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He is the national guardian of certain hates, fears, divisions, and privileges. People know this as surely as they know he truly believes in only one thing: cutting the capital gains tax. It strikes me that George W. Does this illustrate the continuous devolution of the Republican party? Though I have to admit that one of the few pleasures of the election cycle was seeing Trump lay waste to the third Bush-in-waiting. As for the first Bush-in-waiting, what has always stuck with me from the campaign was a line that seemed to come out of nowhere, but to me caught his essence: contempt.
I was curious if you had any thoughts on the passing of George H. I remember you writing that each Republican president after Reagan was worse than the one before. Do you still believe that? Was Bush I really worse than Reagan?! Bush H. Dumb and Dumber? There is more than good reason to believe that the Reagan campaign made a deal with Iran not to release American hostages until after the election, after which Reagan would secure an entente with Iran, and that George Bush was the go-between that set it up.
In other words, Reagan may have become president and Bush in his steps because both committed treason. We can juggle that all we want. For his venality: same things. When in Bush was awarded the presidency by the Supreme Court—and, before that, by the Florida legislature, the only Constitutionally empowered body capable of awarding electoral votes—Republicans realized a kind of final truth, which led directly to the horrors of the Bush presidency and its repudiation in —If we can get away with this, we can get away with anything.
But it is the essence of Trumpism. As they proved in North Carolina and are proving in Wisconsin and Michigan, Republicans are not democrats. The peaceful transfer of power is for suckers. This is our present moment, but both Bushes, more than Reagan, set the stage, sold the tickets, and kept the lights on.
Do you think you would have taken the sort of 8-posts-per-day jobs that places like Rolling Stone offer today, or would you have tried to make money in a different way and written about music etc. At that time there was a huge amount of money running through the economy, more than anyone knew what to do with. So it was never allowed to come back: Alan Greenspan made sure of that.
I wrote for years for Creem for nothing. The thrill of being in print surrounded by dynamic and can-I-keep-up-with-them writers was enough. I was in graduate school for a lot of that time. After I left graduate school I started working on a book. I was very lucky. Today, writing myself for rollingstone.
Eight posts a day is not writing. Now I cringed through it. Both seemed like taking ownership of the performances and the personae, if not the people. But both were also examples of something Bob and I discussed after we met and were trying to figure out what we were doing, which is that good criticism involves a certain arrogance: precisely that of taking ownership of a performance, if only for a moment.
And in the case of Jimi Hendrix as a psychedelic Uncle Tom and what does that mean? That Hendrix was accommodating himself to his white masters? Cultural and geographical issues also played a role in his assessment, obviously. Beyond the Beatles, I think the notion that there was unanimity of opinion among rock writers was always overstated, be there an establishment or not. Do you agree?
How do you react to those critical evaluations? What you think is interesting to me, and I hope what I think is interesting to you. Was it always a matter of the quality of the music, or were there other kinds of differences? Anyway, what really impressed me about it is the idea that if you had enough money you could own such a thing.
Lardner wanted to move it to another room, but found it was too big to get through any of the doors in the room. So he contacted the realtor who sold him the house and asked how Herbert had gotten the piano in there, and the realtor said that Herbert had the house built around it. I feel that Morthland was simply putting down how the mainstream at the time truly saw Jimi. Or were you offended at the time?
I have a small house. I do plan to listen to the Beatles. Next year. I wish John was around so I could ask him what he meant. I think he was just making noise, which is no excuse. The use of the word by a white person almost always—or always—positions the speaker above his or her object. White people have no moral right to use the word, or appropriate the suffering and death it contains.
I think he was involved. Or failing that, cite what you think are some credible theories or sources on the subject? Those instruments might be hanging on a wall with a low guard rail in front of them, but they definitely are alive for most of the people who visit the museum. The major exhibit halls are organized geographically, almost every country in the world is represented, and almost every exhibit includes performance videos that give visitors a quick introduction to the music they might hear if they ever visit that particular country or region.
Sometimes those videos include one or more of the instruments in that display. Bonus question: what do you think about Las Vegas music residencies? We stayed at the MGM Grand, where the Tyson-Bruno fight was being held, and watched it on pay per view in a room adjacent to the arena. Which is to say we watched endless undercards until Tyson knocked out Bruno. Louis Farrakkkan was there. We went to the Red Rocks, which was fun.
The rest was a horror show. How did you discover False Match? How does it fit into the narrative of the other books, if at all? It turned out to be a hundred times better than I could have imagined. It was also creepy in another way—one of the characters, a craven phony who cuts out for Los Angeles, was named Marcus. So while I was writing about the book I did something I may never have done before or since—I called him up in LA and asked him who he was, and got up the nerve to ask him if his Marcus was based on me.
Of course not—though it turned out he was from a well-off Philadelphia Jewish family who lived in one of the Jewish suburbs where I spent a regular part of my childhood—though then I would have had a different last name. That was in Henry Bean went on to become a screenwriter in Hollywood. In he wrote and directed The Believer , about an anti-Semitic Jewish terrorist and a neo-fascist movement whose head has the perspicacity, or Bean the audacity, to consider Stanley Crouch and Noam Chomsky possible recruits.
The lead was played by Ryan Gosling in a shockingly physical and violent manner—still his best performance. What artists do you think most exemplify this Dylan line? Or have I missed the point of the talk entirely by equating anonymity with failure and fame with success? What do these words even mean, in this day and age?
If a colleague really digs something, how often do you check it out, and consider writing about it? Bob and I did talk about your second album earlier this month. Bourbon I hope. I tried to name all the songs on it from memory and thought I must be forgetting a bunch, that a record that revered must feature better songs than the ones I was coming up with. Keith Richards says Some Girls was their attempt to out-punk the punks, which makes you wonder who they thought were the punks—Blondie?
They do know how to separate the good from the bad. I still think Some Girls , from the original scandalous Fredericks of Hollywood cover to the last track, is one of the great albums, by anyone. Forty years ago—a real last throw of the spear. This is a man who slagged Sticky Fingers!
He could be profoundly irritating. At the last Sex Pistols show in San Francisco in he got up onstage and shouted out racist insults—to be, you know, punk. Like Fear writing anti-gay songs. But I do remember what he said next: that what he did was meant to piss off people just like me. So I congratulated him for being right. The book itself was wildly better. Given our history, I told the editor I would be thrilled to do it, but only if Richard approved.
I was told that he did, so I wrote it. The Aesthetics of Rock is one of the great books of the dada canon. You can dive in anywhere, get lost, and be happy. And no doubt is. Even if it belonged to George Washington, one sword looks a lot like another.
I must have watched every episode of the first five seasons of All in the Family , and it meant nothing to me. I find it bewildering and ironic that Elvis has been turned into this buttress for reinforcing the racial barriers he set out to obliterate.
Any thoughts? Given that you can now buy a Medal of Freedom, as Miriam Adelson did she and her husband have also bought the Israeli government and US foreign policy on Israel , makes all of the awards worthless; the only way from now on the award can convey honor is when someone refuses it. As the instrumental passage beginning the song plays, Trump smiles, preens, as if he knows something no one else does.
He touches his tie, and puffs himself up more than he already has. He looks down on himself, then around the room, all in one studied movement, to acknowledge that those words are for him: yes, he is the lord. The song is cut off after those two words. The Happy Trails material recorded late is somewhat different—less sprightly but never heavy, and no less tough.
I have to think the Rolling Stones liked it. It seems that Quicksilver Messenger Service had trouble finding themselves in the studio. I always thought of them as second-tier. Without point of view, let alone a vision. The Airplane, Dead, and Fish all embodied both a place and an idea about life. Moby Grape was an inscrutable mystery—the coolest songs and the most expansive excursions. Quicksilver was a band. It would have been better to go through the process.
Are these people all really dead and have clones acting out their parts? Enlighten me please. I have no problem with it being true, as karma is karma for the wicked. Was asked by Steve Perry, then editor of City Pages , now our son-in-law, to do it just before election. People objected to my killing off the Bush daughters. Hey, they chose him, right? Are there any—and if so what are they—philosophical differences between the two of you about the nature of criticism that shapes what you write?
I think that a critic should write as an ideal listener: as him or herself, but him or herself as anybody. I have to tell Fred and Suzy about this, and brother. In those chapters, the artists and the art become even more alive. You choose moments and scenes that matter, though. But only the good ones? When I first heard the tape of Dock Boggs talking about coming into a little town, setting up on the bandstand of the city park, starting to play, the crowd that gathered, the money that came in—a peerless, utterly ordinary event experienced by thousands of people over the life of the country, not to mention the world.
I was going to start with it and make whatever followed be illuminated by and not undermine what was there. Getting facts straight, where when who is necessary, but even pushing into how is getting too close to where I think I should be working, not someone else. What do you think would be the impact of each of those scenarios? It poisons everything and everyone. You may not have lived through the American era of politics through assassination.
I did. You could feel it when it happened, but the fifty-five years since have proved it: something was taken out of America when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy five years later sent the message, regardless of who sent it or why, that if you were so naive to think you could get over it, look into this black hole and realize that spot will be on your eye forever.
