Saturday
Mar032012

Barney Rosset (1922-2012)

"I feel, personally, that the word has never been written or uttered which should not be published."

                          -Barney Rosset

It's been a rough few weeks for smut peddlers and the devotees who took a shining to their licentious outpourings. First, Jackie Treehorn died, then publishing icon Barney Rosset, and finally, the purveyor of the filthiest, raunchiest pornography in recent memory, Andrew Breitbart, dropped dead of a heart attack or utter shame (we're awaiting the autopsy).

Since Jackie Treehorn was a fictional pornographer played by Ben Gazzara (R.I.P.) and Andrew Breitbart was a lying sack of shit political sadist who enjoyed watching liberals squirm, our focus today will be on Barney Rosset.

The backwardness and puritanical tinge that American culture has always suffered from was made a lot less embarrassing for some of us due to the efforts of Rosset. Few people outside of literary enthusiasts knew his name, but he certainly played a large role in redefining this nation's social mores and what Americans considered acceptable art. He dragged a slouching behemoth, kicking and screaming all the way, into the world of modern aesthetics. And he did it primarily through publishing books.

Rosset was an eccentric. His first passion was for the cinema, but finding little headway in that pursuit, he turned to the written word. He was a fan of good literature and bad. He possessed a Bohemian flair for life and a schizophrenic business sense that saw his publishing house (Grove Press) through booms and busts throughout the 1950s, '60s and '70s. At his core, however, he was a crusader against censorship and a champion of the fringe elements of our society.

He served as a photographer in China for the U.S. Army Signal Corp. during World War II. Army Intelligence wrote three letters that described him thusly:

1.) A communist and a monster

2.) The greatest patriot that ever lived

And

3.) A nice boy who's worried about poor people who don't have the things that he has.

Rosset later joked that all three letters were likely true, simultaneously.

After the war, he produced a documentary called Strange Victory which dealt with racial bias in America after WWII. Finding no further inroads into Hollywood, he moved to France and married Joan Mitchell, an abstract painter and friend from his high school. Their open marriage failed and Rosset returned to New York where he purchased a press on Grove Street in Greenwich Village (assisted by a tip from Joan) for $3,000 in 1951. It was there he began publishing his literary magazine Evergreen Review. It was also at Grove Press where his numerous battles against censorship began. So many battles, in fact, that Rosset referred to his publishing firm as "a breach in the dam of American Puritanism."

The first fight was to publish D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1959. The Postmaster General had refused to allow it to be shipped through the mail despite the book being in circulation (in other countries) since 1928. Rosset won. Emboldened, he took on the obscenity laws for Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. He won again. A flood of the Beat Generation's works followed through Grove Press and the torrent of the counterculture began to flow through the crumbling edifice of America's stone wall of hypocritical piety.

Rosset turned even more political in the mid to late '60s by publishing The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the writings of Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh. He had a knack for sensing revolutionary trends in the culture and was often beautifully situated just ahead of the curve with the right property when they broke. He even scored a sensation as a film promoter in 1967 with the stateside release of the Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow) which was like voyeuristic catnip to movie audiences that had not yet seen the influx of porn theaters on their downtown block. The film is laughingly tame by any standards now.

To give you an idea of the man behind the writers, take a gander at the list of artists that Rosset published:

Samuel Beckett

Henry Miller

Jean Genet

William S. Burroughs

Jack Kerouac

Eugène Ionesco

Tom Stoppard

Allen Ginsberg

John Rechy

Pablo Neruda

Octavio Paz

Kenzaburō Ōe

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Harold Pinter

Hubert Selby, Jr.

