Monday, 30 December 2013

My Love Affair with USA Today

How’s this for a Coincidence? “USA Today” started publishing in August, 1982. I quit teaching in the same week! Everybody mocked both me, the wild professor, and the innovative newspaper. Goons predicted the experimental daily would flop in months. It puzzled my colleagues at Arcadia University (in a Philadelphia suburb) that I would walk away from a full professorship with tenure, or indeed I had chucked the English chairmanship ten years before. And I taught often in London every summer and often the whole year.

Well, here’s a quick Curriculum Vitae explaining my paradoxes. It all began in 1930 when my furniture salesman father abandoned  my Mother, me and a brother seven years older. He flew off to Las Vegas with his secretary Ruth to bigamy.

I was the A+ favorite of Sister Mary Felicia (“felix” means “happy” in Latin. I was there ten years until I entered Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit to become a Catholic priest. I wowed them in both Greek and Latin! But one night just before Easter vacation, my pal Jim VanSlambrouck and I were experimenting for the first time in Chesterfields (That cigarette sponsored Glenn Miller’s Orchestra every weeknight at 7:00 p.m. But tonight, after midnight, sneaking a smoke in the Gothic Tower.  Bang. Suddenly, there was the Rector, Henry Donnelley. (We adored him because he was so good at playing short stop that the Detroit Tigers gave him a tryout! He asked angrily,”What are you seminarians doing after midnight?”  My smart answer was “We trying to learn how Glenn Miller smokes Chesterfields. Any suggestions?” He kicked me out the next day.

I attended my neighbourhood Edwin Denby High, known as “the Whorehouse of Detroit”. I was too innocent to learn why! (I graduated 2nd in the class of 432 students. I joined the Navy on my 17th birthday, joining as a Seaman 1st class (instead of the usual Able-bodied Seaman) because I had scored so high in the application tests. I was eager to appear at Boot Camp, Great Lakes, September 18, 1944, Wilbur Wright Junior College (to purge sailors not good enough in math to become a Radar Technician. Gulfport, Ms. And Corpus Christi,TX and I was Radar Tech 2nd class. Assigned to Pensacola,Fl Naval Air Station, where pilots just a little older than we were learned how to land on aircraft carriers or how to fly the huge Catalinas.

I was discharged in July,1946 and entered the Jesuit U of Detroit, graduating in 1949 as a Ph.B. in philosophy. Grad School at Western Reserve/Cleveland for a Ph.D. in American Lit. I married the best looking blonde in Detroit, Mary Elizabeth Schneider, at the end of 1950, We soon moved to Michigan State, East Lansing, because in-state tuition was cheaper. (I worked summers in automobile factories for tuition.) I was the janitor at East Lansing State Bank where I leaned that the local high school needed a 10 & 12th grade teacher. I took it. MSU had its first TV station, WKAR, so I talked them into a teenage weekly hour, “Everyman Is a Critic.”

I had become a Marshall McLuhan media freak. That got me a Ford Grant to study the newest media up close in New York City. Scholastic Teacher hired me and my wife to edit a weekly guide to radio and TV, and a monthly column in “The English Journal” on Media Teaching. I read the NYTimes every day as I subwayed from Flushing to Manhattan. One Thursday I read there was to be a media education on Saturday in D.c. I invited myself.

As I opened the auditorium door I saw a black man, Dr, Ralph Bunche, talking intently to an unidentified man: Bunche had just been a “Time” cover. I interrupted their conversation boldly: “Hi! I’m Pat Hazard from East Lansing with a For Foundation grant to improve media education in American high schools. DEAD SILENCE! Finally, the unidentified man asked, Well, how’s it going, Mr. Hazard?” “Lousey,” I replied. “I've been calling the secretary of NBC’s president Pat Weaver, the most innovative TV boss.”. And so  on and on.”

Suddenly, the unidentified guy identified himself. “I’m Roy Larsen, the publisher of “Time” magazine and I like your ideas. And I’m on the Ford Foundation advisers. How would you like an office in “Time”? as he slipped me his card! GULP. “See you Monday morning”! That lucky day I soon had my own office on the 34th floor of the Time-Life Bldg! Looking enviously across Sixth Avenue where now sat Pat Weaver, the NBC boss.

