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From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

John Lennon and Paul McCartney in Transit

Scenes

THERE I STOOD, next to Paul McCartney and John Lennon — calm, but without a thing to say. I wasn’t intimidated, but more amazed I had managed to get through an endless skein of Beatlemanic intrigue. But with the aid of my press card there I was, for 15 minutes altogether, with them as they were hustled from one custom’s checkpoint to another last Saturday afternoon. Only while driving back to the city later did I remember that I had forgotten to ask them about all the rumors. Was it true that they were here to denounce the Maharishi? Was it true that they were breaking up and that’s why only two of them had come? Was it true that they were merely in New York to help promote their Apple enterprise into another million dollar Beatle spinoff?

(Tuesday at their press conference it turned out that the only rumor that wasn’t true — as usual — was that they were breaking up. Gently putting down the Maharishi, Lennon said they still meditate now and then but, speaking for all four Beatles, he said they feel they made a mistake about him. “After all we’re only human.”)

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Back at the airport, I did ask Paul if the screaming teenyboppers still turned him on and he said of course. He did a lot of sophisticated waving, and signed autographs for some of the airport personnel. John, more aloof and at times sort of surly, looked pretty tired even in white suit, white shirt, white tie, white shoes, and a plain white button on his lapel. He scrawled autographs without looking at the paper or the beseecher.

There had been reports all week, but the Beatles press people had kept the actual day and time of their arrival a good secret and so only two or three press people were there to greet them. But several thousand frantic crying teenyboppers in last year’s bellbottoms, informed by WMCA Good Guys, were racing all over the International Arrivals building trying to find out where the plane would unload. Watching them float was fantastic. If a girl screamed in one part of the terminal, maybe just out of frustration, a hundred others rushed shrieking in that direction.

After John and Paul left by way of a distant airport exit road in their black Caddy limousine (driven by a chauffeur wearing yellow shades), I headed out through the terminal to my car but a burly airport security supervisor stopped me.

“I can’t convince these kids that the Beatles have left. They just won’t believe someone like me,” he pleaded, while over his shoulder I could see at least a thousand of the tearful faithful trying to get in the doors I had to get out.

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“Someone who looks like you they would believe. You tell them that they left and they’ll all go home.” I said all right.

“Hey kids, this fellow is a reporter and he just had an exclusive interview with the Beatles and …” Two squealing girls grabbed my sleeve and the whole crowd suddenly found me fascinating and they screamed and screeched. I finally got everyone quiet enough to be heard if I yelled. They immediately began planning hurriedly at which hotel they would set up vigils until they could get a glimpse of their idols.

The Beatles are still up there. ❖

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CULTURAL COMMERCE ARCHIVES From The Archives

Beam Us Up. No Wait — Just Get Us Outta Here!

[Archivist’s note: When we saw the ad in the October 10, 1968 issue of the Voice, we thought, hmm, this looks interesting — “INTERCOURSE begins at EARTH. Hallucinate yourself in a variety of environments where everyone joins hands in a new coalition understanding and love.”

Talk therapy? Group sex? It was 1968 on East 49th Street, after all.

Two weeks later we got an answer of sorts when the intrepid, street-level culture reporter Howard Smith made the scene at EARTH in his weekly column.]

SCENES
October 31, 1968
By Howard Smith

I guess the sociologists could explain why people act like lemmings whenever anything new opens in town. Just use the right pop words and huge first night crowds will appear. I made myself the victim of this two weeks ago while attending the opening of a new discotheque called EARTH. The invitation beckoned: “We would like to include you as an honored guest … when the chic inherit the ‘EARTH.’ New York’s most avant-garde restaurant and discotheque. A whole new concept in dining and entertainment. Be kind to all you see and touch. A deep sense of oneness with nature … The earth steams gently … touch the warm wetness … Breathe in fragrances … The enchantment of ‘EARTH’ is knowing the joy of being alive. The newest sights, the newest sounds. Opening a whole new world … ‘Earth.’” Pretty good reading, but the discotheque was something else.

