Monday, August 26, 2019

Theory about Cliff Booth in Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood"

Did Once Upon A Time In Hollywood's Cliff Booth really kill his wife? Quentin Tarantino's 9th film largely ties things up quite neatly - and violently - at the end. However, one of the biggest questions the film leaves behind is what really happened to Cliff Booth's wife Billie? Throughout the first half of the movie, there are a number of allusions to Cliff killing his wife, which is somewhere between a dark rumor on Hollywood lots, with various whispers going around about him and some people we meet believing he truly did it. Zoe Bell (who plays Randy's wife Janet) answered with uncertainty: "I reckon it’s a matter of Cliff having that kind of character where he doesn’t really care if other people like him or don’t like him. I think that probably really rubbed quite opinionated people the wrong way, and Janet is definitely an opinionated person. I just don’t think he cares enough to try to dissuade people from the beliefs they have around him, and that probably puts people like Janet off. Just that there’s a possibility that he may have killed his wife, or that maybe she killed herself or it was an accident — that it’s sort of shrouded with mystery just speaks to the character that he is."

Tarantino frames the key mentions of the death in a flashback, and the circumstances ostensibly just before it happens as a flashback-within-a-flashback. It's a hazy memory, which is our first indicator that things aren't quite as they seem. The context of the memory, and the memory-in-a-memory, is important. This isn't a scene where a regretful Cliff is thinking about how he killed his wife, or at least it doesn't seem that way. It's instead him ruminating on how that ill-fated boating trip, where his wife did die in some way, has come to define his entire career, and that makes more sense if he didn't actually do it. We hear the waves at the end, which suggests this was an accident, and that makes the death of Billie a greater tragedy, but also makes Cliff's own story tragic as well. While Cliff Booth is a fictional person, Tarantino does draw upon some real people for the character and his story in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Like much of Rick Dalton can be found in Burt Reynolds, so too can Cliff be seen in Reynolds' friend and stuntman Hal Needham. 

If Cliff killed his wife, it's more likely that Tarantino would show it, but instead this ties not only into his mythologizing of Hollywood's past, but touches on the idea of assumed guilt, and the way rumor can spread around the system. It's a delicate line to try and walk on, but given where Cliff's story goes, it only really works if he is innocent. If Cliff didn't kill his wife, then his arc works much better. He's a man haunted by ghosts, and has been punished by Hollywood - and yet, in the end, finds a sense of redemption by becoming the hero, after so long just being the stunt double. That's much more in fitting with the kind of fantasy story Tarantino is telling in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Cliff's actions throughout the film - and in particular his uses of violence - are typically justified within its internal logic. His wife dying was a tragic accident, which then loops into Once Upon A Time In Hollywood being the tragedy - and redemption - of Cliff Booth. Source: 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

"Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties" by Tom O'Neill

There's at least two 'points' to the story of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The first is stopping the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends which was a historical tragic event. It's a cathartic 'what if?' scenario where over the top violence is almost Tarantino's (and potentially the audience's) anger being taken out on the real world murders. Tarantino went for the ultimate catharsis, and let us enjoy a world where things don't have to be so bad. The second is the resurgence of Rick Dalton's career. Throughout the movie we see him come to terms with his failing career, he then starts to take acting more seriously which leads him abroad for search of work. At the end of the movie before the big showdown, it's revealed that Dalton is going to sell his house after his time in Rome as he's finally accepted his career is effectively over (him selling the house is symbolic of him abandoning the Hollywood dream). So as the movie ends we see Sharon Tate is alive and Ricky Dalton's career is possibly going to have another chance. Hence the two 'points' of the story converge. Al Pacino's character mentions earlier in the film about how the good guy always stomps the bad guy in films at the time. I think Tarantino was trying to invoke that kind of storytelling that was common in 60's cinema. Source:

Faking a “Hippie Crash Pad”: Dr. Jolly West performed Jack Ruby's psychiatric evaluation, and he was in charge of UCLA's department of psychiatry and the Neuropsychiatric Institute for 20 years. Late in the fall of 1966, Dr. Jolly West arrived in San Francisco to study hippies and LSD. The Bay Area had seen an unprecedented migration of middle-class youth and an explosion of recreational drug use. West secured a government grant and took a yearlong sabbatical from his professorship at the University of Oklahoma, nominally to pursue a fellowship at Stanford, although that school had no record of his participation in a program there. The summer of love had yet to come, and the Tate–LaBianca murders were still years away, but West would effectively predict them both. In a 1967 psychiatry textbook, he’d contributed a chapter called “Hallucinogens,” warning students of a “remarkable substance” percolating through college campuses across the United States. It was LSD, known to leave users “unusually susceptible and emotionally labile” as it caused a “loosening of ego structure.” That language was reminiscent of the “reprogramming” spiel that Charles Manson would soon develop, urging his acid-tripping followers to “negate their egos.”

When Dr. West cautioned against the “LSD cults” springing up in America’s “bohemian” quarters, he described exactly the kind of disenchanted wanderers who’d flock to a personality like Manson’s in the years to come. West had a hunch that alienated kids “with a pathological desire to withdraw from reality” would crave “shared forbidden activity in a group setting to provide a sense of belonging.” Another paper by West, 1965’s “Dangers of Hypnosis,” foresaw the rise of dangerous groups led by “crackpots” who hypnotized their followers. Contrary to the prevailing science at the time, West asserted that hypnosis could make people so pliable that they’d violate their moral codes. Scarier still, they’d have no memory of it afterward. West cited two cases to back up his argument: a double murder in Copenhagen committed by a hypno-programmed man, and a “military offense” induced experimentally at an undisclosed U.S. Army base. He “personally knew” of two other instances, and he’d “heard on excellent authority” of more, but he didn’t elaborate. Later, I’d get a sense of what, or who, he might have had in mind. When he arrived in Haight-Ashbury, then, West was the only scientist in the world who’d predicted the emergence of potentially violent “LSD cults.”

Getting his bearings at the HAFMC, Dr. West arranged for the use of a crumbling Victorian house on nearby Frederick Street, where he opened what he described as a “laboratory” disguised as a “hippie crash pad.” The “pad” opened in June 1967, at the dawn of the summer of love. Who was paying for all this? According to records in West’s files, his “crash pad” was funded by the Foundations Fund for Research in Psychiatry, Inc., which had bankrolled a number of his other projects, too, across decades and institutions. I concluded that the Foundations Fund was a front for the CIA. Before Dr. West moved to the HAFC, he’d supervised a similar study in Oklahoma City. The title of the project was "Mass Conversion." As I was soon to see, its funds came from Sidney J. Gottlieb, the head of the CIA’s MKULTRA program. West’s excitement was a sham, his feelings for hippies dripping with condescension. He soon concluded that the constellation of sex, drugs, and communalism shining over the Haight that summer was “doomed to fail”: “The very chemicals they use will inevitably enervate them as individuals and bleed the energies of the hippie movement to its death.” He called this an “ineffable tragedy,” but it’s hard to imagine he saw it that way. For West, the failure of sixties idealism was the most desirable outcome—one that he was quite possibly working toward.