I called his secretary one final time! “Mr. Hazard, it’s the beginning of the Fall TV season, and Mr. Weaver is very busy.” Lamely, I countered it was the start of my grant. “If he ever has 15 free minutes, Please call me. I’m just across Sixth Avenue.” Then I gave the sacred Time number Judson 6-2525.” Five minutes later there was a PA question: "Is there a Patrick D. Hazard here today? Please call Pat Weaver at NBC.” Soon I was in his office where he riding a one man seesaw. It was alleged to reduce tension. Anyway my fifteen minutes exploded to three hours during which he fixed me up with all the brass at NBC.” A great year had begun!

Internationalizing The New York Times

I first “noticed” a "New York Times” as a nineteen-year old swabbie at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in 1946. I had just finished a year-long training in Naval Radar in Chicago, Gulfport,Ms, and Corpus Christi,TX and proudly showed the Aviation Electronic Mate, 2nd Class sign on my dress blues. It was my first year away from home, and was eager to appear grown up. The pilots who were learning to land on aircraft carriers or fly the huge Catalinas were just a little order than we were and equally eager to appear cosmopolitan. We picked up the paper at the local drug store and looked serious. It wasn’t until I entered the Jesuit University of Detroit (my home town) in September, 1946 that I became a regular reader in the college library.

So here I am now, in Weimar, Germany, finishing a fourteen year stint researching and writing a critical evaluation of Walter Gropius’s innovative art school to bring good design to the working classes. I call my book, “Bauhaus: Myths and Realities”, emphasizing the current school leaders as “Bauhustlers” for their betrayal of his blue-collar meliorism for their Upper Muddle Class snootiness. 
I was also astonished to discover that they had never even heard of the greatest factory designer in history, Albert Kahn, who immigrated from Hesse, Germany in 1880, at age 11 to Detroit, the oldest son of a Jewish Rabbi, who was so poor his oldest son didn’t even finish High School, but who was so gifted a designer that the leading architecture firm hired him until he was 21, when they splurged him to know Europe, from which he returned to be Henry Ford’s architect. He also was a leader in forming the so-called American Bauhaus, the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1932, which actually achieved what the German “pioneer” merely hoped to accomplish.

The Times has been indispensable to writing that book, but even more essential in setting an example for my sixty years of “Internationalizing” American Lit into “International English Lit”. America made the fatal error that still corrupts US of believing that the Puritan God set aside North America so it could be Christianized. This foul “Exceptionalizing” legitimized killing and reservationizing hundreds of indigenous tribes, justified the slavery of four million African slaves, as well as incarcerating literally millions of poor blacks and Hispanics for the same “crimes” whites enjoy with impunity. It also, alas, falsely justifies the 1%/99% irrational ratios currently crippling our nation’s economic maturity. Before I analyse the hopeful internationalizing of the December 23rd issue of the INYT (I like to hear it as the false pronunciation of “Isn’t it”), I want to describe how I internationalized American Lit during my public career.

It started with abolishing the scandalous absence of Afro-American Lit. Then Appalachian Lit which suddenly bloomed in the sixties. Next, Jamaica, when Dean Landis financed a seminar between Rex Nettleford,the so-called Thomas Jefferson of the U of West Indies, Seamus Heaney whom I met at the Belfast Festival when he read to my summer students a chrestomathy of Northern Irish poems, and Michael Harper, the black poet at Brown University. Once you get the hang of it, IE Lit is the only logical way to expand. Teaching one year in Britain I paired Emily Dickinson with Gerard Manley Hopkins, Twain with Dickens, und so weiter. We booked Australia’s Robert Frost who was summering in the UK.

You’ve probably guessed I was McLuhanized by the Jebbies in Detroit. Indeed in 1949, with a Ph.B in philosophy, I won the annual Mid-American Jesuit Universities essay contest with my first published rant, “Needed:More “Red-Booded”American Catholics”, by which I mean agreed with the local Communist moves to free American blacks. For good measure, my girl and I double-dated with a black couple to integrate the Senior Prom at Eastwood Gardens!

As I finished my dissertation, I got a Ford Grant to spend a year in New York getting the media used to school criticism. I was appointed radio-TV editor of Scholastic Teachers which put my columns in millions of classrooms. Roy Larsen, publisher of “Time” gave me an office on the 34th floor of the Time-Life Building, whence I dreamed of snagging NBC’s innovative Pat Weaver, across Sixth Avenue. After he fixed me up with his brass, CBC, ABC, and NET followed. The British Film Institute commissioned me to write a quarterly summary of American TV for its journal, “Contrasts”. TIO head Roy Danish helped me organize a weekly screening of “unseen American TV” under the name “24 Hours” BBC 2’s nightly news. I appeared on “Late Night Lineup” with a PBS name to tout this media at their School of Art. Time-Life Films booked me to New York every Tuesday to screen the possible films we asked to be taped the week before. 

