DAVID BOWIE RIP

I was shocked last night when I turned on the news before retiring to learn that David Bowie had died. Bowie was such a powerful influence on my life. He was the quintessential 20th century artist: innovative, paradigm busting, creating culture both musically and visually. Recently he’s been a kind of Greta Garbo of rock. He seemed to disappear for a few years, and then…the amazing new album “Blackstar” and his totally unexpected death. My mind is replaying all the Bowie songs that left such an indelible imprint on my soul. I leave you with the moving “Lazarus” song from his last album:

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

[Verse 2]
Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high, it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below
Ain’t that just like me?

[Bridge]
By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money
I was looking for your ass

[Verse 3]
This way or no way
You know I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain’t that just like me?

[Outro]
Oh, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?

Obama, Trump and the working class

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By Niles Williamson
30 December 2015

US President Barack Obama, speaking to NPR’s Steve Inskeep earlier this month in the White House, blamed the misdirected anger, frustration and fear of “blue-collar men” for the rise of the billionaire real estate mogul and media figure Donald Trump to the top of the Republican presidential primary field.

Without even a cursory acknowledgement of the consequences of the policies pursued by his administration over the last six years, Obama dispassionately listed the sources of workers’ frustrations including, “all the economic stresses that people have been going through because of the financial crisis, because of technology, because of globalization, the fact that wages and incomes have been flatlining for some time.”

He continued by noting that “particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy, where they are no longer getting the same bargain that they got when they were going to a factory and able to support their families on a single paycheck.”

From the combination of stagnant wages and a decline in industrial employment, the president concluded “that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear. Some of it justified, but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That’s what he’s exploiting during the course of his campaign.”

As is always the case when he makes any references to the devastating conditions facing the bulk of the population, Obama speaks as if neither he nor the party that he presently leads has anything to do with it. But what is most striking is that the president accepts entirely the racial stereotypes that characterize bourgeois politics, and particularly the identity politics in which he embedded himself during his days in Chicago, namely that white workers are hopelessly backward and racist and are looking to be led by a demagogue.

The reality is that there is not in fact a mass racist movement among American workers, and polls show widespread disgust for Trump among all sections of the population. But to the extent that they fail to respond to those identity issues presented as “left” by the bourgeoisie and the more affluent middle class, such as gay marriage and affirmative action for women and racial minorities, white workers are denounced as reactionary.

Any ability that Trump has to exploit grievances and deep anger and focus them in a reactionary direction is due above all to what passes for “left” in official American politics. This is an expression of the social interests of privileged layers of the middle class, who have nothing but hostility and contempt for the working class.

It was only a matter of time before a demagogue like Trump stepped in to take advantage of the political vacuum created by the absence of any outlet within the official political set up for the mass grievances of the working class to find expression.

Not only does Obama propose nothing to ameliorate the dire situation faced by millions of people, he expects the American people to forget that his administration has overseen an immense assault on the working class that has resulted in the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in world history.

Social and economic inequality has soared as the top one percent has monopolized the overwhelming majority of income gains since 2009. Through Obama’s program of quantitative easing, trillions of dollars of virtually free money have been injected into the stock market. The implementation of Obamacare, presented as a major domestic “reform,” has involved a massive attack on health care services.

As for “blue-collar men [who] have had a lot of trouble in this new economy,” it is the Obama administration that set the mold for lower living standards through the government-backed bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009, during which the wages of new autoworkers were cut in half and health care and retirement benefits were decimated.

Far from being a racially determined process, vast portions of the industrial working class of every race, gender and sexual identity have been subjected to the fate of declining living standards over the last period. Under the terms of the most recent contracts enforced by the UAW at the Big Three, workers will continue to make wages that do not even allow them to buy the vehicles they produce.

The Obama administration is the culmination of a longer historical process, during which the Democratic Party has abandoned the program of social reform with which it had previously been associated. For much of the 20th century, the Democrats advocated certain social programs as a means of containing the class struggle and warding off the danger of socialism: Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal (including Social Security), Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, and Lyndon B. Johnson’s “war on poverty” (including Medicare and Medicaid).

Over the past four decades, the Democratic Party has moved sharply to the right, as the ruling class as a whole responded to the decline in American capitalism by dismantling all the gains won by the working class in an earlier period. While the economic demands of the working class have been dismissed by the existing political structure, great effort has been made to channel popular energy into secondary cultural and identity issues.

