hard," admits Rabbi Jacob Spiegel of the First
Roumanian American Congregation. "We don't expect you to."
Most orders of Judaism don't expect adherence to their dietary laws. One
commandment forbids Jews to consume meat and any milk product at the
same meal, which rules out something as innocent as coffee with milk after a
burger. But Rabbi Simcha Weinberg of the Lincoln Square Synagogue slyly
reveals a loophole: "You could have the coffee first."
Islam's food restrictions are so strict it's a wonder someone hasn't
marketed them as a diet plan yet. Among the regulations, most devotees must
fast from dawn to dusk for one month a year. Does that mean not even a Slim
Fast or a megavitamin? "You cannot even take a drop of water once you start
fasting," Abdul Hai says sternly.
Praying is a good way to get your side of the story across to God. And
God reportedly understands every prayer in every tongue -- including
Pastor Donald Lee demonstrates his fluency in tongues: "When the spirit
comes into you, you'll be speaking in tongues -- cora ba shinda da ba sa --
like that. Like right now -- kara sheek a ra da ba da sheev ba ra sa. When I
pray in tongues -- cora da shotta -- it gives the Holy Spirit a chance to dig
But don't try imitating Pastor Lee, which of course I know you're dying to
do. "You could imitate me, but it wouldn't be by the Holy Spirit," he says.
"It would just be mechanical."
Islam requires Muslims to take comfort in prayer five times a day and to
turn toward Mecca when doing so. "Suppose I turn toward San Francisco," I
say. "Does that negate my prayer?"
"You can have a compass and you keep it with you," responds
Muhammed Salem Agwa.
Because I didn't have my compass with me, I decided to try another
religion. What about Christian Science? At the very least, it's a super way to
save on healthcare. I checked out a service in Greenwich Village.
The congregation, looking like people who wash their hair with bar soap,
sings Hymn 31, a four-four ditty with catchy lyrics like: "What chased the
clouds away? Twas love, whose finger traced aloud a bow of promise on the
Then it's open-mike time at the church, and a Christian Scientist with a
comb-over shaped like a gerrymandered congressional district says, "I have a
healing to share." Though the Scientists believe faith can cure any ailment,
this service was causing me sudden nausea. I left for the Hare Krishna house
on Second Avenue.
Approaching the Krishna center, I expected a lot of shaved heads and
chanters in neon orange robes. Instead, I found an almost irreverent
get-together of twentysomethings vaguely resembling Billy Bragg and
I investigated the Krishnas further. Which Vishnu god gives me the best
return on my worship? "Kirshna," says Akunthita Dasi of the International
Society for Krishna Consciousness in Chicago.
Must my cremated ashes be scattered on the Ganges River, or will the
Hackensack or Potomac do? "We just throw ashes in the lake here," says
Chakra Pani of the Temple of Understanding near Limestone, West Virginia.
Seeking something more earthly, I tried an Orthodox Jewish Minchah
service at Congregation Talmud Torah Adereth El in Manhattan. In a tight
basement with bars on the windows, men wearing hats turned the pages of
the Torah backward and spoke Yiddish in an emphatic fast-motion ritual. I made
a contribution and quickly left.
Equally daunting was a Catholic Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New
York. Inside, worshipers repeated "I shall not fear" as a cop patrolled the
north aisle and an usher prodded me with a long-armed collection basket.
Then everybody shook hands with one another on cue and filed out to the
sound of a barely audible organ.
A nearby Buddhist meditation service was a breath of fresh incense -- at
first. But then someone told me I was meditating incorrectly and needed
formal instruction. (In Zenspeak, I didn't know what I wasn't doing.)
My head was spinning in a spiritual vortex. I wondered: could I
simultaneously shave my head, get circumcised, genuflect, speak in tongues,
pray with a compass, and stop masturbating? It may be worth trying. It
would certainly improve my chances of getting to heaven.
[From Details magazine, October 1994; this is the way I originally write it.]
I interviewed hundreds of sources and attended dozens of religious services for this story. Here's but one page of several that itemize 32 pages of phone calls I made for "Choosing My Religion" (above). (By the way, it ain't easy to rack up 91 bucks of calls by making mostly local calls!)
FROM CASH BOX MAGAZINE
Locked in the Bathroom with James Mtume, Grammy-Winner
By Paul Iorio
To get some privacy for our interview, James Mtume, the
Grammy-winning composer, suggested we lock ourselves in the bathroom
at the offices of Cash Box magazine in Manhattan. So we did.
"We're in the bathroom now," said Mtume. "You've got to be
honest in the bathroom."
And the honesty started flowing like water from a faucet as I took
my seat on the toilet, and Mtume leaned up against the bathtub.
"On television, name one black show that's not a comedy," said the
musician, composer and former Miles Davis sideman. "You've got ten
We went down the list and couldn't name a single one. The point he
was making is that on TV and in feature films, blacks are virtually shut
out from serious drama. Mtume sees this as a major problem, and it's
one of the reasons he was attracted to composing the soundtrack of the
film "Native Son," among other projects in his career.
"The interesting thing about me having the opportunity to score 'Native
Son' is that it's only the second time they've given a black composer full
scoring rights to do what they want in a serious movie -- other than Quincy
Jones," he said.
Mtume wanted to do something different with film scoring. "I said,
'What can I do on a film score that's gonna make my stuff different from the
stuff that pisses me off from all the other composers who are staid and stale,"
he said. "You've got guys who do the same thing for every movie because
nobody gets on them about it."
Mtume tried a novel approach and went hunting for sounds to sample.
"I went to a tenement house in Brooklyn and paid the maintenance guy to
turn on his furnace," he said. "And I sampled the sound and fed it into my
"Then I took broken glass, threw it against the wall and sampled the
sound. I sampled my heartbeat. I sampled fingernails down a blackboard.
Then I put a kind of Hitchcock string thing on top of the broken glass, the
heartbeat and the furnace," he said, tapping the side of the bathtub.
The soundtrack also includes a rap track reminiscent of Grandmaster
Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message." "Rap is a very serious art
form, though a lot of people try to dismiss it. My concern is the content;
I would like to see more meaningful content in rap."
Mtume is currently writing a symphony that fuses European and
African classical traditions with scratch, deep funk and even heavy metal.
"It's never been done before," he says. "I've got one movement that's a
sixty-piece orchestra accompanying a funk rhythm band. Then there's
another movement that involves a group rapping over a thing like
Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring.'"
Mtume, who once had a number one single, beat out even Sting to be
the composer of "Native Son." "I'm associated with the smooth, pretty
stuff but they'll be no more straight Mtume albums," he says.
Sensing that someone might want to use the bathroom, we decided to
wrap up the interview. "This is really hip, coming to the bathroom. I hope
you know that," said Mtume. Then he sampled the sound of warm water
running in the sink, and we both laughed.
[From Cash Box magazine, January 24, 1987]
a scan of my December 1992 article for Spy magazine, the "Dylan-o-matic."
VERBATIM EXCHANGE WITH MEL GIBSON PUBLISHED UNTIL NOW
Mel Gibson on Moses
By Paul Iorio
Mel Gibson has long had a reputation as a devout Catholic and firm believer
in God. So, when the subject turned to religion during a roundtable talk in 1999,
Gibson revealed the depth of his religious faith, defending the Ten Commandments
-- or at least the Fifth Commandment -- as if it were literal and rigid law, though he
seemed confused about whether there were exceptions or not.
In this one-on-one exchange, I asked Gibson whether the American revolutionaries
of 1776 portrayed in his film “The Patriot” were morally correct (by Moses' morality) in
killing British troops. This was his verbatim response:
IORIO: IN [“THE PATRIOT”], KILLING IS OK AND JUSTIFIED AND MORALLY
RIGHT IN MANY CASES, AS IN “BRAVEHEART.” IS THOU SHALL NOT KILL
TOO VAGUELY WORDED TO BE OF ANY USE?
GIBSON: Uh, no.
GIBSON: Because you shouldn't kill.
YEAH, BUT IN THIS MOVIE, WOULD YOU SAY IT WAS WRONG TO KILL THE
GIBSON: It's not wrong to kill if you've got a good reason.
THEN THAT VIOLATES --
GIBSON: No it doesn't.
-- THOU SHALL NOT KILL.
GIBSON: [Not] just for the hell of it. [laughter] It doesn't say thou shall not defend thyself,
BUT AS A COMMANDMENT, IT'S TOO VAGUELY WORDED ISN'T IT?
GIBSON: [pause] Ah, it's succinct. Look, I'm not going to f--- with Moses here. [laughter]
[FROM VARIOUS PUBLICATIONS]
Live in Concert!
Reviews of Performances by Tracy Chapman, The Pogues, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Ordinaires, and The Replacements.
The Ordinaires at CBGB, April 19, 1986.
By Paul Iorio
The Ordinaires, a nine-piece band from the lower east side, played
a sophisticated collage of instrumental music at CBGB that was the aural
equivalent of a high-speed walk through Manhattan, absorbing Tompkins
Square funk, Madison Square Garden rock, radios in middle-eastern delis,
Indian restaurant jukeboxes, ghetto blasters, uptown jazz, clubland pop, and
the cacophony of New York streets, all of it seamlessly connected in a
non-stop style that knows no boundaries, just like Manhattan neighborhoods
which merge one into the other, with their dissonant jazz mixing
harmoniously with such arena rock as Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," which they
played by weaving the song's instrumental passages together until one
wondered how the song could have ever been done otherwise, which is
typical of the band's power, a power that turned CBGB into a Lincoln Center
recital hall when Barbara Schloss soloed on the violin, and into a Bourbon
Street dance floor when Fritz Van Orden tore loose with some celebratory
alto sax counterpoint, leading me to believe this band is so hungry, so eager,
so able to express the world around them, that they'll bend rock 'n' roll into a
hundred different shapes until somebody cries uncle.
[From Cash Box magazine, May 3, 1986.]
* * *
Tracy Chapman, Live at Carnegie Hall, November 28, 1988.
By Paul Iorio
Before describing what happened at Tracy Chapman's Carnegie Hall
concert, let's first picture the opposite of a Chapman show:
Chapman struts onstage in spandex and spikes, followed by her band
("My love boys," she growls), which includes Mark "The Animal" Mendoza
of Twisted Sister, and Philthy Animal of Motorhead.
"Yo, New York! We're Tracy Chapman and the Love Boys. Are you
ready to par-tay?! I can't hear ya. I said, are you ready for some maniac
music?!" She blasts into an ear-splitting version of "Money (That's What I
Want)," taking a solo in a duck-walk with her Strat between her legs,
segueing into a metalized "Material Girl."
Swigging from a fifth of Jack Daniels, she belts "Louie Louie," turning it
into a 12-minute garage odyssey. When confused fans shout for the sensitive
urban vignettes on her debut album, she roars back: "I - I - I just wrote those
to make it big! The whole shy thing was to get me some attention, get me
some -- "
Philthy Animal finishes the sentence, while pulling the ends of a dollar
"...to get some sympathy," he chortles, breaking into the opening chords of
the Stones's "Sympathy for the Devil."
For the set-closer, Mendoza plays Jagger to Chapman's Turner for some
bumpin' 'n' grindin' on a sizzling "Proud Mary." As the band leaves the stage,
one front row fan loudly requests "Behind the Wall," Chapman's sensitive a
cappella tale of domestic violence. To which Mendoza, visibly annoyed,
retorts, "Sure, I'll play it. BANG! ZOOM!," he yells, slamming his palm
with his fist. Chapman laughs rudely.
The fictitious scenario above seems, er, unlikely, if only because
Chapman, at age 24, has already defined an unusually sure and definite
public persona. Honest and shy, she set a reverential tone at Carnegie Hall, where
she played solo on a stage that was bare except for a microphone stand and
two small speaker monitors (not even a chair or extra guitars). This allowed
the audience to see and hear her as she must have appeared on street corners
in Boston back when.
[From the East Coast Rocker, December 7, 1988.]
* * *
The Jesus and Mary Chain at the Ritz, NYC, March 15, 1986.
By Paul Iorio
One of the exhibits at the 1976 Bienale in Venice, Italy, was a conceptual
art piece consisting simply of a mop and a bucket. It caused a storm at the
time, with critics and artists arguing its merits all the way to the gondolas in
the Grand Canal. Many people missed the point, think the artist was merely
trying to represent a mop and bucket; they didn't see he was presenting an
actual mop and bucket.
That work changed the way I see the everyday paraphernalia of the
modern age, which is one of the things great art should do. Ten years later, I
still don't see a mop and bucket the same way.
The Jesus and Mary Chain likewise jar out perception of the world,
making us hear the aural quotidian a bit differently. Like that mop-and-
bucket artist, the Jesus and Mary Chain are not representing this noisy
corner of the 20th century in their music; they are creating a piece of it. The
squeak of subway wheels, the boom of construction sites, the airplanes
overhead: the band puts such white noise over a candy-pop core to form an
original and explosive mix.
Their 35-minute show probably changed more lives than longer shows by
any twenty top-40 band. On the way back home from the show, for example,
the brakes of the taxi I was riding in squeaked. "Sounds like Jesus and Mary
Chain," I said to my friend, and we both laughed. But our laughter belied
something significant; our perception of everyday noises -- the roar of the
20th century down Third Avenue -- had changed.
[From Cash Box magazine, March 29, 1986.]
* * *
The Pogues at The World, February 28, 1986.
(The band’s first U.S. visit, recounted in reverse chronological order.)
By Paul Iorio
1. Mere Anarchy is Loosed Upon the World.
It's 3:15 a.m. at The World in New York, and The Pogues have just
ended their first show in America. It sounds like the Easter Rebellion of
1916 must've sounded, as the crowd, with raised fists and bottles, demands
an encore. The band returns with "Navigator," and vocalist Shane
MacGowan sings it in a voice twice his 28 years, swaying drunkenly, his
eyes fixed on some spot midway between orchestra and balcony. One half
expects him to break into Gaelic or tears as his phrasing makes lines like "for
to shift a few tons of" sound like "for the ship of Lufthansa." A terrible
beauty is born.
2. Twenty Minutes Earlier.
It's mid-set. This could be the show's turning point. Until now, the crowd
has been amused but a bit complacent about the band. Jem Finer tries some
banjo on "Jesse James," and Cait O'Riordan sings "I'm a Man You Don't
Meet Everyday." The audience begins to see the light. A fiery instrumental
follows, and the crowd bounces and dances.
3. Twenty Minutes Earlier.
The Pogues open with "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn" and the audience is
not impressed. One guy dances a mock jig. People laugh. They eye the band
with a gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun. Then MacGowan scores with
three consecutive blasts: "Old Main Drag, " "A Pair of Brown Eyes" and
"Dirty Old Town." The crowd leans forward.
4. The Previous Day.
All eight Pogues pile into an office on West 57th Street in New York.
They're feisty, anarchic and one hour late. Cait O'Riordan snoops through my
pre-interview notes behind my back and blurts, "Shane, he's going to ask you
about the IRA." The band looks at me with a gaze as blank and pitiless as
MacGowan talks about booze instead. He says he likes Italian white
wine, dry martinis and stout. He has vomited onstage three times, he says. "I
started drinking when I was about six," he says. "I started to have a serious
drinking problem when I was about 14."
O'Riordan is less forthcoming when asked whether she and Pogues
producer Elvis Costello are an item. "It's not true," she says unconvincingly.
[The two would eventually go on to marry -- and divorce.] What sort of guy
is Costello? "He was fat," she says, munching on her tuna fish sandwich.
And what kind of guy is MacGowan? "He's a lunatic," says Jem Finer.
"He's just a normal guy, a regular jock."
MacGowan smiles through ruined teeth and slouches on the couch like
some rough beast, his hour come 'round at last.
[From Cash Box magazine, March 15, 1986.]
* * *
The Toll at The Bitter End, NYC, February 2, 1989.
By Paul Iorio
Sure, the Doors were great, but they weren't exactly a funk band.
With the exception of several songs, the group was noted less for its
groove than for the rantings of Jim Morrison. Morrison, of
course, was a Presley for comparative lit majors, a model for generations of
poetically inclined singers from Jello Biafra to Richard Hell, who have
wailed loudly over, and sometimes without relation to, ace back-up bands.
It's not a pretty picture, I admit. The conscious mix of poetry and rock
often sounds contrived. The assumptions are wrong. After all, rock itself is
a jab at "high art" forms like poetry, an attempt to erase the line between high
and low forms. By fusing "poetry" and "rock," one is conceding the
But if in the course of rocking out, one happens to stumble into poetic
language -- aka, memorable language -- that's another matter altogether. Just
don't try it as a conscious concept unless you're a Morrison or a Patti Smith.
I'm not reviewing the Toll's show at the Bitter End because I think the
band gets away with it; in some ways they do and don't. And I'm not much
interested in the band's lyrics, which traffic in Morrisoniana, only less
psychotically and with an odd and disconcerting predilection for the
wrongly-placed comma ("The quiet stairs, echo beneath, my weighted frame").
But Brad Circone, the vocalist, is a star. It's not his voice, which is rather
unremarkable, but his antics, his barrage of physical self-abuse and
adventurism that is at once startling, dangerous and possibly litigious. He is
impossible to ignore, much like Iggy Pop, David Lee Roth, or an armed
In fact, it's quite dangerous to ignore him. Circone swings his mike stand
at fellow bandmates and audience members (one swipe at the press section
nearly caused one or two senior level job openings at major publications),
flings himself with bone-breaking force to the floor, falls back-first onto
wooden chairs, jumps on tables and thumps a mike on his forehead to create
percussion. The audience, many of whom must have once seen the Red Hot
Chili Peppers or various hardcore bands pull such stunts, were anything but
Circone's bandmates chugged on with workaday, we're-used-to-this-guy
looks on their faces. Meanwhile, club personnel scurried about -- I think
this happened while Circone hung over the crowd by a ceiling pipe -- having
But no, he wasn't finished. Circone raced to and fro, as if practicing for
Giants Stadium or looking for the mechanical cherry picker, the suspension
cable, the (dare we say it?) glass spider. Alas, it's only clubland, so he had
to settle for intimacy. He poured hot wax from a flaming candle on his face,
letting it drip and harden into stalactites. "This is the sperm of ages," he
intoned, Morrison dripping from his voice.
And then it dawned on me: The Doors. Would the Toll incite decency
rallies nationwide? Would Circone be able to sell his poorly comma-ed
lyrics to undergraduates seeking the new Lizard King? It depends on the "quality
of the music," some stodge might say. Forget the music! The music was
fantastic, I guess, I really don't recall; I was too busy dodging the base of the
mike stand at regular intervals. It was exciting rock theatre, the music was
just the soundtrack.
The title of their debut album, "The Price of Progression," tells much
about the meaning of their fusion of arty lyrics and rock 'n' roll. Note the
word "progression." It's what they call a "flag." Conjures images of prog-
rock, no? The Morrison/Hell(/Circone?) axis of poetry-rock may be the
verbal equivalent of prog-rock.
Prog-rock, as I remember it in high school, was a way to listen to the
stereo without feeling guilty about not studying trig. After all, King
Crimson's "Larks Tongues in Aspic" and Rick Wakeman's "The Six Wives of Henry
VIII" somehow seemed educational, what with their pompous titles and all.
Listening to them made you feel as if you had been through a tedious night
reading Chaucer and Spencer.
In college, prog-rockers often graduated to jazz fusion. Others were
driven to prog out of personal desperation. A couple guys in my dorm, who
had previously listened exclusively to J. Geils and Hall & Oates, dropped out
and turned to Weather Report, which they listened to solemnly, as if it were
penance or a way to finish a degree. After all, dropping out and listening to
the Stones and the Stooges all day might have made them feel they were
really on a slide.
Because the Toll's 10-minute-plus opuses are so "significant" (that bit
about "the sperm of ages"; those commas), and are about as danceable as
"The End" or Jim Carroll's "City Drops Into the Night," which is to say not
very, one wonders whether that famous Morrison/Hell(/Circone?) axis serves
the same penance function as prog-rock.
Still, revealing the possible motivations of a particular audience does not
discredit the music it listens to, I think. If the Toll inadvertently expose the
Door's lineage as neo-prog, then perhaps the whole genre should be
reconsidered with a favorable ear, if only because pretentiousness with this
much energy and vitality makes for such a good night out.
[From the New York weekly newspaper Downtown, March 15, 1989.]
* * *
The Replacements Live at the Ritz, in New York, February 8, 1986.
By Paul Iorio
The Replacements are from Minneapolis, where the Mississippi River
begins its long run, and though the band members may look like a bunch of
regular guys, when they get beneath the spotlights, they're something like
that big river under the moon in that their sound flows and roars and shines,
and the applause crashes like a cresting wave.
The Replacements are a force of nature, and as we all know, nature either
never knows when to stop, or knows exactly when to stop. Maybe "knows"
is the wrong word because these guys seem possessed by their talent, by an
accidental brilliance that comes and hoes at the whim of some internal form
of chaotic order.
But as I said, on the surface they appear pretty regular. There's Bob
Stinson, lead guitarist, looking like the older member of a teenage gang, in
his shorts that expose pale, flabby and hairless legs. There's Paul Westerberg,
the brains of the operation, with his heroin physique, resentful voice, and
mid-Seventies arena-rock hair-do. There's shy Tommy Stinson, the bassist, who
must have been all of eight or nine when the Ramones first hit. And there's
Chris Mars, a teenage rock 'n' roll drum machine who looks like an actor
who would be cast to play a drummer in a movie about a mid-Sixties garage band.
This is what grows up around that river.
They opened their Ritz show with Kiss's "I Want to Rock 'n' Roll All
Night" and closed with Alice Cooper's "Eighteen." Their roots are clearly in
mid-Seventies rock, and why not? Everyone has topical influences. Some
artists today were influenced by the Beatles. The Beatles were influenced by
Chuck Berry, Chuck Berry was influenced by the Orioles, the Orioles were
influenced by regional blues, regional blues was influenced by the songs of
slaves, the songs of slaves were influenced by African-provincial songs, ad
Originality is a foolish illusion; we tend to call artists "original" when
we can't figure out where they drew their inspiration from. Only one question
applies in pop music: does it hit you between the eyes? The Replacements do.
Though they seemed more comfortable playing cover tunes, they were
most electric on their originals. "Bastards of Young," "Waitress in the Sky,"
and (especially) "Hold My Life" (from the "Tim" album) fit right in with
"Let It Be" classics like "Answering Machine" and "Unsatisfied."
Like that big river coursing toward its upper reaches, the band got a bit
tired near the end of the set. Most songs starting clocking in at two minutes
or so. Westerberg cut short "Galveston" after only one verse. They ran out
of songs. They stopped playing.
[From Cash Box magazine, February 22, 1986.]
FROM SPY MAGAZINE
The Disneyfication of America
By Paul Iorio
Once upon a time, Spy magazine speculated about what would happen
"When Disney Ran America." It imagined Michael Eisner as president of the
United States, theme parks taking over cities, that sort of thing. Fictional
stuff, absurdly funny at the time, too silly to take seriously. Except now,
Almost every sector of America has been Disneyfied to some degree, it
seems. Disneyfication has come to every multiplex cinema, where Disney
flicks regularly rule, and at the highest reaches of pop music, where Michael
Jackson literally lives in his own theme park. It's in Las Vegas and Atlantic
City, gambling theme parks that somehow seem less real than Toon Town.
It's in shopping malls, those insulated mini-kingdoms that are spawning their
own fairground attractions. It's even in national defense, where the "Star
Wars" strategic defense initiative stands as the Pentagon's great, unrealized
hope of Disneyfying outer space.