I buckled when I heard George Wallace had been shot. I hated them both. You want martial law, the suspension and erasure of the Constitution? Impeachment is not going to happen. You may not have noticed, but Republicans in any position of power will do anything to cast the spell that they are endowed with the presumption of governance, while in truth mocking the very idea of shared power, which is what our democracy is made of.
This occurs everywhere. In the same way, while the recount between Gore and Bush in Florida was still going on, the Florida legislature had already certified Bush as the winner, which is the Constitutional procedure for national elections there is nothing in the Constitution about a popular vote. This may be most blatant in states where Republican legislatures after the election of Democratic governors, whether in North Carolina in or Wisconsin now, will strip the governorship of effective powers not only to prevent an elected Democrat from exercising them, but to inculcate the value that the Democratic Party is illegitimate and no Democrat can be allowed to govern.
On the polite level, were the House to impeach Trump—with no Republican votes, as Clinton was impeached by almost no Democratic votes, it will ensure acquittal in the Senate and a shift in popular support to Trump. We have competitive races and people win or lose. Trump cannot be defeated by his own malfeasance, corruption, or even treason.
He can only be defeated by another candidate, either in his own party or in a national contest. And that person, whoever she is, whoever he is—and it may very well be someone no one is talking about now—can win only by organizing her or his natural, but untapped and unorganized constituency, and getting people to vote. As Bill Clinton said, when asked how Democrats could combat Republican efforts to suppress voting and steal elections, you have to get more votes than they can steal.
It also means treating people you know and think you respect who voted for Jill Stein, or Ralph Nader, as if they voted for Trump. Because, secretly, in their heart of hearts, they did. And not nearly as good. Definitely not Guy Clark either.
Anyway, rather than beating my head against the internet anymore I did a little Googling and learned how to post a video. Listening again now, I think I can hear what makes it so irresistible to me. But there are live takes all over. Chuck Berry Twist —despite its title, a track greatest hits compilation—had just been released. I bought it, and it changed my life. Louis to Liverpool. LP cuts, B-sides, or the like? Something like keeping a ten-thousand gallon lake of New Coke in your basement.
I was previously under the vague impression that most of the footage we have of this historic moment came from TV news footage that had survived not to mention the Ed Sullivan appearances , so you can imagine my surprise that we have intimate footage of The Beatles taken in the car on the way from JFK, sitting around their hotel room watching news highlights of their first U. Aside from this film which I gather was financed by Grenada based on the reaction they were getting back home, so that at least has a basis for commissioning someone in the U.
The Beatles were an instant and overwhelming HIT as of their first release in the UK, becoming a whole new frame of reference for just about everything, and a few people understood this was not going to be just a local story. So they got on the case. But the photographer Alfred Wertheimer had complete access to Elvis in , including going backstage with him while he made out with fans, and his collected work is still shocking for its intimacy and trust.
Certainly Andy Warhol initiated the whole phenomenon of life-as-selfie long before there were any such things as cell phones. Given his sense of self-importance, one can imagine that the Kanye West archive already takes up most of a major landfill. Would you recommend any one over the others? The Twin City Stomp of the Trashmen. The annotation is fabulous. Of course, I say this while writing from Minneapolis.
I go to talk to people. The New Deal? And what is history, anyway? Which Frederick Douglass autobiography? Or American Pastoral? See what I mean? What did you think about the film adaptations of Lolita? Do you think there is any room for an adaptation of Lolita in which Dolores Haze is not depicted as a temptress? The second time around added nothing—really, it bled the first film, making it hard to remember. Recommendations of specific cuts would be appreciated! Hard to argue.
How do you figure such a long-gone, thoroughly mediocre band has come to be so venerated today? Calling any performance the greatest in history is silly. The pizzicato parts are like the Platonic ideal of a cigar box banjo. You can almost hear Africa from there. I went to Menlo-Atherton High School from to Santa Cruz was less than an hour and a half south. A lot of people surfed, and the culture—dress, cars, attitude—was everywhere. The ruling fraternity was the Big Kahoonas, a surfing term, even if most of the people in it had never stepped on a board.
So surfing was, as John Oliver would put it, a thing. By or so not to know various surfing terms was like not knowing English. I always loved the Beach Boys, half as a joke and half in my heart. Deep down the Trashmen were a dada band, which is why they played, among other places, the Walker Art Center. But to me real surf music was happening somewhere else. It is the joke that surf music was always telling on itself.
Surf music became a kind of ideal, a perfect genre preserved in time. How could we miss that Surfer Joe was a drug dealer? When I listen I think, maybe, this was why so many rock fans appreciated the idea of punk—a badly needed jolt—but could not connect musically, which Dave Marsh explained so well.
That is, this is what they always wished it might sound like. Not that the Sex Pistols asked them, or anyone, and of course punk was much more than a return to Little Richard. What do you think of it? Punk was an idea. It just happened to have a physical realization. Have you ever connected with their music?
They were an inspiring outfit, great to look at, especially Skip Spence on drums and Jack Casady on bass. I blame it all on Paul Kantner. Almost all of it still reads beautifully. There are so many essays in the book that have challenged my perceptions of favorite subjects and continue to move and intrigue me, but of course your Beatles , girl group , rock films and especially Anarchy in the UK chapters are among the peaks and many parts of them have taken up permanent residence in my memory since I first read them; and as you said on this page in , the way the pieces bounce off one another and achieve a complex narrative is arresting.
For example, were you specifically asked if you would cover the Beatles or was it an assignment you sought? Do you remember any major criticisms you had of the way other subjects were treated in the end? And do you suppose anything like this book could be published now? But the book—the first edition, in —was his book. No one else would have given Jackie Wilson a showcase chapter. Jim and I worked closely together, and took research trips together, for one to see Michael Ochs to go through his archive and have countless rare LPs photographed for side art.
Jim was on the east coast, I was in the Bay Area, where Rolling Stone still was, so I was more hands-on with production. Bob was the Rolling Stone art director, and he was the art director-visual designer of the book. The original edition had far greater dimensions than any later edition, with enormous full page photographs, where the size, paper quality, and so on, brought out detail and made a tremendous impact.
I wanted to do the Beatles—but it made me terribly nervous. But it froze me. I had no idea how to start. It was shocking what they did, how resourceful and professional. Something in the book about the Everly Brothers? But what Sarah and her people did allowed the book to work, over the years, as a foundation stone for all that followed. There are many stories to tell. Once we stood on the street at his apartment building ringing his buzzer over and over and demanding to be let in Paul at the time never went anywhere, so he had to be there.
That he finally did come through—and with daring and originality, though many people thought his work was incomprehensible, disrespectful, or just weird, something that would weaken the credibility of the whole work—seems unlikely even now. I think that today writers are more resistant to editing, or being part of a project where their work might be edited to be part of something larger. An academic book, sure. As the saying goes, I could write a book.
Or Jim could, and should. Did any of it grab you? Do you have any opinions on Sun Ra and his Arkestra? Have you ever experienced them live? Suffering migrants have sex too. And his using the town to finish or start? But today on expectingrain. Illustrated with a picture of a person who was not Ellen Bernstein. Which only emphasizes the fallaciousness of the biographical fallacy. Two, then. I know the tune, the feeling, the tremendous build to the chorus, and all the words.
I have no idea what it is. I never hear it again, but I think of it all the time, and in , putting together my first book, I wrote about it that night. No mystery—but it would be there, to be heard anytime. I get in the car, a hundred times more exhausted than I realize—not physically, but emotionally raw, in a state where I have no defenses, no resistance.
It seems like a miracle. It goes on and on, and every beat, every vocal inflection, every lick, sounds impossibly right: how could anyone have ever anticipated that, planned that? Was it some kind of DJ only mix that the DJ played once and threw away? You can almost see what he would have put into it, without singing a word. The singer feels heroic, and he might kill himself tomorrow. A brave man. Blood on the Tracks has always been the widely loved Dylan album that I like the least.
It had to have happened. Just like that. And Blood on the Tracks may be the Dylan album that most invites that embrace. People have always heard it that way. I want art to open up an area of freedom for the person apprehending it. I agree with you about Skip James. What can they possibly, realistically, achieve as one of the governing bodies? The first order of business should be to select the best possible, which is not to say previously-in-place, leadership team, with special focus on the whip and his or her team.
Then find the least vulnerable to smear attacks and most competent committee heads and their teams. Make sure there is an eloquent, hard-boiled, close to impregnable group of people who will communicate with each other on a regular basis and who can run the place. Without prospect of victory in the Senate, which would require proof of treason, if even that would work, it will only leave Trump stronger. Slowly, but sequentially, begin investigations focused on cabinet members and the administration of government agencies by political appointees or shadow administrators, as with Veterans Affairs regarding malfeasance, self-dealing, favoritism, ignoring of Federal law, and other forms of corruption.
