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CRIME ARCHIVES EXTREMISM ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Violence

Armies of the Right

Tim McVeigh’s revolutionary Footsteps

Moments after the cop ordered the Chevrolet Suburban to the side of the road that Saturday afternoon in Wilmington, Ohio, the man in the passenger seat jumped out, pulled a pistol, and opened fire on the officer. Staggering backward, the cop fumbled for his own gun and managed to get off a fusillade of shots. Unscathed, the car’s passenger ran into the woods. The driver, who had been standing beside his door, knocked aside another cop, got behind me wheel, and took off down the road.

Later that day the same men tangled with the cops in another shootout. Again they got away. The police all points bulletin for the men pictures a sweet-looking young man, with twin­kling eyes, his face protected by the floppy brim of a western hat straight out of Lonesome Dove.

His name is Chevie O’Brien Kehoe, 24. And it looks like he made a clean getaway across the Midwest in a Dodge Executive mobile home, along with his brother Cheyne, 20, and their wives and kids. Two weeks ago the motor home was found abandoned at an underpass on an in­terstate outside Casper, Wyoming.

The Kehoes are wanted for questioning in the robbery and grisly mur­der of an Arkansas gun dealer. But they are not just another gang of desperadoes. They are known to have ties with the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations in northern Idaho. And after the February 15 shootout in Ohio, police found in their vehicle what have by now become tell-tale tools of the far-right guerrilla war: bullet-resistant vests, two FBI logo baseball caps, two U.S. Marshal badges, handcuffs, a portable scanner radio, a gas grenade, pepper spray, a portable stretcher and body bag, latex gloves, duct tape, camouflage clothing, and three gas masks.

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The Kehoes, then, are foot sol­diers in a political army. Like others in that army, they see themselves as revolutionaries in a far-right movement who are determined to overthrow ZOG (the Zionist Occupation Government) and re­store society to its rightful protectors: white Christian men.

Some outriders in this movement look with favor toward Timothy McVeigh, whose trial begins March 31 in Denver, as another sol­dier in the fight for a white America. “I think he’s a courageous man,” says Dennis Mahon, the Tulsa leader of White Aryan Resistance. “Tremendous drive … If we had a hundred men like him in this country we’d probably change things around.” Referring to the Okla­homa City bombing that McVeigh is charged with, Mahon says, “I don’t agree with what he did particularly. My personal opinion is that that building should have been bombed early in the morning.” Mahon has offered to testify on behalf of McVeigh.

What makes this a movement and not just a collection of disparate violent acts is the web of associations that tie together the participants. The most powerful is the religious tenet of Christian Identity, which preaches that the true inheritors of the earth are White Aryans, and all others are subhuman “mud people.”

There are other ties that bind these like-minded people together. Some are pulled together because they practice polygamy. Many younger members are groupies on the skinhead circuit, follow­ing bands around the country, and picking up work at movement enclaves (like the sawmill at Elohim City) when the need arises. Others hang out together at summer camps, evening Bible studies, paramilitary training sessions, gun shows, and meetings of sympathetic militias. The reli­gious gatherings are where the hardcore, far-right operatives out of the old Ku Klux Klan or Posse Comitatus mix with less political, naive Christian religious people. The result is a potent combination of politics infused with religious zeal. It’s one thing to believe that it’s your mission under the constitution to set up, say, a citizens’ grand jury outside the corrupt court system, and quite something else to think of yourself as a Christian soldier in the opening phases of the battle of Armageddon.

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Beginning in the ’80s, groups of apocalyptic Christian fundamentalists withdrew from society, forming their own closed communities so as to more closely practice their religious beliefs and wait for the return of Christ. One group, called The Covenant, The Sword & The Arm of the Lord (CSA), aligned itself in the mid 1980s with the Order, a far-right under­ground gang. That explosive combination led to a tense showdown between 300 lawmen and some 75 heavily armed reli­gious zealots prepared to do God’s will in a shootout. The shooting was averted by last-minute negotiations.

In today’s revolutionary terrain the secluded enclaves remain, although they are of less importance now than in the last decade. Large gang-type formations like the Order have given way to a complex network of leaderless resistance cells, each made up of anywhere from six to eight in­dividuals. The cells strike at various targets, every one selected for the purpose of ad­vancing their revolution: bombing an abortion clinic, robbing a bank or ar­mored car, murdering an interracial cou­ple or someone thought to be Jewish, blacking out a big city by blowing up pow­er lines and thereby sparking a race riot (disrupting Tulsa in this manner has been much discussed at far-right gatherings), or blowing up federal buildings.

Indeed, the actual plan to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City was first hatched within the CSA during the early ’80s. The attack was aborted when the rocket that was to be used blew up in the hands of the man who was build­ing it. By adopting the leaderless resistance cell strategy, the far right made large actions like Oklahoma City possible.

These violent acts are carried out with both the aim of screwing up an oppressive govern­ment (for example, by dumping cyanide into a community’s water supply — another plan that was hatched with the help of the CSA. This time with Robert Miles, the grand dragon of the Michigan Ku Klux Klan), or the need to raise money (by, say, robbing a bank or selling dope). The money is then used to purchase land to create a white bastion, buy equipment such as radios or trucks and vans (which are sometimes stolen as well), and amass weapons and ammu­nition (which are also often ripped off through home invasions of gun dealers).

Far-right gunmen have pulled off the greatest chain of bank robberies since Jesse James­ — one a month starting in 1994, with 19 in eight states by 1996. But the bomb is their m.o. Oklahoma City was the biggest, but it was just the first of a rash of such actions: in the south, three members of the Georgia Republic Militia were convicted of stockpiling bombs. Militia members from West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania stand accused of planning to blow up the FBI’s national fingerprint center in Clarksburg. And in Vacaville, California, a federal mine inspector and his wife were critically injured in a far-right car bombing; before the car blew up, a caller had warned, “Timothy McVeigh lives on.” Other bombing attacks in­clude last-year’s Oklahoma-based conspiracy to blow up Anti-Defamation League offices in Houston, and the recent siege on abortion clin­ics and gay bars in the south.

In all, 25 states have recently experienced violent incidents linked to the far right. Amazingly the feds still see these violent acts as indi­vidual crimes.

The Oklahoma City bombing, how­ever, was clearly not a random act or terror. It was quite simply, a major operation in a growing revolution  — one that had been discussed for over a decade. And its timing suggests several intended messages: as possible retribution for the execution on April 19, 1995, of Richard Wayne Snell, a leader of the CSA who was sentenced to die for murdering an Arkansas state trooper and a pawn broker he mistakenly thought was Jewish. It may have been retaliation for the 1992 Idaho shootout be­tween the feds and Randv Weaver. And most likely, the Oklahoma City bombing could have been a response to the government’s siege at Waco.

Timothy McVeigh had been in and out of the far-right scene since he left the army in 1992, and was reportedly highly agitated by Waco. One of the main ques­tions to be answered at McVeigh’s trial, then, is to what extent did he fit into this revolutionary landscape — just how did his “cell” operate in relationship to the others now functioning across the Amer­ican hinterland?

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The Kehoe saga begins in western Arkansas with the disappearance in January 1996 of William Mueller, 53, a gun dealer; his wife Nancy, 28; and her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell, age 8. They were last seen on their way to a gun show in the town of Springdale. Several weeks after the Muellers disappeared, a witness reported seeing them in a car along with several other men, fueling speculation that they had been abducted. In February, one of Mueller’s guns turned up at a pawn shop in Seattle, and it was traced to Kirby Kehoe and his son Chevie, who had sold it at a Washington gun show. The investigation dragged, and then on June 29, the badly decomposed bodies of the Mueller family surfaced in the Illinois Bayou, just north of Rus­sellville, Arkansas. Their heads were cov­ered with plastic bags and wrapped with duct tape, and the adults’ hands were cuffed.

By last summer the search for the Kehoes had widened into an interstate task force of law-enforcement officers. The witness who saw the car carrying the Muellers had identified the other occupants as Tim­othy Thomas Coombs (a white suprema­cist wanted for shooting a Missouri state trooper), and Kirby Kehoe’s two sons, Chevie and Cheyne. The cops started to close in. The Kehoes lived in a remote part of the Kaniksu National Forest in the mountains along the Washington-Idaho border — a place where most of the houses are without electricity, telephones, or even addresses. But somehow they were tipped off and witnesses reported seeing the Ke­hoes in a truck loaded with belongings, hightailing it out of the forest. The family headed for Montana where they lived until the Ohio shootout.

In December, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, police found another Mueller gun in a truck registered to the wife of Chevie Kehoe. The firearm and vehicle were in the possession of Sean Michael Haines, a 19-year-old Washington man with ties to white supremacist groups. He claimed he obtained the stolen rifle in a swap with Chevie. Haines later said he met Chevie at an Aryan Nations compound in northern Idaho, and that the two attended gun shows together. Kehoe married his first wife in a ceremony at that compound. Haines de­scribed him as less of a supremacist than a “white separatist” as well as a “constitutional­ist” and a survivalist. In their search of Haines’s truck, police found another stolen gun (traced back to Washington state), blood stains, flexible handcuffs, and duct tape.

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Eastern Washington, where the Kehoes far-right movement that has long sought to establish a “white bastion” in the mountains stretching into northern Idaho and western Montana. Its headquarters is the Aryan Na­tions compound at Hayden Lake, a suburb of the resort and retirement community Coeur d’Alene in western Idaho. But its followers are sprawled out into the Idaho panhandle around Sandpoint, where Louis Beam, the de facto leader of the movement, has bought land. Sandpoint is also the home base of America’s Promise, a Christian Identity ministry.

Three members of America’s Promise have been tied to a string of bombings and a bank robbery in Spokane last year, three men — Charles Barbee, 44; Robert S. Berry, 42; and Verne Jay Merrell, 51 — have been charged with the April 1 bombings of the Spokane Spokesman ­Review‘s Valley office and a nearby U.S. Bank branch office. They are also charged with rob­bing the same bank and bombing a Planned Parenthood clinic on July 12, just two weeks be­fore the Olympic Park bombings. The robbers left behind notes signed Phineas Priesthood, a symbol of the far-right racialist underground. Phineas is a Bible figure who is a mythic hero on the right because he supposedly slew an inter­racial couple having sex.