The trade unions, for their part, abandoned the working class, including many white workers who reside in what are now Republican-dominated states. The unions worked closely with the companies and the Democratic Party in dismantling entire industries, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The more the Democratic Party abandoned and repudiated a program of significant socioeconomic reform, the more it allied itself and made itself the champion of the interests pursued by the affluent middle class as they emerged out of the politics of the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s. The Democratic Party and its hangers-on worked to redefine “left” politics to focus entirely on issues of identity, gender, race and sexuality.

This process reached a certain culmination in Obama, presented as a “transformational” candidate who, because of his race, would permanently alter the trajectory of American politics. Many workers, including white workers, supported Obama in 2008 on this basis. Illusions, however, were quickly shattered. The Democratic Party is now associated even more directly with Wall Street and hedge fund operators than the Republicans, the traditional party of the banks and big business.

The Republicans pursued a different strategy during this period, intensifying efforts to use religion and cultivate various forms of backwardness to develop a broader political foundation, while working with the Democrats to implement the demands of the corporate and financial aristocracy. Their ability to win a base of support was facilitated by the rightward shift of the Democrats.

For his part Trump seeks to exploit the hypocrisy and absurdity of so much of what underlies identity politics. More generally the Republicans benefit from the widely perceived insincerity of official “left” politics.

The real danger is that a demagogue such as Trump working on the same axis of racial politics as the Democrats could turn the anger of white workers in a reactionary direction. Indeed, the neo-fascistic ravings and increasingly open racism of Trump have their political counterpart in the obsessive focus on race by the Democratic Party and those in its orbit. In both cases, the function is to divide and misdirect the working class.

The self-absorbed preoccupation of the pseudo-left with various forms of identity and their complete indifference to the issues facing the working classas a class only facilitate Trump’s exploitation of deep-rooted and largely ignored social grievances.

The more basic dynamic in the United States is the deep anger and hostility of the vast majority of the working class toward both political parties. However, what is ultimately required for this sentiment to find progressive expression—creating the conditions for dealing with the likes of Trump—is the building of an independent political movement of the working class, irreconcilably opposed to the Democratic Party and its “left” periphery, and to the Republicans and their ultra-right demagogy.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/12/30/bara-d30.html

Odell Beckham and the NFL’s fear of of gay men

“Football is the most homophobic subculture this side of the Westboro Baptist Church”

New York Giants star blames gay slurs for losing control on field. Because in the NFL, there’s still nothing worse

Odell Beckham and the NFL's fear of of gay men: "Football is the most homophobic subculture this side of the Westboro Baptist Church"
New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. leaves NFL headquarters in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. Hearing officer James Thrash upheld the suspension for multiple violations of safety-related playing rules after hearing an appeal by the New York Giants wide receiver earlier in the day. Beckham will miss the game Sunday night at Minnesota. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)(Credit: AP)

Last Sunday, the New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. lost his composure quite publicly in the team’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. He attacked his defender, Josh Norman, in a manner best described as weaponized helmet assault, and was eventually suspended for a game by the NFL.

Beckham has suggested, through proxies, a plausible motive for his nutter: various Panthers hurled gay slurs at him.

Because if there’s one thing that justifies a pro football player going crazy on national TV—at least in the eyes of other football players and fans—it’s being called a faggot.

And why might that be? Maybe because football is the most homophobic subculture this side of the Westboro Baptist Church?

Think about it, folks: the entire football universe freaked out last season at the mere prospect of welcoming its first openly gay player, Michael Sam.

Of course, nobody ever just comes right out and says, “football hates fags.” Instead, players and sports pundits speak in a familiar code.

Here, for instance, is how all-pro receiver turned broadcaster Michael Irvin defended Beckham.

For some reason, everybody goes after him with gay slurs. He’s a different kind of dude. He has the hairdo out, he’s not the big muscular kind of dude. The ladies all love him. He’s a star. I wonder why people are going in that direction. It blows my mind. I told him he can’t let stuff that people say get to you.

Translation: the fact that Beckham bleaches his hair and doesn’t have big muscles puts his heterosexuality in doubt, which is why he gets called a faggot all the time. But he has sex with lots of “ladies,” which makes him totally legit, so he shouldn’t worry about it.

Beckham’s own teammate, punter Brad Wing, offered the same brand of frat boy logic. He hinted that a photo of Beckham embracing a former LSU teammate may have triggered rumors of his homosexuality, then went on to elaborate that Beckham “was kind of actually happy about it, because all the girls he’s messing around with weren’t fighting with each other anymore.”

Got that? If, as an NFL player, you hug another man, you’re under suspicion as a homo—until such a time as a teammate can vouch for your heterosexual promiscuity.