Our chief, Peter Roebeck, cancelled our Monty Python opener, “I’m not paying you a $1000 a month to look at that crap.” Yes, Peter,” we humbly replied, making sure WTTW/ Chicago started the Python crawling into all of the PBS circuits. I claim solemnly that sneaking Monty and his other sneaky snakes onto PBS is my only contribution to the maturing of America.I took American media to Senegal in 1964 for the First World Negroes Art Festival. In 1964 I took a Wole Soyinka film to Lagos, Nigeria for exhibition at the American Embassy during the annual Commonwealth Educational Conference. We urged each Commonwealth country to go home and do likewise.

In 1982, my mother died, and now I was free to write my weekly “Hazard-at-Large” letter from anywhere in the world in Philly’s “Welcomat”. I started by going to Shanghai to study Mandarin for six weeks, Actually, I was really after my first International Scoop, because the first Chinese art museum to leave their country was headed for San Francisco, where I spent my first free two years with Mary Mueller, a sweet Okie exPat! Sure enough, I got the May KQED mag cover. Whoopee.

Heard enough of Hazard’s Internationalizing? Here goes my critic of today’s INYT! Monday, December 23, 2013. Hotel Elefant had no delivery. Anna Amalia Kubus is closed until the day after New Years. It has a grand display of German dailies including both TA and TLZ local dailies,, Swiss, Russian, French, British, Turkish, TLS, NYRB, The Economist (the most literate daily in the English speaking world, and a few freebies who don’t deserve this commendation. It’s my current Church. I’m there, sharply at 9 a.m., every day but Sunday where my Church of the day is my sack where I read a swatch of daily newspapers and weekly mags. Today, for example, Die Welt Compact, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Suddeutsche Zeitung (Bavaria), and Der Spiegel (Virgin Mary and Lutheran theology) and Focus. (“Thin without Stress!)

The first thing I noted was the dark blue view of a kid who has been flying a kite atop a favela, where the story tells of families renting their slums for World Cup visitors. Can’t be more concerned about Brazil’s fragile economy than that. Top above paper’s name are ticklers about an Opera boom, EBay’s devious payment scams, and a Rustic New Home. Left column is on Iceland scamming Bitcoin. Right column is Khodorkovsky’s Berlin free press conference. Four columns explores the Rio favela contradictions. Three short midcolumns analyses new Polish midsize cities providing business services. The bottom third of the front page with six teases, plus five online stories at INYT. Com. I love this hidden expansivesness. More analysis for my 3 euros.1/12 page,lower right corner, ad for BVLGARI watches.UGH! Prestige objects and Fashion jerk my prole soul.

p.5 ¼ page Paul Smith/Design Museum/ until 9 March
I’ll be there: Germania just listed 59Euro Trip!
p.8,1/6 BBC Tout. I internet BBC International every morning and go to sleep on New York Jazz. During the day I scan WHYY, my hometown FM, for which I gladly pay $120 a year. I sneak onto Boston’s high IQ WBUR-Fm. But almost never listen to Temple U’s classics. INYT Classified parallels BBC. Cluttered, except for Villoldo v. the Republic of Cuba!? Tiny plug for Classifieds.Pp. II AND III devotes ¼ of two adjacent pages pushing Rolex. Yuck II. Pp.I-IV are called Front Row Center, special reports on opera, “Manon” to “Moby Dick” in 2014. Berlin’s Philharmonic, and neglected composer Phillipe Rameau. Looks like secretly advertised KULTUR!
P. 9.1/4 page, urging readers to Increase Your Global Intelligence via INYT:COM/EURO. A cheapie under 1 Euro for your first four weeks. I guess I risk getting stung/hooked. Especially hating 10 freebies a month!
P.13 ¼ page to Luxury Law Summit. Brits who can afford such real estate should pay higfher taxes, this red radical groans.
p.14 ¼ page..Dubai Dty Free. Yuck, Arab shahs holding down their women!
p.18 (last page) ¼ page Cartier Exhibition, Grand Palais, Paris.
Back to text: What#s In it, INYT!
p.2, In Your Words. Best new feature. Often better than long articles in persuading.
In Our Pages. Smaller than before but essential to the historical mind
Lessons During Wartime”. The best new feature. Excellent photography, deepening text.
Albert R. Hunt, always enlightening
p.8 Clinton the Arkie almost a ½ page .
Right column on spy program --!/6
Front Row Center 4 pages good art criticism
p.9 Egypt turmoil reaches U’s
Am U’s job security/ See my closing song in my VITA
pp.-.10-12 SPORTS in SPURTS . I’m excused. Not as good as USA Today. Mea Culpa!
Love the presence of Peanuts (Though I had a grand hassle with his author when I taught in Santa Rosa for a year. He’s a rich creep whoi pleaded poor. BLAH!

