Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Electric Kool-Aid Dickless Fuck

I didn’t realize what was missing when I first read the two touchstone books of New Journalism.

Here’s a scene from one of Ken Kesey’s famous LSD parties, as described by Tom Wolfe in his trailblazing bible of the 60s, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test:

The girl had her red and white dress pushed up around her chest, and two or three would be on her at once, between her legs, sitting on her face in the sick ochre light of the shack with much lapping and leering and bubbling and gulping through furzes of public hair while sweat and semen glistened on the highlights of her belly and thighs and she twitched and moaned, not in protest, however, in a kind of drunken bout of God knew what and men with no pants on were standing around, cheering, chiding, waiting for their turn, or their second turn, or the third until she had been fenestrated in various places at least fifty times.

I keep a crumpled yellow note from that night; not all of the writing is decipherable, but some of it reads like this: “Pretty girl about twenty-five lying on a wooden floor, two or three on her all the time, one kneeling between her legs, one sitting on her face and somebody else holding her feet … teeth and tongues and pubic hair, dim light in a wooden shack, sweat and semen gleaming on her thighs and stomach, red and white dress pushed up around her chest … people standing around yelling, wearing no pants, waiting first, second or third turns … girl jerking and moaning, not fighting, clinging, seems drunk, incoherent, not knowing, drowning …”

The details in both descriptions (which came to mind because Wolfe died, at the age of 88, on May 14) are largely the same because they came from the same source. Wolfe was not at the two-day blow at Kesey’s place in La Honda, California where the Hell’s Angels met the Merry Pranksters, but Thompson was. So Wolfe borrowed Thompson’s tapes and notes.

On that first read, I decided that Wolfe had glossed it up while Thompson was more coldly accurate.

To be fair, Wolfe set the scene this way: “a lot of them [the bikers] piled in there, hooking down beers, laughing, taking their turns, making various critiques.” But his embellishments – ‘fenestrated’ instead of penetrated, ‘furzes of pubic hair,’ ‘sick ochre light’ – hyped the supposed druggie blur. And he further disembodied the scene by framing the fucking in two weird tenses – the conditional and the past perfect progressive. Significantly, Wolfe dropped the fact, clear on Thompson’s page, that she was held down on the wood floor, and he added that she was ‘in a kind of drunken bout of God knew what.’ I suppose this was supposed to mean that she was willing.

Yet, when I checked in on Thompson's book recently, I felt that he, too, fell short. From the crumpled yellow of his note paper (creepy, isn't it, that he hung around that crude cabin long enough to take notes) to the fact that his only verbs are gerunds, his account is oddly passive, presenting an affair with little grubby atrociousness.

What I missed when I read these books decades back, and what is obvious to me visiting them again today, is that both accounts never mention penises. In both of them, this was a dickless fuck. (Thompson didn't even call the possessors of these penises men; rather, he called them ‘people.’)

Two male authors describing the same scene both made a forest of stiff pricks magically disappear.  As many as fifty erect cocks. Erased. Removed. Disposed of. Airbrushed out. Neutron bombed. Disappeared. Poof!

To put the pricks in, to describe them, talk about them, make them apparent, active, palpable, powerful, would have tilted it. Because it’s got to be fucking impossible to stick your head into a room at a party and see a hoard of bellowing men – maybe not fifty but definitely dozens – with their pants off and their dicks hard taking turns on a solitary woman who's being held down on the hard floor and think, even for a moment, even if she doesn't protest, that it might be consensual. I mean, to maintain that takes some serious work.

Wolfe’s final assessment of the scene -- “But that is her movie, it truly is, and we have gone with the flow” -- only makes sense without the dicks.

Thompson's too. Though he was clearly conflicted, he dispelled that conflict in a twist of explanation. “It was not a particularly sexual scene,” he wrote. “The impression I had at the time was one of vengeance. The atmosphere in the room was harsh and brittle, almost hysterical.” At another point he termed what he witnessed as somewhere between a friendly sex orgy and an all-out gang rape.” In the end, though, the outlaw journalist handed up an indictment: “The Hell’s Angels, by several definitions, including their own, are working rapists . . . [ellipsis in original] and in this downhill half of our twentieth century they are not so different from the rest of us as they sometimes seem. They are only more obvious.”

‘Working rapists.’ What a phrase. A keeper. It takes in everyone from the President of the United States on down -- which makes it perfect for this godawful Sisyphean second decade of the twenty-first century.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

epa meets the epa

photo by Valerie Wiseman
The Environmental Performance Agency (EPA): Department of Weedy Affairs
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 5, 3–8pm
with "Towards Teaching a Human the Urban Weeds Alphabet" performed by EPA agent Andrea Haenggi at 3, 5 and 7 pm.

May 5 – June 16, 2018

At Transformer | 1404 P Street NW, Washington DC
with additional programs & events around the District

An exhibition and series of programmatic performances and workshops led by the Environmental Performance Agency (EPA), an artist collective (Catherine Grau, Andrea Haenggi, Christopher Kennedy and Ellie Irons) which imagines a governmental agency that is beyond human.

