The Friends of California Libre...

02 January 2005

Ode to the Dead

Greetings, friends,
Sounds ominous, doesn't it? Read down a bit to find out what I'm talking about.

Although I have a fairly low opinion of television, I brought in the New Year with a few excellent to see Cliff Robertson's ventriloquist go nuts (again) during the annual "Twilight Zone" marathon with my mom, and an especially racist "Johnny Quest" episode at 3 am with Chris D'Angelo. There was "The Poseidon Adventure", of course (and in retrospect, I really believe that Gene Hackman should have gotten an Academy Award for his over the top performance as Reverend Scott: "Not this woman, Lord...not this woman!") But without doubt the best sign I received in favor of an entertaining 2005 was catching a very late night performance of a true American masterpiece, "Valley of the Dolls".

Sigh, how can I express my deep devotion to Jackie Susann's masterwork, and the especially trashy way it was brought to the big screen. I was riveted to my chair as poor Sharon Tate uttered some of her greatest lines as an actress, "French subtitles over a bare bottom doesn't make it art," and "You know how bitchy fags can be," which brought down the house in San Francisco the first time I saw it. To say nothing of Patty Duke's numerous flip-out scenes, and her tragic duet in the sanatarium ("It WASN'T a nuthouse!") with Tony Scotti, "Come live with me, and be my love...", or poor Barbara Parkins waking up on the beach in Malibu, zapped out on "dolls", and taking the next train back to New England.

I'll say this for my young wards: go find yourself a copy of "Valley of the Dolls" (and then maybe Russ Meyer's equally magnificent "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls") and you'll have in a nutshell the REAL 1960s...not the hip hippie 1960s, but the chain-smoking day-glo Martini & Aquanet 1960s. I'll challenge any feminist that their cause was advanced further by Anne Welles dumping Lyon Burke (that heel) than by anything Gloria Steinem did.

Anyway, here's my ode to the dead: just before New Year's, a friend at the library passed me a copy of Andy Rooney's book Years of Minutes, a compilation of his whiny observations on CBS' 60 Minutes. I was thrilled, because for many years I've unsuccessfully tried to find a transcript of Rooney's Kurt Cobain segment from 1994. In case you forgot (it was, natch, almost 11 years ago now) Kurt Cobain blew his brains out on 5 April 1994. He was born 20 February 1967, or less than 16 months after me, so any attack on his generation was an attack on mine. I like to remember it, as the German terrorist Hans Klein said, "To keep my hatred sharp." For your New Year's reading pleasure, the transcript of Rooney's comments (please distribute widely), and the section in my novel Supporting the Homeless where I tried to recapture that moment. And just to prove that I love paradox, I've enclosed a cartoon that brutalizes my peers a lot better than Andy Rooney.

Kurt Cobain
by Andy Rooney
You know the world has passed you by when your newspaper carries a page-one story about the death of someone you never heard of. It happened to me this week. All the papers had it.
“Kurt Cobain,” this story says, “who helped to create the grunge-rock sound that has dominated popular music, was found dead at his home. Mr. Cobain, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the influential band Nirvana, killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head.”
It isn’t bad enough I never heard of Kurt Cobain, I never heard of “grunge rock” or “Nirvana” either.
The story says grunge rock is “the noisy, icon-smashing spawn of punk rock.”
Kurt Cobain’s death at age twenty-seven doesn’t sadden me, it angers me. He must have been a talented person but a lot of people would like to have the years left that he threw away. I’d like to have them.
What’s all this nonsense about how terrible life is? A young girl who stood outside his home in Seattle with tears streaming down her face said, “It’s hard to be a young person nowadays. He helped open people’s eyes to our struggles.”
Please, wipe the tears from your eyes, dear. You’re breaking my heart. I’d love to relieve the pain you’re going through by switching my age for yours.
What would all these young people be doing if they had real problems like a Depression, World War II, or Vietnam? Do they work at all? Are they contributing anything to the world they’re taking so much from?
Everything about Kurt Cobain makes me suspicious. This picture shows him in a pair of jeans with a hole in the knee. I doubt that Kurt Cobain ever did enough work to wear a hole in his pants. He probably had ten pairs just like these hanging in his closet­all with fake holes in the knee.
All this fake stuff makes me suspicious of his music. No one’s art is better than the person who creates it. If Kurt Cobain applied the same brain to his music that he applied to his drug-infested life, it’s reasonable to think that his music may not have made much sense either.
On a back page of the same newspaper with the Kurt Cobain story, there’s an obituary of Samuel E. Thorne who died at the age of eighty-seven. Professor Thorne was a retired legal historian at Harvard.
“Mr. Thorne,” the obituary said, “was an authority on English legal history dating to the 12th century. During World War II he was a Navy cryptanalyst in the Pacific. He is survived by two sons and his wife of 50 years.”
I’d like to suggest we save our tears for Professor Thorne.