Full page ad for EARTH

Outside was the proving ground of human behavior. It was as if THE BOMB had fallen and this was the only refuge for the beautiful people. To get in became the only aim in life, and how was unimportant.

Suddenly the invitation seemed prophetic. I had a deep sense of oneness with the crowd. Tempers were steaming gently. I couldn’t help but touch the warm wetness of the person pressed against me. It was impossible not to breathe in the fragrances. I was kin to all I saw and touched, but far from a meaningful encounter, everyone was gagging from this unwelcome shoving kinship.

Earth’s owners, who managed to raise enormous sums of money to open their doors, were unable to manage the doors themselves. There was an ability gap. Even their publicity people would do nothing more than smile. Pleas of form a line, please, were ignored when it became apparent that brandishing invitations, press passes, even folded money didn’t accomplish what just plain shoving did. A few creative people used their tongues when elbows were rendered useless in the crush: “I work here … and besides I left my coat inside.”

The fact that people were struggling to get out as intently as others were struggling to get in did not dim anyone’s determination. When at last the resistance gave way and I penetrated the inner depths of this “new concept” in entertaining, the experience was literally over.

The inside story was the biggest let-down of the season. The first floor, dubbed “Earth Gardens,” was crammed with tables, chairs, potted plants, and perplexed people. The hot-house atmosphere was carefully created by that infamous interior design firm of Broken Air Conditioner.

Onward, with much climbing of stairs and peeking into hot, dim caverns. Each floor had its own self-conscious name: “Cafe Intergalactic,” “Karamu Safari’ Room,” and “Up.” There was the usual light show and deafening music. A visual miasma of rather passé day-glo wall decoration and the dismal sensation of flash bulbs popping at unexpected moments did cause me to blink occasionally. The soul food buffet was tasty but in short supply. Kool-Aid flowed like wine, increasing everyone’s thirst and irritability. Squeezing back down the steps required almost the same elbows and determination that it took to get in.

Looking over the invitation again, it seems someone had a great idea in his head. Too bad we don’t all fit.

Howard Smith's SCENES column, which appeared every week.
Continuation of Howard Smith's SCENES column, which appeared every week.
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From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Andy Land 3: The Shot Heard Round the Demimonde

For Andy Warhol, a night on the town was hardly a news-making event, especially in the Sixties. But in September 1968, when Voice writer Leticia Kent caught up with the pop-art icon, it was front-page news. As Kent wrote in the September 12 issue of the paper: “It was the underground film-maker’s first public appearance since last June, when, as everyone knows, he was shot down by Valerie Solanas.”

The shooting, on an otherwise typical day in early June, had rocked the downtown demimonde, and it nearly took Warhol’s life. “I don’t even know whether or not I’m really alive or — whether I died,” Warhol told Kent. “It’s sad. Like I can’t say hello or goodbye to people. Life is like a dream. What would you call that?”

Warhol had come a long way since his brush with death. Just three days after the shooting, in the June 6 issue of the Voice, writer Howard Smith provided a blow-by-blow account of an “ordinary afternoon” that suddenly turned to panic and pandemonium. Smith also looked at the strange path that led Solanas (spelled “Solanis” in the story) to commit such a violent crime. As the Voice went to press, it was still unclear whether her assassination attempt had succeeded. “Tuesday his condition was still listed as critical,” wrote Smith, “and doctors gave him a 50-50 chance to live.”

In his 1980 memoir, POPism: The Warhol Sixties, the artist describes the experience from his perspective. “As I was coming down from my operation, I heard a television going somewhere and the words ‘Kennedy’ and ‘assassin’ and ‘shot’ over and over again. Robert Kennedy had been shot, but what was so weird was that I had no understanding that this was a second Kennedy assassination — I just thought that maybe after you die, they rerun things for you, like President Kennedy’s assassination.”