The suspects were arrested October 8 in Yakima after a botched attempt to rob yet another bank. The men told a federal judge in Jan­uary that they are “ambassadors for the kingdom of Yahweh,” and hence beyond authority of the government. If convicted they face life without parole. A fourth suspect, Brian Ratigan, 38, was arrested last weekend in Spokane. He is charged with conspiring to bomb buildings and rob banks in the area last year.

The government believes Merrell is the leader of the gang. The son of an upper-middle­-class Philadelphia family, he went into the Navy following high school. After serving in the Atlantic fleet for 12 years, Merrell got jobs — and security clearances — in domestic nu­clear power plants. Along with Louis Beam, he writes for Jubilee, the Christian Identity news­paper, whose owner, Paul Hall, also lives in Sandpoint.

In late January, the Spokesman-Review re­vealed that the same witness who originally led the FBI to the accused America’s Promise bombers claimed he sold them a military back­pack and talked to them about a time-delayed detonator. The Olympic Park bomb — which killed a woman and injured 111 people — came in a military backpack and was set off by a time-­delayed detonator. A witness places at least one of the Spokane suspects, Robert Berry, in Atlanta during the Olympics. And telephone records show calls to Charles Barbee’s home were made from Atlanta at about the time of the July 27 attack. Barbee had worked at AT&T in Georgia, Florida, and Idaho before quitting his job. “Half the people I worked with were women,” Barbee complained. “They were working instead of being helpmates to their hus­bands, as God requires.”

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If Hayden Lake and the western slope of the Rockies are at one end of the outlaw trail, the Ozarks and the Elohim City compound at the other. Elohim City is another stronghold of Christian Identity and a common rest stop for members of the far right’s western  faction when they travel east. The Kehoes, for example, stopped off at this safe haven, where some resi­dents practice polygamy. Elohim City is the headquarters for another spoke of the move­ment, the Aryan Republican Army bank robbers, a gang of four men who had robbed one bank each month, beginning in 1994, before getting caught by the feds early last year.

Led by Richard Guthrie Jr., who was found hanged in jail last summer at the age of 38, and Pete Lan­gan, 38, a former in­formant for the U.S. Secret Service, the ARA was partly masterminded by Mark Thomas, 46, the Aryan Nations leader of northeastern Pennsylvania.Thomas put Guthrie and Langan together with young skinheads who squatted at his farm outside Allentown. According to the federal indictment, Thomas took some of the $250,000 stolen between 1994 and ’96, and used it to aid other white-power groups. Thomas has reportedly agreed to a plea bargain, while Lan­gan has been convicted of one robbery and has yet to be sentenced.

These are the type of people and this is the world that surrounded Timothy McVeigh, He is known to have made the gun-show rounds while selling copies of The Turner Diaries and staying overnight with gun collectors. His phone records show that he made one call to Elohim City shortly before the Oklahoma City bomb detonated, and be also received a traffic ticket not far from that far-right compound in an earlier incident.

Additionally, his defense team claims, he joined an Arkansas branch of the Ku Klux Klan, and his phone records reveal several different calls to a representative of the National Alliance in Arizona. William Pierce, who heads the Na­tional Alliance, is the author of The Turner Diaries. The McCurtain Daily Gazette, a local paper in Idabel, Oklahoma, has reported that an undercover informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, says McVeigh was a figure on the Aryan scene in Elohim City and knew the ARA bank robbers. A stripper in Oklahoma also claims to have seen McVeigh along with one of the accused ARA robbers. Although tantalizing, these stories remain largely unconfirmed. It is always possible, however, that the defense will try to insinuate them, one way or another, into the trial.

If anything, the struggle between the Aryan resistance movement and the government has intensified since the Oklahoma City bombing, with one cell after another coming to the surface. With the feds refusing to recognize their existence, the attacks by these pockets will only increase in size and strength. ❖

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

The White Noise Supremacists

The White Noise Supremacists
April 30, 1979

The other day I was talking on the phone with a friend who hangs out on the CBGB scene a lot. She was regaling me with examples of the delights available to females in the New York subway system. “So the train came to a sudden halt and I fell on my ass in the middle of the car, and not only did nobody offer to help me up but all these boons just sat there laughing at me.”

“Boons?” I said. “What’s boons?”

“You know,” she said. “Black guys.”

“Why do you call them that?”

“I dunno. From ‘baboons,’ I guess.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Look, I know it’s not cool,” she finally said. “But neither is being a woman in this city. Every fucking place you go you get these cats hassling you, and sometimes they try to pimp you. And a lot of the times when they hassle you they’re black, and when they try to pimp me they’re always black. Eventually you can’t help it, you just end up reacting.”

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Sometimes I think nothing is simple but the feeling of pain.

When I was first asked to write this article, I said sure, because the racism (not to mention the sexism, which is even more pervasive and a whole other piece) on the American New Wave scene had been something that I’d been bothered by for a long time. When I told the guys in my own band that I was doing this, they just laughed. “Well, I guess the money’s good,” said one. “What makes you think the racism in punk has anything special about it that separates it from the rest of the society?” asked another.

“Because the rest of society doesn’t go around acting like racism is real hip and cool,” I answered heatedly.

“Oh yeah,” he sneered. “Just walk into a factory sometime. Or jail.”

All right. Power is what we’re talking about, or the feeling that you don’t have any, or how much ostensible power you can rip outta some other poor sucker’s hide. It works the same everywhere, of course, but one of the things that makes the punk stance unique is how it seems to assume substance or at least style by the abdication of power: Look at me! I’m a cretinous little wretch! And proud of it! So many of the people around the CBGB and Max’s scene have always seemed emotionally if not outright physically crippled — you see speech impediments, hunchbacks, limps, but most of all an overwhelming spiritual flatness. You take parental indifference, a crappy educational system, lots of drugs, media overload, a society with no values left except the hysterical emphasis on physical perfection, and you end up with these little nubbins: the only rebellion around, as Life magazine once labeled the Beats. Richard Hell gave us the catchphrase “Blank Generation,” although he insists that he didn’t mean a crowd with all the dynamism of a static-furry TV screen but rather a bunch of people finally freed by the collapse of all values to reinvent themselves, to make art statements of their whole lives. Unfortunately, such a great utopian dream, which certainly is not on its first go-round here, remains just that, because most people would rather follow. What you’re left with, aside from the argument that it beats singles bars, is compassion. When the Ramones bring that sign onstage that says “GABBA GABBA HEY,” what it really stands for is “We accept you.” Once you get past the armor of dog collars, black leather, and S&M affectations, you’ve got some of the gentlest or at least most harmless people in the world: Sid Vicious legends aside, almost all their violence is self-directed.

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So if they’re all such a bunch of little white lambs, why do some of them have it in for little black lambs? Richard Pinkston, a black friend I’ve known since my Detroit days, tells me, “When I go to CBGB’s I feel like I’m in East Berlin. It’s like, I don’t mind liberal guilt if it gets me in the restaurant, even if I know the guy still hates me in his mind. But it’s like down there they’re striving to be offensive however they can, so it’s more vocal and they’re freer. It’s semi-mob thinking.”

Richard Hell and the Voidoids are one of the few integrated bands on the scene (“integrated” — what a stupid word). I heard that when he first formed the band, Richard got flack from certain quarters about Ivan Julian, a black rhythm guitarist from Washington, D.C., who once played with the Foundations of “Build Me Up Buttercup” fame. I think it says something about what sort of person Richard is that he told all those people to get fucked then and doesn’t much want to talk about it now. “I don’t remember anything special. I just think that most people that say stuff like what you’re talking about are so far beneath contempt that it has no effect that’s really powerful. Among musicians there’s more professional jealousy than any kind of racial thing; there’s so much backbiting in any scene, it’s like girls talking about shoes. All musicians are such scum anyway that it couldn’t possibly make any difference because you expect ’em to say the worst shit in the world about you.”

I called up Ivan, who was the guy having trouble at the pinhead lunch counter in the first place. “Well, I was first drawn to this scene by the simple fact of a lot of people with musical and social attitudes more or less in common. No one’s ever said anything to my face, but I overheard shit. A lot of people are just ignorant assholes. I don’t think there’s any more racism at CBGB’s, where I went every night for about the first year I lived here, than anywhere else in New York City. Maybe a little bit less, because I find New York City a million times more racist than D.C., or Maryland and Virginia where I grew up. There’s racism there, outright killings around where I lived, but here it’s a lot more insidious. You get four or five different extremes, so many cultures that can’t stand each other. It’s like, when we toured Europe I was amazed at the bigotry between people from two parts of the same country. They’d accept me, but to each other they were niggers, man. And at CBGB’s it’s sorta the same way, sometimes. Mutants can learn to hate each other and have prejudices too. Like Mingus said in Beneath the Underdog: 40 or 50 years ago, in the ghetto, the lighter you were the better you were. Then you’d turn another corner and if you were somewhat light, like Mingus, there’d be a buncha guys saying ‘Shit-colored mutha’ ready to trash your ass. My point is, regardless of how much people might have in common they still draw away. There are certain people on the scene, like say this girl in one band who’s nothing but a loudmouthed racist bitch — it’s obvious we want nothing to do with each other, so I stay away from her and vice versa.

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“I’ll tell you one thing: the entrepreneurs, record company people and shit are a hell of a lot worse. People like Richard Gottehrer, who produced our album, and Seymour Stein and a lot of the other people up at Sire Records. They were totally condescending, they’d talk to you differently, like you were a child or something. I heard a lot of clichés on the level of being invited over to somebody’s house for fried chicken.”

I was reminded instantly of the day I was in the office of a white woman of some intelligence, education, and influence in the music business, and the subject of race came up. “Oh,” she said, “I liked them so much better when they were just Negroes. When they became blacks.…” She wrinkled her nose irritably.

“Race hate?” says Voidoids lead guitarist Bob Quine. “Sure, it gives me ’n’ Ivan something to do onstage: The Defiant Ones.”