Undermine the administration as if the game is chess. Introduce strong and powerfully worded bills regarding voters rights, health care, citizenship protections, environmental issues, and business regulation. Strongly increase the budget of the IRS and hold hearings on how tax laws are being applied, and to whom.
And countless other things. I see most of his career as a series of wasted opportunities, of talent squandered. I liked his first album, because it was so out of the blue. But once he became Master of Time and Space and his hair and beard got white and longer and longer I lost interest. Good idea—then little known basement tape songs—and nothing to say. Are there any other albums of his from that era that you like?
I do think the expanded Birth of the Cool with the two live sets adds enormously to the recordings—in fact I only listen to the nightclubs now. It was written with the care and imagination of a short story writer, which Peter had set out to be his first two published books were near chapbook fiction, one called Mister Downchild.
Lost Highway , following the same format of deeply nuanced portraits, was more professional, shapely, and controlled. There is less music on the page and more dilemma. And there is a hint of what, in later work, is a tendency to protect the subject, as with the Sam Phillips biography.
I doubt if it was Jon Landau who said that one needed musical training to truly write about music instead of running to the certainties of the word. But many have said it. Thus the serious music training of, say, John Rockwell and Alex Ross adds greatly to their effectiveness as critics, but only because they can both write and are writers—the pleasure they take is in both the listening and the writing, and so is the pleasure they give.
So that you just hold your head back a fraction, as if your mind is thinking on its own, so that without will or intent you just say yes? And after that comment—that writing, that criticism—the songs will sound different. And even bigger. It was a fascinating read and very well-written.
But back to Lolita. Not many people I know have read it and even among those who have, it can be a difficult book to discuss honestly. I was curious to know if you remember what struck you about the book when you first read it? As always, thank you. The sentences seem to sing. The writing allows the reader to feel as if she or he is listening in on some untold story—for the first time and the last time, no readers before or after.
At the end you can think the book will spontaneously combust. But it is perhaps unprecedented to release entire recording sessions like the cd Cutting Edge or the upcoming 6-cd More Blood, More Tracks. Or dozens of same-setlist shows from How do you yourself process all of this?
Do all the studio outtakes lessen the impact of the original release? I remember being so hungry for Dylan music that even when a bad album, like Knocked Out Loaded or Down in the Groove , came out I would listen to it 20 or 30 times in the first few weeks. It strikes him. He looks harder: it would look even better upside down! Some unknown designer designed it, unknown factory workers or craftsmen? SO…I post a link to the article via my Facebook page, where I paste my missive plus a truly spiffy and actually necessary Afterword only to—yet again—find myself not simply syllable-blocked but starring in a full-blown remake of Jane Mansfield vs the Semi-Trailer, with my addendum not even afforded a Marg Helgenberger life of its own.
Honestly, are you that delicate a doily? I just write the column. So if you have a comment you can send it here. So, what do you make of Elvis as a musician? And no one should forget that until those live shows no one had ever seen Elvis play electric guitar. When you listen for the acoustic guitar on the Sun recordings, you hear subtlety, personal timing, and swing.
Singles were thought through, made, mastered, and marketed as things in themselves. This was true on Beatles and Rolling Stones albums for a long time. And the single as a single and as an album track were often not the same, even if the same take was used.
Singles were in mono; their sound was hotter, more direct, more immediate, and often the mix was completely different. So when I listed singles separately in Stranded , most of the time I was, you know, singling them out, trying to distinguish them from the albums with which they might have been associated or on which they might have appeared, both because often that was how they were heard and experienced, and sometimes because I thought that was how they should be heard and experienced.
Outside of the Miracles there was nothing like it on the radio. You could get completely lost in this song. Very dangerous if you were driving. In terms of lyrics, as meaningless as any song ever was. As emotion, clear as a bell. A single. My tribute.
Which it did anyway, if you ever got around to turning the album over. Have you listened to the BBC live recordings from now officially released as The Rolling Stones On Air , and if so what do you think about them? I have been a Rolling Stones fan since an I find many of the the performances very interesting. Two things that I especially notice: Mick Jagger sounds like a very confident singer. I love it. Also—how about his Japanese movie trailer? I liked him better playing cards in The Sopranos.
All power to him. Let Sammy Hagar become a billionaire off tequila. There is some truth in his claims that Trump is the Sex Pistols of American politics—a piece in The Atlantic a couple years ago made the same argument. But he voted for Hillary. Where to start. How could you leave out their guitarist?
Snobbish, insular, provincial, sure; those words might describe not only the city but any real San Franciscan, like my grandmother, mother, or me. The ghost of Herb Caen remains. I hope someday they both disappear. Falsity is for the self promoting so called Progressives on the Board of Supervisors. But even the poorest residents of Rincon are snobbish about the place. In other words, proud. Not a hint of self-congratulation in that wonderful, candid, no-dirt no dish book.
When I first discovered them in the eighties it took me some time to figure all this out at least for the early stuff. Not because it was difficult to do so but because I was so floored by the sound of those records in general and the harmonies. Everything seemed to blend into a perfect whole. They seemed to espouse—or to feel out, to explore, to propose, to entertain—different philosophies. And if that deepened over the years, the great thrill was always when that fell away and the great and glorious whole is what you heard, of could.
What book would you send him and why? There are probably many exceptions, but the only one I can think of is A. That seem to have nothing to do with you. It appears. So in that sense I think critics, reporters, novelists, poets, painters, actors, and on and on, are kin. Which is also a kind of dodge.
Pauline Kael once wrote, somewhat stiffly and defensively, that criticism is an art. It seems, you know, stiff and defensive, and who cares? It is making stuff up and standing by it. The critical comment on my own work that told me the most about what I try to do, without thinking of it that way, and gave me the most to live up to by ignoring it , was a description of my book on Van Morrison as a collection of short stories. If only! I thought, and then wondered if maybe that had really happened.
There are explicitly fictional parts of Lipstick Traces , in italics. But the most intense fiction comes in a phrase in the middle of a sentence, or in the resonance between two sentences far apart on the same page, with a word repeating but with different meanings in each case, or in a rhythm that is guiding or determining the path of what appears to be an argument. Good criticism is driven by that sense, and by the pleasure of putting words together.
Is your antipathy based solely on their music, or are there other elements at work? Is it a visual thing? Does their being from the Bay Area offend you on a personal level? Also, do you enjoy writing about artists you dislike? The falsity of the emotion—which is what I think people are attracted to: that you can lie and people will go for it.
There was a very funny Journey themed TV commercial a while back playing on the way everyone knows the songs. If she says something pompous in an interview, maybe that. I do like to have running themes in my column. T Experience flyer in I feel like the range of sonic aesthetics of the Lookout Records catalogue was wide enough for at least some of their releases to elicit some sort of reaction in you.
I was interested in Digital Underground, but of punk or pseudo-punk bands of that time not even Green Day came off as convincing to me. My older daughter once had a party at our house that Tim Armstrong attended, but I was out of town.
If I recall correctly, I liked a Mr. T flyer, which made me want to write about their music. More like a blind spot. He never liked me. And you seem very much alive. Any comment or response? Still love now what I loved then. The presumption is that choosing to live in Los Angeles is a vice and leaving it is virtuous. One effect of this common conception of Los Angeles as a social ill to be cured is to render the works of Raymond Chandler into a literature of complacency, a catalog of pathologies which the reader has inoculated himself from by enduring winter.
The central Raymond Chandler story is of someone who comes to Los Angeles to remake himself and succeeds, only to have the old life come back to haunt him. Anyway, does it ever seem to you that writing criticism is a kind of vicarious creative process?
Maybe the fucking rich. Or the asshole rich. But one part of the equation is in neutral language and another is not. Are there general aesthetic principles that you refer to when you make judgements about music? I like it a lot. Not that far from the Young Rascals version, which I also like. I think anyone born in the west can sympathize. Any thoughts or mind-reading you can offer as our resident Dylan-whisperer?
Tambourine Man. What Dylan has, as the late Ralph J. Gleason was probably the first to point out, is swing. He can move rhythm. He has country time. It was him or no one. I mean lightning just struck on that 4th take. They could not come close to reproducing it much less improving on it. Wilson was so irreverent towards Bob. Just snooty. So he or they knew when they nailed it and then moved.
Very few songs had any further takes after the one put on the albums. The Tom Wilson question has never been answered, and Wilson died long before the time someone would have come knocking for his memoirs. The fact that he went from Columbia to Mercury, and that after Blonde on Blonde Dylan apparently had a deal in place to jump to Mercury, argues against any animus from his side. Wilson was not an easy person to read. He was a Harvard graduate who grew up in Texas and used a ss gatemouth accent as if he never left Harlem.
Other people have their versions and suppositions. Any further thoughts on his work; any particular reviews by him you would recommend? Are you looking at the old Beacon Press collection of film reviews, or the Library of America film writing collection? And one of the perverse pleasures of his film writing is simply becoming aware of how much of any cultural production is almost immediately forgotten, as if it never was.
