• wins the National Press Foundation’s Excellence in Online Journalism Award.
  • Aiming to aid New York City’s recovery in the aftermath of September 11, The Village Voice releases Love Songs for New York, an 18-song compilation CD with 100 percent of the net proceeds from the sale donated to the September 11th Fund.
  • Nat Hentoff is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.
  • Michael Kamber wins the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Mike Berger Award for “Crossing to the Other Side.”
  • In a transaction with New Times, Village Voice Media agrees to shut down its Cleveland Free Times and New Times agrees to shut down New Times Los Angeles to strengthen their competitive positions in the two markets. In 2003, a Department of Justice consent decree is signed by both parties.
  • Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was named best album and Missy Elliott’s “Work It” was named best single in the Pazz & Jop Music Critic’s poll.
  • Tony Kushner wins the Obie Award for best playwriting for Homebody/Kabul, George C. Wolfe wins best direction for Topdog/Underdog.
  • John J. Gotti, head of the Gambino Crime Family, dies of cancer. He is laid to rest at St. John’s Cemetery in Queens.
  • After 33 years of decentralization in New York City’s schools, the Legislature gives Mayor Mike Bloomberg substantial control over the city schools—with authority to pick both the chancellor and the majority of the school board.
  • The 2nd Annual Village Voice Siren Music Festival. Due to the festival’s growing popularity, a second stage is added, Sleater-Kinney, The Donnas, The Shins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mooney Suzuki, Liars, Les Savy Fav, The Von Bondies, Shannon Wright, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Bob Log III, and Rye Coalition perform.
  • Run DMC founder and DJ, Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay), is shot in the head and killed in a Merrick Boulevard recording studio in Queens. His unsolved murder has been linked to fellow Queens-rapper 50 Cent.
  • The Village Voice mourns the passing of editor Ron Plotkin, a 24-year veteran.
  • The Village Voice mourns the passing of former columnist Casper Citron.
  • The Village Voice mourns the passing of former receptionist Mary Wright.
  • Categories

    Brain Humor

    October 26, 1999

    It was always self-evident that when Spike Jonze, the most offhandedly avant-garde and whacked-out of the MTV brats, moved on from commercials and music videos to feature films, the result would acquire instant cult significance. But even his most inventive promos (the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You,” the Levi’s operating-theater spot) could not have prefigured the sustained ingenuity of Being John Malkovich (opening October 29).
    In first-time screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Jonze has found a partner in inspired lunacy.

    Recklessly absurd, Kaufman’s premise is a brain-bending amalgam of Borges, Svankmajer, Kafka, and Alice in Wonderland: Craig, a frustrated puppeteer played by John Cusack, stumbles upon a portal that leads into the head of John Malkovich (playing himself). The woman Craig is smitten with, Maxine (Catherine Keener), sees the discovery as a cash cow and starts charging admission; for Craig’s wife, Lotte (an unrecognizably dowdy Cameron
    Diaz), the experience is so transportive it’s the first step to sexual reassignment surgery.

    Though its surreal, fabulist quality invites metaphoric readings, the beauty of Being John Malkovich is that its headlong lysergic logic prevents the film from lingering on any one theme. The movie unearths, in Craig’s words, one “metaphysical can of worms” after another, and like the pure-pop fantasia it is, deems them all disposable— like a really good trip, it’s always hurtling toward something somehow crazier and more profound. Throughout, Jonze directs with a poker face that sneakily downplays the relentless forward motion and renders the underlying sense of mischief doubly anarchic.

    Celebrity fixation ends up as the most superficial aspect of Being John Malkovich, though Jonze and Kaufman get to the root of the condition more succinctly and less glibly than any Hollywood media-age parable ever has. The company slogan for JM Inc., the portal-exploiting enterprise Maxine and Craig set up, is “Have you ever wanted to be someone else?” and it’s implicit that the fundamental desire being served is not adventure but escape (have you ever not wanted to be yourself?). As a matter of course, the film goes further, folding erotic frustration, romantic paranoia, and sexual-identity crises into a gender-bending mindfuck of a love triangle— a quadrangle, if you count Malkovich the vessel body, which you probably should. And there’s more still: the philosophical implications of virtual reality; mortal fear and the transmigration of souls; human frailty and the desperately real need for personal reinvention.

    It’s just as well that their film is so richly and casually suggestive, since Jonze and Kaufman’s idea of PR seems to involve not discussing the movie in any meaningful way. It’s the day after BJM‘s U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival and the glitzy postscreening party at the Harvard Club, which was decked out for the night with gilt-framed Malkovich portraits and swarming with Malkolookalikes reciting the mantra “Malkovich, Malkovich” (an echo of one of the film’s funniest and most unnerving scenes, in which Malkovich tunnels into his own head to discover a sea of Malkoviches intoning his/their name). Malkovich, Jonze, and Kaufman are gathered in a midtown hotel suite, and observing the three together, you’re amazed that their collaboration proved so cohesive— they don’t even seem to be from the same planet. Malkovich’s stream of consciousness emanates in a dreamy, almost disembodied monotone; Jonze, though friendly and keen to please, falters every time he opens his mouth; Kaufman, unaccustomed to interrogation, spends most of the interview squirming.

    Of the three, Kaufman seems most guarded, especially when the conversation turns to the cerebral foundations of his screenplay. “I don’t know if the movie’s saying one thing,” he says. “I mean, I didn’t write it that way. I wrote it as an exploration of different things, and I just wrote it as I wrote it. I didn’t have a master plan.”

    Could he at least say why, of all people, he chose John Malkovich? “Does it make sense to you why it’s John Malkovich?” Yes, kind of, but could he elaborate? “I’d rather not because if it makes sense then it works. I’d rather let people have their experience of it. I just thought it was right, and I never veered from that. There were times when it looked like it was going to be made and Spike and I didn’t know yet if [Malkovich] was going to do it and we had to think of other people and it was impossible for us to come up with anybody else that was satisfying. I feel therefore Malkovich is the right person— we spent all this time trying to think of who else it could be and couldn’t.”

    Jonze, even more hesitant, offers his theory. “One of the things I think is interesting, which is one of the reasons Charlie— I don’t want to put words in his mouth— chose John is, you don’t know much about him so you project onto him.”


    Malkovich— whose first words upon entering the room are “Great, I can finally put these two kids under fire”— says it wasn’t too difficult to divorce himself from the John Malkovich of the script. “I didn’t think about it in terms of me. It’s a construct. I didn’t really think about why he chose me, or really worry about it.” Malkovich is, of course, perfect for the role. A wholly distinctive enigma, he’s either the most affected actor on earth or the most affectless. Few performers can mesmerize like Malkovich, yet his blustery screen presence and insidiously knowing manner beg for deflation— and, in subtle ways, he is often his harshest deflator. This becomes deliciously evident when, asked if he approached the role differently than he would any other, he responds, “Without being too polemical, I don’t really think of myself as John Malkovich.”

    As self-parody, Malkovich’s performance is immaculately brutal— he’s portrayed as a windbag, somehow respected even if no one can remember anything he was in except “that jewel-thief movie.” By the end of the film, he’s literally reduced to a puppet— and forced to perform something called “Craig’s Dance of Despair and Disillusionment” in a towel. Yet, Malkovich says, “My concern was never about making fun of me. My only concern was that the things that made it appealing to make fun of me also made it difficult for me to make the decision [to be involved]. If you’re a public person who’s constructed a quieter private life, the world is so freakish that this makes you a target. You’re opening a door, you could become a sort of stalker’s delight, and that concerned me.”