And now, finally, American history itself is about to be Disneyfied. Plans
for a theme park near historic Manassas, Virginia, are expected to be
approved by a county board, thanks in no small park to a stunningly
expensive lobbying campaign that included the giving of Mickey Mouse
neckties to lawmakers. With Manassas virtually conquered, what's next for
Disney? A crucifixion wonderland in Jerusalem? A line of condoms made of
How about a Disney town? Believe it or not, Disney currently plans to
develop and build an actual town (projected population: 20,000) in the
Florida wetlands. The town is being designed as a sort of 1950s American
smalltown of white picket fences, clapboard houses and soda shoppes.
The proposed community, just south of Orlando, will sport the vaguely
creationist-sounding name of Celebration. It's not going to be "the kind of
place where everybody has to wear mouse ears," says Leanne Hand of the
West Group, which handles public relations for Celebration. (Disney
wouldn't comment for this story.)
So what will Celebration be like? "What I see is a 1940s Florida-type
community," says Chris Colombo, superintendent of the school board of
Osceola County, where the town is being built. "You're going to see houses
that as a kid I can remember very clearly. You're going to see upward-
mobility type individuals."
The vision of Celebration, in others words, seems to look simultaneously
to the past and to the future, or, rather, to a future as imagined by Disney in
the past, when an old-fashioned futurism of flying cars and magic potions
prevailed. Blurring the line between fantasy and reality even further, Disney
appears to be applying theme-park principles to Celebration: citizenship will
include free admission to Disney World and EPCOT center.
Not surprisingly, the town is also spawning a -- you guessed it -- theme
"You're going to see classes taught that are theme-oriented rather than
age-oriented," says Colombo. "Can you imagine a kindergarten student
holding hands with a high school student, looking at the flora and fauna?,"
he asks. "Are you familiar with the term 'exceptional student'? You're
going to see those students mixed in with whatever's called regular
There is also a question about the potential demographic makeup of the
town. The descriptions of Celebration ("like your hometown"; "a 1940s
community") combined with Disney's sometimes conservative corporate
culture lead one to wonder whether there will be much ethnic diversity in
town. After all, wasn't Florida racially segregated in the 1940s? Racially
speaking, isn't the town likely to be, er, snow white?
Again, Disney wouldn't comment on this or any other aspect of the town.
But Hand assured us that "Whoever happens to get in line and buy the house
first gets to own the house."
Hand explained Disney's reluctance to talk to me. "If you look at [Spy
magazine], you have to admit -- I'll admit it, I've read it before -- it's a
satirical magazine," she says, as if revealing some unspeakable truth. After
I told her that all sides would be fairly represented, she told me: "What I'm
gonna try to do is get some copies of Spy, because [the powers-that-be
at Disney], not being hip and not with the program, don't know much about it."
Then Hand inadvertently revealed that the ultimate in Disneyfication had
occurred: a county commissioner, she reported, "had his assistant call us and
say, 'I have this message from some reporter and y'all handle it, 'cause it's
about Celebration. Now what we need to do is tell him to call you if you
want to talk to him.'"
And with that, the Magic Kingdom inched closer to absolute power,
showing that even the government now comments through Disney.
PART TWO: PLANNING A DISNEY WEDDING.
Ultimately, Disneyfication invades even the sanctity of our rituals, to the
point where you can now have your wedding "themed" by Disney (as in, an
"Aladdin" theme or a "Snow White" theme) and presented at Walt Disney
World. (Still no word on plans to market Disney Divorces or Fairy Tale
Since Disney reminds us to tie the knot with imagination -- even though
the Disney theme park brand of imagination is conventional and banal -- I
decided to find out how far the company would go to make my wedding
plans come true, whether they would (in Disneyspeak) put the icing on the
street of dreams.
I phoned Disney's Rebecca Miller about planning my upcoming wedding
to, er, Minnie. Here's a transcript of our conversation:
IORIO: I'm thinking in terms of a kind of "Fantasia"-type [wedding].
MILLER: Absolutely. In fact, we have a ballroom at the Contemporary
[Hotel] called the Fantasia Ballroom. The types of things we can do from a
decor standpoint, as far as adapting whatever movie it may be -- certainly a
Disney movie -- there's no limit.
IORIO: Have you ever done a Dumbo wedding?
MILLER: Never done a Dumbo wedding. I can say I've never done a
Dumbo wedding but we've done "Aladdin" themes. We have done a very
elaborate "Beauty and the Beast" theme wedding where we've done literally
a stage show.
IORIO: What about at the reception having a flying elephant in the sense of
a helium-filled elephant in the reception area over the crowd? Possible?
MILLER: Possible, if we have one. What we draw a lot from are existing
things that have been in past parades. I don't know if we have a huge
Dumbo. Doesn't mean we can't create it. However, I have no idea where to even tell
you we're looking at cost-wise for that kind of thing.
IORIO: Here's another one that we were thinking of, because it's a personal
favorite of my fiancee's, and that is the "Snow White and the Three Stooges"
movie. And don't laugh.
IORIO: That just happens to be an old '62 movie that she likes. Now, the
Three Stooges, however, aren't --
IORIO: Aren't yours -- exactly. But is it possible to get...Manny, Moe and
Shemp or whatever?
MILLER: You mean actors?
MILLER: Sure. I wouldn't see why not. That's something that our talent
booking people would do, would put a call out or certainly do a talent search
for people who could appropriately play those actors, if you will. With our
resources being as vast as they are, I don't see that would be a problem.
IORIO: In terms of Dumbo's ears, can you get those? I know you have
Mickey Mouse ears.
MILLER: I do not know the answer to that question. If it is an existing
product, we can; when you get into copyright things and to things that are
very character-oriented that way, then it's probably not something in mass
quantities that we could have produced.
IORIO: And here's another idea in terms of adding some realism into it. If
we could get, like in a controlled container, cute mice, for example, maybe
ten of them or something. I don't know how appropriate that would be at the
MILLER: Again, I don't know about -- I mean, we have rules and things like
that. You mean, just having them sit there?
IORIO: Like Mickey Mouse. I don't know, I'm trying to picture how it
would even be --
MILLER: If you're talking mice, let's say from a Cinderella standpoint, what
some of the Cinderella brides and grooms have done in the past is to have
Minnie and Perla -- Is it Minnie? Is it Perla? -- the mice that make
Cinderella's gown...We have those characters...
IORIO: But in terms of real mice, though --
MILLER: Might be a little -- not saying we couldn't do it, but would they --
you -- they wouldn't run around, right?
IORIO: No, not at the [reception]. They'd be contained in a --
IORIO: A transparent container of some sort.
MILLER: I could look into it. Again, some of these are requests I've not yet
had, but no request is too extreme. What it takes is a little legwork on my
part, to make some phone calls and to see if something like this is even
MILLER: There are some things like that that may become issues. Yeah,
because people who want their dog to act as a maid of honor or as best man
or whatever, and unfortunately those requests have to be denied because pets
are not allowed. They are in the kennel location only; they're not allowed in
IORIO: Why don't we wait until I get to discuss this with --
MILLER: With Minnie.
IORIO: With Minnie. Let me discuss it with her and then we'll proceed.
A FEW DAYS LATER, SHE GOT BACK TO ME.
IORIO: The one other thing I had down was the idea of the transparent
container of mice. Is that going to be prohibited?
MILLER: The only thing that was kind of brought up to me was that perhaps
there would most definitely be a sanitary condition -- not certainly that they'd
ever be running around, but you'd have animals where you're serving food.
Do you have a number [of mice] that you're thinking of?
IORIO: I was thinking around ten of them in a transparent box or container
[placed] near the bandstand area. [My fiancee] was thinking in terms of, if
we could pin ears, Mickey Mouse ears, to actually have them be Mickey
Mouse mice. Cute little mice of a certain size may not be a problem; you
could get some regular paper Mickey Mouse ears, it would seem to me, and
clip them in a non-injurious fashion to the actual ears of the mice.
MILLER: The only concern I would have being that we were doing it is that
I don't know if we would want a real mouse to be in the likeness of Mickey
Mouse because we have Mickey Mouse, you know what I mean? Mickey
Mouse himself can come!
IORIO: So why have a fake one?
MILLER: Right, why simulate it with a real mouse when you can have the
genuine article there?
[From Spy magazine, September 1994.]
PUBLISHED HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME
Salinger Turns 90 in January
What the Townspeople Think About J.D. Salinger
By Paul Iorio
J.D. Salinger will turn 90 in January, which means he has
now lived for 56 years in the tiny town of
Cornish Flat, New Hampshire, in seclusion. By all
accounts, he’s still as reclusive as when he was when
je first moved to town on January 1, 1953, back
when President Truman was still in the White House.
The author moved there around 17 months after the release
of his first and only full-length novel, “The Catcher in the
Rye,” at a time when he was “tremendously relieved that the
season for success of ‘The Catcher in The Rye’ is over,”
as he told the Saturday Review magazine in 1952. Little did
he know the season had just begun.
The townspeople of the Cornish Flat area seem to have grown
accustomed to him and usually leave him alone to live
with his day to day life with his wife, a quilt and
tapestry designer around half his age, in a house
near a covered bridge (how fitting it's a covered
bridge!) that leads to Vermont. (He moved down the
road to his current Cornish house after divorcing
his previous wife in 1967.)
Most people in the area do not talk about him or
to him. But some do.
"People know who he is, yet he acts like nobody
knows who he is," says Lynn Caple, who runs the
nearby Plainfield General Store, where Salinger
and his wife occasionally stop in to buy the
New York Times and other items.
"Very straight-faced guy," says Caple. "I've only seen
him smile once. I've been here four years."
Other neighbors, like Jerry Burt of Plainfield, have
actually been to his house, which he says is at the
end of a long driveway and atop a hill on hundreds
of acres owned by the author. "We would
go over to watch movies in his living room and have
dinner with him," says Burt, who claims he hasn't
seen the author since 1983.
"He's got a big living room with a deck that looks out
over the hills of Vermont, way up high, very private,"
Burt recalls one dinner party at Salinger's house
twenty-some years ago at which Salinger, who is said
to enjoy health food, served meatloaf. "No Julia
Child," he says of Salinger's cuisine. And
the conversation was rarely literary. "He talked
about movies and the gardens and his children," he says.
The books Salinger usually talked about were not novels
but non-fiction works related to “health, being your own
health provider -- and gardening."
Of course, none of the guests dared to mention
"You'd never even think to do that if you were around
him," he says. "He'd just give you a look. He's a
very tall man and stern looking. You just know not
to do that. He'd probably show you the door and
say, 'Don't come in.'"
“He never talked about his work except to say he wrote
every morning faithfully,” he says. “And he said if I was
ever going to be a writer, I would have to do that.”
He also says Salinger has a big safe -- like a "bank
safe" -- where he keeps his unpublished manuscripts. "I've
seen the safe, I've looked in it. And he told me that he kept
his unpublished [work] there....It's huge," says Burt. "You
could have a party in there."
At one get-together in the 1980s, Salinger screened Frank
Capra's 1937 film "Lost Horizon," about a group of people
who find a paradise called Shangrila tucked in a remote
corner of the Himalayans. "He liked all those old things,
those old silents, Charlie Chaplin," he says. (His
description of the Salinger party almost resembles the
scene in the 1950 movie “Sunset Boulevard” in which a
has-been screens old movies for friends in a remote house.)
Another neighbor, this one in Cornish, is much more
circumspect about what she says about Salinger and
takes great pains to defend him. “He has been a wonderful
neighbor,” says Joan Littlefield, who lives close to
him. “The minute we moved into the neighborhood, he
called and gave us his unlisted number and said,
‘We’re neighbors now.’”
Littlefield spontaneously defended the author against
some of the allegations in the memoir by Salinger’s
daughter Margaret A. Salinger, “Dream Catcher: A Memoir”
(2000). That book claimed, among other things, that
Salinger was involved in offbeat health and spiritual
practices, such as drinking urine and Scientology.
“This thing about telling him to drink his own urine
or something that I heard that somebody wrote about,”
said Littlefield. “...I think that if any of these
reporters did some research into Ayurvedic medicine
or the medicine of China or the Far East, they would
probably find out that the medicine people over
there recommend this sort of thing.” (Ayurvedic
medicine provides alternative health treatments -- including
urine drinking -- that have origins in ancient
Littlefield defends Salinger on smaller issues, too.
“Absolutely ridiculous things have been written about
him, like that they had two Doberman attack dogs,”
she says. “For Pete’s sake, they had two little
Italian hounds of some kind that looked like Dobermans,
and they were skinny and tiny as toothpicks!”
(Our requests for an interview with Salinger went
unanswered. The author is famous for not granting
interviews and has given only around six interviews,
some of them brief and grudging, to reporters since
the release of “Catcher.")
Most other people in the area see Salinger only when
he's out in public, if at all. “He’s great looking for his
age,” says photographer and area resident Medora Hebert,
who has spotted him twice. “He’s dapper, very trim.”
“It was a long time before I could actually recognize him
because he looked so ordinary,” says Ann Stebbens Cioffi,
the daughter of the late owner of the Dartmouth Bookstore,
Phoebe Storrs Stebbens.
But Salinger himself has said that he thinks others don’t
see him as ordinary. "I'm known as a strange, aloof kind
of man," Salinger told the New York Times in 1974. And
some agree with him: "He's a very strange dude," says
Hanover resident Harry Nelson. Burt agrees: “He had a
weird sense of humor,” he says.
What emerges as much as anything is that the
author is a serious book lover and serial browser
who shops at places ranging from Borders Books to
the Dartmouth Bookstore. “He was uninterrupted
during his hour or two of browsing for books,” says
a person answering the phone at Encore! Books in West
Lebanon, New Hampshire, describing his own Salinger
“He does come in reasonably frequently,” says someone
who answered the phone at the Dartmouth Bookstore in
Hanover, New Hampshire, around 20 miles north of Cornish.
“He’s a pretty good customer here but doesn’t really
say anything to us.”
"He frequented the Dartmouth bookstore," says an
employee of Borders Books Music & Cafe in West Lebanon.
"I talked to people who worked over there one time;
they say he wasn't very nice, wasn't the most cordial
person. So I kind of keep my eye out for him
here, go my own way."
Adds Medora Hebert, "One of my daughter's friends
was a cashier at the Dartmouth Bookstore. And they warned
him, 'If J.D. Salinger comes in, don't talk to him,
don't acknowledge him.'"
And there have been many reports of Salinger
browsing the stacks at the Dartmouth College
library. “I’ve talked with people who have met
him in the stacks and whatnot,” says Thomas
Sleigh, an English professor at Dartmouth College.
Salinger is also said to enjoy the annual Five-Colleges
Book Sale at the Hanover High School gym, a springtime
sale of used and antiquarian books that raises money
In Hanover, as in Cornish, he keeps to himself. "My
wife [says] Salinger always said hello to Phoebe
and no one else," says Nelson, referring to Phoebe
Storrs Stebbens, who was a year older than
Salinger (and incidentally shares the same first
name as a major character in “Catcher”).
And area booksellers say Salinger’s books are
displayed just as prominently as they would be
if he were not a local.
Then again, Salinger doesn’t have many books to
display, since he’s published only three besides
“Catcher,” all compilations of short stories or
novellas that had been previously published, mostly
in The New Yorker magazine. His last book,
“Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and
Seymour, An Introduction,” was released in
January 1963. His previous books were the bestsellers
“Franny and Zooey” (1961) and “Nine Stories” (1953).
(By the way, The New Yorker magazine actually
rejected "The Catcher in the Rye" when Salinger
submitted it as a short story/novella that was
substantially similar to the novel, according to
Paul Alexander's book "Salinger: A Biography.")
In 1997, he had planned to publish a fifth book,
essentially a re-release of his last published
work, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which appeared in The
New Yorker in June 1965. The book’s publication
was ultimately scuttled.
But “Catcher” eclipses everything else he’s
done -- by a mile. It’s one of the most
influential 20th century American novels, a
coming-of-age odyssey about high school student
Holden Caulfield, who wanders around New York
after being kicked out of prep school. And
it's arguably the first novel to convincingly capture
the voice of the modern, alienated, American
"Catcher" was successful in its initial run but not
nearly as successful as it would become by the end
of the 1950s, when it started to turn into a
freakish cult phenomenon. To date, it has
sold more than 60 million copies worldwide and
continues to sell hundreds of thousands more each year.
Over the decades, the book has appealed to a wide
range of readers that even includes certified
wackos (John Lennon’s killer had a copy on him
when he was captured). So it’s not surprising that
Salinger has had to fend off obsessive
fans even at his private Shangrila of Cornish
Flat, which has a population of under 2,000.
“People approach him a lot,” says Burt. “And they
stole clothes off his clothesline. They stole his
socks, underwear, t-shirts. And they’d come up on
his deck. It’s a huge picture window that
goes across the front of the house looking out to
Vermont...And he said he’d get up and open the
drapes and people would be standing there looking in.
It really pissed him off.”
And there was also a much publicized scuffle outside the
Purity Supreme grocery store (which he used to jokingly
call “the Puberty Supreme,” according to two biographies)
in 1988, in which Salinger reportedly mixed it up with
a couple photographers who tried to take his picture.
But for the most part, people in the area don’t bother
“People in Cornish are quite protective of him,” says
Cioffi. “I can’t think of anyone who will tell you
a word about Salinger,” says a woman who answered
the phone at the Hannaford Supermarket in Claremont.
Apparently, Cornish is the perfect place to go if you
vant to be alone. “This is also a part of the country
where [writer Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn lived in his
enclave -- and his kids went to public
schools,” says Bob Grey of the Northshire Bookstore
in faraway Manchester Center, Vermont, referring to
the Nobel laureate’s former home in Cavendish,
Vermont, which is around 20 miles from Cornish.
“It’s the kind of place where, if you’re going to move
to be left alone, it’s not a bad place to be.”
[all writing and reporting by Paul Iorio; published here for the first time.]
THE WASHINGTON POST
Published by The Washington Post (March 24, 2002), with one of my photos seen here (of an eatery in San Francisco).
PUBLISHED HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME
Woody Allen Interview
(Exclusive One-on-One Conducted December 3, 1999, in Beverly Hills)
By Paul Iorio
QUESTION: A LOT OF ACTORS SAY THAT YOU TEND TO
GIVE GENERAL DIRECTION [ON THE SET]...IS THAT
WHAT YOU DO TO ELICIT PERFORMANCES?
ALLEN: Yes, sometimes I don't talk to them at all. If they have a
question, of course, I answer it. But I don't tell them anything. I
give them the script or their part of the script and they read it and
if they agree to do the movie, I assume they understand their
character, what they're getting into. And then they show up on the
set and very often they do it and they do it beautifully. Maybe
once or twice I have to correct them. But usually I don't say
anything to them unless they're doing it wrong. Or if they're very
far from what I wanted. But their instincts are good. If you hire
Sean Penn or Dianne Wiest or Hugh Grant or Michael Caine, you
don't want to mess them up. They're great and they do what they
do. So I rarely speak to them. And very often in direction, I'll say,
faster, louder, do less -- that's one of my big directions -- or I'll say
to them, "Look you have to come home into the apartment and
she's cooking dinner and you have to tell her you're leaving her for
another woman or something and you have to go from making
dinner to getting a gun to shoot her. And you make it happen. I
don't know how to tell you to make it happen. You just have to
convince me and make it happen." And they do. They make it
happen. The actor is a very, very strong tool to have and you don't
have to burden them with a lot of talk and conversation.
[WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE BEEN] A JAZZ MUSICIAN
OR A MOVIE MAKER?
ALLEN: I would've hands down been a jazz musician. Because
there's no art form that I could conceive of that would be more
pleasurable to be good at, to have a gift in, than music. The
response is so direct. I'm in a much more cerebral art form.
Automatically I've got to sit in a room and think and plot
characters and analyze their personalities and make sure things
work out...But a musician is gifted; he just kind of picks the horn
up and plays or sits at the piano and plays. You can be completely
illiterate and the emotion is so -- When you see these kids at a rock
concert, there're ten thousand kids out there with their shirts off,
the emotion is so -- You'll never get that [at] a play of Tennessee
Williams or Edward Albee or Eugene O'Neill or Arthur Miller.
You will never get that kind of response. You get a certain kind of
response. Or a film by Bergman or Fellini or Kurosawa or
Truffaut or von Stroheim. But music, it knocks you out instantly.
It's such a delight. If I could've had Bud Powell's talent, I would've
been very very happy with my life.
WOULD YOU HAVE RATHER BEEN A FILM MAKER IN
THE SWING ERA OR TODAY?
ALLEN: No, no, today is better. Because if you were not a
foreign film maker in those years, you were strapped into the
studio system of film making. And there was really no personal
expression at all. You had to fight and fight and fight. And I
know they refer to that as the golden age of movies but really when
you think of it in the United States, it was golden in that there
were so many movies made. The biggest thing in America was
film. But all those films, those thousands and thousands and
thousands of films, there were really very few good ones. Now
you may say, "Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and
Orson Welles." But if you add them all together -- all these terrific
film makers and their work, and each one had to fight so hard to
make a good film -- and you add them all together, they're still a
tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of films that were made.
IF YOU WERE TO NAME YOUR FIVE FAVORITE [ALLEN]
FILMS, WHAT WOULD THEY BE? DO YOU AGREE WITH
THE CONSENSUS THAT "ANNIE HALL" AND
"MANHATTAN" ARE YOUR TWO BEST FILMS?
ALLEN: No, not at all. They're my two most middle class
successful films. They massage the prejudices of the middle class.
And so they're popular and people like them. But "Husbands and
Wives" is much better than both of those films. "Zelig" is a better
film. I prefer "Bullets Over Broadway," maybe even "Manhattan
Murder Mystery." "Annie Hall" was just a likable trifle that
people liked at the time and "Manhattan" as well. But they're not
nearly as good as some other films. From my point of view, they
may be more popular but you can't equate the popularity of a film
with the quality of the film. Very often your most popular thing is
not your best piece of work.
BUT ANDREW SARRIS MIGHT SAY THAT "MANHATTAN"
IS YOUR BEST. VINCENT CANBY WOULD PROBABLY
SAY "ANNIE HALL" AND "MANHATTAN" --
ALLEN: They might say that. I don't know if they would say that.
I mean, they might. Certainly Vincent Canby has reviewed other
films of mine as well or better than ["Annie Hall"], he was more
enthusiastic about other films. So I don't really know. There were
a lot of people who went crazy over "Bullets Over Broadway"
when I put it out. It got some of the best response I ever had. But
in terms of popularity, you're always going to be more popular
doing a nice contemporary film about relationships that people can
identify with. And films that are fun but not too challenging.
BUT YOU MUST WATCH THEM OCCASIONALLY --
ALLEN: No, no, I've never seen any film of mine after it came
out. I made "Take the Money" first in 1968, I've never seen it
again. Nor have I ever seen "Annie Hall" again or any film of
mine. Once I put it put, I just don't ever want to see it again.
Because I know I would be sitting there, thinking, oh if I could
only do that over. If I could only get the money and call in all the
prints and do that over.
DO YOU REGRET HAVING MADE A MOVIE?
ALLEN: I don't regret having made them. I think some have
come out better than others. There are two specific points of view:
mine and the audience or slash critics, the public. There are films
that I've made that are considered a great success because I had an
idea and I wrote it and I shot it and I realized my vision and then
nobody liked it.
ALLEN: "Stardust Memories," for example, was a film of mine, a
very unpopular film that to me just realized my vision perfectly.
On the other hand, I've had the opposite come true where I've
made a film like "Hannah and Her Sisters" that was wildly
popular, for me, and I was very disappointed in it when I was
finished, only disappointed in that I had a certain vision that I
HOW CAN THAT BE? EVERYBODY LOVED "HANNAH."