Or do you just surf really weird? Are there any other box sets you have recommended since then that do historiographically for their areas what that does? Also, did you ever write more extensively about that box beside the sentence or two in there? Would love to hear more about it. What does his work mean to you? I was taken aback and later wondered if you meant Jimmy Gilmer. That being said do you have any opinion on the Flatlanders Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Joe Ely , either separately or together?
A total glitch: yes, I meant Jimmy Gilmer. I like Butch Hancock. This guy left the Drive-By Truckers for this skim milk? Liberals, centrists, and leftists are increasingly concentrated in big cities and large states, especially coastal ones.
A democratic senator now serves more people than a republican one, but the senators from the least populous states wield disproportionate power. As for the House, gerrymandering and voter suppression give republicans systemic advantages that likely will be sustained, especially since the Supreme Court is set to have a larger right-wing majority. Meanwhile, the Electoral College is set to give us more Bushes and Trumps, the economy will inevitably take a downturn, and even if a Democratic President takes the helm his or her hands will be tied by an obstructionist legislature and hostile Court.
The populace will grow even more polarized as social media continues reshaping people into bickering tribal factions. After several decades of this toxic brew, the coastal states and those of the upper midwest, whose governments had been resisting federal policy, might say enough is enough.
And God knows what would happen next. But now I see more of the structural obstacles in the way of the country healing itself. Perhaps I should take solace in how history defeats most of the predictions made about it. In the next ten years? Possible, with California metaphorically falling into the ocean, but not likely. If Republicans are successful in maintaining permanent minority rule, more likely that states begin to break up, Federal troops called in to put down separatist movements, and then states federating to form new republics: the economy of California, Oregon, and Washington is more than big enough to make trade alliances with China, Japan, and Australia.
In 20 years? I doubt it. Odd, since I liked them all. I think of all his work I like his Fresh Air interviews the best. Anyway, any thoughts on this? I think one reason that Tarantino and those before and likely after him are drawn to this material is that no one has gotten Manson on screen. Everest: I can do it!
I think the impetus is not social, but contained within the aesthetic form. But did you know that Squeaky Fromme, though still unquestionably a would-be killer and worshiper of Charles Manson, has been out of prison since ? And appearing in motorcycle commercials? If so, what sort, and when can we expect it? If not…why? And why these in particular?
What makes them special to you? Sometimes for the purpose of making noise for the joy of noise. Sometimes to change the world. Sometimes to figure out how to make an argument. Or a thousand other reasons. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature , still as good a book on the subject as anyone has written, or for that matter better, and different from any others, except the ones that tried to walk in its footsteps; Machiavelli, The Prince ; T.
Arguments for the ratification of the Constitution, but really an exploration of the nature of government, democracy, and the human personality. The brightest light of the Enlightenment. What it means to go after a place in the literary firmament—also a half-drunk bar fight of a take down of modern American life. How to find beauty and fun anywhere, written before fun was a criterion of value.
Also fun. Where Tom Wolfe came from, along with thousands of other writers. This is a great critic dealing with stuff—mostly books, but also music, politics, social movements, regional culture, never bored, making everything interesting—as it happens.
Still thrillingly in-your-face dissections of liberal pieties about both culture and politics: on the inhumanity of the Rosenbergs not the inhumanity of what was done to them, but their own inhumanity ; the guilt of Alger Hiss and why so many high-minded people could never accept it; Huck and Jim in love. The first collection by the social critic who worked as a film critic.
Here I have to take back what I said just above—I love the at-the-time reviews—of Hud , of Billy Budd , of Salt of the Earth —but what shocks me over and over are the longer essays, on Marlon Brando and James Dean and juvenile delinquency, on art-house audiences, on European decadence. The critic armed—with everything she can get her hands on. And on. Call me an idealist or an optimist, but I like to think that if the right leader reaches out in the right way, s he might find widespread enthusiasm for joint-stock solutions.
In the presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump energized people seeking alternative solutions, and many Trump supporters are now coming to grips with his ineffectiveness. All of the Democratic presidential hopefuls for are cut from that cloth. Your thoughts? As I said recently, he could have had the immigrant children he had separated from their parents euthanized rather than lost or put in concentration camps and his supporters would approve.
This is not ineffectiveness. This is monumental. And its basis is racism. You think his refusal to condemn Nazis at Charlottesville was just an expression of his personal racism? His positions were not serious, and he had no plan, and I think no intent, to make any of them real. You have to remember that he is not a Democrat and is just as interested in replacing the Democratic Party as Trump is in destroying it. He was, I assume, perfectly happy to see Trump win, because that validated his position against the Democratic Party and, you know, heightened the contradictions so there will be a leftist populist wave in , or , or maybe , that will change everything.
You also need to remember that the fantasy of Bernie beating Trump, or even any other Republican candidate, is just that. Had Bernie been the nominee he would have been burned to a crisp as, on the surface of the campaign, a communist, and, below it, a Jew. They are politically conventional and personally interesting potential candidates of different degrees of candor, eloquence, directness, believability, and conviction.
And at this point we are only talking about senators; governors will be heard from. Voter suppression will be a far greater factor in than it was in It will make the difference in some states. Russian interference, unburdened by any US interference, will be everywhere. He will be an effective campaigner.
But there will be, as there were in , more people who will want someone else than want him. But what is needed is not a leader, a savior, a tribune. What is needed are hundreds of candidates for office on all levels who can make a different case, and someone running for president who can present herself—and I think it has to be a she—as a person not so different from them, or people who might vote for her.
Who seems to mean what she says. Who is interesting and compelling to listen to. She is equally convincing, right now, as a candidate for school board. There will be others. People no one is thinking about. The whole country will have to do it, in a million parts. Did you know Marty back in the day? Any remembrances you can share? Balin was a blues folkie in San Francisco, just like Janis Joplin and the Charlatans and so many more.
The Robert Johnson album had come out in , and there was so much more blues from the late s available on Folkways and Origin Jazz Library collections. It was all over the place. We are subdued into finding comfort in this very organisation by the flows of desire themselves, and are in bondage to our physiology. The organism can only function if all its parts are intact, and indeed, the very desire for the body to remain intact is in itself a method whereby the influence of oppressive power structures is keenly observed.
In terms of resistance to the organism, the most obvious correlation between the Deleuzean model of the Body without Organs and the modified body is the scant regard body modifiers such as Andrew seem to show for the fragility of their bodies and the wilfully joyous way in which they seem to embrace this same fragility. Seizing upon the malleability of the flesh as something to be revelled in and not dreaded, they cut, excise, bifurcate, implant, pierce and scar their bodies with abandon.
Such practices show no deference to the organism and its desires, and the parallels with the Deleuzean model seem straightforward. Whilst no technologies yet exist, of course, which permit the sinuses to actually sing, even some quite simple body modification practices do undermine and expand upon bestowed biology. Tongue splitting, the separation of the tongue into two halves by slicing between the lingual muscles with a scalpel, actually produces what is essentially a new organ, blessed with ranges of movement and sensation inexplicable to someone cursed from birth to only have had one tongue.
Subincision, the flaying open of the male genitals by cutting from the urethral opening down the shaft, also permits a new range of sexual sensation and behaviour anyone with a fundamentally organic penis can never experience. Desires and intensities never possible when the organism is intact are suddenly able to flow freely. These are critical moments; becomings. The eventual capacity to reorganise the human body is limited only by our technological audacity. It is a matter of excited discussion amongst cultural theorists, biologists, futurists and transhumanists, amongst others, as to where the limits of capacity to modify and technologise the human body might be found.
In the meantime, even operations which are relatively quick to carry out and require few tools outside of a scalpel and a steady hand can result in a radically different phenomenological ontology and a body which is a transgressive anathema to many people, as only small changes are required to upset the delicate totality of the organism.
Even those who study body modifiers in depth from a psychiatric perspective often remain confounded by the behaviour of these individuals, precisely because these types of procedures resist the holistic integrity of the organism, and the modified body that results from them is an affront to common notions of corporeal wholeness. Brown forbids the defence of consent against charges of assault; saw several US states explicitly ban tongue splitting; corporate and educational structures are able to exert great control over the bodies of those within their organisations.
Why is the modified body so confusing? This lack of coherency is frustrating. Like the BwO and as a BwO, the modified body simply makes no sense to the organism. If there is such a thing as a language of the body, then the language of the lasting, visible testaments to the moment of wilfully inflicted wounding is entirely alien to the intact organism, for whom it is human nature to avoid injury, to prevent pain and to conceal disfigurements.
The tattoo has been and continues to be simplistically read as the writing on the body of a semiotic sign produced by particular signifying subject. The thought that the tattoo is capable of expressing so many different concepts, and is therefore a means of communication, is not a new one. Writers, observers, tattooists and the tattooed have all remarked upon this aspect.
We seem to intuitively seek something beneath the surface and behind the obvious to explain what we see. The silent exchange that takes place between the bearer and viewer of the tattoo may be one of the most interesting and important aspects of the whole process.