But the ease and insight of the Voidoids are somewhat anomalous on the New York scene. This scene and the punk stance in general are riddled with self-hate, which is always reflexive, and anytime you conclude that life stinks and the human race mostly amounts to a pile of shit, you’ve got the perfect breeding ground for fascism. A lot of outsiders, in fact, think punk is fascist, but that’s only because they can’t see beyond certain buzzwords, symbols, and pieces of regalia that (I think) really aren’t that significant: Ron Asheton of the Stooges used to wear swastikas, Iron Crosses, and jackboots onstage, but I don’t remember any right-wing rants ever popping up in the music he did with Iggy or his own later band, which many people were not exactly thrilled to hear was called the New Order.

In the past three years Ron’s sartorial legacy has given us an international subculture whose members might easily be mistaken at first glance for little brownshirts. They aren’t, for the most part. Only someone as dumb as the Ramones are always accused of being could be offended when they sing “I’m a Nazi schatze,” or tell us that the first rule is to obey the laws of Germany and then follow it with “Eat kosher salami.” I’ve hung out with the Ramones, and they treat everybody of any race or sex the same — who they hate isn’t Jews or blacks or gays or anybody but certain spike-conk assholes who just last week graduated from The Rocky Horror Picture Show lines to skag-dabblings and now stumble around Max’s busting their nuts trying to be decadent.

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Whereas you don’t have to try at all to be a racist. It’s a little coiled clot of venom lurking there in all of us, white and black, goy and Jew, ready to strike out when we feel embattled, belittled, brutalized. Which is why it has to be monitored, made taboo and restrained, by society and the individual. But there’s a difference between hate and a little of the old epater gob at authority: swastikas in punk are basically another way for kids to get a rise out of their parents and maybe the press, both of whom deserve the irritation. To the extent that most of these spikedomes ever had a clue on what that stuff originally meant, it only went so far as their intent to shock. “It’s like a stance,” as Ivan says. “A real immature way of being dangerous.”

Maybe. Except that after a while this casual, even ironic embrace of the totems of bigotry crosses over into the real poison. Around 1970 there was a carbuncle named Wayne McGuire who kept contributing installments of something he called “An Aquarian Journal” to Fusion magazine, wherein he suggested between burblings of regurgitated Nietzsche and bad Celine ellipses that the Velvet Underground represented some kind of mystical milestone in the destiny of the Aryan race, and even tried to link their music with the ideas of Mel Lyman, who was one of the prototypes for the current crop of mind-napping cult-daddies.

On a less systematic level, we had little outcroppings like Iggy hollering, “Our next selection tonight for all you Hebrew ladies in the audience is entitled ‘Rich Bitch’!” on the 1974 recorded-live bootleg Metallic K.O., and my old home turf Creem magazine, where around the same time I was actually rather proud of myself for writing things like (in an article on David Bowie’s “soul” phase): “Now, as we all know, white hippies and beatniks before them would never have existed had there not been a whole generational subculture with a gnawing yearning to be nothing less than the downest baddest niggers… Everybody has been walking around for the last year or so acting like faggots ruled the world, when in actuality it’s the niggers who control and direct everything just as it always has been and properly should be.”

I figured all this was in the Lenny Bruce spirit of let’s-defuse-them-epithets-by-slinging-’em-out — in Detroit I thought absolutely nothing of going to parties with people like David Ruffin and Bobby Womack where I’d get drunk, maul the women, and improvise blues songs along the lines of “Sho’ wish ah wuz a nigger/Then mah dick’d be bigger,” and of course they all laughed. It took years before I realized what an asshole I’d been, not to mention how lucky I was to get out of there with my white hide intact.

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I’m sure a lot of those guys were very happy to see this white kid drunk on his ass making a complete fool if not a human TV set out of himself, but to this day I wonder how many of them hated my guts right then. Because Lenny Bruce was wrong — maybe in a better world than this such parlor games would amount to cleansing jet off-takes, and between friends, where a certain bond of mutual trust has been firmly established, good natured racial tradeoffs can be part of the vocabulary of understood affections. But beyond that trouble begins — when you fail to realize that no matter how harmless your intentions are, there is no reason to think that any shit that comes out of your mouth is going to be understood or happily received. Took me a long time to find it out, but those words are lethal, man, and you shouldn’t just go slinging them around for effect. This seems almost too simple and obvious to say, but maybe it’s good to have something simple and obvious stated once in a while, especially in this citadel of journalistic overthink. If you’re black or Jewish or Latin or gay those little vernacular epithets are bullets that riddle your guts and then fester and burn there, like torture-flak hailing on you wherever you go. Ivan Julian told me that whenever he hears the word “nigger,” no matter who says it, black or white, he wants to kill. Once when I was drunk I told Hell that the only reason hippies ever existed in the first place was because of niggers, and when I mentioned it to Ivan while doing this article I said, “You probably don’t even remember—” “Oh yeah, I remember,” he cut me off. And that was two years ago, one ostensibly harmless little slip. You take a lifetime of that, and you’ve got grounds for trying in any way possible, even if it’s only by convincing one individual at a time, to remove those words from the face of the earth. Just like Hitler and Idi Amin and all other enemies of the human race.

Another reason for getting rid of all those little verbal barbs is that no matter how you intend them, you can’t say them without risking misinterpretation by some other bigoted asshole; your irony just might be his cup of hate. Things like the Creem articles and partydown exhibitionism represented a reaction against the hippie counterculture and what a lot of us regarded as its pious pussyfooting around questions of racial and sexual identity, questions we were quite prepared to drive over with bulldozers. We believed nothing could be worse, more pretentious and hypocritical, than the hippies and the liberal masochism in whose sidecar they toked along, so we embraced an indiscriminate, half-joking and half-hostile mindlessness which seemed to represent, as Mark Jacobson pointed out in his Voice piece on Legs McNeil, a new kind of cool. “I don’t discriminate,” I used to laugh, “I’m prejudiced against everybody!” I thought it made for a nicely charismatic mix of Lenny Bruce free-spleen and W.C. Fields misanthropy, conveniently ignoring Lenny’s delirious, nigh-psychopathic inability to resolve the contradictions between his idealism and his infantile, scatological exhibitionism, as well as the fact that W.C. Fields’s racism was as real and vile as — or more real and vile than — anybody else’s. But when I got to New York in 1976 I discovered that some kind of bridge had been crossed by a lot of the people I thought were my peers in this emergent Cretins’ Lib generation.

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This was stuff even I had to recognize as utterly repellent. I first noticed it the first time I threw a party. The staff of Punk magazine came, as well as members of several of the hottest CBGB’s bands, and when I did what we always used to do at parties in Detroit — put on soul records so everybody could dance — I began to hear this: “What’re you playing all that nigger disco shit for, Lester?”

“That’s not nigger disco shit,” I snarled, “that’s Otis Redding, you assholes!” But they didn’t want to hear about it, and now I wonder if in any way I hadn’t dug my own grave, or at least helped contribute to their ugliness and the new schism between us. The music editor of this paper has theorized that one of the most important things about New Wave is how much of it is almost purely white music, and what a massive departure that represents from the almost universally blues-derived rock of the past. I don’t necessarily agree with that — it ignores the reggae influence running through music as diverse as that of the Clash, Pere Ubu, Public Image Ltd., and the Police, not to mention the Chuck Berry licks at the core of Steve Jones’s attack. But there is at least a grain of truth there — the Contortions’ James Brown/Albert Ayler spasms aside, most of the SoHo bands are as white as John Cage, and there’s an evolution of sound, rhythm, and stance running from the Velvets through the Stooges to the Ramones and their children that takes us farther and farther from the black-stud postures of Mick Jagger that Lou Reed and Iggy partake in but that Joey Ramone certainly doesn’t. I respect Joey for that, for having the courage to be himself, especially at the sacrifice of a whole passel of macho defenses. Joey is a white American kid from Forest Hills, and as such his cultural inputs have been white, from The Jetsons through Alice Cooper. But none of this cancels out the fact that most of the greatest, deepest music America has produced has been, when not entirely black, the product of miscegenation. “You can’t appreciate rock ’n’ roll without appreciating where it comes from,” as Pinkston put it.

Musical questions, however, can be passed off as matters of taste. Something harder to pass off entered the air in 1977, when I started encountering little zaps like this: I opened up a copy of a Florida punk fanzine called New Order and read an article by Miriam Linna of the Cramps, Nervus Rex, and now Zantees: “I love the Ramones [because] this is the celebration of everything American — everything teenaged and wonderful and white and urban…” You could say the “white” jumping out of that sentence was just like Ornette Coleman declaring This Is Our Music, except that the same issue featured a full-page shot of Miriam and one of her little friends posing proudly with their leathers and shades and a pistol in front of the headquarters of the United White People’s Party, under a sign bearing three flags: “GOD” (cross), “COUNTRY” (stars and stripes), “RACE” (swastika).

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Sorry, Miriam, I can go just so far with affectations of kneejerk cretinism before I puke. I remember the guy in the American Nazi Party being asked, “What about the six million?” in PBS’s California Reich, and answering “Well, the way I heard it it was only really four-and-a-half million, but I wish it was six,” and I imagine you’d find that pretty hilarious too. I probably would have at one time. If that makes me a wimp now, good, that means you and anybody else who wants to get their random vicarious kicks off White Power can stay the fuck away from me.

More recently, I’ve heard occasional stories like the one about one of the members of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks yelling “Hey, you bunch of fucking niggers” at a crowd of black kids in front of Hurrah one night and I am not sorry to report getting the shit kicked out of him for it. When I told this to Richard Hell, he dismissed it: “He thinks he’s being part of something by doing that — joining a club that’ll welcome him with open arms, trying to get accepted. It’s not real. Maybe I’m naive, but I think that’s what all racism is — not really directed at the target but designed to impress some other moron.”

He may be right — Frank Collins looks a lot like that to me — but so what? James Chance of the Contortions used to come up to Bob Quine pleading for Bob to play him his Charlie Parker records. Now, in a New York Rocker interview, James dismisses the magical qualities of black music as “just a bunch of nigger bullshit.” Why? Because James wants to be famous, and ripping off Albert Ayler isn’t enough. My, isn’t he outrageous? (“He’s got the shtick down,” said Danny Fields, stifling a yawn, when they put James on the cover of Soho Weekly News.) And congrats to Andy Shernoff of the Dictators, who did so well they’re now called the Rhythm Dukes, for winning the Punk magazine Drunk as a Skunk contest by describing “Camp Runamuck” as “where Puerto Ricans are kept until they learn to be human.”