Perfect retreats bore me! I just sold my Louie Kahn 1952 GreenBelt Knoll 19 family experiment in integration for $110,000. Paid $24,000 in 1956. I loved it for 50 years. 1783 villa, modernized in 1999 cost us 130,000 Euros. Goethe lived on Seifengasse 1. Hazard at 10! It’s a glory on the third floor!

p.14 Fewer movies, wider profit margin will interest my son Michael who is a poet, photographer, and filmmaker in that disorder, in Minneapolis.

p.14, Irish housing complexities interests me the more since my Deidre, an etymologist at Michigan State just tracked its history. In the eighth century, the French were fighting the Moors in the South of Spain. They won and the defeated graciously invited them into their Castle, El Azard, where they taught the French a new dice game. Returned to France, they yelled”Lessons-nous enjoyons Le Hazard!” 1066, they stole all the duchies they could find there, then moved to Ireland for more theft. Behold this Arab Irish man whose green grandparties were either Fitzpatrick or El Hazards.

p.18 International Travelers as usual as always.#

Pardon me, I’m signing up for a month!

Bottom Obit. Only feature better is “The Economist ”’s final page obit.
P. 3 World News/Middle East/Europe. Ukraine (excellently revolting pix),Turkey snoots US, The Crime of Droning Civies,Egypt gips dissenters.
p.4 World News/Europe Africa
Rescue in South Sudan
Putin’s Wobbley character
Vlad#s unfavorite Billionaire airs his headache
p.5 World News Asia
Brunei, India, Thailand, Dhaka Fire, Beijing antigraft panel

Saturday, 21 December 2013

X Marks Malcolm's Newest Re-incarnation

Malcolm X is still America’s most moral hero, unfortunately less lucky than his South African counterpart Nelson Mandela. He was nipped by a buddy before Islam could build its power in America. Consider the stuttering Christianity which was his (super) natural competition. 

That brilliant self-made Okie, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY, Dem), had used his brilliant Harvard education to write the most important American document since the Constitution: the demoralization of the American Negro family. Literally millions of blacks were incarcerated for minor drug offenses for which the second President Bush got not a minute in jail. 

As I took a first look at  Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles, the inspiring catalogue the Philadelphia Museum sent after four ignored requests with $13.75 postage and my spending four hours tracking down Customs at Erfurt Airport, the state capital of Thuringia, where I have been writing a book on Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus he had founded in 1919, I was drawn in. 

In 1999 Weimar became the Cultural Capital of Europe, Helmut Kohl’s maneuver to seal the heals of East and West Germanies. Chase-Riboud explores the new moral world of potential liberation. Raised Catholics, my first wife and I were totally ignorant of this innovative behavior.

Plate 1 is called “The Bed” in which two women are resting from “soixante-neuf” sex, the numbers 6 and 9, illustrating that the lovers were mouthing each other’s vulvas. A newly liberated world. I was divorced in Juarez at 43 before I experienced this avant-garde maneuver. At best, superbly evocative. Ordinarily, mediocre messiness. Malcolm surely was better at it than I ever was. But it was one of his many “X”’s that were opening his innovative, revolutionary life.

Her Steles imitate and innovate the great remembrancers of the two civilizations that generated our most generous virtues. Without honorable memories, we humans slither snakishly. America, born on the Puritan lie that God saved the Americas to bless Christians colonizing its expanses. 

Exceptionalism the sociologists dubbed it. Exceptional Self-Delusion is a more accurate description of its falseness. The splendid “Steles” she has populated the world with are our last chance to purge us of that self-destruction habit. Exceptionally stupid as OUR GREAT LIE has made USA. She could be our last chance. At the very least, she is a grand conversion potential. We have until January 20, 2014 to save ourselves from self-extinction.