Nevertheless it is an aspect that receives curiously little attention over and above its mention. It is perfectly possible, of course, to get a tattoo that means nothing at all, one which is interpreted differently by different people, or one which is highly idiosyncratic. In Deleuzean terms, a subject who tattoos their body is resisting signification by playing precisely on these preconceptions that Sullivan unmasks.
You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn; and you have to keep small supplies of significance and subjectification, if only to turn them against their own systems when the circumstances demand it, when things persons, even situations, force you to; and you have to keep small rations of 31 Mindy Fenske makes a similar argument, reading the tattoo against the Deleuzean notion of territorialization.
In this way the modified body is disarticulate whilst appearing articulate, an uncanny double betrayal. It is able to appropriate commonalities of perception and turn them against themselves, and is all the more unsettling and subversive for it.
In the Deleuzean paradigm, where signification is to be understood as the expression of the unconscious, subjectification is the assignation of a conscious process which might account for the deployment of any specific signifying sign.
The signified requires a subject and a subjectivity in order to allow its genesis — put simply, what begins as subjective desire results in signification. Subjectification enforces a specific logic of behaviour a specific subjectivity, a specific consciousness and interpretation, and throughout A Thousand Plateaus the impression arises that, in relation to the BwO at least, it is the hegemonic insistence upon a dominant logic of subjectivity which is actually at the core of our entrapment.
Above all, it knows just how far its own being goes, and just how far it has not yet gone or does not have the right to go without sinking into the unreal, the illusory, the unmade, the unprepared. It has its origins in the tribal rituals of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans see: Catlin and, whilst it has no inherent aesthetic intention, it is relevant to the discussion at hand because it has been appropriated and eagerly embraced in a recent Western context by those within the body modification subculture.
The Mandan themselves used suspension rituals as one part of a broader corporeal devotion to their spirit God. A young brave would have splints pierced into his chest and then be raised by ropes attached to these splints to be hung from the ceiling of the lodge. Consider these practices, then, in light of the Deleuzean model of the BwO. Before being suspended, the brave is nailed down by his subjectification and never truly able to understand the divine.
For the Mandan, of course, these suspensions were actually part of the dominant ideology, and I do not seek to suggest that they were subversive to the organisational structure of Mandan society. Can body modification liberate the individual from an oppressive structure of desire? It is deconstructive, and thus resists the strata of the organism. It is disarticulate, and thus it resists signification and interpretation. It is consciously dynamic, and thus it resists subjectification.
It seems possible to suggest, then, that the modified body, as a body without organs which can be achieved through purposive intention, is indeed a route out of oppression, resistant as it is to the principal shackles of human experience. Nevertheless, there is a conundrum which arises from the fact that because body modification is an elective choice, it remains mired in the structure of desire it claims to resist.
We might envy them and their sloughing off of their organs, but as soon as we direct that envy into emulative action, it becomes desire. Is Resistance Futile? This hopelessness at the heart of what is otherwise a hugely hopeful thesis is frustrating, but it is one which Deleuze does seek to address.
Critical freedom must always be expressed cautiously. The BwO can be botched, and he describes three particular outcomes of the destratification process, of which only one is truly emancipatory. There are in fact several ways of botching the BwO: either one fails to produce it, or one produces it more or less, but nothing is produced on it, intensities do not pass or are blocked.
If you free it with too violent an action, if you blow apart the strata without taking precautions, then instead of drawing the plane you will be killed, plunged into a black hole or even dragged towards catastrophe. Staying stratified is not the worst that can happen; the worst that can happen is if you throw the strata into a demented or suicidal collapse which brings them back down on us heavier than ever.
This is the body emptied of organs; the body of the junkie which, though destratified, is impotent. Whilst resisting the strata, the junkie neglected to engage in remaking that which he had destroyed, and as such flows and intensities are quenched by a taut, resistant surface. But it is something quite different to refigure corporeality after a purposive end even if using the same methods of destruction that might otherwise result in emptiness.
This cancerous BwO, as Deleuze calls it, is so eager to construct dementedly that it ends up recreating the oppressive strata it has just destroyed. It fascistically reconstructs the very same strata until they are eventually as oppressive, if not more so, than those it originally sought to pervert. It is through meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a BwO.
In this sense, whilst the acquisition of body modifications in a Western context will always be instigated by desire and mediated by capitalism, the results of these modifications are intensely troubling to the structures of desire and capitalism themselves. Indeed, this proximity to its mortal enemy is actually necessary for the modified body to have any resistive power at all.
The disruption that these technologies engender is a function of precisely this proximity, unravelling the power of hegemonic capitalism by turning its own modes of production against themselves. Find your body without organs. Find out how to make it. It is where everything is played out. The approach simultaneously explains why body art is often so problematic for individuals and the power structures they inhabit, and how such interaction might be deployed as a means of subversive liberation.
Nevertheless, it does provide a small set of possibilities through which resistance may be successfully enacted. A concertedly artistic approach to body art elucidates the possibilities and potentials of heterogeneous bodily aesthetics and encourages creativity and novelty.
What he fails to realise, however, is that the possibilities are endless. From the generalised theoretical frameworks which I have argued help make sense of the modified body as an object in the world, I want now to move to a set of discussions focussed on the details of one particular genre of body art in order to probe the complexities of this nomenclature in more detail.
And though it has rarely been more than a marginalised footnote, amongst the various forms of body modification it has been the most visible in art galleries, received the most attention from scholars interested in the visual qualities of body art and proven of most utility to practicing conceptual artists in their own work.
Is Tattooing Art? If the current body of work and the attention that it is receiving is any indication, future art history textbooks will include tattooists as part of our contemporary creative culture — Jesse Lee Denning, curator, Invisible NYC Art Gallery and Tattoo Studio Denning in Waterhouse , 5 Clinton R. And yet 20 years later, this threshold seems still not to have been fully traversed. As far as Denning is concerned, tattooing as a legitimised art form is still nascent, still emerging, still tentative.
The answer, I want to argue, lies in the fact that the case that tattooists be understood as legitimate artists and that the tattoos they produce be viewed and understood as works of art has not been made sufficiently clearly, in the right terms and venues, nor with sufficient depth or dexterity. These criteria, which he suggests elevate crafts to the more honorific status of art, fall into four particular categories: creative, institutional, formal and organisational.
There is some practical and conceptual difficulty in institutionalising tattoos as works of art given their medium is the living human body, which Sanders imagines may hamper the qualification of tattooing as an art form. I will go on to explore the ways in which a number of artists and curators have sought to navigate and negotiate these limits. The formal grounds are, straightforwardly, that the making of a tattoo emulates the production of more conventional artistic methods such as drawing, painting and sculpting and that the tattoo itself is, essentially, a drawing on skin.
And though such a definition cannot be a sufficient one, it is indubitable that the parallels between tattooing and other forms of art making do greatly inform the idea that body art is worthy of the name. The organisational grounds overlap to some degree with the formal. Information directed at the general public by tattooing organizations and tattooists who have a vested interest in expanding the artistic reputation of tattooing emphasizes conventionally accepted values.
Promotional materials refer to tattoo studios and tattoo art, display exemplary work exhibiting aesthetic content and technical skill, stress the historical and cultural roots of tattooing … and emphasize the academic training and conventional artistic experience of key practitioners. Sanders , If tattooists themselves take on the mantle of respectability and legitimacy, a shift in cultural perception of their work should eventually follow. I can only agree wholeheartedly that the developments in contemporary Western tattooing that they chronicled should have been the starting point for a final ascent towards a legitimised artistic status.
And yet, it is clear this ascent has stalled. Exhibitions of tattoos in galleries have received scant attention from art historians. The reason for this, I want to argue, is that these cases are always made too cursorily. As discussed in Chapter Two, whilst these types of analyses make intuitive sense, they are deceptively shallow. The comparisons Sanders and Wilton make, whilst legitimate and sensible, are too simplistic and made too hastily, and when problems are acknowledged, they are dodged or ignored.
Don Ed Hardy may have a fine art degree, but why is this important? A particular museum may have hung some photos of tattoos, but why is this interesting? What is a tattoo artist? Her protagonist, Cy Parks, is the eponymous Michelangelo. This was his life now.
This was who he was. He caught their stories in a bucket in the shop or booth and mixed it with ink and used the serum to paint translations of the very stories the tellers were haemorrhaging on to them. These were not house walls he was painting, after all, they were empathetic people, made of flesh and bone and experience and tragedy and joy.
Hall , Who, then, is the author of a tattoo? If the tattoo is body art, who is the artist? Is it the client, who enlists the services of a tattoo artist to produce a specific design on their skin in order to express some personal, specific intention? There is a rather obvious formalist defence to this. As the custom tattoo involves far more creative and technical input from the tattoo artist, I would argue that the conferral of the design process to the tattooist actually constitutes a move away from simplistic semiotic presentations But the art of tattooing shares other qualities with more recent developments in contemporary art.