Senate investigators condemned MKULTRA unanimously. Kennedy branded it “perverse” and “corrupt,” an erosion of the “freedom of individuals and institutions in the name of national security.” The Times had called MKULTRA “a secret twenty-five year, twenty-five million dollar effort by the CIA to learn how to control the human mind.” The CIA’s new director, Stansfield Turner, swore that he’d sent all existing MKULTRA files to the Justice Department, which would mount a thorough investigation. Still, between the destruction of records and the subpoenaed agents’ sudden memory lapses, everyone knew that “the full facts,” as the New York Times editorialized, “may never come out.”  In 2001 I found letters between West and his CIA handler, “Sherman Grifford.” I didn’t recognize the name, so as soon as I got home, I began tearing through every book I had that mentioned MKULTRA, hoping that it would jump out at me. In the first and most definitive of the bunch, John Marks’s The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, there it was, buried in a footnote: “CIA operators and agents all had cover names,” it said, “even in classified documents. Sidney Gottlieb was ‘Sherman R. Grifford.’”

In April 1953, Sidney Gottlieb became head of the secret Project MKUltra, which was activated on the order of CIA director Allen Dulles. In this capacity, Gottlieb had administered LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs to unwitting subjects and financed psychiatric research and development of "techniques that would crush the human psyche". So West really had lied all those years. Not only was he a part of MKULTRA, he’d corresponded with the “Black Sorcerer” of MKULTRA himself. Preserved in his files, the letters picked up midstream, with no prologue or preliminaries. The first one was dated June 11, 1953, a mere two months after MKULTRA started. West was then chief of psychiatric service at the airbase at Lackland, Texas. Addressing Gottlieb as “S.G.,” he outlined the experiments he proposed to perform using a combination of psychotropic drugs and hypnosis, honing “techniques for implanting false information into particular subjects… or for inducing in them specific mental disorders.” West wanted to reverse someone’s belief system without his knowledge and he hoped to create “couriers” who would carry “a long and complex message” embedded secretly in their minds. All of these were the goals of MKULTRA, and they bore a striking resemblance to Manson’s accomplishments with his followers more than a decade later. -"Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties" (2019) by Tom O'Neill

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Helter Skelter vs Chaos: Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties

Joan Didion famously said that the Sixties ended on August 9, 1969, with the murders of Sharon Tate and six others at the hands of the so-called Manson Family. For 50 years, the official narrative has held that the murders were initiated by Manson to appear as if they were committed by the Black Panthers with the goal of starting a race war. That was prosecutor Vince Bugliosi’s theory of the case. Bugliosi argued at trial that Manson had gotten this idea of “Helter Skelter” from a Beatles song. That has remained the conventional wisdom — It now appears that this version of the story may be just as fanciful as Quentin Tarantino’s fictional version Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood. In 1999, investigative journalist Tom O’Neill was commissioned to write a story for what was then Premiere magazine, marking the 30th anniversary of the Tate/LaBianca murders. Thus began for O’Neill a 20-year odyssey into the dark world of Charles Manson.

Tom O'Neill: Manson was released in March of ’67 from Terminal Island, which is an island prison off of the coast of Long Beach in Los Angeles County. He immediately violated his parole. He went right up to the Bay Area and just turned up at the parole office there to announce that he was not going to live in Los Angeles, despite his orders from the prisons, and that whether they liked it or not, he was staying in San Francisco. Rather than immediately send him back to prison like they would any other prisoner, they didn’t. Vince Bugliosi kept that out of the trial and out of Helter Skelter. He said that he went there with permission, but I’ve got documents showing that it was the opposite of that. He was assigned to a parole officer named Roger Smith, who was a researcher getting his … I think it was his master’s or PhD at Berkeley School of Criminology. He was also involved with something called the San Francisco Project, so it was a special study that would have usually entailed a much closer observation of a parole client. What you’ll find out in my book Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties and what I got through a very lengthy Freedom of Information Act process. I got his records of his parole during those two years. In that first year in particular, he was arrested much more than had ever been reported before, and was constantly relieved without charges. Manson had immunity from that. Roger Smith had him reporting for his parole appointments, his weekly appointments at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in the summer of ’67, where he was also preparing a study on amphetamines and communes in the youth of the Haight Ashbury during the Summer of Love. That mysterious year that Manson kind of transformed from this unremarkable federal parolee who could barely read or write, into the Manson we know today, or knew until he passed away as this kind of cult leader who had this great charisma and magnetism. That year was pretty much ignored by Bugliosi in Helter Skelter. I was wondering what happened that first year. So you’ll see I did a deep dive into Manson’s life in San Francisco and in the Bay Area in ’67 through early ’68. Well, he left there about May of ’68 and went down to Los Angeles. That’s a very important period in the life of him and his group and his followers. I think there was a reason Vince chose not to write about that. I think he gave it a page and a half in his otherwise pretty thorough account of the history of the Manson family.

I researched about Jolly West, Dr. Louis Jolyon West, who was a psychiatric researcher from Oklahoma who took a sabbatical in ’66, went to Stanford to study. He was never really clear about what he was studying there. He just was very vague and said he was going to write a book about LSD and its influence on youth. He went to the clinic and David Smith gave him an office in June of ’67 to recruit “hippies” to study for his LSD research. In later years, in ’77, he was identified by Seymour Hersh, a kind of groundbreaking New York Times journalist… in ’77, Seymour Hersh wrote a cover story [for] the New York Times, identifying Jolly West as one of six subcontractor researchers of the MKUltra Program, which was a CIA secret research project to create what’s popularly known as Manchurian Candidates, which are people who, through their unwitting… let’s just say without their knowledge are programmed to kill, to become basically hypno-programmed assassins. West was part of that project. He died in ’99, and through a long process I got access to his personal papers and found that he actually not only was a part of MKUltra, but he wrote the blueprint for how they were going to operate and hide their research; that it was going to be conducted at prisons and universities and psychiatric hospitals and in the general population. Source:

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, self-referential with a gigantic heart behind it

Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels more focused on the adventures of fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rick’s stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) than it does on Sharon Tate's (Margot Robbie). But Dalton and Booth are only in the story, really, because they happen to live next door to Tate and Polanski. And one gets the sense that Dalton’s primary purpose is to serve as a fictional reflection of Tate, to demonstrate the amount of effort and skill that goes into creating a decent performance on a network pilot for an unmemorable TV western. Sharon Tate, is, as Tarantino said himself, the heart of the film and he “became very enamored of her” while researching her life, he told Entertainment Weekly. Tarantino keeps the camera close on Tate’s face as she soaks in the reactions from her fellow moviegoers. They’re laughing at the right spots! All her hard work has paid off. Her art—the art we see Dalton struggling with during the crosscuts, demonstrating the difficulty of making even pulpy trash—is bringing happiness to people. The joy on her face upends our sense of her story: She’s a living, breathing person, one with joys, hopes, talent and work ethic. She is also an idea and a near-perfect idol—a rarity for Tarantino, whose characters, regardless of gender, are usually fundamentally flawed in some way. 

The production design of Tarantino to LA in 1969 feels like a trippy time warp, especially the recreation of Hollywood and Westwood. The monsters of Manson’s cult are not given similar treatment. At the Spahn Movie Ranch, they are generally seen as a sort of floating menace, dead-eyed with clenched jaws when they aren’t dead-eyed and cackling. Manson is barely in the movie, suggesting that Tarantino hopes to downplay the idea that these were innocents under the sway of a Svengali. Interestingly, Polanski himself is barely in the film as well. That the two men who have come to define Sharon Tate are largely absent from “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” feels deliberate.