ALLEN: Right, but I had a different thing in mind. It's a different
animal for the public than it is for me. I'm sitting there and I'm
thinking, oh god, I wanted to do this and I wanted to do this, I
can't do it, I've got to compromise and I've got to change that
character and that's not how her story can end and this isn't
working. And when it was finished, I put it together as best I can
and put it out and it was very successful, very entertaining to
people. But for me personally, if they knew what I set out to do,
they would say, "Oh, I see why you have failed, because if this is
what you wanted to do, this is not it."
WHAT WERE YOU TRYING TO DO?
ALLEN: There were a number of things in the characters that I
was trying to do, and the picture ended too neatly for me. I wanted
to make it much more that Michael Caine was back with Mia but
going through the motions. I mean back because Barbara Hershey
had married someone else and he's still completely in love with
her. And he was just sort of back with his wife now, like a man
who has some extramarital fling with some woman and he's crazy
about her but he can't seem to bring himself to leave his wife...And
he gets along with his wife, it's a partnership, but it's doesn't have
the same [feeling]. And I couldn't get that feeling into it. I got a
more of a cop-out feeling into it at the end where he was sort of
back with Mia, more contented, less anxiety ridden. And this for
me was a big negative. Whereas in "Purple Rose of Cairo," I got it
exactly where I wanted it. In fact, the studio called me, it was
United Artists, and they said, "This is a wonderful picture. Do you
have to have that ending on it?" And I said, "The only reason I did
the picture was so I could have that ending on it." I don't know if
you remember or not, but the ending was that Mia was forced to
choose between the real guy or the guy from the screen. And she
chose the real guy. Because you can't choose the fantasy in life
because that way lies madness. So she chose reality. And the guy
crushed her. The guy dumped her and went off. Because you're
forced to choose reality and reality so often hurts you. But they
would have liked her -- like at the end of "Splash" when he
married the mermaid -- to go off with the screen figure or to go
back into the screen or to do something where the audience went
out with a happy feeling. But that was a picture that I just felt that
I landed right on the dime. And to me, that was maybe my most
"CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS" IS SOMETHING THAT
COULD'VE HAD A LOT OF ALTERNATE ENDINGS.
ALLEN: But that was the ending that I wanted. That he hires
someone to kill the person and gets away with it and has no sense
of remorse about it. And is completely fine. He has a wife and
family. Because when I made that picture, my intellectual concept
to begin the picture was that there is no justice in the world, no
god, no justice in the world, and that if we don't police ourselves,
if we don't have a conscience, then nobody is going to police us.
So one person could commit a murder and be torn up by it
completely...And another guy could commit a murder and -- if he
gets caught, he gets caught and too bad for him. But if he doesn't
get caught, he commits the murder and he's fine, he's enjoying his
life. I mean, the world's full of people out there that have done the
most unscrupulous things, including murder, and live the most
wonderful lives. And there's no god to punish them, if they don't
have a moral sense themselves. So the movie ended the way I
wanted: I wanted Martin Landau to have eliminated this woman
who was bothering him by having her killed. And having a
perfectly good life with his family, and if it doesn't bother him, it's
not going to bother anyone if he's not caught.
BUT YOU HINT AT THE FACT THAT IT CHANGES THE
CHEMISTRY OF A PERSON WHEN THAT HAPPENS. IN
OTHER WORDS, HOW CAN HE CONTINUE TO LIVE THAT
FAMILY LIFE --
ALLEN: But he does. He's there with his wife and daughter at the
wedding and he's absolutely fine. He's aware of what he's done in
the story. But he's absolutely fine. And he's living in a nice
house, with a beautiful wife and a nice daughter. And the other
story, the subplot about me, Mia and Alan Alda: the fact that I had
wonderful intentions all the time doesn't mean a thing in life. Alan
Alda had the more important thing: he was a success. And even
though he was a jerk, he was successful. And people pay off on
success. They don't care about your good intentions. Now, you
can say that's a personal thing, for me as a film maker, and it is.
And it also operates for everybody else in life. The audience does
not want to hear what wonderful intentions I had with a film. Is
the film good or bad? If it's good, they like it. If the next guy's got
a good film, they like his film. They don't care what your
intentions are, that you wanted to do something great. And they
didn't care about my intentions as the character in that film. They
liked Alan Alda because he was successful and exciting, even
though he aimed low.
YOU MENTIONED EARLIER "BULLETS OVER
BROADWAY." WHY HAVEN'T YOU YET WRITTEN
ANOTHER FILM WITH DOUGLAS MCGRATH, SINCE THAT
ONE TURNED OUT SO WELL?
ALLEN: I don't usually collaborate. The only reason I did it that
time, Doug was a good social friend of mine, as Marshall
Brickman was a social friend and Mickey Rose, who I went to
school with. I write by myself most of the time because I enjoy it.
Then after a number of pictures, it gets lonely always writing by
yourself, so just to break the mold I'll call somebody up. And
usually it's a friend, and [I'll] say, "You want to work on a picture"
and they'll say, "Sure." And the experience of writing, just for a
change, is not quite so lonely. Because when I do that for four or
five pictures in a row, it means I've been doing it for four or five
years. That's the only reason. Some time again, I'll call somebody,
either Doug or Marshall Brickman, and say, "Want to work on a
picture?," and usually they do want to do, because we have fun
anyhow, so why not?
OF THE SEVEN PICTURES THAT YOU CO-WROTE, WHAT
WERE THE MAJOR PARTS THAT YOU DIDN'T WRITE? FOR
EXAMPLE, "BULLETS OVER BROADWAY": WHAT DIDN'T
YOU WRITE THERE? IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE THAT YOU
DIDN'T WRITE ANY OF IT.
ALLEN: That's what a collaboration is. When I collaborate with
someone, we sit in a room like this and we talk and talk and talk
about characters and ideas and where things should go. Then
when it comes time to actually write the script I go in a room by
myself and actually write the thing because I've gotta say it or I've
gotta direct it. They can then go home, they don't have any more
obligation. I want it the way I want it at that point. So it always
feels like me, because I'm the one always doing the writing. But
the formulation of the picture in a collaboration is done by two
people. So, many ideas I might not think of, were it not for the
other person. You know, you can never trace the origin of
something. I'll be siting with Doug or Marshall and he'll, say,
"Pitch a funny idea about pickpocketing." And then I'll say, "I saw
a movie the other day on television and there was a pickpocket in
it and there was a great car chase where the car burst into flames."
And then we write a joke about a car bursting into flame. I never
would've thought of that movie, and you can't trace it back.
WITH "ANNIE HALL," WERE THERE ANY PARTS THAT
MARSHALL BRICKMAN SOLELY WROTE?
ALLEN: Yes, Marshall Brickman and I collaborated on the whole
thing. We both did it together. That picture wouldn't exist
without him. We collaborated on every idea about Alvy and Annie
and how it goes and where it goes. All the hard work is that. To
me it's easy to write a script. I can usually can write it in, like, two
weeks time. Because all the hard work is done before. All the
hard work is done, where Marshall or Doug and I will walk the
streets or sit in my living room and say, "What about this?"
that doesn't lead any place." "What about this?" Then we're silent
for fifteen minutes. And somebody says, "Maybe we should
rethink this and start over. Maybe he shouldn't be a banker.
Maybe he should be a jockey." That's the tedious stuff. When it's
all worked out, then I can get in a room and write it in two week's
time. It's nothing.
YOU WENT BACK TO MARSHALL BRICKMAN WITH
"MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY." IT CAME RIGHT
AFTER THE SPLIT WITH MIA FARROW. WAS THAT A
CONSCIOUS ATTEMPT TO DO [A LIGHTER COMEDY]?
ALLEN: No, not at all. There's no calculation in the sequence of
movies for me... As a matter of fact, "Manhattan Murder Mystery"
was written long before that. It was going to be me and Mia, she
was going to be the girl in it. And then when all that happened,
she dropped out and Diane [Keaton] came in and took over. But
that was not even written after that. That was written during our
YOU DID A DOZEN FILMS WITH MIA FARROW. HOW DO
YOU NOW ASSESS THE FILMS YOU MADE WITH HER?
ALLEN: One thing about Mia, she's a very underrated actress.
She's a wonderful actress, she's got a very good range. She can
play comedy. She can play serious things. And she's a very
I did some of my best movies with her, like
"Purple Rose" and "Zelig." No, I feel I was very fortunate
professionally in my lifetime to have had a professional
relationship with Diane Keaton and Mia. Because they both gave
me great work. There was a tendency, I feel, for the public to take
Mia for granted and figure, well, she was from Hollywood. But
she was a much much more complex interesting actress than
she has been given credit for. When she did "Broadway Danny Rose"
with me, I thought she was just wonderful. And knowing her as
well as I knew her, I was able to tap her capabilities...If I just saw
her on the street, I wouldn't have known she could ever do
"Broadway Danny Rose." She's a wonderful actress.
[Most of this interview had never been published until now; a small part of
it appeared in my San Francisco Chronicle story on Dec. 19, 1999.]
CASH BOX MAGAZINE
Ray Davies on The Kinks
(Interview Conducted in December 1986 on West 72nd St. in Manhattan)
By Paul Iorio
IORIO: WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE STRONGEST PERIOD OF
YOUR ENTIRE CAREER? "MUSWELL HILLBILLIES"?
DAVIES: "Muswell Hillbillies" was a really strong album in the sense that it
worked as an album and yet it worked as an overall concept. And it said a
lot about a period in time, about a place where I did grow up, and it worked as a
piece of sociology as well as an album. It had some great songs on it. I would
say "Muswell Hillbillies" is a good album.
WAS THAT ALBUM REALLY SPARKED BY YOUR FAMILY BEING
MOVED OUT OF CALEDONIAN [IN A FORCED RELOCATION] --
DAVIES: It was generations before me. The book you read was kind of not
accurate. It was generations before me. What it was about was the movement
from the inner cities to the suburbs. That's what's apparently happening a lot
in America in towns where industry brings people into cities. Cities are built
for industry, and then there's no need for the industry anymore and there's no
need for the people.
WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST TO SOMEONE CAUGHT IN A DEAD
END LIKE THAT? HOW DID YOU GET OUT?
DAVIES: Music. That's how a lot of people still do....It's music or nothing
now though. When I started, it was music or the factory. Now it's music or
YOU'VE GOT A SONG "WORKING AT THE FACTORY"...SAYING
THAT MUSIC SAVED YOU FROM THE FACTORY YET...[THE MUSIC
BUSINESS] IS SORT OF LIKE THE FACTORY ITSELF.
DAVIES: That's more like my rebelliousness against the industry that I've
been involved in...All bands, when they start, they...make a tape and think
it's great. And to them, rock 'n' roll is freedom. It certainly was for me and a lot
of people like me...It was freedom from the sort of factory I was involved
in -- not literally a factory. I was a college student and I saw a dead end. It's
freedom from any dead end; the factory is a metaphor for a dead end.
Soon [The Kinks] became part of what has become an industry now, and
people depend on sales figures and reports from stores and all that. It just
starts off with an innocent piece of tape, with the band trying to make music,
and it gets taken out of our hands. I find myself in a sense being in an
industry that's out of my control, and being dictated to by an industry. And that's the subjective meaning behind the song. So you trade one factory for another.
DO YOU SEE ANY REALISTIC SCENARIOS FOR A REALLY
FULFILLING ADULT LIFE? I MEAN, THERE'S THE FACTORY AND
THEN THERE'S THE FACTORY: IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE SAYING?
DAVIES: The only compromise is to be a starving artist but that's not
to me....I don't like the business side of it but I have to live with it and
it because it's a necessary evil.....Fortunately, the Kinks have never been a
spendthrift band....They don't have their Porsche cars and in a sense they're a
working class band. And that's good.
HOW ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR
BROTHER. HOW MUCH OF THAT IS STAGED AND HOW MUCH IS
FOR REAL IN TERMS OF FIGHTS ONSTAGE?
DAVIES: I don't think you can stage a relationship like that. I'm not that sort
of person -- and I don't think Dave [Davies] is -- who can capitalize on it to
the extent that we will manufacture a rift between us or an argument or an
explosion at a gig. I'd rather that there wasn't a volatile relationship but there
is....If I could manufacture it, I'd manufacture it the other way and play it
down. Sometimes...it makes the music very exciting. Other times, it just
dissipates what I'm trying to do.
IF DAVE WERE NOT AROUND, DO YOU THINK THE TENSION
THAT CREATES YOUR SONGS WOULD MAYBE DISSIPATE?
DAVIES: I think that a relationship, if it's very intense, a compassionate
relationship, will inspire creativity. I know a writer, he's a scriptwriter, who
was married to this woman, and they used to fight all the time. Real violent
quarrels. But his writing was great. Unfortunately, she died of cancer, and
remarried, and now he's got a very safe home with a wife who doesn't speak,
and his work is very dull.
IS THERE ONE PARTICULAR ALBUM THAT YOU WISH YOU
DAVIES: Yeah, there's a couple that on them there's a few really good
Ummm. [pause] I'm sure there is. Yeah, "Preservation."
DAVIES: Yeah, the double album. Not because I don't like it but because
now is the time to do it. I wasted all my [theatrical] ideas then...
[HAVE] YOU EVER CUT VOCALS DRUNK OR IS THAT
JUST PART OF THE AMBIENCE YOU WANT TO GET ACROSS?
DAVIES: No, I have done vocals drunk. I have done vocals in various states,
emotional states. Sometimes you just go in there like first thing in the
morning, and it's the best vocal -- first take, when you're learning it. I do the
best vocal when I...sit down and sing it for the first time.
...DO YOU WRITE IN A STUDIO OR AT HOME, ON GUITAR, WITH A
DAVIES: I'm one of those people who writes when I have to. But I make
notes all the time. I have no one place where I write because I do travel a lot.
I love traveling. I think I write best in transit. I'm not one of those people who
says, "I'm taking January off and I'm going to write," and I go away to an
island and come up with all these great songs. Can't do it. And I'm not a very
technical guy. I've got one of those four-track machines but don't know how
to work it.
THERE'S ONE STORY I READ WHERE YOU WOKE UP ONE
MORNING [IN 1968] WITH THE LYRIC OF "WATERLOO SUNSET." IS
THAT HOW IT HAPPENED?
DAVIES: Yeah. [Nods head.] 'Cause I'm one of those writers that carries
ideas through, thinks of lines and writes them down and doesn't resolve it,
and when they wake up, they've got it. I did the last verse of "Lost and
Found" that way. Woke up and there it was...It's not that it's inspiration
from a heavenly body. It's just that I finally worked it out.
I READ WHERE, FOR THE INTRO OF "LOLA," YOU SAID YOU
NEEDED A GRABBY BEGINNING LIKE YOU HAD WITH "YOU
REALLY GOT ME."
DAVIES: Yeah, that's right. We had this twinkly beginning that sounded
like Donovan, some folky beginning, and I wanted power chords on it, but it was
kind of a tough song for that. I thought they were great chords on the front,
and I built them up with the National Ovation guitar...I bought one of those
for about a hundred dollars and used the Martin guitar and just double
those and gave it those powerful sounds. And it's the intro that makes it.
The first thing I learned from making records is make the first ten seconds as
great as possible. If you can hold their interest for thirty seconds or a minute,
you've got a hit.
But that was a long time ago. What you've got to do now is bore people with
a repetitive rhythm pattern for a couple of minutes. Then they're hypnotized
into believing it's great...Giorgio Moroder did a whole album with the same
rhythm all the way through. Did you know that?
NO, BUT THE REPETITION IS RIGHT. YOU DID DO [THE DISCO
SONG] "SUPERMAN" THOUGH.
DAVIES: That was half a send up....
....Ike Turner came to our studio once and he said, When everybody thinks
four beats to a bar, he thinks of two. So instead of going one-two-three-four,
he goes one [pause] two. So you are going slower, it's more solid. [pause]
What's happened to Ike Turner?
HE RECENTLY DID A PRESS CONFERENCE WHERE HE
EXPLAINED, "NO, HE DIDN'T BEAT HIS WIFE."
DAVIES: He should do an album called "Beat The Wife." [Posing
melodramatically, he savagely mocks Ike Turner, singing:]
"Yeahhh, beat the wife."
HE DID COME OUT OF A REHAB CENTER BUT HE COULD --
DAVIES: [joking] Call it "Beat the Wife" and have tracks on it like
[crooning] "I Didn't Mean It, Baby." [pauses] That's sad. I
don't think [Tina Turner] would've happened without him. But
she just outgrew him. I find her really inspiring....
YOU WERE QUOTED IN ONE BOOK AS SAYING THAT, FROM '73
TO '76 -- THAT WHOLE PERIOD OF CONCEPT ALBUMS -- YOU
SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO WRITE THOSE THINGS.
DAVIES: I should have taken a sabbatical and had about two or three years
off and done something else. But the problem with them was "Preservation"
would have been a hit show in a theatre -- I'm convinced -- if we'd been able
to tour it as long as theatre companies do tours and work it as long.
Sometimes it takes a year for a show to develop. But we had to come up with
So I found it difficult to function in the music industry and do the artistic
things I wanted to do. Theatre and the rock industry do not actually gel time-
WHAT EXACTLY WAS GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE DURING THAT
DAVIES: Things were going alright. But I think I had trouble
what I wanted to do with the record company. I went to them [in '74] and
said, "I really think we should make visual albums." This was RCA Records.
And they said, "We don't see that happening."
And they couldn't find a place for me. You've got to fit in a format because if
you don't, you become quirky, in the back bin at the record shop. The quacky
bin. Or the loony bins. There's a loony bin shop for bands like us.
HOW MUCH DID THE PUNKS SPUR YOU TO DO "MISFITS"?
DAVIES: It definitely inspired me to write "Misfits" because if you wrote
anything at all poetic in 1977 or '78, you were crucified. So I went out and
wrote a poetic song.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED THAT MADE IT SO YOU COULDN'T
TOUR [IN THE U.S.] FOR FOUR YEARS IN THE SIXTIES?
DAVIES: Managers at the time had a disagreement with a promoter that we
didn't really know about. I was about eighteen, nineteen, it was my first time
in America. I remember the first time I came to New York; I stayed in my
hotel room. I was too scared to go out.
But there was something we didn't know about...and we got banned. And it
was only lifted after we apologized for something we didn't do. Then we
came back and had to start from scratch. Because though we [had] had hits,
people weren't in tune with what we were doing, because the first time we
came here we had all those heavy rock 'n' roll hits....As we couldn't come
for four years, there was a big hole in our career.
BUT HERE YOU WERE WRITING YOUR BEST SONGS [DURING THE
DAVIES: Well, I felt anger. It was just a real frustrating time [when] we
couldn't get back. That's why I moved here in '78 and decided to give it a
crack here [in New York].
HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED TO MAINTAIN A CERTAIN AMOUNT
OF INNOCENCE AFTER ALL YOU'VE BEEN THROUGH?
DAVIES: First lesson I learned is to make people laugh at something,
because if you can be witty, it's the biggest weapon ever. That's why I write
sort of tongue in cheek lyrics. There's no point in trying to blow people away
with your guitar, and power chords don't do anything except give you a
headache. But if you can hit someone with wit and a good lyric, it's better. A
lot of my songs were inspired by...bad situations. So come out laughing!
[From Cash Box magazine, February 14, 1987.]
I've been a Kinks expert for as long as I can remember; I saw my first Kinks show as a teenager, on May 8, 1977 (see ticket stub), and snapped this photo of the concert (above); and I've attended and reviewed numerous other shows by the band since then.
FROM THE WASHINGTON POST
Exploring Kurt Cobain's Seattle
By Paul Iorio
More than eight years after his suicide, Kurt Cobain's stature and
as a pop icon have only grown. Today, Cobain and his band are enjoying
something of a revival, what with the recent release of new Nirvana albums
and the publication of Cobain's journals.
And in Seattle, Cobain's last hometown, mourners still gather in the park
next to his former house to light candles and write graffiti.
That house and other places related to Cobain have made Seattle a sort of
grunge Liverpool, drawing tourists who might not otherwise visit the city.
Never mind that Cobain started his short life in Aberdeen, Washington,
than a hundred miles south of Seattle in the lumber belt. The important
is he thrived and died in Seattle, where he also drank too much, played too
loud, got too famous, bleached his works, blew his cookies and -- oh, yes --
performed and recorded some of the most inspired and influential rock 'n'
roll of his generation.
For those interested in where Cobain rose and fell so memorably, here are
the main Seattle landmarks.
A. Cobain's House
(171 Lake Washington Blvd. E)
This is the million dollar-plus mansion in a pricey part of the Madrona
district where Cobain shot and killed himself on April 5, 1994 (the deed was
actually done in an adjacent greenhouse that has since been torn down).
Cobain and his wife, Courtney Love (who no longer lives there), moved into
the 100-year-old house, for which they paid $7,000 a month, in January '94,
and the neighbors included Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Howard Schultz, CEO
of Starbucks, according to Charles M. Cross's book "Heavier Than Heaven:
A Biography of Kurt Cobain." The three-story house is not
actually on Lake Washington but across the street from houses that are (it's
the same lake on which Microsoft mogul Bill Gates lives, in a house about
times more expensive than Cobain's).
On that property, on the morning of April 5th, after smoking a cigarette,
sipping root beer and injecting an apparently lethal dose of heroin, Cobain
a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, according to the Cross book.
Though he died in a city full of Nirvana fans, Cobain's body wasn't found for
three days -- and only then by a stranger, an electrician who had come to
work on the house.
A great way to see the neighborhood is to walk south from Cobain's place
along the boulevard, where there are terrific views of the lake and (on a clear
day) of distant Mt. Ranier and other snowcapped peaks of the Cascade
B. Viretta Park
(next to Cobain's house)
The park is the closest thing there is to a Cobain gravesite, which is how
mourners seem to treat it (though Cobain was cremated and his ashes
scattered in locations elsewhere). Viretta's two benches are fascinating
unofficial memorials, covered with heartfelt graffiti written mostly in the
manner of a high school yearbook tribute or a get-well message for a friend's
cast. Messages range from the irreverent ("Death with violence --
right here") to the poignant ("I wish I could've meet [sic] you") to the
("Alysia and Egan love you"), and there are a few anti-Courtney missives.
The scrawlings continue on the railing of the stairway that leads to the top of
"Kurt's Park" (as one fan calls it), where the best views of the house are.
C. Crocodile Cafe
(a club, restaurant and bar at 2200 Second Ave.)
The Crocodile, owned by the wife of rocker Peter Buck, has a reputation as
the CBGBs of grunge, though in reality no single Seattle club qualifies as
launching pad for that movement. The Croc wasn't even around for the first
wave of grunge, but it was right in the path when the tidal wave hit.
That tidal wave was the release of Nirvana's "Nevermind," which hit
stores around five months after the Croc opened its doors in April '91. (The
tsunami also included hits by Seattle bands Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, all
released in the same three-month period as "Nevermind.") Still, Nirvana
appeared here in the lean years and in fact played the club only once, as an
unannounced opening act for Mudhoney on October 4, 1992.
For Nirvana's concert at the club, the Crocodile was given several pages
detailed instructions ("touring specifications") by an engineer acting on the
band's behalf. Among the directions (leaked exclusively to me): "Ultra-
expensive mikes have no place on a Nirvana stage. Have spares ready."
Today, the Croc, a nearly 500-seater in the somewhat artsy Belltown
neighborhood, still features top alternative acts like the Knitters and Mark
Eitzel, with occasional shows by major bands (R.E.M. played the club last
year, and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who still lives in the area, shows
D and E. Sub Pop Records
(Original location at 1932 First Ave.; currently
at 2514 Fourth Ave. between Vine and Wall streets.)