Officially, of course, the league condemns all forms of discrimination. But football is, and always has been, a cult of hyper-masculinity. It’s a realm in which the attitudes around gender and orientation aren’t just out of date. They’re medieval. Men are defined as big, strong, violent, physically courageous warriors. Women are defined as sexual hood ornaments. Homosexuals aren’t just abhorrent, they’re aberrant, betrayers of the given order.

Think about it this way: dozens of NFL players have been accused of rape, or domestic abuse, or even animal abuse stemming from dog fighting. None of their teammates are expected to experience existential anguish when these guys rejoin the league. Nobody says, “Geez, is the NFL really ready for a violent criminal?”

And why would they? Violent transactions—of the sort that would be illegal in any other context—are the profit center of pro football.

Every now and again, of course, some player will be foolish enough to express his honest feelings toward homosexuality. At which point the rest of the football world will loudly revile them.

That’s what happened to San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver two years ago, when he was asked about Ravens defensive tackle Brendan Ayanbadejo, a vocal advocate for LGBT equality.

“I don’t do the gay guys man,” Culliver told a local radio host. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do … Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”

If you want an even more revelatory peek inside the sanctum of an NFL locker-room, take a look at the so-called Wells Report, which was prepared, at the NFL’s request, to investigate the locker-room bullying that led a Miami Dolphins offensive lineman named Jonathan Martin to quit the team in the middle of the 2013 season and check into a hospital for psychological treatment.

Back when this news broke, much was made of the racist invective used by Richie Incognito, the white bullying ringleader, against Martin, who is bi-racial. What got overlooked was the overt sexual nature of the harassment.

Incognito, for instance, made numerous vulgar comments about Martin’s mother and his sister, a medical student he had never met. “I’m going to bang the shit out of her,” he explained, “and spit on her and treat her like shit.”

Incognito also made it a point to ask a male Asian trainer for “rubby rubby sucky sucky.” He nicknamed a mild-mannered teammate “Loose Booty.” At one point, one of Incognito’s henchmen grabbed “Loose Booty” and told another bully to “come get some pussy.” The second bully then simulated anal penetration with his victim.

What rascals!

Such grab-ass hijinks are typical of locker rooms, where internal homoerotic anxieties often get projected onto suitable victims.

Which is what makes Incognito’s targeting of Martin so fascinating. Based on the record, it seems to stem, at least in part, from Incognito’s forbidden feelings of affection for Martin, whom he calls (without apparent irony) “my bitch.”

The Wells Report describes the two as inseparable. They exchanged 13,000 text messages in the course of their fourteen-month relationship, or nearly 30 per day. They sought each other out “at all hours of the day or night” and discussed “the intimate details of their sex lives, often in graphic terms.”

When Martin declined Incognito’s offers to hang out, Incognito reacted like a spurned lover. At one point, Incognito pressured Martin to vacation with him in Las Vegas. This text exchange caused Martin to back out:

Incognito: No dude hookers [male prostitutes] u faggot

Incognito: Don’t blame ur gay tendancies on [Player A]

Martin: I’m gonna get more bitches in 2 nights than all of you combined

Incognito: Stop it. By bitches u mean cocks in ur mouth

Incognito: U fucking mulatto liberal bitch

Incognito: I’m going to shit in ur eye

Incognito: Goodnight slut

What’s almost touching about the Wells Report is the tenderness that bleeds through all the profane banter. “Let’s get weird tonight,” Incognito wrote to Martin, at one point. And a bit later, “What’s up pussy? I love u.”

Even after Martin left the team, the two texted. “I miss us,” Incognito wrote.

The Dolphins eventually fired Incognito. But he was never ostracized by teammates. Just the opposite. He was a popular player, a guy seen by many of his brethren as the victim of a politically correct witch-hunt.

Within the culture of the NFL, teasing dudes for being gay isn’t some radical act. It’s part of the whole juvenile male gestalt.

After a season and a half out of the game, Incognito was signed by the Buffalo Bills, for whom he played this season, and made the Pro Bowl.

Which brings us back to Odell Beckham, who is definitely not gay, even if he has a funny hairdo and a slender physique, because he has sex with lots of women.

Fans have every right to love football for its many merits. It’s a thrilling game that showcases astonishing feats of grace and valor. But gay and female fans shouldn’t delude themselves. To many of their heroes, the only thing worse than being called a pussy is being called a faggot.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/12/27/odell_beckham_and_the_nfls_fear_of_of_gay_men_football_is_the_most_homophobic_subculture_this_side_of_the_westboro_baptist_church/?source=newsletter

Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side: what became of Candy, Little Joe and co?