At one point, family member Sadie (Mikey Madison) suggests that, rather than killing those in the Polanski household, they should instead wreak violence on Dalton's. Sadie’s point is so ham-handedly made and put in the mouth of such an obvious villain that it might feel, for a moment, that Tarantino is playing a trick on us. Sadie’s brief monologue is the cinematic equivalent of a half-thought-through think piece written by a 20-something who thinks she has something to say on the nature of violence in art. Sadie wasn’t inspired to go out and commit murder by what she saw on TV when she was a kid: She’s simply grasping about for an excuse. 

If only the old-line Hollywood people of the fifties and sixties had maintained their pride of place—if only the times hadn’t changed, if only the keys to the kingdom hadn’t been handed over to the decadents of the sixties—-then both Hollywood and the world would be a better, safer, happier place. There’s no slur delivered more bitterly by Cliff and Rick than “hippie,” and their narrow but intense experiences in the course of the film are set up to bear out the absolute aptness of their hostility. Tarantino's latest film is a haunting valentine letter to Hollywood – and perhaps to his own career. It’s hard to believe that in 50 years’ time anyone will make a love letter to today’s Hollywood. Tarantino's ninth film is possibly his most profound one. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking look at what might have been, almost elegiac in its sadness and its desire to reconfigure a world filled with ugliness, hate, horror and hurt.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a film that empowers some of the female characters while also fetishizing them. A film that glorifies white macho men while also showing how pathetic they can be. A film which views the Hollywood system as both meaningless and maybe the only thing that really matters. An ending that is both the most feel good moment of the year, and the most downer ending of the year when we are reminded of the reality. It really is the film that sums up Tarantino as a filmmaker the best. Self-indulgent, self-referential, awkwardly derivative and flawed, but you've gotta look past all of it and see the gigantic heart behind it. Source:

Do Tarantino's critics not get his film, or are they just cynically leeching off its success? With the film release, delivering the strongest-ever US opening in the 'Pulp Fiction' director’s career, earnest woke jargon-filled thinkpieces have proliferated about a work of cinema that is more a hermetic and personal wish-fulfilment fantasy than a political manifesto. Why they miss the point when they claim the film is racist against Bruce Lee? The scene where Brad Pitt’s down-on-his-luck stuntman Cliff Booth can’t keep his mouth shut during Lee’s self-glorifying comparison between himself and Cassius Clay on set, in which the two end up sparring, is meant to give us the essence of Cliff’s character. He is a devil-may-care rebel with integrity and a talent for fighting, who can end up in self-inflicted troublesome scenarios. Also, this scene is actually a flashback which comes from Cliff's not too reliable memory. Actually… What if there is nothing wrong with masculinity, as it is played by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio? Or with male friendship? Or nostalgia? As for hippies, their culture is a dramatically interesting intrusion into the lives of the two central characters struggling with their own self-doubt of incipient middle age. Source:

Monday, August 05, 2019

Tarantino's self-critique in "Once Upon a Time In Hollywood", Kate Bosworth to play Sharon Tate

Rick Dalton's existential crisis is first set off when the agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) tells him that his streak of playing villains will only continue to pigeonhole him moving forward. Instead, Schwarz says, he should move to Rome and boost his name with a few Spaghetti Westerns. The plot's organizing principle is four dates—February 8 and 9, 1969, and August 8 and 9, 1969—the latter the dates of the Manson Murders. A standout scene involves Dalton in one of his first Italian film roles. Before shooting a pivotal scene, he runs into a precocious eight-year-old actress (Julia Butters) who takes her duties seriously and challenges him to do the same. Later, as the pair share a scene together, Dalton finally lives up to his latent acting talent, and DiCaprio gives a seething, maniacal monologue made for an Oscar reel.

After the scene, the young actress whispers to him, "That was the best acting I've ever seen in my life," and he tears up. It's far and away DiCaprio's best moment in the film, and it's one of the film's most sincere moments. Deep into “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” as Charles Manson’s followers play an increasing role in the events, an eeriness sets in. Sharon Tate is seen always driving around a Black Porsche, which in real life belonged to her ex-fiancĂ© Jay Sebring. Polanski had bought Tate a red Ferrari, which is never shown in the film. Perhaps an intentional Fuck You to Polanski on Tarantino's part is the fact that he emphasizes the Tate & Sebring relationship so much.

In 1968, the so-called Manson Family moved to Spahn Ranch, convincing the eponymous owner (played by Bruce Dern) to let them reside there rent-free in exchange for labor. The site―fairly dilapidated by the time Manson and his disciples took over―came to represent the counterculture’s evil underbelly. Tarantino said many movie stars aren’t the divos/as we like to think they are, a theory that “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” echoes in its humanizing depiction of Rick’s career dip. It’s definitely easy to read the third act of this movie as, basically, good old fashioned Hollywood heroes snatching back history from the counter culture. Manson was no hippie; in fact, he was quite the opposite. He just took advantage of hippie culture to build a cult of monsters. Also, it almost feels that Tarantino, like a leader of the Gen X, is trying to metaphorically beat the shit out of those damn Millennials. My initial take on the scene where Cliff is seen bickering with his wife Billie (Rebecca Gayheart) was Tarantino playing a trick on us. You don’t see anything actually happening in the flashback and then Cliff shakes his head and continues fixing the antenna.

In a Tarantino movie, there’s no reason to not show violence if it did happen, so I think it didn’t. Others have said this alludes to the mystery around the death of Natalie Wood, since Cliff's wife Billie talks of her sister Natalie in the same scene. Possible spoilers: When a harpoon gun is loaded, you'll see the harpoon sticking out of the end. Cliff's gun had no harpoon, and the end of the barrel was just an empty hole. Cliff's harpoon gun wasn't loaded on the boat scene, so I don't think he caused his wife's death. If we follow Natalie Wood's reference in consonance with Cliff's flashback scene, we can deduce it was intended to show her death was accidental.

The movie is maddening at times because it doesn't create any distinctions between reality and film. Yet that's what the film is getting at. That when working in movies there is no clear divide between reality and fantasy. You're always crossing between two different worlds, between fantasy and nightmare. I don't think I've ever seen a movie that conveys the enticing, surreal, terrifying nature of Hollywood better than this one. Richard Brody protests in the New Yorker Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is too white and takes issue with the line in which Leonard DiCaprio’s character Rick sheds tears, and Brad Pitt’s character Cliff tells him, “Don’t let the Mexicans see you crying.” Brody points out that a movie villain played by DiCaprio’s actor character refers to a Mexican as a “beaner,” but then again, villains do tend to say mean things. Brody asserts that “Tarantino delivers a ridiculously white movie, complete with a nasty dose of white resentment; the only substantial character of color, Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), is played as a haughty parody, and gets dramatically humiliated.” Well, the Bruce Lee character is a massive jerk, though. I’m not sure “white resentment” comes into play here. Source:

Together, Rick and Cliff form a dyad of old-school silver-screen masculinity, almost cartoonishly macho. Cliff is so tough that he barely seems like a real human being; he's an allegorical avatar of male movie violence, so his character seems to reflect Tarantino's self-critique in certain scenes. Cliff therefore symbolizes all Tarantino feels most ambivalent about: the film violence he's created but that has tainted his career, the machismo he admires but has none of himself. As the third act of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood begins, the Rolling Stones’s “Out of Time” starts to play. The chorus (“baaaby, baaaby you’re out of time”) is like a mean Ronettes song: “You’re obsolete, my baby, my poor old-fashioned baby.” Once Upon a Time In Hollywood builds toward a “what if” denouement that pits Hollywood’s old time actors against the young nihilists of 1969 in a literal battle for survival. Tarantino has created a movie that dwells longingly on Hollywood’s past, while trying to make the case for its relevance in Hollywood’s future. Source:

Kate Bosworth will play Sharon Tate for Michael Polish's drama Tate, which Myriad Pictures introduced to Cannes in May. Principal photography is set to commence later this year in Budapest. Tate aims to switch the focus from Sharon Tate’s tragic death 50 years ago to exploring her life’s contributions. The film will chronicle Tate from her early days as a Texas beauty queen, to her work in film and fashion, her status as 1960s ‘It’ girl, and her relationships. “Michael Polish’s script is a compelling portrait of a gifted and talented actress,” said Myriad chief Kirk D’Amico. “This film will celebrate Sharon Tate’s extraordinary life as it intersected with the turbulent sixties, especially in fashion, film and music.” Polish added, “This film will explore the life of Sharon Tate including her complicated but romantic relationship with her husband Roman Polanski. We are very grateful to have the opportunity bringing this script to life in a deeply personal manner including many details that have never been publicly shared until now.” Myriad Pictures’ credits include Margin Call, The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, and The Last Word. Tate is the only project Debra Tate approved of from the beginning, until Tarantino accepted her contributions regarding Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. “At long last I have found filmmakers who are interested in the life story of my sister Sharon. Other projects have been a real source of pain in their insensitivity and gross exploitation of my sister," she said, according to Deadline. Source:

Friday, August 02, 2019

Transgressive as hell: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Hippie Trip

There's no way the LSD-drug culture of the hippies in the 60s didn't lead to the cultural downfall in the U.S. Prior to that, there was still a sense of innocence and self control, for the most part, but the hippie 60s counterculture brought hallucinogens and crazy people like Manson and his flower children druggies into the mix, and what Tarantino is basically saying in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is that he's blaming them for the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Rick Dalton feels depressed when he's saddled with playing the bad guy in random cameos for TV westerns. Dalton has reached a crossroads in his career in tandem with American culture itself. A pushy talent agent (Al Pacino, in a fleeting caricature) urges him to consider the ramifications: “It’s gonna have a psychological effect on how people see you,” he says. There’s a sincerity to The Wrecking Crew scene that suggests Tarantino’s affection for Sharon Tate runs deep. The dark cloud of history lingers over even the lighter scenes, and generates an intriguing suspense. Tarantino plays with intricate set pieces propelled by extreme unpredictability. Cliff follows Pussycat to the abandoned Spahn Ranch, which Manson’s satanic commune has transformed into its menacing lair. There’s even a late monologue from one of the Manson killers about the fetishization of murder and violence in entertainment that registers as Tarantino reducing his most conservative critics to the worst possible caricatures. Tarantino is most fascinated by the fact that Manson ultimately wound up in Hollywood and not some other place. The factors that might drive girls to follow a man like Manson might also be linked to what caused Rick Dalton’s star to start fading. Tarantino is showing us how old and new Hollywood could have combined together peacefully and naturally by showing Rick and Sharon’s meeting at the very end. In Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Tarantino argues that the highest duty of masculinity, as epitomized by Pitt’s character, is the defense of femininity, as epitomized by Robbie’s. Source:

Sharon Tate—cipher, beauty, Texas pageant girl, and Euro sophisticate—was a character Tarantino could have invented. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood teaches us that Charles Manson and his Family should in no way be glorified. They were not intelligent, not kind, and they had no coherent message or critique. They were just evil, just Nazis beneath their Hippie aesthetics and it seems clear from the climax of the film what Tarantino thinks they deserve. On August 8, 1969, Tate was two weeks from giving birth and had dined at her favorite restaurant, El Coyote Cafe, with Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger, returning at about 10:30 p.m to Cielo Drive. In their shock and confusion, the victims offered money to the Manson Family intruders, begging them not to hurt anyone. Sebring protested that Tate was pregnant and tried to defend her, but Watson shot him twice, puncturing a lung. Sebring crumpled onto the zebra-skin rug by the fireplace. Susan Atkins murdered Tate's baby, stabbing him in front of her dying eyes. Sharon Tate was the last to die, still bound by the neck to the dead body of her former lover, Jay Sebring.

Quentin Tarantino: "I questioned whether I wanted to let the Manson family into my head that much. I came close to abandoning this entire project because I didn’t know if I wanted it in my life. It bums me out that the younger viewers don’t know more than they do. On the other hand, they’re almost too quick to look up everything. Whenever I give my film writing to a millennial to read, they can never get through it because they want to Google every name I mention. I mean, you don’t have to know everybody I’m talking about here. Every film book I ever read, I expected the guy to know more than me."

What’s really got these critics worked up, however, isn’t the violence or the nostalgia factor. What’s rattling them more than they realize is that this movie is transgressive as hell. Only Tarantino would have the balls to make something like it, something that embraces values that people don’t want anymore. We can’t have a movie like this. It affirms things the culture wants killed. If men aren’t encouraged to cry in public, where will we end up? And the bottom line is: Audiences don’t want to see this kind of thing anymore. The audience wants the kind of movies the justice critics want. But the audience gave Once Upon a Time in Hollywood the biggest opening of Tarantino’s career. This sort of praise for the old days of Hollywood may feel outdated. Is Tarantino making a reactionary statement or simply imparting historical justice? For the Manson clan to kill someone was tantamount to “breaking off a minute piece of some cosmic cookie,” as Squeaky Fromme later put it.

Dr. Lewis Yablonsky, a sociologist who’d written a book called The Hippie Trip, argued that many hippies were “alienated people”: "Even when they act as if they love, they can be totally devoid of true compassion. That is the reason why they can kill so matter-of-factly… Many hippies are socially almost dead inside. Some require massive emotions to feel anything at all. They need bizarre, intensive acts to feel alive—sexual acts, acts of violence, nudity, every kind of Dionysian thrill." In 1969 the underground press in L.A. had a swell of sympathy for Manson. Bernardine Dohrn, of the Weather Underground (a faction of Students for a Democratic Society, founded on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan) put it most outrageously: “Offing those rich pigs with their own forks and knives, and then eating a meal in the same room, far out! The Weathermen dig Charles Manson.” After the murders, the media had blamed Hollywood’s “unreality and hedonism,” as the New York Times’s Stephen Roberts put it, for having fostered 'a freaky atmosphere'. Roberts, then Los Angeles bureau chief of the Times, talked to a lot of Hollywood people. Bugliosi quoted him in Helter Skelter: “All the stories had a common thread: That somehow the victims had brought the murders on themselves. The attitude was summed up in the epigram: ‘Live freaky, die freaky.’” In the last 50 years since the murders, the members of the Manson family have been denied parole over 100 times. Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme, now 70, is still not sorry about what happened: "It's hard to be sorry when you're going by your heart." Source:

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Historical deviation in Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Joan Didion, in an essay first published in 1973, described the Hollywood of that era as “the last extant stable society,” and Tarantino’s tableau confirms this view in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Life isn’t perfect, but it is coherent. People know their place. They respect the rules and hierarchies. The governing virtue in this world is courtesy. John Ford, one of old Hollywood’s greatest conservatives, ended one of his greatest movies with the exhortation to “print the legend.” Tarantino’s answer is to film the fairy tale. Alongside the knight and his squire, there is a princess — Sharon Tate — who lives in something like a castle and is married to a man who looks a little like a frog. Tarantino has a sentimental investment in marriage and a thing about wives.