Monday, 16 December 2013

The (ST)Inky's Long and Most Unhappy Unhappy Lives

Dan Rottenberg's superb and elegant obit for a crappy daily that shit too much reminds me of involvement in the creation of the Annenberg Congratulation School,1957-61, began with my Ph.D. from Western Reserve where two fellow students, Ray Ginger and Harvey Goldberg, taught me by example how to be radical and objective simultaneously. They made me the first president of the Thomas Jefferson Forum, because they erred in thinking a Jesuit University (Detroit) could be a soft touch leader. They never knew I won the Midwest Provinces annual essay with a rant entitled "Needed: More Red-blooded American Catholics" by which I meant opposed to segregation as the local Communists were. They didn't know either that my girl and I dated the Senior Program with a black couple.

I got a Carnegie Postdoctoral grant at Penn to create the first Mass Culture course in America, spooked by that intellectually crazy Canadian Catholic Marshall McLuhan. As a UD undergrad I read every essay he wrote 1946-49 in the lay Catholic weekly "Commonweal" as well as the weekly Jesuit "America" . Those essays made the second mass culture Bible, "The Folklore of Industrial Man" (1951). The first was Gilbert Seldes's "The Seven Lively Arts" (1924).

It helped that this Philly Jew (immigrating from his father's experimental farming around Atlantic City graduated poor from Boy's High but earned scholarships to Harvard. He took over editorship of "The Dial", the intellectually hippest mag in the twenties. So when Annenberg gave Penn $2 million to start, "faute de mieux" I became the "gofer" getting the plot to boil! The first official meeting of the Annenberg School opened on the Monday after Walter had splurged with a Sunday edition of new comics. As President Gaylord Harnwell, Walter, and I waited for the rest of the committee to gather, I decided to tease Mr. Big: "Is this the way you plann to raise standards in American communities?". Harnwell looked like was about to piss his presidential pants. Walter looked dazed and completely silent! Amazed that a new assistant professor without tenure would tweak his balls.

Later, when my Greenbelt neighbor Leon Sullivan complained to me Saturday at the community pool that the Inky had not printed a word about his six-month old strike against TASTYKAKE. "Hire us blacks or we'll avoid your cakes." Monday, bright and early, I was being frisked for weapons for the first and only time in life as I took the elevator to his 13th floor eeyrie. First he called Dimmitman who argued that they had hired a black boy the summer before, but he hadn't cut the mustard. And his lawyer came next. (His wife was working on a Ph.D. and often visited me in my office, absurdly believing this would ease her Ph.Deification. I warned them that "The Reporter" was publishing a story on their censorship the next week, and if they had any honor they'd beat their star lady reporter into print. They didn't.

I taught the history of media until David Riesman recommended me as the first director of the brand new Institute of American Studies at the East-West Center in the University of Hawaii. It was the best job I've ever had--until I discovered that my No. 2 Seymour Lutsky had been in the CIA since his Iowa Ph.D. ten years ago--to silently police Asian and American lefties. I quick on the spot when I offered a full professorship and English chair at Beaver College.

We happily reoccupied our Louis Kahn house in Greenbelt Knoll. By the way, Penn had promised the right to return, but Veep Charles Lee (born Levy) and Walter decided I was a threat to their Dream! I've lived happily ever after.

Putting Up Your Dukes

Terry Teachout’s splendid bio ,”Duke A Life of Duke Ellington” (Gotham Books, $30) reminded  me of my brief encounters with t hat great man. As a Detroit high school  enthusiast I’d skip  Edwin Denby High to hit the downtown Paradise Theatre  with Glen Kemp, a promising  drummer. We’d put up with the petty piffle for the blacks who dominated the crowd. Just to hear his standards thrilled us in a way Art had not yet touched us.

I was depressed to learn in the 60’s rock music killed it. Not until the 80’s did an obsessed oboeist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra  collect $23,000,000 to reopen what had been the Orchestra’s  first home. So many Southern blacks moved into the neighbor hood as defense workers in World War that the whites fled to the Burbs. No less an ear than Pablo Casals affirmed it had the best acoustics in North America. In the 80’s, visiting my aging mother, I teased that musician that he had killed my youthful  enthusiasm. “Not so,” he amiably barked back.”We have a jazz concert every Saturday night.”

