After watching the Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit welterweight brawl at UFC 195 on January 2nd, 2016, I was left with mixed emotions. Yes, it was a great fight, with round 5 coming down as one of the most thrilling in recent memory. The round was a maelstrom of murderous intent as both guys swung for the knockout with literally every punch and kick, elbow and knee. The tide turned several times with heart-wrenching violence, and when it was over, both combatants were completely spent. They could only lean next to each other on the cage, too exhausted to celebrate the end of their riveting encounter.
I am a big fan of the champion Robbie Lawler and was glad he defended his title by split decision. But I had scored the fight 3 rounds to 2 in favor of Condit.
According to Fightmetric.com, Condit seemed to dominate the fight. He out-landed the champion in significant strikes 176 to 92. His significant strike attempts dwarfed those of the champion as well, 495 to 177. Condit’s total strike output was similarly dominant. In average significant strike accuracy, Lawler had a less dramatic edge: 48.7% to 34.7%. He also scored the fight’s only knockdown. The fact that over 99% of the total strikes landed by both fighters were deemed “significant” by Fightmetric reveals exactly how apocalyptic this fight really was.
The decision was, however, quite controversial, with fans and fighters alike erupting over social media about how Condit deserved the nod. UFC commentator Joe Rogan and many others were calling for an “upgrade” in the current scoring system. On this account, I would like to offer a not-so-modest proposal.
Welcome to the final installment of my 11-part polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I began this series in October 2010, and it was one of the main reasons why I started this blog. I just had to get this off my chest.
If you wish to start at the beginning of my Against Kubrick series, you can follow these links:
Part 2: Dr. Strangelove
Part 3: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1)
Part 4: 2001: A Space Odyssey (2)
Part 5: A Clockwork Orange (1)
Part 6: A Clockwork Orange (2)
Part 7: A Clockwork Orange (3)
Part 8: Barry Lyndon
Part 9: Full Metal Jacket (1)
Part 10: Full Metal Jacket (2)
From the beginning, I identified four great Kubrick films to investigate: Dr Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1972), and Full Metal Jacket (1987). As I said then:
I felt his other films were either not worthy of their director’s genius or were not indicative of my main thesis, namely that Kubrick has a bitter grudge against humanity and that he was anything but a humanist.
Later, I included Barry Lyndon (1974) because I had finally seen it and decided it would make a worthy contribution to this series.
Now, I would like to close the series with a brief discussion on Kubrick’s one truly humanistic (and, in my opinion, greatest) film: Paths of Glory from 1957.
In the late 1970s, Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, became a bestseller. The novel still generates controversy today.
The plot is something we are all familiar with by now: a comet (known in the story as “The Hammer”) strikes Earth, destroys civilization, and forces the few surviving souls to fight to rebuild it. But it is whom they must fight, how, and especially why, that makes Lucifer’s Hammer such a great—and controversial—story. The comet swiftly drags humanity back to a state of nature where life is “nasty, brutish, and short,” to quote philosopher Thomas Hobbes. People are both elevated to do great things and condemned to cruel and beastly behavior.
One is struck by how familiar all this is. Where much speculative fiction looks forward and anticipates how people are going to change in the future (often based often on the ideological, religious, or self-serving inclinations of the author), Lucifer’s Hammer takes us back. Imagine Charles Martell checking the barbarian horde at the Battle of Tours in 732. Imagine the Donner Party scrounging for survival in the Sierra Nevada in 1846. Imagine the Titanic passengers fighting over the last open seats on the lifeboats. People in Lucifer’s Hammer are desperate and barely hanging on, just like they were in all pre-industrial societies where food was scarce, enemies and wild animals aplenty, and cities out of reach. The moment the carrying capacity of the planet plummets by two orders of magnitude, the educated, civilized people in our story revert to a pre-industrial mindset with astonishing speed. There is no transition period.
That is one thing I love about Lucifer’s Hammer.
From the title, you’d think that a book called Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis would begin just before the rise of Hitler, but author Michael Haas takes us back much further than that. He begins in 1814 as Europe was reorganizing after the Napoleonic Wars and really gets going after the emancipation of Jews in Austria and Germany in 1867 and 1871. By giving us what is essentially the history of anti-Semitism in German classical music, Haas shows us how closely intertwined musical and political history really are.
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the highest rated chess tournament in history. It was the Sinquefield Cup, held in St. Louis, MO from August 27 to September 6, 2014. It featured 6 of the top 10 players in the world, including the 23 year-old world champion Magnus Carlsen. Half of the field had ratings over 2800, and, indeed, the average rating of the players was just over 2801. To give some perspective, Garry Kasparov, widely considered the greatest chess player ever, had a peak rating of 2851. That is an astounding 21 points higher than anyone else until Magnus Carlsen. Only 3 active players in the world today have ratings over 2800, and all of them were in St. Louis for the Sinquefield Cup.