Sub Pop is the independent record label that recorded some of the first
releases by grunge bands like Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Nirvana. Its
Nirvana offering was the '88 single "Love Buzz" (the band's version of a
Shocking Blue song), followed in '89 by the album "Bleach." The indie
a few more Nirvana singles before major label DGC signed the band in
January 1991, according to Rolling Stone magazine. (Nirvana's first Sub Pop
recording contract, dated January 1, 1989, is on display at the Experience
Anyone who wants a glimpse of the urban landscape of the early grunge
period should visit the company's original digs on First Ave., from which you
can see in a single glance the Moore Theater (where the band gave key early
shows) and the former site of the Vogue (where Nirvana first performed in
Its current offices have marvelous window displays featuring vintage
pictures and posters from past and present Sub Pop and northwest acts like
Nirvana, Beat Happening and Sunny Real Estate. (There's also a sign for the
Sub Pop Mega Mart, a label retail shop that has been closed for over a year.)
F. Experience Music Project
(in the Seattle center, the 72-acre site of the Space needle and other
The Experience Music Project (EMP), a rock-and-roll museum founded by
billionaire entrepreneur Paul Allen and designed by Frank Gehry, has a
grunge exhibit that includes lyrics to early Cobain songs (including
"Downer"), one of Cobain's guitars, posters for the band's early shows and
To the west of the EMP, at the current site of the International Fountain,
another Nirvana-related place: the park where the public memorial for the
rocker was held on April 10, 1994. The outdoor vigil attracted an estimated
5,000 mourners and is perhaps best remembered for Love's taped reading of
(and commentary on) Cobain's suicide note. Footage of the event can be seen
in the 1996 documentary "Hype!"
G. The OK Hotel Cafe
(212 Alaskan Way S)
The club, now shut down due to the damage caused by last year's 6.8
earthquake, is where Nirvana first publicly performed their seismic mega-hit
"Smells Like Teen Spirit." The three-band show, on April 17, 1991, was a
benefit for a Cobain friend who was in trouble over traffic tickets; Nirvana
began its set with cover songs before ripping into "Teen Spirit," according to
"Heavier Than Heaven."
"I didn't know what they were playing, but I knew it was amazing," a
DGC promotion representative is quoted as saying in the book. "I remember
jumping up and down and asking everybody next to me, 'What is this song?'"
(Nirvana's performance of it in "Hype!" is said to be from this OK
The club, which had been open since the mid-Eighties, is also famous as
one of the settings for Cameron Crowe's 1992 film "Singles."
The brick building is now boarded-up and braced, and its sign hangs in
the EMP. Visiting the place is a great way to see both Pioneer Square (an
important location in Nirvana history) and the effects of the temblor.
H. The Central Tavern
(207 First Ave.)
Just as Pioneer Square calls itself the place "where Seattle begins," so the
Central is the place where Nirvana began -- or at least the
spot where Nirvana was first booked to perform in Seattle.
Central employees say the date of the band's first booking was April 17,
1988, a week before Nirvana's first real performance in Seattle, at the Vogue
(though someone else who was there remembers it as an August show). All
agree the gig was notable for the fact that nobody showed up to listen.
According to Jim Anderson, who did sound for the show, Kurt & Co.
arrived before any of the other three scheduled bands. But the only people in
attendance were Anderson, a bartender and a doorman, so Nirvana refused
perform. "[A member of Nirvana said], 'We're not going to play for nobody,'
and they packed up their stuff and walked off stage," says Anderson. The
Central was also the site of another Nirvana gig -- on June 4, 1988 -- that
finally convinced Sub Pop execs to sign the band, according to the Cross
The Central, around a block from the site of the OK Hotel, was an early
venue for grunge bands, but changed its focus to the blues in the Nineties
before recently reverting to its rock roots. (A Seventies sign for the club --
reading "The Central Tavern and Cafe: Seattle's Only Second Class Tavern"
-- is on display at the EMP.)
I and J. The Vogue
(original location at 2018 First Ave.; currently at 1516 11th Ave.)
Sources say the first Nirvana performance in Seattle happened here on
April 24, 1988, back when the club was a couple doors down from Sup Pop.
Performing for a Sub Pop showcase, Nirvana (featuring Dave Foster on
drums), played 14 songs and sounded to some like Cheap Trick, according
the Cross book. Though only a handful of people attended, Cobain was so
nervous that he vomited in the parking lot next to the Vogue before the
Cobain himself describes the evening in a letter never sent to a friend (and
quoted in the Cross book): "And so after the set, a [Sub Pop executive]
excitedly shakes out hands and says, 'Wow, good job, let's do a record,' then
flashes of cameras go off and the girl from [fanzine] Backlash says, 'Gee, can
we do an interview?' Yeah, sure, why not," writes Cobain.
Today, the Vogue is in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and presents dance,
techno and rock shows. Its original building in Belltown is a clothing
store/hair salon called Vain that's close to many shops and eateries (nearby is
the Virginia Inn restaurant, with outdoor seating overlooking the
K. Moore Theater
(1932 Second Ave.)
The Moore, which claims to be Seattle's "oldest remaining theater," is the
next big step up for alternative bands graduating from clubs like the
to theaters like this one that seat around 1,500.
Nirvana played the Moore relatively early in its career, on June 9, 1989, as
a four-piece group (with Jason Everman on guitar, Chad Channing on
drums, Cobain and Novoselic) opening for Mudhoney and Tad, and
promoting "Bleach," according to the book "Cobain," by the editors of
Rolling Stone (Little, Brown). (A poster for that show is on display at the
EMP.) A year later, they were the opening act for Sonic Youth, an early and
avid champion of the band.
(1114 Howell St.)
This downtown dance/cabaret/rock venue was the site of the the release party for "Nevermind" on Sept. 13, 1991, from which the band was
bounced because of unruly behavior. Today, the club's co-owner freely
admits he threw the guests of honor out of Re-bar, claiming they were drunk
on booze brought in from elsewhere and were throwing food, though it's
unclear whether he knew who he was ejecting at the time.
It's worth noting the partyers were celebrating the release of an album that
the record label thought would sell only around 50,000 copies at best,
according to Rolling Stone magazine; it went on to move over 10 million
units, making it one of the best-selling rock records of all time.
[From The Washington Post, November 10, 2002; this is the original draft I submitted to The Post in May 2002 (give or take a few lines), not the version that was edited in Nov. '02.]
The Unraveling of Abbie Hoffman (Caught on Tape)
An interview with the legendary activist, several months before his suicide.
By Paul Iorio
IORIO: WELL, LET'S SEE. YOU --
HOFFMAN: I make it up as I go along. I call it verbal diarrhea...I go about
17 hours a day on five hours sleep. I can't wait to [he drifts off].
AND YOU GET PAID ONE DOLLAR A YEAR FOR THIS
HOFFMAN: I gave 'em back the dollar. Now it costs me $4,000. The
[unintelligible] costs $7,000. I'm saving up to $30,000, so I can sue the U.S.
Army for fraudulent ads on TV. I don't believe you become a super brain
surgeon or an electronic engineer by joining the army. I think you learn how
to clean toilets and kill people, see....
That's where most of my money goes. I don't think I had $11,900 net last
year, according to the IRS. I don't own any property. I don't even have
medical insurance. I have nothing: bonds, stocks, any of that stuff. I mean, I
aint Mother Teresa; obviously, I'm having too good of a time to be her. But
then again, I don't have a big sponsor like she does.
WHY DID YOU TRY THIS BOOK, "STEAL THIS URINE TEST"? WHY
THE SUBJECT OF URINE TESTS?
HOFFMAN: I wish it had been someone else, a conservative like William
Safire. I did it because I knew about this story, I knew the tests were
fraudulent for three or four years. I felt they'd be laughed out of existence,
which they would be if there weren't this drug hysteria. And two years ago, I
knew there was a tremendous expose in a fraudulent industry. I waited for
someone else to write it....And I had seven publishers who turned me
It's not a pro-drug book. Only television hosts call it pro-drug, because they
haven't read it. I've never met a television host in America who has read a
YOU'RE PROBABLY RIGHT --
HOFFMAN: I am right. I am. You can tell. If you're a serious writer, and
someone's interviewing you about the book, you can tell within three
questions whether they've read it or not.
YOU BRING OUT A LOT OF INTERESTING FACTS IN THE BOOK,
HOFFMAN: You can also tell whether they have an IQ below or above 80.
And how much their haircut costs. And that's about it. That's TV, the worst
drug in the country.
This book tour is what's getting me really riled up about it because here's a
book [that's] serious investigative journalism. And you go on [TV] following
a snake charmer, and you're out to talk about one of the complex issues in
the world, which is drugs. And the first question will be, "How is Amy
Carter?" Or, "Are you on drugs?" Or, "Where is Jerry Rubin these days?"
Or, "How does it feel to be an ex-sixties radical?" [laughs]
WELL, LET'S GET DOWN TO PARTICULARS. ONE OF THE SERIOUS
CHARGES [YOU MAKE] IN THE BOOK IS THAT MELANIN --
HOFFMAN: I know what you're going to say, that melanin will cross react
as marijuana resin. In the book it says that that's not true...Yes, poppy seeds
will cross react as opium, but you would have to eat about three
bagels....Impassive inhalation of up to two weeks: if you're at a Grateful
Dead concert and you don't smoke any grass, and you take the test, [he snaps
his fingers] -- Bing! It'll spot you just as fast! There are internal enzymes.
And then there are an unknown quantity that we don't even know about...
...People can beat the test just by using some of the chemical additives that I
mentioned -- that's what the book's about, how to beat the test! You've got
to fight fire with fire, the ridiculous with the ridiculous. But you've got to pee
in a cup to prove you're a good American!
...In 1968, the whole world was watching the United States; today, they're all
laughing. I mean, every country in the world has a drug problem, but we're
the only ones with a stupid urine test. Where people watch you urinate in a
cup, and that's supposed to prove that you're a good productive worker. I
mean, it's all a fraud! ABC, The New York Times, The L.A. Times: don't
you think they'd know better?
DIDN'T IT OCCUR TO YOU THAT MAYBE IF YOU HAD WRITTEN A
BOOK ABOUT YOUR SEVEN YEARS UNDERGROUND --
HOFFMAN: It would have been easier. People would've got up and said,
"What drug are you on now?" This book had to be written, this is my...most
important serious book. [Urine testing] is an attempt to break every union in
the country, to get workers fired regardless of civil rights acts or whatever...
This is crazy! This is crazy! This is the most serious invasion of our privacy
in our lifetime....If the general public knew the width of these tests and how
they were used as a mass surveillance device, I mean, they'd be up in arms.
Sometimes the people hate the government -- they're never there when you
need them. You know, they're coming in their bladder!
[Hoffman stands up, picks up a box and leaves the interview without even
IORIO: WELL YOU'VE GOT TO GO, I GUESS --
[Hoffman carries the box away, and stuffing falls all over the place.] "Is
this any way to run a business?," he shouts angrily at no one in particular,
walking away with the box. He committed suicide several months later.
[Unpublished interview -- several quotes first appeared in my article on
Hoffman for the East Coast Rocker newspaper. By the way, the ending of the interview is unedited and verbatim and transcribed from an audiotape that I still have.]
FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
All About Almodovar
By Paul Iorio
The sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960s came to Spain very late,
delayed by the oppressive regime of Francisco Franco. By the time Spain
arrived at the party, in the late 1970s, the festivities were almost over and
about to be displaced by the Age of AIDS.
So the art films of director Pedro Almodovar were sort of like Spain's way
of making up for sexual lost time. In almost every one of his films since the
early Eighties, his characters have had very passionate and sometimes kinky ,
sex onscreen, as if HIV had never existed.
His recent films, however, are more carnally conservative and emotionally
richer. "All About My Mother" (1999), "The Flower of My Secret" (1995)
and the gripping "Live Flesh" (1997) are more mature and less brash than
earlier movies like "Tie Me Up! Tie Me down!" (1990) and "Women on the
Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988).
"All about My Mother," his thirteenth picture, is earning some of the best
critical notices of his career. ["All About My Mother" would go on to
win the best foreign film Oscar a few months later.]
But Almodovar is reluctant to call it his best movie. "I don't think I've
made the best movie of my life," he says. "Because that means the rest is
just downhill. But it's true it is one of the most important movies
"All About My Mother" stars Argentine-born actress Cecilia Roth, who
plays a hospital worker whose son is hit and killed by a car; she spends most
of the rest of the film trying to track down her son's long-lost father, now a
transvestite living in Barcelona, to tell him the tragic news.
As in almost all his films, the story (written by Almodovar) is told
through sharply drawn and memorable female characters. Some critics have
compared him favorably to director Ingmar Bergman with regard to his talent
for creating complex and credible roles for women.
The reason he understands women so well may be that he grew up -- first
in rural La Mancha and then in Madrid -- with a closer relationship to his
mom than to his macho dad. "It's true that I listened to the women, the
neighbors and friends of my mother," he says of his upbringing, speaking
through a translator. "I did pay more attention to the women than to my
father's life...I refused to [identify] with the...machismo in the place I was
"So in a natural way, I felt more interested listening to the women than in
actually going to watch the men smoking and drinking," he says. "Even
though the women seemed to be completely submissive to men, they actually
managed to rule the house...Perhaps for that [reason], the women of my
movies are so strong and autonomous."
Another formative influence on his film making was, of course, the
totalitarian Franco regime, which ruled until Almodovar was in his mid-
twenties. Back then, the government created such fear that the director says
he had recurring nightmares about the police, nightmares that stopped only
when Franco died in 1975.
"I had nightmares, always dreaming I was escaping from something," he
says. "Always, the police were running behind me. I had [that dream] a lot
of times before Franco. And when Franco died, it disappeared completely."
He recalls the day-to-day impact of Franco's despotism. "If you're
discovered in the street [by the police] and you don't have your identity card,
He pauses and gasps a bit in horror at the thought, leaving the sentence
unfinished. "We lived in an atmosphere of fear."
Still, he managed to live a fairly ordinary life in those days. In his teens
and twenties, he worked for Telefonica, the national telephone company,
while making Super-8 shorts on the side. When Franco died and censorship
was eventually lifted in the late Seventies, Spain (and Almodovar himself)
came alive with intense creative activity in a cultural Renaissance known as
La Movida. The director soon became the leading pop cultural figure of
Almodovar's first films were released in the early Eighties, but he didn't
come to real international notice until his fourth film, "What Have I Done to
Deserve This?!" His popularity exploded in 1987 with his seventh picture,
"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," nominated for a best
foreign film Oscar. But the movies he made in the early Nineties are
generally considered to be of uneven quality.
In 1995 -- after quitting casual use of recreational drugs -- his career
its current resurgence, with the release of "The Flower of My Secret," "Live
Flesh," and "All About My Mother."
Though he's openly gay, Almodovar makes films that do not usually have
gay themes (with the notable exception of the 1986 cult favorite "Law of
Desire," Antonio Banderas's breakthrough as an actor).
Visually, his movies put a fresh light on the details of small lives,
sometimes revealing the Cubism in everyday life and making the quotidian
look downright abstract. In his films, we see characters in split mirrors and
split windows, through corrugated glass and rear-view reflectors, often
refracted and warped.
He tends to control every part of a film's production, from set design to
cinematography. Sometimes he'll visit a movie location before a shoot
to check out all the novel visual possibilities of a place. For example, while
shooting "The Flower of My Secret," he visited the offices of a Madrid
newspaper, one of the locations in the film. And he found that the glass wall
of the office reflected images of people in multiples of three and four, a
effect that became intriguing when two people were reflected
So he shot a scene between a writer and her editor in which their reflections
in the glass mix together until they look like one person -- an apt metaphor
their actual relationship.
Is that Almodovar's idea of a special effect? "To me, there is no better
special effect than a good line of dialogue," he says.
He's also one of the few directors who actually seems to prefer to work on
a low budget. "Strangely, now that I could afford to go to bigger budgets, I
realize I'm much more interested in the close-ups and the medium shots, and
that's the kind of film making that you don't need a big budget for...I
want] to make a movie with a big budget. I don't need it."
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, December 18, 1999; this is the original manuscript I submitted via email to the Chronicle; anyone who compares it to the published version will see exactly how lousy some of the editing was at the Chronicle back then ("arrived to the party" in the lede is just one of their brilliant edits!). _______
Brief profiles of Barry Sonnenfeld, John Woo, Andy Partridge, Warren Zevon, Troy Garity (the first story about Garity in any publication) and David Rabe.
By Paul Iorio
I. Barry Sonnenfeld Enjoys Punching Will Smith
Director Barry Sonnenfeld and Will Smith have terrific chemistry
professionally and personally -- perhaps too much chemistry. Onscreen,
partnership has produced "Men in Black," one of the biggest films of the
Nineties. Offscreen, their idea of having fun is fist-fighting, good-natured
intense fist-fighting, the kind that can result in an emergency room visit.
While shooting "Wild Wild West," for instance, their fighting had
consequences: at one point, Sonnenfeld was knocked unconscious by Smith
and, in another fight, the director literally broke his hand punching the actor.
Sonnenfeld has two white pin scars on the side of his right hand to prove it.
"Somehow I hit him so hard I ended up breaking my hand, my fifth
metacarpal in five places. In fact, you still can see where the pins were,"
said Sonnenfeld in a one-on-one interview in his hotel room, showing the
"Will [was] trying to teach me how to box," says the director. "You
know, Will's a large powerful man and I'm a Jew. So we would take turns
hitting each other in the shoulder...But the thing about Will is, Will can only
play one way. And that's full out. There's an on switch and an off switch.
There's not a rheostat where you can dial him down forty percent."
"My shoulder was completely black and blue and yellow and red and
puffed up and disgusting [from his punches]," he continues. "And Will hit
and I decided this time I'm gonna really hit him back hard..." And that's
the metacarpal thing happened.
At a press conference later that day, I asked Smith about their bouts, and
he told the story a slightly different way, while revealing another fight they
had had months before. "What happened was, we were shooting one of the
fight scenes," explained Smith. "And Barry has never been in a fist fight in
his life...So he sent someone out to get boxing gloves and he's saying, 'Will,
I'm watching you and I swear, I think I can take you.' So he puts the boxing
gloves and the headgear on. We're playing around, he's throwing
throw a left hook...and he froze and he didn't put his hands up and he didn't
duck and didn't block. And he took a full left hook on the chin."
Sonnenfeld's version seems more uncensored, which fits: he has a
tendency to tell the truth no matter who it might offend. In this era of
handlers and lawyers sanitizing virtually every celebrity utterance, it's
somewhat refreshing to hear Sonnenfeld speak his mind without hesitation
"The United States isn't fun anymore," he says. "It used to be a fun place
to live. You can't do anything now. Between lawsuits and -- you can't joke
around, you can't have a good time. Just like a really boring place. We're
Sonnenfeld developed his irreverence growing up in the Washington
Heights section of upper Manhattan. His upbringing was ultra-sheltered. "I
was once paged at Madison Square Garden by my mother during a rock
concert at two in the morning with the announcer saying, 'Barry Sonnenfeld,
call your mother,'" he says.
He attended NYU, eventually getting a graduate degree in film. After
meeting film makers Joel and Ethan Coen at a party in the early Eighties, he
worked for them as a cinematographer on "Raising Arizona," "Blood
and Miller's Crossing."
"When I was at NYU film school, if anyone asked me what kind of
movies I'd be directing, first of all I'd say, 'I wouldn't be directing, I'd be a
Federal Express delivery man,'" he says. "Because I never thought I'd ever
get in the film business."
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, June 27, 1999.]
* * *
2. John Woo Says He Has Never Fired a Gun
If you see a movie in which people fight with balletic grace and commit
violent acts that are as tightly choreographed as some Broadway musicals,
that can only mean one thing: John Woo directed it.
Even in the least of his films -- say, "Mission Impossible 2" -- the action
imagery is memorable. In one scene in that summer blockbuster, Tom
Cruise's character jumps on one of the villains and twists him into the
like a corkscrew; in another, two motorcyclists (who are about to crash
head-on into each other) simultaneously jump off their bikes and collide in
Woo says the motorcycle scene was inspired by the 1953 film "Knights
of the Round Table." "There are two knights and they are both on horses...
and they're holding long spears and they charge into each other and collide
with the spears and they stick each other," says Woo. "So that idea came
from ['Round Table']."
But most of his ideas of onscreen violence seem to come from his own
experience; Woo grew up in the slums of Hong Kong (after moving from
Canton, China, at age four), and spent much of his childhood fending off
assaults from gangsters and thugs.
"The place I grew up was pretty rough," he says. "I [had] to deal with
the gangs almost every day. They tried to make me join them. So I [had] to
fight back very hard. I almost got beat up everyday. First thing in the
morning, I [had] to grab something -- a stick or iron bar or brick -- and use it
as a weapon before I left home."
Woo was rescued from the slums by financial assistance from an
American family, which enabled him to get an education. He began making
feature films in 1974, starting with kung-fu movies, moving to comedies,
and progressing in the late-Eighties to the innovative action films that have
become his trademark. His Hong Kong movies "Bullet in the Head" (1990)
and "The Killer" (1989) are considered his best by many (including
Woo himself); his most recent films, "Broken Arrow" ('96) and "Face/Off"
('97), are his most commercially successful. In '92, he moved to Los
Angeles, where he now lives with his wife and three children.
He traces much of his cinematic style to his childhood fondness for
dance and musicals. "I loved dancing so much that [that] gave me the
inspiration when I'm creating action scenes," he says. "I've never...fired a
gun, [so I'm] just using my imagination. And I like watching martial arts movies.
So I feel like I'm making a musical and a martial arts film."
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, May 21, 2000.]
* * *
3. XTC's Andy Partridge on God.
Over a cup of tea at Warner Bros. Records in New York, Andy
Partridge, the reclusive leader of the band XTC, talked about the furor
over his controversial song "Dear God," which had just been released.
The song, which calls the Bible "junk" and says God is "always letting us
humans down," caused listeners to call in bomb threats when it was aired
on radio stations in Florida and Texas.
"At the radio station in Florida, a man phoned in and said, 'If you don't
take that record off the air, I'm gonna bomb the station, and I mean it!,"
says Partridge. "One of God's little henchman doing his stuff."
But Partridge is not one of those pop stars who gives contrite interviews
after a controversy and says how sorry he is if he offended anyone. No, he
stands by what he wrote -- and says he should've come on even stronger.
"It didn't get over my opinions in as pointed a way as I wanted to get them
over," he says.
"The record seems to be working, because people listen to it or are
reacting against it, so somebody up there likes me," says Partridge, laughing.
Clearly, he is no fan of religion. "God must be a real mean character,"
he says. "If there is a god, he's not this kind of famous aged English actor.
It's not Sir John Gielgud saying, 'Come in, my boy.'"
"What does God do? He wakes up in the morning and says, 'I think I'll
wipe out a busload of Sri Lankans today," says Partridge. "I mean, that's
His view of heaven? "You can imagine what a lazy place heaven must
be," he says. "You can't get a drink, no sex, no nothing. And the art music --
[From Cash Box magazine, July 4, 1987]
* * *
4. Warren Zevon, On Meeting Bob Dylan For the First Time.
(Conducted in July 1987 in New York.)
IORIO: DO YOU WRITE ON PIANO?
ZEVON: I actually write more on guitar. It depends on what year it is and
what my circumstances are.
DO YOU MEAN YOU'LL WRITE ON PIANO IF THERE'S A CERTAIN
TYPE OF THING GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE?
ZEVON: Like a residence!
A PIANO'S A PERMANENT THING. BUT THERE SEEMS TO BE TWO
STRAINS OF SONGS, AT LEAST: THE "RECONSIDER ME"S AND
THE MORE FLAMBOYANT SONGS. DO YOU COMPOSE ONE TYPE
ON PIANO AND THE OTHER ON GUITAR?