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Just after midnight on June 5, 1968, RFK had been gunned down in Los Angeles, too late to make it into that week’s issue of the Voice. The following issue featured Fred McDarrah’s haunting portrait of the late New York senator. The two shootings, separated by two days and thousands of miles, rattled New York City, highlighting the growing threat of gun violence. In POPism, Warhol recounts an exchange between Robert Rauschenberg and Factory regular Brigid Berlin at Max’s Kansas City:

She went on toward the back room and collided with Bob Rauschenberg who was coming down from the upstairs, all sweaty from dancing. “I told him the news about Bobby Kennedy,” she said, “and he fell to the floor, sobbing, and said, ‘Is this the medium?’ ”

“What was that supposed to mean?” I asked her.

“First you, then Bobby Kennedy,” she said. “Guns.”

This week’s opening of “Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again” at the Whitney Museum of American Art provides a good excuse to revisit one crazy, tragic summer from the pages of the Voice.

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“The Shot That Shattered the Velvet Underground”
by Howard Smith
June 6, 1968

It was an ordinary afternoon at The Factory, the huge, new loft on the north side of Union Square which is the center of the Warhol scene. Sun came in the windows and gleamed off the mirror-topped desks. Paul Morrissey, Warhol’s executive producer, and Fred Hughes, an assistant, sat around talking with Mario Amaya, a visiting art magazine editor from London.

Suddenly the elevator doors opened and Andy Warhol walked into the loft with Valerie Solanis [sic], a sometime writer and super-woman-power advocate who had appeared in his film, “I, a Man.” She had come by The Factory earlier in the afternoon looking for Warhol, and had waited for him outside in front of the building for three hours. They walked over to talk with Morrissey, Hughes, and Amaya. It was typical Factory small talk, Hughes recalled. “You still writing dirty books, Valerie?” he asked.

Hughes wandered off, and Morrissey took off to the bathroom. Then the telephone rang, and Warhol went to answer it. While he spoke with Viva, the reigning superstar, Valerie Solanis [sic] pulled a .32 automatic out of the pocket of her trench coat. Warhol turned and saw the gun. “Valerie,” he yelled. “Don’t do it! No! No!” She fired three shots, and Warhol fell to the floor.

Then she turned on Amaya, and shot him in the hip. Amaya fled to a back room in the loft and crashed through a door, breaking the latch with the impact. She pursued him, and tried to force the door open while Amaya held it closed with his body. Morrissey, meanwhile, had heard the shots and ran to watch her through the small projection window.

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She then turned and walked back to Hughes who, terrified, begged her not to shoot. “I have to shoot you,” she told him. Hughes fell to his knees, pleading “You can’t. I’m innocent.” Just as she seemed about to shoot, the elevator doors opened again and distracted her. “She was very confused, very agitated,” Hughes recalled. She turned back, pointing the gun at Hughes, who was still on his knees, pleading for his life, and then Valerie Solanis [sic] darted on the empty elevator and disappeared.

Hughes called the police and an ambulance. Warhol lay on the floor, he said, still conscious and bleeding only slightly, but obviously in great pain. He seemed delirious, and cried “I can’t! I can’t!” Then photographer Billy Name came into the loft, saw Warhol, and went to him. Warhol heard him cry, but mistook it for laughter. “Billy,” he said softly, “don’t laugh. Don’t make me laugh.”

The police arrived, and finally the ambulance, and Warhol was taken to Columbus Hospital. “They thought he was dead at first,” Morrissey said. But Warhol was alive, and was rushed to surgery, where a four-man team of doctors fought for five and a half hours to save him. Tuesday his condition was still listed as critical, and doctors gave him a 50-50 chance to live.

While the doctors operated, friends, press, and superstars jammed the tiny lobby of the hospital. The press was voracious; the superstars responsive. In one corner Leo Castelli and Ivan Karp were being interviewed; in another, Viva and Gerard Malanga were being set up for photographs. Later, Warhol’s mother, a tiny old woman wearing a babushka, was brought weeping out of a back room. Malanga and Viva went to comfort her, and a hospital attendant brought a wheelchair to take Mrs. Warhol, who has a heart ailment, outside to a waiting taxi. A flock of photographers struggled for front photographs, almost trampling the old woman in the process.