Didion, in “The White Album,” wrote that “many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on Aug. 9, 1969, ended at exactly the moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brush fire through the community.” But what if the ’60s never ended? The music we hear isn’t a soundtrack of rebellion, but an anthology of pleasure. Tarantino’s anti-ironic celebration of the mainstream popular culture of the time amounts to a sustained argument against the idea of a counterculture. Those who would disrupt, challenge or destroy the last stable society on earth are in the grip of an ideological, aesthetic and moral error. Hippies aren’t cool. Old-time he-men like Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are cool. Tarantino brilliantly uses the presence of the Manson girls to suggest something in the Hollywood cosmos that’s diabolical in its bad vibes. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there is a karmic justice that finds everyone getting what they deserve. 

Dean Martin and Sharon Tate in The Wrecking Crew (1968)

At the end of the film, the course of history is changed. Rick and Cliff decide to have one last hurrah as Rick’s expenses filming spaghetti westerns in Rome have crippled his finances. And Susan Atkins (Mikey Madison) decides that Rick Dalton would make a better target than Sharon Tate because his work on violent TV shows have made society violent. Both of these decisions result in Cliff and Rick (with a movie prop no less) killing Tex Watson (Austin Butler), Susan 'Sadie' Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel (Madisen Beaty), saving Sharon Tate and her house guests. This isn’t the first time Tarantino has used his films to take a participatory with history. He did it first in Inglourious Basterds (2009), and then again in Django Unchained (2012). Like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, each of those films ended with the evil being defeated by flames as the filmmaker literally burns away the atrocities of our past—the Holocaust, slavery, the Manson murders—the effects and after-effects of which shaped America in the 20th century. 

But the historical deviation of Tarantino’s latest feels the most useful, the most lasting, perhaps because it is centered on one person. Rick and Cliff prove their usefulness, and so does Tarantino in this neo-Western. It’s not cowboys and bounty hunters who save the day, but filmmakers whose human flaws allow their main characters not only redemption, but connection. Although we can’t help but mourn the absence of the Sharon Tate who could’ve been, there is solace found in the fact that her legacy drives this work of art and is therefore irreplaceable and transformative, all things that Hollywood, at its best, can be. Tarantino had an almost impossible mission in fleshing out this story and he'll be collecting soon a heap of criticism, ignoring all his—frequently unnuanced—earnest efforts to advocate for women and minorities through strong portrayals. As a director he uses people, props and screen time to express a humanism so palpable it's damn near a fetish. Source:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (ode to a cultural rebirth), soundtrack and reviews

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is unquestionably the movie in which Tarantino has it all coming together: a passion for forgotten B-movies, for correcting history, for all things pop culture, for a time and place before the disease of chain restaurants and big box stores infected every other time and place, for obscure pop songs the now-corporatized Oldies Stations refuse to play, for cool men who are all men, for women who are all woman, and for a deliberate pace that slowly raises a middle finger to the MTV-afflicted. And this is just the way Tarantino likes it, this is where he would freeze the world forever — a world filled with cool cars, drive-in movies, diners, and blue skies… A world where one amazing radio station is so omni-present that acts as the soundtrack of an entire city.

OUTIH is not just a movie, it’s an experience — a hypnotic, captivating, immersive tour. Over one weekend in early February 1969, Tarantino dedicates himself to taking us back to a Hollywood — a mythical place, where the studios and their clean cut, square-jawed heroes have not yet been replaced by the anti-heroes of Easy Rider and Raging Bull. Cocaine is nowhere to be seen. People trip but they don’t fall. Dalton even calls Tex Watson 'Dennis Hopper' at one point. Tarantino is just taking the mickey out of hippies and leftist counter-culture. Especially he’s having a go at pathetic losers that have been monumentalized by society for grotesque reasons. Tarantino suceeds in depicting the flower childs of California as creepy, unkept, dirty, and barbaric while living on the outskirts of society while the viewers are repulsed by their rat-infested lifestyle. The hippie communes may be romanticized in most of the media, but definitely not by Tarantino.

But in a place called Chatsworth, just outside of Tarantino’s Magic Place, a cancer is growing. In fact, a malevolent force has already blackened a piece of that magic, a Holy Land where Tarantino’s heroes once came to life. Of all things, the Spahn Ranch, a mystical movie lot where TV Westerns and Western heroes like Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds once walked, is now home to the Manson family, of Charlie and his harem of malevolent hippies, those goddamned hippies who ruined everything. Also looming on the horizon are the horrors of the Woke generation, whose strident bossiness will take all the fun out of everything — especially the movies.

It was a half-hour, black and white Western series called Wanted: Dead or Alive that made Steve McQueen a star. And after he had some success in movies, McQueen deliberately sabotaged his own show, and it was canceled after just three seasons. Rick Dalton did the same, only his half-hour Western TV series is called Bounty Law. Rick Dalton is staring dead in the eyes of 40 and obscurity, so he just made a movie where he killed a bunch of Nazis, but the only rope ladder being thrown his way is an Italian Western. Everyone knew Burt Reynolds from his three seasons on Gunsmoke, but all he ever wanted was to be a movie star — and as he watched Eastwood and McQueen succeed where he couldn’t, he grew more insecure and despondent. Same with Rick Dalton. Burt Reynolds also lived at times with his best friend, Hal Needham, a famous stuntman. Rick Dalton’s inseparable sidekick is stuntman Cliff Booth. DiCaprio inhabits Dalton beautifully. His desperation, his insecurity, his determination, and his talent. One of the best moments is when Rick Dalton discovers he truly can act.

And then there’s Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the Ethereal Beauty, the Innocent in The White Boots, the Unaffected Angel still enthralled by the idea of being a star, the Golden and Radiant Dream Girl who just has to tell the ticket lady she’s in the movie playing there and who practically squeals with delight as she watches a matinee audience enjoy her silly performance as a sexy klutz in The Wrecking Crew. Tarantino wishes the late 60s culture wave hadn't 'rolled back upon itself', to use Hunter Thompson’s words. What would’ve happened if Tate hadn’t died? Where would we be if the positive ethos of the ’60s blended naturally into the socio-political, cultural, and technological changes of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, etc.? The murders of the Manson Family signaled the loss of a communally guiding ethic that triggered the explosion and exploitation of the free love movement. They ushered in the birth of harsh, well-earned cynicism on a national scale. By giving Tate a new life on screen, Tarantino memorializes her while suggesting that we’d be better off in a world in which what she embodied — openness, hopefulness, peacefulness, equality, sober-minded anti-establishment thought — found new life at the turn of the decade. Perhaps, for Tarantino, her survival in the film is not just a celebration of her life, but an ode to a cultural rebirth that never were, a new era that never came. Source:

-How did you cast Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate?

-Tarantino: I’d seen her in a couple of things and thought, she’s really the only person. Everybody else would be a secondary choice. Then I let some of my friends read the script, and they all said,  “So you’re casting Margot Robbie, right?” And out of the blue I got a letter from her, saying, “I really like your work, and I’d love to work with you sometime.” Literally, I had just finished the script a week and a half earlier. I knew I wanted to tell the Rick and Cliff story, and I knew I wanted to tell the Sharon story. In the movie she is a real person, but she is also an idea.  Source:

The soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s new-released film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has been announced. The 31-track release features the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Diamond and Deep Purple. It comes out via Columbia on July 26 to coincide with the film’s US release (the film comes out in the UK on August 15), and will be available on CD, vinyl and digitally. View the tracklisting for the Once Upon A Time In Hollywood soundtrack below.