Holly Woodlawn, the transgender ‘superstar’ namechecked in the classic hymn to Warhol’s New York, died at the weekend – but she outlived most of her contemporaries
Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, and ‘Little’ Joe Dallesandro at Andy Warhol’s Factory in 1971.
Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, and ‘Little’ Joe Dallesandro at Andy Warhol’s Factory in 1971. Photograph: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Holly, who came from Miami, FLA – hitchhiked her way across the USA –died this weekend, aged 69, suffering from brain and liver cancer. Holly Woodlawn had been one of Andy Warhol’s “superstars”, one of the first transgender celebrities, and a character who was – literally – straight out of a Lou Reed song. Alongside Candy, Little Joe, Sugar Plum Fairy and Jackie, she was one of the principals of Walk on the Wild Side, Reed’s hymn to New York and the Warhol underground. In her later years, Woodlawn had undergone something of a revival, appearing on screen again and performing on stage. But what happened to the others?

Candy Darling “never lost her head even when she was giving head”, Reed sang. He’d sung about her before – she was the Candy who said “I’ve come to hate my body / And all that it requires in this life” on the third Velvet Underground album in 1968. Reed had feared the reaction of his characters to Walk on the Wild Side, but, he later recalled: “Candy Darling told me he’d memorised all the songs and wanted to make a ‘Candy Darling Sings Lou Reed’ album. It probably wouldn’t sell more than a hundred copies!” Darling, too, was a transgender Warhol superstar, appearing in Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971). There were other films, too – but it was a brief career. Darling died of lymphoma, aged 29, in 1974.

Little Joe

Joe Dallesandro “never once gave it away / Everyone had to pay and pay” – perhaps because he was famed as the great sex symbol of American underground film and gay culture (he is actually bisexual, and has been married three times, fathering three children). A teenage delinquent, he ran away from a rehabilitation centre and found his way to the Warhol set via nude modelling and homoerotic short films. Unlike Reed’s other characters, he crossed over to the mainstream, becoming a magazine cover star and acting in the kind of films that get shown in multiplexes. His greatest presence in popular culture these days comes from two photos – his crotch on the cover of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, and his head and torso on the cover of the Smiths’ first album. Dallesandro, now 66, lives in Los Angeles.

Sugar Plum Fairy

Joe Campbell – who “came and hit the streets. Lookin’ for soul food and a place to eat” – has the oddest story, albeit by association, of any of the song’s characters. The name comes from the role he played in Warhol’s 1965 film My Hustler, but his strange associations have nothing to do with Warhol. In 1955, he entered into a love affair with an older man, with whom he lived for seven years – that older man, Harvey Milk, would later find fame as the highest profile gay politician in the US. His late 60s boyfriend, Billy Sipple, became famous in September 1975, when he thwarted Sara Jane Moore’s attempt to shoot Gerald Ford. Campbell himself died at home in California in 2005, after 29 years of a relationship with Stanley Jensen.

Jackie

Jackie Curtis was the one “just speeding away / Thought she was James Dean for a day”. She sometimes performed as a woman, sometimes as a man, and her glitter-and-lipstick style was claimed to have been an inspiration to the glam-rock look. She wrote musicals and poetry, and sang – and her 1967 play Glory, Glamour and Gold gave Robert de Niro his first stage role. Craig Highberger, who made the documentary Superstar in a Housedress about her, recalled Curtis bringing home a sailor one night. “His lipstick was smeared all over the sailor’s mouth and neck. We deposited him on the sofa and Curtis came to the kitchen with me to get some beers and whispered, ‘Craig, he thinks I’m a real girl, what am I going to do when he finds out I’m not?’” Curtis died of a heroin overdose in 1985, aged 38.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2015/dec/07/holly-woodlawn-walk-on-the-wild-side-lou-reed-candy-little-joe

 

Vatican says private ‘audience’ in D.C. was with gay ex-student, not Kim Davis

Tom Kington

A week after Pope Francis met Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, the Vatican on Friday suggested that she exploited the meeting to promote her views, denied that the pope fully supports her and cast doubt on her account of the encounter.

The Vatican later noted that the only “audience” Francis had at the gathering in Washington was with a former student of the pope, Yayo Grassi, an openly gay Argentine who along with his longtime partner and some friends met with Francis.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement that Grassi, “who had already met other times in the past with the pope, asked to present several friends to the pope during the pope’s stay in Washington, D.C.”

A video posted online shows Grassi embracing the pope and introducing him to his partner, as well as an Argentine woman and some Asian friends.