    Is he speaking from experience? “The last [stalker] I had was in England. I hit him on the head with my knuckles about 400 times. I never saw him again. I was doing a play in the West End. He was outside after the show with a sandwich board on which he had scrawled hundreds of thousands of times with an ink pen, ‘I’m waiting.’ And I just sort of literally flipped my wig— I was wearing a wig— and went downstairs and just started rapping him in the head, and said, If you really think you’re going to come here and play a psychopath with me, you’d better go away and study for a while. I’ve been waiting for you my whole life. When I talked to a psychiatrist, he said it was probably very well-handled. Not because of the bullying but because if they sense the fear, that’s fatal. It’s not a massive concern of mine. Usually it’s pretty harmless. Phoebe Cates had a Japanese guy who moved from Tokyo to New York and changed his name to Phoebus Catus. . . . ”

    Having read and liked Kaufman’s screenplay at an early stage, Malkovich eventually met with Jonze in Paris after receiving a call from Francis Ford Coppola, now Jonze’s
    father-in-law (Jonze recently married Sofia Coppola), who told him, “We’ll all be working for this kid in 10 years.” Says Malkovich, “I realized that if I said no, this really original, funny thing that talks about really important ideas either wouldn’t get made at all or wouldn’t get made in the spirit it was written.” Replacing the subject, he adds, “would be like saying if you wrote a script about Jackson Pollock that suddenly you had to make it about Rembrandt because they both work with crayons.”

    Even if he was playing “himself,” Malkovich says he felt in no position to offer any insights or request changes to his portrayal “because the script by its nature takes that right away. I don’t think Charlie’s stupid, I think he knew enough about me to know I’d probably find it funny on some level. The only fear I had was that in the desire— the very good and proper desire— to get the film done, Spike and Charlie would feel like they had to make it gentler, or less mocking.”

    Jonze adds, “Not only did he liberate us
    to be mean, he said the meaner the better. On the shoot, he made everyone comfortable with playing with this character John Malkovich, not taking this character seriously, and it enabled all the other actors to feel very loose. There’s this scene where Malkovich and Catherine Keener are having sex on the sofa, and she slaps him on top of the head, and
    it makes this really loud smacking sound, and I don’t think she could’ve done that if John hadn’t come into it with this attitude of having fun with it himself.”

    No less than Malkovich’s gameness, Jonze’s well-established flair for understating the ridiculous (see matter-of-factly insane music videos like “Praise You” and Daft Punk’s “Da Funk”) is what juices the film. Kaufman says it was the exact approach he’d had in mind for his delirious fable. “I never envisioned it as wacky. I’d always thought these people’s situation was a terrible one, tragic and serious, and Spike interpreted that in a very nonstylized way, so that you didn’t get lost in the pyrotechnics, or the weirdness of it.”


    Spike? “Yeah, well, I mean, I guess I figured the less you show, the better. And, um, the less we try and, you know, the more we leave open to people to just imagine, what you want to fill into the blanks, the more, um, the more sort of real it would be.”

    The burden of interpreting the movie falls on Malkovich: “I think there’s a need for us to escape ourselves for some period of time, escape our existence, our ridiculousness, our nature. And there’s the idea that a celebrity’s blowjobs are interesting and yours aren’t, which our culture insists on as a constitutional right and our media promulgates in the most vicious, irresponsible, ludicrous, cynical way. But there’s also something deeper which is very innocent about this film— the metaphor of discovery. In the case of actors, writers, directors, you open that portal and that’s really what we get to do. We get to go somewhere for Warhol’s 15 minutes. In that way, the film is a defense of the theater, of movies, of creation, and it’s very moving in a weird way— people going through a process of creation to discover everyday joys. In that way, it’s sort of like Our Town.”

    But are celebrities, whose blowjobs are already officially interesting, perhaps more likely to respond to the fear of people wanting to get inside their heads? Would they not identify with the vessel? Jonze: “Part of being a person is just being, you know, the insecurities that make you think, lead you to want, feeling, having the feelings of wanting to be somebody else.”

    Malkovich: “I agree. But it’s also a lack of narcissism to think, He’s interesting, wonder what he thinks, what he must feel. To have that kind of voyeurism must imply some respect for the other. It doesn’t just mean that whatever you’re doing is pathetic. It means also that you kind of know what you’re doing, but you don’t know what they’re doing, and it might be nice to find out. I’ve never wanted to be anybody else without particularly liking myself.”

    While it’s not unreasonable to wonder how an oddity like Being John Malkovich will impact its star’s career, the man himself seems more concerned with the potential spillover into his personal life. “If you’re an actor who plays people, you can say, ‘Look, I’m a professional actor, fuck off, go bother someone else.’ But if you start becoming the subject, then I think that’s clearly a line that’s crossed.”

    And what happens now that he’s crossed it? “I don’t know, we’ll see.”

    Laughing, Jonze tells him, “At the very least, people are going to come up to you and say, ‘Hey, you were in that jewel-thief movie.’ ”

    “I think it’ll probably just be that,” says Malkovich. “People will go, ‘I love you in that jewel-thief movie’ instead of saying some line from Con Air.”

    Without taking anything away from Jonze or the cast, it’s clear that the real revelation of Being John Malkovich is its screenwriter— who, in New York, seemed a little overwhelmed by his first brush with public exposure (he’d skipped the film’s world premiere in Venice). A couple of weeks later, speaking on the phone from the safety of his home in Los Angeles, Kaufman was relaxed enough to answer a few more questions.

    You seem reluctant to say too much about the film.
    I want to allow people to have their experience of it rather than an experience colored by something I say.

    Does it pain you to hear people’s interpretations? No, I actually get a kick out of it. I don’t think it’s possible to misinterpret the movie. And I certainly don’t mind if a critic interprets the movie. If it’s not me, it feels a little cleaner.

    What kind of films do you like? I like things that I don’t see as commercial. Not that I’m anticommercial but if I feel like something’s been designed to manipulate or control me, I bristle.

    I hate to do this because people see it, and go, oh, that’s what you’re doing. A lot of David Lynch . . . now that I’ve named just one it’s
    going to seem even more so. I’m going to have to name a list of people: Mike Leigh, David
    Cronenberg, the Coen brothers, Tom Noonan’s film What Happened Was . . . I like it when no one’s telling me what I’m supposed to feel.


    Tell me a little about Human Nature [a film Jonze and Kaufman are producing, written by Kaufman, to
    be directed by music-video veteran Michel Gondry, with Patricia Arquette starring]. Spike said it was about a woman who grows hair at an uncontrollable rate. It’s difficult to describe it without making it sound wacky, which it isn’t. It’s about people struggling, lost people.

    Like Malkovich. Hopefully not too much. It doesn’t have a supernatural component.

    So the hair thing is a medical condition? There are medical conditions like that. The film doesn’t deal with that element, though. It’s just what it is.