Not a bad scorecard of widows and orphans that gunslinger Barney Rosset defended against the swarming hordes of pinch-faced, priggish god-fearers and their abiding lawmen, eh? He received his share of death threats (even a grenade detonation in his office, presumably by the FBI), bad press, slander, ridicule and ignominy during his time here on the big rock. But, for such a scrawny and odd little fellow, he went toe-to-toe with the giants of his day – and kicked every one of their motherfuckin' asses. That's a hero to me. Now, I'm not about to mourn like an Italian widow over an 89 year old man who died relatively impoverished and underappreciated despite being the most innovative publisher of the 20th Century but, again, that's a hero to me. We need more the likes of Barney Rosset. My life is richer for him. Our libraries are more full due to him. And we are a better, more open nation because of his efforts.

For those who prefer their info visually, check out the documentary Obscene. A well done synopsis of his life and contributions to our culture. Available for streaming on Netflix.

Wednesday
Nov232011

Thanksgiving Cheer 2011

Hello friends, relations, and enemies. Just a brief post on this Thanksgiving eve to wish you all the happiest of holiday seasons. I would like to briefly include at this time a list of things I am thankful for:

 

The arm of Drew Brees.

Living in the world's best brew town with 50 bars for every church.

Simone's smile and understanding.

The films of the Coen Brothers.

Sweet, tasty donuts.

The sardonic laughs the GOP and its enablers provide.

My continuing lucidity and wit despite all my efforts to destroy them.

And the love of my family which, as frigid and unforgiving as the northeasterly climes whence I sprang, has never abated in my near half-century on this earth.

I would like to offer as my Thanksgiving gift to you, Dear Readers, this audio gem regarding tomorrow's holiday from a true narrative master. An excerpt from Joe Frank's Pilgrim that I originally heard 12 years ago. It is now, like stuffing, my Thanksgiving Day staple.

Enjoy:

Joe Frank's Pilgrim

Oh, and I'll be taking the Packers, Ravens and Cowboys tomorrow.

Wednesday
Jun082011

Something I Need To Remember

Pulled from a Salon comment page:

"People are people, not the idealized founts of virtue we might like them to be."

When I saddle up my sinewy, rippling, muscular steed of ethical and societal vengeance and gallop through the streets of my nation hunting for the weak and hypocritical, I'm going to try to remember and adhere to that statement more.

Just a thought, on this day of our lord, June 8th, 2011.   

Friday
May202011

Coming Clean Before the Rapture

There's a gentleman from California named Harold Camping who is the head of a non-profit (suuuure) Christian radio network called Family Stations, Inc. who claims that the rapture will occur on May 21st- this coming Saturday. Not your typical theistic crackpot, Camping used to be a civil engineer and has crunched some biblical numbers to pinpoint the date.

Normally, I wouldn't take this sort of prediction very seriously but the guy is, after all, good with math, only 89 years old and, most importantly, spent millions of dollars on ads, electronic billboards, images on traveling vans, and signs for his acolytes.

If that's not serious, then I don't know what.

Readers familiar with this blog know me to be a bit of a skeptic in regard to religious matters. Hell, who's kidding who, I'm overtly hostile toward and forever mocking any dolt who views the god myth as anything but a fear bag of power and control or- in this instance and most others- a cheap huckster's game to fleece the intellectually incurious.

But this time, I don't know. I could be very, very wrong.

It seems rather bittersweet, however, that if the end times are really here, most of us will have only outlived Osama Bin Laden by a few weeks. Where's the canonic justice in that?

Which is why I'm writing down some confessions here for Jeebus and, vicariously, you. To free myself from past sins and cleanse my spirit wholly. Blood of the lamb and Mississippi rivers sort of bathing and plunging. Just in case I meet that flowing-haired savior with the sinewy swimmer's body this coming Saturday. I want to be at my freshest. I will talc up as well.

I've never been good at this, but here goes- my confessions:

I masturbated often to images/scenarios involving my friend's mothers while finding my sexuality as a youth. I would like it to be known that these diversions were always with procreation in mind and never, simply, to spill seed.