The statements together seemed intended to distance the pope from Davis.

Davis spent nearly a week in jail after she defied a Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in the United States. Last week, she said she had met Francis at the Nunciature, the Vatican’s U.S. office, in Washington on Sept 24 during his U.S. visit, where she said he told her during a 15-minute meeting to “stay strong.”

“Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we’re doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything,” she told ABC News.

Reports of the meeting between Davis and the pope were taken by conservative groups as evidence that Francis fully supported her refusal to authorize same-sex marriages. Backers of such unions charged that the pope had been used by Davis.

Vatican assistant spokesman Rev. Thomas Rosica said Friday that Francis had not invited Davis to a gathering that included dozens of people and suggested that the meeting may have been manipulated by her and her lawyer.

Asked if she had exploited the encounter to promote her beliefs, he replied, “One could say that.”

In an earlier statement, Lombardi added: “The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”

Rosica said Lombardi had issued the statement after meeting with the pope Friday morning, and added that he doubted Davis had spent 15 minutes in a private meeting with Francis at the Vatican’s embassy in Washington.

“I have difficulty believing 15 minutes was spent with one individual, because there simply wasn’t time,” he said.

“It would have been done on the first floor as the pope is coming down the stairs to leave — ‘Holy Father, these people would like to bid you farewell as you go to New York’ — That is the scenario,” he said.  “It could have been 15 minutes [with] this grouping of people to say goodbye.”

In his statement, Lombardi added: “Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City.

“Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability,” he said.

In response, the Florida-based Liberty Council, which is providing lawyers for Davis, released a statement Friday defending the Davis camp’s characterizations of the meeting.

The invitation to meet with Francis “was first conveyed to Kim Davis and her lawyers” on Sept. 14 and confirmed by the Vatican on Sept. 23, the statement said. The Vatican sent a car for Davis and her husband on the following day to take them to the embassy.

“Kim and Joe Davis waited for the private meeting with the pope,” the statement said. “There were no other people in the room. This was a private meeting between Pope Francis and Kim and Joe Davis.”

Rosica called Davis’ situation “a very complex case, it’s got all kinds of intricacies.”

“Was there an opportunity to brief the pope on this beforehand? I don’t think so,” he said. “A list is given, these are the people you are going to meet …. Just to have an idea of whose hand you are shaking. Was an in-depth process done? Probably not.”

Asked who invited Davis, if not the pope, Rosica said, “Those are questions for the Nunciature.”

Kington is a special correspondent.

 

http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-pope-francis-kim-davis-meeting-20151002-story.html

 

BLOGGER COMMENT:  Kim Davis is a manipulative bitch. I should have considered this truth first before my very negative reaction to the initial news. I think the Pope was used by Davis and her lawyers, and the whole incident was a shabby business. If Davis were a courageous person of principle, she would quit her $80K position if she had moral problems with execution of her duties. What she is is an American hustler looking for attention and bucks.

As for me, I was hurt by the initial news of the Pope’s meeting with Davis. As Elie Wiesel wisely said: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” I am obviously not indifferent to questions of church and faith. Although I no longer believe, I value belief and holy people and wish I did have faith. I’m happy the Vatican clarified this situation. I don’t wish to have feelings of hate, or worse, indifference to this holy man. It’s easy to manipulate people like the Pope.

Amy, a documentary film about the British singer Amy Winehouse

By Joanne Laurier
12 August 2015

Directed by Asif Kapadia

British-born director Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Amy, about the pop singer Amy Winehouse (1983-2011), is a straightforward and compelling account of the performer’s life starting at the age of fourteen. Through video footage from a variety of devices and the voiceover comments of friends, family members and music industry figures (Kapadia conducted 100 interviews), the documentary paints a picture of an immensely talented and tortured musical prodigy.

During her eight-year recording career, beginning when she was still a teenager, Winehouse garnered numerous awards, including six Grammys. Her second album, Back to Black, released in October 2006, made her an international singing star. By the time of her death, she had sold more than six million albums in the UK and US alone. Kapadia’s film features a number of her biggest hits, “Rehab” (2006), “You Know I’m No Good” (2007), “Back to Black” (2007), “Love is a Losing Game” (2007), and her soulful duet with Tony Bennett, “Body and Soul” (2011).