And the melodramatic way I remember it:

“Great, man,” Ben said nervously. “You keep him laughing, and we’re going to the best Goddamn restaurant in Beverly Hills for dinner.”
“I can’t wait,” I said dismally. But I was hungry.
We cruised down Melrose Avenue in the gold Caddy, Ben driving and Nikolai calling insults from the passenger window. I’d learned to be wary around wealthy people, but I detested rich bratty punks. They bummed cigarettes with gusto and might very well leave you with the check. Still, Nikolai seemed to like Ben, and promised us a life of fine dining, witty conversation, and careful intrigue.
“I’m gonna write an article for ArtUser,” he told us. “You, Benjamin, Rachel Richard, Brendan Miles, Joe Franco. You can help me write it. The giants of the Art World, the only people who truly matter, assembled in print for the first time. We’re gonna make history, art history, man.”
After three drinks apiece at Singer’s mansion, dominated by the view of his mother’s mansion across the road, we drove back down into the Fairfax District, drifting on the late afternoon intoxication I adored, the air alive with color and sound, the sharp edges taken off the world. We strolled into a midnight-black restaurant, known for dishes named after famous Modern artists, and our appetite was good. We immediately ordered a round of cocktails and slabs of rare meat, a secret vice we shared, digging in like stoned hippies without formalities. The dinner crowd wouldn’t be in for almost an hour, so the waiters left the television on over the bar, leaning there and keeping tabs on the few customers. Andy Rooney appeared on “60 Minutes”. “Here’s a slice of American apple pie,” I noted, indicating the screen with my fork.
“Mmm, apple pie,” Singer grunted. Ben shot me a cautionary look.
Andy Rooney’s rattling warble was unusually agitated. He was going off on Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana who’d killed himself a few days previously. Dead rockers are tragic and stupid and disinteresting, and with each year separating me from reckless youth, my dislike for junkies and suicidal artists had increased. Too many talented, hard-working people died by accident or fate to sympathize much with the weepy Nirvana fans. But as Rooney whined on, the restaurant slowly fell silent. He talked about the fake ripped holes in Cobain’s jeans, his fake suffering, how he never worked a day in his life, and finally Rooney turned his opprobrium on Kurt Cobain’s entire complaining generation. I was just a few years older than Kurt Cobain. The people in the restaurant, staff and customers, were the same age, and we watched this fucking old man berate us in ways we hadn’t heard since we split our parents’ houses. That's right, we were lazy, spoiled, overeducated, foolish, anti-social, easily corrupted, vain. We were all Kurt Cobain, according to Mister Rooney, ready to off ourselves at the first hint of trouble.
Even Ben, with his sarcastic mouth, sat silently. I realized then that my energy had been misdirected. I’d been too critical of my peers, of the citizens of other cities, when we all should have organized for war against our elders. We’d been so busy trading smart remarks, we forgot that the grown-ups were still chewing pieces off the world. It was an error we shouldn’t make again.
“That cocksucking asshole,” I said loudly when Rooney finished his diatribe, fading to a Rolaids commercial. The restaurant stayed quiet. One of the bartenders turned off the television, shaking a little.
The five people behind me, dressed for a meeting at CAA, suddenly made a toast to Kurt Cobain. A guy wearing an Armani suit leaned towards us. “Let’s fly to New York and kill that fucking bottom-feeder,” he said grimly.
Ben nodded. “Right after we finish eating.”
I sat back, staring at half a steak. My appetite was gone.

Stay angry,

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