Although I am now a professed vegetarian, I cannot resist the Italian beef/sausage combo at Al's in Chicago. I would willingly gouge the eyes out of a thousand bovines for just one more taste of those delectable sandwiches.

I do not think there is nobility in poverty. Mostly, just a squalor sink full of dirty dishes and screaming, hungry, ugly kids running around.

I stole a Matchbox motorcycle from a department store when I was six. The store went out of business two years later. That guilt has never left me.

I give money to street beggars but really don't want to know them beyond that. I tell myself they're all buskers, playing some form of music without an instrument.

I'm not really scared of an eternity in hell. I've already seen Michael McDonald perform twice.

I constantly tell lies over the phone, but never in face-to-face conversation. Something about the eyes.

I really do admire most of the work of Steven Spielberg despite having taken a critical claw hammer to his skull at every opportunity.

I have dabbled in race hate but, sometimes, those Laplanders get above themselves.

I voted for Republican candidates in the past. Oh, Sweet Christ, forgive me. I couldn't have known.

How's things with your Dad, Jeebus? You need to vent? You've got a shoulder and an ear with me. Fathers can be absolute pricks. I understand.

There are far too many handicap parking spaces per capita for the amount of cripples who drive. 

I have always ignored the dictates of Satan. It has helped that I do not believe in him.

I have based my life philosophy on contrarianism. My behavior has been formulated less by the person I desire to be and more from the person I do not wish to be. Often heard voice in my head says, "What? That asshole? You couldn't possibly!"

I have seen man's exploitation of his fellow man up close and decided to combat it by having a few drinks and a bake when I got home.

I tend to chuckle at the misfortunes of others. My laughs are usually at someone's expense. But, I helped a woman up the other day when she tripped on a supermarket rug. I rushed to her assistance without first snickering. That is progress for me.

While babysitting me around the Christmas holiday, my older sister suggested we peek at our gifts while our parents were out. I agreed wholeheartedly. Then I ratted her out a few days later when the guilt became too great and I thought I wouldn't get to keep my presents. Santa's vengeance is strong!

I own a copy of The Communist Manifesto and have not rejected all of its tenets. Actually, Jeebus may be cool with that in a "to each according to their needs" sort of way.

I've got an aversion to the foot. The absolute ugliest part of the human body. I avoid contact at any cost. So, sorry Jeebus, I won't be bathing yours.

I just don't like dogs. I don't hate them. But, like cops, priests, gout and Mormons, I feel better when they're not around.

I tip well. That's gotta account for something, right?

I have never killed another human being. Except Lewis Grizzard. Pretty sure his demise was directly attributable to my hatred for him. Particularly since I willed cancer onto that unfunny motherfucker.

I've never hired a hooker. But I have paid dearly for sex.

Everyone who has ever met me, despite my bristly exterior, finds me to be a good guy deep down inside. I am not. I'm actually that surface prick with some rote social manners instilled in him during childhood.

Being a passive, thoughtful, liberal thinker is ideal, but sometimes I really want to stomp some ass.

"Turn the other cheek" is a phrase I'm more apt to use at the culmination of a blowjob.

I have always found the Nazis to be quite stylish in appearance.

There has got to be some Armageddon loophole for a guy who picks up his cat and coos "Schmoopie Poopie".

I hope this helps you Jeebus, in your judgment of me come crunch time. I've tried to live an honest life without the church. Maybe you can forgive me for continually trashing the organizational offshoots of your teachings. You know- charlatans, false prophets, "healers", greed-heads using your name for a dime, the capitalists, Mormons, the Pope and his minions, homophobes, missionaries bringing horror to the "savages", snake handlers, cultists, Adventists, televangelists, politicians, racists, Intelligent Design proponents, flagellants, witch burners, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusaders, Southern Baptists, Armageddon authors, pinch-faced small town gossipers, tent revivalists, censors, nosy neighbors, self-righteous jackasses, proselytizers, door-to-door god salespeople, "universities" without actual science, "straight campers", indoctrinators, frightened parents, etc. Or, perhaps, what many of your earthly minions have said about you all along is true. You are a forgiving sort who finds the good in people. Here's to that aspect of your attributed conscience. It probably doesn't help that I've always called you "Jeebus", does it? Anyhoodle, please keep an open mind when we meet. I have many good qualities and talents that could serve you and your staff well in the years to come. Attached please find my resume with email and phone number. I'd be happy to answer any and all of your questions and look forward to our interview. Since it's a Saturday, maybe drinks and some parlor games afterward? Just a suggestion.

