Love Song to a Psychostimulant Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Tergrugghen_Flute_Player(Written February 2010)

What is it that’s so annoying about VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab”? It’s the reality show that features the good-souled Dr. Drew who ministers—and really listens—to those fallen stars, mostly talent-less one-hit wonders, throwaway children like Mackenzie Phillips or love-starved sex toys like Heidi Fleiss.

What’s so annoying is their helplessness. Being on drugs or being off drugs doesn’t matter. They can’t function; they’ve got addictive personalities; nothing works. The two stock dramatic bits are will he/she pass the drug test or will he/she bolt before the “treatment” is over. They’re forever unstable because life on drugs or in treatment is a hell of denying the self what it wants. Watching adolescents in adult bodies is the saddest thing of all.

It’s also irksome that the cameras roll on and on, “catching” the celebs off-guard, when, in fact, this clan (Dennis Rodman, Tom Sizemore, et alia) is so media savvy and comeback-minded that it’s obvious they crack up or cry on cue, which is hardly caught-in-the-act. Maybe we should have a show called “Film Rehab” for those who emote only when a camera’s present.

Review: The Last Word: 76 American Epitaphs Compiled and Illuminated by J. D. Abel Print E-mail

Omar Polk(Contrary Magazine Winter 2010)


The idea is brilliant. (No wonder the author gives himself credit in his byline.) Write epitaphs, or gravestone inscriptions, a few lines of pithy poetry. Draw the departed’s portrait in cross-stitched pen and ink. Add in birth-death dates to account for era and end. Voilá, a collection of utter simplicity and mesmerizing effect.

What could be more deflating to our ego nature than this gallery of dreams deferred by the absurdly talented Southern California painter, caricaturist, and draftsman, J. D. Abel.

Exhibit: Malcolm Omar Polk, 1947-1967, his image, and his last words:

I seen a twister pick up a barn

I seen a comet with a tail

I seen a crazy man fuck a wild goat

but I never seen nothing

like Viet Nam

Nonprofits Nonplussed Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

coin-collecting-numismatics-3(San Diego Reader December 30, 2009)

At the Bayside Community Center in Linda Vista, things are humming along as they have since the center was founded in 1932 as a settlement house for families of Italian and Portuguese fishermen. Having moved up the hill from Little Italy, Bayside still programs activities for kids, teens, seniors, people with disabilities, and new immigrants. Bayside’s service community is San Diego’s most diverse: Hmong, Hispanics, Somalis, African-Americans, Mixtec Indians, and whites populate the hill, many living in World War II–era housing projects. The center’s main role is helping recent arrivals who are socially and geographically marginalized.

Leaving Music, Leaving Marriage—A Memoir Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

dead20wolf(San Diego Reader February 24, 2000; Revised 2006-2009)

I was trembling, tearing open the biscuit-colored envelope, its official return address, University of California, San Diego, Department of Music, Graduate Division. "I am happy to inform you," it began—but didn’t I know the rest, hadn’t I known it in my gut for months, ever since I kissed and mailed the application, that my (our) westering dream would come true?—"The Department of Music is recommending that you be admitted," and then I couldn’t see the words since I was crying and running to tell my wife Annie and four-year-old twin sons: we’d be leaving Santa Fe, our home since 1975, and moving to southern California.

I didn’t say that last bit right off. I read out the very sweet "offer": full tuition scholarship, a teaching assistantship at $5,000 a year, and the Ph.D. track in composition. In five short years, I’d be a bona fide Doctor of Music!

Review: Two Katrina Books by Dan Baum and Dave Eggers Print E-mail

zeitoun(Open Letters Monthly December 1, 2009)

Books of the City

For readers, what’s exhilarating about great crimes and tragedies in the American South is how quickly, how necessarily, they are translated into literature.

The most recent maelstrom eliciting literary remembrance is Hurricane Katrina, late-August/early-September 2005. But this time it’s not fiction that rushes in. We’re too wired to wait for fiction. It’s nonfiction, and the coverage is personal—memoir, reportage, biography. Fiction will come. But for now the urgency of the witness/participant story is driving the boat. The reason is, Katrina played so well on TV. The writer bounces off that reality, feels the charged immediacy of those pictures of families waving at helicopters from rooftops.

Ex-Pros: Life After Sport Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

11.04.2009(San Diego Reader November 4, 2009)

If ever there were a San Diego Charger whose postcareer success has matched his years spent on the field, it’s the great Ron Mix. Mix’s glory years came in the 1960s, when the Chargers were in the American Football League. Back in the day, Mix was listed at 6’ 4” and 250 pounds, known as a weight lifter long before football players commonly pumped iron, and nicknamed the “Intellectual Assassin.” On the field, he achieved something that’s never been equaled: in ten seasons, he had two holding calls against him. Off the field, he blazed a trail by becoming one of the few players to earn a law degree—he graduated from the University of San Diego law school in 1969—and one of the very few who got the degree during his career, not after he hung up his cleats.

Review: Frankly, My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited by Molly Haskell Print E-mail

mhaskell-390-jacket_jpg_3(Contrary Magazine Autumn 2009)

America's Great Feminist Icon

Every culture has its enduring art—Rome The Aeneid, Italy The Last Supper, Russia the Pathetique Symphony. In those pre-modern societies, the value of art was based on its creator’s mastery and its national or religious cast. Art had not yet been tainted by its earning power. Not until the mid-twentieth century, when mass production of art and mass audiences for its consumption arose, was art’s intrinsic value exchanged for commodity value. Shares in its intrinsic value continue to fall. The art work’s preeminent worth today lies in that cuddly American euphemism, its commercial appeal.

To be viable in the commercial era, art works need social and technological currency: they must court controversy to fuel their sales; they must seek publicity to supplant their merit; and they must be reborn, where apt, in another medium. The prevailing works of the past century are those bent most by commodification. The most bent, in turn, become cultural icons.

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