And one of these players was having the tournament of his life.
Fabiano Caruana, an Italian player who is now the world’s number 2, was crushing everyone in the tournament. Things like this just don’t happen very often at the highest levels of chess. As chess fans are well aware, draws are the most likely outcome between players who may step out of book after as many as 20 or 25 moves (and yes, that is a lot of moves). In St. Louis, Caruana won his first seven games.
A Facebook friend of mine proposed that I read this Doug Short article and reassess my disapproval of President Obama’s being on track to doubling our national debt. I believe my friend’s argument was twofold: that Obama inherited Bush’s policies and that he had wars to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. So these are the reasons why Obama had no choice but to let the national debt skyrocket.
Here is why these arguments don’t hold up. Firstly, in 2009 federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Ah, but this was Bush’s fault, wasn’t it? As my friend pointed out in a recent FB post, “Every debt increase is essentially time-shifted as each president inherits the policies of the previous administration”.
Well, not so fast.
This is part 10 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post being the second to focus on…
Full Metal Jacket.
In the beginning of the Vietnam chapter of Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick states his intentions quite clearly by focusing on the backside of a sauntering Vietnamese prostitute just before she haggles with two American GIs over sex. In broad daylight. This isn’t a film about the military anymore. And it’s not a film about war, either. It’s a film about vice. Warfare, the military, Vietnam, all of it, are just umbrella’d in beneath this repulsive yet fascinating thing.
Where Kubrick essentially gave us a protracted and rude introduction to military life in part one, in part two, he endeavors to show how jaded, cynical, psychotic, or sex-obsessed American soldiers were in Vietnam. And in the end he almost doesn’t do this.
This is part 9 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post focusing on…
Full Metal Jacket.
To begin, I believe that Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick’s most overrated post-Strangelove work. He never figures out how to overcome the central shortcoming of the script, which is that, chopped in half, Full Metal Jacket is really two stories that don’t cohere very well. In the first, tensions build during boot camp in 1967 as the apocalyptically abusive Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by R. Lee Ermey) bullies the hapless Private Gomer Pyle (played by an overweight Vincent Dinofrio) past the point of reason. Eventually Pyle turns into a time bomb. That’s basically it.
In the second, Private Joker (played by a wisecracking Matthew Modine), who had witnessed Pyle’s self-destruction at the hands of Hartman, has become a military journalist in Vietnam. He then joins American soldiers in the field where they take on and defeat a North Vietnamese sniper, who is also a little girl. That’s basically it as well.
In my opinion, Kubrick had fewer cinematic ideas for Full Metal Jacket than in his previous films, and instead found himself relying on memorable and shocking dialogue to make up the difference. Think about it…what memorable images do we have here? A few, to be sure, especially in the first half. I can see why such a script would appeal to Kubrick. Lots of men in uniform shouting and moving in unison can lead to mathematically precise imagry that you can just load with counterpoint.
Aside from some great scenes in the marines barracks, however, Full Metal Jacket is not quite like 2001 or A Clockwork Orange or Dr. Strangelove where you can just play it with the sound off or capture images almost at random and still know it’s a Kubrick movie. Indeed, there is less of the visionary genius that sparkled in his earlier masterworks.
This is not to say that Full Metal Jacket is bad film.
The Parris Island chapter is a gripping and well-filmed depiction of life at boot camp. Further, R. Lee. Ermey is just mesmerizing to behold, truly a unique cinematic experience. I don’t think a single actor has ever dominated a film so completely and so brilliantly as R. Lee Ermey did in Full Metal Jacket. I think Kubrick simply recognized the man’s genius, pointed the camera at him, and let him spew pure gold.
Was Johannes Brahms a musical purist carrying on the spirit of the Baroque and Classical traditions? Or was he a stodgy conservative who resisted all change in the Western musical tradition? Indeed, Brahms was “old school” back when the old school may not have been that old, but it certainly wasn’t new. He steadfastly resisted the burgeoning and sensational “Music of the Future” movement inspired by Hector Berlioz and spearheaded by such luminaries as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. By the mid-19th century, classical music was churning with changes that promised to unify the literary, visual, and musical arts. For Wagner, this meant voluptuous multi-layered operatic productions; for Liszt, symphonic poems with literary or visual art underpinnings. All this pointed to a glorious future for music, and indeed paved much of the way towards the radicalism of the Twentieth Century.