Mind you, I like a cheap laugh at somebody else’s expense as well as the next person. So I got mine off Nico, who did “Deutschland Uber Alles” at CBGB’s last month and was just naive enough to explain to Mary Harron, in a recent interview in New Wave Rock, why she was dropped by Island Records: “I made a mistake. I said in Melody Maker to some interviewer that I didn’t like negroes. That’s all. They took it so personally… although it’s a whole different race. I mean, Bob Marley doesn’t resemble a negro, does he?… He’s an archetype of Jamaican… but with the features like white people. I don’t like the features. They’re so much like animals… it’s cannibals, no?”

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Haw haw haw, doncha just love them dumb kraut cunts? And speaking of dumbness and krauts, my old pal Legs McNeil has this band called Shrapnel, who are busy refighting World War II onstage in dogtags, army surplus clothes, and helmets that fall over their eyes like cowlicks, while they sing songs with titles like “Combat Love.” Personally I think it’s not offensive (well, about as offensive as Hogan’s Heroes) that they’re too young to remember Vietnam — it’s funny. The whole show is a cartoon (it’s no accident that they open their set with the Underdog theme) and a damn good one. Musically they’re up there too — tight dragstrip guitar wranglings that could put them on a par with the MC5 someday, combined with a stage act that could make them as popular as Kiss. The only problem, which has left me with such mixed feelings I hardly know what to say to them, is that the lyrics of some of the songs are nothing but racist swill. The other night I sat in the front row at CBGB’s and watched them deliver one of the hottest sets I’ve seen from any band this year while a kid in the seat right next to me kept yelling out requests for “ ‘Hey Little Gook!’ ‘Hey Little Gook!’ ” the whole time. Christgau, who considers them “proto-fascist” and hates them, told me they also had lyrics on the order of “Send all the spics back to Cuba.” I mentioned this to Legs and he seemed genuinely upset: “No,” he swore, “it’s ‘Send all the spies back to Cuba.’ ”

“Okay,” I said (Christgau still doesn’t believe him), “what about ‘Hey Little Gook?’ ”

“Aw c’mon,” he said, “that’s just like in a World War II movie where they say ‘kraut’ and ‘slants’ and stuff like that!”

I told him I thought there was a difference between using words in dramatic context and just to draw a cheap laugh in a song. But the truth is that by now I was becoming more confused than ever. All I knew was that when you added all this sort of stuff up you realized a line had been crossed by certain people we thought we knew, even believed in, while we weren’t looking. Either that or they were always across that line and we never bothered to look until we tripped over it. And sometimes you even find that you yourself have drifted across that line. I was in Bleecker Bob’s the other night, drunk and stoned, when a black couple walked in. They asked for some disco record, Bob didn’t have it of course, a few minutes went by, and reverting in the haze to my Detroit days I said something about such and such band or music having to do with “niggers.” A couple more minutes went by. Then Bob said, “You know what, Lester? When you said that, those two people were standing right behind you.”

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I looked around and they were out on the sidewalk, looking at the display in his front window. Stricken, I rushed out and began to burble: “Listen… somebody just told me what I said in there… and I know it doesn’t mean anything to you, I’m not asking for some kind of absolution, but I just want you to know that… I have some idea… how utterly, utterly awful it was…”

I stared at them helplessly. The guy just smiled, dripping contempt, “Oh, that’s okay, man… it’s just your head…” I’ve run up against a million assholes like you before, and I’ll meet a million after you — so fucking what?

I stumbled back into the store, feeling like total garbage, like the complete hypocrite, like I had suddenly glimpsed myself as everything I claimed to despise. Bob said, “Look, Lester, don’t worry about it, forget it, it happens to everybody,” and, the final irony, sold me a reggae album I wondered how I was going to listen to.

If there’s nothing more poisonous than bigotry, there’s nothing more pathetic than liberal guilt. I feel like an asshole even retelling the story here, as if I expected some sort of expiation for what cannot be undone, or as if such a tale would be news to anybody. In a way Bob was right: I put a dollop more pain in the world, and that was that. There is certainly something almost emetically self-serving about the unreeling of such confessions in the pages of papers like The Voice — it’s the sort of thing that contributed to the punk reaction in the first place. But it illustrates one primal fact: how easily and suddenly you may find yourself imprisoned and suffocated by the very liberation from cant, dogma, and hypocrisy you thought you’d achieved. That sometimes — usually? — you’ll find that you don’t know where to draw the line until you’re miles across it in a field of land mines. Like wanting the celebration of violent disorder that was the Sex Pistols, ending up with Sid and Nancy instead, yet realizing the next day that you still want to hear Sid sing “Somethin’ Else” and see The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle, and not just because you want to understand this whole episode better but to get your kicks. These are contradictions that refuse to be resolved, which maybe is what most of life eventually amounts to.

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But that’s begging the question again. Most people, I guess, don’t even think about drawing the lines: they just seem to go through life reacting at random, like the cabdriver who told me that the report we were listening to on the radio about Three Mile Island was just a bunch of bullshit dreamed up by the press to sell papers or keep us tuned in. And maybe if you go on like that (assuming, of course, that we all don’t melt), nothing will blow up in your face. But you may end up imploding instead. A lot of people around CBGB’s are already mad at me about this article, and the arguments seem mostly to run along the lines of why don’t you can it because there’s not really that much racism down here and all you’re gonna do is create more problems for our scene just when this Sid Vicious thing had blown over. I mentioned Pinkston’s experience and was told he was paranoid. Like the people at Harrisburg who didn’t wanna leave their jobs and actually believed it would be safe to stick around after the pregnant women and children were evacuated, these kids are not gonna believe this stuff exists until it happens to them. Hell, a lot of them are Jewish and still don’t believe it even though they know about the neighborhoods their parents can’t get into.

When I started writing this, I was worried I might trigger incidents of punk-bashing by black gangs. Now I realize that nobody cares. Most white people think the whole subject of racism is boring, and anybody looking for somebody to stomp is gonna find them irrespective of magazine articles. Because nothing could make the rage of the underclass greater than it is already, and nothing short of a hydrogen bomb on their own heads or a sudden brutal bigoted slap in the face will make almost anybody think about anybody else’s problems but their own. And that’s where you cross over the line. At least when you allow the poison in you to erupt, that can be dealt with; maybe the greater evil occurs when you refuse to recognize that the poison even exists. In other words, when you assent by passivity or indifference. Hell, most people live on the other side of that line.

There is something called Rock Against Racism (and now Rock Against Sexism) in England, an attempt at simple decency by a lot of people whom one would think too young and naive to begin to appreciate the contradictions. Yippie bullshit aside, it could never happen in New York, which is deeply saddening, not because you want to think that rock ’n’ roll can save the world but because since rock ’n’ roll is bound to stay in your life you would hope to see it reach some point where it might not add to the cruelty and exploitation already in the world. In a place where people are as walled off from one another as we are in America now, all you can do is try to make some sort of simple, humble, and finally private beginning. You feel like things like this should not need to be said, articles like this should perhaps not even be written. You may think, as I do of the sexism in the Stranglers’ and Dead Boys’ lyrics, that the people and things I’ve talked about here are so stupid as to be beneath serious consideration. But would you say the same thing to the black disco artist who was refused admittance to Studio 54 even though he had a Top Ten crossover hit which they were probably playing inside the damn place at the time, the door-man/bouncer explaining to a white friend of the artist, “I’m not letting this guy in — he just looks like another street nigger to me”? Or would you rather argue the difference between Racist Chic and Racist Cool? If you would, just make sure you do it in the nearest factory. Or jail.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

What If They Gave a New Year and Nobody Came?

Lately every time you turn around somebody’s saying: “The eighties are coming!” Like at the stroke of midnite on New Year’s it’s all gonna be different! And when you tell ’em, “Come on, you know everything’s just gonna keep on slowly sinking,” they get downright mad! Spoilsports! No sense of social duty! It’s true that I am antisocial! But so is my whole crowd. When our fave bar the Bells of Hell closed down a few months back we all stayed in our apartments instead of seeking out a new watering hole. (Perhaps suggesting that, like the buffalo, we are soon to disappear.) I told my shrink this and he said: “You’re all pathetic.”

Another time when I complained I was getting weirded out around other people because I never saw ’em because all I did was lay in bed with the covers over my head because I truly believed as the mighty Ramones quoth that there was “nothin’ to do and nowhere to go” so I just wanted to be sedated, my shrink suggested I call up all my friends in all their separate little cells and see if we couldn’t figure out some way to repatriate ourselves in the human race and enjoy it. So I conducted this plebiscite, and when I came back he said: “So what’s the consensus?” I said, “The consensus is, ‘Whaddaya wanna be around people for? Most of ’em suck anyway!'”

I suppose you think I’m being negative. All right, if I’m negative you go tell Mother there’s something wrong with the womb! Ha, gotcha! Besides which, as the eighties loom I suspect that my antisocial minority will soon be a majority, and we’ll have an antisociety! Imagine that! Will Rogers the ultimate outlaw! And what better time to inaugurate this ghost town than New Year’s Eve! Ring out the old, ring in the old! And older and older. I ask you, have you ever had a New Year’s Eve you enjoyed? Of course not! Why? Because you’ve persisted in this insane delusion that somehow things are supposed to keep getting better, or that the cyclical nature of the ying-yang means that the earth is supposed to replenish itself or some such horseshit! Horseshit doesn’t even replenish itself. Do these sidewalks? This peeling paint, crumbling plaster, backed-up plumbing? A replenishable landlord? Fuck no!

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There are two directions in which extants can go: (a) stasis or (b) decay. And New Year’s Eve is the biggest bummer yet, because we all go out with these expectations and get totally soused just so we can stand to be around each other because we’ve spent the late fall and winter’s first blush sinking deeper into TV Guide, and now we’re expected to positively revel in proximity to these globs of hideous humanity. So OF COURSE horrible scenes ensue.

The first New Year’s I have a clear memory of was probably the first one I was old enough to get drunk for: I got stoned on nutmeg instead. All my friends did get drunk tho and exiting this teenclub full of depressed zit-lumpen reduced to flat colas we drove aimlessly around El Cajon, inevitably ending in the line at Jack in the Box where, as people vomited all over the inside of my car, I said “Welcome to 1967.” We shoulda known right away Hippie wouldn’t work.