ZEVON: I think that the answer is yes, the way you're implying your
question. It kind of comes from the characteristics of the instruments. "The
Heartache"'s a piano song, for sure. "Boom Boom [Mancini]"'s a guitar song,
though sometimes I end up switching instruments. For the most part, that's
true: there are piano types of songs and guitar types of songs.
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO WRITE A NOVEL?
BUT YOUR LYRICS READ [LIKE A NOVEL]. IT SEEMS YOU MIGHT
HAVE TRIED POETRY OR A BOOK.
ZEVON: No. [pause] I had a friend...a journalist, who said to me, You ever
try writing prose? And I gave him the same answer: it was all I could do to
squeeze out barely enough lyrics. He said, "You should at least keep a
journal." And I said, "No, no, no, I can't do that." And he said, "Just write
down what you eat and eventually you'll be filling a page." So I wrote down
what I ate but don't write a lot more than what I ate.
WHO WAS THE BIGGEST POP MUSIC INFLUENCE ON YOU WHEN
YOU WERE GROWING UP? DYLAN?
ZEVON: Yeah, I had the first Dylan album. I was going through the
evolution you make in folk music, which is to start with the Kingston Trio
and work your way back to the sources until you get to the cardboard
covered albums, the Folkways stuff, which is where it all comes from....Here
this guy exploded in the midst of all that. Dylan was undoubtedly the largest
DYLAN PLAYS ON "THE FACTORY": HOW DID YOU MEET UP
ZEVON: He just came down one day.
SIMPLE AS THAT?
ZEVON: I had never met him. He had been one of my heroes, for sure. He
invented my job. And I walked into the studio about two months into the
[sessions for "Sentimental Hygiene"], and the receptionist said, "Bob Dylan's
waiting." There he was. And he said, Well, I like your songs." And I said,
"I like your songs, too, Bob." [laughs] And he told me that he'd known about
them, since we had a mutual friend in T Bone Burnett, and he introduced
him to the songs. I took him in and played the roughs for him, and a couple
months later, when we needed a harmonica, we asked him to do it.
[From Cash Box magazine, July 18, 1987]
FROM THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
5. The Latest Actor from the Fonda Dynasty
(The first story anywhere about Troy Garity)
Troy Garity has a lot of family heritage to live up to.
His father, politician and former anti-war activist Tom Hayden, made
history by leading demonstrations against the Vietnam War during the
Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. His mother is actress
This month, Garity, 25, is following in the footsteps of both sides of his
family. He's not only acting in his first feature film -- "Abbie!," a biopic
about yippie founder Abbie Hoffman -- but he's appearing in the movie
"I'm very proud to play my father," says Garity as he eats green grapes at a
restaurant on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. "My father literally risked his
life to make...the world a better place for me to grow up in."
And Garity seems equally proud of his mom's side of the family. This
latest actor from the Fonda Dynasty is an unabashed fan
of the Fonda movies, which now span 63 years of cinema, from Henry's "The
Farmer Takes A Wife" in 1935 to Troy's small part in "Abbie!" ("'Klute' is
brilliant," he says of the 1971 picture for which his mom won a Best Actress
Oscar. His uncle Peter's "Easy Rider"? "Loved it," he says. His grandad's
"The Grapes of Wrath"? "I like 'El Norte' better than 'Grapes of Wrath'
because I can relate to it more," he says.)
How good an actor is he? "The work that he has done on this movie is
very powerful...and has nothing to do with his heritage," says Robert
Greenwald, the director of "Abbie!" "It has to do with his talent."
He's becoming an actor at around the same age as his famous relatives;
Jane made her screen debut at age 23 ("Tall Story"), Peter at 24 ("Tammy
and the Doctor"), and cousin Bridget at 24 ("Aria"). (Hayden claims Garity,
as a seven-year old, was also in "On Golden Pond.") And he's also just two
years younger than Hayden was at the time of the Chicago riots.
Though he obviously has no first-hand memories of the Sixties, he does
vividly recall the aftermath, growing up in the Santa Monica family of two
The Fonda-Hayden household was often under siege for political reasons,
according to Garity. He remembers that his parents had to staple chicken-
wire to all the windows because people kept throwing things at the house.
On some mornings, Hayden or Fonda greeted the new day by checking the
family car for bombs. When traveling, they had to contend with hostile
picketers at the airport shouting threats at them. "[People were] talking
about feeding my family to the whales," recalls Garity. [Hayden and
Fonda are now divorced; Fonda did not respond to repeated requests for an
This is the era that Greenwald ("The Burning Bed," "Sweet Hearts Dance")
is trying to recreate in "Abbie!," which stars Vincent D'Onofrio as Hoffman
[the film was eventually released as "Steal This Movie"]. The movie tells the
story of the protests outside the Democratic Convention that nominated
Hubert Humphrey for president on August 28, 1968. In real life, the
demonstrations turned violent as Chicago cops beat and clubbed protesters
and others -- Hayden himself was thrown through a closed window at the
Conrad Hilton -- in what a government report later called "a police riot."
The film also dramatizes the chaotic Chicago Seven trial, in which Hayden,
Hoffman and five others were charged with conspiring to disrupt the
Convention. The trial ended with acquittal for all on the conspiracy charges,
though five were convicted of trying to incite a riot. All convictions (except
those for contempt) were overturned on appeal in 1972.
Nine months later, Hoffman was arrested on unrelated charges of selling
$36,000 of cocaine to an undercover police officer; he became a fugitive in
1974, surrendered to authorities in 1980, served a brief jail term, and
committed suicide in 1989 at the age of 52.
"Abbie got banged up a lot, he got hurt a lot, he had alot of guts," says
Hayden. "He would have highs and lows and be fighting all kinds of inner
demons all the time."
Unlike Hoffman, Hayden emerged from the turbulence of the trial with his
well-being intact, his eye on public office -- and a newborn son. (In fact,
Troy was actually present at the final Chicago trial that cleared the Seven of
contempt in '73.)
In many ways, Garity looks and sounds much like his dad circa 1968. The
deliberate cadence and careful pacing of his speech, the Zen silences and dry
wit, and his love of political heroism are all pure Hayden.
Greenwald notes the family resemblance. "We're sitting in the very first
rehearsal on the first day and one of the actors who plays a scene with
[Garity] turns to me and says, 'Boy, it's uncanny the resemblance that Troy
has to Tom Hayden,' and didn't know. So I pull Troy aside and said, 'Troy,
let me ask you a question: how do you feel? Do you want me to tell people
or would you rather people not know?' And he...turns to me and said, 'I'm
proud of my dad; I want everyone to know.'"
"There is an uncanny resemblance," agrees Hayden. "I think
he's quite a handsome guy and I always thought I was the ugly one in
the crowd." Hayden also sees another family link: "He has some of
Henry Fonda's qualities: he sketches and paints."
Garity may have been a natural to play his dad, but he still spent time
researching the role. "He followed his father around for a week in the house,
kind of imitating him and getting down his mannerisms," says Greenwald.
"It's such a wonderful father-son story."
"I watched about eight hours of old videotapes of my father [in
preparation for the film]," says Garity. "We had some really nice talks
about...his personal life." ("What a great therapeutic experience for a father
and son," says Hayden, who was estranged from his own father for many
"He's got to be his own man...I don't want him to be a carbon copy of me,"
says Hayden, adding drolly: "[Except] for this week [when he's shooting the
film]. Everyone is entitled to one week when their son is them."
Garity -- who grew up in Santa Monica on the border of Venice -- never
sounds so much like his father as when he gets passionate about a political
issue, such as the troubles in Northern Ireland, where Garity recently served
as a peacekeeper. But he declares he'll ever run for public office, despite the
fact that he's already involved in community organizing and gang
"I'll never run for office, I don't have that ability," he says in a way that
seems to invite someone to contradict him. Somebody interjects that he
already sounds like a political candidate, denials and all. Garity smiles, looks
a bit flattered and changes his tune somewhat: "I haven't defined my platform
[From the Los Angeles Times, September 1998.]
* * *
FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
6. David Rabe Considers...Suicide
In his new two-act play, "A Question of Mercy," David Rabe explains in
explicit detail how to reliably and painlessly kill yourself.
"What you must above all do is take little sips [of water], and only one
[barbiturate] at a time or you will vomit them up," says the doctor to an
AIDS patient in the play. "Tiny, tiny sips. As little water as possible...You
must not take them too fast or with too much water...And yet, you must not
go too slowly. That's the paradox. Because if you go too slowly, if you take
too much time, the drug begins to effect you and slow you before you're
If this sounds medically accurate, that's because it is. The play is about a
real-life case of doctor-assisted suicide that was first reported in an article by
physician Richard Selzer in The New York Times Magazine.
But don't mistake "Mercy" for a simple tract for assisted suicide. In fact
the work can be interpreted as both opposing and favoring euthanasia.
How does Rabe feel about assisted suicide? "My own feeling is that a
doctor who makes a regular practice of it, I'm not so sure about," says the 58-
year-old author of such plays as "Hurly Burly" and "Streamers," and of
feature film screenplays for "Casualties of War" and "I'm Dancing As Fast
I Can." "But for [a patient] who requested it, I don't have any moral
condemnation of it at all. I have serious questions about the legalization of
it...I fear it would be used to empty hospital beds."
Has Rabe ever considered killing himself? He pauses, and answers
carefully. "Suicide is in a lot of my plays, one way or another," he says, as if
just now realizing that fact. "What does that mean? Have I ever seriously
[considered suicide]? No. Has [suicide] crossed my mind? Sure."
Suicide turns up in many of Rabe's plays, including "Mercy,"
"Sticks and Bones," and "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can."
In "Mercy," Rabe makes a fresh point about the subject: one can't will
death by suicide, because one can't will an unknown entity, which is what
death is; even our best knowledge about death is still speculative at best, he
notes. "That's what [the doctor in the play] is saying: 'you are delivering
yourself to something [through suicide], but you really don't know what it is.'
And nobody knows for sure."
Rabe first became acquainted with death during the Vietnam War, when
he served in the Army at a hospital in Long Bihn, tending to the freshly
wounded and dying. "The worst times were when [the mass casualties]
so large they were not only -- " He stops the sentence, as if knocked off
course by a traumatic memory. "I remember once we had to move out of our
barracks and make room for casualties."
Vietnam is clearly the demarcation line between then and now for Rabe
and the key to understanding his life and work.
Before Vietnam, Rabe was an Iowa innocent, a graduate of a Catholic
high school and a Catholic college in his Dubuque hometown, the son of a
history teacher turned meatpacker. His big early ambition was to be a pro
football player (he's 6'2"). By the time he received his draft notice in '65, he
was living in Pennsylvania, a recent drop-out from the graduate theater
program at Villanova University. And he supported the war.
When he returned from Vietnam in early 1967, he was fundamentally
changed. He had left his Iowa innocence and devout Catholicism back in
rice fields and had come to oppose the war. He became involved in
Hinduism. And he now saw a huge gap between his new level of life
experience and the astonishing degree of naivete in those who stayed home.
He also clearly saw there was no threat to America whatsoever posed by
the Viet Cong. "You come back here after Vietnam, it was obvious that
everything was just fine [in the U.S.], there was no real threat, it was an
imagined threat that was then manipulated for whatever purpose," he says.
"I still don't know what the purpose was, the real purpose. I always think
there was something under it that has still never come to light."
Still, Rabe is no pacifist. His idea of a real-life war hero is a guy like
Hugh Thompson, the U.S. Army helicopter pilot who courageously aimed a
machine gun at his fellow American soldiers to stop them from murdering
Vietnamese civilians at My Lai in 1968.
"That's an amazing guy," says Rabe of Thompson, showing more
enthusiasm than at any other point in the interview. "He came in, he saw
chaos, saw what it was and trusted his own recognition. See, that's the hard
part...trying to find the recognition and finally trusting it." (Not
surprisingly, Rabe's favorite Vietnam-related film is "Platoon.")
Rabe became the "playwright laureate" of the Vietnam war (as the New
York Times put it) on the basis of his first plays: the Obie-winning "The
Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel," the Tony-winning "Sticks and Bones,"
"Streamers" and "The Orphan." His initial success was astonishing; his
two works -- "Pavlo" and "Sticks" -- ran simultaneously at the Public Theatre
in New York in 1971 (at the time, Shakespeare was the only other
to have had two plays running at the Public at once). Within three years,
four of his plays were in production, thanks in no small part to producer
Joseph Papp, with whom Rabe has had a stormy relationship.
But his best-known work about the war is probably his feature film
screenplay -- adapted from an article by Daniel Lang for The New Yorker --
for the Brian De Palma film "Casualties of War" (1989), a movie he
disowned at first but then grew to embrace with reservations.
While he stands by much of the film, he still dislikes three things about
the scene in which Michael J. Fox's character hits a fellow soldier with a
shovel; the ending, in which Fox speaks with a Vietnamese stranger near a
bus stop; and, most important, the fact that Fox starts off morally appalled
at his colleagues, instead of gradually evolving into a soldier at odds with his
For all the success of his war works, Rabe's biggest hit on stage is a non-
Vietnam play, "Hurly Burly," which has just been made into a feature film
written by Rabe. "Hurly Burly" premiered in 1984, first in Chicago,
then in New York, where it ran for more than a year on Broadway and off.
Produced five years after Rabe married actress Jill Clayburgh, the play
examines lives of "cunning desperation" among show-biz wannabes in Los
Angeles, where he lived intermittently in the 70s and 80s. (He now lives in
With white hair and an alternately intense and leisurely manner, he
off a bit like a pugnacious professional golfer. And he talks somewhat like
golf, too; he has periods of conversational silence followed by strokes of
Rabe's next project? "I'm a little between things, but I've got a lot of
things started," he says. Expect a wait for whatever it is; Rabe is a
notoriously slow writer. "[Joseph Papp] once compared me to an aircraft
carrier that took a long time to turn around. And that's sort of true." he says.
"Writing is a glacial process for me."
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, May 31, 1998; in the published version, a Chronicle editor took time out of his busy schedule to unilaterally replace one line in the story, thereby creating an error that wasn't in the piece I wrote.]
FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
The Paranoid Movie Genre
Essay and reviews by Paul Iorio
The modern Paranoid Movie was born with Alfred Hitchock's
"North by Northwest" in 1959 and became a booming industry some time
after the release of Oliver Stone's "JFK" in 1991. By now, the genre has
become somewhat formulaic, and no Paranoid Film is complete without
1) There is a scene in which a character furtively searches a vault, desk or
file room for some key piece of damning evidence.
2) There is a scene in which the character is almost always caught by a
surprise visitor to the vault, desk or file room ("Witness," "Silkwood," "The
Firm," "Murder at 1600," "The China Syndrome").
3) There is a scene in which someone confronts a person who claims to be a
victim of a conspiracy, and skeptically asks: "Who is THEY?"
4) There is a scene in which a character is said to be a patsy for a larger
operation ("JFK," "Shadow Conspiracy," "Murder at 1600").
Some Paranoid Movies are actually Conspiracy Movies, but everyone
lumps them together anyway.
What's the difference between a Paranoid Movie and a Conspiracy
Movie? A Conspiracy Movie is a Paranoid Movie in which a character is
victim of a real plot, not an imagined one. So if someone is being chased by
inner demons, it's a Paranoid Movie; but if someone is being chased by a
pick-up truck, it's a Conspiracy Movie. Cary Grant's character in "North by
Northwest" is the victim of a conspiracy; Captain Queeg in "The Caine
Mutiny" is the victim of paranoia. Salman Rushdie is the target of a
conspiracy; Margot Kidder is the victim of paranoia.
The target of a conspiracy can sometimes appear paranoid to those who
don't know better. For example, a moviegoer who enters the theater during
the scene in "Breakdown" in which Kurt Russell's character forces a truck to
pull over might think Russell is acting paranoid. And his behavior does
resemble paranoia in every way but one: his crisis is real.
And there are films in which a real conspiracy causes someone to become
paranoid or to appear that way ("Gaslight," "Guilty By Suspicion").
Not every film with a conspiracy in its plot is a Paranoid Movie, however.
"Face/Off," for example, may seem like one but isn't, because its plot does
not link up to something larger or more resonant than the dramatic action.
Because Paranoid Movies rely heavily on plot, they must have plots that
are convincing at every turn. Hitchcock was probably best at plotting
the far-fetched (his "North By Northwest" is a classic example).
Other conspiracy classics do not wear as well. John Frankenheimer's
Manchurian Candidate" (1962) and "Seven Days in May" (1964) have
fundamental flaws (see sidebar).
The Watergate scandal spawned numerous Paranoid Movies, many of
them about political sabotage ("The Big Fix," "The Parallax View") but none
(except perhaps "Chinatown") as gripping as the nonfiction film about
Watergate itself, "All the President's Men."
The most controversial Paranoid Movie of all time, the one that rouses
most passion, is Oliver Stone's "JFK," in which Stone accuses every
over a 14-year span of being involved in some way in the president's
Some of the best Paranoid Movies are those that just happen to have
conspiracies in them, movies that implicitly factor in such theories in the
course of telling a story. The "Godfather" films, for instance, take corrupt
collusion between law enforcement and the mob as a given. Likewise, in
"City of Hope," director John Sayles shows a reflexive understanding of how
city machines work.
One possible reason we invent conspiracy theories is they make life more
interesting. If someone is eavesdropping, then truly we are not alone. When
life is boring, a little paranoia can spice things up.
Here are the top ten Paranoid Movies of all time:
"THE CAPTIVE CITY" (1952) -- Parts of this film seem remarkably
contemporary in portraying how a corrupt city machine can mess with the
press. The rest of it goes way overboard, however. Still stands as an earnest
early try at the sort of movie made mostly after Watergate.
"NORTH BY NORTHWEST" (1959) -- Probably the greatest of all
conspiracy classics, from Alfred Hitchcock, who virtually invented the
Though nearly perfectly crafted, it does have one minor mistake: Why
doesn't Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) call upon his three drinking buddies at
the Plaza, shown at the beginning, to corroborate his tale of abduction?
"THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE" (1962) -- John Frankenheimer gave
moviegoers a double dose of paranoia with the back-to-back release of this
film and "Seven Days in May" in the early Sixties. Today, "Manchurian"
wears less well than "Seven Days." The flaw here is central: brainwashing
techniques (without drugs) are not nearly as effective as the movie suggests.
"SEVEN DAYS IN MAY" (1964) -- Still gripping, even though it's hard to
believe the president of the United States would refuse to use scandalous
letters against a general plotting a coup. Perfect material for an Oliver Stone
"MAGNUM FORCE" (1973) -- Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) battles a
rogue element in the police department in this popcorn flick written by John
Milius and Michael Cimino. It's more or less believable until the ending,
when Briggs (Hal Holbrook) drives away with Callahan after vowing to
him (why wouldn't he take him into custody?).
"THE CONVERSATION" (1974) -- Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is the best
surveillance man in the West, despite that pesky conscience of his. But the
work he does for a client is too seamy even for him.
"CHINATOWN" (1974) -- Very close to a perfectly plotted film. To those
who've seen it 50 times or more: What does Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson)
really mean when he twice says the phrase "as little as possible"?
"JFK" (1991) -- For a moment, assume filmmaker Oliver Stone's theory is
correct, that Clay Shaw of the CIA arranged the Kennedy assassination and
set up Lee Harvey Oswald as the designated patsy. That still doesn't mean
Shaw did it at the behest of the CIA -- a crucial point. (To illustrate: if you
work for General Motors and rob a convenience store, that doesn't mean you
robbed the store for GM.) Incidentally, why would Shaw have wanted to
attract police attention to -- rather than divert attention from -- Oswald, who
had apparent links to the CIA himself?
"THE FIRM" (1993) -- Pin it all on overbilling. The ending might well be
the most implausibly plotted for a movie this good (and until the last 20
minutes, it's riveting).
"UNLAWFUL ENTRY" (1994) -- An underrated thriller that's more or less
believable. Terrific tension between Kurt Russell and Ray Liota.
[The Paranoid Movie Game, which I conceived and designed and wrote for the paper; the only elements not authored by me are the drawings within the boxes.]
[From The San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 1997; the "paranoid movie" coinage and idea came from me, as did the Paranoid Movie game board that accompanied the published piece.]
PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED INTERVIEW
Robert Goulet, on "Camelot"
By Paul Iorio
In an exclusive interview never published until
now, Robert Goulet spoke to this reporter about "Camelot,"
candidly revealing secrets and new details about the play's
original Broadway reign. Here is an edited transcript
of that interview, conducted on July 14, 1999:
IORIO: YOU WERE VIRTUALLY UNKNOWN IN THE THEATER WORLD AT
THE TIME [OF THE PREMIERE OF "CAMELOT"] IN DECEMBER 1960?
GOULET: December 1960, is when we opened. But before that, I had been doing
mostly television and radio.
WERE YOU [INITALLY] OVERWHELMED BY THE ["CAMELOT"]
GOULET: Of course I was. It was something brand new, and Broadway was
something I had always dreamed of....It was a quintessential moment of my life.
RICHARD BURTON EVEN SAVED YOUR JOB AT ONE POINT?
GOULET: No, he didn't...I gave a strange reading [at the audition]...I figured, ok, I'm
going back [home] to Toronto on the next flight. But [Burton] heard me sing and, two
hours later, said, "The voice of an angel." And the job was kept.
WHAT WAS RICHARD BURTON LIKE IN THOSE DAYS?
GOULET: We didn't hang out but we had a wonderful time together. I was allowed
one question [for Burton] a night. The performances started at 8:30 in those days,
and Richard would get there at ten to eight every night. I already had my make-up
and my costumes on and was ready to go...And I could swear he had just awakened
at 7:30, just got in a car and came over. And he'd be putting on his make-up. He
didn't want to be bothered with me at that part of the night but I wanted to learn
something about theater and film...and get his lore from him. And he said, "One
question a night and that's it." And every so often he'd give me a yes or no answer or
say [shove] off. He'd always get himself a big glass of vodka and tonic.
THE "ED SULLIVAN SHOW" WAS THE TURNING POINT FOR "CAMELOT"?
GOULET: We were not the biggest of hits in "Camelot" [at first]...."The Ed Sullivan
Show" brought us on about a week and a half after we had opened and gave us 17
minutes -- Julie [Andrews], Richard [Burton] and me. And the next day, [fans] lined
up around the block, and "Camelot" was a hit. So Sullivan saved our lives as well.
AND GOULETMANIA FOLLOWED. I READ ONE ACCOUNT FROM THE EARLY
SIXTIES THAT SAID YOU COULDN'T EVEN GET IN THE STAGE DOOR
BECAUSE FANS WERE MOBBING YOU.
GOULET: That happens to everybody when they first become noticed....It didn't
manifest itself upon me in any manner I couldn't handle or understand. It was just
something that happened.
THERE WAS PRESSURE AT THE TIME TO MAYBE QUIT AND DO MOVIES. I
HEAR YOU WERE MAKING $750 A WEEK, IT WAS SIX NIGHTS AND TWO
AFTERNOONS A WEEK.
GOULET: Eight shows a week, yes. You have the seven-fifty right, yes....Richard
had to buy himself out, he had one month to go , and he wanted to do "Cleopatra,"
literally and figuratively, and so he had to pay his way out. And he did. But my
manager at the time...said, "Let Bobby out to do [television]"...And I went out and did
all those [TV] things but I had to add it on to the end of my ["Camelot"] contract.
WAS THAT "CAMELOT" THE BEST OF ALL THE "CAMELOT"S YOU'VE DONE
IN REVIVALS AS ARTHUR OR AS --
GOULET: I have no idea, because I played Arthur on several other occasions later in
life....I don't know what that "Camelot" performance was like because I didn't go out
front to see it...It seems to me it was a damned good production [on Broadway].