Later, when I had been Ph.D-eafied and taught Am Civ at Penn and lived in Philly, I took my daughter Catherine into Trenton so she could take the train to the Rhode Island of Design, I had time to kill before the superb but neglected New Jersey museums, I took a new Hotel elevator into see if the big T was as ugly upstairs as it mostly was on the ground. It was. Really ugly. On the 7th floor who should enter alone but the one and only D. “What, Mr. Ellington, are you doing in Trenton, noon of a Sunday.” “Another Doctorat”, with an ironic smile.6th Floor: “Princeton, this time.”

Meaning I guess you can stuff the old ones from Fiske and Tuskegee.I reminded him I had spent Easter Saturday  evening in the American Embassy in Lagos, kanoodling with my fave, Johnny Hodges.5th Floor I was there to report on the very first African World Art Fair.4th Floor. “And the next day we opened the Fair with your theme song, “Take the A Train”! Now he was smiling like a kid remembering a Birthday Party. 3rd Floor. “ And I was so hung over from your booze last night, I could hardly hold my TV camera steady!”  2nd Floor. “I remember now,” he gleamed! Ist floor. The door swung open.”What’s your name.” I walked over to the registration desk and gave my first and only anti-autograph. "Dr. Patrick D. Hazard, Chairman, English Department, Beaver College, Glenside, PA.” As he hailed a cab for Princeton, I hollered “And I have the only footage of that concert!” He smiled and mailed a winning “Oh!” with those priceless fingers. He would never know the tragedy: KQED-TV lost it, creating a jazz series.

Later, jazz scholar Marshall Stearns invited me to the first Newport Jazz Festival after I got a Carnegie Postdoctoral two year grant to create the first “Mass Culture” course for the new Annenberg School of Communication, where I was “gofer” for my first academic mentor, Dean Gilbert Seldes. I drove over from Philly, pooped, ordered the last steak dinner to relax. Ten minutes later the great jazz singer Mahalia Jackson arrived, equally hungry. I gave her my meat if she’s whisper sing “You go to My Head” for dessert! What a deal. How sweet she was! Alas, it was a sleepless night. My room was next to Miles Davis, and as usual he was beating up his date! I didn’t have the Balls to turn him in. And I still feel dirty guilty, 55 years later.

The last day, the semanticist heading the egghead side of the Fair saw Mahalia at the back of the hall and complying with his Semantic Decalogue’s First Amendment, “Everyone Must Talk UP!” “Mahalia, what do you think about the Critics Symposium?” PAUSE. “I don’t knows what youse been talkin’ about.”LONGER  PAUSE. “But I sure doos like Jazz.” Symposium simply closes. Mahalia smiles like an Angel. Put up you dukes, all of youse!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Hitler's Last "Stand"!

As we all wonder (in a state of total wonder!) about the latest cache of “degenerate” art Hitler banned in 1938, please notice a forgotten detail. As Hitler, his favorite architect Albert Speer, and his favorite (if unknown) sculptor, Arno Breker, drove together into Paris victoriously in 1940, he declared he wanted to have a German museum as great as the Louvre. 

The art dealer Gurlitt who was preparing that Museum in Linz, Austria (where the dictator grew up) was also the one whose secret cache was just uncovered in Munich: (It pays to know the Boss!) I serendipitously “discovered” Breker in Schwerin, where my new German wife was celebrating a relative’s anniversary. 

 This was the exhibition that the poster designer Klaus Staeck, who is the current Head of the Academy of Art in Berlin, boycotted! BERUF VERBOT! When Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, hassled the apolitical Dusseldorf sculptor, the failed artist Adolf told Arno not to fret: Artists don’t understand politics, as he bestowed a great ranch on him to expedite his sculpturing! The soft, benign side of Adolf!
But I came not to praise Hitler (although the failed artist had a soft place in his heart for artistic beginners) but to say what we may be missing because of his Entartete Kunst campaign in 1938. For example, George Grosz (1893-1959 ). Lutz Becker has just written a lively take on his career in Germany, America, and returning to Germany in “George Grosz: Drawings from two portfolios: “Ecce Homo” and “Hintergrund” THE BIG NO (Hayward Publishing (2012). 