1968: I went to a party where everybody drank too much vodka too fast and pawed each other or tried to while Donovan trilled of fat angels. Only saw one person vomit: my girlfriend, all over her brand-new white hiphuggers. (Earlier in the evening I had told her, re said fem-trousers: “You look like a Tijuana whore.” A downy lad I was and twee.) I was on Marezine and kept seeing little men with axes and hammers chopping naked gabbling pigmy demons to death in other people’s lapels. When I got home I hallucinated all kinds of people coming into my room and reached out to them screaming, “Don’t dissolve! Don’t dissolve!” But sure enough they did. Then I thought I saw a friend of mine silhouetted behind the windowshade whispering from the garden: “Lester! Lester!” I leaped out of bed and yanked up the shade, pathetically grateful for some human companionship. There was nothing there but the empty street with leaves blowing.

I went into the bathroom to take a piss and hallucinated that my mother was ogling my dick with one huge roc eyeball through a crack in the door. Then I went back to bed and dreamed that narcs in steelgrey suits were stationed at strategic points all over my school watching me through slowly swiveling Silva-Thin shades. For the first two months of 1968 I couldn’t look anybody in the eye.

1969: Me ‘n’ a buncha buddies went cruisin’ in some dude’s jalopy. We beered awhile to no avail. One pal who later joined the navy where he majored in underwater demolition (exhorting me to enlist by his bonded side: “It’s real fun blowin’ up stuff!”) said, “Let’s go out ‘n’ git us sum scrunt.” Nobody else said anything. Eventually we all went home too depressed even to feel drunk and fell asleep. The whole evening shoulda been written by (or inflicted on) Robbe-Grillet.

1970: New Year’s Eve I spent getting drunk on beer watching TV at my girlfriend’s parents’ house, periodically ducking out to drive by the motel bungalow of some needle-freak friends because I wanted to buy some heroin, which I had never tried. Finally they were home and sold me some. When I got back to my girlfriend’s house I ran in the bathroom and tried to snort it. Not yet hep to rolled-up bills, I dumped the stuff onto a mirror held at a precarious angle over the sink, balanced it an inch from my nose, and honked amighty. Nothing happened except later I drank some Country Club Malt Liquor, went home, and wrote a review for Rolling Stone (which never got printed) of a Bob Dylan bootleg. Next day I bragged to all my friends: “I wrote a record review on heroin last night!” Being too lame to ingest the shit was the only time I ever got lucky on a New Year’s Eve.

1971: I stayed home and read the Bible. No, that’s a lie. What I did was go to the drive-in with my girlfriend — all hopped up (me, that is) on vodka and her mother’s thyroid pills, totally unable to concentrate on the double feature of I Drink Your Blood (starring Ronda Fultz, Jadine Wong, and somebody merely billed “Bhaskar”) and I Eat Your Skin (William Joyce, Heather Hewitt) which would have been impossible under any circumstances anyway, thinking all night how next morning I was gonna do like Jack Kerouac and just jump in my car eating speed with one hand while flicking the starter with the other and drive drive drive till I plashed through Blakean breakers of light on the golden prows of the Rocky Mountain Shield. Of course I didn’t, woke up with a muzzy hangover instead, which is probably just as well: I coulda ended up being John Denver.

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1972: New Year’s I spent dead drunk and gutpit-depressed at my mother’s house in California. Called up my friend Nick in NYC and miserably groaned through several leagues of whiskey, “I think I’m becoming an alcoholic.” He didn’t wanna hear that because he was just about to spend New Year’s Day making his way down Broadway from 99th Street having one drink in every bar along the way until he ended at Broadway and Third, the very last bar, St. Adrian Co., also known as the Broadway Central Bar, being an adjunct of the Broadway Central Hotel, a flophouse. He called back the next day: “Sorry Les, I’m too depressed to talk.”

1973: Went to a party with my ex-puppylove­-girlfriend (she of the greened hiphuggers) and her sis and brother-in-law. Most everybody else there was a swinging single, or trying to be. I danced dirty with the hostess. It was right out of Doctors’ Wives. My ex-galf’d got mad at me for rubbing up agin said hussy and huffed a bit. I bet Gore Vidal never came out with anything as deft as, “Whattayou care? You won’t fuck me!” She cried. Later in the car in savage ugly liquored sexual frustration I dug one of my nails into her wrist until it bled. She told me I was a sissy. I was.

1974: Back in California again, staying at my old girlfriend’s deserted tho furnished apartment, as, unbeknownst to Mom, she’s off livin’ with some forty-five-year-old businessman who when he stands next to ya drink-in’ at the bar always keeps a fistful of dollars taut-gripped so he can shoot ’em out as he snoots it up. That kinda guy. So there I am enjoying her empty apartment, lying around listening to Raw Power and Berlin all the time, when I get this bright idea: I’ll take all these sleaze-rock LPs to this night’s singles/married/whatever-they-think­-they-are party, and blast ’em. Ey-pa-TAY, MUTHAFUCKA! So I scoop up all the discs ‘n’ off we go ‘n’ all nite long I keep slipping ’em on the record player bumming everybody out tho they was also kinda fascinated, like this room got kinda quiet at times, waxen even, p’raps understandable this being California suburbs everybody’s dressed to the fillings in all kinda chains and whatnot, taco tanktopping it with frappe de la Yardley on the side, big hoop earrings, all the guys got sideburns so sharp they smoke, when Lou wafts thru: “Caroline says … as she gets up off the floor … ‘Why is it that you beat me? … It isn’t any fun … ‘ ”

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Meanwhile all these folks is loungin’ around ’bout to broach a dolce vita thru the looking glass. Frozen moments, all of them bad. Icy lips and frigid sunglasses.

“It’s not me that’s frigid it’s my Foster Grants!”

“It’s not me that’s impotent it’s my English Leather!”

“Well let’s swap!”

“Wow! Okay!”

“Hey, this decadence stuff up my butt is fun!”

Sadly, it never happened that way. I can’t remember this New Year’s Eve and hadda make something up. But the stories you make up the next day are always better than what actually happened.

1975: Sensible for once. I dropped some speed and Valium, went to the office, which was deserted, and stayed up all night writing a story for the February issue of Creem. Devotion to duty? No. Retreat from Gehenna.

1976: I had been going out with this girl for a couple of months kinda scene-makin photog­-lolligagin around Detroit. She’d decided I was a fag since one nite in Oct/Nov thereabouts at a Barry White concert when we’z sittin behind Ohio Players, the world’s worst opening act, and she sez, re the bass player, “He’s got a nice ass” and I sat up a bit to look and she gave me a weird stare and that was that. So anyway me and this snope-lobe keep a-datin’, but no sex. I was clumsy and shy and she, well, I guess her cameras woulda got in the way. Anyhow here come New Year’s Eve, the biggun, and lord if fuckin Creem magazine don’t rent a whole suite in this postrundowntown hotel just to, ah, entertain all the important folk’t might just happen to tum up like, say, local disc jockeys or Martin Mull who’d done his shtick downstairs and did it upstairs too. For some dumb reason I kinda liked this girl. I dunno, well actually I do know: in front she looked like somebody I used to love named Judy, and in back she looked like somebody I did love but wouldn’t see me at the time named Nancy. So MEA CULPA MUHFUH, etc. Anyhoo, come to find out that the only reason she even went to dis bash wid me was that I jus’ happenda work at the same magazine as this guy name Charlie Auringer who ALL the broads thereabouts were hot for cause’n he jes set back so indifferent all the time, eyeball-to­-snowboot, that kinda thing. When I saw her blatantly USING me to get to Charlie I got pissed. And did what any other righteously upstandin Rasta woulda done: slunk downstairs ‘n’ drunk muhsef tuh nullhood. But I was not alone in this endeavor, and long about midnite her ‘n’ me miraculously ended up side by side, right there stageside table in the lounge downstairs, balloons enuff to snuff Steve Martin agozzlin thru the air, treacle paper everywhere, Flo and Eddie runnin’ around grabbin’ all the asses they could JUST EXACTLY like in that Fugs song “Dirty Old Man,” confetti falling, and me and Lee Anne (for that was her name) both of us in li’l tinsel tophats, socute, herecum midnite, whammo, out go the lites.

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I sling my drunken arm around her shoulders and go to kiss her. She turns away tautlipped.

“Hey! I take you out all the time! I like you! We do things together! Boy and Girl! And you won’t even kiss me on New Year’s Eve!!!!!!??!!!!! What is this shit?”

”You’ve got bad breath,” she said.

It could only get better. Having finally won the heart of the aforementioned Nancy, we moved to New York where we starved Barefoot in the Park and huddled together against this city watching Donny and Marie every single Friday nite. New Year’s Eve we watched Jimmy and Rosalynn instead. Their preinaugural ball. We teardropped together when Loretta Lynn sang “One’s on the Way.” We felt hope for society. We were young and idealistic and in love. We were walking sugar comas too stunned to find our way to a diabetic ward should all that glop we ate back up into our lymph ducts. Six months later she left me to listen to the Sex Pistols in peace.

I went through a couple of minor affairs after that whilst mostly staying drunk and practically taking up residence at CBGB’s where I played the role of Bukowskian bohemian/artiste in ze big sitcom. It got me some real great women — the kind that sit crosslegged on your floor after you’ve both been up all night on bad drugs and won’t fuck you but are perfectly amenable to describing in linoleum detail their various suicide attempts and highly complex postexistential Weltanschauung derived from Richard Hell and countless auditions of dear Sidney warbling “My Way,” a philosophical stance reducible to Life is not worth living and everything stinks but killing yourself is too much effort so what the fuck you got anything else to drink?