AFTER "CAMELOT," YOU DID CLUBS AND...WENT ON TO WIN A TONY. BUT
AT THE SAME TIME, MUSIC WAS CHANGING.
GOULET: At that time, yes, it was changing. From '64, when the Beatles came in, it
really changed from there on in.
WHAT IS YOUR VIEW OF ROCK 'N' ROLL TODAY AND MUSICAL THEATER
INFUSED WITH ROCK 'N' ROLL? HOW DO YOU VIEW IT, AND CONTRAST IT
WITH WHAT YOU THOUGHT OF IT THEN.
GOULET: I never thought of [rock] much, because it wasn't my kind of thing. Elvis
got out there and moved his hips, and I never moved my hips. I got out there and told
stories and sang from my heart. And a lot of stuff that I heard was a lot of noise. But
some of it is not noise, some of it is very damned good. But I don't listen to it,
because I listen to jazz and classical music primarily. I never listen to myself for one
thing. On the radio I'll hear myself singing and...half the time, I'll say, "Pretty bad."
The other half, I'll say, "Not bad."
IS THERE ONE MOMENT IN YOUR CAREER THAT YOU CONSIDER...YOUR
GOULET: I think the song that I enjoyed doing so much, more than any other, was
"This Nearly Was Mine" from "South Pacific." [Goulet sings:] "One dream in my
heart, one love to be living for." With a French accent. And I let that thing fly. I
brought it down half a tone in the arrangement and opened my mouth and let it fly. I
couldn't wait to get into that song. I just loved it. It's an important song anyway.
BUT NOT "SOLILOQUY"?
GOULET: Oh, "Soliloquy," of course. Are you kidding?! "Carousel" was my favorite
musical of all time.
IN YOUR CAREER, YOU'VE EXPERIENCE A LOT OF UPS AND A LOT OF
GOULET: I separated from my wife, I lived alone on my boat, a yacht, for
four-and-a-half years, and it was a little bit down. But I had a lot of friends coming in
and spending time with me...And I was pretty much on my own. Things were pretty
much in a trough. But I didn't think so. I just kept on working, and kept on doing what
I had to do.
DO YOU FEEL A SPECIAL CONNECTION TO THE JFK ERA, GIVEN YOUR
PART IN THE QUINTESSENTIAL JFK-ERA MUSICAL, "CAMELOT"?
GOULET: Of course, they called his run of the presidency The Camelot Presidency,
and they opened at the same time we did. We opened December [3rd] and he was
inaugurated [in] January.
SO IT COINCIDES [ALMOST] EXACTLY. IN FACT, THERE WAS AN OPENING
NIGHT [FOR ANOTHER PLAY] YOU DID THAT COINCIDED WITH THE
CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS, I READ.
GOULET: ....Everyone was scared we were going to be bombed that night and
destroyed and I said, "Why worry? If it hits us, we won't know what happened
anyway. So don't be concerned. Go out there and do your show."
YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN THE-SHOW-MUST-GO-ON, IT SEEMS.
GOULET: Oh yeah. We all have to die. I'm not afraid of dying. I just don't want to
have a terrible death, a painful death. And I'd like to live a little longer, so I can do a
few more things with my kids and with my career. But we all have to go. So don't be
so damned scared, don't be so damned nervous about it. Just be prepared to say
[Completely unpublished until now; interview conducted on July 14, 1999.]
Unpublished until now...
Traveling Alone by Local Train Behind the Iron Curtain
During the Cold War
Thirty-one years ago, as an adventurous 19-year-old college
student, I traveled alone by local train behind the Iron Curtain,
journeying non-stop from Florence, Italy, to Istanbul, Turkey,
crossing the entire length of both the former Yugoslavia
and Bulgaria, and venturing through Thrace
and European Turkey.
And then I took the whole trip again in reverse.
The non-stop journey spanned fifty-two hours, two time
zones and over a thousand miles (one-way) in August 1976,
following the route of the original Orient Express -- though
this was no Pullman sleeper. The train was a ramshackle
thing, barely better than refugee boxcars for much of the
voyage; through most of Yugoslavia, I couldn't even find a
seat and had to sleep on my suitcase in the crowded corridor.
At the time, I wrote in my journal: "I sat on [my]
suitcase. Like everyone else on this [train], I slept but
was awakened by people constantly stepping [over] me."
Also, no food or beverages were sold onboard, and Americans
weren't allowed to exit before their destination, so U.S. passengers
were left with nothing to eat or drink except whatever they had
brought with them.
In my case, that amounted to a bottle of bad carbonated
Lambrusco wine that I had bought in Trieste for 700 lire (a
little more than a dollar in 1976 currency) and some stale
cheese-bread (don't ask) I bought from someone on
the train at the Belgrade station for a thousand lire (around
a buck and a half).
At least the nausea took my mind off my thirst and hunger!
I also soon found that the tough reputation of the cops of
communist Eastern Europe was well-deserved -- though I was
skeptical about that fact before the trip. As I joked in
my journal when I passed into Slovenia: "I must be in Yugoslavia
by now. It's dark, so I can't see the oppression and lack of
liberty." (It was also, incidentally, too dark to see that I
was missing what some call the best scenery of the region:
the Julian Alps of Slovenia.)
My attitude was less jokey several hours later in Zagreb when
the Yugoslav police took me off the train for no apparent reason
(probably because I was one of only two Americans on board the
train that day), forcing me to leave my luggage onboard. Through
the language barrier, I think the cops were claiming I didn't
have a transit visa -- even after I showed them my transit visa.
As I wrote in my journal at the time: "And so off the train
I went, amidst [severe] stares of Tito/Khrushchev faces (they all
seem to have that look)," I wrote in my diary.
The only other person booted from the train was the other
American, a bearded hippie who claimed to be a Stanford University
student; he started getting loud about what he called the fascist
behavior of the cops, and I asked him to shut up before he got us
in deeper trouble.
We were detained outside a small side building, a sort of
mini-police station, where an officer confiscated my passport. After
waiting for around ten minutes, the train made noises as if
it were starting to leave Zagreb, and, impulsively, I bolted toward
the tracks, even though I didn't have my passport and hadn't been
given an ok from the police to re-board.
But no one stopped me. And just before I reboarded, some
stranger handed me my passport. "Mysteriously received my...
passport again as...I was running back to the train and was handed
it by a man," I wrote in my journal. "Mysterious totalitarian forces
I didn't see the Stanford student get back on the train and
assumed he was now in the clutches of some nasty Croatian cops.
As the train left Zagreb, I sat down and started writing about
what had just happened. But a Yugoslav police officer came into my
train car and stood a short distance from me, staring at me in a
menacing way. When I put away my pen and paper, he walked away.
Through the train window, parts of northern Croatia looked
sort of like a Communist Norman Rockwell painting, with peasants,
in classic red style, harvesting a field by hand with sickles.
As the train approached Belgrade, the landscape became increasingly
urban in a very gray way.
"The entrance [to Belgrade] is utterly filled with trash, and
as you approach it, one sees drab but...modern buildings
and a superhighway," I wrote in my diary. [NOTE: I'll soon be
posting a photo I took of Belgrade from the train.]
After Belgrade, the scenery became unexpectedly spectacular,
thanks to the thrilling peaks of the Balkan Mountains (one of the most
underrated ranges in all of Europe). But just before Bulgaria, the
landscape became downbeat again, full of "empty roads, solemn faces,
dreary check points," as I wrote at the time.
Despite the oppressive presence of police and soldiers, the
civilians on the train were lively and uninhibited throughout the
At one point, in southeastern Serbia, five very friendly rural
Serbians (with a couple black puppies) insisted -- absolutely
insisted -- that I take a picture of them and their dogs, so
I did. In return, they gave me a couple Yugoslav
cigarettes, three swigs of vodka -- and their addresses so I could send
them the pictures. [NOTE: I took a photo of them and will post that
pic soon, too.]
Just before the Bulgarian border, I found a seat in a compartment
that was like a mini-United Nations. I sat across from a confident
and exuberant Libyan man (with extremely white teeth) who said he
was on his way to study electrical engineering in Bulgaria. Also
in the compartment were a soft-spoken guy from Copenhagen and
two French men (one of them looked like rocker Ron Wood,
the other said he was a Sorbonne professor of Islamic civilization
and French). They were talking to each other in English, French and
As the train crossed into Bulgaria at Dimitrovgrad, I
experienced the hospitality of its cops and border guards, widely
regarded as the most ruthless in all of eastern Europe at the time.
With rifles at the ready, the Bulgarian guards were
harsh and humorless. "At the Bulgarian border, the guards had
Hitler mustaches, as all traces of Western Europe (as well as humor
or smiling) disappeared completely," I wrote after entering the country.
We soon passed through Sofia, which seemed like an extremely
insulated and subdued city; the locals at the train station, in
old-fashioned clothing and uncomfortable-looking shoes, approached
the train and gawked curiously as if they were looking at visitors
from another planet.
Several hours later, at the exit border -- the tense checkpoint
near the three-way intersection of Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece --
the armed Bulgarian cops became even more unfunny than they had been
at the entry border.
"Long wait at the Bulgaria/Turkey border," I wrote that night.
"Soldiers all around checking bags, shining lights....It is pitch
black and probably midnight."
In the distance, I saw the silhouette of a tank. A rumor,
later proved false, circulated that the train was being
delayed because war had broken out between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus.
After an anxious period, we were finally allowed to proceed into
western Turkey, back into NATO territory. "The train starts into the
Turkish black night, soldiers waving goodbye, and I go back to my
compartment and sleep," I wrote in my diary.
To my surprise, a few yards away at a train window, there was
that Stanford student who I had mistakenly thought was left
behind in Zagreb the day before; he was looking out the window
and singing the Rolling Stones's "Satisfaction."
It was a few hours before sunrise on my third day of travel, but
Istanbul was still over 12 hours away.
After Bulgaria, entering western Turkey felt like someone had
opened a window and let in light, air and birds. I was now in
westernmost Turkey, aka Thrace.
"At sunrise, I wake and see...Turkey," I wrote in my journal.
"The train is moving at a snail's pace, stopping every twenty yards
or so. The scenery is unlike anything I've seen before. The
mountains are sometimes rocky or green or barren like a desert...
There are great stretches of huge yellow sunflower fields stretching
for [what looks like] miles. The people all wave as the train goes
by, and the animals get more exotic and plentiful: goats,
gazelles, unnamables, roosters, huge flocks of sheep.
After the monochromatic Balkans, Thrace seemed to come alive in
Fifty-two hours after boarding the train in Florence, I arrived
in Istanbul at three on a hot afternoon in August, burping
Lambrusco, profoundly tired and somewhat dehydrated. I checked into
a cheap hostel ($5 a night) in the Sultanahmet neighborhood
where American hippies -- who had almost certainly taken a
plane, not a train, to Istanbul -- were
outside singing Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound" as someone
After five days in Istanbul, it was time to return to Florence. I
considered taking a quick flight back, but (being a broke student
back then) went to the train station and took the whole trip
through the Balkans all over again.
This time, I fell sick just before the Bulgarian border and remained
that way all the way home (and for a week after returning to Florence),
sleeping through most of the ride back.
In retrospect, I now see that the big risks of the trip came not
behind the Iron Curtain but in Islam (for example, some guy chased me
down the street with a stick in Istanbul for shooting pictures of
veiled women gathered in a doorway; another man almost became violent
when I didn’t bow and scrape at Istanbul’s Pavilion of the Holy
Mantle, where the Muslim Prophet Muhammed’s hair and teeth are on
All told, my advice to anyone considering a travel adventure like
this: take the plane!
[Published here for the first time.]
Above are various items from my trip behind the Iron Curtain to Istanbul; at center is my Bulgarian visa; clockwise from the top left is a card for the hostel I stayed at, a pack of Turkish cigarettes, an August 1976 calendar, my own notes about entering Bulgaria, a ticket to the Topkapi, and a couple logos for regional publications.
Above: my photo of Istanbul's Galata Bridge, August 1976.
FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
By Paul Iorio
When Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" was released 25 years ago this
summer, it was upstaged by its own mechanical shark and then by its
unprecedented commercial success. Today, after decades of repeated
viewing, it's easier to see the movie for what many think it really is: a
thriller in league with such Alfred Hitchcock classics as "The Birds" and
What emerges from my own interviews with the film makers is that one of
the best things to have happened during the making of "Jaws" was the
malfunctioning of the main mechanical shark (and the two supporting
"The shark didn't work," actor Roy Scheider, who plays police chief
Martin Brody, tells me. "And that left us with weeks and weeks
and weeks to shoot, to polish, to improvise, to discuss, to enrich, to
experiment with all the other scenes that in a movie like that would [usually]
get a cursory treatment."
"What happened was, [Robert] Shaw, [Richard] Dreyfuss and Scheider
turned into a little rep company," he says. "And all those scenes, rather than
just pushing the plot along, became golden, enveloping the characters. So
when the crisis came, you really cared about those three guys."
Those "three guys" are by now familiar to moviegoers everywhere:
Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss), an aggressive scientist from a wealthy family;
(Shaw), a veteran fisherman unhinged by past trauma; and Brody
(Scheider), a phobic police chief from the big city trying to assimilate in
town Amity ("A fish out of water, if you'll excuse the expression," quips
Spielberg's problem in getting the shark to work was also one
of the main reasons he didn't show the fish until very late in the movie
minutes in, to be precise). This contradicts the generally accepted
explanation that the delay in showing the shark was a purely aesthetic
strategy meant to enhance audience anticipation and suspense.
"The shark didn't work," says screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, echoing
Scheider's words exactly. "It was a difficult piece of mechanical
equipment....It malfunctioned most of the time [so] we had no shark to
Spielberg and Gottlieb got the idea for withholding a glimpse of the
monster until the end from the b-movie "The Thing," says Gottlieb. But
the decision was more along the lines of, 'this is a way we can get around
fact that our main prop isn't working' rather than 'this is a choice that we
would've made in any case,' according to Gottlieb.
Gottlieb's screenplay was based on a best-selling novel by Peter
Benchley, though the finished film differs from the novel in significant
Benchley initially wrote a couple drafts of the screenplay, before Pulitzer
prize-winning playwright Howard Sackler ("The Great White Hope")
took on the task, writing a couple drafts of his own. Finally Spielberg
brought aboard Gottlieb, a comedy writer and actor who had won an Emmy
for his work on TV's "The Smothers Brothers Show," to write the final
Others also contributed to the screenplay, including Shaw, Scheider,
Spielberg, and writer John Milius ("Apocalypse Now").
The script was another element that was inadvertently helped by the
shark-related glitches, since the downtime gave Gottlieb more time to
write and revise. And the screenplay did undergo lots of changes. Hooper's
character (which was almost played by Jan-Michael Vincent instead of
Dreyfuss) changed from a womanizer who had an affair with Brody's wife
to that of the monomaniacal scientist in the film. Quint (almost played by
Sterling Hayden) developed "from this crazy lunatic to this guy with a real
reason to hate sharks," as Scheider puts it.
And Brody (a role originally sought by Charlton Heston) became an
everyman rather than a conventional action hero. "Every aggressive and
macho impulse I had in my character, [Spielberg] would grab me and pull
back and say, 'No, don't talk like that, don't speak like that. You are always
afraid, you are Mr. Humble all the time,'" recalls Scheider. "He would say,
'What we want to do is gradually, slowly, carefully, humorously build this
into being the hero of the movie.'"
The first scripts did not include the part of the film that Spielberg and
many others consider to be the movie's best: the nine-minute sequence on
Orca that starts with the three main characters comparing scars, progresses
through Quint's Indianapolis monologue, and ends with the three singing sea
How exactly did that sequence evolve? "Howard Sackler was the one
who found the Indianapolis incident and introduced it into the script," says
Gottlieb. "Scar-comparing comes out of a conversation that Spielberg had
with John Milius. John said that macho beach guys would try to assert their
manliness and would compare scars...So Steven said, 'Great, let's see if we
can do something with that.' So I wrote the scar-comparing scene."
Meanwhile, several writers took a crack at Quint's Indianapolis speech,
in which he tells of delivering the Hiroshima bomb aboard a ship that
subsequently sank in shark-infested waters. "Steven was worried about the
Indianapolis speech," says Gottlieb. "My drafts weren't satisfactory.
Sackler's draft wasn't satisfactory to him."
"The conventional historical inaccuracy that has found its way into
most of the literature about the movie is that Milius dictated the speech over
the phone and that it's basically Milius's speech. I was on the phone taking
notes and the speech is not Milius's speech. It's close, it's got elements of
it. But what Milius was working from was my drafts and Sackler's drafts."
[Milius did not respond to our request for comment on this.]
Gottlieb remembers the moment when the Indianapolis monologue was
officially born. "One night after dinner, Spielberg, me, [and others] were
talking about the movie," he says. "Shaw joined us after his dinner with a
wad of paper in his pocket. He said, 'I've been having a go at that speech. I
think I've got it now.'...The housekeeper had just packed up; she dimmed the
lights as she left. Shaw takes the paper out of his pocket and then reads the
speech as you hear it in the movie....He finishes performing that speech and
everyone is in stunned silence. And finally Steven says, 'That's it, that's what
we're going to shoot.'"
"It took two days to shoot that scene," says Gottlieb. "Shaw was
drunk one day, sober the other. What you see on film was a very clever
compendium of the two scenes....If you watch that scene, listen for the tap
[on the table] because that's where it cuts from sober to drunk. Or drunk to
sober, I don't remember which."
And indeed there is a tap on the table by Quint that splits the two parts
of the Indianapolis monologue. Shaw appears to be drunk in the first six
minutes of the sequence and sober in the last three minutes. (For those who
want to locate the splice on video, it happens at the 91-minute mark,
the phrases "rip you to pieces" and "lost a hundred men.")
By all accounts, the shoot at sea, off Martha's Vineyard, was
nightmarish and difficult. Originally, Spielberg expected to spend only 55
days on the ocean but ultimately stayed for 159. At times, there was tension
and conflict among the cast and crew. At one point, Gottlieb fell overboard
and risked being sliced by a boat propeller.
Further, Spielberg insisted on having a clean horizon during the Orca
sequences, in order to emphasize the boat's isolation at sea. If some vessel
happened to be sailing in the background of a shot, Spielberg would have
of his crew drive a speed-boat a half-hour or so away to the offending craft to
ask the sailor to consider taking another route. "A lot of times there was no
other way to go, so they'd say, 'Fuck you,'" says Gottlieb. "So we had to wait
for the boat to clear the horizon."
And if the film makers wanted some food while they waited, they
had to settle for turkey and tuna sandwiches that had somehow lost their
freshness in the heat and salt water at the bottom of the boat. They'd sip
coffee that was sometimes four-hours old. And occasionally, the waves
would cause the boat to pitch and bounce in place ("Not a great thing early
the morning on a sour stomach," says Gottlieb).
"You'd go home at the end of the day sea-sick, sunburned,
windburned," says Gottlieb.
But when the main shark worked, it was a wonder to behold, says
Scheider. He recalls the moment when he knew the movie was going to
succeed: when he first saw the shark sail by the Orca on the open sea. "They
ran [the shark] past the boat about two or three feet underwater," says
Scheider. "And it was as long as the boat. And I said, 'Oh my god, it looks
great.' I remember that day. We probably all lit cigars."
When the movie finally wrapped, nobody knew for sure whether it
would succeed or fail. The first clue came when they brought the film to
technical workers for color-timing purposes. The techies, who were looking
at the film only for purposes of checking the color density of the negative,
were almost literally scared out of their chairs during certain scenes. "Guys
in the lab were jumping," says Gottlieb. "So we started to have a feeling."
Still, nobody was certain how the general public would respond. The
tell-tale moment came during a sneak preview of the film in Long Beach,
California, in the late spring of '75. Gottlieb remembers driving to
Long Beach in a limo with his wife and Spielberg. "We gave Steven...tea to
calm him down on the drive," says Gottlieb. "He was so nervous."
His nervousness apparently subsided about three minutes and forty
seconds into the screening when the invisible shark ripped apart its first
victim. The audience went nuts, drowning out dialogue for the next minute
or so. "You could tell from the crowd reaction that it was going to be a very
important movie," he says.
When the lights came up after the screening, top executives from
Universal Pictures quickly headed straight to the theater restroom -- "the
quiet spot in the theater," says Gottlieb -- and proceeded to change the film's
release strategy on the spot. Realizing they had a massive hit on their hands,
the execs immediately decided the movie would not be opened in a normal
gradual fashion, but in wide release. Amidst the summer toilets of Long
Beach, movie industry history was made that night.
"The idea of opening a picture simultaneously on 1,500 to 2,000
screens was unheard of," says Gottlieb. "After 'Jaws,' it became standard.
Every studio had to have a big summer picture."
By mid-summer, the film was taking in a million dollars a day. Within
a couple months, it had become the biggest grossing movie of all time.
its domestic gross stands at around $250 million, making it the 13th top
grossing movie of all time.
"I see it the same way I saw it then," says Scheider. "It's a very good
action adventure film...Plus it's well-directed, it's well-acted, it's
beautifully shot, it's got a great score and a fabulous story. So why shouldn't
it be a classic movie?"
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, May 28, 2000.]
FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
The Pop Culture Echo
Essay by Paul Iorio
Every few years, Americans hear an echo from across the Atlantic, the
echo of borrowed U.S. pop culture booming back at us from England. By
now, the pattern is familiar: Americans invent a piece of pop culture but
don't seem to fully accept it until the British adapt, refine and sell it back to
the U.S. as something new.
For example, Americans invented the modern television game show
decades ago with such daytime fare as "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune."
But the most popular U.S. game show of all time came to us from Britain,
which created "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," their prime time version of
Likewise, in 1964, the Beatles arrived in America playing the U.S. rock of
Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Carl Perkins -- American music that was
never more popular than when it was played by the British. And in the
1970s, the English refined the U.S. sit-com with "Till Death Do Us Part,"
which Americans then adapted into the TV classic "All in the Family."
"I would call it a vast cultural laundering operation," says pop culture
expert Robert J. Thompson, a professor of Television, Radio and Film at
Syracuse University in New York.
"When the potential of [American pop culture] really begins to be seen, it's
sent over to England to be laundered, to go to finishing school, and then it
comes back in the form of the British invasion," he says.
In other words, Americans might produce a Chuck Berry, but they won't
fully accept him unless he has a British accent.
It may come down to the fact that Americans are simply suckers for a
British accent, and it hardly matters whether it's Cockney or West End,
because millions probably can't tell the difference anyway (and sometimes
even confuse British and Australian dialects).
In the States, a British accent can make a b-level talent (David Frost, say)
seem like an A-list one and make a moderately educated person seem
downright erudite. (There are exceptions, of course; a British accent hasn't
helped to make Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione appear any
more intelligent or refined, for instance.)
When it comes to the British, Americans apparently have a cultural
inferiority complex, says Thompson. And the complex is not entirely
unjustified, considering the British have a vast and rich literary tradition that
spans many centuries and includes Shakespeare and Chaucer. It's fitting then
that the British are a major force on Broadway; at the time of this writing,
there were at least six Broadway productions -- including "Miss Saigon,"
"The Phantom of the Opera" and "Copenhagen" -- that have roots in the U.K.
"The Anglo influence is still incredibly powerful in this country," says
Thompson. One reason may be that the U.S. has simply not been around as
long as the U.K. and so has not been able to establish cultural traditions that
are as enduring or influential. Thompson agrees, saying: "America is having
longer traditions, it's an older country [than it was] and it should maybe
begin to behave like the old country."
"But there are so many things that keep knocking us off-track, like
geographic mobility...History has never kicked in in this country," he says.
Still, one might argue that Britain's achievements are mostly in the past,
while America's are those of the present. "One of the great functions of the
United Kingdom is not so much what we import from it," he says. "But how
it takes American culture, adapts it...and brings back an organism that is
better able to survive not only over there but here as well."