1.   Treat Her Right – Roy Head & The Traits
2.   Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – The Bob Seger System
Boss Radio feat. Humble Harve:
3.   Hush – Deep Purple
4.   Mug Root Beer Advertisement
5.   Hector – The Village Callers
6.   Son of a Lovin’ Man – Buchanan Brothers
7.   Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course (from the MGM film Three in the Attic) – Chad & Jeremy
8.   Tanya Tanning Butter Advertisement
9.   Good Thing – Paul Revere & The Raiders
10. Hungry – Paul Revere & the Raiders
11. Choo Choo Train – The Box Tops
12. Jenny Take a Ride – Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels
13. Kentucky Woman – Deep Purple
14. The Circle Game – Buffy Sainte-Marie
Boss Radio feat. The Real Don Steele:
15. Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel
16. Numero Uno Advertisement
17. Bring a Little Lovin’ – Los Bravos
18. Suddenly / Heaven Sent Advertisement
19. Vagabond High School Reunion
20. KHJ Los Angeles Weather Report
21. The Illustrated Man Advertisement / Ready For Action
22. Hey Little Girl – Dee Clark
23. Summer Blonde Advertisement
24. Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show – Neil Diamond
25. Don’t Chase Me Around (from the MGM film GAS-S-S-S) – Robert Corff
26. Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon – Paul Revere & the Raiders (feat. Mark Lindsay)
27. California Dreamin’ – Jose Feliciano
28. Dinamite Jim (English Version) – I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni
29. You Keep Me Hangin’ On (Quentin Tarantino Edit) – Vanilla Fudge
30. Miss Lily Langtry (cue from The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean) – Maurice Jarre
31. KHJ Batman Promotion

We hear Sharon Tate say, ‘Don’t tell Jim Morrison you’re dancing to the Raiders!’ They never had the coolness vibe of bands like the Doors, but they were a good pop band.  Paul Revere & the Raiders's Hungry is featured in a scene in which Sharon Tate meets Charles Manson for the first time. The Raiders were chosen for a specific historical reason: Terry Melcher, who was Doris Day’s son, was their producer, and he lived in the Cielo Drive house [where the murders took place] and had a connection to the Manson family. The Buchanan Brothers, “Son of a Lovin’ Man” (1969): Heard in a party scene set at the Playboy Mansion, this adult-bubblegum deep cut wasn’t made by actual brothers but by a trio of singer-songwriter-producers (two of whom went on to form the folk-pop duo Cashman and West). “It’s such a great dancing song, and it’s not that easy to find. That was a record in Quentin’s collection.” Source:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Moral Reckoning hits hard in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

"Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood Is His Best Film: It’s also his first political film, with a moral reckoning that hits hard. At the screening I attended, most of the audience went into quiet shock during QT’s finale, an extended sequence of conventional action-movie moral reckoning." -Armond White (National Review)

Tarantino once said, “When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.’” And it’s that education by projector light that weaves its way through every frame of “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” a movie only he could have devised. And yet this is not the film that hardcore fans of “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds” may be expecting. It’s somber at times in the way it seems to be trying to grab something just of reach—the limitless potential of the people on the fringe of the city of angels and an attempt to capture a mythical time when movies, real life, and imagination could intertwine. It’s one of those rare movies that will provoke conversation and debate long enough to cement itself in the public consciousness. Source:

With his latest feature, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Tarantino finally moves beyond the comfortable confines he created and delivers an assured masterpiece of breathtaking, and restrained filmmaking. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Tarantino's most complete film to date. Each character has their own voice and they are written with the depth needed to speak for themselves. Tarantino was destined to make a film about Hollywood. There are beautiful maidens, charming princes, dreamers of ridiculous dreams, and evil hippies. Lots and lots of evil hippies. The Manson Family members are portrayed as individuals with free will who deliberately made poor choices rather than being brainwashing victims, and hippie culture/drug culture isn't glorified either. With restraint and understated sentimentality, Tarantino gives Rick and Sharon a chance to escape their insecurities through fleeting moments of professional recognition. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood forestalls cynicism and irony to indulge a simpler time in the world of make-believe. I left wondering if the message of this LA fairy tale was really a warning of a bleak future for art and cinema. Source:

Friday, July 19, 2019

Tarantino "very infatuated" with Sharon Tate

Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” earned strong reviews after its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but it was the film’s confrontational press conference that ended up dominating headlines. One journalist asked Tarantino why Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate gets significantly less dialogue than her male co-stars, to which the writer-director replied, “I reject your hypothesis.” In a new interview with Deadline, Tarantino opened up about crafting Sharon Tate’s narrative in “Hollywood.” “The thing about it is, unfortunately she’s a woman who has been defined by the tragedy of her death,” Tarantino said. “While not making the Sharon Tate story, I wanted to explore who she was, the person. She knew a lot of people so there’s a whole lot of verbal historical accounts of her.”

While Robbie’s Sharon Tate does have less dialogue than the film’s two leading male characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Tarantino said that it was more important for him to give the late actress her life back than to force her into the larger narrative through dialogue and character interactions. Tarantino said he got “very infatuated” with Tate the more he learned about her and wanted in the film to define her life by more than just her death. “I thought it would both be touching and pleasurable and also sad and melancholy to just spend a little time with her, just existing,” Tarantino said. “I didn’t come up with a big story and have her work into the story so now she has to talk to other characters and move a story along. It was just a day in the life. It’s a day in the life of all three of them, that Saturday in February. A day in the life, driving around, running errands, doing this, doing that, and just being with her. I thought that could be special and meaningful. I wanted you to see Sharon a lot, see her living life. Not following some story, just see her living, see her being.”

The “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” theatrical cut will run two minutes longer than the Cannes cut Tarantino first premiered. The director revealed he added back in more scenes of Sharon’s time in Westwood, slightly extending the moment when she picks up a hitchhiker. An interaction between DiCaprio and Timothy Olyphant’s character was also added for the theatrical cut. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” opens in theaters nationwide July 26 from Sony Pictures. Source:

Sharon Marie Tate Polanski (January 24, 1943 – August 9, 1969) was an American actress and model. During the 1960s, she played small television roles before appearing in films and was regularly featured in fashion magazines as a model and cover girl. After receiving positive reviews for her comedic and dramatic acting performances, Tate was hailed as one of Hollywood's most promising newcomers. Her most remembered performance was as Jennifer North in the 1967 cult classic film, Valley of the Dolls, earning her a Golden Globe Award nomination. Roman Polanski gave away all of his possessions after the murders, unable to bear any reminders of the period that he called "the happiest I ever was in my life." His 1979 film Tess was dedicated "to Sharon", as Tate had read Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles during her final stay with Polanski in London and had left it for him to read with the comment that it would be a good story for them to film together. He tried to explain his anguish after the murder of his wife and unborn son in his 1984 autobiography Roman by Polanski, saying "Since Sharon's death, and despite appearances to the contrary, my enjoyment of life has been incomplete. In moments of unbearable personal tragedy some people find solace in religion. In my case the opposite happened. Any religious faith I had was shattered by Sharon's murder. It reinforced my faith in the absurd."

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Rock Culture in the 21st century, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Buddy Holly in Rhinelander

"I don't think that I've ever made a fully realized piece of art. I've always felt like the best stuff I've made has been the stuff that I didn't intend to be there, that I look at and say, how did that happen? that's the stuff that makes it worthwhile to me. Because if you could imagine it, why do it? Why take that journey?" -Jeff Tweedy from Wilco.