It sooner or later became apparent that any women who shared my tastes in music might be predicted miles ahead as burnt-out hunchbacked mutes, half-retarded drug repositories given to heavy facial tic action. It was not that I sought something out of Fascinating Womanhood. I can whip up a Stouffer’s Spinach Soufflé deft as Régine herself, but I did feel there might be some slight possibility that something existed somewhere in between these two outposts of you’re-right-gimme-the-gun-I-wanna-blow-my-­brains-out-first. In fact I was ripe as Li’l Abner in full flushblush, and fell in love Xmas ’77 with the first of what would turn out to be a succession of women who, like myself, were gainfully employed in various aspects of media and were not about to end up aborting a broken vodka bottle on the steps of CBGB’s. These were to be women of refinement and urbane cachet. Some of them took cabs everywhere they went! I also noticed a propensity toward the employment of what they laughingly referred to as “my faggot houseboy,” making little jokes about how handy his imagined infantile-fixated compulsions were when it came to scrubbing the bathroom. The first one I engaged even had a doorman, who thought I was a hoodlum and hated my guts because no thirty-year-old man walks around jobless in a black leather jacket alla time, and who knows but what he may have been right.

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As for my new love, hardly had we finished giggling fantasies about “honeymooning” in that heartshaped bathtub in the Poconos when that bastard Reality (who oughta be terminated with extreme prejudice) set in. It took exactly one week for it to become clear though thick with silence that we had absolutely nothing in common, were in fact the mindlessly magnetic attraction of plupolar opposites. I was still into nothing but platters of shrieking anomic noise while her favorite form of leisuretime wowzow was watching endless made-for-TV movies about occultists bending sinister in obscure New England hamlets. It was nobody’s fault and nothing we could do about it but spend the next months torturing each other. Our New Year’s Eve: We awoke to find ourselves sitting on her couch in the deepening silence watching Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians play “Auld Lang Syne” without even a nod to Jimi’s revolutionary interpolations. And then the big ball dropped on all those cheering idiots slow as a senile meteorite. It was the only time in my life I have ever observed this I am told quite popular ritual (though I am a definite Yule Log fan), and it certainly will be the last, inasmuch as it was one of the possibly four or five dreariest experiences I have known. We didn’t even have any drinks, though we had money. Guess we were so gone we forgot to drink, marijuana would needless to say have been much more deadly than usual. I felt like an E string adrift somewhere in the nether gulfs of the second Dire Straits album.

Next day I went to a dinner party with five of my oldest and dearest friends where absolutely nobody could think of a single word to say. Best line of the afternoon: “Does anybody know any good jokes?” (Delivered at dinner table, quantifying silence to brink of catatonia.)

1979: New Year’s things seemed to be looking up. I had plenty of money, got wired up on beer and bennies and showed up at a friend’s party at the exact instant I’d been informed the jumpin punkins’d be lifting off. Only trouble was nobody else was there yet but the host and his girlfriend/roommate and a cousin from Buffalo or somewhere and we all sat nursing tepid beers, our massed alpha-waves bouncing off Randy Mantooth’s forehead on “Emergency One!” An hour or so of such terror and the bennies itched me right outa my chair and down to the since-shut fave bar the Bells of Hell where I made a pretty good job of picking up this woman I’d never met before till the bartender Phil walked over and said to me, “Do you realize that for the last half hour every other thing you’ve said has had something to do with homosexuality? What’s your problem, Lester?” She much less I hadn’t seemed to notice if such were fact but I was just drunk enough for liberal guilt so I blurted out this real vitreous solution about how I’d had a deadly relationship the previous summer with another media maiden who was a self-declared faghag so gee whiz I didn’t mean to be prejudiced against anybody but maybe I really did harbor some previously unsussed resentment … Naturally this had a real salutary effect on the nascent whoknows mebbe truelove beside me. I took her number and split.

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Later I went to a party where I met a British socialist-type girl who gave me her number as well as wrote at the bottom of the scrap “I liked you.” Of course I called her and we saw each other for about three months, earnestly discussing the Clash vs. The Guardian over Japanese dinners. The full extent of our physicals was a peck g’nite on the cheek as she departed at her subway stop headed for Iceland or Brooklyn I forget which. I soon grew to hate her, and we parted in ash-curdling acrimony. But later on that same New Year’s Eve nite I really lucked out by going back to the Bells where this totally comatose thirty-year-old stranger who worked for UPI hung all over me to my manifest indifference and the embarrassment of everyone else at our table. I could have told her to go foist her slumbrous blandishments elsewhere, but I was too much of a wimp. Finally I got up to leave. I was just a ways past the door when I heard these steps following me down the sidewalk.

“Wait … ”

I waited, stood gallantly propping the creep up till I could hail her a cab. Meanwhile I lectured her in my best Bill Cosby voice. “Listen: you are truly foolish. You don’t know me. I could be David Berkowitz, the Boston Strangler, Richard Speck with a new set of contacts. You really oughta be more careful.” I swear, sometimes I wonder if I’m not Jewish, and a Jewish mother at that.

When I went to put her in the cab, she asked, “Aren’t you going to take me home?”

All right, that’s it, I said to myself like Richard Burton looking at his paycheck for The Medusa Touch, and got into the cab. All the ride to her Upper East Side Laura Mars swankpad she kept prattling about the black leather jacket I was wearing.

“Are you a member of a motorcycle club or something?” I laughed.

“Hell no — I’m a media hack, just like you!”

She didn’t get the joke. When we got out at her corner (where believe me I had no thought in ten purgatories of paying), she kept up this leather routine, persisted at this spume of dogs till finally in a rage I tore the jacket off and flung it at her.

Here, take the damn thing if that’s all you’re interested in!”

“NO, no … ”

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Up in her digs the footlights was boss. She had Grand Marnier night-capwise while I opted for the more proletarian Pinch-with-water. I commenced the usual routine and she pushed me away, blubbering incoherently about some guy she loved who’s stationed with Reuters in Bangkok She tried to call him. He wasn’t home. We hung out in her kitchen awhile and somehow, suddenly, from the way she was acting towards me and my clothes I got the creepy feeling for the first time in my life that just maybe this one wanted me to slap her around a little bit or maybe a lot or who knows what beyond that. This was some time after having been flashed back to the scene in City of Night where the customer throws the hustler out of his house in a rage because this supposed steerhunk truck driver committed the unpardonable gaffe of letting drop that he too had read D. H. Lawrence. I’d had the feeling that something was expected of me, but up till now hadn’t a clue what and doubted she did either. She kept baiting me verbally, weird little zingers from the twilight zone bouncing off the fact that I was about as butch as a college professor who has been sedentary for thirty years. This talk alternated with zonkout google slurs.

It got boring in spite of all freak appeal after a while so I went over and looked through her record collection. The only album she owned that I could remotely relate to was Surrealistic Pillow. I put it on. It sounded nice. We ended up on the couch again where she recommenced to drool aloud. I seem to remember at one point telling her that it really didn’t make any difference to me whether we had sex or not, especially considering the deadening effects of all the speed and booze inside me. Later I grabbed her head between my palms and forced her waxen eyes to look straight into mine sorta and I said in measured dramatic tones, “Do you know what I see when I look into your eyes? Stark, naked terror.” What an asshole I was. A bit later I snapped, “You got any drugs?” By now I was actually beginning to enjoy playing the role. She brought out this vial of pain pills left over from previous misadventure, asked me what use I could possibly have for them. I said that when I had a real bad combination hangover this stuff was the only thing that eased it. Then she decided maybe she’d better hold on to them after because this supposed steerhunk truck driver committed the unpardonable gaffe of letting drop that he too had read D. H. Lawrence. I’d had the feeling that something was expected of me, but up till now hadn’t a clue what and doubted she did either. She kept baiting me verbally, weird little zingers from the twilight zone bouncing off the fact that I was about as butch as a college professor who has been sedentary for thirty years. This talk alternated with zonkout google slurs.

It got boring in spite of all freak appeal after a while so I went over and looked through her record collection. The only album she owned that I could remotely relate to was Surrealistic Pillow. I put it on. It sounded nice. We ended up on the couch again where she recommenced to drool aloud. I seem to remember at one point telling her that it really didn’t make any difference to me whether we had sex or not, especially considering the deadening effects of all the speed and booze inside me. Later I grabbed her head between my palms and forced her waxen eyes to look straight into mine sorta and I said in measured dramatic tones, “Do you know what I see when I look into your eyes? Stark, naked terror.” What an asshole I was. A bit later I snapped, “You got any drugs?” By now I was actually beginning to enjoy playing the role. She brought out this vial of pain pills left over from previous misadventure, asked me what use I could possibly have for them. I said that when I had a real bad combination hangover this stuff was the only thing that eased it. Then she decided maybe she’d better hold on to them after all, giving me two and stuffing the vial down her purse, which was interesting. About five minutes after that she passed out curled sitting up in a foetal ball on the couch as the sun came up through the curtains. What the fuck, I said, I’ll give the bitch the B production she wants: I robbed her. I dug in the purse for the vial, actually found myself looking for a moment at her wallet, either couldn’t go that far or realized how silly this whole charade was, grabbed the fifth of Pinch on the way out the door, stomping down just a little meaner in my badass Frye boots. Still as tough and mature obviously as the ’73 night of the famous fingernail-dig. I wished I could call up Dotson Rader for a Merit Badge. Out in the street I hailed a cab; the driver was a middle-aged black guy. I said, “Jesus, man, I’m so glad to be around another human being at last! Can I tell you a story?”

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Sure, he says, so I belched up the mess, capping it with the declaration that when I got home I was gonna call her and tell her that she was a sicko weirdo Goodbar so-‘n’ -so and yeh baby I stole your pills ‘n’ booze but you stole a li’l bit o’ my soul.

When I finished my story, the driver, who had laughed uproariously throughout, turned and said: “Aw, hell, man, why go to all that fuckin’ trouble? Look, here’s whatcha do. Wait till bout two o’clock in the afternoon when you know she’s up, then phone her and real calm and polite say, ‘I just called to see if you were all right.’ Then after she answers tell her to go fuck herself an’ hang up!”

I realized immediately that he was right and I was still halfway up a horse on some backlot in Hollywood. I thanked him profusely. When I got home I drank her Pinch, took more speed, listened to the Clash through headphones feeling the righteous wrath of all us boots-in-the-alley working class minorities. Then I dialed her number. She wasn’t home. When I told a friend of mine about it a couple days later he just laughed and said: “So you let some barfly take you home, so what?” So I got to be Rough Trade for a Night, something I can tell my apple-eyed grandchildren about around the hearth, so fuck you, you’re just jealous because you never got mistaken for Sonny Barger. I did learn one valuable lesson, though, which convinced me that what all those hippies called karma actually does exist. That very next New Year’s Night, twenty­four hours later, somebody stole my black leather jacket out of the cloakroom at the Bells.