Amy

From an early age, as the documentary reveals, Winehouse aspired above all to be a jazz singer. Among her most important influences were Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Bennett and others. But she also channeled many of the pop artists and trends of the 1960s and 1970s, including Motown, R&B, reggae, Carole King, James Taylor and “girl groups” like the Shirelles and the Ronettes. In her music and extraordinary voice one encounters a multitude of influences, each one distinct and yet blended together to create a personal and unique sound. A record industry figure notes that she was a “very old soul in a very young body.”

After Winehouse’s death, Bennett commented: “It was such a sad thing because … she was the only singer that really sang what I call the ‘right way,’ because she was a great jazz-pop singer.…A true jazz singer.”

The movie opens with footage of a close friend’s 14th birthday party in 1998, at which Winehouse offers an alluring, mischievous version of “Happy Birthday” à la Marilyn Monroe, and ends with the aftermath of her tragic death from alcohol poisoning in July 2011 at the age of 27.

A friend observes at one point that she was “a North London Jewish girl with a lot of attitude.” Her father Mitchell owned a cab and her mother Janis was a pharmacist. Her paternal grandmother Cynthia was a singer and at one time dated Ronnie Scott, the tenor saxophonist and owner of the best-known jazz club in London.

Kapadia’s Amy follows Winehouse from her teenage years to the beginnings of her professional music career in 2002 and beyond. We see a host of appearances and performances, both private and public, some of them intensely intimate and very affecting to the viewer. In some of these scenes, the young singer is disarmingly genuine, childlike and really adorable.

Three of Winehouse’s friends, including two from childhood, Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, and her first manager (when he was 19 and Winehouse was 16), Nick Shymansky, provide the most in-depth and believable portrait. Her father, her ex-husband Blake Fielder and her promoter-manager Raye Cosbert also feature prominently in the film, in a less favorable light.

At a certain point, of course, Amy gets down to business, which every viewer knows is coming—the singer’s [meteoric] Rise and [tragic] Fall, as it were. Much of the documentary details her successes and the severe complications or contradictions accompanying those successes.

Amy

Winehouse insists—and one feels, sincerely—on several occasions that celebrity and what comes with it is not her goal. As she told CNN in a 2007 interview, “I don’t write songs because I want my voice to be heard or I want to be famous or any of that stuff. I write songs about things I have problems with and I have to get past them and I have to make something good out of something bad.” Early on in the film, in fact, she asserts, “I’d probably go mad [if I were famous].” Later on: “If I really thought I was famous, I’d f—g go top [kill] myself.”

Tragically, Winehouse, already a bulimic since her adolescence and a heavy drinker early on in life, falls into heavy drug use. Kapadia’s documentary focuses perhaps too much on this aspect, as though this by itself could explain her fate.

The film effectively captures some of the ghastliness of the modern celebrity racket. Countless scenes record paparazzi camped outside her door and snapping photos of her every move, including the most crazed and desperate. Her ex-manager Shymansky told an interviewer, “the paparazzi were allowed to get brutally close…it’s this infatuation with getting up people’s skirts, or seeing someone vomit, or punching a paparazzi.”

As Winehouse goes to pieces in public, the media engages in what Shymansky calls, in the film, “a feeding frenzy.” Kapadia himself told the media, “This is a girl who had a mental illness, yet every comedian, every TV host, they all did it [bullied or laughed at her] with such ease, without even thinking. We all got carried away with it.”

The production notes for Amy suggest: “The combination of her raw honesty and supreme talent resulted in some of the most original and adored songs of the modern era.

“Her huge success, however, resulted in relentless and invasive media attention which coupled with Amy’s troubled relationships and precarious lifestyle saw her life tragically begin to unravel.”

The inquest into Winehouse’s death, according to the Daily Mail, found that she “drank herself to death … Three empty vodka bottles were found near her body in her bedroom. A pathologist who examined her said she had 416mg [milligrams] of alcohol per decilitre [3.38 fluid ounces] of blood—five times the legal drink-drive limit of 80mg. The inquest heard that 350mg was usually considered a fatal amount.”

Kapadia’s documentary is both valuable and intriguing. Because the director lets Winehouse speak (and sing) for herself, the viewer receives a relatively clear-eyed and balanced picture of both her artistry and her qualities as a human being. Amy rightfully points a finger at a predatory industry. Kapadia told NME (New Musical Express, the British music journalism magazine and website), “I was angry, and I wanted the audience to be angry. … This started off as a film about Amy, but it became a film about how our generation lives.” NME continues, “Kapadia hopes his film will force the music industry to re-examine its handling of young, troubled talents.”

In the interview, unfortunately, the director places too much of the blame on the public itself, as though people were in control of the information they received and were responsible for the operations of the entertainment industry.Amy, at more then two hours, is perhaps overly long because the filmmaker seems intent on driving home to the viewer his or her supposed “complicity.”