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 2000; initiated idea.]
FROM NEW YORK NEWSDAY
Play It Again (and Again), Sam
By Paul Iorio
Woody Allen comes up with such memorable one-liners that it's
no surprise other writers steal from him. In fact, his lines are so funny
that even Allen can't resist taking a line from himself now and then. Here
are some examples of self-plagiarism in his films:
WOODY RECYCLING #1:
MARY: "I could go to bed with the entire faculty of M.I.T."
VANESSA: "I [slept with] the entire Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity at Yale."
(from "Play it Again, Sam")
ANDREW: "You were...sleeping with the...entire infield of the Chicago
(from "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy")
* * *
WOODY RECYCLING #2:
ALVY: "Hey, don't knock masturbation."
(From "Annie Hall")
MICKEY: "Hey, you gonna start knocking [masturbation]?"
SANDY: "I am an absolute expert [on masturbation]."
(from "Stardust Memories")
LEONARD: "I teach a course...in [advanced] masturbation."
* * *
WOODY RECYCLING #3:
IKE: "I'll turn into one of those guys that sells comic books outside of
MICKEY: "I'll wind up like the guy with the wool cap who delivers for the
(From "Hannah and Her Sisters")
* * *
WOODY RECYCLING #4:
DICK: "I...had the foresight to buy Polaroid at eight-and-a-half."
(From "Play It Again, Sam")
SALMON: "I bought Xerox at eight-and-a-half."
(From "Take the Money and Run")
* * *
WOODY RECYCLING #5:
FREDERICK: "I can't go out...I'm liable to kill someone."
FREDERICK: "I just don't want to be around people. I don't want to wind up
(From "Hannah and Her Sisters")
* * *
WOODY RECYCLING #6:
JILL: "What were you doing lurking around outside the cabin, anyway?"
IKE: "I was spying on you guys."
ANNIE: "What were you doing following me around for, anyway?"
ALVY: "I'm following you and David."
(From "Annie Hall")
TINA: "You know about [the white roses] because you spy on me."
JOHNNY: "It's not spying when you care about someone."
(From "Broadway Danny Rose")
* * *
WOODY RECYCLING #7:
NARRATOR: "He rents a car and attempts to run her over."
(From "Take the Money and Run")
MARY: "Did you hear the one where he tried to run her lover over."
* * *
WOODY RECYCLING #8:
SANDY: "The universe is gradually breaking down. There's not gonna be
(From "Stardust Memories")
ALVY: "The universe...will break apart, and that will be the end of
(From "Annie Hall")
* * *
WOODY RECYCLING #9:
DICK: [consoling Ike after argument about a TV show] "Take a 'lude."
RON: [consoling Mickey after argument about a TV show] "You want a
(From "Hannah and Her Sisters")
[From New York Newsday, March 1, 1992; all quotes from Allen scripts. (Note: This was wholly my piece, from idea to execution, and bears my sole byline, though in the print edition there is a nearby byline of another writer, in larger type, referring to other articles adjacent to mine, yet that other byline sort of makes it look like this was a co-written or co-researched piece, which it was not.)
FROM SPY MAGAZINE
Why It's Not So Smart to Be Smart Anymore
(The Dumbification of America)
By Paul Iorio
Roman Polanski and Salman Rushdie are on the run. Woody Allen is
being hounded. Even Enrico Fermi is being called nasty things. Almost
everywhere, genius is being demonized and devalued. In movies, for
instance, a villain must be more than just an evil, violent psychopath; to be
truly feared and vilified today, it helps to be a genius. The gold
standard of celluloid evil genius is, of course, Hannibal Lecter of "The
Silence of the Lambs," who has spawned smart and wicked imitators ranging
from Tommy Lee Jones's character in "Blown Away" (who quotes T.S. Eliot)
to John Lithgow's bad guy in "Cliffhanger," who comes off like the
headmaster of a country day school.
Meanwhile, idiocy is being celebrated as something noble and pure in
movies like "Forrest Gump" and "Regarding Henry."
In real life, the new outlaws are geniuses like Allen, Polanski, and Michael
Jackson -- all accused, and one convicted, of a sex crime. Other recent
pariahs include scientific icons J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi,
irresponsibly called neo-traitors in a best-selling book; any artist funded by
an NEA grant (some of whom have been condemned as perverts on the floor
of the United States Senate); and computer wizards like the dazzlingly
sociopathic Kevin Mitnick, who raised major cyber-hell by penetrating
impenetrable computer systems at several corporations.
Clearly, being smart isn't such a smart idea anymore. In fact, it seems as if
some brainy people have had to dumb down just to stay employed. For a
time, even Meryl Streep, for example, abandoned big ambitions to become a
regular gal and action movie star (how long before she starts calling herself
Mary Streep?). Mario Cuomo tried, unsuccessfully, to keep his job by
running TV ads featuring an endearingly inarticulate supporter who
mispronounced his name as "Como," as in Perry, instead of Cuomo, as in
Aquinas. The trend can also be seen in TV ads like the one in which an
announcer asks something like: "Who's smarter -- this woman who shopped
at Sears or this prize-winning astrophysicist?"
Why does braininess have such a bad reputation these days?
Simply put, we don't like to be reminded there may be others who know
more than we do. As David Denby explained in his review of "Forrest
Gump": "A smart film hero, of course, would risk offending the many
Americans who now get angry if there's even a hint that they've been
Conversely, we're flattered by smart villains because we want to believe
that we are the victims of clever people, that we are locked in battle with an
exalted adversary, and not some dumb thug with a brick.
Oddly, the public doesn't seem to mind those who pretend to be smart but
are not smart (aka, the faux smart). In fact, lots of people prefer faux smarts
to the real thing, the same way some prefer fake wood to real wood because
fake wood doesn't rot, warp, or attract termites. Faux genius comes without
demons or neuroses; and it requires none of the tedious work of actually
writing a real novel or making a real film. All you needs is the paraphernalia
and accouterments of intelligence (say, nonprescription eyeglasses), and you,
too, can successfully mimic a smart person.
Plus, by being faux smart, you're spared the vilification of the truly
The first stop on the road to faux intelligence is a degree mill. Unlike
traditional universities, which make you do excruciatingly difficult things
studying), degree mills will quickly and easily add a cheap string of
important-looking initials to the end of your name. So why bother enrolling
in a big-name school, when you can just as easily buy a degree in a few
from a school whose name sounds equally prestigious to the inattentive and
If you aren't smart or affluent enough for, say, Bennington, try Barrington
in Burlington, Vermont, and see who can tell the difference on a resume. "If
you look at the name of the college...it appears that the name could be
mistaken by, let's say, foreign students for one or two other colleges that are
located in Vermont," says Robert Lorenz, an education specialist with the
Vermont Department of Education. "Bennington College comes to mind.
And there's a Barring -- Burlington as well."
The name also threw someone at the U.S. Department of Education.
"Barrington, not Bennington?," asked Education's Stephanie Babayak.
"[Degree mills] are very smart about giving themselves names that are
very close to legitimate institutions," says Charles Andersen of the American
Council on Education.
Can one at least assume that Barrington is located in the heart of Vermont
academia? Only if you consider Park Avenue South in Manhattan to be part
of Vermont. And when we called the school, we reached someone in...New
"In the beginning, our understanding was that they would be located in
Vermont," Lorenz says. "Upon investigation, their 800 number appears to be
answered in the New York City metropolitan area. And their [Vermont]
address turns out to be a mail drop."
Posing as a prospective student, we soon discovered that Barrington was
virtually selling honorary degrees. "If you're interested in [an honorary
degree], yeah, there would be a donation involved," says Steven Bettinger,
president of Barrington. "You'd get a certificate and everything" for a total of
Bettinger then says that "a donation alone can't get the degree," but adds
that the only other major requirement is the passing of a credential
"That would be a resume and anything else you could add...any military,
just about anything." As far as actual programs of study, Bettinger says: "We
also have a Ph.D. program, which, you know, obviously you would do some
Barrington is evidently breaking the law by granting degrees of any kind,
because it has not yet received approval to do so from the Vermont
Department of Education. Lorenz told us the matter is being reviewed by the
office of the state's Attorney General.
"Barrington registered as a correspondence school, and that is not the
same as having approval to grant degrees," says Lorenz. "My understanding
is that they are offering baccalaureate degrees after taking seven courses and
they offer no hassle from teachers, no hassle from quizzes, and an open book
This College of Faux Smarts may be heading into legal trouble. "Granting
a degree without state approval would violate state law and be subject to a
fine of $1,000 per day," says Lorenz. Even honorary degrees? "There's no
distinction in the law between an honorary degree and another degree."
Some states are not nearly as strict about education as Vermont. Hawaii,
for example, is said to have some of the most lax regulations in the United
States. To understand this first-hand, we looked into the Eurotechnical
Research University, which is not located in Europe but in Hilo, Hawaii. We
Whatever Eurotech might lack in conventional credibility, it more than
makes up for in mystery. Two of its representatives mentioned up-front that
the school has a separate college of martial arts, which, as anyone knows, is
the backbone of a small technical university. Eurotech also lists a Hawaii
address but has a Texas phone number and an administrator in Michigan.
The school's president, Robert Simpson, tries to clear up the mystery
with this explanation: "I commute to Hawaii to Australia to Florida and
What's a possible reason for their Hawaii affiliation? "If you're filling
station, you can start awarding degrees in Hawaii," says Dave Stewart of the
American Council on Education.
I pressed Eurotech's president about the fastest way to get an MBA. "Let
me get to the bottom line: that degree will be ready [in about three months],"
he says, after hearing very little about my background. He went on to explain
that the master's program consists of two "modules," each with classes that
use texts, assignments, and possibly an audiotape. And all tests are open-
book, even the final. "That's the way busy people can get through it," he
But Simpson draws the line at selling honorary degrees, insisting I stick to
the school's rigorous Euro-Hawaiian module regimen. "We were gonna do
[an honorary degree] for the President of Turkey," he says. "But my
predecessor died in the middle of the process and by the time I found out
about it, it was too late."
"Why the president of Turkey?," I ask.
"I have no idea," says Simpson.
Seeking something a bit less Euro-Hawaiian, I tried Summit University, a
"non-residence" university with central offices in Louisiana and provosts in
Ohio, Delaware and New York. One advisor, Kenneth Onapolis, offered a
passionate defense of the fast degree/faux smarts ethos.
"Anybody can earn an MBA by going to school...," Onapolis says.
"There's an easy way of doing it and there's a hard way of doing it."
The easy way? "We submit you with an examination that is equivalent to
the master's degree program that a university would offer...It's computer
graded...We expect you to go to libraries, contact relatives, friends, business
associates, colleagues, whatever, to get the answers to the questions."
And so, without having to put up with pesky grades and studying, students
can receive a master's degree after passing a single test and paying a few
Still, faux smarts must be about more than just taking open-book tests and
mixing with the Euro-Hawaiian elite. It probably wouldn't hurt to have some
sort of professional degree from a professional-sounding school. So I
contacted the Southern California University for Professional Studies
(SCUPS), which, in spite of its traditional Ph.D. programs, was all too glad
to strike a deal.
SCUPS offered to sell me an honorary law degree for $10,000 flat, despite
my lack of any prior legal experience. All we had to do, according to Lorrie
Weiland, an admissions counselor with the university, was send in a resume,
any certificates that I held, and a one-page explanation of why I wanted the
"The first honorary degree we gave was to a gentleman from Korea,"
"Why Korea?," I ask.
"We've had three different individuals fly in from Korea for degrees," she
"Why Korea?," I ask.
"We're worldwide," she says.
"But yet all from Korea?," I say.
"It just happened," she says. "We just started doing it, and it just
"So who are they? Businessmen?," I ask.
"Businessmen, yes. They were all businessmen," she says.
"Did they make a contribution to the university?," I ask.
"Yes, oh, yes. You'd pay the same [for the honorary law degree] as you'd
pay for the [actual degree]," she says.
SCUPS, along with Eurotech and Barrington, are not officially accredited
schools, unless you count their ostensible "accreditation" by an organization
called the World Association of Universities and Colleges (WAUC).
"[WAUC] is not an accrediting association that's recognized by either the
Commission on Recognition of Post-secondary Accreditation or the U.S.
Department of Education, which are the only ones that count in this county,"
says Education's Dave Stewart, an expert on degree mills. [Since this article
first ran, the Commission has been supplanted by another agency.] "I have a
number of inquiries on [SCUPS], one from a student who said he's been
trying to track it down. The last address I have for them is Las Vegas, which
We called WAUC president Maxine Asher and asked her about the
curious Las Vegas address. "I lived in Los Angeles and after the earthquake
in January  I moved to Las Vegas to get away from the earthquake,"
she says. "Well, I set up everything there but then I moved back to L.A., but
things were working so well that I'm going to leave it in [Las Vegas] with
the legal office in Switzerland. It's not a good reason but that's what
Wait a minute? Legal offices in Switzerland? Operations in Vegas?
Between this Swiss-Vegas connection and Summit's Euro-Hawaiian alliance
-- not to mention all those Korean gentlemen -- faux smarts appears to have
truly gone worldwide.
But faux genius can't ever be fully achieved with mere Swiss-Vegas
schmoozing. One also needs the faux accomplishment of, say, a book deal
from a vanity press. And by no means is there a shortage of companies eager
to publish virtually anything for a price.
Under the pen name of Jonathan Swift, I called Marketing Director Dan
Heise at Evanston Publishing and presented him with a modest proposal.
"Jon Swift is the name I write under," I told him. "I have two ideas that
are kind of controversial...One is a non-fiction book on the medical
ramifications of cannibalism. It would be about what parts of the body you
would ignore [while eating]. For example, don't eat this, eat that; if you want
carbohydrates, eat that. Almost a practical guide to [cannibalism]."
"How would you go about assessing the value of something like that?,"
"Through doctors," I said. "Have doctors say, 'Well, this would be
something you'd want to avoid, this would be poisonous, this part would
provide carbs, protein, et cetera.' Start with the premise that [the movie]
'Alive' started with..."
"Something that people had an interest in, however morbid," said Heise.
"They ate it up."
"Precisely," I said. "Would you have a problem with that?"
"I don't think we would," says Heise. "That sounds like -- although it
would be controversial, it doesn't sound like it would be patently offensive or
derogatory towards anyone. So I think it's definitely going to be taken into
"Here's the other one, and that is, like, one of those novelty books," I said.
"It's the wit of someone who is not really known for anything except being
very, very serious, and that is the wit of Saddam Hussein."
"God, that would be hilarious," says Heise.
"Believe it or not, you would be surprised, people who have covered this
guy in Baghdad, they have collected a lot of quips from him," I said.
"The wit and wisdom of Saddam Hussein!," says Heise, laughing.
"Like, when the Republican Guard was defeated, he turned to someone
and said, 'Frankly, I'd rather be in Port Palma" or something. When his oil
wells were being bombed, he said something to the effect -- I don't have the
exact quote in front of me -- but something like, 'A couple million gallons
here, a couple million gallons there, it starts to add up,'" I said.
"It'd be a cute fifty-pager," I said.
"To tell the truth, I think that would be a hot, a hot item!," says Heise. "It
depends on the reaction you'd get from distributors and chain stores, et
Because if they don't like it, then it's not gonna go anywhere. But it seems to
me to be the kind of thing that would definitely get people's attention, and
that's what you've got to do in this business. Especially if you made it
something like a $6.95 impulse item or even a calendar."
I then shopped the same ideas to Vantage Press, the premiere vanity
publisher, making our pitch to Vantage Editor Walter Kendall.
"My idea is a compilation of...the wit of Saddam Hussein," I said. "Many
of the people who have covered him in Baghdad understand that he is really
first-rate wit, and they have compiled some [quips] from press conferences...
Would you have a problem with something like that?"
"Not that I imagine," said Kendall.
"The other idea, which is kind of chancy, is, if you've seen the movie
'Alive,' it broaches the subject of cannibalism," I said. "I've actually done
about 100 pages of a book [on] the real story on [cannibalism]: what part of
the human body would be 'forget it, don't eat it'...Is that something that
create any type of problem?"
"Well, not theoretically," said Kendall. "...Based on the subject, I
wouldn't see a problem. But we'd have to see the book before we make a
"Are there any subjects that you don't approach at all?," I asked.
"Well, we don't do pornography," said Kendall. "And we don't do things
that are libelous."
Having closed my second faux book deal of the day, I took stock.
Cannibalism is in, libel out; Saddam is in, pornography out. Does that mean
I could write about eating Saddam but can't libel him?
Trying to make sense of all this, I looked back upon the several hours of
my academic/publishing career. To achieve faux smarts, it seems, all I had to
do was scrape together around $15,000. That breaks down this way: I could
buy a quick MBA, after taking open-book tests, for roughly $3,000; an
honorary doctorate for $1,400; and an honorary law degree for $10,000.
With that money, I could afford to publish my vanity books on "A Practical
Guide to Cannibalism" and "The Wit of Saddam."
Hold on. Was that offer from Vintage or Vantage? And was that school
Bennington or Barrington? In Vermont or Hawaii? Or Zurich? Oh, never
mind. Those are minor distinctions to the faux smart. As Spinal Tap's Nigel
Tufnel once put it, "There's a fine line between clever and stupid."
[From Spy magazine, January 1995.]
PUBLISHED HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME
The Poetry of Borat Sagdiyev
By Paul Iorio
Yes, Borat Sagdiyev is a faux journalist and documentary maker,
but who knew he was a poet, too?
Hard to believe, but a close listen to what Borat says
in the movie "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make
Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" reveals a hidden
poetry that is unmistakably, uniquely...Boratian. Here are
eight examples, taken verbatim (or virtually verbatim) from
King of the castle, king of the castle
Have a chair, have a chair
Go do this! Go do this!
King of the castle
* * * *
Do not fear me, gypsy
All I want from you is my tears
Please give them to me or
I will take them...
I will look in your treasures, gypsy
* * * *
I came to America to learn lessons...
But what had I learned?
Suddenly I realized
I had learned that if you chase a dream
Especially one with a plastic chest
You can miss the real beauty
in front of your eyes
* * * *
Will you please teach me how to dine like gentlemen?
...Is it polite to greet people when I make entry?
...Should I pay interest in people around the table...?
...What do you do?
...What do you do?
* * * *
I have no friends
I am alone in this country
Nobody like me
My only friend...he take my money and my bear
And he leave me alone
Not only this:
The woman I love, the reason I travel across the country
She had to do something terrible on a boat
And now I can never forgive her
Is there anybody who can help me?
* * * *
I arrive in America's airport
With clothing, U.S. dollars
And a jar of gypsy tears
to protect me...
* * * *
In Kazakhstan it is illegal
for more than five woman to be in the same place
Except for in brothel
or in grave
* * * *
I took a bus to Los Angeles with some friends of Mr. Jesus
I have arrived
[Published here for the first time, January 22, 2007.]
The Original Family Stone Reunites,
Without Sly and Larry
New Details Revealed About Sly Stone
By Paul Iorio
Sly Stone's disappearance from the
music business is one of the more mysterious
chapters in recent pop history. After making
a string of hit singles and albums as leader
of American funk-popsters Sly and the Family
Stone from 1967 to 1973, he fell dramatically
off the charts and into an abyss of drugs,
jail, rehab and musical inactivity. He hasn't
recorded an album since 1982 and hasn’t been
in touch with some close friends and colleagues
in many years.
But Sly's reclusion hasn't stopped his
former bandmates from making music together
again. The original Family Stone, the band
that backed Sly from 1967 to 1971, has reunited
in the recording studio for the first time
since 1971. The line-up includes all the
original members that recorded such pop
classics as "Everyday People" and "Stand,"
minus bassist Larry Graham and, of course,
The sessions mark the first time in
thirty-two years that five of the original
members of the group have recorded
So far, the Stone sessions have spawned
around 16 original songs, in various states
of completion, with titles like "I've Got News
For You" and "Sooner or Later." The tracks are
being written and sung mostly by Sly's brother
Freddie Stone (born Fred Stewart) and sister Rosie
Stone (born Rose Stewart, aka Rose Banks), and
the album is being produced by Freddie Stone
and drummer Greg Errico. The band does not yet
have a recording contract.
"When I play a track for somebody,
within 20 seconds they have a big smile on
their face," says Errico. "It sounds
like it's the next [Family Stone] record."
"This is a whole new thing again," says
trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, alluding to the
title of Sly and the Family Stone's
1967 debut album.
The reunion began around a year and a
half ago when the Family Stone gathered in
New York to accept an R&B Foundation award.
“Everybody was there but Sly,” says Errico.
“We [wondered], are we going to...put the group
back together? Everybody decided to do it.
We waited for Larry about three or four
months. After saying, ‘Yeah, he
wanted to do it,’ he never responded.”
Of course, the unspoken, and
unlikely, hope is Sly will come out of
retirement and decide to join the Family
again. Expectations for that are low.
"I'll put it like this," says Errico.
"The [car] is on and running and idling,
and the seat's warm, and whenever he
wants to come sit in it, he's more than
welcome. But he's been a recluse for the
last 20 years or so."
Why is Sly, now 59, such a hermit
these days? "I don't understand it,” says
Errico. “...Your guess is as good as
The reunited line-up includes Robinson,
57, a sort of Ringo Starr of pop trumpeters
in that she plays with endearing
simplicity. Errico, 56, is a somewhat flashy
drummer, responsible for some of pop’s most
indelible beats. Freddie Stone, 56, is the main
guitarist and occasional singer. Rosie
Stone, 56, is the band’s female vocalist,
heard on such tracks as “Everyday People”
and “Everybody Is a Star.” And Jerry
Martini, 59, a high school pal of Sly’s,
is the saxophonist.
Bassist Larry Graham, 56, whose baritone
vocals and percussive bass playing were an
important part of the group, is replaced by
Rusty Allen, who played on Sly and the Family
Stone’s 1973 album “Fresh” after replacing
Graham the first time around. (Graham, also
the founder of Graham Central Station, has
been collaborating with Prince for many years.)
Whether or not Sly ever re-emerges again,
his band’s place in the pop pantheon is
permanent and central (the band
was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall
of Fame in 1993, but didn’t perform at
the induction ceremony). The group, after all,
helped to invent modern funk by mixing soul
and rock -- and politics and partying
in equal measure. The band also smashed
cultural stereotypes; it had a black rock
guitarist, a white funk drummer, and
songs that have always aired across
radio’s racial divide.
Most of the Stone are blood
relatives from or near Vallejo, a small
town between the San Francisco Bay Area
and California wine country. That’s where
Sly (born Sylvester Stewart), Freddie, and
Rosie grew up; Graham, their cousin, was
raised 25 miles to the south in Oakland,
California. Robinson, who had a child with
Sly, is from Sacramento, California, where
she played trumpet in her high school band;
she met Sly after “he got kicked out of all
the schools in Vallejo” and was brought
to Sacramento to attend school, she says.
The original band is captured in its
prime in the “Woodstock” concert film,
which provides a ten-minute glimpse of the
band's most famous concert, its 3am set
at the 1969 Woodstock festival.
Errico says the band's label, Sony, is
considering releasing a Sly and the Family
Stone live album of a 1968 show at the Fillmore
East. “[The concert] really captured what
the magic and the essence of the group was
about,” Errico says, adding that the set
list is identical to the first part of the
recently released double-CD set “The
Essential Sly and the Family Stone.”
Most agree the group’s best works are
its 1970 "Greatest Hits" collection,
which included non-album singles, and the
1969 album "Stand," almost all of which
is included on "Greatest Hits.”