So here I sit, contemplating a coming New Year’s Eve which is gonna usher in a whole new decade doubtless brimming with little surprises beyond the usual roster of economic/spiritual depression, romantic wrong-ways unto entropy, comforting lapses into autism, etc. I guess I could ring up one of those wayout punk philosopher girls and ask her if she wants to drop by with a couple razor blades, dutch treat. Or enlist in the New Army and ask to be stationed in upper Greenland. Or even move back to Detroit and ask Lee Anne to marry me while I returned to work at Creem, in the mailroom. The possibilities are endless. Don’t guess this piece is gonna help my standing with the ladies much New Year’s or any other night. But that’s cool too; I could marry my mother. If she would have me. Go ahead and feel distaste for my antics with the lush, call me misogynous, misanthrope, Mr. Rogers. Just don’t call me late for my Zoom ‘n’ Locker Room! Every single one of you has acted every bit as oafishly base some New Year’s or other or several or all of them. And you’re gonna do it again this year. The occasion just seems to bring out the worst in us: hatred of ourselves, probably deriving from repression of the clear knowledge that we’re another year older and deeper in debt but ain’t accomplished hackshit and in fact are likely backpedaling; hatred of the rest of the human race because they’ve got our number in this department, especially including women if you’re a man or vice-versa, ’cause that’s just like neighborhood gang war, “beating up the kids from Spain” every weekend like the Dictators said. Whoever’s on the other side of the wall gives you something to do in the form of mashing their skulls, don’t really matter a damn which special-interested group they belong to, all interchangeable when you get right down to it. There’s a lot of free-floating rage in the air these days and New Year’s Eve is just one better excuse to vent it. ‘Course that means you’re gonna wind up rendered a crawling slavering subhuman dog yourself, but that’s half the fun. The only alternatives re this “human dignity” stuff are that old saw about crossing the International Dateline, total isolation (always a good move anyway), or perhaps most sensibly JUST GIVING INTO THE THING AND ACTING LIKE TOTAL WRETCHED DISGUSTING BEASTS. And maybe if we all get drunk enough we’ll all have blackouts so trackless and remarkably sustained that we’ll never remember all the reprehensible things we said and did to each other, hence no guilt. Either that or we’ll all wind up killing each other at last. Though that may be the dream of a blind optimist. If so, an alternate experiment in participatory democracy might be arranged whereby we’d all agree to stockpile beforehand so when we wake up on New Year’s Day we’ve made sure there’s a thousand whiskey bottles around the bed, and then we can start over again immediately, quick as a Wheaties Olympian, before a single one o’ them ghastly memories sifts back in. And what’s more, don’t anybody get up, from sea to shining sea, don’t get up ever but just keep on like that under or over the covers, your option, en masse till New Year’s 1990. We’ve worked hard at wrecking after degrading everything we ever cared about, and deserve a good Puritan rest. Like Gore Vidal said when Tennessee Williams told him he’d slept through the sixties: “You didn’t miss a thing.”

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From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The White Issue: White Like Who?

“YO! EX-CUSE ME, Mr. Poindexter!” The black kids in the street cut loose at me. I’m wearing a tartan vest, wire-­rimmed glasses, and riding a three-speed bike. A cascade of laughter comes down after the taunt, then some from me, too. We all hoot at my upright whiteness.

Whether whiteness is a thing to laugh or cry about is undecidable. For a long time it was neither. Whiteness was simply there, like the atmosphere, as unconscious as the intake of breath.

When I was a boy growing up in the Deep South, I opened a book called Recollections of the Ball Family of South Carolina and the Comingtee Plantation, to read about my ancestors and the people they enslaved. That was the first time I thought whiteness might be an “other” thing, as unto itself as blackness, which seemed like strangeness itself to me. I was the meek son of an Episcopal priest and a former church secretary.

The author of the memoir, a relative in my grandparents’ generation, characterized the daily routine at Comingtee as “the patriarchal life.” With utmost gentility, she described the warm emotions that accompanied the act of putting people in chains: “On all of the Ball plantations were certain families of negroes who seemed above the average, intelligent, faithful, trustworthy, and much attached to their masters and their families, which latter returned their devotion by the fullest confidence, respect, and consideration.”

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Decorous talk about “the negroes.” However remote the place, however yellowed the book, the language sounds familiar. Maybe it’s the way attention inexorably shifts from the fact of “the Ball plantations” to “certain families” on them. Maybe it’s the singling out and celebration of “the good negro.” We white folks take great pleasure in describing other people.

Then, as now, most discussion about ra­cial identity swirls around people of color. “But wait,” you say, “we’re always hearing about white folks: their movie stars, their mass murderers, their clothes, their wars, and dreams.” Yes, we know what white people do, but what is this thing that they spread around, “whiteness”?

During the debate that accompanied the Columbus quincentenary, we thought we heard all about whiteness. Time and again, the story of New World colonization was shown to support Walter Benjamin’s obser­vation, “There is no document of civiliza­tion which is not at the same time a docu­ment of barbarism.”

But in the end, talk about white people seemed to blend gracefully into talk about otherness. Whites — first in the spirit of the plantation, now in the spirit of political correctness — contort themselves to get a hold on “the other.” Meanwhile, at the “center,” if that’s where whiteness is, there remains a pale blur. Whites shun identifica­tion with “white culture,” fearing the exis­tential loss that comes with being marked.

So intense is the pressure to focus the lens elsewhere that there is even a field of research called “ethnoastronomy,” which studies not the stars, but the ways colored people look at them.

To talk about being white amid an inter­national discourse on race and ethnicity is not a guileless expression of me-tooism. Nor does it have to be some guilty pilgrim­age, a journey of amends through the world whites have made. Me-tooism is a backlash against multiculturalism. And guilt is an extension of “the patriarchal life.”

There are few things so dyspeptic as white liberals performing guilt, painting their role as having to live out some punishment of Minos, who was damned forev­er to have a serpent slung around his waist, chewing on his penis.

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There are two kingdoms within the white world: white people and whiteness. Most of us cling to the belief that the former can be tabulated. How comforting is the notion, backed by the U.S. Census Bureau, that complexion is a scientific reality, a sum of integers. In the recent census, the increas­ingly skittish line of questioning around “race” yielded 189 million respondents (76 per cent) who identified themselves as “White-non-Hispanic.”

The little qualifier non contains multi­tudes. It demonstrates how white people only appear after subtraction. The cultural markings of everyone else are spun out, separated, and identified in the statistical centrifuge, leaving only… pure whites.

White people, in other words, don’t exist. Until they come up against difference.

“Yo! Mr. Poindexter!”

When did whites come into the world? The question is not so archaeological, or white supremacist, as it sounds. When was the first time that Europeans, faced with otherness, looked at each other and said, “We’re white”?

To imagine such an event would be to create a myth, but myths are at the heart of racial identity. I like to think of an actual moment of selfhood, such as (why not?) the year 1096. It was then that Pope Urban II called the faithful of Christendom to the First Crusade, and a ragtag army of peni­tents just above starvation marched out of the bowels of Europe and into Jerusalem, where it confronted and slaughtered the occupying Infidel — in this case, dark-­skinned Muslims. I am Christian! Christen­dom is white!

White folks quickly disappear into a fog of signs, detached from skin color, white­ness. More than just pale folks on the ground, whiteness swirls around every com­plexion, including those of color. A “poin­dexter” is a white person touched by an absurd aura of whiteness.

There are two kinds of whiteness. The “ethnic” or cultural kind appears when you trace a heritage, however contrived, to one of the national tribes of Europe. WASPs are “ethnic” as much as Italian Americans, Greeks, or, for that matter, Vietnamese. To use the phrase “ethnic white” is not only to be redundant; it is to practice a quiet rac­ism that divides white people into first-rate whites and also-rans.

Europeans immigrating to the United States, such as the 12 million who passed through Ellis Island, learned to suppress their cultural whiteness and adopt the sec­ond kind, a generic white identity. Assimi­lation meant the acceptance of “universal whiteness,” along with tacit acknowledg­ment of one’s prepared role in the choreog­raphy of American race relations.

Universal whiteness transcends nation, gender, and class, and extends to the mean­ing of the phrase “the First World,” which is not just high piles of consumer goods, or even capitalism. The First World is a sys­tem of government, popular culture, kin­ship rules, an attitude toward nature, and whiteness at its highest abstraction. When the industrialized nations consult each oth­er in matters of economics or war, univer­sal whiteness is at work, with Japan lately offered a seat at the table as “honorary” white.

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It’s a weekend evening around midnight, and I am walking with my partner along an empty Chelsea street. The air crackles with the expectations of a million libidos cruis­ing the downtown night. I look up and see four black teens sitting on the stoop of a townhouse. My white antennae go out, in­struments created in the squalid laboratory of U.S. racial engineering. The black kids eye us, a white couple. The street becomes a stage. Whatever happens will come out of the script of color called America.

They surround us, and we freeze. “Give up the money!” One of the teens reaches into his jacket, and appears to pull some­thing out. He crouches and holds his arms outstretched in the firing position.

Flashing up in that instant, a freeze-­frame from some film shown until shred­ded, I saw the stiff pallor of my whiteness, I saw “the Ball negroes” of Comingtee, I saw a trans-historical dance of colored and col­orless, and a million gestures and grimaces learned in the racial act.

He aims… his index finger.

Cut! The kids laugh, falling down on the sidewalk at their own joke. They’d impro­vised a burlesque of the story. My partner and I tremble and gape. Dazed, we teeter down the street, laughter at our backs. We’d been had, because although we had memorized the original script, we didn’t know the lines of the parody.

I’m beginning to feel like a walking spoof of whiteness.

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Race is a masquerade; we are its players. Whiteness speaks through me like a ventril­oquist, as it does through you, I think, whatever your color. We perform it, use it to win attention, refine it to its purest, sugared essence. We revile it, even as we continue to ape it. Many people of color attempt to opt out of the white mime, and the refusal itself places whiteness near the core of the imagination. For Frantz Fanon, the choice was “to turn white or disap­pear,” to be whiter-than-you, more white, never-too-white.