The fact that increasing numbers of fine artists wish to control or dictate the context in which their work is seen, wish to eliminate context altogether, or wish to create their own contexts is a problem that does not exist for the serious tattoo artist. Fleming directly positions herself against the assertions of tattoo artists that they be taken seriously as artists in a wider sense. Her argument, in essence, is that the tattoo renaissance is predicated on an ideological and ethical shift towards a general consensus that the tattoo turns skin into an inscriptive surface, semiotically exteriorizing internal desires.
All tattooing functions this way, undermining the claims of those seeking legitimacy through artistic competence. This analysis fails because amongst all her discussions of surfaces, exteriorities, borders and boundaries, she only ever seems to see these as permeable in one direction: outwards. This sentiment, or one much like it, is present in much writing on tattooing. In recent texts, writers have often sought to encapsulate tattooing within the wider discourse of selfhood and identity politics.
Those etching the tattoo into the skin are almost never painted as artists in the modern sense in their own right, or with their own authorial stake in the procedure. As we saw in Chapter One, however, his own conception of his authorial role is somewhat murky: in the interview with him in Modern Primitives from which Fleming quotes, whilst it is the case that Hardy assigns authorial primacy to his clients, he is also careful to stress the craft and artistry that he and his contemporaries brought to Western tattooing from the late s onwards.
On one hand he will underscore the creativity of his clients, explaining that For more on this particular comparison, see Sullivan Sullivan , Ch. His overview of the working practices of the tattooist and their relationship to their work is invaluable, though even in his study tattooists are compared to service personnel such as janitors. Don Ed Hardy in Vale and Juno , 52 On the other hand, in the same interview, he will wax lyrical about the visions he had at the beginning of his career of creating large custom tattoos that his clients were too timid to wear; about his disregard for the formulaic boundaries of copying flash sheets; about his training as a fine artist and the relationship between his art practice and his tattooing; about tattooing as a genuine art form.
These are by no means isolated examples. For example, the earliest recorded professional tattooist in America, Martin Hildebrandt working from the s onwards , saw his studio as an atelier, and the pieces he produced the product of genius DeMello , 49; Parry , In other words, tattooists have always felt that their craft deserved some respect as an art form, and they must take at least some of the credit for its continual formal and ethical development over the past years.
The role of the tattooer, and the interplay between his subjectivity and that of his client, deserves theorisation. Authorship can never rest entirely with either party. The balance of levels of creative input between tattooer and recipient will vary greatly from circumstance to circumstance as I will demonstrate with reference to case studies later in this chapter , but rarely, if ever, is it the case that tattoos are the sole product of a singular author.
Foucault respectively emerged in the Romantic period during the second half of the 18th century Rose , 1 , and have become pervasive. As Andrew Bennett explains, the Romantic theory of authorship, in which the author is designated as autonomous, original and expressive, may be said to account for everything that is commonly or 37 One notable exception to this is the tattoo performed on oneself. An author, in this sense, is defined by their creative genius, individualistic powers of expression, distinction from their cultural and personal surroundings and their personal autonomy in the production of the work.
In other words, the distinguishing characteristic of the modern author, I propose, is proprietorship; the author is conceived as the originator, and therefore owner of a special kind of commodity, the work. By assigning authorship to the tattoo client as Fleming and others do Oksanen and Turtianinen ; Sweetman ; Velliquette et al.
Tattoos and Copyright In Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright Rose , literary theorist Mark Rose traces an intimate connection between Romantic authorship and the introduction of copyright laws in England in the 18th Century, emphasising the tight interconnection between concepts of individualised production and the legal protections afforded to works in the ideology and systems of copyright.
When copyright law, founded on singular authorship, attempts to intervene in the subjective struggle between artist client, the complexities of this problem come into sharp relief Harkins takes on the legal issues arising from a novel claim asserting copyright infringement based on a tattoo, and I want to summarise and comment on his analysis here.
The case study here is not intended to illustrate the nuances of a particular iterance of copyright law, rather it serves as a further example of the potential for conflict if tattooing is thought of solely as a singular mode of production. Copyright law and notions of the nature of intellectual property in the USA are presented here to frame this broader conceptual point. In , Wallace, then a player for the NBA franchise Portland Trailblazers, commissioned a tattoo from Reed to incorporate an Egyptian king, queen, three children and a stylised sun.
The case was dismissed pursuant to a confidential settlement and thus there was no judgement on the matters arising from the case, and so Harkins must be content to speculate on the various arguments that may have been presented to court, and the various The specific reference for the filed dispute is Reed v.
Nike, Inc. I am grateful to lawyer and friend Marisa Kakoulas for bringing this article to my attention, and to our discussions on the issue arising from her forthcoming book on tattoo law. That is to say, essentially, that tattoos are copyrightable, and fulfil the material criteria such that copyright law is applicable to tattooing. This is in line with my presentation of tattoos as works of art in formal terms, and adds weight to a model of the tattoo as an object, or work, in and of itself.
The philosophical problems begin to bubble to the surface here, though, because all the issues of intersubjectivity and authorship discussed so far start to work against any simplistic reading of the tattoo in relation to copyright law. The second lesson, then, is that the modes of production in the work of the tattoo do not sit neatly into any one model of legal authorship. Initially, Hawkins equates tattooing with an act of publishing, with the tattooist acting as the author of the initial sketches, and distributing the tattoo itself as a derivative work.
These rebuttals, unsurprisingly, all rest on the intersubjective nature of tattooing. The client then conceives the tattoo or delegates the act of conception and commissions the tattoo artist who is simply the craftsman through which the work is produced.
Though it might be possible that the tattoo constitutes a work for hire, and thus, in law at least, can be conceived as the singular product of the recipient, Harkins is not persuaded due to a number of legal technicalities.
Nevertheless, he does accept that such an argument might have some weight on a case by case basis, and this particular issue of commissioning is something I want to return to later in the chapter with analogies to Medieval modes of artistic production within patronage systems.
There is also often a constant conversation occurring during the tattoo process regarding choices of colours and even, on occasion, thickness of lines. Trinity Theatre Inc. There is one way of subverting this, though, and the third lesson Harkins asks his readers to draw from Reed v.
Nike is, unsurprisingly, to retain the services of lawyers. But the lesson of Reed , in a nutshell, is that this is the very specific consequence of the tattoo and its medium. The tattoo is never only yours. Tattooing and Patronage Prefiguring Reed by some decades, E. The art is the work of the donor. By this understanding which is procured from Filarete and Alberti , the patron and the artist or architect functioned together to give birth to, or generate, the work, with a little of each of them combining to produce something expressive, to a greater or lesser degree, of each.
The consequences of this insight are slowly emerging. I shall quote it at length. Note the clear parallels between the actions of the patron picking the subject matter, some basic input on matters of pictorial composition and the painter researching subjects, suggesting iconography as evidenced in archive documentation with the ways in which custom tattoos are produced. The patron has been seen as the party in control, and the primary commissioning document, the contract, as a set of instructions given by a patron to a painter.
It has set out to show that while clients always identified the subject matter to be depicted in a proposed work of art, painters were not passive recipients of learned subjects handed to them by painters interested in erudite pictures. Further evidence complicates these ideas about the transmission of pictorial information. It suggests that not only that both parties may commonly have contributed to deciding appearance, but also that they sometimes collaborated and their interests encompassed basic pictorial concerns.
Clients might involve themselves in settling fundamental details of the layout, colour, dress, and placement of figures in a proposed work, areas traditionally considered by scholars as the preserve of painters, and painters might engage in identifying appropriate subsidiary iconography and even occasionally in suggesting the type of main figure to be depicted, aspects of a commission long believed to be the purview of clients.
In the case studies to follow, I wish to examine the genetic distribution between tattooer and client in a variety of cases, and the way in which this copulative interaction can work in practice. Some tattooists particularly relish tipping this balance as far towards their own side as possible, reducing the client to a surface upon which they inscribe their art. In the previous chapter, I discussed the fundamentally intersubjective nature of tattooing, and the problems in identifying the author of a tattoo or in ascribing singular subjectivity in any particular readings of what tattoos might mean or signify.
In this chapter I want to develop this idea with reference to two case studies, projects which prioritise the authorial roles of either the tattoo artist or the individuals being tattooed as much as possible. These two projects show what is possible when the client or the tattooist asserts their authorial primacy, but also illustrate quite vividly the unbreakable limits the medium of tattooing imposes.
Even though many tattooists are artistically talented and keen to produce custom pieces of work, they are also bound by the commercial realities of the tattoo industry, where so many tattoo choices are repetitive and staid: a tattooist may be able to usher their clients in a particular aesthetic direction and has some opportunity in the tattooing process to interject their own ideas and opinions, but more often than not they are constrained by the initial wishes of their client and the often rather limiting choice of tattoo selected.
Even if it is only to acquiesce to a stylistic or representational decision made by the tattooist, the human canvas will always inevitably and intractably have some input into the process of creating a tattoo. Suits Made to Fit Lee and Full Coverage Lee are two ambitious, interconnected collaborative art projects designed to explore these tensions. The two projects together illustrate the very best of what contemporary tattooing can offer in terms of vision, creativity, scope, audacity, passion and artistry.