In the face of such progress, Brahms was fly in the proverbial ointment. His first symphony, completed in 1876, embodied the classical ideal so much it was praised as “Beethoven’s Tenth”. He championed Bach back when Bach’s music still wasn’t all that fashionable in Vienna. He concentrated on succeeding Schubert as a composer of lieder (German for songs), equaling Beethoven as a composer of symphonies, and composing gorgeous chamber music like no one. After the voices of Mendelssohn and Schumann fell silent in the mid-nineteenth century, Brahms was, as one critic put it, the “keeper of the classical flame.”
On November 22nd, 2013, Magnus Carlsen from Norway defeated Viswanathan (Vishy) Anand of India in the World’s Chess Championship. Pretty much everyone knew he would. After all, at 22, Carlsen is more than twenty years younger than Anand and is rated nearly 100 points higher. In chess, an Elo rating encapsulates in a single number the estimated strength of a player based on his recent performances. Going into the match, Anand’s was 2775, enough to put him in the top ten in the world. Carlsen’s, however, was 2870, the highest ever.
According to Wikipedia:
So, the expected happened after game 10 of the match, and a new chess champion, the 16th to be precise, was crowned. Carlsen won three games, drew seven, and lost none in a best of twelve. Much has been made of this being a new era in chess with the old giving way to the new (as it always does). This is all correct, of course. Further, Carlsen won the way he always does. Instead of bold gambits or piercing brilliancies, he simply achieved even middle games and then started building up small advantages until his opponent either found the draw or cracked under pressure.
Here are the rules: No greatest hits, no compilations, no live records, no various artists, 50% of the songs have to be originals, and no artist can be in the list twice in the same band. A lot of no-brainers here. Hopefully you’ll find a few gems too.
Pet Sounds – Beach Boys – 1966
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Beatles – 1967
Velvet Underground and Nico – Velvet Underground – 1967
Are You Experienced? – Jimi Hendrix Experience – 1967
Astral Weeks – Van Morrison – 1968
Willy and the Poor Boys – Credence Clearwater Revival – 1969
Arthur – Kinks – 1969
The Gilded Palace of Sin – Flying Burrito Brothers – 1969
Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel – 1970
Fun House – Stooges – 1970
There’s A Riot Goin’ On – Sly and the Family Stone – 1971
Who’s Next – Who – 1971
Exile on Main Street – Rolling Stones – 1972
Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers – 1972
New York Dolls – New York Dolls – 1973
Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan – 1974
Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen – 1975
Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols – Sex Pistols – 1977
Rocket to Russia – Ramones – 1977
Let There Be Rock – AC/DC – 1977
Rumours – Fleetwood Mac – 1977
I’m Stranded – Saints – 1977
Street Hassle – Lou Reed – 1978
52nd Street – Billy Joel – 1978
Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young – 1979
Squeezing Out Sparks – Graham Parker – 1979
Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones – 1979
Germ Free Adolescents – X-Ray Spex – 1979
London Calling – Clash – 1980
Get Happy! – Elvis Costello – 1980
Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits – 1983
Pleased to Meet Me – Replacements – 1987
Cuba – Silos – 1987
Sign o’ the Times – Prince – 1987
He’s Drunk + Plus, Also, Too – Scrawl – 1988
Hell’s Ditch – Pogues – 1990
I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Sinead O’Connor – 1990
Achtung Baby – U2- 1991
Love is Murder – Michael Hall – 1992
Gentlemen – Afghan Whigs – 1993
Exile in Guyville – Liz Phair – 1993
There is No-One What Will Take Care of You – Palace Brothers – 1993
Foolish – Superchunk – 1994
The Bends – Radiohead – 1995
Dirty Three – Dirty Three – 1995
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel – 1998
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams – 1988
White Blood Cells – White Stripes – 2001
Funeral – Arcade Fire – 2004
Separation Sunday – Hold Steady – 2005
Heretic Pride – Mountain Goats – 2007
Cage the Elephant – Cage the Elephant – 2008
Aim and Ignite – Fun – 2009
21 – Adele – 2011
Strange Desire – Bleachers – 2014
Title – Meghan Trainor – 2015
So here it is. The final installment of the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. In previous posts we counted down the top twenty and then the ten also-rans. We also discussed the Americans who missed out on the glory for either being not great enough or not weird enough.
In our final post, we will take on two individuals who missed the cut for their own unique reasons but still deserve mention when outlining the pantheon of American weirdness. And when it is all over, we’ll provide a list of folks to look out for; that is, those Americans who are still with us but could potentially make the grade once they weird their way out of this life and into the next.
John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943).