Read more here.

  • May 5-June 16: Environmental Performance Agency at Transformer Gallery, Washington D.C.
    • Saturday, May 5, 3:00 – 8:00pm: The Department of Weedy Affairs opens to the public with " Towards Teaching a Human the Urban Weeds Alphabet" by andrea haenggi at 3, 5 and 7 pm.
    • Sunday May 20, 2:00 – 5:00 pm: Crack The Patriarchy: Moving, Thinking and Feeling with Plants that Break Through Cracks in Asphalt, Meeting Point: National Museum of Women in the Arts (led by Catherine Grau and Andrea Haenggi )
    • Saturday, June 9, 2:00 –  4:30pm: Weedy Resistance: A Weedy Walking Tour on the National Mall, Meeting Point: Constitution Avenue NW and 12th Street NW, Washington DC (led by Ellie Irons & Chris Kennedy)
    • June 15, 2018, 2pm, EPA Meets EPA: A public walk to the US EPA Headquarters
      Meeting Point: Transformer, 1404 P Street, NW Washington, DC

 Andrea Haenggi in rehearsal @Transformer, DC
Other Upcoming Shows

  • May 5th  Opening of Wilder City 's  Group Exhibition  (Sadly I can not be in two places at once), Flux Factory/Windmill Community Garden, curated by Lorissa Rinehart and Nat Roe 
  • May 13, 12:30-2pm: EPA at Open Engagement: "Plant Talk Human Talk: An EPA Training for the Beginning of the World", Queens Museum, Flushing, Queens, NY

  • June 1 6:30pm- 8:30pm Ecopoetic , Digitaria durational performance as part of the 18 Site-Specific Dance Performances at Washington Square Park presented by the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies curated by Artistic Director Regina Miranda at  the occasion of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute’s 40th Anniversary.

  • June 8 8pm -1am, NYC ANARCHIST art Festival at Judson Memorial , infos of my performance participation will come soon.Stay tuned

Thursday, April 05, 2018

the confidence man

I had heard of Warren Hinckle before I happened upon Ransoming Pagan Babies, the collection of his writings just released by Heyday Books, but I had never read him.

I knew of him only as the guy who, when he was editor of Scanlan’s Monthly in the early 70s, sent Hunter S. Thompson to Louisville to cover the Kentucky Derby and arranged for Ralph Steadman to meet him there. The result—The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved—is considered the foundational work of gonzo journalism.

But the story as I’ve told it is at once too much and too little.

Here’s Hinckle’s summary of it, from an appreciation penned just after the renowned doctor of journalism shot himself dead in the head:

Gonzo started when Hunter called me from Colorado at home in San Francisco about 4 a.m.—a normal social hour for him—to say that he wanted to cover the Kentucky Derby, which was then but two days away. I said Okay, we’d send him tickets and money (“With expenses, anything is possible,” Hunter frequently said), and find an artist to hook up with him. That of course would be poor, dear Ralph Steadman.
Indeed, Hinckle pointed out in that same appreciation that the great ‘Fear and Loathing’ author didn’t invent anything.

A television journo asked me if Hunter had “forged a new path” in journalism. I thought about it and said, no, he had rather beaten his way back through the overgrown jungle of bureaucratic media to the original path of nineteenth-century journalism, when journalism was actually a popular, participatory sport and editors swore openly and imbibed freely and spat tobacco and carried guns and cussedly attacked politicians and other editors by name as varmints unworthy of roadkill. (Parenthetically, the gloryhole days of American journalism which included the great muckrakers were before modern advertising as we know it; a publisher was previously dependent on the pennies or nickels of readers who actually wanted to read their sheet—with the intrusion of corporate advertising money subsidizing the price of a publication came corporate media and corporate caution and self-censorship.)
Hinckle was a great perpetrator of open, opinionated, participatory journalism (and, parenthetically, his use of 'gloryhole' to describe the halcyon days of American news reporting was dead-eye marksmanship.) He looked the parta big guy with an eyepatch (the result of a car accident when he was eight.) And he acted the part, too. According to local lore, when Eldridge Cleaver called him out for editing Ramparts in rightwing hangouts like Cookie Picetti’s Blue Star CafĂ©—Hinckle swung back. “Know any good leftwing bars?” he asked the Black Panther Minister of Information. And once, embroiled in a dispute with then-Mayor (and current Senator) Dianne Feinstein over her harassment of local strip joints, he reportedly posted her unlisted number on a club marquee with the message “For a good time, call Dianne.” 

But beyond the cartoon caricature, Warren Hinckle was doing his own thing—creating a profoundly political and personal kind of gonzo journalism long before gonzo became a hackneyed and oft-imitated thing. Hinckle wrote presciently and thoughtfully about many of the things that have come to characterize our culture decades on.