The work of the NS Collective pushes the sliding scale of collaboration between the genius of the artist and the pure subjective expression of the collector about as far towards though never quite reaching the authorial primacy of the tattooist as it might be possible to reach. Suits Made to Fit was conceived towards the end of Due to the cost and commitment required to endure up to 85 hours of tattoo sessions across the course of a number of years, the number of clients willing to receive full back pieces is vanishingly small, even in an era such as today when tattoos are apparently surging in popularity.
As such, most tattooers rarely, if ever, embark on conceiving, let alone tattooing work on such a large scale The back piece is an enormous undertaking for both collector and tattooer 40 D. Figure 11 Adam Barton, Untitled, Watercolour and ink on board, 30 in.
Ink and colour pencil on tracing paper, 25 in. Watercolour, ink and charcoal on board, 30 in. Graphite and ink on butcher paper, 36 in. Stripped of the workaday constraints of actually producing wearable or even desirable commissions, the contributors to Suits set about producing designs the like of which very few collectors would request off their own backs, as it were.
Some of the pieces remain steadfastly true to the symbolic language of American tattooing, blowing up to monumental proportions motifs usually applied into pieces smaller than a few inches across. This has the dual effect of underscoring what the fundamental building blocks in terms of content and form of the Western tradition actually are and the reasons perhaps why they have endured since the s.
Quite simply, these vernacular tattoos work as tattoos; they are readable, humble, classic A second subsection of Suits pays homage to the traditions of 19th century Japanese tattooing which fed into American tattooing in the s, crystallising many of the formal elements of the contemporary tattoo.
Seen in this ethical context, that their work quotes and refers to genre conventions is hardly surprising. This sense of history and tradition is common in the narratives of tattoo artists. Whilst Osborne does accept that it might be possible to establish rough criteria allowing such a distinction to be made, it is important that the distinctions be not exaggerated in such a way as to lose sight of the basic affinities between art and craftsmanship.
They have their own aesthetic status and their own wealth of aesthetic appeal deriving not least from their deeply rooted integration in human and social activity. Acrylic and enamel on canvas, 36 in. Acrylic on Canvas, 30 in. The back pieces he conceives here are almost painterly, and are innovative and exciting.
His principally figurative designs do not look like tattoos, and though he frames his drawings with sketched outlines of a human body, the designs often refuse to be constrained by them Figure The images seem to come alive and dance across, behind and within the skin: at times, Lee uses the imposed shape of a torso as a keyhole beyond which a scene is played out, much of it out of view Figure 16 ; in other pieces, the designs leap and burst out from and beyond the bodies on which they are supposed to sit Figure The real body has limits to its space and its desires.
Suits Made to Fit stands as both an overview of and monument to the stylistic traditions which saturate contemporary tattooing and the formal sense that tattooers are keen to establish their artistic credentials, but in establishing distance between the conceptions and the tattoos they are sadly never destined to become, something is lacking.
From this tentative statement, a second stage of the project emerged. Representing full back tattoo designs in various static mediums, the [Suits] project was essentially an extended homework assignment that allowed those involved the opportunity to explore more thoroughly, both structurally and conceptually, the majestic concept of the back piece.
As there was no pressure to actually apply any of the imagery onto a living canvas, each contributor was unchained from the normal design process associated with tattoos. Looking back, most of the material produced was just as intended: a series of creative studies, albeit largely untattooable. Though it seems to have varied from collector to collector and from tattooer to tattooer, the tattoos in Full Coverage project were predicated on initial requests by the collectors involved though no doubt gently coerced by the artists.
In some instances, the choice of language used in describing the tattoos belies this drive. DVD accompanying Lee But even as he asserts his status as an artist, the limits in which he must work are exposed. What happens in the move from the concepts in Suits to the full coverage tattoos is a manifestation of the truism about there being no blank human canvas — there simply can never be a tattoo that is produced in the Romantic mode of singular production.
Though these artists are allowed by their clients to work within their own particular styles, and sought out precisely because the clients want a piece from a particular tattooist, the subject matter is, in the first instance, dictated by the collector. Tattoos are always already intersubjective; always already collaborative in some sense. A living canvas imposes an unimpeachable limit on the singular subjectivity of the tattoo artist, especially as it retains the ultimate right of veto over any final design.
A human being can always get up and walk out of the studio. In contrast though, it is clear that these tattoos are not expressive of, or symbolic of, subjective truths emanating from the collectors in any straightforward way. Tattooist as Technician — Lee Wagstaff and the analogy of printmaking Until this point, the artwork was wearing shirt and trousers, so only the star pattern on his shaven head was showing.
Motifs on his right leg include diagonal stars and stripes and a chequerboard. His back is dominated by linked circles somewhat akin to that big molecular construction in Brussels, but pride of place is given to the aforementioned bleeding heart.
By turning his body into an art object, Wagstaff illustrates a number of the points I have made in the thesis thus far, and though there is no need to dwell on them in any particular detail here, they bear pointing out in brief. His use of tattooing in what formally seems quite an uncontroversial way provoked some level consternation and confusion, with one critic accusing him of cynically courting outrage and scandal in order to make a name for himself Wyatt Moreover, it is crucial to note that, unlike Orlan, Wagstaff considers his own body an art work: there is no need for an explicitly performative context and his body art is carried with him beyond the gallery space, already and always available as an art object.
Wagstaff has become both form and content as well as subject and object. Smith It is a word printer Irwin Hollander has used to describe how he saw his role as a printmaker at a time when highly and overtly collaborative printmaking was emerging in America in the s and 60s.
Hollander was involved in groups of printers working out of institutions and ateliers which strove to produce prints of the highest possible artistic and technical quality, and to bring European methods to American artists.
Donald Saff, in the editorial introduction to a special issue of Art Forum dedicated to precisely these questions, notes that by , the importance of those manipulating the machinery to produce prints exert a degree of individual agency in the printmaking process, and that their choices, abilities and personal, particular sensibilities will affect the look and the fundamental nature of the finished objects.
With the emergence of a kind of renaissance in printmaking, the word collaboration has gained global prominence as a term referring to a myriad of relationships between the artist and those around him who in some way contribute something to the finished product. While the words collaboration and collaborator do not have precise definitions in contemporary usage, they do indicate a growing importance being attached to individuals other than the artist who, in the end, signs the print.
Garo Z. Antreasian makes a number of qualitative judgements on various configurations of inputs from artist and printer, and concludes that the most artistically successful prints are those which are produced by talented printers under close instruction by interesting artists. The greater the distance the artist has from the finished work, he suggests, the less successful the final prints will be. Wagstaff is as far from the physical act of carrying out a tattoo as a contemporary painter would be from a lithograph print whose plates he had never handled.
The tattooist wields the tattoo machine like a paintbrush, building every line stroke by stroke, and every block of colour pass by pass; his own stylistic quirks will affect the finished tattoos in innumerable ways. Each line produced will vary in thickness depending on whether the tattooist chooses to etch it into the skin with a single pass with a larger grouping of needles, or An Austrian electrician called Niki Passath did design and build a tattooing robot, which he 46 exhibited at trade fairs in The idea did not prove popular Vickers The same design will look different if tattooed by different tattooists, and even when under direct instruction to work to a set design, a tattooist will interject authorial decisions based on his training and his own artistic sensibilities.
The way in which Wagstaff works is closer to printmaking than it is to any other more conventional art forms, but tattooing is not printmaking. Conclusions The ultimate point of these examples is that any analogy made between tattooing and other forms of artistic production will only ever be approximate, simply because tattooing is so fundamentally unlike other ways of making art objects.
Sometimes, tattooing feels superficially like printmaking. Sometimes, it feels like fresco painting. In some respects, the skin of a tattooed person is like a canvas; in others, it most clearly is not. Sometimes the tattooist is the artist, sometimes the client is, and sometimes they both are.
Ultimately, of course, all forms of art making are in some sense collaborative, but in terms of tattooing this collaboration is always overt. The tattoo sits suspended between the artistic primacy of the tattooist and the client, never able to fully reach either pole. When the tattooist attempts to remove the shackles of commercial body modification, objectify the bodies they work on and work to produce their own artistic visions on skin, they butt hard against the subjectivity of their clients.
When the client attempts to direct his tattooist to carry out his exact instructions, they hit the same limit of subjective input from the opposite direction, finding that a tattoo machine in the hands of a tattooist is impossible to completely mechanise and reduce to the status or function of a printing machine. Because the tattoo rests on the skin of a living, breathing and embodied subject, it resists discrete categorisation.
Already I begin to feel like a canvas. Moreover, body art may also be said to exhibit a number of the objective properties of conventional artworks, even as it resists in a number of obvious ways the status of object and any subsequent institutionalisation. Like paintings, they are art objects, but like performance pieces, they deny objectivity in a number of ways and are impossible to accession into a permanent collection in their original, immediate form.