    I hear you’ve also written a script about [Gong Show host] Chuck Barris [with Mike Myers reportedly
    interested in the role]. It’s called Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and it’s adapted from his memoirs, in which he claimed he was an assassin for the CIA. I was interested in whether it was true, and if not, why he would say something like that— it’s fascinating to me either way. I’ve also written a script for Jonathan Demme’s company. It’s called Adaptation, and it’s an adaptation.

    So it’s a meta-adaptation? Perhaps. It’s based on Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, a nonfiction book about the world of orchid collectors, and specifically this man, John Laroche, who stole a rare orchid out of a swamp in Florida.

    Are you working on any original screenplays? I’m working with Michel Gondry on a story that takes place almost entirely in someone’s

    What’s it called? Right now it’s called “Untitled Memory Project.”

    That’s catchy. Maybe you should keep it. I might. I’ve done stranger things.


    Lust Horizons

    In 1972, Karen Durbin showed some passages from her journal to a friend who was writing a book about the counter-culture and wanted to quote her on living in the age of radical feminism. After reading the material he told her, “This is great stuff! You should expand it into an article.”

    “But who would publish such a thing?” she said. Personal journalism was still an oddity then.

    The Village Voice might.”

    The journal entries became Durbin’s first Voice essay, “Casualties of the Sex War.” It was a cri de coeur against the devolution of the women’s liberation movement into puritanical condemnations of heterosexuality (“We’d been living together for two years. As far as I know, only my parents and the movement disapproved”) and the devolution of the sexual revolution into the glorification of loveless fucking. The piece told its feminist, countercultural readers what we already knew and didn’t want to admit: that feminism had crested on the radical utopian wave of the ’60s, and two years into the new decade radical utopianism was on the skids.

    Durbin’s title echoed that of an earlier Voice foray into this genre, Ingrid Bengis’s 1970 “Heavy Combat in the Erogenous Zone.” That essay and two sequels mulled, in graphic and intimate terms, the contradictions of female sexuality in a male-dominated society. Though pretty mild by today’s standards, at the time they made a sensation. You just didn’t read this kind of stuff outside hermetic movement circles. This was what the Voice became for many of us: the place where we could read about what we were feeling and thinking, and the arguments we were having, in the kind of language we actually used.

    The Voice did pull its punches a bit, segregating Bengis’s and Durbin’s pieces under the rubric Personal Testament (“a department open to contributions from readers”). And after the label was discarded, the attitude remained. There was news — serious matters like city politics — and then there was this . . . what was it, exactly? In 1973 Durbin attracted a lot of attention for another highly personal piece, “On Sexual Jealousy.” A male Voice writer allowed that this was all very well, but when was she going to write about something real? “What’s real?” Durbin inquired. The writer suggested the Board of Estimate — a former city government structure that sexual jealousy has managed to outlast.

    In those days, it seemed to me that half the feminists I knew were freelance writers, and half of those were writing for the Voice. Women like us gravitated toward freelancing (which of course paid badly — at the Voice it paid almost nothing) in part because journalism jobs were largely a male preserve. We were young, struggling to make our way in the world, a prime feminist constituency. The Voice already had a tradition of women writers — some, like Susan Brownmiller and Vivian Gornick, embraced the movement and found in it a compelling new subject. The paper’s willingness to let writers follow their obsessions, its emphasis on the individual writer’s voice, its laissez-faire attitude about subject matter and style were in sync with the let-a-hundred-flowers-bloom mentality of the early movement. From the consciousness-raising session to the pages of the Voice was not such a long journey.

    My own obsession was picking apart culturally conservative arguments; my Voice debut tore into an anti-feminist book by Midge Decter. After that I wrote for the paper sporadically until 1979, when I became a staff writer and columnist. A few years later I was a senior editor whose self-chosen specialty was cultural issues. The radical-feminist presence on the paper loomed large. Karen Durbin was arts editor and the equally hard-nosed M. Mark had created the Voice Literary Supplement. A critical mass of female voices—writers like Judith Levine, Kathy Dobie, Debbie Nathan, Michele Wallace, C.Carr, Donna Gaines—wrote on everything from surrogate motherhood to black nannies to ritual sex abuse trials to teenage suicide.

    The cultural backlash was going strong, but there was little point in attacking the Christian right or Ronald Reagan to Voice readers. As writers and editors the feminists at the Voice were more concerned with confronting the left — which increasingly defended “traditional values” and disparaged feminist concerns like abortion as an elitist distraction from “real” issues — and conservative trends in the feminist movement itself.

    During the ’80s the Voice became the prime public forum for “politically incorrect” radical-feminist libertarians who continued to criticize marriage and the family, insisted on defending abortion, not just “choice,” and advocated what would come to be known (after a piece of mine called “Lust Horizons: Is the Women’s Movement Pro-Sex?”) as “pro-sex feminism.” We took on the anti-pornography movement, which had dominated the feminist conversation about sex: As we saw it, the claim that “pornography is violence against women” was code for the neo-Victorian idea that men want sex and women endure it.

    During this period, internal tensions at the Voice ran high, in the latest version of the old battle between (mostly straight male) writers and editors of “real” political news and (largely female and gay male) purveyors of culture. We feminists saw the male politicos as hopelessly conservative. (Nat Hentoff, having decided to join the small left wing of the right-to-life movement, was a particular irritant, though in retrospect I see his presence as a useful challenge — it certainly forced me to rethink and sharpen my arguments.) They did not take kindly to our efforts to raise their consciousness about sexism in the office and in the paper: We might have thought of ourselves as sexy rebels against feminist party lines, but they called us “Stalinist feminists,” in a foreshadowing of Rush Limbaugh’s “Feminazi” label. We retaliated by dubbing them “the white boys.” The fights often spilled over onto the Voice‘s pages — yet another way the paper was unique in documenting the culture of the left.

    The iconic example of these clashes was the Great Yam Furor of 1986. C. Carr, who was covering the performance-art scene, wrote a piece on Karen Finley, then an obscure performer working in small clubs. Carr called her “a raw, quaking id,” describing in riveting fashion her obscene, scatological monologues and penchant for smearing herself with food and other substances; in one such routine, called “Yams Up My Granny’s Ass,” Finley applied canned yams to her own butt. Men in her audiences often freaked out. “A filthy woman (in any sense of the word) has stepped further outside social mores than a man can possibly get,” Carr observed. The story made the cover and the “white boys” went bananas, nicely illustrating her point. In his column Pete Hamill sarcastically reassured his political writer friends that Carr’s piece had to be a parody rather than “vile, disgusting, contaminating,” as they thought. The letters about yams poured in.

    Many years after leaving the Voice, I still think of the Karen Finley story as summing up what I most appreciated in the paper’s relationship to feminism while I was there: It captured the rawness of our urge to transcend limits. It’s a different publication now, in a profoundly different time—an era in which feminism has been assimilated as common sense even as its more dangerous impulses are forgotten or stylized to death. How fortunate to have that outrageous cover, those incendiary words, to remind us that the unsocialized woman existed, and will rise again.


    ‘Mass Naked Happening’

    February 1, 1968

    I have seen the future—and it doesn’t work.


    “Those things never start on time,” I was informed.

    So I showed up about 10.40 just as the first young man slipped off this shirt and pants. Within seconds half a dozen young men joined him, all body-painted, all well-lit by the over-lapping flash of photographer’s bulbs.