Working with a bevy of writers for Ramparts, which he edited in the mid-60s, he covered the melee in Selma on March 7, 1965. The dispatches from various Ramparts' reporters that he cobbled together put readers inside the Bloody Sunday March (“What do you want, nigger? Jump off the bridge? Well, go on, jump.The troopers and possemen herded the fleeing Negroes cross the bridge with cattle prods, clubs and whips. Those who were too young or too old to move fast enough got hit the most.”) and outside it with villainous cops and their hangers on (“The sidewalk line of whites stretched from corner to corner. I'm going to take that little nigger over there to the barber's and give him a haircutright down to his neck, said one of the whites. What do you want, freedom? You black pig asses got more freedom that you deserve.”) 

The magazine revealed how Michigan State University was secretly in cahoots with the CIA to prop up the corrupt Diem regime in South Vietnam. And Ramparts savaged inequality in Oakland as a board game called Metropoly. “Playing rules are simple,” Hinckle wrote. “If you are among the substandard income families that make up 47 percent of Oakland’s population, you wait your turn, shake the dice, count your spaces, and keep quiet. Go to jail when you are told, only pass Go when you receive permission. Pay your taxes. And above all, don’t rock the board.” Hinckle went on to indict the nation: “Despite the singular obtuseness of its public officials, Oakland is not unique. It is Americait is the American core city. Oakland may be a funny place, but the joke is on all of us.”

He wrote critically of the Hippies in March 1967. This was before the summer of love became the summer of love. Before Jimmy Hendrix set his guitar on fire at Monterey. Before Woodstock. Before The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test put the hallucinatory lifestyle on the literary map.

“If the people looking in from the suburbs want change, clothes, fun, and some lightheartedness from the new gypsies,” he wrote, “the hippies are delivering it—and some of them are becoming rich hippies because of it.” He warned that the new movement underplayed the importance of politics. “If more and more youngsters begin to share the hippie political posture of unrelenting quietism, the future of activist, serious politics is bound to be affected. The hippies have shown that it can be pleasant to drop out of the arduous task of attempting to steer a difficult, unrewarding society. But when that is done, you leave the driving to the Hell’s Angels.”

Fifty-one years on, you might say that legacy – think American Chopper and Duck Dynasty – is what brought Donald Trump to power.

In 1989, when former Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton was gunned down in West Oakland, Hinckle was again on the case, noting the revolution in style the Panthers had wrought. “The Panthers,” he wrote, “contributed the lion’s share of sixties political iconography—the clenched-fist Black Power salute, free breakfasts for ghetto kids, the coloring-book symbolism of cops as pigs, the slogan “Power to the People,” images of blacks with the guns that the NRA thought were its alone.” Newton—“radical icon, dope fiend, Kantian scholar, baby-faced muscleman, alkie, Hollywood darling, thug, revolutionary theorist, silk-suiter, Kools smoker, bad dude, recidivist ex-con, writer of books, poster boy, FBI psy-war victim and, finally, pipehead—held in one mystery personality, all the contradictions and accomplishments of the century’s most contentious decade. After the shooting was heard at dawn in Oakland on Tuesday, a mute inglorious taps was played for the sixties; this time the stake had been put through the heart of the vampire.”

In the 70s and 80s, Hinckle wrote excellent, heart-on-sleeve, Jimmy Breslin-style appreciations of the characters of San Francisco. In 1985, he was arrested in the San Francisco Chronicle newsroom, purportedly for walking his dog without a license.
In 1987, he ran for Mayor.

He wrote of Cuba in the 80s, sensing the possibilities three decades before the rest of America was ready: “What many Americans who view Cuba through grim glasses forget is that this has always been a nation of traders interested in making a deal. Lest we forget, the Cubans traded the captured CIA Bay of Pigs invaders for baby food and aspirin.”

“At various times,” Hinckle once acknowledged, “I have been called licentious, a profligate, an adventurer, a sensationalist, a wastrel, a capitalist guerrilla, a boozer, a corporate wrecker, a degenerate, a wheeler-dealer, and a pirate, among other things. There exist sufficient grounds for most of those appellations.”

These were big decades in America and Hinckle, who died in 2016 at the age of 77, played a big game. He was a cosmopolitan, a crusader, promoter, myth-maker, masquerader, confidence man, and, perhaps because of all these things, straight and true. His writing was powerful, literate—pulling from Heraclitus, from James Bryce’s 1888 work The American Commonwealth, and, befitting his deep Frisco roots, from Upton Sinclair and Jack London—and always on the side of society's victims.

Heyday's collection is uneven and repetitiveor, you might say, appropriately informalbut it makes you wish the master himself was still belly-to-the-bar, beloved basset hound in tow, clucking over where we are today and booming out bemused broadsides about the problems we'll have to reckon with in a generation or two.

Ransoming Pagan Babies takes its title from the opening essay, in which Hinckle describes his cavity-prone years in Catholic schools and how students were expected to buy babies born in China out of sin by paying for their baptisms. Though Hinckle skewered this cheapskate modern-day version of indulgences, you might say that his output was a continuation of the program. He wrote to ransom three hundred million of us, pagan American babies all, from the stain of our original—and not-so-original—sins.

Here's all you have to do to save yourself: read him.