CrimeReads, an outstanding website dedicated to crime literature, recently ran my essay on the mystery novels that Gore Vidal wrote under the nom de plum, “Edgar Box.” The Box trilogy, which Vidal wrote after the media exiled him due to their egregious homophobia, entertains with wit and craft, but also depicts the hypocrisy and vacuity of America’s ruling class.
“I’m not sufficiently stupid to be a popular author,” Gore Vidal said in reaction to a suggestion that he write paperback mystery novels. Victor Weybright, whom Vidal considered the “wisest man in publishing” during the 1950s, offered his encouragement, “You’ll find a way.” He was also offering the great American author a lifeline.
Homophobia was so virulent and vicious in the mid-twentieth century that the 1948 publication of The City and The Pillar, Vidal’s groundbreaking and brave novel sympathetically depicting the lives of two men in love, threatened to end his literary career.
Read the rest.
In an essay for Salon, I react to a recent performance from the mighty Tedeschi Trucks Band with a meditation on poetry, soul, and the beauty of protest music that affirms the dignity of human creativity and community.
The music of Tedeschi Trucks Band is nutrition for the spirit. When digital enhancements and alterations have conquered the mass market of American music, Susan Tedeschi, one of the world’s best blues and soul singers, and her husband Derek Trucks, one of world’s best blues and rock guitarists, use their songwriting prowess and their performative passion to lead a 12-member band through a house of musical mirrors. From the vantage point of Tedeschi Trucks, blues morphs into soul, soul shapeshifts into rock, and rock deconstructs into a dynamic form of jazz improvisation. Their aptly named summer tour, “Wheels of Soul,” featuring opening bands Shovels and Rope and the current standard-bearers of Southern Rock, Blackberry Smoke, transgresses all boundaries, managing to move with a dynamism and creative daring possible only with the organic navigation of the human mind, hand, and voice.
Read the rest here.
In recent essays for Salon, I have swung a hammer in the direction of America’s societal dysfunction and decay, how stupidity is the country’s most lethal anti-democratic force, and the nihilistic hatred of America from the Trump administration.
I recently examined and explored the music of a magnificent singer/songwriter, Lizz Wright. The essay ran at No Depression, and it contains fascinating excepts from my recent conversation with the musician, as well as my own reflections on the power and profundity of her music.
Music is more than a jingle, more than a product. To committed composers, players, singers, and listeners, it’s an essential form of transmission for genuine feeling and ideas to the human spirit. For Lizz Wright, a magnificent vocalist whose rich baritone manages to hit the frequency of the beating heart, music is even more: It’s an opportunity for testimony.
Read the rest here.
In June, I interviewed Sarina Prabasi about her beautiful and profound memoir, Coffeehouse Resistance. An immigrant, activist, and executive at Water Aid, Prabasi offered invaluable insights on issues relating to Trump’s immigration policy, the follies of American exceptionalism, and the importance of activism.
More recently, I twice addressed the decay of democracy in the United States. In the first essay, I wrote about the provincialism of the American public renders most political debates absurd. For example, Democratic candidates for the presidency are made to answer questions about universal health care as if they advocating a wild proposal out of science fiction when, in reality, every other developed country has a universal health care program.
Next, I wrote about Trump’s racist and imbecilic statement against “the squad” in which he instructed them to go back to where they came from. Given that three of the four congresswomen are from the United States, and the fourth, has lived here since she was ten years old, Trump’s description of their native homes as “broken” has an ironic ring of truth to it. America, by most standards, looks like it is in a state of dysfunction and disrepair.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the respective leaders of two of America’s greatest bands.
First, I interviewed Jay Farrar, of Son Volt, about their protest record, Union. My essay relays Farrar’s insights, and takes a broader look at the importance of socially conscious songwriting.
A few weeks later, I spoke with Warren Haynes, the lead singer and guitarist of Gov’t Mule, a band I have previously called “the world’s best band.” Haynes and I discussed Mule’s upcoming concert film, and in the conversation, he provided fascinating thoughts on the spontaneous, but thoughtful magic of jam music. Read the essay.
My new essay at Salon combines political commentary with personal reflection. I look back on my flirtation with libertarian ideology, and draw insights that apply to the 2020 race, “cancel culture,” and political tribalism.
More personally reflective than most of my political essays, it is not only an indictment of the impracticality and insidiousness of libertarian movements, but also a call for more patience and understanding with political opponents, or even political allies who have previously believed or uttered positions that have aged poorly.
My two most recent political essay at Salon complement each other as an exhibition of alarming trends in American political culture.
The first focuses on the mainstream media’s characteristically meek response to Trump’s increasingly fascist and violent rhetoric. I make the president’s recent remarks about how he would like to “turn the military loose” on refugees seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border the illustrative example of the anti-social and criminal designs of the American right, and how American culture is failing to react with adequate vigilance.
My next essay deals with the ubiquity of The Punisher skull – a popular symbol from the Marvel comic book that conservative men have adopted to symbolize their support of police and US aggression overseas. The celebration of the icon of death and murder – something to which the comic book creators object – demonstrates a dark impulse at the heart of American culture.
No Depression recently featured my essay on Ruthie Foster, the importance of the blues in American life, and the urban decay of Park Forest, IL – the setting of a recent Foster performance, as a cover story.
In the essay, Park Forest is emblematic of countless American towns that have struggled with white flight, racial fracture, and economic decline. The magnificent and mighty Ruthie Foster becomes a songbird of hope for not only her Park Forest audience, but everyone within earshot of her beautiful music.
Read the essay at No Depression.
I recently wrote an essay about the dangers of America’s apathy toward white supremacy – an increasingly popular and violent movement that threatens to undermine the entire democratic project.
Similarly, I threw Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual, and his apologists, against the wall for foaming at the mouth over Jussie Smollett, but showing absolute disregard for the innumerable injustices against black citizens in Chicago, and other cities – large and small – across America.
Read the essays at Salon.