My wife Hildegard has scanned this black and white collection of Gross’s (he de-Germanized his last name when he fled Hitler to New York in 1933.) Hilly’s visual selections begin with his Dada premiere. Get the whole book. It’s the grossest Gross I have yet seen. NO has never been so beguiling. “Degenerate”, my ass! Say a big YES to his shrewd NO’s.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Closing the Book on Elmore Leonard

The obit read: “Elmore Leonard, crime fiction writer, died on August 20th, aged 87.” I didn’t catch up with that news until I opened my issue of “The Economist” (August 31, 2013) to the obit page: There was the author looking miffed, shaking a fist at me. Sorry, I thought: I’ve been meaning to read something of his ever since we graduated together August 1949 from the Jesuit University of Detroit, he with a business degree, mine in philosophy; we were eras apart from the start. 

And psychologically even more distant. He started out writing ad copy for Chevrolets. I despised the Car Culture that corrupted the emerging metropolis. And I confess I was something of a Patsy, never in a fistfight in my entire life. (Still true!) And yet my closest UD chum, Henry B. Maloney (“Call me Hank!”) was a Leonard Freak. Checking Google today, Henry was quoted in the first six citations! Partly geographical: Hank lived in Troy, due North from Detroit Proper, and Kitty Korner from the Upper Sloburb Bloomfield Hills where Leonard lived like a prince. (I lived due East of UaD where the Nouveau Pauvre were invading their first new house, courtesy of FDR’s New Deal.

So instead of attending his Funeral Mass, I checked out the expat American’s secret weapon, the Universal Library Union whereby you can order by computer for 1.5 Euros whatever American book your German library didn’t have, and didn’t care! (Nearly everything!) Bless Göttingen University, a required pitstop for intellectually upward Amis as early as the beginning of the 19th century. Before the week was out, I held his “Road Dogs” (William Morrow, 2009) for a month if necessary

Taught to climb the shoulders of other better informed citizens, I Googled the poet Robert Pinsky’s review (New York Times, May 28, 2009): In his review,”Playing Dirty”he characterized the novel as “about the varying degreees of truth and baloney in human relationships.Sometimes the truth or the baloney is lethal. Droll and exciting, enriched by the self-aware, what-the-hell-why-not insouciance of a master now in his mid-80s,”Road Dogs”—underlying its material of sex, violence and money, and beyond its cast of cons and thugs and movie stars—presents interesting questions.” 
Leonard had the chutzpah to rerun old characters in new books. Or maybe this strange habit derived when he began writing western tales in the 1950’s for two cents a word. Three retreads bear the burden of this novel. There’s Cundo Roy, a Cuban Castro bequeathed to America that became great friends with another export, Jack Foley, the esteemed anti-hero who preens with the fact that he has robbed more banks than anyone else in history. (So far as we know! A Fed who tries to put him back in jail is writing a novelized biography of Jack—and hopes he’ll do another robbery—to hype the book he is finishing.” (Another novel centers on Jack’s seducing the girlfriend of that Fed!) All characters seem to need to be ready to be reused in another story line.” 

Finally, there’s Dawn, a really raunchy broad who is waiting for Cundo to be freed from the prison where he got to be a great friend of Jack. I don’t think you’ll surprised to learn that Jacks bangs and bangs Dawn until the sun comes up. Again and again. Another motif is that they all have fiscal assets, Cundo’s being two million dollar mansions in Venice, California! And they fantasize without end on changing those ownerships.

I’m not going to spoil your weekend by telling you which of the three kills of the remaining characters. I recently stumbled on German across a film based on his “Jackie Brown” novel. She’s an airline stewardess serving Mexico. Her second job is taking stolen drug funds in and out of the country. Her ATF contacts compromise her so she has to do away with them. HoHum. I look forward to seeing “Out of Sight” a Steven Soderbergh film starring George Clooney, on another Leonard novel. Heh, Hank’s daughter Caitlin was even aide to Soderbergh for several years. It’s a tight life supplying L.A. I must conclude with a Leonard lark over Catholicism in “Road Dogs”. 

Chapter Twenty-Two(for impatient readers) concerns a minor character Little Jimmy who has a heavy conscience crisis.The sinner is on his knees in a confessional. Jimmy confesses: “Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been twenty-seven years since my last confession.” “Twenty seven years?” the stunned padre replies “Yes, Father. Since the I have missed Mass almost 1400 times.” And so on, implausibly. It turns out Jimmy was gay and didn’t think doing it with dudes was a sin! 

It’s called comic relief! You’ll love him. But not as often as Jack scores with Dawn, in the early light.