JACK WHITE, PRINCE OF 52ND ST.

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Part Spike Jones, part Lee Tracy, part Bob Wills, New York-born Jack White was a vaudeville emcee, an actor, a band leader, an insult comedian, a singer,  a nightclub owner, an obsessive baseball fan, and how he ever made it to 49 before he died is anyone’s guess.

As the story goes, White had worked as a singing waiter and a bricklayer before auditioning for an amateur musical production. Something about White’s performance struck Irving Berlin of all people, who may have sensed in the oily, fast-talking wise-ass the spark of a natural. Berlin may have regretted the move later, as once onstage White went to great lengths to confuse his audience while entertaining himself.

“Ace of clubs!”

White set up jokes with no punchlines, offered punchlines that made no sense, tossed out showbiz in-jokes and insults and kept the whole thing moving so fast no one seemed to notice.

“Now take the pauper—that tall guy over there we call Stump. Between him and his old man, they got four elbows. He couldn’t afford to go coffee so he hadda goatee! Now he walks through the streets shouting. Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her poor dog a grapefruit. When she got there all she had was spongecake, so now the dog’ll only eat bah-naaa-nasa!”

He kept the same absurdist banter running off the tracks while acting as a sort-of bandleader in 1929 with The Montrealers, naking the band itself part of the act. Much as Spike Jones would a decade later, White deconstructed pop songs, employed unexpected instrumentation, traded incomprehensible one-liners with his musicians (sometimes individually, sometimes as a group), and turned what was in theory a musical performance into a Dada slapstick routine, with the well-rehearsed musicians responding to each sorrt-of punchline with a unified “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!”

“How are you feeling today?” he calls to an unseen musician.

“Like a rotten apple!”   

“Like a rotten apple? How’s that?”   

“Rotten!”

“Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!” After making a Vitaphone short with the Montrealers in ‘29, White would go on to appear in four others and a handful of features (including King of Jazz) over the next two years, returning in 1937 to play small roles in two more.  His final film was ‘37’s 52nd Street, a semi-fictional recounting of how New York’s 52nd Street became home to so many famed nightclubs. For White it was typecasting, as he was part owner of Club 18 where among other duties he parlayed his years on vaudeville into becoming the house emcee. true to smartass form, one night when boxer Max Baer walked into the club, White called from the stage, “Hey Maxie! The folks don’t recognize you! Stretch out on the floor will you?”

White was offered more film roles, but he recoiled (and justifiably so) at the idea of moving to California. It was too far away from West 52nd, and he wasn’t about to leave Club 18 behind. More important than the nightclub scene, he also wasn’t about to leave the New York Giants behind.

“Five of hearts!”

White went beyond obsessive when it came to baseball. He traveled with  the Giants to spring training every year, and was allowed to sit in the dugout during regular season games (a practice that somehow continued even after he sprinted onto the field to kiss Jimmy Ripple after the outfielder hit a home run).

“Four of clubs!”

White never became a big movie star nor a nationally-recognized name, but you get the distinct impression that wasn’t what he was after. The rest of the country likely wouldn’t have much use for his absurd, sharp-tongued shtick anyway. He was the proverbial Runyonesque character. He had his own audience and his own stage in his own club in the heart of his own town, plus he had his own baseball team on top of it. What the hell more could he want?

White died of tuberculosis in 1942 at age 49. In New York, of course.

”Eight of diamonds!”

by Jim Knipfel

MISSION STATEMENT FOR A NEW WORLD DISORDER

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As multinational corporations, we pride ourselves on understanding our markets and adjusting our products and services to accommodate our customers overseas. Thus you can get Tandoori McNuggets in Mumbai, and Kimchi toppings on your Pizza Hut delivery in Seoul. We are ‘sensitive’, in other words, to “cultural differences” and this is why we work overtime to ensure that slum dwellers in Kenya have access to domestically banned, toxic, nutrient-free baby formula. This compassionate stance can be found closer to home where KFC helpfully inserts their poultry products into powdered mash potato for the benefit of a demographic who is most likely to have served time in a federal penitentiary and can only handle a plastic spoon. Above all, we value “diversity” and offer a wide range of ‘diverse’ products and services to this leveled playing field, now a corpse-strewn, smoldering moonscape of debris, dead lakes and bubbling tar pits. Our affiliate, the US government is no different when it comes to bringing a wide range of diseases, destruction and suffering to their clientele in client states across the globe. A mid-western strip mall patrolled by a local, heavily armed militia becomes a make-believe Caliphate in Syria and Iraq governed by mint-tea party goons who also received weapons and training from their US government benefactors. We deliver the same services to the Palestinian territories that we provide in Detroit, but with aerial assaults and the occasional dusting of white phosphorous as a deferential nod to this particular market segment’s stealth and resilience in the face of ethnic cleansing. Surplus labor, depending on its geographical positioning, requires a creative approach to handling the burden it places on an organization’s “bottom line”. Israel Inc. in partnership with America Corp. leads the way in providing ‘final’ solutions to this particular challenge.

 by Jennifer Matsui

A PAEAN TO WITCHES

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I first read Jules Michelet’s Satanism and Witchcraft 50 years ago, judging from a bookmark ripped from the corner of a now-defunct Philadelphia daily. I still have the same ratty Citadel paperback, the red backing turned pink and held in place with packing tape. (It’s now available from Kensington Publishing.)

Michelet was perhaps the leading historian of 19th-century France, a man who spent 30 years putting together a multi-volume history of his country – then turned out a book a year compiled from the leftover notes. Satanism was 1862’s contribution and, from all accounts, his most personal, decidedly eccentric, piece of work. For long is was also his only title in print in English.

What is history? That’s been a topic of academic debate over at least the last half century, during which time a trend developed away from chronicling the doings of kings and other big boys and toward finding out what the “real people” were up to.

Using this approach, Michelet was well ahead of the curve. Satanism and Witchcraft is a study of why and how the peasants of the middle ages (and later) turned to the Devil to relieve the misery of daily life. Beset by brutal and arbitrary feudal lords, who owned their bodies, their last hope was to keep some hold on their souls.

More surprisingly, the book is an extended paean to the place of women in the world, an enlightened view of feminism written at a time when women had fallen to their social nadir. Michelet also carries French anti-clericalism to its most extreme, excoriating the Church for legislating the degraded life of the masses, and its minions for their uncontrolled and implicitly sanctioned licentiousness.

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Michelet is by no means a dry, “objective” historian. He takes passionate sides on all the issues, flailing those he sees as guilty, exalting the innocent. Despite occasional sentimentalism and florid asides, he’s saved from petty partisanship by two sterling traits – his mastery of primary sources and a magnificent style (delightfully rendered by translator A.R. Allinson). This is a book you can read for the sheer flow of the words.

Much of Part I reads like a novel, as Michelet invents a typical peasant wife who escapes her lonely humiliation through friendship with a local nature spirit. Later, however, this spirit grows in size and power to become a manifestation of the Devil, manipulating her into a feared witch-force and rival to the castle’s lady.

Later, turned on and turned out, she takes to the heath to plot her revenge, but with time matures into a respected wonder-worker of health as she gains knowledge of nature.

Now she has caught the Church’s jealous attention and must be put down – arrested, tortured and burned, but not before she has thrown her own belief in her judges’ faces, admitting to her power and consort with Satan.

Michelet here pits the life force of Nature against the death force of the Church. He does not exalt evil – far from it – but rather the human urge to salvage hope from the midst of despair. There’s some confusion as to what Michelet believes to be her imaginings, what her actual doings. I think, at bottom, he refuses to make the distinction. He documents a woman’s place, not her particulars.

Part II deals mostly with the most famous sorcery trials of the 17th and 18th centuries, such as those at Loudun (the basis of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudon and Ken Russell’s fullest and most intense film, The Devils). Michelet ends with a horrifying study of Charlotte Cadiére, a naïve, possibly schizophrenic ecstatic who becomes the spiritual and sexual victim of a reprobate Jesuit. Again, Michelet takes sides, but the case he makes is all too miserably convincing.

No, this isn’t a book for everyone, and it’s certainly not a manual to comfort satanists. In the guise of an historical treatise, it’s an impassioned plea for the value of decency, for woman as spiritual healer, and for the unconstrained human soul.

by Derek Davis

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DAVID DUCHOVNY AND GILLIAN ANDERSON SECRETLY MARRIED: Birth of an X-Files Urban Legend

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Andy Kaufman Still Alive? No, But Mulder and Scully Got Married. David Duchovny Tea Leoni divorce news sparks conspiracy theories.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson secretly married? It’s got to be something out of an X-Files, right?  Everything about that show smacked of conspiracy. It’s why we watched. We were all Night Stalkers looking for a good flashlight scene. It fed the need for mysterious dark corners of almost truths: Who killed JFK? Did Paul McCartney really die in a car crash in 1966? Where is Jimmy Hoffa buried? What crashed in Roswell? Should Bigfoot be on the endangered species list? Any of which could have been an X-file. It was just a matter of time until The X-Files had an X-file of their own.

Sure, maybe The X-Files deserved a more creepy pasta kind of urban legend, like the series was actually the FBI’s way of disseminating information and getting the world ready for mass-alien abductions or using a spin-off to warn about the Twin Tower bombings. But no, the X-Files’ X-file is just a sex-file. It plays into the romance of the show and all those years X-Files fans wanted Dana Scully and Fox Mulder to kiss.

David Duchovny and Téa Leoni announced that their divorce was final over the weekend. Duchovny filed in June, citing an irreparable breakdown of the relationship. Weeks ago, tabloids reported that Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were dating after Anderson was spotted coming out of Duchovny’s place in New York amid rumors that he and Leoni were reconciling.

After reporting this for another magazine, I was contacted by a self-proclaimed insider. Just like on The X-Files itself when a well-manicured man gave insider tips to Agent Scully or Deep Throat and X came out of the shadows to guide “Spooky” Mulder through the looking glass. I had my own deep cover insider, a lone gunman, if you will. Hopefully unarmed. I will call this person Deep X. And I’ll tell you what I know about Deep X.

Nothing. I don’t know shit about Deep X and if I were writing this for an online news zine I could get in deep shit because Deep X can be some online lunatic fringe and Fringe was another show entirely. Maybe not entirely, Fringe was so deeply derivative it could have been X-Files outtakes. This informant could be anyone: an X-Files fan or someone who hated the show; someone who just wanted to see their made-up story in print.

Deep X claims to know “a couple of people who are very close to Anderson and Duchovny.” Inasmuch as feeding an urban legend, this is meaningless. The deejays who ran the first Paul Is Dead report didn’t know the band or anyone in their Apple corps. The first Elvis sighting could have been an impersonator on break. The first person who saw Jesus on a taco wasn’t even a member of the clergy.

Deep X contacted me through email, claiming that Duchovny and Anderson secretly got married years ago, that they have children together and that they wouldn’t have to hide all this in plain sight if it weren’t for Tea Leoni. I ignored it. At my peril. When the Duchovny Leoni divorce announcement came out this weekend, I got an email from Deep X asking “believe me now?”

There are gossip magazines and tabloids that might just label this as an anonymous source and run with it. I’m not saying I believe it. I’m just saying, as an X-Files fan, it’s a story I could wish was true. I was never a Tea Leoni fan anyway and I don’t care if Gillian Anderson’s hair could be a little too red, if you know what I mean. The idea that the actors who played Mulder and Scully could have hidden something like this for years would rank it up there with Rod Stewart getting his stomach pumped because he gave one too many blow jobs.

The X-Files is all about mythology. Part of what feeds that was the chemistry between the two stars. Mulder and Scully teased and occasionally squeezed, but like most things on network TV, never pleased. It took them years to kiss. The idea that they were doing something deep under the covers themselves was always a thing of fan fantasy. Not mine, I actually preferred them separate, smoldering from afar in their unimaginative ties and feet too short to reach the pedal. I wouldn’t care if Duchovny was actually a celibate, just so long as Mulder hit on bug scientists named Bambi.

Read More

imageAlberto Martini. Illustrations for the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. 1909.

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JEANNE EAGELS

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Arc de Triomphe

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Thanks, Richard Polt, for immortalizing this poem on your antique typewriter.