Ever have a crazy uncle or neighbor who could never stop spouting the most bizarre ideas as if they were the gospel truth? Sacrilege, embarrassment, doubt, common sense, feh. Guys like that have no time for any of that sissy stuff, or for listening to anyone else for that matter. They know what they know, they want you to know that they know what they know, and they want you to know what they know too. At parties they usually end up standing by themselves in a corner, hogging all the dip.
Anyway, if loud and opinionated lost souls ever had a patron saint, it would be John Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg was a great man in that he singlehandedly initiated the healthy living craze that is still chugging along today. He came out of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and brought with him all the prosthelytizing passion you would expect in such an organization. In his home state of Michigan he founded the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a place where the sick and the not-so-sick would go to convalesce their way back to health. (The place was cleverly spoofed in the 1994 film, The Road to Wellville, by the way). Kellogg published nearly 50 books on what he called “biologic living,” and, in his heyday in the 1880s and 1890s, was one of the most influential medical authorities in the world.
According to Merriam-Webster, an also-ran is a “a horse or dog that finishes out of the money in a race”. For our purposes however also-rans are those individuals we considered for the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century list but ultimately declined to include.
In part 8 (Part 1 of the Also-Rans), we included those who were great but not quite weird enough. Now in Part 2 we include those who undoubtedly embodied Teh Weird, but could never be mistaken for great despite their fame or their impact. Four names. Enjoy.
Francis E. Dec (1926-1996)
Francis Dec might top a list of the weirdest American weirdos, but his lack of greatness, in my opinion, keeps him from glory. He was a disbarred lawyer who lived as a recluse in New York City from the late 1960s till his death. He wrote volumes of bizarre, paranoid screeds and mailed them to media outlets the world over. His bete noir apparently was something called the “Worldwide Mad Deadly Communist Gangster Computer God.” He also wasn’t very keen on blacks, Jews, communists, and Catholics.
Dec has become a cult figure among underground and alternative types, and is considered an outsider artist by some. His bizarre writings and conspiracy theories found their way into R. Crumb’s Weirdo magazine in the early 1980s. His tapes have been sampled on television and radio. He has even inspired CDs and plays. But given the overall psychotic and negative nature of his work, Francis Dec shouldn’t be considered great by any standard, let alone enough to make the list. It is the sheer intensity of the man’s weirdness and the odd staying power of his rants however that warrants his mention on these pages at all.
So in the vast dissertation that is the Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century, here is where we list the also-rans, the folks who were considered and rejected because they simply could not cut it as great weirdos. In all cases, these people were offbeat or quirky enough to at least have their names come up in the conversation. But alas, they fell short.
In this installment we discuss those who were undoubtedly great, but just not weird enough.
Tammy Faye Bakker (1942-2007)
Much maligned as a member of the Christian Right, Tammy Faye is best remembered these days for the mascara-black tears she cried when her husband and PTL Club co-founder Jim Bakker was convicted of mail and wire fraud in 1988. This however does not do the woman justice. With irrepressible charm and a voice big enough to fill a cathedral, Tammy Faye was a pioneer in Christian broadcasting in the early 1960s and a vital force in the Holy Rollin’ Empire for over 25 years. She co-founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network and the PTL Club and basically wrote the book on how to spread the word of God over the airwaves. And she meant every bit of it. Despite a taste for opulence and ostentatious makeup, Tammy Faye really was a sweet, caring, sympathetic individual who earned the love of millions. She also preached understanding and compassion for homosexuals and especially AIDS victims during the 1980s, a time when such topics were strictly taboo among serious Christians. For this alone she would deserve a spot on the list…if only she were weird. And weird she wasn’t.
So, I had an interesting experience today. I went to get some gas with my four year old in my backseat. And some dude was blasting rap music from his car. You could hear his speakers rattle, it was that loud. There is nothing more obnoxious than forcing your music on others at high volume. Now, normally, I would try to ignore it. But then I thought, ‘Am I just going to take this? This is my country too.’ And then I got angry. I thought, ‘You wanna play your music loud? Fine. I can do that too.’ So I opened my door and blasted WCPE the Classical Station. I set the dial to eleven and just went about my business. I couldn’t match his bass, but I took over the upper registers until I could barely hear his music at all. I’m sure no one else could either. I was a little scared because I was clearly trying to be kryptonite to his noise pollution. I was obviously sticking it to him. If the dude wanted to start something, I’d have a serious problem. Fortunately, he took the hint and turned his music off completely. I was much relieved when I turned down mine in response. Before he drove off, he looked to me and didn’t nod. Neither did I. That was the end of a very tense moment. And the music that cleared the air? Rachmaninoff’s Caprice Bohemien, Opus 12. Gonna go buy me copy just because.