Then word arrived that Valerie Solanis [sic] had turned herself in to a rookie cop at Times Square, and some of the press rushed to the 13th Precinct station, only a few blocks away, where she was to be booked. While she was being questioned upstairs, a battery of photographers stood poised for an hour in front of the door through which she would enter. Twenty other newsmen milled about the room. When she finally came through the door, her hands were cuffed behind her back, it was bedlam. Photographers climbed behind the booking desk, elbowing cops out of the way. While police tried to book her, she posed and smiled for photographers. It was impossible to book her; the clicking and whirring of the cameras drowned out the sound of her voice. The police gave in, and let the press interview her. She was responsive to the questions. When asked about a motive, she said “I have a lot of very involved reasons. Read my manifesto and it will tell you what I am.” After a few minutes, the police hustled the reporters out of the station and took her back to be booked in the fingerprint room. She was charged with felonious assault and possession of a deadly weapon.

Valerie Solanis’s [sic] life revolved around her “manifesto,” a 21-page mimeographed document entitled S.C.U.M., Society for Cutting Up Men. She was a man-hater, not a lesbian, but consumed with a passionate loathing of men. All the passion was contained in the manifesto, which she sold to support herself by placing ads in The Voice and peddling it — at $1 for men and 25 cents for women — at coffeehouses and Max’s Kansas City. “She was always known to be odd,” said an acquaintance, “even within a pretty odd scene. But she was very friendly, very warm. All her hate was in her writing. In person she was gentle, not aggressive at all.”

Yet suddenly she turned savage, and people at The Factory searched for a motive. She was bitter, they said, because Warhol had refused for over a year to use a script that she had written. She also had at one time accused Warhol — absurdly, his associates said — of dubbing in over her voice in the film, “I, a Man.” Neither clue seems sufficient to explain the horror that shattered the Velvet Underground.

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BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Original Head Shop, and Congress Drops Acid with Allen Ginsberg

Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

June 23, 1966, Vol. XI, No. 36

Scenes

By Howard Smith

One of the primary satisfactions of using drugs is the element of ritual — rolling, tying up, snorting. All contain sexual sublimations that could, and maybe do, make a religion. Collecting the hallucinatory hardware involves a lot of running around and helter-skelter jerry-rigging, so what is more natural than for someone to open up a psychedelic shoppe where all the paraphernalia can be acquired in a single shop.

A place that sells all this exotica opened in May at 304 East 9th Street under the apt appelation of the Head Shop. The police have been by a few times, taken notes, but everything is cool because no drugs of any kind are sold there.

]

Jeff Glick, who looks like Serjeant Musgrave of the Bronx and is an ex-architect, owns the place, and is presently looking for other locations to set up more blow-your-mind boutiques.

The store’s main line is pipes of all sorts. Most of them are water mechanisms and area manufactured from test tubes and short lengths of plumber pipe. “The Her” is the name of one sensuous bubbly hookah. A card enclosed says that it was made by the Psychedelicatessen, Ellis Dee, Prop.

Other acid artifacts and marijuana cookery are op art mandalas, old comics, bright-colored paperweights, peacock feathers, light machines, and colored globes.

Although almost everything sold at the Head Shop has a strong visual attraction, the place has all the elegance of a gypsy storefront. Nonetheless, a lot of Glick’s customers are beginning to have that jet set look. Several fashion magazines have used the place as a photo set, so its pop cult success seems assured.

Ginsberg in Washington: Lobbying for Tenderness

By Don McNeill

Allen Ginsberg, lobbying for tenderness, bared a large part of his soul last week before a Senate subcommittee investigating the use of LSD.