    On a stage at the far end of the gym, the Group Image was performing against a huge backdrop of multiple-projections. It isn’t accurate to say they play extremely loudly—like many groups, they don’t seem to make sound at all, but to have entered another sensory dimension altogether. Movies were projected on several screens hung from the ceiling, moving lights dappled the walls, and from time to time strips of paper were thrown from the balcony. Two or three hundred hippies—the term is still valid in certain environments—were dancing in various stages of consciousness.

    And in a kind of pen at the entrance-end of the gym, about the size of a boxing ring, with fluorescent posts at the corners and a C-movie projected on a screen at the back, the naked dancing continued—now 10 or 12 young men, and a few on the main dance floor itself.

    “Put your clothes on,” the owner of the Gymnasium vainly implored, but suddenly, in a heterosexual followup to last week’s naked happening at the Palm Gardens, a fleshy blonde girl stroke naked into the pen, and the crowd, merely curious up to this point, clustered quickly around the area. The girl danced for a few minutes, then disappeared as quickly as she’d come—into clothes and into newsprint.

    A little later, another girl lay down in a corner of the pen and casually smoked a dubious cigarette as her boy-friend gently lifted her skirt and deftly painted—but not so deftly that it didn’t tickle—what John Cleland referred to as “nether lips.” Eastman-Kodak stock must have jumped at least a point, and a Time reporter, more indignant than curious, asked “is this what’s going on in New York?”

    For the next hour or so the over-30 reporters and photographers waited around, Marty-like, for more what used to be called “action.” But finally Kusama admitted that that was pretty much it for the evening, and she seemed as disappointed as anyone.

    Actually, I’d very much wanted to like it. On the way up to the subway, I vowed not to use the banal and obvious jokes like telling boys from girls who having it up the here with nudity. After all, everyone had said that the Ann Halprin dance concert at Hunter College last year was exhilarating and liberating, many people in our time regard utopia as a sexual rather than a social ideal, and we have been told that the younger generation is finally overthrowing 2500 years of Platonic idealism in favor of tactility. This was to be a glimpse of the unrepressed future. Animal vitality and acceptance would sweep the world. Que viva body mysticism!

    But how sad and depressing it was. The utopian fantasies, collapsed, and somewhere in between the titillated media and the post-civilization on 71st Street lay hopes that this was not to be the way of all flesh.

    For the most disturbing thing about the evening was its complete sense of unreality. At first I thought they might be laughing at how serious everyone was getting about such a trivial thing—wow, we just take off our clothes and people write articles about the “glimpses of the unrepressed future.” But they weren’t putting us on, they weren’t even there. It was very much like one of those press conferences at which a public figure makes statements for television cameramen. The cameramen are bored, the public figure is just putting on his act for the cameras—the “reality” of the event, its essence, when it actually “happens,” is when the film is shown on television six or eight hours later.

    Similarly, the reality of the “mass naked happening” seemed to lie in the media, in the pictures, in the gesture—which meant nothing except insofar as it was reported. I felt at first that it would be unfair to comment as a voyeur, that one would have to swing with it in order to understand it (another Voice reporter arrested), but the only reality of the situation WAS voyeurism. We had achieved a situation in which the voyeur was more real than what he observed.

    For the scene—or at least this one example of it, which we can only hope is an exception—seemed like nothing so much as those futuristic movies (some of which were projected on the screens) full of pale, emotionless zombies. The participants were obviously in a state of ecstasy—but it seemed such a solipsistic, masturbatory ecstasy that the pleasure-principle itself may need re-definition. What a sad and lonely and disembodied ecstasy.

    When telegrams announce the arrival of the Noble Savage, tactility has become the final abstraction.



  • Robert Duvall wins the Obie Award for distinguished performance in A View from the Bridge.
  • Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood—a story about murder of four members of a wealthy Kansas farm family—is published for the first time in The New Yorker. It is later released as a book by Random House.
  • Nelson Rockefeller, New York Governor from 1959 to 1973, creates the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It merges with the New York City subway system.
  • The Jackson 5 travel to New York City to break into show business and win Amateur Night at the Apollo. Michael Jackson is 10 years old.
  • Malcolm X is assassinated by three members of the Nation of Islam at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, where he was delivering a speech. He is 39.
  • The Voice runs the last interview Malcom X granted before his assassination.
  • The Beatles hold a press conference at Manhattan’s Warwick Hotel on the first stop of their 1965 North American tour. The group performs at Shea Stadium two days later.
  • The city endures a massive power blackout, and the ordeal becomes the subject of a motion picture entitled Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?.
  • The Worlds Fair is held at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. It opens on April 22, 1964 and runs for two six-month seasons ending October 17, 1965. It is the largest World’s Fair ever held in the United States, occupying nearly a square mile.
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  • The Village Voice wins its first Pulitzer Prize. Teresa Carpenter wins for Feature Writing after the award was returned by a Washington Post writer who admitted fabricating the original winning story.
  • Jules Feiffer is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.
  • The Clash’s Sandinista! was named best album and Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” was named best single in the Pazz & Jop Music Critic’s poll.
  • Meryl Streep wins the Obie Award for best performance for her role in Alice in Concert and Kevin Kline wins for The Pirates of Penzance.
  • The New York Times publishes a story headlined, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.” This rare cancer, labeled an “epidemic” by the Center for Disease Control, would later determiend to be AIDS.
  • Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunite as Simon and Garfunkel for a free concert in Central Park. The show attracts more than 500,000 people, is televised, and prompts the duo to go on world tours in 1982 and 1983.
  • The Voice Literary Supplement, founded by arts editor M. Mark, debuts as an extension of the Voice‘s book review section.
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    The 50th Anniversary Special: An Introduction

    Fifty years ago this week, the first issue of The Village Voice went on sale, for five cents, at newsstands and luncheonettes across downtown Manhattan.

    It was the height of the Cold War but also the era of the bohemian coffeehouse, Beat poets, abstract expressionism, reform politics, and the rise of a new avant-garde in film, music, dance, theater, and literature. The paper’s debut issue announced its intention “Within the limitations of the given space . . . to be comprehensive in covering or listing all such movies, plays, galleries and the like, that it feels fall properly within its ‘beat.’ ”

    A half-century later, we take a proud look back at the Voice—so often called a writer’s paper for the liberties it has allowed its authors. In the following pages you’ll get a taste of all its glories and foibles: the notorious fractiousness, the intensely personal journalism, and all the other quirks that make the Voice the Voice.

    We asked a host of Voice writers, past and present, to recount their version of the paper’s history. And we painstakingly combed through our archives (more than 2,500 issues!) to offer this sampler of the stories we published over the last five decades—insightful cultural analysis, hard-hitting investigative reporting, and everything in between.

    So many wonderful writers passed through our portals that, sadly, we couldn’t include more than a fraction of them. And we barely have space to tip our hat to the influential supplements and events the Voice launched over the years, like the Voice Literary Supplement, Pazz & Jop, and the Obie awards. What we can offer here is a tantalizing array of stories excerpted from our pages.

    From the days of folksingers in Washington Square Park through the great social movements of the past century (civil rights, peace, gay liberation, and feminism), the Voice covered it all with its unique blend of guts and insight. So savor these treasures from our past, and join us for 50 more years of inspired journalism.