Welcome to Part 7 of the 20 Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. We’ve counted down from number 20 (Buckminster Fuller) to number 1 (Howard Hughes). Now I’d like to present a small list of honorable mentions, 10 people who were either weird but not quite great enough, or great but not quite weird enough. Like the top 20, these weirdos were born in the United States and made most of their fame during the 20th Century. You will notice a few Woot weirdos in this post (designated with an *), which is where I first heard of most of them (thanks, Woot!). Anyway, so here goes:
John R. Brinkley* (1885-1942)
You can’t cure nothin’ in this world without a pair of good ol’ goat testicles. Or so thought “Dr.” John Romulus Brinkley. Brinkley is best remembered a quack doctor who found his fifteen minutes of fame during the 1920s due to his assertion that he could cure impotence and other ailments by transplanting goat testicles into humans. Men, women, didn’t matter. He received his medical degree from a shady diploma mill and was known to operate while inebriated and often in less-than-sterile environments. Brinkley was also a radio advertisement pioneer and constantly promised to enhance one’s, um, sexual prowess on air. This, combined with his natural showmanship, helped attract patients worldwide and earn him a fortune.
Welcome to Part 6 of the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. Here we count down from Number 4 to Number 1. Please check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 for more on America’s greatest weirdos. Also, if you think this is the final post, you’d be mistaken. After we finish the countdown, I’ll post the honorable mentions followed by a post of also-rans, i.e., people I considered and rejected for not being weird or great enough. After that, I will include a people-to-watch-for post to discuss potential future inductees who have yet to shed their mortal coil, if you know what I mean.
Finally, there will be a single post about two individuals whom I could not include on this list. Both were undoubtedly great. Both were loony-bin weird. But one straddled the centuries, and I decided that he belonged more in the 19th rather than the 20th. The other was simply too notorious for this list. He was originally on it, but I removed him after determining that he should not be considered “merely” weird. He was something far worse.
Anyway, announcements are boring. On with the show.
4. Bobby Fischer (1943-2008)
Genius. Prima donna. Champion. Folk hero. Recluse. Kook. Fugitive. Madman. The great chess player Bobby Fischer had been called all these things. But was he weird? Oh, yes.
Welcome to Part 5 of The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. Here we count down from number 8 to number 5. Please visit Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 for more of this series. So, to continue…
8. Andy Kaufman (1949-1984)
You know how comedians like to rip humor out of thin air? In unscripted routines they always try to one-up each other with jokes or put downs. You have to be very quick-witted to pull that off. But that’s how Andy Kaufman was all the time. He never, ever stopped looking for The Funny. “He was always on,” a friend once said. Even those who knew him weren’t always sure if he was putting them on. Therein lies his genius, and his weirdness. “Where is the real Andy?” they’d ask. The answer was never clear.
Welcome to Part 4 of The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. Here we count down from number 12 to number 9. If this is your introduction to the series, please visit Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for the rest of the story thus far. You will notice that from here on our subjects will be become more famous and, in some cases, more historically important. I hope you’ll agree with their weirdness as well.
12. Captain Beefheart (1941-2010)
If the Kingdom of Weirdness needed a drill sergeant, it could do a lot worse than Captain Beefheart. Born Don Vliet in Glendale, California, Captain Beefheart found a way to merge his delta blues roots with free jazz, modern classical, and rock n’ roll in a way no one could ever have imagined. Indeed, with a distinct soulful croak which spanned four and a half octaves, he is perhaps the only rock singer worthy to be mentioned in the same sentence with blues icon Howlin’ Wolf. There was really not much of a rock avante-garde prior to the startling arrival of Captain Beefheart in the mid-1960s. But hearing his music, you knew the man was weird. No human being can make music so bizarre and so powerful and still be normal.
So here we are, Part 3 of the Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. We bring to you numbers 16 to 13. (In case you haven’t noticed, I’m doing installments of four at a time. Why? I figured five would make each post too long, two would be too short, and three does not evenly divide into twenty, so…) Click here for Part 1 and Part 2. Now, on with the list…
16. Moondog (1916-1999)
They do not get much weirder than Moondog. The consummate New York City street musician, proto-hippie, and counterculture symbol, Louis Thomas Hardin was a blind classical and avante-garde jazz composer and poet who is now considered one of the important figures in 20th century music. He spent three decades playing on the streets of New York where he became Moondog. He had a foot-long beard and dressed like a Viking, complete with helmet, horns, spear, the whole bit. At six foot eight (including headpiece) his appearance was so striking he became one of the most photographed New Yorkers of his time.