In one act of the white performance is the caricature that poet Audre Lorde called “white, thin; male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure” — people so few in number as to be truly shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave.

Moving down along the shifting rungs of class, education, and cultural extraction, there is a constant auditioning for roles. Jewishness is precarious whiteness, poised on the edge of the pale. Asians have a lock on sometime-whiteness, because of the “white values” they supposedly possess: the work ethic, punctuality, the deferment of pleasure, obedience. Eastern Europeans present a rough copy of whiteness, at a distance from its purer state in the northern and western capitals.

People are forever trying to “get it right”: noses, speech, sexual positions, clothing, hair. The genius of white folks is that they’ve managed to conscript the world into their ethnic theater. In Japan, people “fix” their eyes to be rounder; in Ouaga­dougou, women jam their feet into high heels; in Ulan Bator, men sport suits around town.

“But what about blackness,” you say, “all those whites who want to escape the blank white world, and go black (or brown, or…)?” It’s true, the reverse pull toward color is equally strong. There are legions of whites who want out of the white soup. Youth culture and music are where that crossover mostly happens. Behold Marky Mark, Harry Connick Jr., and their fans. Marky Mark is the latest in a line of would-­be homeboys, and Connick’s record sales feed off the soul of the Duke, the Count, and Cab Calloway.

But to “go colored” is merely another part of the white franchise: the freedom to sample other identities, to season white identity with the spice of the other. Whites who taste blackness (or Latino-ness, or…) have always done it as cultural tourists. You don’t get black kids dressing in khaki pants and Lacoste shirts — well, maybe a few — but the white boy rap fan is good for the bottom line at Time Warner. Once whites leave the cocoon of youth or bohe­mia, whiteness comes back with a ven­geance. I’m still waiting to see a thirty­something white who wears a baseball cap any way but frontwise on the head.

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As I was helping to prepare this section of the newspaper, I spoke to my friend Ken, an editor at Duke University Press, who said he was hoping someone would write a book about “local whiteness.” What could he mean? I thought. Then it clicked. Local whiteness happens in a particular way, place, and time. Like the whiteness of plan­tation owners in South Carolina.

I haven’t visited Comingtee, or the other plantations of the Ball clan. They had names like Limerick and Kensington, and were gradually sold off after what the fam­ily memoir quaintly refers to as “the gener­al upsetting of all order in early 1865.” With Emancipation, “the negroes” stayed on as sharecroppers, or moved to nearby Charleston to become house servants. Some of their names were Jenny Buller, Old Mar­cus, Dolly, and Josh Lovely.

I did once go to the old family cemetery, among the moss-heavy trees in the South Carolina countryside, next to a tiny church called Strawberry Chapel. Ringed with a brick wall were two dozen graves of people whose name I share.

I walked around the grave of John Com­ing Ball, who had a plantation in Goose­creek Parish. J.C. Ball died, unmarried, in 1792; his estate papers listed 138 slaves. I sat on the stone under which lay Elias Ball, dead at 77 in 1786. His father, Elias Sr., the first Ball in the American colonies, had come from England in 1693, whereupon he procured himself a rice plantation.

The antebellum Ball generations devel­oped the habit of commissioning paintings of themselves, the kind the gentry used to order up to keep one foot in the world as they passed into dust. Elias Jr. is represent­ed in one such portrait. It’s a cartoonlike thing, done by a provincial painter who had either not mastered the genre of flattery, or was trying to sneak onto the canvas the truly gamey character of his employer. Half folk art, half aristocratic charade, the image of Elias is deep local whiteness, Carolina Low Country, Revolutionary War period.

In his portrait, Elias is standing bolt upright. He has stuffed a hand into his vest in a supercilious gesture meant to suggest “to the manor born.” A collarless jacket strug­gles unsuccessfully to close over the big belly beneath the hand. Elias’s hair looks like a kitchen mop swooped over the ears. His jowls sag, and he has a pie-shaped face. The mouth twists into an uncomfortable smile, and in the eyes is confusion. Elias’s gaze drifts past the viewer, as though he is looking at something gathering on the hori­zon that he can’t make out. I sat on Elias’s tombstone and wondered where the heirs of this foppish man lived on. His whiteness was imprinted in me, and it was indelible. ■

 

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Ronald Reagan’s “Backdoor Socialism”: Studies in Crap Reveals The Counterfeit Candidate

Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from area basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.

 

The Counterfeit Candidate

Author: Kent H. Steffgen
Publisher: National Issues, Las Vegas
Date: 1976
Discovered at: Mission Hills estate sale

The Cover Promises: “Legalized abortion, forced school bussing, women’s lib, sex education in the schools, freeing of the criminal, overtaxation, doubled spending, socialized medicine, economic strangulation, land-use control – this is a conservative?”

ALSO: Maybe it would just be easier if the fringe right released a list of everyone who isn’t a socialist.

Representative Quotes:
“In 1969, he signed a bill to outlaw the internal combustion engine by 1975.” (page 14)
“New York is on its way down for real. It is never coming back; repeat, never. It will either end up a ward of the public government or in a state of anarchy, one or the other.” (page 37)

This spurious little volume, Kent H. Steffgen’s second book-length attack on the then California governor, assails the wrinkly ol’ nappy-time legend that today’s conservatives imagine twinkling down from his starry heaven like God in It’s A Wonderful Life.

Yes, before they came to believe that Reagan’s tough-talk and military spending somehow led to the 70 years of infrastructure neglect that destroyed the Soviet Union, some John Birch-society doubting Thomases dared to trash the Gipper. Steffgen snarls that Reagan is “an impostor,” a “hopeless incompetent,” “a practicing socialist” and “the smoothest salesman socialism ever had.” He even predicts that a president Reagan would be “the biggest spender since Franklin D. Roosevelt,” which is total — oh. Okay. We’ll give him that one.

Anyway, reading such invective, your Crap Archivst feels a naïve twinge of hope. Perhaps today’s political discourse can learn from the stupidity of the past! Permit me to address directly any members of the talk-radio right who might have stumbled here on their hunt for things to be outraged by:

Dear Talk-Radio Right,
Do you really want to sound like this asshole?
— Alan

[Since The Counterfeit Candidate includes no illustrations, your Crap Archivist is including photos from the April 14, 1975, People piece “Ronald Reagan Hits the Road, Preaching and Making Friends.”]

“His alleged fiscal responsibility is a carefully-assembled non-joke by highly skilled speech writers and public relations agents. They must have hired the writers from Gilligan’s Island.”​
Steffgen’s charges center on mild reforms — Medi-Cal, burning bans, and others typical of the early 1970 —  enacted by Reagan while governor of California. He derides Reagan’s support for OSHA as “a full-fledged attack on private enterprise,” insists that the switch to unleaded gasoline will “bury” the state’s economy, and dreams up the unthinkable: “[California] is even considering a bill to outlaw smoking in all public places.”

Worst of all, to Steffgen, is Regan’s big-spending ways:

No, no. If that had happened, Reagan would have teamed up with the Globetrotters!

Besides his anti-Reagan books, Steffgen is best known for his service on Californai’s White Citizens Council in the early 60s. With the WCC he protested the Rumford Act, a 1963 bill barring discrimination in housing. Later, the odious National Vanguard Press published Steffgen’s book The Bondage of the Free which explains how the civil rights movement is the culmination of “the most diabolic betrayal in the nation’s history.”

(The National Vanguard site also peddles National Vanguard magazine, which features headlines like “Space Exploration: An Expression of the Aryan Soul” and “Albert Einstein: A Textbook Case of Jewish Media Manipulation.”)

Race-baiting doesn’t show up much in The Counterfeit Candidate, although Steffgen describes Reagan as the “onetime white hope for the salvation of the U.S. Constitution,” which breaks new, crazy ground–  Reagan wasn’t even white?

Steffgen also calls Reagan:

  • “Franklin D. Roosevelt without the wheelchair”
  • “a one-man iron lung who kept a liberal philosophy in California from perishing”
  • “the greatest snowjob ever to pass before the electorate”
  • “the champion” of “whatever it is that is bringing California to its knees”
  • “a ‘consiberal’ weaving oz-like tales before an unsuspecting public into a fantasmagoria of dreams”

Shocking Detail:
The closest Steffgen comes to wit is when he adds, “What [Reagan] may be in the eyes of a writer less restrained than I is anybody’s guess.”

This brings to mind one less-restrained author, who wrote:

“Kent Steffgen has earned his money acting as an escort for plump old ladies and spent most of his money to buy the services of plump young men.”

That’s from the pseudonymous “Deguello Report on the American Right Wing,” a 1976 “expose” from within the white supremacist movement. According to Jeffry Kaplan’s fascinating Encyclopedia of White Power, the Deguello Report’s author attempted to discredit rivals by labeling them as socialist, Jewish or homosexual, a standard technique of the fringe right. (Today, we’d add “born in Kenya” to that list.)

Highlight:
While Steffgen is guilty of the same baseless namecalling found in the Deguello Report, I’ll give him this much: he never calls Reagan a Jew, and he only hints at the homosexual with that “backdoor socialasm” crack and the occasional erotic metaphor:

“Everytime Reagan signed one of those drastic measures, he had a soothing jar of Vaseline on hand to rub down the victim; a special onitment. Up with the Muzak, down with the lights, on with the logic and apologies, so the victim always managed to walk away from it half-tranquilized. Reagan was running a giant massage parlor in Sacramento.”

Reagan Responds!
From a 1978 letter to Burbank voter Mrs. Buford S. Craig:
“Kent Steffgen– (whoever he is) is an unmitigated liar.”
From Reagan, A Life in Letters

Bonus Crap!

The rest of that People Magazine

Date: April 14, 1975

Discovered at: Retro Genie, Northampton, Massachusetts

Besides Reagan’s brush with airport security, there are two glories to savor in this old People, both from a profile of Warren Beatty’s penis.

First, this soulful sub-head:

“On one of his latest films, Warren kept trying to seduce the still photographer on the set. When she declined, Beatty had her fired–but only after humiliating her to tears by publicly zipping down her slacks on the set.”​
And then this anecdote, which follows much chatter about how much Beatty had grown up.

And that, dear reader, is the last honest anecdote ever to appear in a glossy magazine’s celebrity profile.