In opposition to this, the 2011 WSWS obituary of Winehouse argued that the ultimate responsibility for her death lay with “the intense … pressures generated by the publicity-mad, profit-hungry music business, which chews up its human material almost as consistently as it spits out new ‘product.’”

Comic Russell Brand, in a comment on the death of Winehouse, a close friend, characterized the celebrity culture as “a vampiric, cannibalizing system that wants its heroes and heroines dead so it can devour their corpses in public for entertainment.”

Stepping back, Amy Winehouse was definitely a cultural phenomenon. As opposed to many acts and performers, who ride on the crest of massive marketing campaigns, like bars of soap or automobiles, she came by her fame honestly, almost in spite of her efforts. She truly struck a chord with audiences and listeners.

This was not an accident. Her songs, in part because they brought to bear (and made new) so much popular musical history, registered with audiences as more substantial, truthful and urgent than the majority of current fare. Winehouse’s popularity reflected a dissatisfaction with the lazy, self-absorbed pablum that dominates the charts.

In terms of the combination of factors that led to Winehouse’s death, of course there were the individual circumstances of her background and life. The entertainment industry juggernaut inflicts itself on everyone, but only the most vulnerable collapse under what is to them an unbearable burden.

As always in such cases, the media self-servingly treated the singer’s death as a purely personal episode. The Daily Mirror, for example, fatuously suggested that Winehouse was “a talent dogged by self destruction.”

Surely, something more than this, or what Amy offers as an explanation (drugs, difficult family history, a bad marriage, a cold-blooded industry), for that matter, is called for. Why would someone at the height of her global fame and popularity bring about the end of her life so abruptly and “needlessly”? What made her so wretched and conflicted?

To begin to get at an answer, one must look at the more general circumstances of her life, including the character of the period in which she lived…and died.

She came of age and later gained public attention between the years 2001 and 2011, in other words, a decade dominated by “the war on terror” and the politicians’ “big lie” and hostility to democratic rights (the Blair government in particular prided itself on flouting the public will), as well as by global economic turbulence and sharp social polarization. The generation she belonged to increasingly looked to the future with skepticism and even alarm. A serious darkness descended into more than one soul.

One study of American college-age students in the first decade of the 21st century, and this could certainly be applied to British young people as well, sums them up as a “generation on a tightrope,” facing an “abyss that threatens to dissolve and swallow them,” “seeking security but [living] in an age of profound and unceasing change.”

Amy Winehouse, as far as this reviewer is aware (or the film would indicate), never addressed a single broader social issue, including the Blair government’s involvement in the Iraq War, which provoked one of the largest protest demonstrations in British history in February 2003. Nonetheless, the drama, anxiety and sensitivity of her music speaks to something about both the turbulent character of the decade and the dilemma of a generation whose dreams and idealism came up against the brutal realities of the existing social set-up.

The manner in which Winehouse approached the latter “dilemma” was refracted through the objectively shaped confusion and difficulties of that same generation, which finds itself hostile toward dominant institutions and yet not entirely clear why. In that light, Winehouse’s famous refrain in “Rehab,” “They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said, ‘No, no, no,’” which from one point of view might simply seem self-indulgent, comes across as a firm (if misguided in this case) rejection of intrusive orders from above.

In part due to an unfavorable and unsympathetic social atmosphere, a conscious or unconscious alienation from official public life, Winehouse turned inward and reduced these significant feelings into purely personal passions and self-directed anger, and ultimately, with her lowered psychic immune system, found herself a victim of that rage and disorientation.

Kapadia’s Amy does not go anywhere near some of these critical issues, but it is a worthwhile introduction to the work of a remarkably gifted artist.

 

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/08/12/amyw-a12.html

The Fake Courage of Caitlyn Jenner

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Well, penises come and penises go, but bad taste is timeless, I guess.  While she revels in her expensive new state-of-the-art breasts, the Marie Antoinette of transgenders has done us all a favor by revealing just how shallow, venal and corrupt her kind of “courage” really is, and how gullible the media figures who celebrate her.

First came the long, breathless wait to see what Bruce Jenner would look like when he was miraculously transformed into a woman named Caitlyn.  When the moment finally arrived, the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis produced a breathtaking vision–which looked exactly like Bruce Jenner, with fake breasts, in a dress.

This was, as Tom Brady might say, slightly deflating.  But for TV and social media it was a virtual second coming.  Athletes who dared to criticize ESPN for honoring the rich and privileged Jenner over more deserving candidates were hounded and mocked as transphobic haters.