In their many justified laments about the trajectory of their profession in the digital age, songwriters and musicians regularly assert that music has been “devalued.” Over the years they’ve pointed at two outstanding culprits. First, it was music piracy and the futility of “competing with free.” More recently the focus has been on the seemingly miniscule payments songs generate when they’re streamed on services such as Spotify or Apple Music. Less obvious are a number of other forces and trends that have devalued music in a more pernicious way. And by music I don’t mean the popular song formats that one sees on awards shows and hears on commercial radio. I mean the sonic art form — imaginative, conceptual composition and improvisation rooted in harmonic and rhythmic ideas. In other words, music as it was defined and regarded five decades ago, when art music had a seat at the table.

When I hear songwriters of radio hits decry their tiny checks from Spotify, I think of today’s jazz prodigies who won’t have a shot at even a fraction of the old guard’s popular success. They can’t even imagine working in a music environment that might lead them to household status of the Miles Davis or John Coltrane variety. They are struggling against forces at the very nexus of commerce, culture and education that have conspired to make music less meaningful to the public at large. We truly do devalue music when we reduce our most impactful art form to an artifact of celebrity. Complex instrumental music has become marginalized to within an inch of its very existence, and that has a lot to do with industry folk defining “value” in only the way that affects their mailbox money. Here are some of the most problematic issues musicians are facing in the industry’s current landscape.

1. The Death of Context: Digital music ecosystems, starting with Apple’s iTunes, reduced recordings down to a stamp-sized cover image. As classical music commentators have long argued, these systems do a poor job with composers, conductors, soloists and ensembles. Plus they’re devoid of context. While there are capsule biographies of artists and composers in most of the services, historic albums are sold and streamed without the credits or liner notes of the LP and CD era. The constituency of super-fans who read and assimilate this stuff is too small to merit attention from the digital services or labels, but what’s lost is the maven class that infuses the culture with informed enthusiasm. Our information-poor environment of digital is failing to inspire such fandom, and that’s profoundly harmful to our shared idea about the value of music.

2. Commercial Radio: It’s an easy target, but one can’t overstate how profoundly radio changed between the explosion of popular music in the mid 20th century and the corporate model of the last 30 years. An ethos of musicality and discovery has been replaced wholesale by a cynical manipulation of demographics and the blandest common denominator. Playlists are much shorter, with a handful of singles repeated incessantly. DJs no longer choose music based on their expertise and no longer weave a narrative around the records. As with liner notes, this makes for more passive listening and shrinks the musical diet of most Americans down to a handful of heavily produced, industrial-scale hits.

3. The Media: In the 1960s, mainstream print publications took the arts seriously, covering and promoting exceptional contemporary talents across all styles of music. Thus did Thelonious Monk wind up on the cover of TIME magazine, for example. When I began covering music for a chain newspaper around 2000, stories were prioritized by the prior name recognition of the subject. Music/discovery stories were subordinate to celebrity news at a systemic level. Industry metrics (chart position and concert ticket sales) became a staple of music “news.” In the age of measured clicks the always-on focus grouping has institutionalized the echo chamber of pop music, stultifying and discouraging meaningful engagement with art music.

4. Anti-intellectualism: Music has for decades been promoted and explained to us almost exclusively as a talisman of emotion. The overwhelming issue is how it makes you feel. Whereas the art music of the West transcended because of its dazzling dance of emotion and intellect. Art music relates to mathematics, architecture, symbolism and philosophy. And as such topics have been belittled in the general press or cable television, our collective ability to relate to music through a humanities lens has atrophied. Those of us who had music explained and demonstrated to us as a game for the brain as well as the heart had it really lucky. Why so many are satisfied to engage with music at only the level of feeling is a vast, impoverishing mystery.

5. Music in Schools: It all begins — or ends — here. Like any other language, the rules and terms and structure are most readily absorbed by the young. And as music’s been cut from more than half the grade schools in the US in a long, grinding trend, the pushback has been based increasingly on evidence about music education’s ripple effects on overall academic performance — the ‘music makes kids smarter’ argument. This is true and vital, but we tend to lose sight of the case for the value of music in our culture — that music education makes kids more musical. Those who internalize music’s rules and rites early in life will be more likely to attend serious concerts and bring a more astute ear to their pop music choices as adults. Source:

It’s also important to note that no one individual person or act invented the genre formally known as rock & roll; it was, generally speaking, wrought from the confluence of Americana forces: big band, jazz, country, and blues. When Dylan turned electric in 1965, it was seen as a betrayal to the folk genre, something a lot of fans hated and scorned him for, even to this day. In reality, the move from lone troubadour to electric frontman was, in fact, his total acknowledgment and loyalty to pure music Americana. Rock ’n’ roll was a new art form that emerged with the deepened expansion of the American spirit. He was honoring his roots. “I’m not a folk rock singer,” he adamantly told the press. When asked by journalists why he didn’t write protest songs anymore, he simply responded, “Who said that? All I ever do is protest.”

Bob Dylan's Behind the Shades interview appeared in the February/March 2015 issue of AARP magazine, while promoting his live album Shadows in the Night. Dylan talked about Sinatra, aging, his new album and if the thinks rock ’n’ roll died. The article started out with Dylan discussing the fact that his band was made up of old-timer elements like the pedal steel and stand up bass, and that there were no overdubs or separate tracking. But when the conversation moves into his early influences during childhood, he went off onto a tangent about rock ’n’ roll: “I was still an aspiring rock 'n' roller. The descendant, if you will, of the first generation of guys who played rock ’n’ roll — Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis. They played this type of music that was extremely incendiary. And there must have been some elitist power that had to get rid of all these guys, to strike down rock ’n’ roll for what it was and what it represented. And that was extremely threatening for them, I would think. When they finally recognized what it was, they had to dismantle it, which they did, starting with payola scandals.” 

The payola scandals revealed that labels and distributing companies were bribing disc jockeys to spin certain records a certain amount of times per week. Before DJ’s were known as the lucrative, technical button-pushers they are today, they were curators of music trends in the 1950’s, when cheap 45 rpm’s took off and the American teenager (*Boomer alert*) was, for the first time, a viable economic force. In 1950, there were approximately 250 disc jockeys in the U.S. By 1957, the number had grown to over 5,000. The increase was partially due to the sheer amount of new records being produced, both by major and indie labels. These on-air personalities had so much clout with younger listeners, Time magazine called them the “poo-bahs of musical fashion and pillars of U.S. low-and-middle-brow culture.” The hammer eventually came down in 1959, when 335 DJs admitted to receiving over $263,000 in “consulting fees” before the U.S. House Oversight Committee (over $2 million in today’s money). 

It was around this time Doo-wop came to commercial prominence, and not only did it help simmer the flames sparked by rock, but it also helped cultivate the eventual Italian-American assimilation. Doo-wop did to rock ’n’ roll what Sinatra and his previous generation of crooners did to jazz. In A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell, it’s described as: “A style combining smooth vocal harmonies, romantic lyrics, and a stationary stage presence… doo-wop shot to the top of the pop charts in the late 1950s when Italian Americans adopted it as their own — just as most African American performers moved toward ‘soul music.’” Why did the committee single Alan Freed out? Freed was abrasive. Dick Clark was squeaky clean, Brylcreemed, handsome and polite. Once the grilling started, Freed’s friends and allies in broadcasting quickly deserted him. Freed refused — “on principle” — to sign an affidavit saying that he’d never accepted payola. WABC fired him, and he was charged with 26 counts of commercial bribery. Freed died five years later, broke and virtually forgotten. By the time “Twist and Shout” arrived to us from across the pond in 1964, rock ’n’ roll had already taken one hell of bludgeoning.