    These days, it won’t even cost you a nickel.

    50th Anniversary Editor: Joy Press

    Senior Editor: Lynn Yaeger

    Special Assistance: Jennifer Snow

    Archive Team: Juliet Linderman, Lamarr Clarkson, Simon Reynolds, Rachel Aviv, Elizabeth Grinspan, Hervay Petion, and Melissa Silvestri

    Designers: Ted Keller, L.D. Beghtol, Jorge Columbo

    Photo Editor: Stacy Schwartz

    Online Edition: Akash Goyal, Nathan Deuel, Jessica Bellucci

    Online Designer: Don Rainwater

    Online Producer: Holly Northrop

    Online Development: Wellington Fan, Jeff Weston, Stefan Antonowicz

    Research for Wayne Barrett: Jessica Bennett, K. Emily Bond, Ben James, Lee Norsworthy, Xana O’Neill, and Nicholas Powers



  • Tom Robbins wins Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Award for his series “Lush Life of Rudy Appointee.”
  • Gary Giddins wins Jazz Writer of the Year and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Journalists Association.
  • Chisun Lee wins the New York Press Club and New York State Bar Association Crystal Gavel Award for “Why the NYPD is Fighting for the Right to Spy on You.”
  • OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was named best album and OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” was named best single in the Pazz & Jop Music Critic’s poll.
  • Lynn Redgrave wins the Obie Award for best performance for her role in Talking Heads, Mos Def wins for Fucking A and Edward Norton wins for Burn This.
  • New York Times reporter Jayson Blair issues his resignation after the San Antonio Express-News catches him plagiarizing one of its stories. It is determined that Blair has faked quotes, entire interviews, plagiarized from other newspapers, and submitted false expense records to deceive the paper about his whereabouts. The Times calls the scandal “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper,” and its managing and executive editors both resign.
  • A the 3rd Annual Village Voice Siren Music Festival Modest Mouse, Idlewild, The Datsuns, Hot Hot Heat, Sahara Hotnights, Radio 4, Ted Leo/Pharmacists, !!!, The Kills, Northern State, The Dirtbombs, The Pattern, Oneida, and The Witnesses perform.
  • Aspiring politician Othniel Askew shoots to death political rival City Councilmember James E. Davis in the City Hall chambers of the New York City Council. He is subsequently shot to death by police.
  • Madonna and Britney Spears share a seconds-long french kiss live on stage at Radio City Music Hall during the MTV Video Music Awards. The two, along with third-wheel Christina Aguilera, went on to have—or, rather, perform—a threesome of “Like A Virgin.”
  • The last of New York subway tokens are phased out for MetroCards.
  • Citywide smoking ban takes effect.
  • Record-producer, rapper and former-J. Lo beau Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, and now just “Diddy” runs the New York City Marathon to raise money for inner-city children.
  • The Village christens a new street in the name of legendary punk rocker Joey Ramone, the late vocalist for the Ramones. Joey Ramone Place is located alongside the block where The Ramones got their start at CBGB in the mid-’70s.
  • The Village Voice mourns the passing of Jill Goldstein, former senior editor.
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    AIDS: The Agony of Africa

    November 9, 1999

    Penhalonga, Zimbabwe—They didn’t call Arthur Chinaka out of the classroom. The principal and Arthur’s uncle Simon waited until the day’s exams were done before breaking the news: Arthur’s father, his body wracked with pneumonia, had finally died of AIDS. They were worried that Arthur would panic, but at 17 years old, he didn’t. He still had two days of tests, so while his father lay in the morgue, Arthur finished his exams. That happened in 1990. Then in 1992, Arthur’s uncle Edward died of AIDS. In 1994, his uncle Richard died of AIDS. In 1996, his uncle Alex died of AIDS. All of them are buried on the homestead where they grew up and where their parents and Arthur still live, a collection of thatch-roofed huts in the mountains near Mutare, by Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique. But HIV hasn’t finished with this family. In April, a fourth uncle lay coughing in his hut, and the virus had blinded Arthur’s aunt
    Eunice, leaving her so thin and weak she couldn’t walk without help. By September both were dead.

    The most horrifying part of this story is that it is not unique. In Uganda, a business executive named Tonny, who asked that his last name not be used, lost two brothers and a sister to AIDS, while his wife lost her brother to the virus. In the rural hills of South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province, Bonisile Ngema lost her son and daughter-in-law, so she tries to support her granddaughter and her own aged mother by selling potatoes. Her dead son was the breadwinner for the whole extended family, and now she feels like an orphan.

    In the morgue of Zimbabwe’s Parirenyatwa Hospital, head mortician Paul Tabvemhiri opens the door to the large cold room that holds cadavers. But it’s impossible to walk in because so many bodies lie on the floor, wrapped in blankets from their deathbeds or dressed in the clothes they died in. Along the walls, corpses are packed two to a shelf. In a second cold-storage area, the shelves are narrower, so Tabvemhiri faces a
    grisly choice: He can stack the bodies on top of one another, which squishes the face and makes it hard for relatives to identify the body, or he can leave the cadavers out in the hall, unrefrigerated. He refuses to deform bodies, and so a pair of corpses lie outside on gurneys behind a curtain. The odor of decomposition is faint but clear.

    Have they always had to leave bodies in the hall? “No, no, no,” says Tabvemhiri, who has worked in the morgue since 1976. “Only in the last five or six years,” which is when AIDS deaths here took off. Morgue records show that the number of cadavers has almost tripled since the start of Zimbabwe’s epidemic, and there’s been a change in who is dying: “The young ones,” says Tabvemhiri, “are coming in bulk.”

    The wide crescent of East and Southern Africa that sweeps down from Mount Kenya and around the Cape of Good Hope is the
    hardest-hit AIDS region in the world. Here, the virus is cutting down more and more of Africa’s most energetic and productive people, adults aged 15 to 49. The slave trade also targeted people in their prime, killing or sending into bondage perhaps 25 million people. But that happened over four centuries. Only 17 years have passed since AIDS was first found in Africa, on the shores of Lake Victoria, yet according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the virus has already killed more than 11 million sub-Saharan Africans. More than 22 million others are infected.

    Only 10 percent of the world’s population lives south of the Sahara, but the region is home to two-thirds of the world’s HIV-positive people, and it has suffered more than 80 percent of all AIDS deaths.

    Last year, the combined wars in Africa killed 200,000 people. AIDS killed 10 times that number. Indeed, more people succumbed to HIV last year than to any other cause of death on this continent, including malaria. And the carnage has only begun.

    Unlike ebola or influenza, AIDS is a slow plague, gestating in individuals for five to 10 years before killing them. Across East and Southern Africa, more than 13 percent of adults are infected with HIV, according to UNAIDS. And in three countries, including Zimbabwe, more than a quarter of adults carry the virus. In some districts, the rates are even higher: In one study, a staggering 59 percent of women attending prenatal clinics in rural Beitbridge, Zimbabwe, tested HIV-positive.

    Life expectancy in more than a dozen African countries “will soon be 17 years shorter because of AIDS-47 years instead of 64,” says Callisto Madavo, the World Bank’s vice president for Africa. HIV “is quite literally robbing Africa of a quarter of our lives.”