And then Jenner finally opened her surgically-enhanced lips, and what came oozing out was the politics of identity in its purest form.

First, he told Diane Sawyer, his new BFF, that he didn’t like Obamaexcept for one single thing–and guess what that might be!–“He was the first to say ‘transgender,’ I give him credit for that, but I’m not a big fan, I’m more on the conservative side. ”

This seemed to completely astonish Sawyer–but it’s hard to see why, after countless Republican politicians have been outed as cross-dressers; Jenner is building on a long and rich tradition there, and it’s fun to imagine her trading fashion and make-up tips with J. Edgar Hoover.

But Jenner knocking Obama was pretty thin stuff, and very few people–outside of his immediate family, and MSNBC–care to defend Obama anymore, so there was a tiny hubbub about it, and it fizzled quickly.

Then came the bizarre coronation on ESPN, with the stage-managed standing ovations.  No “haters” allowed!  The king is dead, long live the queen!  Of course, Queen Cait could barely deliver her scripted words of inspiration–she didn’t seem to have  read them beforehand–but social media was deeply moved.

And, in the ultimate proof that she’s on the right side of history, Caitlin got her own reality show.  But no sooner had her show begun than she wobbled off-script for a moment, and our newborn Cinderella proved to be more of an old-fashioned Wicked Witch.  When one of her girlfriends talked about the importance of caring for homeless people, Jenner said, with an adorable toss of her bangs: “Don’t they make more by not working–wih social progams–than they do with an entry level job?”

The other transgender women on the show–who have lived actual lives–were horrified.  When they tried to explain it to her, Jenner finally revealed her true self, the one that even Diane Sawyer failed to uncover:  “Oh, you dont want people to get  totally dependent on it.  Thats when they get in trouble–‘why should I work?  I got a few bucks! I got my room paid for!”

Let’s de-construct that little beauty for a moment.  As soon as Jenner starts her feeble attempt to role-play a poor person,  she junks normal grammar–becuz poor folks iz stupid, lol!–“I got a few bucks.”  Then she faults these dumb slobs–you know, these combat veterans and mentally ill and sexually-abused women, men and children–not just for their damn laziness, but for their total lack of imagination, too–for them, a room and a few bucks (for crack, no doubt) is enough. They aren’t even ambitious enough to crave a two-room apartment, much less an L.A. mansion paid for with sex-tape money!

And girlfriend, don’t even get me started on their clothes!  Pee-yew!

Here, Jenner finds herself in bed with Earl Butz, the Republican member of Gerald Ford’s cabinet, who disgraced himself with a similar quote.  Though it seems too good to be true, this is actually how it happened.  In 1976, Butz found himself on an airplane with Pat Boone–in some ways the Kardashian of his day, because he, like Kim, became famous by exploiting black sexuality.  Boone, himself a high-level right-wing ideologue, asked Butz why there weren’t more black Republicans, and Butz replied (I quote accurately, if reluctantly): “Pat, the only thing the coloreds are looking for in life are a tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.”

Poor Earl Butz is as dead as vaudeville now, but if he were alive, he’d happily join Lindsey Graham in welcoming Caitlyn Jenner to the Republican party and praising her “courage.”  And that’s the core of the problem: across the ultra-narrow spectrum of American media/politics, it’s become way too easy to be “courageous” on LGBT issues.  It doesn’t cost anything. Every day and every night, MSNBC “bravely” champions gay rights, and they recently hired the first openly gay news-anchor.  Excellent!  Now when can we expect to get the first poor news-anchor?  The first Native American news-anchor?  The first ex-convict?  We all know the answer: as soon as there exists a wealthy and powerful group of the homeless, or of American Indians, or of ex-cons, who contribute millions of dollars to the Democrats and Republicans, like the gay rights groups do…and not a day before.

It’s the same old game, and you pay to play.

So in the end Jenner’s “courage” boils down to this: I will fiercely defend the right of obscenely wealthy cultural parasites to have surgeons in Beverly Hills build new breasts for us, and to then have those store-bought breasts draped in the silks of Parisian coutouriers.

Well, it’s a program, I guess, and you see some of Caitlyn’s right-on sisters shopping in Beverly Hills every day.

But if I want to see true courage in action, I’ll step outside and watch a homeless woman try to catch an hour’s sleep in an alley off Santa Monica Boulevard.

John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He is a contributor to Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence.. He can be reached at: johneskow@yahoo.com

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/05/the-fake-courage-of-caitlyn-jenner/