On those albums and elsewhere, one
can hear Sly’s penchant for musical clarity,
says Robinson, recalling the
session that produced the single
“Thank You (Falenttinme Be
Mice Elf Agin).”
"He made sure stuff wasn't cluttered,
that good lines weren't covered up by
other good lines," says Robinson.
Robinson says the band's old songs
always originated with Sly, who would write
the material before coming into the studio.
"He and Freddie used to work together...
at home, creating the songs," says
Robinson. “Then he would give everyone
their parts by playing the riff on his
keyboards.” At the 1970 session for
"Everybody Is a Star," for example, Sly
played the opening melody on his organ
in order to show
Robinson what to play.
Did Sly ever score parts for the band? "No,
no, no, no," says Robinson. "[Sly] never went that
slow. He's very aware that if you learn to read
it, then it's very hard to memorize it."
Often, the drums were recorded last.
"I'd...come in and do the drum parts again
when the songs were finished," says
Errico. "...The drums would be the last thing
Moments like the famous drum rolls that open
both "Stand!" and "M’Lady" were also Sly's idea.
"Sometimes Sly would say, 'Hey, play a lick for
the opening or do a roll,’" says Errico. "Or
sometimes I'd say, 'Put this there.'"
For now, the Family Stone plans no live shows
until after the new album is finished, though
several members -- Errico, Martini, Robinson
and Rosie Stone -- are performing with
others in the San Francisco Bay Area in a funk
jam band called the Funk Family Circus
(formerly the Stone Family Circus). The
Circus recently played a Marin County,
California, nightclub, reportedly
performing such Sly Stone
hits as “Thank You,” “Everyday People,”
and “I Want to Take You Higher.”
“If you think about it,” says Errico,
“that’s a hard legacy to live up to, what
we’ve done in the past.”
[Published and syndicated by Reuters, July 2003;
this is the original manuscript I submitted to Reuters.]
FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Jack Nicholson Quiz
(You Know What He Means?)
By Paul Iorio
Jack Nicholson started his career as
a sort of streetwise older brother to baby
boomers. While everyone else was innocently
preaching love in the 1960s, Mr. Nicholson
was teaching us the pleasures of experience,
punctuating his revelations with a trademark
phrase; "You know what I mean?"
"You know what I mean?" spices even the
blandest lines, adding a knowin resonance,
a leering innuendo. Mr. Nicholson could
probably create a provocative
double-entendre by attaching the
phrase to almost anything, even "Jingle Bells"
("Jingle all the way, you know
what I mean?").
How well do you know what Mr. Nicholson
means? Match the line to the
1. "She crossed her
legs a little too
2. "I'll be seeing
you on the outside,
what I mean?"
3. "It only gives
us a week to do it,
you know what
4. "I'd get a new
you know what I
dollars is not
too bad; no razor
blades, you know
what I mean?
WHICH MOVIES ARE THE ABOVE LINES FROM?
A. Easy Rider
B. The Postman Always Rings Twice
C. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
D. The Last Detail
ANSWERS: 1-E; 2-C; 3-D; 4-B; 5-A
[From The New York Times, June 12, 1994.]
FROM NEW YORK NEWSDAY
Yet Another Jack Nicholson Quiz
(A Few Good Tantrums)
By Paul Iorio
Nobody in the movies throws
an onscreen temper tantrum quite
like Jack Nicholson. From his
1969 breakthrough "Easy Rider"
to the present day, Nicholson
has been a role model for those
who aspire to lose their temper
with some style.
Below are three lists: memorable
tantrum scenes, the memorable lines
that followed and the films they
appeared in. Simply match the scene
with the line and with the film.
NICHOLSON DOES THIS:
A. A waitress refuses to serve Nicholson a side order of toast. He argues
with her and says one of the lines below before throwing plates and
silverware to the floor.
B. After being punched by a police detective, Nicholson pulls a gun and
growls one of the lines below.
C. He chops through a locked door with an ax and announces himself with
D. Construction workers have neglected to build a door linking Nicholson's
house to the kitchen. He yells this line.
E. When Nicholson tries to leave a craps game with his winnings (over the
objections of other players), he has an outburst that ends like this.
F. A bartender won't serve Nicholson's companion a beer. Nicholson has
words with the bartender and roars this line.
G. He argues with his wife about overspending and shouts this.
H. While kissing his date in the water at the beach, he gets his hand caught
in her outfit. She wrests his hand loose and scolds him, and he responds
I. He is insulted by a customer in a barbershop and this is his retort.
J. The nurse won't permit Nicholson and his fellow patients to watch the
World Series, and he shouts this.
THEN NICHOLSON SAYS THIS:
a. "Heeere's Johnny!"
b. "Who is this bimbo, Barney?"
c. "I'm not drunk anymore; the pain sobered me up."
d. "Aw, c'mon, you're not going to say that now."
e. "I can't afford a fucking dream house."
f. "Good meeting with you."
g. "Now how the fuck did this happen?"
h. "Maybe you need a change."
i. "I am the...shore patrol."
j. "You see this sign?"
MATCH THE TANTRUM AND LINE TO THE MOVIE:
1. "The Two Jakes"
3. "The Postman Always Rings Twice"
4. "The Last Detail"
6. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
7. "Five Easy Pieces"
8. "The Shining"
9. "The Border"
10. "Terms of Endearment"
ANSWERS: A,j,7; B,h,1; C,a,8; D,g,2; E,f,3; F,i,4; G,e,9; H,e,10; I,b.5;
[From New York Newsday, January 3, 1993]
FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Mimi Leder Takes Charge (and a Wonderful Call)
By Paul Iorio
Mimi Leder remembers the day she
received a call from Steven Spielberg
asking her to direct a feature film.
"I've got a big action movie that
spans four countries and four different
languages and I want you to direct,"
Spielberg told her in the call, according
"Well, what makes you think I can
direct action?," asked Leder, who
had never helmed a feature before and
whose main prior experience had
been directing television's "E.R."
"You do it everyday on 'E.R.,'"
said Spielberg, according to Leder.
"I do drama," said Leder.
"No," said Spielberg. "You
turn your drama into action by
the way you move your camera."
Given that Spielberg usually
gets what he wants, Leder soon became
the film's director. The result was
"The Peacemaker," starring George
Clooney and Nicole Kidman, the first
release from DreamWorks Pictures.
Obviously, Spielberg was quite
impressed with Leder's Emmy-
award winning work on "E.R." After
all, she is responsible for what many
critics consider a bona fide
television classic: episode number
eighteen of "E.R.," also known as
"Love's Labor Lost," in which a
pregnant woman arrives at the hospital
with a minor infection and leaves
in a body bag. Producer Norman Lear
is said to have called the episode
"the best hour of television ever
made." TV Guide says
it's "almost too painful to watch."
"'Love's Labor Lost' is why Mimi
got this job," said Clooney at a press
conference following my one-on-one
interview with Leder. "Steven saw that
episode and thought she directed an
action film in an hour episode inside
a hospital room. And he thinks she
could handle any kind of action after
Still, Clooney, not Leder, was
the first major player Spielberg
contacted when he started to put
together "The Peacemaker."
"I got a letter from Steven
Spielberg attached to the script, and
he said, 'It's our first movie for
Dreamworks: are you interested?,'" recalls
Clooney. "So that piques your interest
right off the bat."
Around a month after the letter, Clooney
got another call from Spielberg. "We're
thinking of going with Mimi. Do you like that?,"
Spielberg asked, according to Clooney.
"I was shocked," says Clooney of
the selection of Leder. "I thought
they were gonna get an old pro...For
them to get a first-time director was
The pairing of "E.R." colleagues
Leder and Clooney seemed smart, at least
on paper, to many; their chemistry
together had produced quality television,
after all. Yet the two couldn't be
further apart in terms of personality.
Clooney is generally genial, humorous,
mischievous, loquacious. Leder is
laconic, steely, restrained, a very
cool head. In this interview, one
could actually see her grow cooler as
In a recent issue of Vanity Fair,
Clooney even calls Leder "passive-
aggressive." Leder takes vigorous
exception to the characterization. "I'm
completely not passive-aggressive at all,"
she says, becoming passive and a
bit, well, quietly aggressive.
"She's somebody who can really bust
my chops a little bit and that's a
good thing," says Clooney of Leder.
"We have fun. I'll say, 'I'd really
like to do this [onscreen].' And
she'll say, 'You could do that;
a television actor would do that.'
At one point, when I killed a guy
[in the film], I said, 'I've
got to shoot him.' And she
wanted the guy to live...And I said,
'I guess [that would be right] for
a chick director.'"
Leder found that filming in the
war-torn Balkans was not nearly as
difficult as shooting in New York,
where she had to shut down parts of mid-
town Manhattan for a time. "Working
in New York was harder than
shooting anywhere else because New
Yorkers yell at you," says Leder, who
was born in New York and raised in
Los Angeles. "They were screaming at
us, 'Get off our streets, go back to
the back lot."
But that seems mild in contrast
to what Leder & Co. recently did to
Manassas, Virginia during location
filming for her next project, "Deep
Impact." At one point, Leder staged
a sprawling and chaotic traffic jam near
Manassas in order to create a mass
evacuation sequence for the film.
When she's done with the new
movie, Leder is returning to full-time
family life for awhile, raising her
ten-year-old daughter in the San Fernando
Valley. How does she manage the double
life of child-rearing and movie-
making? "'The Double Life': that's
the name of your article," she jokes.
"It's very hard to manage."
Leder, the daughter of the late
independent film maker Paul Leder, is
passing on the family tradition by
having her child appear in "The
Peacemaker." What does her daughter
think about having a film director
for a mom? "She said, 'Mom, you
really should stay in features,'" she
says. "'It's really, really cool.'"
[From the San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 1997.]
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN
AUGUST 1, 1999
The only Shyamalan interview about "The Sixth Sense" before the release of "The Sixth Sense" (apparently nobody else thought the movie would be a hit!).
By Paul Iorio
IORIO: I GOT TO SEE THE SIXTH SENSE LAST NIGHT...HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE
THIS FILM...IN TERMS OF GENRE?
SHYAMALAN: Well, hopefully one day it’ll be a Shyamalan genre. [laughs] It’s a cross genre for sure. I like to mix emotional dramas with larger subjects, so a supernatural subject like ghosts is a counterpoint that I’m looking for with these emotional dramas that are at the heart of the movies.
IORIO: WHEN I LEFT THE THEATRE, I SAID, ‘HMM. ‘REPULSION’ MEETS ‘GHOST.’
SHYAMALAN: [laughs] Right, right.
IORIO: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?
SHYAMALAN: Yeah, I watched ‘Repulsion’ twice during the pre-production, kind of letting it sink in and why that camera work got you so into it and so into her mind.
IORIO: WERE POLANSKI AND “ROSEMARY’S BABY”... BIG INFLUENCES ON YOU
SHYAMALAN: Not so much on me growing up but growing up as a film maker for sure, in the last five years. Learning about why things have resonance and power and other things don’t linger as long with you emotionally. And when you leave the theater, why some movies seem like you were very entertained, but the moment you get out to the car it’s lost a little bit. And how do you sustain that tone and emotion with camerawork and filmmaking, storytelling. Obviously, Polanski and The Shining and others that could sustain a tone for a long time are things that I’ve really analyzed to find the keys to.
IORIO: WHAT ABOUT “FRANKENSTEIN” ITSELF. I’M THINKING ABOUT WHEN THE
BOY IS LOCKED IN --
SHYAMALAN: The dungeon.
IORIO: RIGHT. I IMMEDIATELY THOUGHT: THE ORIGINAL ‘FRANKENSTEIN.’
SHYAMALAN: I saw it. Unconsciously -- let’s put it that way.
IORIO: ONE OF THE THINGS THAT STANDS OUT IS THE HALLUCINATORY QUALITY
SHYAMALAN: The ghosts...
IORIO: CURRENTLY, YOUR FILM IS PART OF A FRIGHT BOOM. THERE’S A REAL
APPETITE RIGHT NOW INTHE COUNTRY, STARTING WITH BLAIR WITCH
AND THE M UMMY IF YOU WANT TO GO BACKT HERE, AND THE HAUNTING.
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN ANY OF THE CURRENT CROP?
SHYAMALAN: No, I haven’t seen any of them. Partly because I was busy...When we sold Sixth Sense, it was a very public event, when I sold the screenplay for the Sixth Sense, it was a big deal, every studio bid on it, and everybody read it. It was a script that everybody had and everybody read. I think that when something is appreciated, it causes a ripple effect. And I think a lot of the people who bid on the movie are the people who have these horror movies in the theater between now and October...It’s just an example of how things happen in cycles in Hollwyood; they read something or see something that causes them to have a new apprecaition of an old way of storytelling and they kind of see the way of how to do it or get excited about it again.
IORIO: BUT THIS TIME THE AUDIENCES ARE RESPONDING BIG TIME.
SHYAMALAN: I don’t know why, but the current audience is skewing younger a little bit, like teenagers whereas in the Breakfast Club days and all, really strong films about that age group were making money but not the money they’re making now. And I think there’s something about that, being driven by a slightly younger demographic that’s causing an interest in being chilled and scared and having fun with that.
IORIO: I READ THAT YOU WERE VERY SURE OF LANDING BRUCE WILLIS EVEN
BEOFRE YOU FINISHED THE SCRIPT. AND YOU ACTULLAY DID. HOW DID
SHYAMALAN: I don't know. This has been a very weird film. I just thought it was going to happen. I thought I was going to sell it for a ton of money and I thought Bruce Willis was going to be in and I hadn’t written a word of it yet. I just had the title. And it just felt right. And it just turned that he was the guy we went to first and he said yes...and the film’s opening on my birthday!
HOW OLD WILL YOU BE?
I will be 29 on the day the movie opens.
WHAT A BIRTHDAY PRESENT!
I know: two thousand two hundred or five hundred screens: that’s a nice birthday present!
[Unpublished until now; a small part of this was included in my article for The San Francisco Chronicle in August 1999.]
EXCLUSIVE ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEW WITH FELA KUTI
(It may be the first one-on-one conducted after his release
from prison in 1986.]
By Paul Iorio
Fela, the late Nigerian pop star and
political activist, is probably best-known
today as the singer, saxophonist and composer
who created Afropop, which mixed jazz, rock,
funk and politics. Fela, whose full name
was Fela Anikulupo Kuti, was also famous
for having fought against oppression in Nigeria;
in the early Eighties, he was imprisoned by
his country’s military regime for three
years for what was what later proved
to be a politically motivated charge.
After he was released from prison
in April 1986, he visited New York City,
appearing at a press conference
on June 13, 1986, in Manhattan before
performing on June 15th for Amnesty
International at Giants Stadium in New
Jersey. On June 17, this reporter
conducted an exclusive one-on-one
interview with Fela, and a few lines
from that talk were published in the
weekly magazine Cash Box,
in the issue that hit newsstands on
June 21, 1986.
Most of the interview I conducted
for Cash Box has never been
published in the decades since. Here is
an edited version of that
conversation I had with Fela on
June 17, 1986,
seven weeks after his
release from prison.
IORIO: IT MUST BE A BIG CHANGE FOR YOU TO BE OUT OF PRISON NOW.
FELA: Yeah, it's a big change for me. It's a good change.
IORIO: DID YOU WRITE A LOT OF SONGS IN PRISON?
FELA: No. I just kept my brain blank. I left my mind blank in prison.
IORIO: YOU WERE TRANSFERRED TO KIRIKIRI. WAS THAT NIGERIA'S TOUGHEST
PRISON? AND WAS IT TOUGH ON YOU?
FELA: Kirikiri is one of the toughest prisons but it was not tough on me. I lived through it. It was tough on the body.
IORIO: DO YOU THINK YOUR SPIRIT IS STRONGER BECAUSE OF THIS EXPERIENCE?
FELA: Much more stronger.
IORIO: THERE WAS A PERIOD WHEN YOU WERE IN THE HOSPITAL AND THEY
TRANSFERRED YOU OVER TO MAIDUGURI PRISON. AT THAT POINT,
NOBODY HEARD ANYTHING FROM YOU FOR ABOUT SIX WEEKS. WHAT
HAPPENED TO YOU?
FELA: They just took me to the prison...And it was very very uncomfrotable, very far away from everybody. And visitors weren't allowed for me for about five months.
IORIO: WERE YOU AFRAID FOR YOUR LIFE?
FELA: No, no, no. I was never afraid for my life....We just try to face the government...
IORIO: ARE YOU STILL SPEAKING OUT AGAINST THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT?
YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BACK DOWN?
FELA: No, I'm not going to back down. I still intend to [protest the government]. I'm not
IORIO: WOULD YOU EVER CONSIDER GETTING INVOLVED IN NIGERIAN POLITICS
FELA: Yes, definitely.
IORIO: YOU MENTIONED AT A PRESS CONFERENCE THAT SOME OF THE MILITARY
PEOPLE HAVE YOUR RECORDS AND LIKE YOUR MUSIC.
FELA: Oh, yes. Everybody in Nigeria likes my records.
IORIO: DO YOU THINK AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL HAD A LOT TO DO WITH
GETTING YOU OUT OF PRISON?
FELA: Not much. They tried to make people aware of it. But there's not much they could do...
IORIO: WHILE YOU WERE IN PRISON, WHAT WAS THE WORST THING THAT
HAPPENED TO YOU?
FELA: The worst thing that happened to me [while I was in prison] was that my record was produced by somebody else -- Bill Laswell. And that really fucked me up in prison.
IORIO: THAT WAS "LIVE IN AMSTERDAM"?
FELA: No, "Army Arrangement." Destroyed me completely. F----- my mind up...When
you're in prison, you can’t do anything about what’s happening outside.
IORIO: BUT AT THE SAME TIME, PEOPLE WERE BEING CARTED OUT DEAD
EVERYDAY, THERE WERE BEATINGS.
FELA: Oh, yes.
IORIO: BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
IORIO: WAS THAT BECAUSE EVERYBODY KNEW WHO YOU WERE?
FELA: Yes, exactly.
IORIO: YOU WERE MORE THAN DISAPPOINTED WITH ARMY ARRANGEMENT.
FELA: Yes, Bill Laswell’s production. I had a production before I went to prison. So they abandoned my production and put in a new one. They knew that [I’d given] instructions that it not be produced by anyone. They knew how I felt about it.
HOW ABOUT “LIVE IN AMSTERDAM”? DO YOU HARBOR ANY BAD FEELING
THAT EMI RELEASED THAT INSTEAD OF RELEASING “PERAMULATOR”?
FELA: EMI did so many bad things. They didn’t look out for my interest at all. They just wanted to rush something out....”Live in Amsterdam” wasn’t a good recording. I only [made] it happen because the system wanted it, because the comapny complained...and demanded a live album.
IS THERE A FELA RECORD THAT YOU BELIEVE IS YOUR BEST?
FELA: No, I don’t.
DO YOU THINK THAT YOU COULD LIVE A BETTER LIFE AS A MUSIICAN IF
YOU WERE TO LEAVE NIGERIA?
FELA: I could never leave my home....It inspires me a lot.
[Interview unreleased until now; parts of this were included in my article on Fela for Cash Box magazine, June 21, 1986.]_
PUBLISHED HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME
Little-Known Popes in Papal History
By Paul Iorio
POPE NAPOLEON THE 13TH
Mad Pope Napoleon the 13th's brief reign was marked by grandiose plans and an obsession with Napoleon Bonaparte. He was deposed when he tried to turn the Vatican into a nuclear power. (1952)
An anti-pope who advocated praying to the Devil and to God in order to cover all bases. (431 A.D.) [For the record, the term anti-pope refers to those who establish a power base that competes with The Holy See.]
POPE JESUS GOD THE SECOND
For all the arrogance of his name, Jesus God 2 actually turned out to be somewhat humble and unassuming, noted mostly for his punctuality. Was convinced the Old Testament had been penned by a guy named Smith. (1564)
POPE MUHAMMAD THE FIRST
With the Ottomans threatening Western Europe, the Vatican decided to throw Constantinople a bone by elevating a former imam to the top spot. Muhammad the First, a lapsed Muslim who fled Turkey and converted to Catholicism, fell from favor after he proposed building minarets atop St. Peter’s Basilica. (1627)
A hippie anti-pope known for his casual manner and affinity for pop culture, he dispensed with Latin rites in favor of "happenings." (Sept. 1974 to Sept. 1974)
POPE SASKATOON, GOVERNOR OF SASKATCHEWAN
As his expansive title suggests, Saskatoon might have been a bit more preoccupied with claiming long-denied status from the folks back home than with his duties as pope. (1910)
POPE LITERALIST THE 16TH
Took transubstantiation far more literally than most; after a car accident, he insisted Vatican doctors give him a blood transfusion using Chianti Classico instead of blood, a fatal decision. Advocated medical care for the dead, who he called the "as yet unrisen." (1960)
POPE JOHNNY THE FIRST
An American greaser of the 1950s -- and self-styled "Method Pope” -- who rode a Harley to work. (1956)
The first hip hop anti-pope. Expanded the use of "signs of the Cross" to include gang hand signs. (1998)
POPE RABBI GOLDSTEIN
Not officially a pope or a rabbi, and operating for a time from a psychiatric facility in Antwerp, where he occasionally broadcast a syndicated faith program called “This Week in Eternal Damnation," he actually convinced several dozen people, mostly Belgians, that he was the first Jewish pope. (1988)
[Published here for the first time, 2007.]
EDITORIAL ON THE SALMAN RUSHDIE AFFAIR
PUBLISHED IN THE EAST COAST ROCKER
March 29, 1989
We Must Send These Fundamentalists a Clear and Sharp Message
By Paul Iorio
The rock world has finally started weighing
in with its belated condemnations of the
Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence
on novelist Salman Rushdie. Unfortunately,
certain factions have chosen to use
oppressive tactics to fight the Ayatollah.
Nowhere has that been more evident than in
the organization by several U.S. radio stations
of boycotts and burnings of records by Cat
Stevens, due to the singer's backing of
Khomeini's death threat.
Without a doubt, Stevens's support of
Muslim terrorism is completely damnable,
though record burnings are not the proper
way to vent one's outrage. Indeed,
suppressing Stevens's work on the basis
of his political or religious beliefs is doing
the Ayatollah's job. We should be able
to hear Stevens' music just as we should
be allowed to read Rushdie's books.
When we respond with such a boycott,
by fighting fascism with fascism, we defeat
ourselves. We should combat Khomeini
by making sure that Rushdie's "The Satanic
Verses" is sold and displayed by major
And Viking Press should heed
NBC-News's John Chancellor's suggestion
to call the Ayatollah's bluff by bringing Rushdie
over to the U.S. for a publicity tour.
We must send these fundamentalists a
clear and sharp message: no political
or religious leader, not even in our own
country, will intimidate or terrorize us into
limiting freedom of expression.
One can condemn Stevens's approval of
the Rushdie death contract without boycotting
his music, just as one can deplore poet Ezra
Pound's Nazism without condemning his
Certainly there are grounds for not airing
Stevens's songs, but those grounds are
aesthetic, not political; his wimpy folk lacks
any semblance of edge or energy, enduring
guilty pleasures like "Peace Train" and
We've had enough censorship from
religious fundamentalists -- from Falwell
to Khomeini -- and should put religious
extremists of all faiths on notice: they have
absolutely no business imposing their
private beliefs on a secular society. Period.
How does one deal with bomb threats and other
violent acts by those who wish to stifle free
speech? Norman Mailer, speaking at a recent
PEN reading of "Satanic Verses" in Manhattan
that I attended (and that was delayed by a
bomb threat), gave advice on how to handle
telephone bomb threats, which, he noted,
only cost a quarter to make. Quoting Jean
Genet, Mailer said to tell such callers:
"Blow out your farts."
[published in the East Coast Rocker newspaper, March 29, 1989.]