    In the West, meanwhile, the HIV death rate has dropped steeply thanks to powerful drug cocktails that keep the disease from progressing. These regimens must be taken for years, probably for life, and they can cost more than $10,000 per patient per year. Yet in many of the hardest-hit African countries, the total per capita health-care budget is less than $10.

    Many people-in Africa as well as the West-shrug off this stark disparity, contending that it is also true for other diseases. But it isn’t. Drugs for the world’s major infectious killers-tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrheal diseases- have been subsidized by the international community for years, as have vaccines for childhood illnesses such as polio and measles. But even at discounted prices, the annual cost of putting every African with HIV on triple combination therapy would exceed $150 billion, so the world is letting a leading infectious killer for which treatment exists mow down millions.

    That might be more palatable if there were a Marshall Plan for AIDS prevention to slow the virus’s spread. But a recent study by UNAIDS and Harvard shows that in 1997 international donor countries devoted $150 million to AIDS prevention in Africa. That’s less than the cost of the movie Wild Wild West.

    Meanwhile, the epidemic is seeping into Central and West Africa. More than a tenth of adults in Côte d’Ivoire are infected. Frightening increases have been documented in Yaoundé and Douala, the largest cities in Cameroon. And in Nigeria-the continent’s most populous country-past military dictatorships let the AIDS control program wither, even while the prevalence of HIV has climbed to almost one in every 20 adults.

    Quite simply, AIDS is on track to dwarf every catastrophe in Africa’s recorded history. It is stunting development, threatening the economy, and transforming cultural traditions.

  • Epidemics are never merely biological. Even as HIV changes African society, it spreads by exploiting current cultural and economic conditions. “The epidemic gets real only in a context,” says Elhadj Sy, head of UNAIDS’s East and Southern Africa Team. “In Africa, people wake up in the morning and try to survive-but the way they do that often puts them at risk for infection.” For example, men migrate to cities in search of jobs; away from their wives and families for months on end, they seek sexual release with women who, bereft of property and job skills, are selling their bodies to feed themselves and their children. Back home, wives who ask their husbands to wear condoms risk being accused of sleeping around; in African cultures, it’s usually the man who dictates when and how sex happens.

    Challenging such cultural and economic forces requires political will, but most African governments have been shockingly derelict. Lacking leadership, ordinary Africans have been slow to confront the disease. Few companies, for example, have comprehensive AIDS programs. And many families still refuse to acknowledge that HIV is killing their relatives, preferring to say that the person died of TB or some other opportunistic illness. Doctors often collude in this denial. “Just the other day,” says a high-ranking Zimbabwean physician who spoke on condition of anonymity, “I wrote AIDS on a death certificate and then crossed it out. I thought, ‘I’ll just be stigmatizing this person, because no one else puts AIDS as the cause of death, even when that’s what it is.’ ”

    Why is AIDS worse in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world? Partly because of denial; partly because the virus almost certainly originated here, giving it more time to spread; but largely because Africa was weakened by 500 years of slavery and colonialism. Indeed, historians lay much of the blame on colonialism for Africa’s many corrupt and autocratic governments, which hoard resources that could fight the epidemic. Africa, conquered and denigrated, was never allowed to incorporate international innovations on its own terms, as, for example, Japan did.

    This colonial legacy poisons more than politics. Some observers attribute the spread of HIV to polygamy, a tradition in many African cultures. But job migration, urbanization, and social dislocation have created a caricature of traditional polygamy. Men have many partners not through marriage but through prostitution or sugar-daddy arrangements that lack the social glue of the old polygamy.

    Of course, the worst legacy of whites in Africa is poverty, which fuels the epidemic in countless ways. Having a sexually transmitted disease multiplies the chances of spreading and contracting HIV, but few Africans obtain effective treatment because the clinic is too expensive or too far away. Africa’s wealth was either funneled to the West or restricted to white settlers who barred blacks from full participation in the economy. In apartheid South Africa, blacks were either not educated at all or taught only enough to be servants. Now, as the country suffers one of the world’s most explosive AIDS epidemics, illiteracy hampers prevention. Indeed, AIDS itself is rendering Africa still more vulnerable to any future catastrophe, continuing history’s vicious cycle.


    Yet AIDS is not merely a tale of despair. Increasingly, Africans are banding together- usually with meager resources-to care for their sick, raise their orphans, and prevent the virus from claiming more of their loved ones. Their efforts offer hope. For while a crisis of this magnitude can disintegrate society, it can also unify it. “To solve HIV,” says Sy, “you must involve yourself: your attitudes and behavior and beliefs. It touches upon the most fundamental social and cultural things-procreation and death.”

    AIDS is driving a new candor about sex-as well as new efforts to control it, through virginity testing and campaigns that advocate sticking to one partner. And slowly, fitfully, it is also giving women more power. The death toll is scaring women into saying no to sex or insisting on condoms. And as widows proliferate, people are beginning to see the harm in denying them the right to inherit property.

    The epidemic is also transforming kinship networks, which have been the heart of most African cultures. Orphans, for example, have always been enfolded into the extended family. But more than 7 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have lost one or both parents, and the virus is also killing their aunts and uncles, depriving them of foster parents and leaving them to live with often feeble grandparents. In
    response, communities across Africa are volunteering to help orphans through home visits and, incredibly, by sharing the very little they have. Such volunteerism is both a reclaiming of communal traditions and their adaptation into new forms of civil society.

    But even heroic efforts can’t stop the damage that’s already occurred here in the hills where Arthur Chinaka lost his father and uncles. The worst consequence of this epidemic is not the dead, but the living they leave behind.

  • Rusina Kasongo lives a couple of hills over from Chinaka. Like a lot of elderly rural folk who never went to school, Kasongo can’t calculate how old she is, but she can count her losses: Two of her sons, one of her daughters, and all their spouses died of AIDS, and her husband died in an accident. Alone, she is rearing 10 orphaned children.

    “Sometimes the children go out and come home very late,” says Kasongo, “and I’m afraid they’ll end up doing the same thing as Tanyaradzwa.” That’s the daughter who died
    of AIDS; she had married twice, the first time in a shotgun wedding. Now, the eldest orphan, 17-year-old Fortunate, already has a child but not a husband.

    Few people have conducted more research on AIDS orphans than pediatrician Geoff Foster, who founded the Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT). It was Foster who documented that more than half of Zimbabwe’s orphans are being cared for by grandparents, usually grandmothers who had nursed their own children to the grave. But even this fragile safety net won’t be there for many of the next generation of orphans.

    “Perhaps one-third of children in Zimbabwe will have lost a father or mother-or both-to AIDS,” says Foster. They are more likely to be poor, he explains, more likely to be deprived of education, more likely to be abused or neglected or stigmatized, more likely to be seething with all the needs that make it more likely that a person will have unsafe sex. “But when they get HIV and die, who cares for their children? Nobody, because they’re orphans, so by definition their kids have no grandparents. It’s just like the virus itself. In the body, HIV gets into the defense system and knocks it out. It does that sociologically, too. It gets into the extended family support system and decimates it.”