The tattoos discussed in the previous chapter were intended to stand on their own, literally, as pieces of art and as art objects in the world. They were not exhibited as contextualised performances, and there was no sense that they would exist, or even could exist, as discrete art objects in their own right. How could they, after all? Nevertheless, it is interesting to consider how the institutions of the art world and the art market might make space for body art, and what problems are generated by the specificities of an art form which is simultaneously objective and inextricable from the subjective collector who wears it.
The window belonged to a picture gallery, and it proudly displayed a single canvas — a landscape. Something about the painting intrigued Drioli, and as he looked closer he noticed the plaque affixed to the frame. Drioli had made a great deal of money from tattooing that day, and had bought a great deal of wine to celebrate. Whist Soutine continued to work on the portrait, Drioli shared the wine amongst the three of them, until they were quite drunk.
As he began to sketch out his design — a portrait of Josie brushing her hair — the strangeness of the process began to dawn on the by now equal parts inebriated and invigorated painter. How would he produce this piece? How would it differ from his customary process of easel painting?
Could he request his living canvas sit up upon his tripod? After some hours of frantic and feverish work, the piece was completed. The whole of his back, from the top of his shoulders to the base of his spine, was a blaze of colour — gold and green and blue and black and scarlet. The tattoo was applied so heavily it looked almost like an impasto. The boy had followed as closely as possible the original brush strokes, filling them in solid, and it was marvellous the way he had made use of the spine and the protrusion of the shoulder blades so that they become part of the composition.
It was not a good likeness. Suddenly, the mood changed, with the taunts and mockery of the gallery attendees turning to become an energetic bidding war, with offers of sums of money being made that were upwards of FF20, The crowd in the gallery Dahl imagines come to realise this almost immediately.
In what way could one purchase a painting indelibly made on living skin? He offered Drioli, broke and desperate, a life of unimaginable luxury. Hungry, Drioli acquiesces. Having Drioli wander a Mediterranean villa in his trunks is not enough to sate the rapacious greed of the gallerist, who would stop at nothing to acquire a particularly rare piece by a famous artist Dahl could have invented the artist character from whole cloth, but he gives him the name 47 of a real painter.
Certain tattooists have been able to develop reputations as great tattoo artists, almost none have had their tattoos recognised as great pieces of art, or as great artists simply on the basis of the work they produce on skin. Some have infiltrated galleries with conceptual works or works in more traditional media, but not one of these individuals has made any real impact as artists in the Romantic sense on the strength of the tattoos they produced.
The curators were unable to find volunteers to wear several of the pieces commissioned. I am indebted to Barry Hogarth for allowing me to access his personal archive of documents pertaining to the project. The works produced for the show varied considerably in style, content and tone. Some are illustrative, others figurative. There was, of course, no merciless killing that night.
The tattoos were not cut from the bodies of those who bear them. No money changed hands, no varnish was applied, no trips to Cannes were offered. Firstly, the tattoos were not performative. Some tattoos were carried out at the Barbican event, but this was demonstrational and illustrative rather than performative in the way Lea Vergine or Amelia Jones would use the term. The manner in which the tattoo was applied, and the circumstances of its application were broadly irrelevant to the project, where the artistic content of the works is in their status as marks on a surface.
Furthermore, tattooing unique works by artists who are not themselves tattooists further emphasises that the tattoo can function and be read as an aesthetic object, and not simply as an expression of the subjective intention of its wearer. See also Burnett These types of readings, however, are almost universally ignored. Two recent studies Oksanen and Turtianinen ; Velliquette et al. Both locate tattooing within the broader discourse of narrative identity construction, and both unashamedly follow from a trajectory of research and discussion which firmly categorises the act of being tattooed, particularly in a post modern context, as a fundamentally narrative one see e.
The first of these studies, Anne M. Velliquette, Jeff B. Murray and Deborah J. It is a patterned integration of our remembered past, perceived present and anticipated future. From this perspective, each of us attempts to create a heroic story, a compelling aesthetic statement. Velliquette et al. Tattoos function as points of reference or maps that enable life stories to be told. It is shown here that tattoos are used by subjects in order to control their lives when faced with the chaos of late modern society.
A tattoo engraved into the skin represents a link to a personal life history, as well as an opportunity for subjective security. Images, colours and symbols reflect transitions and provide the structure for life history. Oksanen and Turtianinen , Their analyses of the stories of tattooed subjects in Tattoo magazine rely on reading tattoos as mementos, trinkets or souvenirs of some kind of chronological tourism. I can certainly agree with at least some of the positions these papers establish, and I am sympathetic to the generally positive light in which they place the role of tattooing in identity construction.
The problem with both them, though, is that in seeking to address the role of tattooing in the construction of personal narratives, both seem to be begging the question, particularly in their axiomatic presumption that body art in general and tattooing in particular speak to a direct and singular subjective narrativre.
Nevertheless, it is, in some respects, a tale not entirely of fantasy and fiction. Fleming , fn. A tattoo costs money to produce, but has no value as it cannot be exchanged. It is, literally, priceless. Tasked by Wellcome with purchasing items of interest and importance, Captain Saint records in his diary entry for Thursday 6th June that In the morning, I went to see the old osterologist regarding the preserved head, tattooed skins and other items which he has. He had not troubled to look them all out, so I am no further in this affair.
He has promised however to do so by next week, when I said I would come in and see him again and, if he has everything ready so that the material can be seen, I would try and arrange terms with him for purchase. This is the man who had the collection of over tattooed human skins. These skins date from the first quarter of the last century down to the present time. Many of them are very curious and extremely interesting and consist of skins of sailors, soldiers, murders and criminals of all nationalities.
He Wellcome Collection Accession 52 nos. He says that this was a special process of his own and unique in mummification. And lastly, a very interesting picture of a dissecting room by Dr. Paul Renonard, In accordance with instructions I bought all of these for the best possible terms viz. La Valette told me that the skins are unique, that no more could be got under any circumstances, and that each skin had taken him a long time and cost him a certain amount to cure and prepare for his permanent collection.
Wellcome Images, London. The skins bear a range of iconographic content that would be familiar to any tattooist even today — daggers, card suits, moons, naked women, flowers, lions. La Valette came to acquire the skins in the first instance. The motivations 54 Wellcome Collection Accession no. The curiosity was, according to Sappol, at once didactic and spectacular, with remains being used for research, for discussing with colleagues and, often, for public or private display.
These skins are still physically held by the Wellcome Collection, and housed in the archives of the Science Museum at Blythe House Two of them are on display in the permanent collection of the Wellcome Museum. Though they were collected in the course of the professional practice of anatomy, these exempla of mummified plunder have now been legitimised as objects of display or, as Sappol would have it, of curiosity , presented as objects for 57 The murky provenance of these tattoos are rendered into a fanciful short story by Hari Kunzru in The Phantom Museum Hawkins and Olsen Hawkins and Olsen Lavallette was certainly a collector.
See Forment and Brilot for some brief discussions of their symbolic content. Due to their disconnection from their previously problematic status as art in living skin, their fundamentally artistic nature is put into sharper relief than may have been the case when they were still borne by their original owners, and by taking on the formal qualities of a painting o display, the distinctions between tattoos in general and tattoo art that some have sought to emphasise through appeals to virtuosity, craftsmanship or formalised art training see Tucker , 44 vanish for the most part.
It is not too hard to imagine, though, how anthropological or pathological curiosity may be further subsumed under an appreciation of tattooed skins simply as works of decorative art, or of visual spectacle. As Parry explains, 61 Questions which they deserved to have prompted all along, of course. Lawson was, up until the recent darkness of the depression, one of the swankiest of the masters.
On the walls, framed in neat wood and glass, were samples of tattooed human skin, taken from corpses. This never failed to bring Harry publicity from the Los Angeles newspapers, and he loved it. Parry , 49 It seems appropriate to term Lawson, like La Vallette, a collector. On the East coast, this reduction of the tattoo to unilateral art object was even starker. This gentleman also manipulates a dissecting room monopoly.
He is without doubt the only living human with a constant corner in epithelia. Parry , 49 Unlike the anatomical spoils of the Wellcome collection, these tattoos are procured with the full consent of their owners and purchased solely for their visual, and not pathological, appeal. Or is there something more mundane at work — simply, the common marketisation of art works? Firstly, of course, such transactions seem to settle the copyright and ownership dilemmas described earlier in this chapter.
Whilst authorship and ownership of intellectual property rights may be collaborative, the material fact of the tattoo is that, whatever the process of its production, the physical object belongs to the bearer, much in the same way as material ownership transfers from a painter to his customer once it is sold. What these types of transaction highlight is that, absent some metaphysical objection to the trade in skin, certain individuals are able to render their tattoos as commercialisable art objects much like any other.
Works in other mediums composed of, or on inanimate substances can be passed down to future generations for their appreciation and enlightenment. The tattoo is a private, selfish contract between the artist and client that is ultimately for the edification and empowerment of the wearer alone during his or her lifetime.
In , Dr Masaichi Fukushi, a professor of medicine and pathology at Nippon Medical University, developed a love and admiration for the large, intricate body suit tattoos favoured amongst certain sections of Japanese society at the time.
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