“I’m here to tell you about my personal experiences,” he began softly, “and am worried that without sufficient understanding and sympathy for personal experience laws will be passed that are so rigid that they will cause more harm than the new LSD that they try to regulate.”

The atmosphere was neither hostile nor sympathetic, rather, curious as Ginsberg took the stand. He bowed, a small Buddhist bow, and tried to dispel some of the apprehension among the Senators, press, and spectators in the floodlit, marbled caucus room. “Whatever pre-judgment you have about me, or my bearded image, I hope you will suspend it so that we can talk together as fellow beings in the same room of Now, trying to come to some harmony and peacefulness between us.”

His efforts were first to establish a common blond with those listening. He noted the common frustration with the lack of a place for the human, personal, individual factor in our society. It is “a feeling of being caught in a bureaucratic machine which is not built to serve some of our deepest feelings…a machine which closes down our senses, reduces our language and thoughts to uniformity, reduces our sources of inspiration and fact to fewer channels — as TV does — and monopolizes our attention with second hand imagery — packaged news, as we’re having it packaged now” — and the network cameras whirred softly — “and doesn’t really satisfy our deeper needs — healthy personal adventure in environments where we are having living contact with each other in the flesh, the human universe we are built to enjoy and live in.”

“All this is inevitable,” he said, “especially since we have come to value material extensions of ourselves.” But he still emphasized the need for some respite. “Human contact is built into our nature as a material need as strong as food…We can’t treat each other only as objects — we can’t treat each other as Things lacking sympathy. Our humanity would atrophy crippled and die — WANT to die. Because life without feeling is just one more ‘Thing,’ an inhuman universe.”

…He told of how the night before the Vietnam Day march in Berkeley last fall he, the novelist Ken Kesey, the marchers, and the Hell’s Angels “all had a party at the Hell’s Angels house.”

…At the party, organize by Kesey, “most everybody took some LSD, and we settled down to discussing the situation and listening to Joan Baez on the phonograph and chanting Buddhist prayers. We were all awed by the communication possible — everybody able to drop their habitual Image for the night and feel more community than conflict. And the evening ended with the understanding that nobody really wanted violence; and there was none on the day of the march.”

…When he had finished his statement, Ginsberg was questioned by Senators Jacob Javits of New York and Quentin Burdick of North Dakota, who was acting chairman in Dodd’s absence. Many of the questions seemed to be the standard ones asked of the “pro-LSD” witnesses in these hearings — for instance, on the source of the drugs…Ginsberg replied that “in order to speak freely on the subject, I’ve had to stop my use. I have heard that the Narcotics Bureau has been trying to set me up for an arrest.” Burdick prodded: “You don’t know where it comes from?” “I literally do not know,” he replied…

Javits repeatedly reminded Ginsberg that he was not qualified to testify on any of the medical aspects of LSD. “Do you consider yourself qualified to give medical advice to my 16 1/2-year-old son?” Javits asked. Javits indicated that he was concerned about Ginsberg’s influence “among young people” and wanted to make it clear that the poet should not give “medical advice.”

As he concluded his statement, Ginsberg suggested that “if we want to discourage use of LSD for altering our attitudes, we’ll have to encourage such changes in our society that nobody will need to take it to break through to common sympathy.” He suggested that the new generation, many of whom have experienced this “new sense of openness,” will “push for an environment less rigid, mechanical, less dominated by automatic cold war habits. A new kind of light has rayed through our society — despite all the anxiety it has caused — maybe these hearings are a manifestation of that slightly changed awareness. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to speak like this a year ago. That we’re more open to each other is the new consciousness itself: to reveal one’s visions to a Congressional Committee!”

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Howard Smith, Digging the 60’s Scenes and Happenings

Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

June 2, 1966, Vol. XI, No. 33

Scenes

By Howard Smith

The fog rolled in on the rock flow in the basement of 14 Waverly Place, and it was like nothing that ever happened before. It was so thick that people couldn’t see other people a foot away. There were two loud raga rock bands. If you leaned over and said something in a friend’s ear, it turned out to be someone else’s friend.