    Foster’s chilling realization is dawning on other people who work in fields far removed from HIV. This year, South African crime researcher Martin Schönteich published a paper that begins by noting, “In a decade’s time every fourth South African will be aged between 15 and 24. It is at this age group where people’s propensity to commit crime is at its highest. At about the same time there will be a boom in South Africa’s orphan population as the Aids epidemic takes its toll.” While some causes of crime can be curtailed, Schönteich writes,
    “Other causes, such as large numbers of juveniles in the general population, and a high proportion of children brought up without adequate parental supervision, are beyond the control of the state.” His conclusion: “No amount of state spending on the criminal justice system will be able to counter this harsh reality.”


    More AIDS and more crime are among the most dramatic consequences of the orphan explosion. But Nengomasha Willard sees damage that is harder to measure. Willard teaches 11-and 12-year-olds at Saint George’s Primary School, located near the Chinakas and the Kasongos. Fifteen of Willard’s 42 pupils have lost one or both of their parents, but he’s particularly worried about one of his students who lost his father and then, at his mother’s funeral, cried inconsolably. “He doesn’t want to participate,” says Willard. “He just wants to be alone.”

    “I see thousands of children sitting in a corner,” says Foster. “The impact is internalized-it’s depression, being withdrawn.” In Africa, says Foster, the focus on poverty eclipses research into psychological issues, but he has published disturbing evidence of abuse-emotional, physical, and sexual. Meanwhile, the orphan ranks keep swelling. “We’re talking 10 percent who will have lost both parents, maybe 15 percent. Twenty-five percent who will have lost a mother. What does that do to a society, especially an impoverished society?”

  • Among his students, Willard has noticed that some of the orphans come to school without shoes or, in Zimbabwe’s cold winter, without a sweater. Sometimes their stepfamilies put them last on the list, but often it’s because grandmothers can’t scrape together enough money.

    Among economists, there has been a quiet debate over whether HIV will harm the economy. Some think it won’t. With unemployment rates in sub-Saharan Africa between 30 and 70 percent, they reason that there are plenty of people to replenish labor losses. One scenario is that economic growth might slacken, but population growth will also dwindle, so per capita GNP might hold steady or even rise. Then, says Helen Jackson, executive director of the Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), Africa might face the grotesque irony of “an improvement in some macroeconomic indicators, but the exact opposite at the level of households and human suffering.”

    But evidence is mounting that the economy will suffer. Between 20 and 30 percent of workers in South Africa’s gold mining industry-the mainstay of that country’s economy-are estimated to be HIV-positive, and replacing these workers will cut into the industry’s productivity. In Kenya, a new government report predicts that per capita income could sink by 10 percent over the next five years. In Côte d’Ivoire, a teacher dies every school day.

    Then there are the effects that can’t be quantified. “What does AIDS do for the image of Africa?” asks Tony Barnett, a veteran researcher on the economic impact of AIDS. To lure investors, the continent already has to battle underdevelopment and racism, but now, he says, many people will see Africa as “diseased, sexually diseased. It chimes in with so many stereotypes.”

    Beneath the corporate economy, millions of Africans subsist by cultivating their own small plot of land. When someone in the family comes down with AIDS, the other members have to spend time caring for that person, which means less time cultivating crops. And when death comes, the family loses a crucial worker. Studies have documented that among rural AIDS-stricken families, food production falls, savings dwindle, and children are more likely to be undernourished.

    For Kasongo and her 10 orphans, food is a constant problem, but now it has become even harder. On her way back from the fields, carrying a basket of maize on her head, Kasongo tripped and fell. Her knee is swollen, her back is aching, and cultivating the fields is close to impossible. Here, under the radar of macroeconomic indicators, Kasongo’s ordeal shows how AIDS is devastating Africa.

    This is the context in which one of Africa’s most agonizing debates is taking place: Should doctors administer drugs to pregnant women that sharply reduce the chances that a baby will be born with HIV? So far, the debate has centered on the cost of the drugs, but a new, inexpensive regimen has pushed thornier arguments to the surface.

    The “vaccine for babies,” as it is sometimes called, does not treat the mother and so does nothing to reduce the chances the baby will become an orphan. That’s why Uganda’s Major Rubaramira Ruranga, a well-known activist who is himself infected with HIV, opposes it. “Many children in our countries die of malnutrition, even with both parents,” he argues. “Without parents, it’s almost certain they’ll die.”

    Isn’t it impossible to know the fate of any
    given child and presumptuous to decide it in
    advance? “That’s sentimental,” he snaps. Even Foster, who believes “every child has a right to be born without HIV,” wonders whether the money is best spent on the “technical fix” of giving drugs to the pregnant women. The medicine is only a part of the cost, for women can infect their children during breast feeding, which raises expensive problems such as providing formula and teaching mothers how to use it safely in places where clean water may not exist. Would all that money, Foster wonders, be better spent alleviating the root causes of why women get infected in the first place? “It’s very difficult to stand up and make such an argument because you get portrayed as a beast,” he says. In fact, such arguments testify to how the epidemic is forcing Africans to grapple with impossible choices.


  • Weston Tizora is one of thousands of Africans who are trying to give orphans a decent life. Just 25 years old, Tizora started as a gardener at Saint Augustine’s Mission and threw himself into volunteering in the mission’s AIDS program, called Kubatana, a Shona word meaning “together.” Next year he will take over the program’s leadership from its founder, British nurse Sarah Hinton. Kubatana’s 37 volunteers care for homebound patients, and they help raise orphans by, for example, bringing food to Rusina Kasongo’s brood.

    Just a few steps from Kasongo live Cloud and Joseph Tineti. They’re 14 and 11, respectively, and the oldest person in their home is their 15-year-old brother. They are, in the language of AIDS workers, a child-headed household. Who’s in charge? “No one,” Joseph answers-and it shows. Their one-room shack is strewn with dirty clothes, unwashed dishes, broken chairs. On the table, a roiling mass of ants feasts on pumpkin seeds and some kind of dried leaves.

    The troubles run deeper. Their father, who had divorced their mother before she died, lives in nearby Mutare. Does he bring food? “Yes,” says Joseph, “every week.” It’s not true, Tizora maintains. Kubatana members have even talked with the police in their effort to convince the father to take in his children or at least support them. But the police did not act, explains Tizora, because the father is unemployed and struggling to provide for the family of his second wife. Once a month-sometimes not even that often-he brings small amounts of food, so the orphans depend on donations from Kubatana volunteers.

    But if little Joseph’s version isn’t true, it’s what an orphaned kid would want: a father who at least brings food, stops by frequently, and acts a little like a dad. And his mother: What does Joseph remember of her? The question is too much, and he starts crying.

    Kubatana volunteers are supposed to look after the Tineti orphans, so why is their home so unkempt? There used to be two volunteers in this area, explains Tizora. One has been reassigned to work in the nearby mining village, ravaged by AIDS. The other has been away at her parents’ home for two months, attending to a family funeral and to her own late-stage pregnancy.

    And everyone in these villages has their hands full. Standing in a valley, Tizora points to the hillsides around him and says, “There are orphans in that home, and the one over there, and there by the gum trees. And see where there’s that white house? They’re taking care of orphans there, too.” By the time he finishes, he has pointed out about half of the homesteads. When the Kubatana program started, in 1992, volunteers identified 20 orphans. Now they have registered 3000. In many parts of Africa, notes Jackson of SAfAIDS, “It has actually become the norm to have orphaned children in the household rather than the exception.”

    Foster makes some quick calculations: Given the number of volunteers in the Kubatana program, there’s no way they can care for all their orphans. So when a volunteer gets pregnant, has a family emergency, or gets sick, kids like Cloud and Joseph fall through the cracks. Says Foster: “You can’t lose a quarter of your adult population in 10 years without catastrophic consequences.”

    In his office, Tizora has a wall of photographs showing the original 20 orphans. One is a girl who looks about 12. She lost her parents and then she lost the grandma who was caring for her. At that point, she started refusing to go to school, hiding on the way there. Now, she’s run away and, Tizora says, “we don’t know where she is.”

    Additional articles in this series.

  • Categories

    Can’t Stop the Music

    I wanted to shout how crucial Voice music writing was from the git, but evidence was lacking. Voice columnist Jean Shepherd promoted the term “nonconformist” as Voice columnist Gilbert Seldes promoted the term “lively arts”; Voice theater critic Jerry Tallmer sent readers to The Connection and Jackie McLean as Voice film critics Jonas Mekas and Andrew Sarris mapped polar cinemas. But though Martin Williams and Nat Hentoff were fixtures in the early ’60s—Williams had an acerbic, enthusiastic TV column—lesser writers reviewed jazz. J.R. Goddard covered a folk beat that included the hot issue of banning bardistry in Washington Square Park. And already on the opera and concert circuit was Leighton Kerner, who still has the virtue, rare in his field, of writing like a fan—always warm, never magisterial.

    And then in 1966 a word-crazy young hotshot named Richard Goldstein announced his philosophical commitment with the column title Pop Eye. Although Dan Wolf and (at New York) Clay Felker pushed him to report, Goldstein was the first rock critic; his Goldstein’s Greatest Hits collection evokes the high ’60s with a tender, cheeky verve both of and above its moment. Me and my old junior high school classmate Ellen Willis sought him out well before we’d carved similar niches at Esquire and The New Yorker. But by 1969, Goldstein was weary of music as a subject, and I’d irritated the Esquire jazzbos by denying that rock was in its death throes. So I approached Wolf, who knew me primarily as a letter writer. He gave me a monthly column just like that, and master copy editor James Stoller thought of a title. Unlike Richard, I did no star profiles—just longish critical essays in a paper where column inches exploded as bohemia thrived and dailies died. When my compulsive listening necessitated the Consumer Guide, Rock&Roll& was upped to fortnightly with barely a murmur from arts editor Diane Fisher. And one more thing—I was paid $40 for 1,500 or 2,500 or 3,500 words. At Esquire, it was $500.

    In other words, after a stint in the slicks I wanted to be a rock critic even if I couldn’t earn a living at it. From September ’70 till March ’72 I brought in most of my small income teaching college on the strength of my B.A. and my countercultural bona fides. At first I dashed off Voice essays in a few fell swoops and the CG piecemeal, but soon I was laboring over my prose the way I had at Esquire. The quality of that prose got me hired (by current Voice editor Don Forst) as the first rock critic at greater Gotham’s most writerly daily, Newsday. But when Felker, who had published me pre-Esquire, bought the Voice, I was more than ready to come back.

    Can’t be polite, so I’ll be brief—Voice music coverage back then was a waste. Although by 1974 opinionated young rockcrits were piling on fresh facts, nascent ideas, colorful styles, engaging personas, and funny shit from wild-ass Creem to auteurist Rolling Stone, most of the stuff Fisher published was slack, corny, and anonymous. By concentrating on records, the section I edited could offer writers nationwide—gonzo or straight, wacko or academic, pro or am—a chance to write ambitiously at decent rates (which had risen some). Also, they’d be carefully and knowledgeably line edited—unprecedented in the back of our book, and not a priority at Creem or Stone. Nor would we ignore soul and c&w in favor of boho nonentities. Vince Aletti on the Jackson 5 and Richard Meltzer on Waylon Jennings were my first two leads. Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs, Janet Maslin and Stephen G. Holden, Jim Miller and Simon Frith were in the mix.

    Of course, close reading of Riffs (Fisher’s terrific section hed, eventually ixnayed by some design director) revealed writers worth cultivating: Patrick Carr, Geoffrey Stokes, young fourth-floor receptionists David Tipmore and James Wolcott, and above all the finest jazz critic ever, Gary Giddins, with whom I enjoyed an educational and exciting if initially contentious editing relationship that lasted till Gary jumped ship in 2003 and three guys replaced him. Then there was sui generis “downtown” critic Tom Johnson, a minimalist every which way who turned in prophetic ethnic music columns before emigrating to Paris. And soon I was swamped by wonderful writers I’d never heard of. To list only the renowned and involved—Ken Tucker, Tom Carson, Stanley Crouch, Greg Sandow, Dave Hickey, Jon Pareles, Greg Tate, Nelson George, Chuck Eddy, then Kyle Gann, Joe Levy, Rob Sheffield, dream hampton, Ann Powers, Simon Reynolds, Neil Strauss, Sasha Frere-Jones—is to ignore hundreds of adepts whose commitment to music criticism was more local or temporary. Let me name just three: my dear friend John Piccarella, future Newhouse James Truman, and novelist Blanche McCrary Boyd, who submitted Wings and Diana Ross pieces of memorable grace.

    The job was broadening for me. I re-entered jazz, gave folk a chance, even explored Johnson’s world a little. And despite my firm pop bias, avant-gardism came with the franchise. Punk was so much to my taste that I would have hit CBGB early in any case, but at the Voice it happened quicker. And though other papers (including the Time s) were on the case, punk revved our section, where the writers’ collective talent and shared passion for fresh ideas rendered our coverage definitive. Punk also sparked a collegiate mindset that generated not just the rock-critical career path but the Amerindie subculture, our bread and butter to this diminished day. Hip-hop, which we were on almost as fast, proved a useful counterweight.

    In 1985 I became a parent and relinquished the editorship to a talented series of successors who know why I’m not name-checking them—they experienced firsthand the space cutbacks that have continued for 20 years (and hey, now pay rates are dipping too!). Many claim our section lost authority around the time I left, and they’re right. This had nothing to do with editing. It was structural. The professionalization and expansion of music coverage, together with the DIY-ization and expansion of music production, topped off by the online DIY-ization of music coverage, have rendered authority, which in any aesthetic matter is provisional at best, an utter chimera, no matter how many 100 best this-es and 50 top thats music media sell ads with. Our own contribution to the form, the Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll (which, speaking of expansion, has mushroomed from 24 voters to 793 in 30 years), retains more cred than most—assuming you don’t care that it undervalues black music even when OutKast have something out. I do, but that doesn’t mean we’ve rectified the problem.

    This is not a great time in alternative rock or alternativejournalism—mainstream pop or mainstream journalism either. I never assume my job is secure and certainly don’t now, which is one reason I work so hard at it. But the main reason is that I love music, and never forget how fortunate I am to have earned my living as a rock critic. Most of my fellow
    Voice music writers earn less than I do unless they have other employment, which many do—no other critical field supports so many inspired moonlighters. They too love music, and treasure the rare freedom this paper affords them even at 200 measly words. I thank every one of them for caring.