If at all possible, I would rather not be immersed in flames for all eternity. If this is all some sort of practical joke, however, well, go fuck yourself.

Sincerely,

C. Adolph Moores

Tuesday
Apr262011

Bob Hope's 2011 USO Afghanistan Tour Highlights

I'd like to thank every one of you here in the audience and those in the American military forces stationed everywhere, all over this globe, watching the broadcast on the NBC television feed or listening to it over the wireless for your continued service and dedication to the cause of democracy and freedom around the world. We owe you the utmost gratitude for your efforts.

I'd love to say I'll stick around here in Kabul, but the sand traps are too darn big for my golf game.

These terrorists are something, huh? They believe 72 virgins, wine and fruit await them in heaven. I think they're getting eternal paradise mixed up with Hugh Hefner's apartment on a Saturday night.

Say, how about these kids and their hip-hop music? I haven't seen anybody move like that since my USO show in Vietnam when Vic Damone hid a tarantula in Joey Heatherton's sock drawer.

I was at the Grammy's when Lady Gaga came out of that egg. I haven't eaten chicken since. Somebody needs to warn Colonel Sanders that one of his experiments escaped.

I was talking to former President George W. Bush the other day. His low profile since leaving office has nothing to do with embarrassment. He's working on his library. After two years, they've apparently procured a Bible, a copy of The Pet Goat, and a homeless guy who uses the bathroom to wash. (Audible boos)

Fuel prices sure have risen lately. The last time I bought gas this expensive was the garlic truffles at The Brown Derby.  

The news is that al Qaeda has come up with a new kind of IED. They strap Kirstie Alley down on the roadside and tell her Taco Bell just went out of business.

The Governor of Wisconsin recently took away collective bargaining rights for state employees and there was a lot of backlash. Not much changed, though. During the protests, union members still sat around doing nothing and complained about work.

Celebrities are getting younger and younger these days, aren't they? I just met Justin Bieber backstage and was asked to burp him and jangle my car keys while his mother went to the ladies room.

Boy, this internet has really taken off! Used to be if you wanted to take a look at a beautiful naked lady you had to drill a hole in the wall of Jill St. John's dressing room.

I've shot golf with 11 U.S. Presidents and I'm sorry to say that I won't get a chance to play a round with President Obama. The ladies down at the club would be too frightened and I'd keep confusing him for my caddy.

The Generals tell me we're moving on Muammar Gaddafi in Libya now. I haven't seen an Arab this nervous since Omar Sharif was seated at Golda Meir's bridge table.

I took a stroll in downtown Baghdad the other day. It was so hot the pickpockets were asking people to step into the shade with them.

General Stanley McChrystal just had a talk with that Rolling Stone reporter that got him fired. He told him if he was ever to lose his job again over a scandal from someone "embedded", he'd prefer it to be Lola Falana.

A lot of debate about Obama's birth certificate. I hope they don't ask for mine. Stone tablets can be so heavy.

I'm not saying that the ethnic makeup has changed in this country over the last 40 years, but Hollywood has released a financial report that studio bronzing expenses are down 89% . And not simply because Cary Grant is dead.

They asked me to host the Oscars again after the James Franco/Anne Hathaway debacle, but I declined. I told them humor and farce doesn't always have to be deliberate.

And now... you all know her and love her... Juliet Prowse!