Although the primal wave of Rock & Roll of the Fifties is seen almost like a surreal fantasy these days, what’s happening in garages and makeshift basement studios across the country — the fourth wave of garage rock, as loosely described by Ty Segall — tells us that despite the turbulent effects of the digi-scape on all sectors of our culture in the 21st century, rock ‘n’ roll is not only still kicking, but it’s doing so in the illuminated dark, out of the mainstream limelight. Though it may be snatched or bought off the streets and shamelessly adulterated in corporate studios now and again (and forever doomed to the purgatory of PR sub-genre-labeling), the current garage revival underway proves its spirit is what persists, and what returns to haunt the status quo.

Lou Reed's "Your Love" (1962) from Rare Singles From The Golden Age of Rock and Roll. Sylvia Morales (Reed's ex-wife) is contemplating to write a memoir about their marriage, she met with NPR at a Chinatown cafĂ© recently for a chat: "Lou was a person who was extremely bright. For example, there was the music he really loved – the ‘50s doo-wop, Otis Redding, a very intense love for that that remained his entire life. Lou didn’t like to do interviews, and he shied away from too much press. He asked me if he should release Take Not Prisoners and I said yes – I was younger, and maybe should have rethought that one. Well, he was very close to not releasing it, and a lot of people around him were saying, “Are you insane? Do not release this!” Growing Up in Public (1980) was deadly serious. Lou was dealing with growing up in one big lump, as he tried to evolve into a healthier version of himself. It was very rough. But I’ve never seen anyone stronger. Nowadays, people have rehab and more social support, there is a little less social stigma. But he totally did it by himself. He was very strong and determined.  Maybe “Heavenly Arms” from The Blue Mask (1982) is not as timeless as “A Perfect Day” or “Pale Blue Eyes,” but it's what he gave to me. After the Velvets reunion, Lou and I attempted to work together despite our marriage eroding. We tried to work together because we both still had the same values. We both believed very much in doing his work. I totally think he was a very meaningful, very important artist. We struggled through a lot. But I’m pretty proud of the fact that we didn’t do what maybe other couples have done. We tried to behave a certain way to get things done." —Podcast by Eric Davidson (December, 2018)

The world of Rock and Roll was a bit different in the 1950s than it became in later years. Other than Elvis Presley, who was already playing in stadiums in the late 1950s, most rock bands still performed in smaller auditoriums and arenas. In 1958 Buddy Holly was a recognized musical star, yet he barely got interviewed by the press or radio and domestically he maintained a grueling schedule playing in smaller venues across the country. One of those small venues was the Crystal Rock in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. In July 1958 Buddy Holly and the Crickets toured the upper Midwest with the Summer Dance Party, a tour that started on July 4 in Indiana, and ended on July 13 in Wisconsin. They played every day in a different town or city, except for July 7. On July 12 the band was scheduled to play two shows in Wausau, Wisconsin.

Holly’s time in Wisconsin could not have been overly memorable for him. The band spent the night in Wausau, and Holly woke up to find that someone had slashed the tires on his Lincoln Continental. After getting the car repaired, the group drove up to Rhinelander for the July 13 show at the Crystal Rock. In Rhinelander a local band, the Runabouts, and twin sisters Judy and Joan Bender, who performed as the Jayettes, opened for Holly. Judy Bender, now Judy Oestreich, knew that she was performing on the same stage as an up-and-coming legend. "Holly was very talented. Very, very talented," remarks Judy Oestreich, from the town of Ringle, WI. "I think it was the way he presented the music. He wrote it, so he felt it." Judy and his friends started talking with Holly, and when the bar closed, the party moved to her house. Judy rounded up his extensive record collection, and she and Holly talked about music, and life on the road. She reckons that Holly was a perfect gentleman that night and maybe he might have been expecting for some sign of personal interest on her part, but she was too tired to initiate a romantic overture. Also, Judy was dating his future husband, Terry Oestreich, The Runabouts drummer, who also attended the party. Terry gave Buddy Holly his name and number, and was surprised when Holly called him the next morning.

Holly and the Crickets had another gig on July 13 at the Crystal Rock Ballroom in Rhinelander, and The Runabouts and the Jayettes opened the concert again. The musicians and Terry Oestreich spent part of the afternoon at a picnic with the band. Judy Oestreich ended up seeing Buddy Holly once again, on February 1, 1959, before a performance in Green Bay. With them were Judy's sister Joan, and Larry Matti, who played sax for The Runabouts and who ended up marrying Joan. Holly invited them into the performers' dressing room, and they all met the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and other performers on the fateful Winter Dance Party Tour in the Midwest. Two days later, Holly, the Big Bopper and Valens were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. When Judy and Terry Oestreich got the news, "We were absolutely devastated," Judy lamented. "I think Buddy Holly would have been huge, if he had lived. Bigger than even Elvis." But not everyone attending was a fan. In 1958 a 17-year-old Bill Knutson was at the Rhinelander concert, and he recalled being in the rest room during a break when Buddy Holly came in another burly fellow in the restroom started to threaten Holly physically. Knutson intervened and allowed Holly to duck out before anything worse could happen. Back on stage, Holly (tongue-in-cheek) dedicated his next song “for the guy who just saved my life.” Holly and his band slept in their cars that night in a parking lot across the street from the Crystal Rock, after which they returned home. Holly passed through the Northwoods again for 1959s Winter Dance Party tour but never performed in Rhinelander again. Terry Oestreich, Judy's husband, was a roadie of sorts for the Jayettes and The Runabouts. His brother Bob Oestreich also was a drummer for The Runabouts. Holly's music "was just different, you know? And we liked it," Terry said: "The talent was obvious, but everyone who came in contact with Holly that night and the following morning say the same thing. He was a decent, quiet, down-to-earth, nice guy." Source:

Strauss-Howe's The Fourth Turning references the cyclical nature of history, the rise of authoritarianism in the past and the likely future cycles. It is interesting to note that this work, published in the nineties, predicted a major financial (on par with the great depression) occurring some time between 2005 and 2010, and a major democratic (as in the system, not the party) crisis between 2015 and 2025 in Europe and the US. Fast forward to 2019. 90% of American media controlled by 6 corporations. Or just 5, since CBS and Viacom have consolidated under the umbrella of National Amusements. A Google search of the legislation passed in 1999 that deregulated our financial industry and lo and behold the very first result was a form of compliance for the bill that protects consumer privacy/information. Anyone looking to research the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act is met with a friendly search engine optimized version of the bill that tells them nothing about the havoc it actually caused. This cross contamination occurs as often it's more about making people angrier and more paranoid. Getting angry has become our primary source of entertainment. Now we're all angry at one another and factioned to a degree where we're dismissing one another's concerns, paralyzing us from addressing the source of our problems and becoming a parody of the mass media we consume. Much like the media, every time a lot of of us talk, it's just to make someone angry. It turns out that liberal democracy and free trade may actually be rather fragile achievements. There is something out there that doesn’t like liberalism, and is making trouble for the survival of its institutions. Fukuyama thinks he knows what that something is, and his answer is summed up in the title of his new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” (2018). Hegel thought that the end of history would arrive when humans achieved perfect self-knowledge and self-mastery, when life was rational and transparent. Rationality and transparency are the values of classical liberalism. Source: