FREE VOLUME 17 NUMBER 4
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LONDON PIRATE RADIO Pirate radio is everywhere in London, born in the 60’s from rusting anti-aircraft towers in the mouth of the Thames. Today’s broadcasts are hidden in plain sight, transmitting from secret tower block studios via homemade rooftop antennas. We put our boots on and went exploring.
LONDON PIRATE RADIO | NOW PL AYING AT PALL ADIUMBOOTS .COM
In honor of a UK movement that took over the world, a Sex Pistols collaboration for Spring 2010.
Often imitated. Never duplicated. Vans for life.
Created by Alva and Peralta in Dogtown, still skated to shreds today.
WATCH ON MOTHERBOARD.TV/SOUNDBUILDERS
Portrait of Hunter S. Thompson, Hawai i. 1983.
Shuttle Launch Parking Lot Rocket science for the masses
AIRING APRIL 7TH ON MOTHERBOARD.TV
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Drawing by Nick Gazin
VOLUME 17 NUMBER 4 Cover photo by Ryan McGinley
MY BROTHER WAS IN A CHINESE BOY BAND . . . . . . . . . . 30 THE FALL GAL Brix Smith Brought the Sunshine to Blighty . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
BLESS THIS MESS Wading Through the Shit With the Disaster Masters . . . 100
“THEY JUST WANT TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR” William T. Vollmann Becomes a Woman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
FUCK CHURCH Japan’s Little Pebble Commune Shows God How It’s Done . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
MAN FIGHT Men Fighting Men . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
VIVE LE TARNAC NINE! The French Tradition of Brainy Sabotage Lives On . . . . . 112
PHOTOS BY SANDY KIM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
THIRSTY AND MISERABLE On Tour With the English Defence League . . . . . . . . . . . 122
PAVEL Photos by David Armstrong . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86 I WAS LOOKING FOR A STREET An Excerpt From a Memoir by Charles Willeford . . . . . . . . 94
32 BATTALION The History of South Africa’s Preeminent Black-Ops Unit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Drawing by Nick Gazin
Masthead . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Skinema . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134
Employees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Sheppard’s Video-Game Pie . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
VICE Mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Reviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
DOs & DON’Ts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
Kagomaniacs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Fashion: There’s Juice in the Fridge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
Johnny Ryan’s Page . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144
Fashion: Dandy Critters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
Stockists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146
Fashion: Boo! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
FOUNDERS Suroosh Alvi, Shane Smith
EDITOR IN CHIEF Jesse Pearson (email@example.com) EXECUTIVE EDITOR Chris Cechin (firstname.lastname@example.org) MANAGING EDITOR Amy Kellner (email@example.com)
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New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Newport Beach,
EMPLOYEES OF THE MONTH
A few words from Sandy: “My name is Sandy Kim and I live in San Francisco and I’m five feet tall. I steal all my film from Walgreens and I process all my photos there as well. I have a collection of all my friends’ hair on my wall and a shrine to my boyfriend next to my bed. When I was a kid I was so constipated that my parents used to dig shit out of my ass with a chopstick, but now I shit in three seconds.” Thanks, Sandy! That is one of the most excellent bios we’ve ever read, though she has neglected to mention that she has a website, sandykim.com, which contains many photos that are pleasing to the eye. In this issue, we present a portfolio of some of our favorite work from this enchanting young firecracker.
Royce is the new editor of our Australian edition. Before coming to Vice, he wrote ads at an ad agency. His favorite ad that he ever wrote had a picture of an earnest-looking baby with the words “It’s the eczema cream I’ve been waiting for my whole life.” Well, he never said he was any good. In his spare time, he likes to cook, and he has a thing for fried rice. He can make many varieties of fried rice including seafood with XO sauce, chicken with salted fish, scrambled egg with crispy fried shallot, Chinese sausage and lettuce, duck and bean shoot, chili and black bean, kencur (a root that’s a bit like ginger), and nasi goreng (Indonesian). For this issue, he interviewed his brother, who for a brief but glorious moment was a member of a popular boy band in China.
See PHOTOS BY SANDY KIM, page 80
See MY BROTHER WAS IN A CHINESE BOY BAND, page 30
“Hello! This is Alice, Molly’s best friend. When Molly called to tell me that she’d taken on a ‘hoarding assignment,’ I thought, ‘Wow! What great talent placement!’ I’ve known Molly for over a decade, and she is my most frugal pal. Her own squirreling habits range from promotional pens to condiment packets, but I wasn’t too worried about any Gonzo-style ingratiation. The following week she texted me from the apartment in question with a scatological detail that would later make its way into the article featured in this issue. I replied with the perfunctory ‘SICKETATING!’ and asked her to come over. When she arrived that night, suspiciously clean, her eyes were focused yet vacant, and I knew without asking that it was taking all her strength not to puke all over the place. Molly’s blog is magicmolly.com, and she has written for n+1 and the Poetry Foundation. Her stomach is steely.”
David has been making beautiful portraits since the late 70s, mostly of cute fellers, usually in black-and-white, and often near an open window so that it’s all naturally lit, like a Vermeer painting. David went to an alternative hippie-style high school with Nan Goldin, and the two of them, along with Jack Pierson, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and Mark Morrisroe are often referred to as the “Boston School” because they’re all photographers who went to school around the same time. In Boston. David has a brownstone in Bed-Stuy that is filled to the brim with incredible stuff. It looks like the chic vintage shop of your dreams. He collects antique hats and he can tell you the detailed history of each one. For this issue, he photographed a boy named Pavel, who wears some of those aforementioned fancy hats.
See BLESS THIS MESS, page 100
See PAVEL, page 86
Select Spring 2010
“CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM ABOUT YOUR MAGAZINE” Dear Vice, I stumbled upon your site, VBS.TV, about a month ago and was pleased at the investigative-journalism pieces, such as The Vice Guide to Travel and some of your environmental works. I am, however, saddened that a worthy news source is inundated with a male-dominated angle. This magazine appears to be progressive and claims to represent a youth subculture. My complaint is twofold: First, you are influencing young men with your objectification of women, and two, you don’t care that you alienate your women viewers. Women are both sexy and intellectual. The latter often emphasizing the former. You have the power to be the frontrunner of this true subcultural movement. It would be simple. You could do a piece on a sexy Ph.D. owner or women who spend their lives helping others, like a woman in the Peace Corps. I suppose this would be threatening to men. I think your magazine is around just to make the editors feel better about themselves but, just to let you know, we all know you are overweight losers who never get laid and are probably afraid to ever try psychedelics. I believe so strongly in this matter that I am declaring war. If you are going to perpetuate the view that a woman’s worth is only equivalent to her appearance, I will spend just as much effort to destroy you. Whatever it takes. Whether it’s boycotting or even developing a website that supersedes your progressiveness by representing the youth culture as a whole. Yours Truly, AN EMPOWERED, CONFIDENT, SMART, AND SEXY YOUNG WOMAN, AKA ROXY via email The main flaw of your letter is that you resort to petty insults rather than providing concrete evidence as to how exactly we objectify or alienate women. Thus, we must conclude that out of the many, many programs on VBS.TV, you are focusing on one show, Shot by Kern, in which we interview nude models, thereby giving them a voice to be heard, to be viewed as a complete person—which is the opposite of objectification. We give them a forum to express their feelings about their lives, their bodies, and the choices they’ve made. Or would you rather take away women’s right to choose what they do with their bodies? Get them some burkas, perhaps? That’s right. Face.
ANOTHER EMAIL ENTITLED “CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM” Dear Vice, My name is Lauren. In two months, I’ll be 19. I go to a small tech school in the Northeast. My school is in a shitty town — Worcester. I’d like to say it’s the shittiest town. Worcester’s so shitty it doesn’t even fall into the prestigious category of “Top Ten Shittiest Cities.” I grew up in the Dirty A, a mostly white, upper-middle-class suburban hellhole. I went to a small liberal arts hippie-dippy high school where the students smoke pot with the teachers, and the cool kids snort crack until they drop out. My brother is pretty tight, and my sister’s a cunty tool. My mom’s crazy like me, and my dad’s a terse EMT. My boyfriend, Billy, is overweight. I shouldn’t complain (especially since I always tell him how much I love his tummy), but it would definitely be easier to bring him home if he fixed his teeth, lost some pounds, and stopped smoking so much weed. My roommate Vicky wins medals for being really good at crosscountry, and my other roommate, Jen, races cars and excludes me so she can feel closer to her sorority sisters. I’m the vice president of my school’s Hillel, a Jewish organization. Yeah, I’m a Jew. And I’m a student ambassador (it’ll look good on my résumé). Besides that, I go to therapy to turn all the crazy in my head into not-crazy, and I play Mario with Billy in his shitty apartment on the Wii his mom gave him for Christmas. I used to have more friends, but three days after I moved into school my ex-best friend, Diana, told me she thought I was over28
bearing, judgmental, condescending, delusional, self-righteous, had stopped thinking of me as a friend, and had been lying to my face for the past year. Her boyfriend, John (who I was friends with first and who I set her up with), took her side. My ex-boyfriend Graham can’t handle talking to me anymore because his parents are going through a rough divorce and I make him too sad. On the rare occasion that I talk to him, I lie and tell him how healthy my brain is getting, how happy I am, and how many friends I have. I think he does the same. When I was 17, I made a vaporizer out of a soldering iron, a wine bottle, and a light-switch dimmer. Now I can vape weed in my room and my parents never notice. When I was 18, I decided to start looking like a “successful young adult,” so I cut my hair and bought clothes from H&M. Now I straighten my side bangs and put on makeup every day. But to get to the point of my letter: You guys should stop writing so much about fashion and junk because the only people who actually care about that bull are the dugongs who watch the same music videos and then read the same magazines only to chat about it later on Facebook. So stop sending your hipster employees on all-expensepaid trips abroad to report back on the underground world of Finnish fashion and the back-alley drug world of Estonia, and pay a little respect to your homegirls and homeboys of Bumblefuck, USA. Mom always says I should speak diplomatically, but I’m not good at that, so instead I just hand out a compliment for every insult. Here’s yours: I like your cover pictures. Love, LAUREN via email OK, we should stop writing about global affairs and focus on smalltown kids who “vape weed” and play Wii all day. Noted.
A GUY WHO SENT US A DOLLAR Dear Vice, I heard everyone in New York City is very smart and street savvy. I was also told everyone is cunningly handsome in both the male and female ways. I personally live in the state of South Carolina, where it is very hard to shoplift and Labrador dogs are highly regarded for their companionship and a type of “stiff leg” they get when they fall asleep, deep asleep! When this happens none of the joints from the hip down will unlock, and if you gently palm the paw you can manipulate the leg up and down, causing the dog to smile. Old dogs are best for this trick because, like old people, they sleep a lot and hear little, both of which are good qualifications for being manipulated physically for the emotional benefit of both parties in participation. Regarding my introductory comments about New York—I will say this—you probably thought, “Goddammit. Another letter referencing New York City. I’m just going to stop reading right now. Fuck this long letter.” But you didn’t. You made it here all the way through my Lab story and through my quips about South Carolina, so I’m going to ask one question since you trust me by now. If Vice were a human, would he always have a five o’clock shadow? Or, if Vice were a young girl, would she have a belly-button ring and a little bit of a mustache (the kind that I wouldn’t notice if I were drunk and a bit younger)? These two questions have been bothering me since I was first at work this morning. Thank you. Your magazine has a nice gloss. WILL TUNSTALL Charleston, SC PS: One dollar is enclosed for the person who takes the time to read this. Thanks for the dollar! We used it to buy Haribo Fizzy Cola gummies. Mmmm.
Send correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org (include city and state / province) or to Vice magazine, 97 North 10th Street, Suite 204, Brooklyn, NY 11211. Letters are edited for length.
My Brother Was in a Chinese Boy Band BY ROYCE AKERS n 2001, my older brother Rich went to Beijing. Once there, he lied about his age, changed his name to Jun (which means “handsome” in Chinese), and started a pop group. Their biggest hit was a song called “Get On Up and Get Down,” which they performed in front of millions of screaming teenagers. According to our mum, short-lived as it was, it’s the single most incredible thing that a member of my family has ever done.
Vice: Hey... remember when you were in that pop group? What was that about? Rich Akers: Honestly, a lack of options. Come on. Really! A combination of no higher education and poor choice of professions made “boy-band member” seem like a good idea. Job offers like that don’t just come along, though. Where were you at the time? What were you thinking? We were just a bunch of guys who knew each other from the dance scene in Melbourne, trying to get parts in musicals. We’d each been to China a couple of times and we were jealous at how easily impressed they were. They were crazy for the Backstreet Boys and even third-tier acts like Michael Learns to Rock. We looked at each other and thought, “We can do this.” This was ten years ago, when there were millions of people walking around with nothing to look at. Crowds would gather at car crashes or domestic arguments. Not that we did it in a super-exploitative sense, though we would have been crazy not to see that aspect of it. But yeah, the thinking was, with all those millions of people, our chances were pretty good. So break it down step by step (ooh baby): Who was in the band? There was this kid, Alex, who wanted to be the rapper / B-boy type in the band. He was the driver of the whole thing. Seriously wanted to be famous. He was Chinese, right? Yep. Then there was a white Aussie guy — gay, big into musical theater. Total triple threat. His name was Nick. And then there was me. Privately, we were the Homeboy, the Homo, and the Home Wrecker. 30
And what did you call yourselves publicly? We were called Unique. Because… Well… it was about us being international. We had a Chinese guy, a white guy, and me — I am kind of mixed. And that was different. Plus, we dressed in different styles. It’s not brain surgery, but it worked as a concept. Besides, it was either Unique or the Sydney Boys. But you were from Melbourne. Yeah. It was Alex’s dad’s idea. He was like, “Chinese people love the Olympics!” Alex’s dad, Mr. Gao, was important because he was funding everything. He had a furniture business but was a total stage dad. I had to fight tooth and nail to veto that name. Your boy band was dad-funded? It was pretty entertaining. He tried to make us play pop / R&B versions of Chinese folk songs. Or he’d issue proclamations like “Alex must stand in the front!” Well, he was the shortest. That’s true. Anyway, Mr. Gao was very demanding and expected a lot. He was mostly fine with Nick and me, but he’d publicly berate Alex if he messed up. Ouch. OK, so you’ve got a band, your band has a name, you get some songs together, then what? We go to Beijing. Mr. Gao puts us up in this shitty little apartment. Freezing cold. Then, basically, we become pop stars. There were so many weird and painful moments, but honestly, it was also fucking great. China was crazy. When I said they were easily impressed, that was condescending and inaccurate. They just have that superenthusiastic fanboy / girl mentality. They really get behind things. Plus, no one ever
used to come to China except for K-pop boy / girl bands. So you were big? What kind of shows were you doing? Which cities? First of all, we never made it huge, but we did a bunch of cities. We gave it a good nudge at the start, before we had everything together, so it was a bit slapdash. But we’d do TV shows in a city, then a couple of shows in clubs or bars there. Then we’d be on radio, which was cool for Alex because he was the only one who could speak Chinese. We’d also do the occasional “fan meeting” too. What’s a fan meeting? It works like a live TV special. Except you’re not on TV. There’d be an audience and a host. You’d go on, do a couple of songs, and then get interviewed. Then I’d teach the crowd some dance moves, and we’d sing again. Afterward we’d sign posters. Bizarre. A fake TV show. Totally. So at your gigs, was there screaming? Yeah, sure. Crying? None that I noticed. I’m pretty blind without my glasses, though, remember? Were you lip-syncing or actually singing? Ooh, good question. I’ll rephrase: What was lip-syncing like? Our numbers were pretty dance heavy, so it made sense to lip-sync. And neither Alex nor myself was a very good singer. Nick had a great voice, though. Mostly, the situations were just so strange that I probably would have freaked out if we were singing live. I would have started laughing or something. Like, we played one show to 30,000 people. Holy shit! Right. They weren’t all there to see us, but that’s a lot of fucking people. Then there was the time we played in the Great Hall of the People and the president was in the audience. Who was it back then, Zemin? For real, man. Fucking Jiang Zemin. Did he like the show? All I know is that when I got there I was wearing a huge crucifix, but him being the leader of the Communist Party and all, I had to take it off. We were pretty naive. China has come a long way, but in 2002 or whatever, you could piss people off really fucking easily. Once, we were being interviewed by a newspaper and one of the questions that always came up was “What Chinese singers do you like?” My standard answer was “Wang Fei, ’cause she’s hot.” She was very famous then.
Unique perform in Beijing in 2002.
Anyway, the interviewer goes, “You know she’s married now, right?” (to some HK pretty boy), so I say something along the lines of “Pfft, I’m cooler than that guy.” Meanwhile we’re scheduled to do a radio interview the next day that accepts callers. Uh-oh. So I get vilified on national radio: “How could you do that!” “They’re happily married!” “Foreign devil!” It was in all the papers too. I still have clippings. I think one of the titles was “Rich to Wang Fei: I’m Cooler Than That Guy.” I’m not even joking. It was just a stupid thing I said, but the fact was, people cared! So weird! That doesn’t even describe it. I want to say
that the first time we were recognized on the street was weird. I also want to say that the fact that I can still Chinese-google myself and find some pretty random shit is weird. And then I want to say that the first time I saw (and bought) a pirate version of the CD that we put out was weird. But “weird” isn’t a weird enough word. It sounds like things were going great. What happened? Like, why aren’t you the Chinese Robbie Williams? Well, you look at the pop industry, and whatever your thoughts are about it, it’s a pretty well-oiled machine. Suffice it to say, we weren’t. Also, we weren’t getting along. In particular, feelings toward Alex became
complicated, as he was a complex guy. He’d run crying to Mr. Gao and then Mr. Gao would be like, “After all I do for you, you make my son feel like Joey Fatone?” But the actual story of how we split up is more drawn out than that. Go on then. Nick was really homesick. He was just so far away from everything. His friends, his family, his gay lifestyle. He couldn’t tell anyone he was gay in China. Language-wise too, he couldn’t really chat to anyone. Big culture shock. So he quit the band. That must have been tough for you, right? You guys were good friends by that stage. Yeah. I’m part Chinese, so I always had VICE
“Rich to Wang Fei: I’m Cooler Than That Guy.”
that internal logic as to why I was there. He didn’t. It was rough going. We got along really well. So what did you do? We went back to Melbourne for a bit and auditioned for a new token white guy. Did you put an ad in the paper? I think we might have, actually. Was it like Idol? Did many dudes turn up? No. It was slim pickings. The ad went something like “Be a pop star in China,” so go figure. How did the poor turnout affect band morale? Not well. Say what you like about boy bands, but just try finding a not-unattractive guy that can sing and dance. Then ask him to move to China. In the end we found a guy. Someone I kind of knew. He wasn’t a great singer and not really a trained dancer, though he could pull it off. What was his name? Luke. To this day I have no idea why he agreed to come. He was a bit negative. Kind of a whiner. I mean, I had to take care of Nick a bit, I couldn’t let him go wandering off into traffic. But the new guy… total eggshell situation. To be fair, he may have been picking up on our energy. At that point it was all rapidly deteriorating. I had my own worsening relationship with Alex to deal with. He parachuted onto a sinking ship. How did the end finally manifest? Luke vanished.
Vanished? Like a ninja. I had no idea. What do you mean? Weren’t you looking after him? I was looking after Nick, not white guy 2.0. In any case, we’d just come off a long tour and were all sick to death of each other so we took a few days off. I can’t remember where Alex went; I guess he was staying with a friend, which is what I was doing. So one day I go back to the apartment to get some clothes or something, and I have this weird feeling, like, “Wouldn’t it be weird if Luke was gone?” So I go into his room and it’s totally empty. No way. He was a neat freak, so it was hard to tell at first. But everything: closet, clothes, all gone. Did he leave anything? A note? Nada. His room was serial-killer clean. I remember thinking I should call someone but so much had gone under the bridge that I felt like, “Fuck it, let Alex find out on his own.” So you left it. Yeah. Not proud of it, necessarily. But it had been a long run. Alex found out a couple of days later. It actually made total sense. We had finally started being paid real money. It wasn’t much, but it was heaps more than what we’d seen so far. So Luke took his money and ran for the border. The funny thing is, unbeknownst to all of us, our visas had expired. Shit. Shit is right. Luke gets detained by police at
Shanghai Airport and they won’t let him leave China unless he pays a huge fine. Of course, the only person he could call was our friend at the embassy, which is how we found out about it. But the friend was like, “Shit, what can you do? Pay the fine.” And it was true, she couldn’t do anything. So he lost all his money. Poor dude. Yeah. He should have waited. We were so close to breaking up anyway, he could have kept his money and been given a ticket home for free. After he disappeared, I took about ten seconds to consider my options and retired my do-rag.
Alex, Rich, and Luke (aka Nick 2.0).
All over. Where are the other guys now? I heard Nick was in the musical We Will Rock You or something, which is great. Not sure about Luke, but I’m sure he’s doing fine. He’s a born hustler. Alex is still here in Beijing pursuing his solo career. YouTube him: Alex Gao. Tell me what you think. Last question: Looking back, what were the best and worst things about being in a semifamous Chinese boy band? Well, it’ll always be this “I did what?!” kind of thing for me, which is why I’m glad I kept a scrapbook. I could have been a lot less emo about it when it was happening, but it ended as amicably as it could have, for me at least, so no problems there. I think the best thing I got from this whole weird story is that backstage at some show, years and years ago, I met my fiancé, Inna. And she’s cool as hell. Unique’s debut CD.
A Unique poster hangs proudly at our mom’s house.
How did Prestwich react to a new-wave punk-rock girl coming over from Chicago? His family was fascinated. Even after I lived there for five years and owned a house, people would still ask me every day if I was on holiday because they couldn’t get it through their fucking heads.
The Fall Gal Brix Smith Brought the Sunshine to Blighty INTERVIEW BY ANDY CAPPER PHOTO BY BEN RAYNER, ARCHIVE PHOTO BY SUMISHTA BRAHM
n the 1980s, Brix Smith was best known as a guitarist in the Fall, and as the wife of its frontman Mark E. Smith, whom she later divorced. Brix was one of very few women in British indie at a time when it was still any good. She brought fashion and glamour to the dour post-punk scene, helping make the Fall a decent pop act rather than the arch experiment in post-pop polemics for which they’re often mistaken. Perhaps more pertinent, back then Brix dressed how every girl interested in
looking good is dressing now. Basically, she is and always has been ahead of the game. Born in LA to a Beverly Hills psychoanalyst father and an ex-model-cum-TV-producer mother, who divorced when she was one, Brix Smith remembers nothing about her early childhood apart from having a black cat and a fish. She can’t even remember what color the fish was. We talked to her about the Fall, Mark E. Smith, and bringing West Coast vibes to one of the least West Coast places on earth.
What were those first months in the Fall like? In the beginning, I was reviled by the press. They thought it was nepotism. Sometimes Mark would help me write lyrics for my own stuff, I would give him my page of lyrics, and he would look through it and cross out things all over the place. When I read it back after that, it was brilliant. Being in the Fall was one of those dream things where one person would inspire the other person and that would inspire another. It was really easy —we would write like five songs a night. It was an intuitive connection. How does that creative -love relationship feel? It’s magical. You feel hot, your skin tickles, you know it’s something so special. In a way I have that with my husband now, but it’s much more business-oriented. That was almost spiritual. It was intense. This is much more cold-hearted. How does your husband feel about that? It’s a healthy relationship that is going to last. It’s not volatile. With Mark it was totally different, it was complete drama, a roller coaster. It went until it burned out. As
Vincent Skoglund Tanto in Purple. Available in fourteen colors:
Ten cats? Yeah, he was a cat man, he hated dogs. Our flat was £20 a week and the furniture was threadbare and had springs hanging out of it.
How long was it after you met him that you moved to England? Six weeks. Moving to Prestwich was a complete culture shock. I had taken such a risk. I took all the money I had in my account, which was $700. I remember Mark saying, “I’m not a rich man, I’ve only got about £1,000.” I was like, “I don’t care!” We lived in an old rectory with about ten cats.
www.urbanears.com / email@example.com. Featured models
Vice: Do you remember the first thing you said to Mark E. Smith? Brix Smith: I said, “I loved that show so much but I don’t understand a fucking word you’re saying!” And also I remember looking at him onstage and thinking he looked really scary. He didn’t fit into the general mold of most singers. You could tell he was really smart. I think he thought I was cute and sat down with me and invited me to a party in Chicago that night. I said, “Great, I’ve got a car, I’ll drive,” so we went in my car, a pale blue Ford Futura with gray vinyl seats. I played him a tape of the band I was in. He said, “Who wrote those songs?” and I said “Me!” He said, “You’re a fucking genius!” I thought he just wanted to fuck me, and that he was just joking. But he wasn’t. He rerouted the tour to come back through Chicago. And by this point he had convinced me that I should come to England with him.
wonderful as it was, at times there was some terrible stuff. I divorced him because he cheated on me continuously. He ran off with the teenage daughter of his best friend and left me. After that a whole can of worms was opened. All this shit was going on behind my back. I’m happy for what we had, and I’m happy for what we don’t have now. So he was a dog, basically? A dirty dog. But so what? We were young. I woke up one morning and he was crying in bed. He said, “I’m leaving you,” and I was like, “Where are you going?” and he said, “No, I’m leaving you.” And then it all came out and he just left and went to Edinburgh. I couldn’t stand it, so I packed. There was that song “Bill Is Dead” that people speculate is about you and him breaking up. Yeah. I was supposed to play on that record. People say “Bad News Girl” was as well. I wrote one about him too, so we’re even. After we broke up I was basically completely devastated. So you left Manchester. Then where did you go? I lived in Holland Park and got a really cute apartment. I started to go out and did things with my other band, the Adult Net. I was 25 and a pop star and having so much fun, but I fell into a terrible depression. I became anorexic, I needed to go to a shrink, and I had to go on antidepressants. I was a mess. Then, in ’94, Mark said, “I will fly you back and forth, whatever you want. We need you back.” He wanted you back in the band? I don’t know. Some people say that all he did was sit at home and stare at photos of me. His current wife won’t let him anywhere near me. So maybe that’s true. I’m in love with what we had, and grateful for what we created. But he’s a mess. It’s horrible when you love somebody and you see them destroying themselves. People say that you were the person who brought a sense of style to a band that didn’t have any style at the time. I actually think Mark had amazing style. You know who has copied his style to a tee? Jarvis Cocker. Those polyester shirts, C&A-type trousers, and the hard English black leather shoes. I don’t know how you would describe it. He dressed like the people who interview you at the Job Center. The look kind of said: “I mean business. I’m not fucking about. I don’t need pink hair or a studded bracelet.” You are so right. When Mark was wearing those kinds of clothes they were really out of fashion. It was cool because it was so wrong. But it was done so effortlessly. Did you get him to change his clothes a bit? We were close to Michael Clark, the dancer, and because of that we were close to Leigh Bowery and people like Stevie Stewart from Bodymap and that whole 80s fashion thing. So we would get clothes and, yeah, I would say, “Wear this, wear that.” He wouldn’t wear 36
“He wouldn’t wear something he didn’t like. If he felt like a twat he would say, ‘I look like a twat.’” something he didn’t like. If he felt like a twat he would say, ‘I look like a twat.’” I thought he needed one really good suit so that he could look not just smart, but more... not how Bryan Ferry would look or something. There was this store in Manchester called Woodhouse, which was owned by Philip Start. I didn’t know him, but I saved up my money and took Mark there and bought him a suit. A charcoal Armani one, for £700. How did you meet Phil? I rejoined the Fall and did two more albums in the 90s. The albums were OK, but not a patch on what we did before. By that point Mark had deteriorated in all departments, physically and mentally. He was not well and it was just not going to work. While I was over I came out of a restaurant and I saw people going into Harvey Nichols at night. I thought it was a party and wanted to crash it. I got into the lift and Philip and two friends said, “Are you going up?” He bought me a drink and I discovered that he owned Woodhouse and told him I bought my ex-husband a suit there. We had a great chat. The next day my ex-boyfriend’s manager’s secretary calls me at home. She said, “This gentleman called the office, his name is Philip
Start.” I was like, how the fuck did he track me down? I called him and said, “What can I do for you?” and he asked me out. Then Philip sold Woodhouse. I left the Fall. I tried to get a record deal but nobody wanted me. I laid on the couch all day and watched Oprah. It was this major upheaval for Phil too—selling the shop he had owned for 30 years. And he had just divorced his wife. We ended up moving to Shoreditch in ’99 and I woke up one morning and said, “Honey, there’s nowhere to shop,” and he said, “Well, let’s build somewhere,” and we created our fashion chain, Start. And now look at it. I’m doing three TV shows at the moment and we have four shops. I’ve never been this happy in my life. Do you remember what you were wearing the first time you met Mark? I was wearing a white plastic dress. It was short. I oscillated in those days between rockabilly and go-go girl, so I would imagine I was wearing black, pointy, kind of Chelsea rockabilly boots. My hair was pretty much the same as it is now. As for makeup, only dark smudgy eyes and pouty lips. I have really big lips and if I put too strong a color on them they take over my face.
“They Just Want to” “Look in the Mirror” William T. Vollmann Becomes a Woman WORDS AND PHOTOS BY WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN
One of the main reasons that William T. Vollmann’s writing is so expertly detailed and rich is because he is a master of both old-fashioned, shoe-leather research and the deskbound library variety. His hugely varied interests have led him to the North Magnetic Pole, war-torn Yugoslavia and Iraq, Afghanistan in the early 80s (where he was embedded with the mujahideen), through the hooker-filled Tenderloin district of San Francisco, aboard freight trains with hobos and tramps, and more. Vollmann has a genuine fascination with his subjects and locales, and his true greatness lies in his ability to repeatedly distill his obsession of the moment into a damn good read. After 20 years of plugging away, Vollmann’s singular talent was officially canonized when his 2005 novel Europe Central received the National Book Award for fiction. Vice was lucky enough to publish an original short story by Vollmann in our 2007 Fiction Issue, and we now present to you an excerpt from his latest nonfiction book, Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement, and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater. As its title suggests, it is a sociological exploration of the strange, veiled world of Noh and its practitioners. The book is filled with transvestites, _ geishas, sex fiends of the red-light Kabukicho district, and many other interesting characters both elegant and perverted. It also marks the first time that we have read the word “neovagina.” In the following excerpt (from chapter 16, “They Just Want to Look in the Mirror”), the author is made over by a makeup artist whose clientele includes a large number of cross-dressing Japanese businessmen. We think that Vollmann looks very becoming as a woman. Yukiko’s salon is unmarked, naturally, and there is a discreet second-floor entrance. The street is quiet, at least for Tokyo; her clients must feel safe. The room is by my standards smallish — about the size of the chamber where Suzuka-san’s colleague geisha Kasami-san danced for me. While Yukiko makes tea, I go into the tiny lavatory to change into my new black dress. Laying out three disks of foundation, Yukiko, who is 30ish and very pretty, with long brown hair, shows me the corresponding pictures in the Japanese fashion magazines: One foundation looks best photographed and printed onto glossy paper; one is more appropriate to going out on the street; and the third is intermediate. I choose the second. Gandhi advises us to do what we do without expecting
Vollmann as a woman.
results; and I entertain decidedly minuscule hopes of achieving maiko-esque beauty, especially since although I carefully shaved in my hotel less than two hours before, Yukiko sweetly, reproachfully inquires whether I have shaved. She begins with a cream-type astringent: Clarins Lotion Tonique.* The base cream will be Diorskin 001 base de teint, which contains a hint of pearl, making it a trifle shiny. The purpose is to even the skin. One adds less of it in summer, more “where it needs it more.” Yukiko begins with the Diorskin by dabbing with her forefinger a spot on my forehead, an upper and lower spot on each cheek, and a spot between my mouth and my chin. On the forehead she works the stuff horizontally, elsewhere vertically. Then she addresses the zone beneath each eye, proceeding in descending arcs from the center of the underlid out to the cheek, her touch so firm that my flesh moves. Next she rubs it on the eyelids. All the while, I must keep my eyes open. Now it is time for the number three cream foundation. Formerly, she says, Japanese women used to lighten their faces with foundation, but at the moment they prefer to slightly darken them, making them appear smaller. Firmly patting with the sponge (she always employs a new sponge for every step), smoothing around my eyes, she instructs me to look up while staying still. After two hours my skin oil will reappear, she says. She mentions a special paper from Kyoto which can absorb it (an easy procedure: Simply pat and adjust); all the same, I am reminded how limited and ephemeral this is; and for a moment I nearly begin to comprehend the sacrificial hours paid by women at their mirrors and in beauty parlors and department stores and manicurepedicure studios. Suzuka’s nightly effort is, as we have seen, significant—not to mention the long preparations of Mr. Umewaka in the mirror room before his Noh performances. And all of it must be done over again next time. “You see,” says Yukiko, lightly touching my chin, “even now it is starting to show. Since your beard is not black it should be OK for a couple of hours.” As a result of such transience, her customers generally do no more than remain here with her, for about three hours. After a chat and tea, they return home to their families. Next comes the concealer, in order to render the contour of my new age spot more vague. It is a stick cream, Anti-Cervier, Yves Saint-Laurent product number 41911-1. Yukiko also applies it to my wrinkles, and especially to the wedge of skin below and outside of each eye, using two
* It is not my normal practice to include brand names in my books. However, since the makeup procedures of geishas and onnagatas are described in some detail, I thought to achieve a comparable level of specificity. Moreover, since my interpreter rarely deployed makeup herself, it is possible that some unguental functions have been misunderstood in this chapter; if so, the brand names may reveal whichever errors I have made.
fingers, always going up, not down, since we don’t want to show the sagging of my face. In general, runs her diagnosis, my poor male flesh is afflicted with many red spots; her goal is to render it a uniform color. She works for quite a while on the creases between the two wings of my nose and on the corners of my mouth. With special care she rubs concealer over the age-downturned corners of my lips. “How old can a man become and still resemble a woman?” “After age 60 it is quite difficult.” Following the concealer comes the powdery foundation (a white substance, Anna Sui Face Powder 700), rubbed in, first on the wrinkles around my eyes. First touching me with her brush, then rubbing with a finger, always upward, in firm strokes that move flesh, beneath each eye she creates a downpointed right triangle whose inner side parallels my nose. Yukiko can render this undercoat (the equivalent of gesso on an oil painting) either glossy for a “cute” look or else more natural so that the client appears “classical.” Suspecting that cuteness lies beyond my power, I have elected for the classical look.
I ask Yukiko how I could best approximate all this at home, and she advises me to buy a magnifying mirror. Now for an eye shadow, which she smears gently in, selecting here and there from many different looks in the palettes, where it resembles vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream. “When you get older it gets darker under the eye, particularly for Japanese,” she informs me tactfully. “Then the eye shadow will not appear nice.” This amelioration likewise lasts for about two hours. Using a special brush, she makes seven round trips across each eyelid “like a windshield wiper.” Where the brush first touches, there it will be thickest; those round trips smooth it out. Then she proceeds upward, afterward rubbing up and down with her finger in order to blur the contours. She warns me to avoid allowing any eye shadow to fall on my cheek, since it cannot easily be removed. Again, the goal seems to be making the facial skin more uniform, disguising lines and color changes. If so, then the white mask-face of the geisha, or the literal mask-face of the Noh beauty, are simply farther along the continuum. Now with her soft brush Yukiko mixes two kinds of purple Japanese powder. Then she bends over me, commencing beneath the center of each eye, following the cheekbone “to make it natural.” Her applications consist of circles proceeding down and away from the eye, then up back toward it. She continues until my skin appears just a trifle lighter in color than my cheeks. Here come the many square pats of lipstick in Yukiko’s mirrored palette. She mixes a crimson and a pink. Obediently, I keep my mouth closed. With a brush she paints my lower lip larger. She seals her work with transparent gloss. A slanted-tipped brush is good for the eyebrows. She opens the eyebrow palette. First she brushes on powder-outlines, since mistakes can be removed without trouble; then she fills in with the eyebrow pencil. Carefully she graduates the edges. It is difficult not to make crooked eyebrows, but I must report that Yukiko has risen to the occasion. She selects a wig. Then she invites me to study myself in the mirror; and it seems that a woman is looking back at me — not a beautiful woman, perhaps; but still, here is someone who came into the world just now and will exist more briefly than I, a woman who has feelings (my feelings); she wants to look her best. What is grace? I assuredly lack it. But I have become pleasingly alien to myself; I am other just as distinctly as misted purple-gray mountains stand out from blindingly snowy rice-fields. What changed my appearance the most?—The wig and the lipstick, I would say; much of the other procedures simply diverted attention from the age of my skin. In this connection it is interesting to insert another claim by the zoologist Desmond Morris: Long hair and a hairless (or pale and uniform) face increase contrast, thereby making the woman more visible to potential mates. Puffed-out lips (and my made-up mouth does express the illusion of more voluminous lips) are more juvenile, hence indicative, I suppose, of fresher ova.—But then I wonder to what extent convention plays a part. Why wouldn’t Cro-Magnon men have let their hair grow as long as their women did? Besides, the Noh museum in Kanazawa displays a certain atsuita, a thick cloth robe mostly for male roles, which offers its audience a base
of turtle-shell octagons, with embroidered patterns pertaining to each of the four seasons within cloud- or fan-shaped borders; it is beautiful, but why should it be male? — And so once again I feel myself to be, as I so often do when I try to comprehend the nuances of Noh, an ape in a cage. — In Yukiko’s studio, an ape in a wig stares back at me with sad blue eyes. I pull the wig off as carefully as I can (for some other client will surely require it), and hand it to Yukiko, remem_ bering that Sei Shnagono’s 11th-century list of things that have lost their power includes a woman who has removed her wig in order to comb remnants of natural hair. Now Yukiko makes me up another way, with her hands rubbing in the cold, pleasant-smelling cleanser (harder to apply; maybe it is this that makes my skin feel so tight later), rubbing its coldness in with her hands, going over me with cotton, putting on a liquid foundation, chatting and patting — how nice to be taken care of! — my face paling in the mirror; my eyes seem to glitter more. Only about 10 percent of her customers dare to go out. They often wear femme-executive or businesswoman outfits when they come to her; a few play with lingerie, but never here; some keep secret apartments furnished with their woman things, so that their families will never know. They tend to order clothes on the internet, a circumstance which requires them to buy repeatedly before discovering a garment which actually fits; but anonymity remains infinitely more important to them than cost or convenience. “Why do they do it?” “Stress,” she replies. “And they have the pleasure of hiding something secret.” Her clients (“20 or 30”) tend to be doctors, attorneys, et cetera, since she is so expensive — $700 for three hours. “Many of them are narcissistic,” she adds, perhaps with a touch of contempt, “so they just want to look into the mirror.” “Do you think most men would do this if they could?” She smiled. “Well, I believe that few men would like to do it. But some of those good-looking young male singers who are handsome in an effeminate way, maybe they would like to be like them.” “Would you date a cross-dresser?” “Never.” As she works on me, I fall into a drowse, enjoying the caress of the black brush, the sound of rain outside, Yukiko standing over me. I gaze up at her chin and lips, her brown hair, her tinted eyelids. Her eyes are far away, for she is gazing not at me, but at my face, which is now halfway feminized. She is painting my eyebrows on. I open myself to her soft fingers on my temple, the silver gleam of the brush, and her fingers on my eyebrows. “What is the most serious obstacle faced by a man who wants to pass for a woman?” “Coarse skin.” Now that she has finished, it is time for the excitement of the new wig (style B02, color T / 430; made in Korea), of wondering what it is going to make me look like. “This one is more becoming,” she says. The hair, reddish like the first wig, is longer, “more simple,” with short bangs. “Because it shows the eyebrows it looks more feminine,” she concludes, sliding it on.
My reddish-gold hair spills down to my breasts, so soft and golden in its highlights, matching my new eyebrows. Who am I? My reddish-gold hair spills down to my breasts, so soft and golden in its highlights, matching my new eyebrows. I have pearly-pale skin — no, actually, I seem to be a rather hard-skinned woman; the creases in my face show more and more; soon my stubble will overpower the concealer; at least I possess a bright glowing smile. (Thank goodness I recently got my teeth cleaned.) But who is this lady? Her eyes seem somehow a darker blue than mine. Is she fake? Her soft red-purple lips smile back at me. I toss my head, and her hair changes to gold.* For an instant, and with joy, I believe in her, all the while experiencing aware, the knowledge that this impossibility cannot be sustained. (The Vimalakirti Sutra, seventh century: “This body is like a flame born of longing and desire… This body is impure, crammed with defilement and evil… This body is like the abandoned well on the hillside, old age pressing in on it. This body has no fixity, but is destined for certain death.”) This session at Yukiko’s has strangely resembled a Noh performance, and lasted approximately the same length of time. The best mask of my self (never mind my soul) may well be a chujo; my forehead will soon begin to wrinkle in a pattern like roots, and I often bear the sparse mustache, gaping mouth, and blackened teeth of the loyal bewildered lieutenant; perhaps I belong to the Komparu school. What the artist inscribed on the back of my face I will never know, being unable to see myself objectively the way a professional Noh actor would. Most of the time I am a sturdy man who wears the same clothes often, preferring garments of lifelong reliability; I shave carelessly and shrug off my latest wrinkles, because anyhow I never possessed even a waki’s hope of being beautiful, nor felt the loss. What is grace? — In the mirror room, Mr. Umewaka gazes at the lovely woman he will soon become; he sits white-wrapped like a man in an American barber shop, with the wig of long blue-black hair already crowning him, and in the mirror the woman of frozen-faced perfection, one of his several other selves, gazes back at him calmly and untouchably. From the book KISSING THE MASK: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater by William T. Vollmann. Copyright © 2010 by William T. Vollmann. To be published on April 6, 2010 by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
* Morris claims that blond hair indicates the juvenile stage for many Caucasians; hence it is desirable for many women.
his arm so he couldn’t fight, and I interviewed three of Brent’s buddies instead. I figure I’ve done more than a thousand interviews in my life. Musicians, doctors, the homeless, whoever. In every one of those interviews, I felt that our positions were adversarial. I could feel my subjects framing themselves, imagining the article in finished form as they picked their words, while I tried to trick some other words out from under what they’d decided to say. Over the years, I’ve tried to anger or frighten or bedrunken or flirt some secret out. It was different with these guys. The amateur street fighters I met backstage were easy, calm, polite, and serious, waiting their turn to go out into a cage and hit and strangle each other until the one with less stamina passed out. They seemed solid, of one piece. Truth is always simple, I guess. I’m used to much more complex and deceitful people. If these guys didn’t know, they said, “I don’t know.” Mostly, though, they did know. Because when you get right down to bare living, whether you’re wrestling, fucking, raising a kid, closing a deal, or fighting a war, there comes a point where there are only one or two things to know: what you’re made of, and what the other guy staring you down is made of. And it doesn’t take a whole lot of words to describe that, if any. You just kind of know. At least, these guys do. Vice: I don’t know anything about fighting, so I asked my Facebook friends — my fake friends — for questions to ask you. So John Russel wants to know... oh God... “Why are you all so sexy, and do you mind that you are basically gay porn?” Justin Clough: Really? He wants to know that? Tony Giarrusso: You don’t really think about that when you’re in the cage.
Do you think about it out of the cage? Tony: Nah. No. That’s the last thought in my head. Seth Boursier: Is that a real question? Yeah. Seth: I don’t know what to say to that. I don’t know how to answer that question. You’re a coach? Seth: Yes. Muay Thai. Kickboxing. I trained out of Virginia and Thailand, and now Plaistow, New Hampshire.
Men Fighting Men BY LISA CARVER, PHOTOS BY KEITH NEWELL
Do you still fight? Seth: The last fight I had was nine months ago. ackstage, a grizzled older man is standing on a foldout table saying, “Listen up, here are the rules!” The young, sweatsuited fighters look up politely from their massages and hand-taping. They are surprisingly small—mostly five-foot-five to five-foot-nine—and lithe rather than bulky. “No body fluids as defensive weapons! For example, if your nose is bleeding and you drain it intentionally into your opponent’s eyes, nose, or mouth, we’re gonna call you on it. Any questions?”
“Kicks to the face allowed?” “Kicks to the face — standing — yes.” And that was it. Time for me to go take my seat and for these nice young men to take off their sweatshirts and shoes and hurt each other. I got interested in MMA (mixed martial arts) because I was always hearing about this guy some friends of mine work with: “Brent came into work with a piece of glass sticking out of his face today.” “Brent’s one good eye got busted over the weekend.” “We all went
to go see Brent fight, and he got knocked out in six seconds.” Brent’s broken body began to grow a life of its own in my mind — a fountain of ache. I wanted to get him to tell the story of every injury he ever got, starting from his toes up, and then we’d photograph the scars. I wasn’t going to ask him why he did it, because it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing one could know the why of. I just wanted to inspect the evidence. I arranged to meet him on the night of a big fight, but the day before he dislocated
How come? Seth: I just got into training. It’s a better way of life. You don’t take as many punches. Cynthia Canepa Buchen wants to know, “Are you anxious or calm before a fight? Do you have any rituals?” Justin: Very calm. Just listen to my music, listen to my trainers, and relax. You look reeeally mellow. Have you been smoking? Justin: [laughs] No.
Tony — out of the cage, in the cage — a different guy!
Seth. If you think MMA is fake, take a look at this guy’s face. Stitches scar over his eye, recovering black eye, broken nose, cauliflower ear, split lip…
In your other life, you’re a debt collector. Are you this calm when you’re doing that? Justin: Yeah. You gotta be. If they yell at you when you’re collecting, you can’t do anything back, so you just gotta relax. The nicer people get the money. Seth: I tell my fighters: Get there early, get the lay of the land, then shut everything out. Stay calm. Don’t burn your energy. Tony: This is my first fight, but I’ve been pretty relaxed, just living my regular day. Just waiting till I step in the cage. I thought nerves would come by now, but no. Do you think you’re going to get hurt? Tony: No. Somebody else is going to get hurt? Tony: Yes. Everyone in this room is going to be punching and choking each other in another hour or two, but everyone is really calm. Seth: That’s the way it usually is. Until you get in that ring. And you’re best friends afterward.
Erik Swanson wants to know, “Does it bother you that the matches are fake?” Tony: They’re not fake. Justin: This is all real stuff. Seth: Erik Swanson, is it? I don’t know what Erik Swanson is watching, something different than what I’m watching, because MMA is certainly not fake. Do you want Erik Swanson to come here and ask you that himself? Tony: Yes. Cynthia wants to know, “MMA overtook boxing as the number one combative sport in the world. How do you prevent the corruption and fixed matches that infiltrated boxing when money got big?” Tony: I don’t think it’ll get caught up. People just love it for the one-on-one sport that it is, the competition. No one else can decide your destiny — it’s only you. Nobody else can do it for me. I’m the only person who can decide if I’m going to win or not. If I’m tired, I have to just push through it. Not one other person is gonna do anything for me. VICE
Justin, do you make a lot of money at this? Justin: I’m only an amateur. At this stage, you’re only promoting yourself. Once you get to the pro stage, that’s where you start making the money. So you actually pay to get hit. Justin: Yeah, exactly. If you got to the pros and someone offered you a lot of money to throw a fight, would you? Justin: Nah, there’s no way. You wouldn’t throw a fight for $10,000? Justin: No. $100,000? Justin: No. Why throw a fight? You wouldn’t throw a fight for a million? Justin: There’s no point in throwing a fight. How old are you? Justin: I’m 20. Tony: I’m 22. Seth: I’m 23. Eric Swensen — not Erik Swanson — wants to know what your diet regimen is. Tony: I lost 18 pounds for this fight. They offered it to me at 125. I was 143. I knew I could get there. High-protein, no-carb diet. The last six pounds came off in the sauna yesterday. Justin: Fight time comes, it’s down calories, carbs. Low sodium. Basically oatmeal in the morning, egg whites, tuna, chicken, greens. Eric also wants to know if you have any advice for children. Tony: Yeah — it’s a good thing. Everyone makes it out to be this violent, brutal sport, and it’s not. It’s pure. It’s just you. I think kids should be taught that — that you gotta do things for yourself, rely on yourself. How old do you have to be to get into an MMA school? Seth: Any age. Like ten? Seth: Yeah. Even younger than that. But isn’t MMA supposed to be street fighting? Seth: No. That’s a common misconception. It’s very skillful. It’s about being calm on the ground, relaxed. So there aren’t less rules? Seth: There are less rules, but in my mind mixed martial arts is less brutal than boxing. In MMA, if you get knocked out, if your eyes glaze over — it’s over. In boxing, if your eyes glaze over, you get a chance to stand back up. And it’s constant shots to the head. Commonly MMA is three rounds; boxing is 12 rounds. He also wants to know, are you religious? Tony: No. Justin: Yeah. Catholic. Seth: I was raised Catholic, but in Thailand I got more into meditation. 44
Tony teaching me some moves.
And he wants to know what’s your IQ. Tony: I have no clue. Seth: I have no idea. Justin: I never tested my IQ. Are you worried about brain damage? Tony: Maybe in 15 years. You don’t care about “maybe in 15 years” when you’re 22. Tony: No. That’s like how I used to sunbathe. I wasn’t worried about cancer. Melissa Saunders says: “Show me some moves! Can you teach me how to squeeze someone between my thighs?” Tony: Yes. I could teach her if she needed me to. Will you show me a move? Tony: You want to grab this hand and go over and around the arm back to your own wrist. OK, I have no idea what you want from me. I’m just going for it. OK, Tony, I got you, now beg for my mercy. What’s this move called? Tony: The Kimura. Seth: I don’t know any jujitsu, so I can’t teach you the squeeze-between-the-thighs move, but punches and kicks I certainly could. Regular roundhouse kick — step out on the kick, put your hand like this to block your face. And why am I doing it like this? What is this particular move to accomplish? Seth: Just to cause damage. The reason why you step out on your kick is you get all your power from the rotation of your hips; you lock your leg and kick with your shin.
Justin, let’s say I’m walking down an alley and I see a suspicious-looking guy. What do I do? Any favorite moves? Justin: I don’t know, you either hit him or kick him. Punch him. Kick him. Do it hard. Here’s another horrible one from the troublemaker Erik Swanson: “Why did you have to make the air so putrid with creatine protein triple-stacked excrement that made me wretch eight goddamn times?” I think he’s talking about that protein supplement, and in the bathroom at his gym it may have caused some problems... Tony: I don’t take supplements or anything. Maybe a Red Bull once in a while. That wasn’t me, Erik. Justin: I take protein because if you don’t, you don’t recover much, your muscles don’t recover. I don’t do creatine, though. Creatine keeps water in your muscles to make you look bigger. Jesse Shust wants to know, “What do you do when you know your opponent is better than you?” Justin: You can’t go in there thinking he’s better than you. You gotta always train harder than your opponent and go in there knowing you’re the best, you gotta be the best. Well, did you ever go into the cage and look at him and think, “Crap!”? Justin: Nah. Size doesn’t really matter in this sport. But what if you see a look in his eye? Justin: Nah. No looks. I’m always giving the meaner look. Tony: You just gotta hang in there, focus on his weaknesses. If he’s stronger than you in one suit, you gotta stay away from that. If he wants to stand up, I’m gonna take him to the
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This guy got knocked out or tapped out or strangled unconscious, and the medic came into the cage and was doing things to him for a long time until he finally stood up, and this is what he looked like.
“Everyone makes it out to be this violent, brutal sport, and it’s not. It’s pure. It’s just you.” ground. If he wants to keep it to the ground, I’m gonna make him stand up. Keep him out of his element and try to stay in your element. Can you apply these tips to any other area of life? Tony: No. MMA is in the cage and in the gym. You can’t step it outside into the regular world because you’d beat people up. David Goolkasian wants to know, “Why are you so mean?” Tony: I’m not mean. I’m a nice kid. Until that door closes. 46
Justin, when I asked for a mean one earlier, they all pointed to you. Justin: I don’t know why. I’m pretty much the nicest. Outside the cage. Inside is where I let everything out. I train real hard for everything so I come in wanting to win every time. We’re backstage on the red side. On the other side of that curtain are all the blue guys. How do you feel about them? Justin: They’re all pretty nice. But you’re about to hurt them. Justin: Yup. That’s the way it’s gonna be.
And so it was! Justin and Tony both won after long struggles with their blue opponents. It was my first fight ever and I was surprised how little action there was. No theatrics at all. The majority of the time, these guys were locked into a pretzel, trying to squeeze the life out of the other guy while conserving their own oxygen as much as possible. We had front-row seats, and I could see every drop of sweat. They all had faraway eyes. You could tell time had stopped for them. Long after I would have given up, they were still going. Their skin was rubbed raw from scraping against the floor. They’d been punched and kicked in the face, back, all over. Blood ran down, they were panting. There was one guy whose head was pinned to the floor with another guy’s whole body weight for what seemed like forever, and he just kept hitting up at him, not even able to see, moving slow as if
Laura in the Leroy.
Mark Welsh photo / coalheadwear.com
What would you get in fights about before? Oh, you know, boys will be boys. And when you live in downtown Haverhill [Massachusetts]... stuff happens. A lot of rowdy pedestrians here. Peeing on your front steps. You got to get them away from your front steps. They live under the bridge right down the street. My dog knows them, they know my dog. You get in fights with homeless people? Only the ones that pee on my steps, yeah. A few days after the fight, I finally caught up with Brent Bergeron, the one with all the injuries who had sparked my interest in MMA. We met at a Chinese restaurant. He’d just come from getting a physical. So you’re 28 years old, five-foot-nine, used to be 245 pounds and now you’re 155. And how many beats per minute? Brent: On average, 57. After 20 pushups it went up to 63 beats. Blood pressure, all that, is perfect. I thought at least one thing would be wrong — glucose, cholesterol. No. All those years of beating myself up, and it’s perfect.
Justin: “I’m nice.”
I suppose men have to beat each other up before they can allow themselves to be loving. Backstage, guys were lying on the ground and other guys were rubbing them. A couple of them had black eyes. One fellow had been taken away by an ambulance for, of all things, dehydration. There was a weird smell. “This is a freaky scene,” remarked the photographer, who is male and is not used to men being nice to other men. “It reminds me of when a baby is born and the mother nuzzles it, or if her baby is hurt and she cleans its wounds.” I thought, “But why does it have to be the mother? Why not the father?” It’s so uncommon for a male to caretake a male. It’s supposedly a major event worthy of a comedy routine if a man changes his own infant’s diaper. I’ve read that soldiers in combat will call out for their mothers, but never their fathers. From birth till death, we expect comfort from women and not men. I suppose men have to beat each other up before they can allow themselves to be loving. Well, I thought it was really nice. I thought the whole thing was beautiful. I love masculinity. I love the body. 48
How did you beat yourself up? Huh? Just lived the good life, you know what I mean? Are you going to get married and all that? Ahhhhhhhhrg. That’s a... great question. Um... “Ahhhhhhhhrg.” Fifty percent end in divorce. Are you and [the photographer] engaged? I guess. I don’t know. We already have three divorces between us, so we’ve got 150 percent of the failure out of the way already. What was your blood pressure? Something around 125 over 70. I was amazed. It’s good news to hear that you’re not dying, you know what I mean? Always good news. Like when you get your HIV results back, you’re all, “Wooo!” I’m always hearing about your injuries. Do you get in fights outside of MMA? Not really. Not since I started in MMA. Now I have a different sense of mind. I used to all the time. That’s why I thought I could fight in MMA with no training. I got beat pretty badly. I had to lose 13 pounds in five days, and I had never been near a cage or a training facility. All I’d done was fighting in alleys, stupid stuff. The kid I fought, he was a black belt in karate, and here I was walking in off the street, rapid weight loss. He came out with a flying heel to my forehead, knocked me out in the first five seconds. I did take two Percocets and a couple of shots before the fight. Jägermeister. Wouldn’t Percocets slow you down? Uh... they got me up off the floor after that kick to the face.
What happened the time you walked into work with glass coming out of your eye? I tripped over my dog. I fell back first through my glass coffee table. I was cleaning it all up and a shard of glass got stuck on my finger and somehow it ended up in my eyeball. Seven cornea scratches. They pried my eye open, put some sticky stuff on a cotton swab, and pulled it out. They had to push the shard deeper in first, to get it stuck on the cotton swab. They asked me if I wanted anesthesia. I said no, just get it out. I’d just gotten over a huge spider bite. I still have the fang holes — wanna see? Right after that, I got my elbow dislocated. The spider bite, though, was painful and bad and pretty gross. Right on the kneecap — that was the problem. He’s bitten me before. He lives with me. I can’t find him, obviously, or he’d be gone, you know what I mean? In the summer, there are bugs here and there and the spider finds stuff to eat. In the winter, though, there are no bugs, but he still has to feed. He gets me when I’m sleeping. He sounds like the worst roommate in the world. I understand, he has to feed. Plus all summer he keeps the bugs away. So we kind of have an understanding. Usually he’ll get me here or there, on the side, the arm. No big deal — put some Bacitracin on it, it goes away. But then he got me on the kneecap. You bend it all day long, every time you move. So the swelling and infection kept getting worse. Can you give me a history of your injuries, starting with your feet and moving your way up? Say, in the last two years? Two years? That time frame is too much. I got a lot of blows to the head. You’re asking me for two years of injuries? They go on and on. I could let you feel my shin. My shin goes like this [makes in-and-out wave motions with hand]. From all the kicks, you know? Why are you getting hurt so much? I guess I’m just injury-prone. But you work through it. It’s what fighters do. You never quit, don’t quit, no matter what happens. [To the waitress:] Can we have a couple of fortune cookies? I love fortune cookies. My favorite is: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Coachella - April 17, 2010
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underwater. Then this surge of life hit him, this can’t-lose burst, and the flailing arms built up speed and power. Even with a trapped head, blind, he was landing hard blows on his oppressor! One punch really connected and knocked Blue Shorts right off his head onto the floor. He got up slow like a golem and started waling on Blue, slow and then faster, harder, punching and punching. I couldn’t believe it. Everyone was screaming. And the ref called it! He’d knocked the other guy out! The medic rushed in and moved his finger back and forth in front of the eyes of the fellow who’d been out, who was now slumped against the cage, looking confused.
There are many things in the world that are more terrifying than a group of ethnic children who live in a country torn apart by war and dictatorships who by age 16 will be leading rebel guerrilla-army factions and ripping out the hearts of government soldiers and eating them raw. Actually, no, there are not.
This guy’s Hitler mustache and affinity for parakeets are both terrifying and fascinating. Something tells me he was a fringe invite to his own wedding.
Nothing warms the heart like two Bosnian guys you meet outside a nightclub who would laugh way too hard at your first joke and then immediately tell you that they’d murder someone for you, “brother.”
Dominican men have found a way to get semi-nude at parties and dance erotically with their male friends and have it be not only gay but intimidating and threatening.
This is what the IT guy at your office wears under his casual-Friday “No, I can’t fix your computer today” t-shirt. Yes, Tim, I agree that the last Staind record was underrated.
Whoa, dude, nice Koosh ball hat! You know what would be the perfect accessory? A dick in your mouth.
Oh, are you pooped? Maybe you should stop trancedancing in the desert all night. Sober. You probably also got mouth herpes off the communal didgeridoo.
When you’re so drunk you’re wearing a synthetic Hawaiian lei and your breath smells like sour cranberry vodka and even this guy won’t make out with you, it’s time to reassess your life.
Being at Bonnaroo with your buddy from college and seeing endless bands with names like the Ghost Shepherds and Origami Radicals and possibly getting hepatitis C from walking around shoeless in a pile of cantaloupe rinds sounds like an awful weekend. I made those band names up. They would suck.
The irony of all these 20-somethings dressing like lumberjacks with rough hands and rugged sensibilities is that they’re all pussies who listen to French alt-rock and have hands that are soft like Asian pubes.
We need another androgynous nerd who has heard and blogged about indie music that hasn’t even been recorded yet like Magic Johnson needs more HIV.
There is probably nothing hotter than an 18-year-old Israeli soldier named Ya’el who could put you in a full nelson and softly rub the tip of an M89SR sniper rifle against your rib cage while blowing you. Am I right?
The only thing wrong with this guy’s outfit is his ashy knees. Still, the question remains: How did he escape the eightsome?
NEW YORK CITY SKATEBOARD PHOTOGRAPHY ALEX CORPORAN /// ANDRE RAZO /// IVORY SERRA
OUT IN SPRING 2010
NEWS, NUDITY & NONSENSE THE BEST OF VICE MAGAZINE VOL. II 2003–2008
It started with a small part in a commercial for Tampax that turned into a role as a hot alien on an episode of Babylon 5. Then things got slow and that’s how you end up in Vegas dancing on a display yacht at a nude boat expo to pay for your health insurance.
You think you’re tired of all the novelty mustaches running around these days? Imagine what it’s like for the leather fags they stole it from in the first place.
Is it prom night at Santa’s workshop? ’Cause this twink’s shiny little elf shoes are making me want to chase some Jell-O shots with his balls.
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NEWS, NUDITY & NONSENSE:
HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD
THE BEST OF VICE MAGAZINE VOL. II 2003-2008
THE STORY OF ACRASSICAUDA
Doing pull-ups on a street sign is something you can only do when you’re black. Delicate faux lumberjacks with the five-o’clock shadows of Mesoamerican transsexuals should just stick to slouching.
Shalom, Avi! Smart of you to get the sold-separately chinstrap and visor attachments for your yarmulke, because on the Gaza Strip they play Hacky Sack with rubble.
As if a man dressed like a robot standing completely still and then occasionally making some mechanical motions in a square in Prague for money weren’t boring and awful enough, now we have to deal with this jerk. The only change you really need is one in decisions /attitudes.
This guy should roll a ten-sided die that, instead of numbers, bears life-choice options like “Find actual human vagina” and “Living with Mom is more conformist than you thought.”
This guy was in a band in college. They played local gigs. The guitarist quit and went to law school. They broke up. He now works at an insurance company. He compensates for the dead dream by getting uncomfortably drunk and raging way too hard in low-key situations.
It’s unfair when fleshy autistic girls at gay bars wear spandex, because a lot of times you think their camel toe is actually a moose knuckle and all you wanna do is run up and juggle their testicles like a circus clown.
There’s Juice in the Fridge… PHOTOS BY BEN RITTER CREATIVE DIRECTOR: JOHN McSWAIN STYLIST: ANNETTE LAMOTHE-RAMOS Hair: Shane Tison Makeup: Emi Kaneko using Makeup Forever Models: Shane, Spencer at IMG, Frey at Red, Milena and Bruna at Wilhelmina, Pedro at Q
Levi’s for Opening Ceremony shirt, Calvin Klein underwear, Super sunglasses, Black Sheep & Prodigal Sons necklace
Head to VBS.TV this month to watch a new episode of From the Pages of Vice, which features behind-the-scenes footage of how we made our models look like they just woke up in a strange place, filled with regret and shame.
| VICE Woolrich Woolen Mills shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren boxers, Ransoun necklace
L.L. Bean shirt, Bjรถrn Borg underwear, Ransoun bracelet, WeSC headphones
| VICE RA-RE shirt, 2(x)ist underwear, Leviâ€™s jeans
Woolrich Woolen Mills shirt, American Apparel underwear, WeSC bathrobe
THE VICE GUIDE TO FILM
Burton shirt, Bjรถrn Borg underwear, L.L. Bean Signature bag, Etnies socks, Palladium shoes
AN ORIGINAL 6 PART DOCUMENTARY SERIES NOW PLAYING ON VBS.TV
Dandy Critters PHOTOS BY WILLIAM SELDEN STYLIST: SAM VOULTERS
Norvin wears Look 25
Bix wears the Tri-Color Straw Trilby and sits in a Dunhill shopping bag
Art direction: Kim Jones Coordination: Kylie Griffiths All clothes and accessories: Dunhill SS10
| VICE Jasper has got inside the Aluminium Suitcase
Thumper wears shirt from Look 28
| VICE VICE
Stephen wears Look 30 and straddles the Aluminium Suitcase
Stephen wears Look 1; Thumper rests in a Made in England Explorer Holdall
PHOTOGRAPHS BY BIJOUX ALTAMIRANO STYLIST: ANNETTE LAMOTHE-RAMOS Hair: Billy Keith Lawhon. Makeup: Erin Green using Makeup Forever. Models: Kembra Pfahler, Jerry Lee. Page 2: Maison Martin Margiela dress; vintage shoes. Page 3: Maison Martin Margiela dress, vintage shoes. Page 4: Jen Kao dress. Page 5: Jen Kao dress. Page 6: Mended Veil necklace, Opi nail polish. Page 7: Rock & Republic bodysuit, Mended Veil necklace.
Photos by Sandy Kim
PAVEL PHOTOS BY DAVID ARMSTRONG 86
I Was Looking for a Street An Excerpt From a Memoir by Charles Willeford ILLUSTRATIONS BY SAMMY HARKHAM Charles Willeford (1919 –1988) remains one of America’s most criminally underappreciated writers. From his essential pulp works, like Pick-Up and The Woman Chaser, to his almost unclassifiably perfect novels like Cockfighter, The Shark Infested Custard, and The Burnt Orange Heresy, all of which examine humanity, darkness, lightness, and life with economical and sophisticated observation and black, black humor, to his final works, a series of books featuring a Miami detective named Hoke Moseley (Miami Blues, Sideswipe, New Hope for the Dead, and The Way We Die Now), Willeford transcended the crime genre to which he was relegated by most publishers and critics. But if Willeford only wrote pulp, then so did Dostoyevsky and Hemingway. What follows is an excerpt from Willeford’s memoir, I Was Looking for a Street, which will be reissued this month by PictureBox and Family. Here, at 13 years old, Willeford is running away from home to live the hobo life during the Great Depression. Need we say more? Read on… ONE DREARY RAINING MORNING, instead of walking to school, I took the Number Five streetcar. When the streetcar reached my stop, at 30th and Main Street, it was still raining. Instead of getting off and walking a block in the rain to school, I stayed aboard the streetcar until we reached the Los Angeles River. By that time the rain had stopped. I climbed the low bluff to the park that overlooked the river and the RR yards below.
I could look down on the bums in the riverside jungle, and for a while I watched the yard engines make up a train in the yards below. There were quite a few other bums in the park, as well as in the jungle, and I listened in on some conversations, asking a few questions of my own. The only time that bums were bothered by the law was when they first arrived by freight in Los Angeles. If they were leaving L.A. by freight train, the cops were glad to see them go, so catching a train out of the yards was a simple matter. Incoming trains were watched, however, and the bums were rounded up frequently by cops as they detrained. They were then taken to Lincoln Heights Jail, given thirty days for vagrancy, with twenty-seven days suspended. They were told then that if they were caught hanging around L.A. again, they would be returned to Lincoln Heights to serve the remaining twenty-seven days. The word got around, of course, and the wiser incoming bums usually got off the train at Colton, a division point some fifty miles away, and made their way into Los Angeles by other means of transportation. But outgoing bums were not bothered by the RR bulls, and there were a good many bums hanging around the park and in the jungle waiting for an eastbound train. The night I caught the eastbound freight although I did not, at that time, have any destination in mind, I was wearing white socks and tennis shoes, a pair of corduroy pants, a white shirt with a blue-and-white-striped necktie, and a gray roughneck sweater, the
kind with a thick, stand-up collar. I also wore a gray baseball cap. I had a package of Dominos, a brand-new dissecting kit I had stolen out of some USC student’s car, and forty-seven cents in change. The trip to Colton took a little more than two hours, arriving a little after midnight. In Colton, a division on the Southern Pacific, trains were made up and a helper engine was added to get the trains over the mountain to Redlands. Colton was only a few miles from San Bernardino, and was the loading and storage town for most of the fruit, oranges, and plums shipped out of San Bernardino County, at that time the largest county in the United States. San Bernardino, or “Berdoo,” as it is called by Californians, was the whorehouse district for Southern California, with four square blocks of whorehouses, called, collectively, “D” Street. At this time, Colton, California, in the winter, and Casper, Wyoming, in the summer, were the two major bum capitals in the United States. In the summer, Casper, with its miles of flat country and plentiful streams of water, was popular, but many professional bums wintered in Colton. The open grassy fields outside the RR yards were ablaze with the lights of candles in the patchwork beanery tents; and at tiny fires, men slept on the ground like wheel spokes with their feet to the warmth. These open fields of the Colton jungle formed a transient Hooverville of more than 400 bums, although the population fluctuated daily. The jungle was cleared out periodically VICE
by the sheriff and a pick-up posse from town, but within a few days the jungle would fill up again. In Berdoo, about five walking miles away, there was a state-run transient camp which fed two meals a day, breakfast at ten A.M. and supper at fourthirty P.M. Many of the Colton jungle residents would walk over and back every day for one meal. There were plenty of oranges and plums to be had for nothing, because grove owners would frequently deliver free lugs of frost-touched oranges to the jungle. And in the prune-plum orchards a few miles north of town, bums were allowed to pick up plums that had fallen from the trees. There were more than a dozen beaneries in the jungle. These were small businesses operated by owner-cooks. All that was needed was a makeshift shelter and a five-gallon Standard Oil can bubbling over a wood or a coal fire and filled with either navy or kidney beans. There was usually a plank counter, with another plank bench facing the counter with eating for four or five customers, and a couple of bottles holding candles for illumination. A coffee can full of beans, with one thick slab of bread, was five cents. The beaneries were busiest when a freight train came into the yards. It took about an hour to make up a train and to shift out a few cars, whether it was going east or west, and with a hundred or more bums to feed during that period, the owner-cooks had to work fast. Business was much slower between trains, and the entrepreneurs were not particularly competitive (although one beanery served hoecake, made with cornmeal, instead of serving white bread). 96
I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast, so the beans I ate at midnight seemed perfect to me. The smoky interior of the beanery, a shack that had been constructed from flattened oil-cans and canvas, was toasty warm after the cold wind that had chilled me on the train ride from L.A. After eating, I decided that it was too cold to continue on into the desert that night, riding in an empty gondola. I spent the next two days in the Colton jungle, hanging around the fires and picking up some useful information about the road. On the third night, with a coffee can of water, and a gunny sack partially filled with oranges and plums, I caught the one A.M. freight to Yuma, Arizona. By ten A.M. the next morning, all of my water was gone. I had sucked the juice out of all my oranges, and I had a case of the runs from eating the plums. With my stomach cramping, I got off in Indio, and let the train continue without me. I couldn’t think of a single reason why anyone would want to live in a desert town like Indio. But it was a date-shipping center, I suppose, with a mean living to be had, and that was probably why the town was founded. A bum rarely left the train at Indio. After begging for food at a dozen houses, I understood why. No one was hostile to me; if anything, they were merely embarrassed because they had no food to give me. Finally, a Mexican woman gave me three dry tortillas, and eating these helped settle my stomach. I had given my leftover plums to a man on the train, after realizing that the plums were what had caused my discomfort. I had squandered most of my money in the Colton beaneries, and I was down to
eleven cents. At a gas station, a few blocks away from the yards, I traded my dissecting kit for a package of Wings. I then spent the next ten hours under a dusty pepper tree, smoking, dozing, and waiting for the next train to Yuma. This was another night train. The weather was balmy, after a hot dry day in Indio, all of the way to Yuma. The stars were out, and I had a feeling on the train that I was getting somewhere, although all I managed to get to was Yuma. At Niland, the last stop in California, where the train stopped briefly so the engine would take on water, grim men armed with ax handles lined both sides of the tracks to prevent anyone from leaving the train. They wanted to make certain that all of the bums stayed on the train and left California. On freights coming in to California, the bums were taken off the train at Niland and kept in a warehouse until the next freight came through for Arizona. So we had about fifty or more bums added to our train at Niland. They were hungry, although they had been given plenty of water in the warehouse where they had spent about eight or nine hours. The men with ax handles didn’t meet every train that came through Niland, but they met enough of them to discourage many bums from trying to get through. To avoid Niland, some bums took a train from Phoenix to Prescott and then tried to get a truck ride into California via Needles, but this method was difficult in other ways. A bum wasn’t welcome on the train to Prescott, and if a man wasn’t well-dressed, he could stand on the highway forever without ever getting a ride in a truck. Although, at the time, I didn’t intend to return to California, and I had not as yet selected a definite destination, the realization that it would be difficult to get back into California through Niland made me feel as if I had passed a major milestone in establishing my freedom. I had felt that I had, at last, truly gotten away. I like Yuma, as who would not? I have often wished that I could have spent the rest of my life there. But a tragedy forced me out of town, and I knew that I could never return to this wonderful desert city. Compared with the glum expressions I had left in L.A., the Yuma residents I saw on the streets, as I explored the town on foot, wore almost childishly happy expressions. At one time, many years ago, Yuma had been a small sea port, with ocean-going vessels sailing up the Colorado to dock and trade there. But all that had been a long time ago, and now the river was shallow and narrow, with only the watermarks remaining on the steep bluffs to show how high the river had once been. The AllAmerican Canal into California’s Imperial Valley had helped to reduce the river’s flow, as had the construction at Boulder Dam. There didn’t seem to be any economical reasons whatsoever for Yuma’s existence, at least that I could see, except that it was a
water stop for trains passing through; and there was still a spur track that went down into some remote village in Mexico once a week. There were four Indian squaws squatting on the RR station platform. They sold crudely made pottery and turquoise beads, and could only have had minimal sales. The Sunset Limited stopped each way for only five minutes, and the passengers who got off the train were mostly those whose destination was Yuma. The Indian women didn’t get up from their squatting positions to hawk their wares to the people on the train, so they only sold something to the occasional traveler who leaped off the train for a minute or so. I passed a drugstore, and an Indian buck, wearing work clothes and a cowboy hat, stopped me on the sidewalk. I knew he was an Indian because he had two long braids of black hair down his back, and he didn’t speak with a Spanish accent. He asked me if I wanted to make four-bits. “Sure,” I said. “Here.” He handed me a dollar bill. “Go into the drugstore, and buy me a bottle of rubbing alcohol. It’s on the shelf, back by the pharmacist’s slot, next to the shaving stuff. It’s seventy-eight cents.” “Why me?” I was puzzled. He shrugged, and spat into the gutter. “They don’t sell Indians rubbing alcohol in Arizona.” I bought the rubbing alcohol for him without any trouble, and he let me keep the change, and made up the difference. I had only been in Yuma for an hour or so, and I was already making money. I did not, however, have much sympathy for the Indian. He looked as much like a Mexican as he did an Indian. If he had cut off his braids and faked a Spanish accent, he could have bought all of the alcohol he wanted without being questioned. Perhaps, I thought, he was too proud of being an Indian to fake deception, but wasn’t it equally humiliating to have to pay some stranger on the street to buy the alcohol for him? To give him the benefit of my own doubts, I concluded that the idea had never occurred to him to change his appearance. I then talked to another bum on the street, a middle-aged man, who told me that he was making a living as a professional witness. I was impressed by what he had to say. The wedding chapels in Yuma were open twentyfour hours a day and many California couples unwilling to wait the required three days would obtain a license, drive to Yuma, get married, and be on their way back in about ten minutes. This bum spent his nights hanging around all-night wedding parlors where he would be available to serve as a witness. He was tipped, he said, anywhere from a quarter to a dollar for watching the rapid-fire ceremony and signing the forms. “In a way,” he said, “I’m one of the highest paid men in Arizona. If a wedding lasts five minutes, and I get tipped a buck, I’m actually making an hour.”
But too often, he added unhappily, three or four nights would go by without getting a single witness job. This happened because a lot of couples brought friends along, and then got married with these friends serving as unprofessional witnesses. He showed me his necktie, which he had curled into a ring and kept in a paper sack. “Some of these socalled friends of the bride and bridegroom don’t even have a necktie to wear at the ceremony,” he said bitterly. “And they’re often drunk, and make crude jokes, like, ‘Run for the door, Bill, and I’ll hold her off. It ain’t too late.’ That sort of thing destroys the sanctity of the ceremony. But when they get me, they know they’ll get a professional job.” The professional witness also told me about the deserted prison, and that it was an available place to sleep, and the cops never bothered anyone who used it. The ancient Arizona prison, abandoned at least fifty years before, was atop a gently sloping hill northwest of the RR station. There was a sandy road to the prison, and there were no habitations nearby. The building was mostly adobe, and large sections of the roof had fallen in. Windows with bars were still in place at irregular intervals, high in the walls that were still standing, and sand had drifted in where the high double doors had been at the entrance. The sandy floor was a soft place to sleep. The interior was unoccupied, but a good many bums had spent nights in the prison. There was some interesting graffiti to read on the walls, and the remains of fires and improvised cooking utensils were scattered about. I built a small
camp fire, using some manzanita root someone had gathered, and set up housekeeping. I made a shallow bed in the sand by the fire, and covered it with loose straw. I picked a corner of the largest room, where a section of the roof was still intact and would be shady all day. I had bought a loaf of bread and a dime’s worth of baloney in the grocery store, and after I made a stack of sandwiches, I settled down in my nest by the fire to eat the sandwiches and tried to think for the first time in my life. Thinking, when you first try it, is very difficult. I had never tried to think before, seriously, I mean, and I didn’t quite know how to go about the process. Most people, under ordinary circumstances, living with their families, attending school, getting jobs, don’t get around to thinking until their early twenties — if then. Sometimes they are married and have two or three children before they begin to think about their lives. I have talked to men who told me that they never did any serious thinking about themselves until their mid-thirties. Thinking, as opposed to making rather superficial distinctions and decisions, is, apparently, unnecessary for everyday life. Most people simply go along with their lives, accepting what happens to them, attributing to good and back luck whatever fortune or plight comes their way. But as I sat there alone, very alone, in the deserted and empty prison, with my mind alert for options — aware that there were options for the first time in my life — my mind reeled as I tried to get my thoughts into some kind of order. I was untrained in formal
logic, and my mind kept going off on tangents. The experience was heady, exciting, bewildering, and I had to make a determined effort of will to prevent myself from being distracted by a buzzing fly, or even from contemplating the beauty of the swirling red-brown-ocherous pattern on a knot of manzanita root. It is much easier to slip into a daydream than it is to think. Hours passed. But I was unaware of time as I tried to think things out. My thoughts were not profound, nor did they involve philosophy in any way. It was merely straight thinking, if that is the name for what I was doing, exploring ideas and possibilities in an effort to forge a new identity for myself. I was not concerned with any overall life plan, either for the immediate future or for the months and years ahead of me. The world itself would take care of my future, but what I needed for the immediate moment and survival was a believable background. First of all, I needed a new name. My own name had been passed on to me by a man who knew that he was dying and who had wanted to have a small piece of immortality. Well, fuck him, I thought. The name would die with me and I would never leave any abandoned children behind me when I died. And for the present, for security, I would choose a new name. If I were picked up for vagrancy, or if I went to jail for any reason, I 98
could be traced by my real name, and I didn’t want my grandmother to find out about any trouble I got into. It would be far better for her not to know about what happened to me than it would be for her to find out that I was in jail somewhere, which everyone I had met on the road so far had claimed to be an everpresent possibility and daily hazard. I decided to take my great-uncle’s name, Jake Lowey. I liked the sound of it because it sounded much different when applied to me instead of to my ancient, one-eyed greatuncle. And perhaps, I thought, by using Jake’s name, some of the old man’s gift for survival would somehow be magically transferred to me. I made up the name of an imaginary aunt in Chicago, imaginary street addresses for her flower shop and apartment, and I selected Chicago and the World’s Fair as my ultimate destination. Also, when I was asked, as I knew I would be, I would say I had a job waiting for me at the baseball and milk bottle concession. How come I could get a job so easily at The Fair, with everyone else wanting one? My aunt had influence with an alderman, and she had pulled a few strings for me, that’s how. I was skinny, but at five-nine I was tall for my age. My heart-shaped face was far too innocent looking to pass for twenty-nine. And because I was a blond with a fair
complexion, there wasn’t even any peach fuzz on my face. But I could, I thought, pass myself off as seventeen going on eighteen when someone asked me how old I was; the important thing was to tough it out and stick with the lie. I worked out a new birthday, using a stick to do the arithmetic in the sand. I memorized my new name and birth date, saying them aloud, and casually, until they sounded natural to me. As a birthplace, I settled for Los Angeles, where many people live but very few are born, because, if queried, I could rattle off L.A. landmarks and street names. I knew the city well, all of it, and I could always say my parents were dead, which they were. Ray and Aileen Lowey, deceased, and buried in Calvary. I knew enough about Catholicism to pass myself off as a Roman Catholic, and this seemed like the best religion to choose because, if need be, I could probably get help at any one of the Catholic relief agencies in any city I happened to be passing through. I had learned already that it was a poor idea to admit to atheism, when I had told the registrar at John Adams Junior High School that I was an atheist. She denied that I was an atheist, and asked me repeatedly to tell her my religion until I said, finally, that I was Methodist — which I was not. On Sundays at McKinley, there had been interdenominational services, but they weren’t mandatory, and I never attended. My grandmother believed in God, or said she did, but didn’t belong to any church. When I came home from McKinley, she had sent me to Sunday school a few times to the Presbyterian church a few blocks away from the apartment house, but the teacher, a young man with a lisp and a red necktie, was obviously a fruit. I withheld the dime she gave me each time for the offering, and quit going after a few weeks. But only adults were allowed to be atheists, apparently, so I decided that I would be a Catholic, if asked, at least until I became twenty-one. I made up a good many new facts about myself while I was at it, such as high schools attended, hobbies, and sports I had never engaged in, down to a made-up sexual experience with a second cousin. I then filed the imaginary details away in my head. What I was doing, although it was many years later before I realized it, was manufacturing the basic background for a fictional character as a novelist must do in preparation before writing a novel. The novelist knows hundreds of small details about his major characters that he never puts down on paper, but the fact that he does “know” these things about his imaginary characters enables him to write about them with authority. I was never called upon to relate very many of the details I made up about Jake Lowey, but thinking about them and planning how to use them if needed strengthened my self-confidence. In fact, the seventeen-year-old Jake Lowey was a pretty tough kid.
That night, secure within my new self, I lay on the soft bed, watching the bright stars in the black sky, while at the same time, moon rays slanted through the barred windows in the walls. I had a mixed and detached reaction to my new identity — retaining the old while stirring the new in random patterns in my mind. The next morning I walked to the RR bridge that separated California from Arizona. I walked along the bluff, staying on the Arizona side, and finally found a trail down the cliffside to the Colorado River. I removed and washed my shirt and socks, and, while they dried, bathed myself with river water, using damp sand in lieu of soap to get off the worst of the ingrained train dirt from my elbows and ankles. I also cleaned under my foreskin, a habit I performed every day. A foreskin is a mixed blessing, advantageous in prolonging the sex act, but a hygiene problem that must be attended to every day. If a man misses cleaning under his foreskin for two or three days, his dick will become swollen and sore. After an hour I began to get sunburned. I got dressed and climbed back up the trail. Beneath a cottonwood tree, about a hundred yards away from the old prison, a man had pitched a pup tent while I had sojourned down by the river. He had a leather knapsack opened beside a small fire, and he was frying bacon in a small iron skillet. He wore a black suit, a white shirt with a maroon tie, and oldfashioned high-topped shoes that were well shined. He had a deeply lined and homely face, like that of a man who has lost a great deal of weight and the skin hasn’t shrunk, as yet, to fit the smaller form within. He was in late middle-age, and his black hair was gray at the temples. “Did you eat yet?” he said. This was the standard greeting on the road. I shook my head, squatted on my heels, and inhaled the wonderful aroma of frying bacon. He cut two more slices from the slab of bacon he had in his knapsack, and after his slices were crisp he fried mine. While the bacon sizzled, he mixed cornmeal and water in a tin cup, and when my bacon was done he removed it, added the cornmeal mixture to the hot grease, and made a hoecake. We ate the hoecake and the bacon without talking. He then cleaned the frying pan with sand before putting it back into the knapsack. He was neat, almost fussy, in his movements, and he didn’t waste any motions. His long fingers trembled, however. I offered him a Wing, which he refused, and I waited anxiously for him to ask me some questions. I was eager to try out my new identity on this generous stranger, but I wasn’t going to volunteer any information. He remained silent while I smoked, and when I finished my cigarette and tossed the butt into the fire, he removed his suit coat, folded it neatly, and put it inside the tent. He then took a two-pronged metal whip out of
his knapsack. The whip had been made from a wire coat hanger, with the wire unwound, looped over in the center, and the loop made into a handle, with adhesive tape wrapped around it. The two exposed ends were about three inches apart. It was a short but an effective whip. “How’d you like to make fifty cents?” His voice was as trembly as his fingers. “I don’t know,” I said uneasily, getting to my feet and preparing to run. “All you’ve got to do,” he said, “is hit me across the back with this thing a few times.” He held out the whip, and got into a kneeling position. “Give me the four-bits,” I said. “In advance?” “Yeah. In advance.” Still kneeling, he fished two quarters out of his pants pocket, and handed me the money and the whip. I put the money away, and as he leaned forward, hugging his chest, I tapped his back gingerly. “Harder!” he said. I hit him little harder, and as he kept saying, “Harder, harder,” I increased the punishment, although I never hit him hard enough to really hurt him, or even to tear the fabric of his shirt. The two-pronged wire whip wasn’t heavy enough to do much physical damage. After a while, and before my arm got tired, he said, “Thanks. That’s enough.” I tossed the whip down beside him, and left for the prison. My stomach was churning from the experience, or perhaps from the greasy hoecake. Although I was delighted by the unexpected windfall of the half-dollar, I knew there was something wrong about whipping a man for money. I hadn’t liked doing it, and I had been frightened at first, thinking I might hurt the man, but he hadn’t flinched or whimpered. If he yelled, or indicated in any way that he was in pain, I wouldn’t have been able to continue. But inasmuch as it hadn’t bothered him too much, I decided he was undergoing some kind of religious penance, like the flagellants in the Catholic Church I had heard about. That afternoon I went shopping in Yuma. I bought a package of Wings, and while I was at it I managed to steal a bar of soap, a candy
bar, and a College Humor magazine. I returned to the prison, slipping by the sadlooking man’s little tent. He didn’t greet me as I passed by, and I said nothing to him. I read the magazine until it got too dark, and then I went to sleep. The next four days followed the same pattern. After I washed at the river (with the soap, I could now wash my hair), the man would cook and give me breakfast, pay me a half-dollar, and I would whip him with the improvised whip. On the fifth morning, after breakfast, he asked me to whip him for nothing. I considered it for a moment, and then I recalled the professional marriage-ceremony witness I had met on my first day in Yuma. “No,” I said. “This is the sort of work I do for a living, and if it ever got around that I was passing out free whippings, I’d be out of business.” I laughed, thinking that my remark was funny, but he did not join me. “I thought,” he said seriously, “that you might do it out of friendship.” That didn’t go down well with me. “You aren’t my friend,” I said. “I don’t know your name, and you never asked me for mine. We’ve had a businesslike relationship from the first.” “But I don’t have any more money,” he said. “I know what it is to be broke,” I said. “My cousin Ethel sings a song that goes, ‘If I ever get my hands on a dollar again, I’m gonna save it for my only friend.’ But if you need some money, I’ll lend you a half-dollar.” “Then,” he said, “if I give it back to you, will you stroke me a few times with — ” “No.” I shook my head. “But if you need the money for food I’ll let you have it.” “Never mind.” His face flushed with anger. He turned his back on me, and started to take down his tent, kicking the wooden stakes out with his feet. I watched him from the prison doorway as he rolled his tent and his blanket, and folded the roll into a U over his knapsack. Without once looking in my direction, he started down the sandy road toward the RR station. I felt sympathy for the man, and I couldn’t understand my reluctance to give the man a free whipping. But just as I knew that whipping him for money in the first place was wrong, I knew that to whip him for nothing would be much worse. There would be no end to it; it would be like Sindbad the Sailor and the Old Man of the Sea, in the story in The Book of Knowledge I had read at McKinley. At any rate, I thought, when he was gone from sight, I now had a tidy little stake. Early the next morning, I caught the Pacific Fruit Express freight train for Tucson.
© Betsy Willeford 2010, excerpted from the 2010 PictureBox / Family edition of I WAS LOOKING FOR A STREET.
Bless This Mess Wading Through the Shit With the Disaster Masters BY MOLLY YOUNG PHOTOS BY CLEMENT HOLDER t 8 AM on a sunny Tuesday morning I am on my way to a crisis site on East End Avenue at 82nd Street. The call had come in an hour or so earlier. “I presume you’re in good physical fitness,” Ron Alford had warned me over the phone. Ron is the director of Disaster Masters, a crisis-management firm that specializes in treating a group he’s dubbed “disposaphobics” — known to the rest of us as hoarders. The company’s motto is “Spiral Into Control.” Like a cop or a gym teacher, Ron has a voice made for mandates. I told him I was in fine shape. “Good,” he said. “Dress for work and get here quickly.” The address he gives me is a Yorkville high-rise on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with a lobby furnished in sand tones and a doorman in livery. Inside my bag are two bottles of water and a PowerBar (oatmeal raisin), and I have worn a work jacket, jeans with a hammer loop, and sturdy shoes. An unmarked gray truck is parked in front of the building, and when I knock on the driver’s side door it pops open. Ron is stationed in the driver’s seat and a pretty blond woman is sitting next to him. He is almost 70 and has the compact, world-weary look of a military veteran — he in fact served six years in the US Coast Guard. The woman introduces herself as Melissa. Ron scoops me into the truck and shuts the door so that I am wedged into the six-inch triangle between the steering wheel and the door. This is where I’m briefed on Ron’s client, a 50-something man with the initials CM who lives on the tenth floor of the apartment building. He has lived with his mother in the one-bedroom space his entire life. The woman, in her 80s, recently fell down and bonked her head. CM called the police but panicked when they arrived and refused to let them in. The door was broken down, the mother removed on a stretcher, and the squalid condition of the apartment noted in the police report. The old woman was placed in a nursing home and an attorney was contacted to marshal the assets. After a cleanup by Disaster Masters, the apartment was to be placed on the market and CM moved to a different location. The client’s mother would not see her apartment again. This, Ron explains to me from several inches away, is a typical job, although no two hoarding jobs are exactly alike. Except for the client. The client, he says, will always try to manipulate you. The A&E show Hoarders, he adds, is horseshit. “Shrinks, social workers, and psychotherapists have never cured a smoker, drinker, overeater, gambler, or sex addict, yet the media has these folks working with the clients as if they are providing some kind of valuable service.” Like any junkie, a client can’t be helped until he or she asks for physical help and coaching, Ron tells me. But never therapy: “Coaching is about tomorrow. Therapy is about yesterday.” A team of four men hang around the back of the truck, which is caboosed by a rented dumpster. Ron calls them the caballeros, and they are his muscle. One of them, a man named Hercules, runs five miles a day and does 500 sit-ups every morning. Melissa tells me that she thinks of the caballeros as hospice workers. “They don’t judge, they don’t talk, they don’t steal,” she says. “They’re made of gold.” While we wait for the signal to head up, Ron hands out green latex gloves and breathing masks. Melissa warns that the apartment is full
Ron unearths the least racy literature in the entire place.
of porn and filth and asks whether I might like to go upstairs for a minute to get accommodated before the others follow — in case, she clarifies, I need to vomit. I say no, and that I will probably be all right. When the doorman from the building signals to Ron and unlocks the service door, we all hop out of the truck and assemble near the door for a second briefing. “We start slow and finish fast,” Ron says, and hands me a red notebook to carry. We file into the elevator, where Ron makes a Mets joke and riffs on the copy of the New York Post that the elevator attendant is flipping through. It’s an oddly anticipatory mood, almost like Christmas Eve. The muscle is silent, and so am I. Then we are at the front door. “Ready, champ?” Ron asks. I nod, and the door opens slowly. CM is a heavy man with the expression of someone who has been left alone with his weirdness for far too long. He doesn’t seem unhinged, just dully resistant. His hair is shoulder-length and greasy; his breasts are much larger than mine. Behind him are two square feet in which to move, but the hallway is otherwise crammed with shit. Ron enters first, leading with his stomach. (It’s an amazing stomach,
Ron Alford at a crisis site on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
for his camera. “You’re wearing it,” Melissa points out after a minute, and they begin to shoot photos of the area, being careful to exclude the client from the frame. “You gonna use this for advertisements?” CM demands, a hand on his belly. “No,” Ron says. “Because it sure looks like advertisements to me.” He’s growing upset. I look at the walls and wonder whether the smears might have originated in periods of rage. Melissa attempts to talk him down. “You know how a doctor takes X-rays for a case file? That’s what this is. Just X-rays.” CM mutters something under his breath that I can’t hear, and Ron exchanges a look with Melissa. From then on, she does not speak to the client. Ron explains later: “He has problems with women, anyone can see that. We play good cop, bad cop. Melissa’s the bad cop today.” I wonder what the relationship between Ron and Melissa is — she is young enough, certainly, to be his daughter. “Ron’s my husband,” she giggles when I ask her. “He used to be my competitor.” I giggle too. It’s funny and cute. They do almost every job together. The two met online through an advertising campaign that Melissa ran to promote her professional-organizing training courses, and they live together in Queens and in New Milford, Connecticut. Short of that, neither is interested in going too much into the details of their personal lives. “I love working with him,” she tells me. “He always makes everyone feel better, no matter what their situation is.” After photos the work speeds up. The pace makes sense — no one responsible for cleaning up such a place would choose to stay longer than necessary. Layers of shit that have not budged in 20
years are gone in five minutes. The action happens assembly-line style: Ron, Melissa, two of the caballeros, and I bag garbage and line it up neatly in the hallway outside. Another guy throws the bags in a cart and wheels them to the service elevator down the hallway. A fourth guy throws the bags into the dumpster and jumps on top of it to stuff the bags down. Anything that looks important — antiques, bank statements — is set aside to deal with later. It doesn’t seem like the term hoarder would apply to CM — he seems merely to have an aversion to taking out the garbage. The term crisis, however, is entirely appropriate. In minutes we’ve cleared the foyer table to reveal a glass surface smeared with what might be poo. A pizza crust — how many years old? — is submerged in the maybe-poo, like a wizened finger. There are condoms and butt plugs on the floor. Ron identifies the butt plugs, which I do not recognize on sight. Melissa points out that Ron isn’t wearing his respirator and hectors him about it. The request is a reasonable one: Ron spent Christmas in the hospital with pneumonia. Ron takes a look at the rat’s nest of wires he has uncovered near the television. “Why this son-a-bitch ain’t dead is beyond me,” he says. Sweat drips down his face. He looks, for a moment, like a 70year-old working a job fit for a much younger man. We sag against the wall, relieved for a temporary break from our masks. The caballeros carry a chaise longue out of the apartment. Melissa’s hands begin to shake. “I’m losing the strength in my fingers from all this grabbing,” she explains. “I tried to learn how to play guitar but I’m too weak.” A neighbor in plum lipstick emerges from the elevator, spots our activity, and begins to creep down the hallway at turtle speed. “Here come the yentas,” Ron mutters.
Amid the take-out aftermath, Ron takes a long minute to evaluate.
The smell is striking. It is thick. It’s like shoving your head into someone’s mouth, armpit, and crotch all at once. by the way, protruding like a beer belly made of solid muscle. Beneath a plaid flannel he wears a tight black t-shirt, which he terms his man-girdle. “I gotta suck in my belly like J. Lo,” he later tells me. “As we get older we bag, sag, and drag.”) We start slowly, evaluating the mess. Establishing routes. Deciding what goes first. Maneuvering isn’t easy, since the space is crammed with Corona bottles, pizza boxes, soda bottles, a piano, White Castle boxes, Lysol cans, and stacks of other random waste about four feet deep in some places and much higher in others. There are pennies, receipts, Table Talk cherry-pie boxes, empty Skippy containers, plastic spoons, and lighters. There is an empty sixer of Smirnoff Ice Green Apple. Somewhere beneath the mess there is a nice apartment with good bones and southern exposure. Right now the walls are sprayed in what looks like shit, cum, and blood, depending on the room. The smell is striking. It is thick. The breath that condenses in my mouth is a swamp of it. It’s like shoving your head into someone’s mouth, armpit, and crotch all at once. Only one in five of the apartment’s light fixtures are functional and the windows have been covered, so the caballeros bring in
lights. CM is skittish and protective. “Everything in the kitchen stays,” he yells. “Everything in the closet is private.” He shifts through the rooms, marking off sections that we are not to touch, until Ron sits him down on the couch with orders not to interfere. There is silence for a moment, and then some scuffling noises as everyone gets back to work. The bathroom doorway provides a good vantage point on the work, so I nestle in and watch Ron and the muscle transfer handfuls of junk to black garbage bags torn off from a giant roll. One of the guys passes me and glances at the toilet, stained the color of feces, and slams it shut with his foot. The bathroom sink holds a blowdryer, a packet of chicken flavor, an Entenmann’s box, a fly strip, and a DVD called Candy Striper, which depicts on its back cover a hospital worker being anally penetrated. Ron comes in to dump a load of porn in the sink. “Guy’s a trust-fund baby,” he says, seemingly to explain the smut. I look at the titles. Slavemeat IV, Latex Mania, Blonde and Anal, Bad Bondage Dream. There are plushy DVDs, big-ball-fetish DVDs, dirty-sock-fetish DVDs, ice-dildo DVDs. Ginza Sex Slaves, Mouth Meat, Bondage Dolls, Submission Complex, Curry Cream Pie, Girls of Pain II, Punishment of Goth Girl, Tortureshop, Droolin’. In the living room there are stacks of raunchy DVDs that reach the ceiling, which makes me wonder whether watching porn is like watching horror movies or heist thrillers. Does it get less effective, I mean, the more you watch it? Does your porn metabolism speed up? From my niche I can see CM rooted spudlike on the couch. He has placed a cell phone on his stomach and above him is a wall covered with a million boogers and what are probably food and jizz streaks. He refuses to have his picture taken, but Ron still pauses to search CM’s love of Sunkist soda extends to the toilet seat.
Ron and his wife, Melissa.
“There’s nothing I haven’t seen,” Ron says. “Dead cats. Dead pigeons. Dead people. When there’s fresh protein, you smell it from a mile away. It’s vile.” The neighbor points timidly at the door as she reaches us. “Does he still live there?” she asks. Ron nods. The neighbor asks questions: What’s going on? Who’s paying for the job? Is he going to stay? — but Ron is tight-lipped. She eventually moves on, unsatisfied. “I run interference with the busybodies,” Ron says later. “We just tell the neighbors that we’re doing spring cleaning. It’s none of their business.” I mull on this and Ron picks up on it. “The neighbors, they’d look at this apartment and go, ‘Holy shit.’ But everyone alive has this problem. Everyone’s compulsive. I gotta compulsive urge to pee every day. I’m a compulsive pee-er.” From inside comes the sound of a wooden screen being kicked to the floor. “This caucus is over,” Ron says, blowing his nose with sheets torn from a tube of toilet paper and heading back in. We put our masks on and follow. The ground has been cleared by this point, and I see that the floorboards are warped into a beef-jerky-like state. It’s difficult to imagine what a restoration might cost. It’s also difficult to imagine a person causing so much damage all by himself, much less living there with an elderly mother. A maintenance bill for $71,000 has been unearthed in the foyer while we were on break. I open a closet, and DVDs spill out cartoon-style. One of them hits me in the head. Of masked girls, dressed in latex, masturbate with
frenzy, says the back cover. Largely open thighs, they introduce the disproportionate cock to the deepest of their pussy quartered. Pleasures and solitary pleasures. Hallucinated! Hallucinated! I put the DVD in the sink with the others. It’s a strange feeling to spelunk among somebody’s personal possessions with state-ordered authority. Despite the protections, it cannot be kosher to pry into a foreign closet and toss the contents into a garbage bag. Doing so provokes the same sense of embarrassing, unwanted intimacy that you get from interrupting someone on the toilet. I glance at CM, sitting on the couch, and he looks back at me with zero interest. My face is mostly covered. The breathing mask, along with filtering bad smells, provides anonymity. It makes a cleaning robot out of a sentient girl who might otherwise express horror or disgust at what she saw. The bedroom is more of the same, with one exception: There is money everywhere. Dollar bills have hardened into rigid strips underfoot. There’s also a big box of some substance that is unidentifiable except for the fact that it is decomposing. A woman’s platform shoe rests atop a pile of greasy cartons, and suddenly, like a Magic Eye drawing, I observe a pattern that unites the mess. Studded platforms, strappy stilettos, nylon-laced thigh-highs: Women’s shoes are everywhere. Most are cobwebbed. They are not the kind of shoes that an 80-year-old woman might wear. I hold my foot up to a lizard-patterned platform shoe, and it’s about the same size as my foot. The client is clearly not a tranny. I dig around for other shoe clues, and when Melissa joins me in the bedroom I ask for her theory. “Hookers?” she says, bending to examine the pile. But a lot of the pairs are incomplete, it seems, and from this we determine that a standard foot fetish is the likely suspect. As time passes, a layer of feminine touches rises from the grime: a porcelain flowered kitty, a framed print of an iris on the wall. At lunchtime we take a break, and Hercules hands Ron a clear plastic bag filled with papers. Most of the clients, he tells me, have a decent amount of money. Just last week they found documentation of a bank account with $30,000 that the client had completely forgotten about. An $80,000 chess set appeared the month before. Neither Ron nor Melissa will give me statistics about their work. They will not, for example, say what the average job costs, or how long it takes, or what the average hoarder is like. They say that it is not unusual, in cases where the plumbing has failed, to encounter bags full of shit and soda bottles full of urine. Or piles of used tampons. “There’s nothing I haven’t seen,” Ron says. “Dead cats. Dead pigeons. Dead people. When there’s fresh protein, you smell it a mile away. It’s vile.” At one location last year Melissa contracted hantavirus, a deadly disease transmitted by contact with rodent droppings, despite wearing full hazmat gear. They tell me that a third of their clients work in what they call “altruistic” professions: nurses, government employees, schoolteachers, social workers. This is borne out by the A&E show, whose subjects include a retired psychologist, a veterinarian, a firefighter, and a police officer. We close the apartment door and unpeel our gloves. On the way down we all silently observe a garbage disposal located 20 feet from the client’s apartment door. In the elevator Ron tells me a little about his life, about how he was born in Georgia and moved to New York in the 70s. “There were hookers on 42nd Street,” he says. “They were fun to watch.” When we leave the building and tear off our masks, the New York City air smells like flowers and mist and waterfalls. It is the bestsmelling air I’ve ever smelled. I am soaked in a sweat that instantly dries and chills me to the core. Hercules and Melissa are coughing. It is late January and cold, and I’m still holding Ron’s red notebook in my hands. “I’m Captain Garbage,” he says out of nowhere, and then asks around to see what everyone would like for lunch. Although it is long past noon, I can’t begin to handle the thought of food. But I’m the only one. Ron, Melissa, and the crew, despite it all, are starving. CM, who insisted on remaining anonymous, relaxes on the couch with his porn library in front of the cum-and-boogers wall.
FATHER JEAN-MARIE THORNBUSH LITTLE JOHN Vice: Hello. Where did you study theology? Father Jean-Marie Thornbush Little John, aka Hiroshi Sugiura: I entered the Society of the Atonement after graduating from high school. However, I was urged to leave after a year. After that, I became a seminary student at Nanzan University’s Department of Christian Studies in Nagoya City and entered the university-run missionary association, the Society of the Divine Word. Again I was asked to leave after a year. So I took a year off and reentered, but this time as a theologian of the Nagoya parish. Despite this, I was repeatedly thrown out of various societies. Why? Most of the time it was because I loved Mama Virgin Mary too much. They said that I was too biased. You loved her too much? Yes, like a newborn loves its mother. I was born with a soul that can only love like a baby, so it was natural for me to be completely infatuated with her. However, the church considered my way of loving crazy. Is this why you established the Little Pebble Dohsyuku-kai? When people initially gathered here seeking my sermons, not a single one of them was fundamentally good enough to take the monastic vows. I realized that rather than building a monastery, it would be better to create something much more basic for these people. It is upon this realization that I received inspiration from heaven, and the Dohsyuku-kai is what I eventually built. When and why did you move all the way up here to Akita Prefecture to start this commune? I moved here on September 29, 2005. I personally had no desire to build all of this, nor did I plan it. I was simply told by God to found the group according to the principles He bestowed on me.
What do you mean by “ovum baby”? It’s when a woman’s ovum fertilizes itself. I believe another term for it is “virgin birth,” or parthenogenesis. No biological father exists. It is a miracle that God has bestowed on us to prove the innocence of Mr. Little Pebble, who has been incarcerated in Sydney, Australia, for more than four years now. By Mr. Little Pebble you mean William Kamm, the man imprisoned for sex-related crimes who is the movement’s founder and namesake. How much time did you spend with him? Yes, I studied under him for three months. You were eventually kicked out of his parish, yet you still associate yourself with him. Why? I am simply adhering to God’s orders. The parish founded by Mr. Little Pebble ordered us to erase all information concerning him from our website. However, the Lord said, “That is not my wish. I command you to proudly proclaim Little Pebble’s name for your cause.” So I rejected their request. God gave you orders so that Mr. Little Pebble could be saved from life in prison? What did he instruct you to do? To have correct sex according to God’s method in front of the altar, in front of the Eucharist, and therefore in front of God. What exactly is “correct sex,” and how does it relate to Mr. Little Pebble? It refers to the sex act conducted in front of the Eucharist involving myself, as the role of Adam, and a female follower, who plays the role of Eve by her own free will. The Lord does not wish for anybody else to engage in this ritual. I was inspired to perform this ritual because I believed that there was no other way to prove Mr. Little Pebble’s innocence and the wrongful convictions of sexual assault made against him. Just a few days
ago, God sent me a message saying that the woman who sued Mr. Little Pebble will confess that it was all a lie. Besides the symbolism and the Eucharist, are there other ways correct sex differs from ordinary sex? The main difference is that my penis is not to be inserted into her vagina. I stimulate my penis against her external genitalia. When I orgasm, the Lord tells me to ejaculate into a glass cup and to throw out the sperm. What happens for you during correct sex? My love toward the woman grows deeper and deeper, and pleasure wells up inside of me. Are there any romantic feelings involved? Sure. I feel responsible for making them eternally happy, not only in this life but also in guaranteeing them a place in heaven. I would do absolutely anything for them. Why do you smear yogurt all over the woman’s genitalia during this ritual? Clara-Josefa-Menendez has always been frigid and non-orgasmic, and because of this her vagina never gets wet. However, as I am a regular clergy who has taken a vow of celibacy and am therefore an unmarried virgin, I wasn’t aware that you could buy lubricants to use in such circumstances. That’s why I turned to yogurt. I later learned that the lactic acid contained in yogurt protects female genitalia from bad bacteria, and decided that using yogurt as a substitute isn’t such a bad idea after all. Other than that, there’s no real meaning behind it. I’ve read that your followers refer to themselves as “dirty rotten scoundrels” and “the absolute worst souls.” That is because they hate to lie. Everybody in this community tells me that they had been searching for the truth since they were children. I was christened into Roman Catholicism
We can’t show you any graphic photos from the “correct sex” ritual, but trust us, there’s yogurt down there.
as a baby, but as for the other followers, God created them as wretched souls on purpose so that He could gather them here in this community once they became adults. When they call themselves dirty and rotten, they’re simply telling the truth.
What are these principles? I preach the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, wholly embracing all of its beliefs and morals. Obviously this means that we are to reject all other religions except our own. One of our fundamental principles is to proudly wear this white Little Pebble dress to show the world that we are in full support of Mr. Little Pebble.
And this brings them closer to God? They no longer feel the need to shy away from their true selves as they did when they were young. They would be lying if they said that they even had an ounce of good in them. If Adam and Eve were at the top of the list of “good” people, our members would come right at the bottom. They are telling the truth, and there is no falsity in their words.
We’ll get to Mr. Little Pebble in a minute, if that’s OK. Can I first ask you how large your community is Japan? There are two branches: the Little Pebble Dohsyuku-kai Shimitsukoya Community here in Akita Prefecture, and the Our Lady of Akita and Amakusa and All Martyrs of Japan Community in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture. There are seven followers here at the Shimitsukoya community, including the twins that Clara is carrying, as well as two in Nagoya City, and one in Yokohama. One of our members is a mother of three in Nagoya, who is carrying an ovum baby in her womb, just like Clara.
Is it OK for unmarried followers to have sex? We abide by the Roman Catholic Church and believe that it is the holy duty of a married couple to engage in sexual activities. However, sex out of marriage is a mortal sin. Does that mean Longin and Francois, who exchanged wedding vows today, have never had sex? No, they’ve been having sex for a long time.
They are mortal sinners. Yes, the deed itself is a mortal sin. They’re fully aware that they are mortal sinners. However, God forgives all those who ask for forgiveness, whoever they may be. That is the glory of the Lord. They will continue to have gay sex for the rest of their lives while they perpetually ask for forgiveness. The Lord will give both of them his blessing, share his bounty, and keep forgiving their sins until they die. Even after death God will forgive them and they will be saved. How have people outside of your community reacted toward your sex practices and the fact that you perform gay weddings? Fellow Christians are hostile and disdainful toward us. Some even want to kill us, but if they are true Christians, they should abide by God’s lesson to “love your enemies.” They should also know the line “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Others, homosexuals for example, cheer us on.
“When I orgasm, the Lord tells me to ejaculate into a glass cup and to throw out the sperm.” Are you afraid for your safety and that of your parish? Not at all. The Lord will turn those criticisms around. What do you mean? I mean that by being criticized, we will understand our faults even more and give thanks to those who criticized us. We will learn to love and to live humbly. We will pray for those who criticized us and ask God to guide them toward the right path.
Father Jean-Marie and Clara in their ceremonial robes.
CLARA-JOSEFAMENENDEZ YUMI ABE Vice: What made you decide to enter the Little Pebble faith? Clara-Josefa-Menendez Yumi Abe: I found out about Little Pebble Dohsyuku-kai through my mother’s younger sister. Back then I had just gotten out of my first marriage, which had ended badly, and was staying at my parents’ house in Tokyo. One day, my aunt took me to a gathering that was being held by Father Jean-Marie. That’s where I met him for the first time, and it was also where I met my second husband. What did you learn initially? Back then I was clueless about God, Christianity, Mama Maria, and all that. But I wanted to share my husband’s faith very badly. As an extension of that I began to see Jean-Marie more often and I became attracted to him as a person. Seeing Jean-Marie battle evil men who try to influence people by calling themselves the Messiah and feeding on their desires brought me to the realization that he is indeed telling the whole truth. The moment I realized this I decided to follow Jean-Marie. However, my husband lost his faith, and eventually we divorced. So you moved here. At first I didn’t intend to live here at all, but when I visited the commune for a few days on a short trip, Jean-Marie told me to stay. He said, “If you go back to Tokyo, you will be ruined. You should stay here under my wing.” I said yes. When was that? About three years ago. Your family must have been surprised. Well, yes. I still haven’t come back from what was meant to be a four-day trip, so they must have been extremely surprised! I think my family wants me to come home, but I’m adamantly refusing. I have no intention of going back for now.
Does it differ in anyway from normal sex? It’s completely different. I’ve never had sex out of love. In fact, I’m fundamentally incapable of loving, but I know that Jean-Marie has correct sex because he wants to give love. I never experience sexual pleasure from having correct sex with Jean-Marie, and at times I even feel the same hatred toward him that I feel toward my father. Yet Jean-Marie understands all of this and still tries to love me and does whatever he can, because he believes that I must take this path in order to attain eternal happiness. Jean-Marie has correct sex with me for my happiness, for Mr. Little Pebble, and for God. He doesn’t do it for pleasure, either, so I want to give back some of his love by helping him out on his mission. I haven’t been able to give much love back yet, but we’ll both keep trying until the very end. For God, and for Mr. Little Pebble. Tell me about your daily routine. I don’t have a set schedule or anything. It’s like I’m in emotional rehab, just doing whatever I feel like at my own pace. Nothing is forced on you. I get up, eat breakfast, cook, take a walk, go shopping, that sort of thing. Do you talk to the neighbors at all? Sure, everybody’s really nice and friendly. They invited us to a party the other day, and they tell us that they don’t want any conflict. They’re very compassionate. I love chatting with the lady next door, it’s so much fun. [laughs] How are you paying your living expenses right now? I’m living off of my savings. The Lord will
take care of everything, so even if I have to live from hand to mouth, I’m sure it will all work out. I might have to get a job, or I might gain some money elsewhere, but again, it’s all in the hands of God. Nearly three years ago you announced that you were pregnant with twins. Why haven’t you given birth to them yet? I don’t know why. This is God’s miracle. He controls everything — from the pregnancy and the twins to the date and method of birth. The Lord is choosing the best possible way for my babies to be born, both for myself and for everybody else. I’m positive that I’ll give birth when the time comes. I don’t even think about the possibility of it never happening because God never lies. I can’t wait until God finally says, “OK, Clara, it’s time. You’re about to give birth.” What do people outside of the Little Pebble community say about your situation? I don’t really have acquaintances anymore because I’ve shut them all out. But an old friend of mine did ask me why I was doing this. I don’t know what to say, though, because I don’t believe I’m doing anything wrong. Are you worried that people can check out footage of you engaging in correct sex on the Little Pebble Dohsyuku-kai website? At first I was a little nervous and excited, but I wasn’t embarrassed by it or anything. It just made me all the more determined to go through with the mission. Aren’t you concerned with criticism? We’re not doing anything wrong.
“I’m positive that I’ll give birth when the time comes. I don’t even think about the possibility of it never happening because God never lies.”
I hear that you have correct sex every day. Do you get any pleasure out of it? Not at all. [laughs] After moving here I learned that I was scarred emotionally as a child and that I have a problem with men in general. When I was young I witnessed how my father fooled around with numerous women, while at the same time my mother ingrained in us children her motto of “correctitude, honesty, righteousness, and beauty.” I guess that screwed me up. I’ve had sex with men in the past, I’ve cheated, I’ve been married twice, and had lots of premarital sex. I had one-night stands without thinking anything of it. But really, I was only doing it for the sake of it, and I never gained any pleasure out of sex.
The newlyweds share their wedding celebration with Marie-Madeleine Thornbush Ritsuko Sugiura, a blind diabetic woman who lives in the house and mostly stays in bed.
LONGIN-MARIE KATSUYOSHI BABA AND FRANCOIS-MARIE KOICHI MARUYAMA AFTER THEIR WEDDING CEREMONY Vice: How did you two meet? Longin-Marie Katsuyoshi Baba: I put up an ad on the personals page of a gay magazine, calling for a potential boyfriend. Francois sent me a letter with a photo of himself, and it started from there.
How is correct sex different for you? I do it for God. I pray to Him that I’m offering myself to Mr. Little Pebble. If this is the Lord’s wish, then I want to go through with it no matter what.
Do you one day hope to build a family? Francois-Marie Koichi Maruyama: We’ve been together for 25 years, so I hope we can just continue the way we’ve always been.
What brought you to enter the Little Pebble Dohsyuku-kai? Longin: I read a book by Isoichi Onizuka that talked about Mr. Little Pebble receiving a message from the Virgin Mary to the Japanese people. Just as I was wondering whether there was a group affiliated to Mr. Little Pebble in Japan, I found Father Jean-Marie’s contact details on the inside cover. I rang them up, and that’s how I became involved.
alternative form of holy matrimony for a gay couple. I still can’t quite get my head around how sensational that is. Homosexuals in Japan are often ostracized and despised, but the Lord tells us not to worry, because he loves us as much as anybody else, if not more. We wanted to spread this message to all the other gay people in the world by taking a bold step forward and exchanging wedding vows.
Francois, I understand you learned about the Little Pebble Dohsyuku-kai from Longin. Did you believe their teachings right from the beginning? Francois: Yes, absolutely.
I saw a few tears during the ceremony, Francois. Francois: I was overcome with joy. My heart went out to all the gay people in the world, and I prayed that we could save as many of them as possible by doing this.
What attracted you to the group? Francois: I was drawn to their message that even sinners like me could go to heaven and contribute to the world.
What do you think the response might be? Longin: I’ve received hurtful comments on my blog in the past, so I’m not particularly afraid of that now. I’m not alone in this, and Francois-Marie is by my side. More importantly, God is in front of us taking the lead, so there’s nothing to worry about. The Lord provided this opportunity to exchange vows, and this gift is keeping us strong.
You claim to be the first-ever Catholic gay couple to have married. Longin: I have personally never heard of a wedding ceremony especially created for gay couples, so in that sense it is definitely a first. Sure, some countries allow same-sex marriages, but I think it’s the first time in the history of mankind that God created an
Go to VBS.TV and watch From the Pages of Vice to see the “correct sex” ritual in action. You won’t be sorry. Wait, actually, you will be very sorry.
Jean-Marie and Clara preside over the wedding of Longin and Francois. That’s the happy couple on the floor, under those sheets.
Vive Le Tarnac Nine! The French Tradition of Brainy Sabotage Lives On WORDS AND PHOTOS BY AARON LAKE SMITH
he Limousin region in central France bears the distinction of being one of the most depopulated areas of the country. The cloudy mountains and plateaus are dense with evergreen forests, babbling brooks, and Roman ruins, rugged and beautiful as Idaho or Montana, with the corresponding draw for Hemingway-inspired fly fishermen and hunters. The rocky landscape is notoriously poor for farming, and there is hardly any local economy
besides a bit of summer tourism — most of its residents eke out lives as livestock farmers or string themselves from year to year on modest French unemployment benefits, which amount to around 350 euros a month. This mountainous area, almost the dead center of the country, has a tradition of rural communism that dates back to the French Revolution. Even today, many of the tiny towns and villages here sport ancient communist mayors who have been
reelected over and over through the decades. Limoges, Limousin’s largest city, a bland place that’s known for its porcelain industry, has been under socialist control for more than a century. When the Nazis invaded France during World War II, the mountains and woods of Limousin were so filled with communist French Resistance that the invading Wehrmacht referred to the area as “Little Russia.” The residents of the area still proudly remind visitors that its forests were some of the few places in Vichy France that were never successfully occupied by the Germans during World War II, thanks to its maquis armies, which waged a vicious guerrilla war on the invading Nazis. Limousin, and the surrounding areas, which are historically ignored by the rest of France, have recently come to prominence due to events in a tiny, inaccessible mountain village of about 100 people called Tarnac. This town has become the fulcrum of a heated national debate about the Sarkozy government’s use of the term “terrorism” and the difference between “terror” and the deeply held French tradition of sabotage. In 2004, a group of about 20 Parisian squatters and radical grad students began surveying villages around France for a place to which they could relocate and start collectivizing. Tarnac was one name on a long list and was considered not due to any personal connections to the region but because of its rich communist history and the presence of a sympathetic communist mayor. The small group settled there, creating a node from which its people could move back and forth between the village and Paris. They bought a disused farmhouse, planted a garden, and began to raise livestock. They also took over the operation of a failing bar and general store, two of the only businesses in the town, and ran them as volunteer collectives. In 2008, a prominent French criminologist named Alain Bauer was surfing Amazon.com when he randomly stumbled on a book called L’insurrection qui vient (The Coming Insurrection). It was put out by the French publishing house La Fabrique and written by an anonymous collective that called itself the Invisible Committee. Sensing some kind of a link between this group and European direct-action groups of the 70s and 80s like the Baader-Meinhof Gang (properly known as the the Red Army Faction), Bauer promptly bought 40 copies of the book and distributed them to domestic-surveillance professionals across France, who had been alerted by Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie to be on the lookout for a rise in “ultra-leftist” and “anarcho-autonomist” cells across Europe. The term “ultra-leftism” originated in Weimar Germany in the 1920s to describe radicals who were opposed to both Bolshevism and liberal democracy. It was resurrected to describe the nihilistic strain of insurrectionary activity, without any stated demands or goal, that emerged after the antiglobalization movement of the early 2000s. Sarkozy and Alliot-Marie had been deeply unsettled by the immigrant and university unrest that had burned across France in 2005. They watched the bitter street battle between young people and the police in Greece throughout 2008. France’s own domestic-security police suspected the group in Tarnac of being the anonymous authors of the incendiary Coming Insurrection book and began to perform surveillance on them. The Tarnac group’s alternative way of life made them immediately suspect: They were young people with a history as squatters and anarchist activists who had left the bustling Parisian metropolis to go and live in a forsaken village in mountains that had been, historically, a site of guerrilla warfare. That many of the Tarnac group didn’t use cell phones only aroused police suspicion further, a fact the French government later menacingly ascribed to their need to avoid detection. In late October and early November of 2008, horseshoeshaped iron rods were used to sabotage the overhead wires of
several high-speed train lines in Limousin, putting a halt to rail traffic in the region and resulting in significant delays. The sabotage was done with the purpose of stopping the trains and couldn’t have resulted in any injuries or derailments. Soon after, on November 11, hundreds of masked domestic-security police descended on sleepy Tarnac and arrested nine of the young communards, who were then accused by the Interior Ministry of being part of an “association of wrongdoers in relation to a terrorist undertaking.” This was a significant and singular charge for France, a country that has a long and venerable history of sabotage but little understanding of “domestic terrorism.” In the days after the arrests, Tarnac was swarmed by journalists who sensationally reported on the bucolic village with labels such as “terror nest.” When asked about The Coming Insurrection, the Tarnac communists claimed to be familiar with “that book” but denied writing it — for good reason. The Coming Insurrection specifically advocated interrupting the flow of state infrastructure as a step toward insurrection. After the initial tide of media reaction died down, French public opinion turned abruptly in the Tarnac Nine’s favor. The group began to be viewed as scapegoats for a Sarkozy government that had gone mad, petrified of terrorists and racist against Muslim immigrants. Suddenly, the Tarnac Nine were seen as simple youth who had moved from Paris to quaint Tarnac to pursue what they, their parents, and their neighbors tenderly described as a “different way of life.” The Tarnac Nine quickly became the darlings of the post-’68 intellectual French left. Julien Coupat, one of the more charismatic and prolific suspects of the Nine, had been the editor of a popular postSituationist radical philosophy journal called Tiqqun (active from 1999 to 2001), the tone of which bore a striking resemblance to The Coming Insurrection and other Invisible Committee literature. The Tarnac Nine gained the support of famous public intellectuals Slavoj Zˇizˇek, Alain Badiou, and Alberto Toscano, who demanded that they be freed and not be called terrorists. The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben wrote an article in the French newspaper Libération on their behalf. It probably helped that many of the Tarnac Nine came from nice, wealthy families and had gone to graduate school for philosophy, thus making it possible for the media to spin them as a new, sexy Situationist movement rather than rabid proletarians living out in the country. The Tarnac Nine were ultimately imprisoned for six months and then released on judicial probation until their trial, which has yet to take place. They were required to report to police supervision each week to ensure that none of them would flee trial. As an “association of wrongdoers,” the nine close friends have been barred from congregating together since the arrest. In the dawn hours of November 27, 2009, the French antiterror police descended into Tarnac once again to arrest a new suspect for the case, a man in his 30s named Christophe, whom the police believed to be close with the Tarnac Nine. Enraged by the arrest, the Tarnac Nine went on the offensive and wrote an acerbic letter to their judges that was published in Le Monde on December 3, titled “Why We Will No Longer Respect the Judicial Restraints Placed Upon Us.” In the letter, they explained that they were going to stop reporting to the police and that they had already disobeyed the order that prevented them from congregating. They wrote: “We think it will be good to see each other again… we have already done [so] to write this very text.” One would have expected that such a hearty slap to the cheek of authority might have triggered a clampdown on the Tarnac group. Not so. The prosecution, perhaps mindful of the relatively small amount of evidence available to convict the Tarnac Nine and a lack of public support for a prosecution, backed down in the face of the
indignant letter and got rid of the judicial supervision. However, to save face, the judge and prosecution held firm that it was still illegal for the Tarnac Nine to congregate, something they had already done. Robespierre, the moral arbiter of the French Revolution, coined the word “terrorism.” It is strange that the first person to use this word was a Frenchman and a revolutionary. It is also strange that a word that, in our times, conjures images of bomb-strapped, Allah-worshipping fundamentalists, was first used by the state against its own citizens. Robespierre felt the French needed the Terrorisme to buttress the tenuous revolutionary state against the counterrevolutionaries and aristocrats — both real and imagined — that he saw everywhere. Robespierre was the ruthless vegan straight-edger of his time — he didn’t hesitate to behead his friends to uphold the virtues of revolutionary purity. After the French Revolution had killed off all its real enemies, it went through an internal cleansing, trying to purify the stained, bourgeois revolution with the liberal use of the guillotine. Perhaps it is because the French Revolution was so heavyhanded with the judgmental moralism that the French have developed such an intransigent love of sinful bourgeois pleasures like red wine, beef tartare, and satin sheets. But at the same time, the French have an innate hatred of the police and authority. They love to see outlaws break the rules and get away with it. In 2009, an armored-truck driver named Toni Musulin became a French folk hero when he drove off with a cargo equal to $17 million in cash. Fan groups sprouted up on the web, and the entire country rooted for him and seemed disappointed when he was eventually tracked down and caught. In fact, sabotage and antisocial behavior are rampant in France. In 2007, an investigation by the French newspaper Le Figaro uncovered that the French rail system had been attacked 27,000 times that year by malicious vandals and sabotage. If you’ve ever flown or taken a train in France, you know that all of the major industries routinely go on strike. Militant union employees also stage wildcat strikes and conduct acts of sabotage or trash the offices of their bosses. It is in this social and political atmosphere that the Tarnac Nine are suspected, with tenuous evidence, of being terrorists. In a rare published interview with Julien Coupat (often labeled as the leader of the Tarnac Nine), in Le Monde, he responded to the question “Why Tarnac?” by writing, “Go there, you will understand. If you don’t, no one could explain it to you.” The forgotten, heavily wooded area around Tarnac is the French equivalent of the Zapatistas’ mysterious Lacandon Jungle. Tactically, it is an excellent location to hole up and forgo capitalism. It is not easy to get to Tarnac. From the rail station in Limousin’s capital, Limoges, I boarded a
bullet-shaped shuttle train bound for Eymoutiers, a small village 30 miles down the mountain from Tarnac. The two-car train looked like a rail magnate’s private chariot, decked out from ceiling to floor in beige carpet and soft-lit lamps. The only other passengers on board with me were two Methuselah-esque old ladies who got off at snowy, abandoned-looking villages on the way up the mountain. The train ratcheted through the snow and frost, a desolate landscape of ice-crystal rivers, looming mountains, centuries-old stone houses passing in the fading light out the window. When it hissed to a stop, I was the last person on board aside from the conductor. I stepped out into the cold. Eymoutiers twinkled with pale Christmas lights. A steep, ice-covered stone staircase led up into a desolate public square. An old lady on the town’s main street pointed the direction to Tarnac and I tried to hitchhike, but it was too dark and cars blew past me, throwing up gray slush from the road. While standing in front of one of Eymoutiers’s two bars trying to figure out what to do next, I met a French guy named Matthieu. Like millions of other college students across the world, Matthieu was back home for the Christmas holiday. He said he had nothing to do and, sensing my predicament, offered to give me a lift up to Tarnac in his truck. The ride that followed can easily be ranked among the most terrifying automotive experiences of my life. Matthieu swerved us up the snow-covered mountain on a one-lane road around precipitous switchbacks where one wrong move would have sent us over a sheer cliff. The darkness was total except for a thin little sliver of sunset that lingered near the horizon. Matthieu was familiar with the unfolding drama of the Tarnac affair. “A lot of us around here feel like those people were singled out,” he told me. When I asked him whether the residents of the neighboring towns felt threatened by the presence of the insurrectionists, Matthieu shook his head. “No one cares much or feels strongly about them except for a handful of right-wing students.” After one last sharp grade up the mountain, the road leveled us out into Tarnac, past the dark, shuttered stone houses of the little village’s main street. Matthieu dropped me off at a dimly lit bar with two old gas pumps rusting in front of it. Inside, a bucolic village scene transpired — old men drinking wine and young French parents playing with their babies in the beery haze. The bar was plain, with little decoration other than a withered Christmas tree in the corner and a taxidermied warthog head hanging on the back wall. The only notable cultural ephemera that distinguished the space from an average French drinking establishment were a couple of large glossy “Support the Tarnac Nine!” posters that advertised protests in Paris and Limoges, and a wall pasted with a smattering of photocopied black-and-white fliers for radical-movie nights and collective
spaghetti dinners. Most people in the bar were partnered off into hetero couples. Like some caricature of the back-to-theland movement, the men were ruggedly handsome in a traditionally French way, with their wool sweaters and cigarettes; the women were plain and severe, worn-looking, as if they had been prematurely aged from the butter-churning and child-rearing that revolutionary discipline demanded of them. I was approached by an astringent woman in her 30s with curly hair and steely eyes who introduced herself as Gabrielle. “It’s a peculiar time for you to come visit here,” she said coldly, “I just got back yesterday.” Gabrielle explained that she had been one of the Tarnac Nine and for the past year had been shuttled between prison and judicial probation. After the judicial supervision was removed, Gabrielle and the rest of the Nine had instinctively returned to Tarnac, where they had been building the skeletal infrastructure for regional communism before they were interrupted. When I asked her how it felt to be back home and off probation, she scrunched up her face and said, “It’s very weird.” Gabrielle shuffled around the bar talking to people in furtive whispers, seeming suspicious about my visit. “The police are always watching us,” she explained, “and the paranoia is part of it.” Another guy chimed in, saying, “When the police kidnap ten of your friends and start calling them terrorists, then yes, of course people get paranoid.” Throughout the remainder of the evening, Gabrielle swung back and forth between politeness and revolutionary stridency. “What is it you wanted to see here?” she asked me. “You know, we are not some subject to be studied by an ethnologist. You can’t just come to this place and know it. You have to live it.” The Tarnac group made their thoughts on journalism clear on page 2 of their anonymously authored book Call: “The prize of infamy [goes] to the journalists, to all those who pretend to rediscover every morning the misery and corruption they noticed the day before.” Unlike revolutionary groups of the 20th century, who used the media to cultivate their mythos and to get their message out, the Tarnac communists want nothing more than to be left alone. The media is intentionally avoided, only to be utilized for specific purposes, such as to help get their friends out of jail. In the wake of their arrests, Tarnac Nine support committees have sprung up all over France and in other countries like Greece and Germany. In New York City, an unlicensed public reading from The Coming Insurrection, held at the Union Square Barnes & Noble, turned into a rowdy march to the high-end cosmetics store next door, where the participants disrupted shopping and shouted, “All power to the communes!” One “Support the Tarnac Nine” demonstration in Limoges ended up at the SNCF rail-company headquarters, where demonstrators
attacked the building and smashed windows. While the Tarnac Nine have supporters all over the world, many of them seem to want to quietly go about their lives in peace. One woman I met in the village said, “I can’t wait until the world forgets about this place.” Unlike many Western radicals, who wear their political beliefs on their sleeves, the Tarnac communists have melded into small-town life seamlessly and are practically indistinguishable from “normal” villagers. In much of the West, radical spaces have a unique and identifiable aesthetic; graffiti, t-shirts, patches, and flags present a dizzying array of social messages: Free Mumia! Stop Genetic Engineering! Ride Your Bicycle! Smash the Patriarchy! In contrast, you would feel comfortable bringing your grandmother to a bar in Tarnac. It is utterly ordinary, barren of clandestine sexiness or confrontational signifiers, yet it still harks back to a simpler, more revolutionary time. The room smells of tobacco smoke, there are only two kinds of beer, and there is no sign of any corporate advertising or flat-screen televisions. It looks like the kind of place where people in the 19th century would gather to discuss a coup d’état. The modern European squatter, that pierced and patched mutant of the past 25 years, is nowhere to be seen. The Tarnac communists are, in fact, resolutely post-squatter, having come to the belief that radicals putting themselves into social ghettos — organizing themselves into cliques, organizations, and social milieus — isn’t a path to building serious long-term alternatives. The most suitable historical comparison to what they are doing is the Russian Narodniks of the 19th century. In the 1870s, thousands of young radicals born into aristocratic families in Moscow forsook their class and moved out to the rural villages to practice Narodnichestvo [People-ism, or populism], donning sheepskin garb to blend in and foment anti-czarist sentiment among the peasants. The height of this brief tendency was the “Going to the People” effort in 1874, when thousands of Narodniks left the cities en masse and moved to the villages. They learned peasant customs, ate peasant food, and dressed like peasants. The young anti-czarists were often received with suspicion, as it was all too apparent that they were not peasants. In the end, the “Going to the People” movement was brutally repressed by the czar, whose secret police descended on the villages to beat and imprison the nihilist revolutionaries and any of their peasant sympathizers. The Narodniks had been unable to integrate into the rural peasantry because no matter what kind of peasant clothes they wore or peasant dances they learned, they couldn’t conceal their privileged, elite backgrounds. The proletariat can smell a rich kid from a mile away. Even if a rich kid is wearing rags and talking about killing the rich, their entire being is tainted with the unmistakable signs of good upbringing
The modern European squatter, that pierced and patched mutant of the past 25 years, is nowhere to be seen.
and wealth. It would seem to me difficult, if not impossible, for the dirt-stained locals of Tarnac to accept the faux-peasant communists from Paris without the slightest feelings of ressentiment. I met a slight blond girl named Marielle in the bar. She looked like she should have been in the movie Amélie. She told me that she had been a squatter in Paris and had moved to Tarnac in 2004, when she was 26. “In the city, it’s very hard to do the kind of things we do here,” she told me. “We have a lot of support. Everyone is very happy that we left Paris.” As we kept talking, she became introspective. “Even when I was living fully in the city — going to parties and bars — I didn’t really like that life.” She explained that the octogenarian communist mayor of Tarnac had assisted the group when they first moved to the village by supplying construction materials and providing moral support. It was a minor disaster when he stepped down and a younger, more conservative mayor was elected, the first non-communist in generations. Marielle shook her head dourly. “The new mayor doesn’t like us. He doesn’t help us out at all. When I see him on the street, I try and avoid eye contact.” Marielle was emphatic that there wasn’t a divide between the homesteading communists and the normal villagers, and that the two groups blended seamlessly. She introduced me to a friend of hers, a kind dark-haired woman, probably in her 30s. “She is a villager. I’m from Paris. See! No difference!” Her friend nodded gingerly, “Mostly we all blend together. But sometimes the people talk…” she said, turning to Marielle, “But that’s just gossip.” Gabrielle came up and asked whether I was vegan and seemed satisfied when I told her I wasn’t. “Good,” she sneered, “veganism is something that happens in the city.” The bearded bartender wearily carved up a smoked-sausage link and passed out stubby slices to people around the bar. I felt periodic rays of antagonism emanating from a fierce-looking redhead across the room, who was wearing a fur cap emblazoned with an unironic-looking Soviet hammer and sickle. The rest of my first night in Tarnac was spent downing glass after glass of watery beer at the bar. The swarthy, blue-eyed bartender said that he, too, had been a Parisian squatter but had grown tired of the big-city life. He seemed to have drunk the small-town Kool-Aid and reiterated the familiar refrain: “We are building something here.” Hanging on the wall behind me was an old, framed blackand-white photograph, the only artifact of any age in the otherwise nondescript room. I asked the bartender who it was, and he responded weightily, “That’s Georges Guingouin. He’s a hero around here.” In the photo, which was taken in the 30s or 40s, a defiant, pugnacious-looking young man in fatigues strikes a rebel’s pose. He wears a helmet and thick black-rimmed glasses. I remembered his name
from a section of The Coming Insurrection: “In 1940, Georges Guingouin, the ‘first French resistance fighter,’ started with nothing but the certainty of his refusal of the Nazi occupation. At the time, to the Communist Party, he was nothing but a ‘madman living in the woods,’ until there were 20,000 madmen living in the woods, and Limoges was liberated.” Guingouin was also quoted in the Tarnac Nine’s judicial-refusal letter, in which they wrote, “Georges Guingouin once said, ‘Instead of tracked prey, one must feel like a combatant.’” Guingouin is the perfect folk hero for a group of renegade French insurrectionists who want to rehabilitate the word “communism” and separate it from its long association with Karl Marx and the Soviet Union. In the early 1940s, Guingouin was the secretary of the Communist Party in Eymoutiers. He wrote an underground paper called Limousin Worker. During the German invasion of France, the French Communist Party decided to roll over and follow Stalin’s lead after he signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact with Hitler — they urged French communists to acquiesce to the Nazi invasion. Guingouin refused the party line and acted on his conscience. He holed up in the forest and his growing maquis of French resisters waged guerrilla war on the Nazi invaders. They used scorched-earth tactics, bombing aqueducts, sniping Nazi soldiers, and destroying rail lines and bridges to cut off supplies and troops. In 1944, Guingouin and his maquis fought the German Das Reich Panzer division and killed their general, Heinz Lammerding. This defeat delayed the Das Reich division’s arrival at Normandy and was instrumental in the Allied victory over Germany in June of ’44. However, Guingouin’s war of conscience earned him a permanent place on the Communist Party’s blacklist. In 1945, he became mayor of Limoges but was subjected to such a vicious smear campaign that he was made a pariah. He left Limoges in shame and spent the rest of his life in exile as a schoolteacher. Everyone I met in Tarnac spoke of Guingouin reverently. The 2008 sabotage that resulted in the charge that the Tarnac Nine were “terrorists” was in some ways a symbolic repeat of actions Guingouin had taken in Limousin 60 years earlier. In the general store, I found a postcard with a photo of graffiti that read, “It wasn’t Julien [Coupat] who halted the trains. It was the spirit of Guingouin!” The people in Tarnac are engaged in trying to rehabilitate Guingouin’s reputation. One Tarnac communist woman told me, “Guingouin was a good man, an honest man, and a defender of his country. Because of him, Limousin was never completely occupied by the Nazis. Today, it’s really very sad. There is only one street named after him in Limoges. And it’s a very small, faraway street that nobody uses.”
Antoine looked like the kind of guy you would see on mushrooms at an outdoor Phish concert, and I felt a twinge of fear.
A place for me to stay was arranged with an affable guy in his mid-30s named Antoine, who had an unused bedroom in his house since his roommates had moved back to Paris. At first glance, Antoine looked like the kind of guy you would see on mushrooms at an outdoor Phish concert, and I felt a twinge of fear. This fear was quickly dispelled as Antoine turned out to be as insurrectionist as they come. He had grown up in the Limousin region and, after many years of squatting in Paris, had returned home in search of a more sturdy home. “We would occupy buildings and put homeless people in them,” he mused. “Then we started living in squats ourselves. They would kick us out, and we would find another building, and it would go on and on like this. We wanted something more.” The mid-2000s had been an explosive time in France — tensions over immigration and racism had erupted into widespread civil unrest after two Moroccan teenagers from the outskirts of Paris were killed while being chased by the police. President Jacques Chirac invoked a 1955 law and declared a state of emergency as cars were burned and stores were sacked all over the country. Then interior minister Sarkozy referred to the rioters as racailles [rabble, riffraff] and declared a policy of “zero tolerance” toward the civil unrest. The rage was not confined to Paris. In the French Alps, a wine festival ended with rocks and bottles being thrown and a junior high school set on fire. “Everyone was writing tracts in every little town,” Antoine said, “every university was working collectively. There were so many tracts that we would decide who we wanted to connect with based on the quality of their writing. Some were good and others were shit. I remember reading a very good one that started with a quote from Tyler Durden, from Fight Club: ‘You are not your job.’” It is worth noting here that Europeans sincerely enjoy things that Americans have long since relegated to the cultural landfill as “lame.” As we spoke, the Rage Against the Machine song “Killing in the Name” came on in the bar, and Antoine bobbed his head up and down, singing along sincerely to the lyrics with feigned fury: “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” Antoine bought several shots (on credit) of a local concoction: a bitter, Campari-like liquor called Salers mixed with raspberry syrup. The bartender scribbled down our drink orders in a tattered notebook. Antoine said good night to everybody and we left the bar. Outside, the air was cold and clear on Tarnac’s cobblestone main street. Antoine’s house was drafty and sparsely decorated, like a college dorm. Quite the opposite of the space you’d expect from the agents of radical liberation. We talked on a ratty futon downstairs, practically whispering, though no one else was home. I asked
Antoine why he had moved to Tarnac. “Communism has to be lived. If you’re going to live things that haven’t been done before, there’s no one to show you the way… I don’t want to be isolated, but this is what I’m trying now.” He showed me up to my bedroom on the second floor. “The heat is not on and I have no blankets,” he said. “Good night.” It seems like you give up a lot when you take on an agrarian communist lifestyle: You exist with no job or purpose other than the illdefined goal of “fomenting the revolution” to guide you. This sounds romantic at first as you read the literature, but it seems to pretty much boil down to milking the goats, getting into arguments with your comrades, and organizing benefits to get your friends out of jail. And as always, melancholy and inertia are pressing in on your little group, from within and without. I didn’t bring a sleeping bag to France, and so I paced around the windowless room — barren aside from a mattress on the floor in the corner. Rooting through the closet, I found some old rags, towels, and a thin sheet. I put on all my sweaters and jackets and then lay down on the mattress and covered myself with the assorted fabrics to keep warm, slowly drifting off into an anxietyfilled sleep. When I awoke the next morning and stumbled downstairs, Antoine was sitting at the kitchen table polishing off a rationed breakfast of espresso and baguette with locally produced honey and butter. We sat and chatted for a while over coffee. When I asked Antoine how he defined himself politically, he was customarily evasive: “I have a friend — when he’s around the anarchists he calls himself a communist. When he’s around the communists he refers to himself as an anarchist.” Antoine showed me a photocopied flier that his friend in London had sent him. An assortment of benign technological devices were pictured: a mobile phone, a car, a digital camera, and a computer; the text above the images read, “Terrorism: if you suspect something, report it.” Antoine laughed thinly and said, “Terrorism: If you see something… say something.” He went on to explain that he had to write all day, declining to say what or why, and suggested I go wander around town. Outside, a thin coating of snow blanketed the empty streets of Tarnac. A dog barked somewhere. Smoke poured out of the stone chimneys and gas lanterns flickered in the village’s narrow alleyways. From any street in the tiny hamlet, you could see the looming green mountains, partially obscured by low-lying clouds. I found myself drawn to the magnetic center of town, the only part vibrating with human life — but the collective bar was empty aside from a couple of leathery old Frenchmen drinking morning glasses of wine and playing cards. The door jingled as I entered the collective store next door. Similar to the bar, it bore no trace of its radical inclination — no red
and black flags, no banner, no guy with a Mohawk behind the counter. Rather, a sweet, middle-aged French lady stood there. The product selection in the store is similar to what you would expect to find in a Brooklyn bodega: cans of Vienna sausages, gummy bears, macaroni and cheese, an assortment of wines; with the unique regional additions of fine cheeses, smoked meats, and hunting gear. The only thing in the shop that indicated it was run by young people who wrote sentences like “Pacificism without being able to fire a shot is nothing but the theoretical formulation of impotence” was a spindle of glossy “Support the Tarnac Nine” postcards in the corner, available for sale to tourists like me, who had come to see the collective. One had a photograph of a stencil in French that read, “Resist. Disobey. Repopulate.” Another had some stark graffiti that said, “Insubordinate Plateau.” I bought the entire set for three euros. Near the end of The Coming Insurrection, the Invisible Committee writes, “The exigency of the commune is to free up the most time for the most people.” What people actually “do” in Tarnac remains a mystery. While none of the individuals I met had paying jobs, and most of them lived off French welfare, no one seemed to be engaged in that most occupying of endeavors for the unemployed: loitering at the bar or store, or taking a stroll on the streets, filling up the empty hours. A palpable anxiety permeates the village, some persistent feeling that the Tarnac group is hiding something: harboring convicts, trafficking in illegal human body parts, or concealing the wreckage of an alien spaceship. Who knows? This uneasiness pervaded everything and made the narrative that the Tarnac milieu were idealistic young farmers — seeking only to live at a cozy distance from Western capitalism — a little suspect. With no action in the village, I decided to take a walk out to the group’s collective farm in a small village three kilometers away. Other than dogs barking in the distance, everything was quiet and still on the pastoral one-lane road out of town. The woods and mountains around Tarnac were mystical and strange, complete with babbling brooks and crumbling, moss-covered stone structures. The land felt alive, as if some arcadian nature god presided over it — as if it were the last hiding place for the magic of an elder time. No cars passed by as I walked in the middle of the road. Wooly horses butted their heads up against wooden fences, nudging to be petted. On the final stretch of road approaching the farm, a golden retriever ran up beside me and led the way up the hill to the old stone farmhouse. In a little corral, dozens of lambs mewed in the gloom. The golden retriever was joined by a striped cat, and the animal entourage led me over to a massive wooden barn where two individuals, a man and a woman in their mid-30s, toiled away on the building. The
muscular and handsome Frenchman stepped forward, wiped sweat off his brow, and suggested that I have a look around. The property resembled any agrarian commune one might find in the United States, though the buildings were several centuries older. Broken-down cars and little trailers pocked the property. Terraced crops and compost and a little wooden outpost came together to form a beautiful vegetable garden, but for some reason, the little slice of paradise exuded a sense of exhaustion. When I got back to the house, Antoine explained that I had come at a “very strange” time. “Everything is very odd right now,” he sighed. “The way we are talking, the way we are meeting. We need new breath. If you came at other times, I believe it would be better.” Antoine’s friend Marion, a thin, friendly-looking French girl, came over and they went into another room with the laptop, seeming to have a furtive conversation over a piece of writing. When they returned, we walked to the bar. Marion explained why people were so dressed down in Tarnac. “Identity is like going to the shop. You go to the bins and pick from the merchandise. Being vegan or ‘punk’ or dressing strange is just a reason to be inactive and not actually do anything. These vegans and punks can just sit back and say, ‘Oh, I’m OK,’ and feel gratified with themselves. It’s a way to compartmentalize people into who’s worth talking to, all these surface connections. Punk, with its spikes and Mohawks, is a way to get noticed and caught by the cops. You can’t get away with anything while looking punk.” Marion explained that as far as social and political inclinations, she believed in “nothingness,” in connecting with people as she felt like it, rather than over some kind of perceived ideology, identity, or social construct. Marion was adamant about staying away from ideologies based on dead men: Marxism, Bakuninism, Leninism. She said she wanted to create a new living ideology, made among friends. “I believe politics should be a blood pact. Not something you can just revoke because you change your mind later.” After a couple of drinks, we bought groceries and several bottles of wine from the general store before it closed for the night and walked back to Antoine’s house in a big gang to make dinner. Marion and I continued our conversation while dicing up cloves of garlic for the pasta. We came onto the subject of Sartre, whom she brushed away like a mosquito. “Sartre? Sartre was the guy that all the militants would go to when they wanted to get their communiqués published in the newspapers. Nobody would arrest Sartre, and all the papers would publish his stuff but not theirs, because they were clandestine. It was a good thing, what he did, helping out the radicals. But Sartre never did anything. He just sat around thinking things. He didn’t put up a fight.” When I asked her what Sartre should have been doing, Marion smiled at me like I was an idiot. “Subversive action,” she said.
The next morning Antoine left me a note saying he had left early in the morning to go on a skiing trip. Marion offered to pick me up from Antoine’s in the afternoon and give me a ride into Limoges. When she arrived, we jumped into her ratty hatchback. The backseat overflowed with empty bottles and soggy stacks of black-and-white propaganda newspapers. Marion smoked furiously, depositing her butts onto a mountain of cigarette butts heaped up on a retractable ashtray. She didn’t explain why she was going to Limoges. I asked her whether she worked. “Work?” she said with utter derision. “Not for money.” She said she was “dressed like a rich lady” in order to keep up the appearance that she was a normal, well-kempt adult for her weekly check-in at the unemployment-benefits office. “The administrators are worse than cops,” she spit. “They make being unemployed like having a job. Meetings, workshops, bullshit to do every week. And if they find some crappy job for me, I have to take it.” In the vertigoinducing drive down the mountain from Tarnac, Marion explained all the things I’d been curious about but had been afraid to ask. “Look,” she said. “We are just a group of friends, not necessarily a collective. This area has no economy, no jobs or industry. Most of the houses here are abandoned, and the soil is bad. Most people move away from here to work, and then they come back. This area has a history of communism because people get educated elsewhere and return home. The only industry to speak of is tourism. After the story about Tarnac, we began to get a lot of visitors. First, the police. Then the media. Then all the gawkers who just wanted to come through, drink a coffee, and see the ‘terrorists.’ Then came the ‘cool tourists,’ who are worse than the regular tourists. They take holidays around Europe to visit the great squats and collectives and then go home to their normal jobs and their normal wives, without building anything. We are trying to mesh with the local population. Five years ago some punks moved to a village in this area. The mayor of the village was a young communist guy and he hooked them up with a house for free. They all had blue hair and talked openly about revolution and had loud punk shows all the time and pissed off the village. They didn’t build trust with the older people who are from here and eventually their house burned down. They left, building nothing. We don’t want to be like them. We want to try something new and do it on our own in the right way.” Marion continued to chain-smoke and curse as we pulled into the center of Limoges, trying to find a parking spot near the ornate, highly regarded train station. “French people like to be angry,” she said. “We would rather elect
a fascist like Sarkozy and try to oust him and talk bad about him than elect a gentle socialist like Mitterrand. When Mitterrand was elected all the socialists were so happy, and they said: ‘Wow, finally we have socialism and we can just work a job or sleep or whatever.’ All the social movements died off under Mitterrand. The people were asleep. At least with Sarkozy we know who our enemy is — though for a long time, nothing happened. People were too afraid of him because he’s a madman. Now, in the past years, there have been violent demonstrations and strikes. The police have been more violent, so the people have been more violent. I prefer a bad president, because at least he keeps the people awake.” Although the communists in Tarnac repeatedly made light of the “dead plasticity” of the metropolis and the “vapid social relations” that exist in big cities, it was Tarnac that felt dead and petrified. There was little life or movement in the streets aside from the shambling of a few stray dogs. On my last day in Tarnac I woke up early and walked past the (open but empty) village bar and village store, up the road to the graveyard, perched on a bleak hill at the edge of town. There, among the girded, orderly mausoleums, the gray sky weighed down and silence reigned. A romanticized, simple life of agrarian communism seemed extraordinarily depressing. The idea of building community sounds sexy and exciting at first. But in reality, it’s a slow, encompassing process that’s more about cultivating relationships and establishing routine and familiarity. However radical and insurrectionary the belief system of rural communists, they still end up with a comfortable day-today existence. Antoine described the group’s move to Tarnac as “a laboratory for utopia,” as something that had never been tried before, but Maoists and frustrated hippies have been going back to the land for decades, even centuries. And just like those attempts, in Tarnac, the predictable life manages to reassert itself — communists wake up early, feed the chickens, wave hello to their neighbors, and rear their children. Neurosis, self-doubt, and jealousy, feelings as old as time, course under the town like an underground river. Not that anyone in Tarnac claims that utopia is just around the corner or that they are even getting close. For them, it’s all about the process and social experimentation, the “At least we’re trying something.” When I asked him why — what was all this leading to? Antoine just shrugged, “You can be living on a commune with your friends with everything going perfect, and then a neutron bomb explodes 50 miles away.” He raised his hands up and made a whooshing sound, imitating a bomb exploding. Then he took a sip of his coffee and smiled.
“They make being unemployed like having a job. Meetings, workshops, bullshit to do every week. And if they find some crappy job for me, I have to take it.”
An Excerpt from The Coming Insurrection by the Invisible Committee SECOND CIRCLE “ENTERTAINMENT IS A VITAL NEED” A government that declares a state of emergency against 15-year-old kids. A country that takes refuge in the arms of a football team. A cop in a hospital bed, complaining about being the victim of “violence.” A city councilwoman issuing a decree against the building of tree houses. Two ten-year-olds, in Chelles, charged with burning down a video-game arcade. This era excels in a certain situation of the grotesque that seems to escape it every time. The truth is that the plaintive, indignant tones of the news media are unable to stifle the burst of laughter that welcomes these headlines. A burst of laughter is the only appropriate response to all the serious “questions” posed by news analysts. To take the most banal: There is no “immigration question.” Who still grows up where they were born? Who lives where they grew up? Who works where they live? Who lives where their ancestors did? And to whom do the children of this era belong, to television or their parents? The truth is that we have been completely torn from any belonging, we are no longer from anywhere, and the result, in addition to a new disposition to tourism, is an undeniable suffering. Our history is one of colonizations, of migrations, of wars, of exiles, of the destruction of all roots. It’s the story of everything that has made us foreigners in this world, guests in our own family. We have been expropriated from our own language by education, from our songs by reality-TV contests, from our flesh by mass pornography, from our city by the police, and from our friends by wage-labor. To this we should add, in France, the ferocious and secular work of individualization by the power of the state, that classifies, compares, disciplines, and separates its subjects starting from a very young age, that instinctively grinds down any solidarities that escape it until nothing remains except citizenship — a pure, phantasmic sense of belonging to the Republic. The Frenchman, more than anyone else, is the embodiment of the dispossessed, the destitute. His hatred of foreigners is based on his hatred of himself as a foreigner. The mixture of jealousy and fear he feels toward the “cités”1 expresses nothing but his resentment for all he has lost. He can’t help envying these so-called “problem” neighborhoods where there still persists a bit of communal life, a few links between beings, some solidarities not controlled by the state, an informal economy, an organization that is not yet detached from those who organize.
We have arrived at a point of privation where the only way to feel French is to curse the immigrants and those who are more visibly foreign. In this country, the immigrants assume a curious position of sovereignty: If they weren’t here, the French might stop existing. France is a product of its schools, and not the inverse. We live in an excessively scholastic country, where one remembers passing an exam as a sort of life passage. Where retired people still tell you about their failure, 40 years earlier, in such and such an exam, and how it screwed up their whole career, their whole life. For a century and a half, the national school system has been producing a type of state subjectivity that stands out among all others. People who accept competition on the condition that the playing field is level. Who expect in life that each person be rewarded as in a contest, according to their merit. Who always ask permission before taking. Who silently respect culture, the rules, and those with the best grades. Even their attachment to their great, critical intellectuals and their rejection of capitalism are branded by this love of school. It’s this construction of subjectivities by the state that is breaking down, every day a little more, with the decline of the scholarly institutions. The reappearance, over the past 20 years, of a school and a culture of the street, in competition with the school of the Republic and its cardboard culture, is the most profound trauma that French universalism is presently undergoing. On this point, the extreme right is already reconciled with the most virulent left. However, the name Jules Ferry—minister of Thiers during the crushing of the Commune and theoretician of colonization—should itself be enough to render this institution suspect.2 When we see teachers from some “citizens’ vigilance committee” come on the evening news to whine about someone burning down their school, we remember how many times, as children, we dreamed of doing exactly this. When we hear a leftist intellectual blabbering about the barbarism of groups of kids harassing passersby in the street, shoplifting, burning cars, and playing cat and mouse with riot police, we remember what they said about the greasers in the 50s or, better, the apaches in the Belle Époque: “The generic name apaches,” writes a judge at the Seine tribunal in 1907, “has for the past few years been a way of designating all dangerous individuals, enemies of society, without nation or family, deserters of all duties, ready for the most audacious confrontations, and for any sort of attack on persons and properties.” These gangs who flee
1 A housing project, typically in impoverished areas like the banlieues. 2 The Ferry laws — founding France’s secular and republican system of education — were named after Jules Ferry, who initially proposed them in 1881.
work, who adopt the names of their neighborhoods, and who confront the police are the nightmare of the good, individualized French citizen: They embody everything he has renounced, all the possible joy he will never experience. There is something impertinent about existing in a country where a child singing as she pleases is inevitably silenced with a “stop, you’re going to stir things up,” where scholastic castration unleashes floods of policed employees. The aura that persists around Mesrine3 has less to do with his uprightness and his audacity than with the fact that he took it upon himself to enact vengeance on what we should all avenge. Or rather, of what we should avenge directly, when instead we continue to hesitate and defer endlessly. Because there is no doubt that in a thousand imperceptible and undercover ways, in all sorts of slanderous remarks, in every spiteful little expression and venomous politeness, the Frenchman continues to avenge, permanently and against everyone, the fact that he’s resigned himself to being trampled over. It was about time that fuck the police! replaced yes sir, officer! In this sense, the unnuanced hostility of certain gangs only expresses, in a slightly less muffled way, the poisonous atmosphere, the rotten spirit, the desire for a salvational destruction in which the country is completely consumed. To call this population of strangers in the midst of which we live “society” is such a usurpation that even sociologists dream of renouncing a concept that was, for a century, their bread and butter. Now they prefer the metaphor of a network to describe the connection of cybernetic solitudes, the intermeshing of weak interactions under names like “colleague,” “contact,” “buddy,” “acquaintance,” or “date.” Such networks sometimes condense into a milieu, where nothing is shared but codes, and where nothing is played out except the incessant recomposition of identity. It would be a waste of time to detail all that which is agonizing in existing social relations. They say the family is coming back, that the couple is coming back. But the family that’s coming back is not the same one that went away. Its return is nothing but a deepening of the reigning separation that it serves to mask, becoming what it is through this masquerade. Everyone can testify to the rations of sadness condensed from year to year in family gatherings, the forced smiles, the awkwardness of seeing everyone pretending in vain, the feeling that a corpse is lying there on the table, and everyone acting as though it were nothing. From flirtation to divorce, from cohabitation to stepfamilies, everyone feels the inanity of the sad family nucleus, but most seem to believe that it would be sadder still to renounce it. The
family is no longer so much the suffocation of maternal control or the patriarchy of beatings as it is this infantile abandon to a fuzzy dependency, where everything is familiar, this carefree moment in the face of a world that nobody can deny is breaking down, a world where “becoming self-sufficient” is a euphemism for “having found a boss.” They want to use the “familiarity” of the biological family as an excuse to eat away at anything that burns passionately within us and, under the pretext that they raised us, make us renounce the possibility of growing up, as well as everything that is serious in childhood. It is necessary to preserve oneself from such corrosion. The couple is like the final stage of the great social debacle. It’s the oasis in the middle of the human desert. Under the auspices of “intimacy,” we come to it looking for everything that has so obviously deserted contemporary social relations: warmth, simplicity, truth, a life without theater or spectator. But once the romantic high has passed, “intimacy” strips itself bare: It is itself a social invention, it speaks the language of glamour magazines and psychology; like everything else, it is bolstered with so many strategies to the point of nausea. There is no more truth here than elsewhere; here too lies and the laws of estrangement dominate. And when, by good fortune, one discovers this truth, it demands a sharing that belies the very form of the couple. What allows beings to love each other is also what makes them lovable, and ruins the utopia of autism-for-two. In reality, the decomposition of all social forms is a blessing. It is for us the ideal condition for a wild, massive experimentation with new arrangements, new fidelities. The famous “parental resignation” has imposed on us a confrontation with the world that demands a precocious lucidity, and foreshadows lovely revolts to come. In the death of the couple, we see the birth of troubling forms of collective affectivity, now that sex is all used up and masculinity and femininity parade around in such moth-eaten clothes, now that three decades of nonstop pornographic innovation have exhausted all the allure of transgression and liberation. We count on making that which is unconditional in relationships the armor of a political solidarity as impenetrable to state interference as a Gypsy camp. There is no reason that the interminable subsidies that numerous relatives are compelled to offload onto their proletarianized progeny can’t become a form of patronage in favor of social subversion. “Becoming autonomous” could just as easily mean learning to fight in the street, to occupy empty houses, to cease working, to love each other madly, and to shoplift. Special thanks goes to Semiotext(e) for providing us with this selection.
3 A legendary French outlaw, 1936 – 1979.
The EDL, with convincing signage.
BIRMINGHAM I first saw the EDL in Birmingham on September 5, 2009. They planned to protest against Muslims underneath the Aston Expressway, but as soon as they arrived in the center of town they were met by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) members. Fighting broke out and a large gang of Muslim youths joined in to support UAF. The EDL were beaten back and retreated to a pub. Eventually they were bussed out of the city by the police for their own safety. It was like a scene out of Quadrophenia but with more badly dressed racists.
Thirsty and Miserable On Tour With the English Defence League
And here we go! This is the beginning of the Birmingham gig. As soon as the EDL got onto New Street, at around 2 PM, they were met by a group of UAF protesters and fighting commenced.
A group of Muslim youths attacked, and EDL-ers were herded into a wine bar. The EDL hurled bottles at the Muslims and anti-fascists from inside. One member accidentally smashed a bottle on the head of another EDL member.
Police had to intervene after the UAF cornered an EDL straggler and his daughter. We don’t know whether she also hated Muslims, as she wasn’t yelling slogans, but for the sake of this caption we’re going to assume she does.
After three hours the EDL were placed on double-decker buses and driven out of the city. Many were detained for breach of the peace.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY HENRY LANGSTON he English Defence League (EDL for short, and yes, they spell defense “defence” over there) is an organization made up of football enthusiasts and irritable sorts who march across the UK protesting against Islam. The problem — well, one problem — is that they make no real distinction between garden-variety and extreme Muslims and claim the entire lot are terrorists who should be forcibly removed from the country. The EDL are not surprisingly white males from the age of 18 to 50, all dressed in frumpy hooligan fashion. Before every so-called political protest they gather in a pub, get drunk on lager, and spill into the streets, pints in hand, with customized banners and t-shirts. Their goal is to wreak as much havoc as possible, and a catalog of inspired chants has become one of their most effective calling cards. The song containing the lines “Gordon Brown / What a wanker / What a wanker” is a greatest hit. Over the past six months I’ve been following them on a tour across England, and you’ll be glad or terribly depressed to learn that their recruitment numbers are surging.
By 1 PM the EDL protesters were drunk and singing a new song. The lyrics: “Allah is a pedo / Allah is a pedo / Nah nah nah nah / Nah nah nah.” Controversial, but also totally catchy.
The small congregation of Muslim haters witnessed a speech by Stephen Gash, the leader of SIOE’s English division. Sadly, no one could hear him because UAF had a massive truck with speakers nicked from a festival.
In December, the EDL planned a march through Nottingham. I arrived early at the EDL’s meeting point at a pub by the canal—it wasn’t yet lunchtime but everybody had clearly downed a few lagers to get them in the mood for yelling racist stuff at people. The police took no chances this time and kept the EDL and UAF apart, so while it was still awesome, it wasn’t quite as exciting as the start of the Birmingham show. Once the EDL realized they couldn’t get anywhere near UAF, which is mostly made up of old grannies and students, they got bored and started fighting with police, who beat the shit out of them and released the hounds and horses.
In December, a Danish faction of the EDL called Stop Islamisation of Europe (SIOE) organized a demonstration against the new mosque in Harrow, London. They invited their English EDL buddies along for the ride, but only 20 anti-Muslim soccer fans turned up and they were faced with more than 200 UAF supporters. I almost felt sorry for the leader of SIOE, Anders Gravers, who came all the way from Denmark with his bodyguards only to be embarrassed and forced home without finding even a single Muslim to slur.
This photo is blurry because I was running away like a coward, but as you can see the police sent in horses to push back the oncoming EDL, happily knocking over any bystanders in the way.
According to this gentleman, I’m a communist and he’s going to come and find where I live and stab me in the face.
Oh shit, it’s the dogs! This bit was probably the scariest of the Nottingham show. These dogs are really mean and don’t seem to like white people or darkerskinned Muslims.
Again the police herded the EDL to a pub, where they got even more drunk and started rubbing their dicks at me, implying that I was a homosexual — or that they were. Either way, if I stuck around too long somebody was bound to get fucked.
With Harrow’s new mosque looming in the background, UAF taunted the EDL. They countered with some hooky tunes of their own, including “Nazis Go Home” and “EDL Go to Hell.”
I met this guy in Harrow and he showed me his drawing.
The EDL is pro-Israel because it is anti-Muslim, or something to that effect. The lady on the left banged on about female genital mutilation, the man in the middle called me a bitch, and the one on the right shouted “Paki scum” at UAF.
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The EDL assembled in a small space outside Parliament, zeroed in on some migrant workers working atop Westminster Abbey, and began berating them.
LONDON Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch MP who had previously been banned from entering the UK on grounds of inciting racial hatred, was invited to the House of Lords in London to show his film Fitna, which claims the Prophet Muhammad is the devil and the Koran is like Mein Kampf. The EDL came to show their support on a sunny Friday in early March and started outside Tate Britain — I assume because the venue has the word “Britain” in it and that makes it more patriotic. A few speeches were made and then they all marched on down to the Houses of Parliament to yell at tourists about how much they thought Allah was gay.
We Built A Fire CD/2CD/LP
I came across these two drinking outside the Morpeth Arms, who explained how Muslims were stealing our jobs and explained how taxes allowed illegal immigrants to smuggle heroin into the country and ban Christmas.
Lazy Bones!! CD
After three more pints, the EDL went back to the Tate, where this man gave a speech to the baying crowd. He claimed he was a Sikh and that because one of their members was a Sikh the EDL weren’t racist.
I See The Sign CD/LP
This fellow on the left claimed his wife was a Muslim from “Saudi Aragia.” What with the Sikh guy and now this discovery of a new Middle Eastern country, the whole thing had turned positively psychedelic.
Gute Luft: Original Soundtrack From The “24H Berlin” TV Documentary CD/2LP
Hey, it’s that guy from the Harrow gig! And with a new drawing that sums everything up nicely. Thanks for the eye-opening good times, EDL.
Location Momentum CD
International Music CD/LP
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Gary at home with a 32 Battalion Flag.
“This was taken outside Buffalo, the shanty-town in the Caprivi strip where we lived when not on operations.”
32 Battalion The History of South Africa’s Preeminent Black-Ops Unit BY GAVIN HAYNES PHOTOS COURTESY OF GARY SWARDT uring the divisive days of white rule in South Africa, a multiracial special-ops team was earning a reputation as the most elite troop of mercenaries on the planet. They were known as 32 Battalion. Based in Angola, they operated under a secret state authority that allowed them to stop the pulse of anyone deemed a problem by South African authorities. The cause of white South African government became their own as they helped squish the revolutionary Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Then, in 1993, the incoming black African National Congress (ANC) demanded that the unit be disbanded — this was a group of black guys being led by white guys killing black guys, after all. Still, as a form of gratitude, the outgoing white government devoted the small town
of Pomfret to serve as 32 Battalion’s private retirement community. In 2004, after a not-insignificant amount of Pomfret’s small outcast population was photographed in chains, being marched into a Zimbabwean court after attempting to overthrow Guinea’s newly elected government, the ANC wanted to raze the town. Instead, they left it for dead. The ANC did shutter Pomfret’s only health clinic in 2004, however, and today there’s barely any sanitation and zero jobs. What’s left of the 32 Battalion soldiers living there do so in squalor — not that they’re exactly entitled to recline in luxury. Luckily for some 32 Battalion soldiers, governments and private groups across the globe are often in need of well-trained mercenaries and hire them out as freelance “One of our guys running for cover from a white-phosphorous bomb. That shit is lethal and basically banned under most Geneva Convention regulations on warfare these days.”
“We killed more enemies than the entire South African Defense Force put together.” private murderers for vast sums of money. To this day, men from the 32 Battalion ranks have their noses in both private and government-backed operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, and God knows where else. Between 1979 and 1982, in what was one of the most intense phases of Angola’s Border War, Gary Swardt was a conscripted soldier and a 32 Battalion unit leader. Today, he runs a welding company and lives in a modest family home in Melkbosstrand, about 40 minutes outside Cape Town. Recently he offered to explain this group’s obscure history for us and pulled out shoeboxes lined with passport photos taken from the Angolans he killed in the National Party’s secret war, antiquated Angolan currency, his morphine dispenser, and a load of personal snapshots from a forgotten war. Vice: How did 32 Battalion come into existence? Gary Swardt: There was a guy named Colonel Jan Breytenbach who founded Bravo Group, which later became 32. In the Angolan Civil War, members of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola were chased toward the Namibian border by the MPLA. They eventually found their way down to the South African border. They were destitute, and Breytenbach took them and molded them into what we know today as 32 Battalion. He then basically took them straight back out there to fuck up the MPLA. Proelio Procusi — our motto — means “Forged in Battle.” What was the ethnic makeup of the group? In 1980, when Rhodesia fell, we had a lot of Rhodesians, Belgians, French, Australians, and New Zealanders come over to South Africa. Many of these men had fought in the Rhodesian Light Infantry as professional soldiers. Usually each white guy would split up with 12 black soldiers, with two white sergeants, and one black sergeant. A lot of those guys had been fighting the MPLA since the 1960s, so some of them were approaching 50 and totally battle-hardened. I came in as a 20-year-old and had never had a shot fired at me in anger — you had to earn your respect. But we learned quickly. When you started in 32 Battalion, South Africa’s incursions into Angola were still secret. Wasn’t that just a nominal press blackout? Surely word got round and people talked, right? No. No one knew anything at that stage. We only operated in Angola, nowhere else. At least I can’t remember ever operating anywhere else. Nothing we carried had markings on it, so if we got caught the government could have plausible deniability. Even our parents couldn’t be told. My mother thought I was a store man
at a regional South African Defense Force [SADF] base. If I had died, they probably would’ve told her I died while minding the store. But that all changed while you were still out there. Yes. One of my sergeants, a guy who had come over from Rhodesia named Trevor Edwards, went AWOL. Then he turned up a few months later at the London offices of SWAPO, the South West African People’s Organization, which was basically the group we were fighting. He told them a whole lot of nonsense about how we were trained to “kill everything in our paths” — which was total rubbish. We looked after the local population, because that’s where we got our water. Edwards was never a very good soldier anyway, despite getting paid to be one. I’m not trying to badmouth the guy, he must have had his reasons for doing what he did, but that was when the shit really hit the fan. How did you get your orders? It was fairly simple. They would show you a map and just say, “There’s your area. A 30-mile-by-30-mile block. We want you to clear it out.” Our job was essentially to make the south part of Angola safe. And how else do you make it safe other than clearing out the people who are making it dangerous?
“32 Battalion soldiers fully loaded out in the Angolan bush.”
How did you achieve that? A chopper would drop us behind enemy lines for five weeks at a time. We were only lightly armed. We had a radio channel, but that was the only way we could communicate with the outside world. Were you as good as your reputation? Honestly, there was no fighting unit that could come close to us. We killed more enemies than the entire SADF put together. We were winning all the way. In the end, the politicians had to stop us because they wanted to move with the world and all that shit. But there’s no way we would have lost. No way. The South African army today is a joke. It breaks my heart to see that. We were one of the strongest armies in the world back then. Did you think it was weird that your colleagues were black men fighting to preserve the interests of a system that treated them as second-class citizens? We didn’t think about it at all. We just focused on what we had to do. Politically, we did not know too much about apartheid. We were fighting alongside a ton of different races and nationalities — from Ovambo to Xhosa — and the word “apartheid” didn’t exist to us. In the bush, you can’t go more than a few yards away from your unit. Our allegiance was to each other, “After a month out in the bush all weapons would be checked and stored away. You can see how much weight we’d lose while on operations.”
“The goverment was scared of what we were capable of. If there had been any trouble, any sort of coup, it might have come from 32 Battalion.” our unit, and then, maybe, somewhere down the line, the government. We got the same salary as a guy in Pretoria sitting behind a desk — which was nothing. When you weren’t on a tour of duty, you had a base up in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. What was that like? We built this town called Buffalo. It was made of reeds, there was no electricity, and we used to wash in the river. We had one guy called Koos Kruger, who became known as Koos Crocodile because as he was climbing out of the river one day after having a wash, a crocodile took him by his leg. We normally had a guy on the bank with a gun to deal with that sort of thing, but the angle was too tight — you couldn’t get a clean shot. Koos knew that crocodiles have this valve in their throats that enables them to avoid drowning, so he managed to push that in and drowned the croc. Imagine that. A helluva tug-of-war, I tell you. The Cubans were also fighting with the MPLA. Did you run up against them? Of course. We fucked them up. We captured a Russian. We attacked two bases at the same time. I think he was in logistics. His wife got killed, and his child ran off into the desert and is still missing to this day. Did you interrogate him? Yes. That’s a prize — a Russian. Within two hours he was on his way to Pretoria. Do you still keep in touch with any of your former comrades? Oh yes. I was speaking to my black sergeant just the other day. Was he involved with the abortive coup in Equatorial Guinea? Yes. He sat in jail in Zimbabwe for a year. Were you able to send him or the other prisoners any provisions during that time? No. We couldn’t get through to them at all. The reputation of 32 Battalion has cleared the way for ex-members to make a great living as private soldiers. There are so many guys out there you can’t believe it. All over the world: in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Abu Dhabi. They’re training the defense forces out there. In Dubai, they’re doing personal-security details. You name it. Were you ever tempted to do personal security when you left the army? It was tempting. The carrot was always dangled. I mean, those guys can earn $15,000 a month. But you put your balls on the line for that sort of money. They want specialists, not just any guy off the street, and 32 had
experience in all sorts of warfare. I was still living with my mother after I left and my friends used to come round to my house with loads of money from doing that. I almost got involved with the Seychelles coup in 1982. It was an independent mercenary thing. Some of the guys who were stuck in the Seychelles got death sentences, so it was probably a good thing I didn’t go. I have just tried to make a life for myself outside of the army. You must have had some contact with Executive Outcomes, who are probably the world’s best-known private army. Well, a guy from 32 was the owner. You know, people say bad things about them, but they stopped a lot of wars in Africa. In Sierra Leone, they totally fucked up the rebels, which the UN, the British, and everyone else tried to do for years. They achieved that in three months, and that was all guys from 32. Does the ANC government’s desire to clear out Pomfret have something to do with 32’s reputation as mercenaries? It’s terrible what’s been done to those guys. They got nothing. Nothing. Forget the politics for a moment. Irrespective of your political views, those guys fought for South Africa. Some of those guys have had their legs blown off. They’re all in their 40s and 50s now. What are they supposed to do? That’s why we try and help where we can, you know? I’ve got two boxes of clothes in my garage right now that are ready to go up there.
“We always made time to win over the hearts and minds of the Angolan population, who would share vital information and offer their pits as our only source of water.”
Do you think the ANC shutting down 32 in 1993 was also partly out of spite for the fact that the Angolans were seen as turncoats to black nationalism? I don’t know about that. I think they were scared. I think they were scared of what we were capable of. We were so well trained and well organized that if there had been any sort of trouble, any sort of coup, it might have come from 32 Battalion. I think that was one of their main worries. South Africans use the term “bossies” to describe the sort of post-traumatic stress breakdowns that afflict the generation who came back from the Border War. Is this something you’ve experienced? No. I mean, my best friend was killed when he was 19, and there’s not a day goes past I don’t think about him. He took a bullet through the head. One shot. I’d love for him to be sitting here and having a drink with us, but at the end of the day, it was his choice. That’s how you’ve got to live your life. You choose. “This is 32 Battalion relaxing in between operations on the banks of the Okavango River.”
FUCK FACE Dir: Belladonna enterbelladonna.com / evilangel.com Rating: 10 I have a weird friend. I don’t know her name. I guess “friend” might be a slight overstatement. She is a ginger with extremely curly hair. I’m sure you can picture all the freckles. My friend Steve calls people with freckles “salami faces.” Back when Lindsay Lohan had meat on her bones I thought she was hot. I told Steve I thought she was hot. He shook his head no and reminded me that Lindsay Lohan is a salami face. My weird salami-faced friend is the person who handles the takeout orders at the Tex Mex-style chain restaurant by my house called On the Border. (I don’t understand why they’d name the restaurant that since it is not on the border of anything.) (Oh. Is it a Mexico reference? If so, disregard the last aside.) Once, on Cinco de Mayo, they did over $100,000 in business. They have a plaque that lets everyone know they did over $100,000 in business in one day right by the front door. I find the plaque rude because most of the patrons there and myself are lower middle class at best. It takes us a number of years to make $100,000. You can understand why it would be hard to like someone who brags about making $100,000 in one day. I have considered pissing on the plaque, but it is mounted rather high on the wall and I don’t know if I can pee that far up. The young salami-faced ginger with the small butt who handles the takeout orders has become my “Let’s Talk About Babies” friend 134
because one time when I called my order in I couldn’t remember if my wife was allowed to eat the mahimahi tacos or the breaded-other-fish tacos because of her breast-feeding. I told the girl I had to call her back after I clarified because “I don’t want On the Border to ruin my wife’s breasts.” She laughed. When I called back after speaking to my wife and being told for the thousandth time that mahimahi is no bueno for babyface, I reintroduced myself as the “fish-breast guy” when she answered. I also called myself that when I entered the restaurant. She liked that. Because she was young. And I know how to talk to young people. I use smaller words. I wanted to get a margarita while I waited for my breast fish. Salami Face wanted a baby. Right then and there. I wasn’t quite sure if we were making small talk or if she was asking me to inseminate her. She said that she tried to get her last boyfriend to get her pregnant without telling him because she “REALLY WANTS A BABY ALREADY!” Her eyes got very big and crazy when she said those words. She didn’t look older than 21. She said she hoped 2010 would be her year to a) find a man, b) get married, c) have a baby, and d) go to Hawaii. I told her I hoped 2010 would bring me my wife’s tacos so I could go home. Last week I ordered my wife more tacos. Not vaginas! Grow up! Where would you even order those from? I didn’t know it was Salami Face who took my order on the phone, but when I went to pick up my not-vaginas she remembered me instantly. I smiled and said, “Breast fish,” because those two words summed up our shared moment. She giggled because picturing fish with tits is funny. She asked how the baby was doing and I said it’s rough at the moment because he’s teething and in a lot of pain. She told me that on the TV show Roseanne, John Goodman’s character “gave their teething baby a frozen waffle to suck on. You should try that.” CHRIS NIERATKO For more of Chris go to chrisnieratko.com or njskateshop.com.
SHEPPARD’S VIDEO-GAME PIE BY STEPHEN LEA SHEPPARD
NO MORE HEROES 2: DESPERATE STRUGGLE
Photo by Dan Siney
Platform: Nintendo Wii Publisher: Ubisoft No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is niche. Directed by celebrated game designer Suda51, of Grasshopper Manufacture, it’s a satire of action video games and otaku culture in general. “Otaku,” in this context, means Japanese nerds or non-Japanese nerds who are into Japanese culture. The main character, Travis Touchdown, lives in the city of Santa Destroy and wants to work his way up to become the city’s No. 1 assassin. He wants to do this for two reasons: First, the current No. 1 assassin killed his best friend, and second, there’s a girl who’s promised to have freaky yoga sex with him if he succeeds. She is blatantly manipulating him. He doesn’t really mind; in the first game, he fought his way up to No. 1 assassin because she promised to have sex with him then too and also because he bought a beam sword off eBay, and if you have a beam sword, you might as well become your hometown’s No. 1 assassin, right? In the opening cut scene, there’s a bit where he wants to know how he went from No. 1 assassin in the first game all the way back to the bottom, and she tells him that it’d
be a waste of time to explain it because all the people who never played the first game aren’t going to care about the backstory. There’s the core of the gameplay, where you fight your way through hordes of minions to reach ridiculous bosses, and then there are the minigames, which are all made out like eight-bit Nintendo Entertainment System games and which earn you cash for new weapons, health and damage upgrades, and clothes. The fight gameplay is done by Wii remote, but largely without waggle —
you do high slashes by holding the remote up and tapping A, you do low slashes by holding the remote down and tapping A, and you do finishing moves by swinging the remote according to a screen prompt. It’s quirky, to say the least. If you’ve been playing video games for any length of time, especially video games out of Japan, you’ll probably find it hilarious. I am not sure, however, if I find actually playing it very fun — the swordplay didn’t do anything for me, and I liked only one of the minigames.
and his childhood friend in tow (she clearly pines for him, but he’s too busy pining for the princess to notice, etc.). It mostly controls like a traditional action RPG, the gimmick being that if Leonard stores up enough magic power he can transform into the gigantic White Knight, which lets him fight giant monsters that are a pain in the ass to kill if you can only hit them on the ankle. I actually kind of like the system. You buy skills from a bunch of different categories, which you can build into custom combos,
which take magic power to pull off. But the level maps are unreasonably huge, the combat is not tremendously fun, and nothing interesting ever happens. The game’s one potential saving grace is its online component, which lets you tackle missions with friends, and in which you can gather loot. You can then build a custom town that serves as a store in which other players can buy the loot you collect, which helps you raise money for the loot you want to make your character more powerful. But MMORPGs aren’t for me.
WHITE KNIGHT CHRONICLES: INTERNATIONAL EDITION Platform: PlayStation 3 Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
DANTE’S INFERNO Platform: Xbox 360 Publisher: Electronic Arts Dante’s Inferno is a good game only if you don’t want much out of your video games. Specifics! Dante’s Inferno is, ostensibly, a video-game adaptation of the first third of The Divine Comedy, but really it just takes what elements it wants from that and uses them to tell a fairly conventional videogame yarn. The protagonist, Dante, is a crusader who… look, I’m not summarizing this, it gets explained about ten minutes into the game. The important part is that he dies in a state of sin, only instead of actually dying he beats up Death and takes his scythe. There’s more to it than that: Lucifer steals his girlfriend, Beatrice. She’s topless a lot, by the way, because it’s an M-rated game and they can do that now. Dante ends up descending into Hell to rescue Beatrice, and then the game has one level each for Limbo and the eight Circles of Hell that aren’t Limbo. 136
The actual gameplay is taken almost entirely from God of War. Granted, we’re still playing first-person shooters that have their gameplay taken almost entirely from Wolfenstein 3D, but when I say Dante’s Inferno plays almost exactly like God of War, I’m not kidding. It even uses the right analog stick for dodging. This whole situation is kind of weird. Most video games aren’t very ambitious in their storytelling; even games that I really love for their stories — Mass Effect, say, or Uncharted 2 — are mostly just clichéd escapist fantasies, absent literary value. If they’re memorable, it’s because their characters are entertainingly written and performed and because they exploit the connection between player and character: You as the player feel vicarious pride over your avatar’s achievements, or if not pride, at least catharsis. God of War’s Kratos isn’t exactly deep, but the character animation, combat system, and voice acting sell his anger. While playing as Kratos, you can remember all the times you were ever really angry and wanted to
smash things and then feel how satisfying it would have felt to actually do it. Dante’s Inferno isn’t like that. It’s ambitious. It actually tries to be a serious examination of the wages of sin. The problems are twofold: 1) It’s doing this while you’re fighting a giant Cleopatra who spits little demon babies out of her giant exposed nipples (Circle of Lust). 2) None of the characters are strongly or entertainingly characterized. It feels wrong that I’d say these things — why condemn Dante’s Inferno, which tries to be more than stupid escapist pap, and praise God of War, which doesn’t? Aren’t ambitious failures more valuable than formulaic successes? It pains me to realize that, no, they’re not. At least, this one isn’t. To be fair, it does its one thing well. The combat system worked elsewhere and works here, too. It’s fun to smash things up with the death scythe and the holy cross that shoots giant death beams. If that’s all you want, you’ll certainly get it here.
White Knight Chronicles: International Edition is a long-awaited disappointment, barely worth commentary. Background! In Japan, this game was championed before the PS3’s launch as a big important next-gen title that’d wow everyone and show the world what the PS3 can do. It was finally released in Japan on Christmas Day, 2008. Us North American PS3 owners were eager to get our hands on it, but while most games take a couple of months at most to import nowadays, this one took a year. The result? An entirely forgettable action RPG. It’s actually kind of weird going from Mass Effect 2 to this one, because as in ME2, in WKC you spend the beginning of the game making an avatar, choosing gender and facial features and default expression, etc., and then unlike in ME2, here your avatar never gets any lines of dialogue or anything important to do in the plot, instead following around the main character, Leonard, who accidentally bonds to a giant suit of armor called the White Knight and then sets off to rescue a kidnapped princess with your avatar
BEST ALBUM OF THE MONTH: NICE FACE
METH, GHOST, AND RAE Wu-Massacre Def Jam
LUDACRIS Battle of the Sexes Def Jam I’ve never really had an issue with Luda. He makes better-than-average pop rap about the usual stuff that white teenagers think is cool. You can’t fault him for creating a successful business model. He needs to make enough money to have champagne to both drink and pour on hos, so he can’t exactly be taking any risks. If the bedazzled pimp cup ain’t broke, why fix it? Accordingly, this album has the same stuff his last 20 or whatever albums had. If it’s your thing, get a Red Bull and vodka and jam out. I’m not mad. Just don’t play that “How Low” song with the sped-up singer in the chorus. There’s a special circle of hell populated only by annoying girls I went to high school with who love Sex and the City and velour sweatsuits, and I’m pretty sure they play that song on repeat there. CHRISTIAN STORM
RICK ROSS A Timeless Audemars Piguet Collection Mixtape Ah, Rick Ross, the black version of Zach Galifianakis. Rick, you really phoned this one in, huh? Cheesy beats and filler words in between about 100 separate references to “poppin’ bottles” and “pushin’ keys.” No, that was the real Ricky Ross, the drug trafficker. You used to be a corrections officer. Boring, predictable rap by a fat guy in fake Gucci sunglasses. Skip this. SMILEY CREAMCHEESE 138
These cats are more consistent than time. They just keep going and rarely misstep. Speaking of which: Meth, put that How High sequel on ice and keep on focusing on all things Wu. The world does not need another stoner movie. Rae, good to have you back. Ghost, keep up the good work. This is solid stuff from established rap legends. You already know. MR. TONY
WORST ALBUM OF THE MONTH: UNKLE:
Björk at all. Electric drums and wearisome bitches might appeal to you, but I’d rather avoid that world and the people who populate it. If you like this shit then go fuck yourself. Also, fuck Radiohead. GRUHHHH!
JAMES PANTS Seven Seals Stones Throw
My two all-time-favorite types of music are roller disco and dumb occulty goth shit like Death in June, and yet somehow it took a man from Texas named PANTS to show me that putting them both together is more delicious than Fritos and chocolate ice cream. VON MAJORGA
THE RUBY SUNS Fight Softly Sub Pop This starts off sounding like mom rock with soft male vocals over soothing synths, but the songs quickly go from calming to pleasantly irritating. I imagine my mom driving around enjoying the first half of each song, but as the beats and textures build she starts struggling to get out of her car. Sadly, she cannot. She is trapped in the station wagon, clawing at the glass and shouting, “I want to escape the sound!” WIMP CHIMP
UNKLE Where Did the Night Fall Surrender All This is some fashion-show shit. All like Portishead and cold cleanliness with bored-lady vocals. I don’t get this, but I also don’t understand the appeal of
called “Ativan Eyes” that’s pretty great too. Kind of want to get a tattoo of that. Ted Leo! MEG SNEED
KLEENEX /LILIPUT Live Recordings, TV-Clips & Roadmovie Kill Rock Stars If you don’t know Kleenex / LiLiPUT, they were the Swiss version of the Slits and they ruled. If you do know them, then why not get this CD/DVD combo? It’s the songs you know but you get to see them being performed in solid-colored outfits on European TV in the 80s. If you like thick accents and cold European girl-punk then buy this record, I guess. RON GERONIMO
AWESOME COLOR Massa Hypnos Ecstatic Peace!
bands of nowadays, all boring and not getting it on a basic level. Anyway, Nice Face put out a few good singles but this is the first fulllength, and oh boy, it is a thriller. This is energetic, loud, and dark. Camero from Livefastdie plays guitar for Nice Face and that man can really guitar, so you know there are good guitars on this record when the guitar is called for. These songs have poppy riffs, menacing lyrics, and everything sounds like it’s blowing out whatever it’s being played out of. Many of the songs start out with some raw, simple, repetitive sound before splitting off into four layers of beautiful noisy noise. I just wish that the main nice face in Nice Face would start booking shows again. It’s rare that a record this cohesive and consistently good from song to song comes along. NICK FAKE
SWEET APPLE Love & Desperation Tee Pee
TED LEO AND THE PHARMACISTS
The Brutalist Bricks Matador Ahh, Ted Leo is the best. The “woo hoo!”-iest pumped rock ’n’ roll, with brilliant lyrics you need a dictionary to understand. Fatties, take note: This is excellent music for exercising. It really gets you going. I just took a break from writing this review to sprint around my apartment for a minute. My cat was like, “What?” It was cute. I bet Ted Leo is very physically fit. Have you ever seen him live? His energy seems boundless. He should make a workout DVD. What else? There aren’t any songs on here that I love as much as “Biomusicology” or “Dial Up” or “Timorous Me” or “Me and Mia,” but his songs are a slow burn and it’ll probably take a few more listens. “The Mighty Sparrow” is rapidly growing on me. There’s a song on here
So boring. So fucking boring. This feels like your standard well-produced rock with bored-sounding cool-guy singing happening. There’s one song about zombies that has great guitaring. Most of it isn’t worth listening to, though. TRICK AREOLA
NICE FACE Immer Etwas Sacred Bones
I can’t quite believe that two of the guys from Witch, a good band, are in this band, which is a bad one. I guess that there’s a point in many successful musicians’ lives where they get old and realize that music is their job and it stops being art. This shit sounds like when actors form rock bands. CROBART HASKEM
DEAD MEADOW Three Kings Xemu
This shit is perfect. I remember when all the bands I liked were being referred to as “garage punk.” Then I heard the term “weird punk” being bandied about, and eventually I was informed that all the stuff I liked was actually “lo-fi.” Fucking music nerdos. Then of course a whole bunch of lamewads went and bought guitar pedals and cranked up the echo and were like, “Hey guys, me too, right-ight-ight?” But they’re like the ska-core
This is a live album and a DVD with concert footage and shots of them walking through the woods dressed like druids. These guys always sound like if Black Sabbath had been bored with what they were doing. I will say that the first time I saw a hip guy sporting a mustache was at a Dead Meadow show in 2002. I was so
confused. I was like, “What, you can’t do that!” Boy, did he show me. But not with music, just with facial hair. ANOTHER LIVE ALBUM
CHILD ABUSE Cut and Run Lovepump United
This is like a more unlistenable version of the Locust. It’s all screams, machine-gun sounds, and frog farts over and over, really fast. You’re only going to like this if you hate your parents and love aural discomfort. Fortunately for me, I do! OR DO I?
BLESSURE GRAVE Judged by 12 Carried by 6 Alien8 Goth music can be good in so many different ways. But when it’s bad it’s usually bad in one of four ways: Either the singer does a bad impersonation of Peter Murphy, Ian Curtis, or David Gahan, or the band uses some cheap computer program instead of investing in real instruments and quality synthesizers. This one is a shitty ripoff of Ian Curtis. You can’t listen to this without thinking, “Why am I not listening to Joy Division instead?” GODFATHER OF SOULS
TITUS ANDRONICUS The Monitor XL Recordings I don’t know if it’s something in the groundwater or just living with a perpetual New York-shaped chip on their shoulder, but Jersey completely owns the empowering-personal-anthem racket. These Civil War-themed jams weld together the VICE
BEST COVER OF THE MONTH: MICHAEL YONKERS
bombastic screaminess of Lifetime with the whoa-oh-oh-oh-ness of the Boss and make me want to swing an American flag on a crowded dance floor. Not sure how I feel about them siding so strongly with the Union, but I guess at least for once it’s not blatantly racist. OSWALDO ALKEMO
bands in the 80s or that Californians get when they try to be “country.” You know what I’m talking about, everything sort of sounds like “myenga myeeEEEENNNNG...”? It goes well with chimey guitar business like this, but the world is still waiting for someone brave enough to put it through a vocoder. UNCLE GERNT
THE PACK A.D. We Kill Computers
ELEPHANT9 Walk the Nile Rune Grammofon
It’s kind of a relief to know that there are still guys in Norway who spend their time re-creating the breakdowns from Rush songs and naming their “progressive jazz” bands after famous indie labels they have absolutely nothing in common with. Makes you think you could walk into Oslo with an Eazy-E cassette and a stack of Levi’s and be on the next boat out with all the womenfolk, while Ståle Storløkken just noodles away frantically on his keyboard, none the wiser. ANTIONE KRAGER JERUSALEM AND THE STARBASKETS “Room 8” / “Swingin’ Vine” De Stijl The guy from this band’s got one of those non-state-specific “rural America” accents that you used to hear a lot from Paisley 140
around by yourself and regret everything you ever did. Also it comes with an amazing 60page booklet full of photos and Kris’s accounts of writing the songs. CRUST CRUSTOFFERSON
THE ART MUSEUMS Rough Frame
professional, I guess, but the feelings this guy feels are the stupidest fucking feelings. I can only assume he’s stupid or a liar. LULU LORENTA
NIGHT CONTROL Life Control Kill Shaman
Mint The Pack a.d. are two bluesy ladies from Canada. Neither of them is real good at playing instruments, and the singing is throaty blues baloney. I guess it’s like the White Stripes if they were both Meg White with smaller boobs and foreheads. JUNGLE CRUISE
WORST COVER OF THE MONTH: ZOLA JESUS:
ZOLA JESUS Stridulum Sacred Bones
I have been pining for a genuine, nonindustrial, non-rivet, non-emo, nonspooky-kid, for-real, authentic goth revival for so long, now that it’s here I kind of don’t know what to do with myself. It’s like I just stare at my Vyllies and Strawberry Switchblade records all day and ask them, “Where do I go from here?” and they tell me, “It’s over, Todd. We did it. But now you must find your own way, good-bye,” and then they are silent and I am once more alone. And a nerd. TODD PICKALINO KRIS KRISTOFFERSON Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos, 1968–1972 Light in the Attic Kris Kristofferson was in the army and a helicopter pilot and a janitor and then he became a country-music singer and movie star. He wrote and performed a lot of big hits, and this album is the first time we’re hearing the demos. Stripped of the studio polish, these songs became stronger for me. The part in “Little Girl Lost” where he says “But the devil’s got her soul” is a lot more intense when he’s unaccompanied. Most of these songs are pretty great if you want to sit
This is some serious sweater rock. Even the name is collegiate, self-congratulatory, and wimpily romantic in an awful way that makes me hope my dick comes off in a freak accident. These guys are strummers with perfect diction and cold vocals. I’d say more if there were more to say. Does college make people boring or does college attract boring people? Either way, intellectuals shouldn’t be making art, they should be teachers and critics. DIKSMELL FARTDIK
AVI BUFFALO S /T Sub Pop
This shit is so wimpy, but I like it. Usually wimpy whiner country rock puts me on edge, but lately I’ve been going bald and all these songs feel like a requiem for my hairline. OLD BEAGLES
I put the CD on and then I looked over there and the next thing I knew the CD was over and I have no idea what the music was like. I’m listening to it again and most of the songs are kind of slow and feel like they’re beginnings of songs that don’t start. ARGHHHH
CHRISTY & EMILY No Rest Klangbad Christy & Emily’s electric-piano business is consistently the most mellow, indoorsy music in the world. They seem like the kind of girls who live in a cozy little attic with an old, broken-in couch with a bunch of afghans you could just curl up under and drift off to the sound of the rain. Of course the reality is they’d be all like, “Hey, wake up, guy, you can’t just crash here” and “Who were you friends with again?” Stuck-up bitches. VON BUERSTATTE
TITLE TRACKS It Was Easy Ernest Jennings
This guy was doing some really awful music with Q and Not U but apparently they were holding him back from making the level of garbage he was really aspiring to. It’s like getting whacked in the head with a bag of leaky garbage. I hate it so much. It’s
BILLY GREEN Stone OST B-Music / Finders Keepers
Oh man, Finders Keepers. Constantly finding underappreciated records
that deserve your attention and then, “Zow!” — they make it available to you. This record was the soundtrack album for an Australian biker film that I never heard of and probably won’t see, but the record rules. If you like Goblin and all those other Italian soundtracks from the 70s then you have to get this. Amazing psych with electronic sounds and great production abounds on this disc. It also comes with a pretty little booklet telling you about the movie. This record starts off with some faraway wails that get closer and more beautiful for a minute before a low mechanical rumble comes in and then an electronic hum joins it and then shit blows up and you are now listening to a record that accomplishes what half the records in this review column tried to accomplish and failed. Get this shit, stupid. RONGLELL STELLOPH
Various Artists B-Music / Finders Keepers
This is a compilation of Iranian music from the 60s and 70s and it’s a severely poppy, funky, folky, and psych-y good time. There are a lot of drumbeats with Middle Eastern flutes over them and foreign melodies. If you’re really into all those Sun City Girls comps then you’ll love this. It’s like a better Thai Beat a Go-Go. SAMUZELL DELLOPA
MICHAEL YONKERS Lovely Gold Drag City You think you’re the king of lost psych classics but then, whoops, here comes another one from the vaults, magically appearing out of nowhere and sidling up to you, mocking your arrogance, and
sounding awesome. This is one of Yonkers’s later albums, from 1977, almost ten years after he recorded his obscure cult-hit debut album, Microminiature Love. Between the time of those two recordings, this beloved eccentric broke his back in an accident at the warehouse where he worked and developed a degenerative spinal condition that he treats, to this very day… through dance! It’s an inspiring tale, actually. Anyway, Lovely Gold has that perfect late-night druggy weirdo feel that the freak-folk musicians of today always try and fail to achieve. Yonkers sounds like the demented ghost of Buddy Holly, and his guitar noodlings are the fuzziest and psychiest you’ve ever heard. I think he modified his guitar in some bizarre way too — he was quite the musical tinkerer, building his own theremin and distortion contraptions and experimenting with tape loops way before other people did. You should get this. Why listen to something new when you can listen to something old? KELLY KLOOPS
AMANAZ Africa Now-Again
WITCH Lazy Bones!! Now-Again
Hey, instead of supporting a bunch of rich kids who steal their music from hardworking Africans and just add clever lyrics and catchy melodies, how about digging into some authentic Zambian psych-rock bands from the 70s? Who cares if the music sounds like fifth-rate, ESL Hawkwind, at least it’s not by WHITE PEOPLE, right? THE INTERNET VICE
KAGOMANIACS BY SHINTARO KAGO
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