More fog. The ceiling disappeared. Everyone was dancing alone; your partner was invisible anyway. It was like a swamp. You expected frogs, but what you got were dancing butterflies. They were girls in tiny bikinis and strange body paint wearing veil-like cape wings. They danced, twisted, pulsed, and disappeared into the vapors and flashing colored lights.

]

The walls were gone. There must be a lake nearby. Everybody felt moist and pleasant, but electric. People looked beatific and calm and lost.

Finally, everyone was out on the street in the rain. Was it really the street? It certainly didn’t feel like New York.

A repeat of this environment will be attempted on June 11 at the same place.

Allan Kaprow, young elder statesman of the happening, has decreed that a happening can be a private affair — but not necessarily. Suggests Kaprow:

“Couples make love in hotel rooms. Before they check out, they cover everything with large sheets of black plastic film.”

But for the group-minded and those not up to this form of endeavor: “In a neighborhood, people inflate, by mouth, a 20-foot weather balloon. It’s pushed through the streets and buried in a hole at the beach. The people leave it.”

And for the passive: “Rockets, spread over several miles, go up in red smoke, explode, scatter thousands of scraps of paper with messages.”

These are among dozens of “available activities” that Kaprow has offered to the people whom he has invited to take part in his four-month three-city happening called “Self Service.”

It will happen between the months of June and September in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. There will be no spectators,, except those who happen to be where it happens.

Says Kaprow: “It is a work comprising activities for yourself.”

It will all be casual and flexible. None of the events will be announced and all actions will occur more or less at random, interspersed over the summer months. Not even the performers in one city will necessarily know when or where other actions will take place…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Revival Tent: Preacher Lies to Choir, Choir Eats it Up

In 1972, Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith’s Marjoe was enough of an eye-opening sensation to make news of itself and Oscar winners of its creators; then, presidents did not hold prayer meetings in the White House, and 24-hour evangelical TV stations did not broadcast coast-to-coast. Honest- to-God Pentecostals were a subcultural stratum educated documentary watchers had never seen before, and the movie is frank about its mondo- Jesus perspective, gazing upon the howlers, shakers, tongue speakers, and weepers as if they were the leaf-clothed Liawep “lost tribe” of Papua New Guinea. In 2006, this condescension seems only mildly differentiated from “exotic” travel docs of the 1930s (as opposed to the gimlet-eyed rigor of Werner Herzog’s 1980 featurette God’s Angry Man)—that is, unless you worry in the dead of night, like I do, about the bottomless capacity for Americans to ignore fact and embrace bullshit.

The film’s focus, Marjoe Gortner, is by now something of a quasi-celebrity icon: Notorious in mid-century as the “world’s youngest ordained minister,” Gortner returned to preaching in the late ’60s as a simple source of easy shuck money. (From there, in a life path suggesting the need for a Marjoe 2, Gortner became a recording artist and B-movie actor specializing in rapists and psychos; in 1976 he was battling fake giant rats in a film version of H.G. Wells’s The Food of the Gods.) Gortner’s participation in Kernochan and Smith’s movie is a crucial matter: Lookin’ to get out, Gortner admits he’s a fraud and atheist, and derisively briefs the film crew on the meetings’ conservative norms and codes before they commence. When the holy-rolling is in full swing, only the crowds of middle-American spirit receivers are oblivious to Gortner’s hucksterism.

The old promotional footage of Gortner and his mom (who trained him, abusively, from toddlerhood in the art of Christian crowd madness) has an eerie, Ed Woodian mutant aura, but the hypnotized Nixon-era supplicants Gortner anoints as an adult are only nominally less otherworldly. Gortner was self-disgusted enough to go public and therein ensure his departure from the lifestyle for good—but was he an insincere aberration, or are evangelists all con men? Once Pat Robertson earnestly stumps to his 800,000 nightly devotees that Hugo Chávez should be murdered in cold blood, you have to ask, does it matter?