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Issue 1281/1282 February 23March 9, 2017 $6.99





“All the News That Fits”

Takeoff, Offset and Quavo (from left) of Migos. Page 38








The End of Facts


Music Fights Trump

Oscar Preview 2017

How Trump steamrolled our sacred institutions without ever telling the truth. By Matt Taibbi

The wild world of hip-hop’s chart-topping fab three. By Jonah Weiner

How Rihanna, Springsteen and hundreds of other artists are taking on the president.

Peter Travers breaks down the favorites and spoilers.




The Dudes vs. ISIS

Butch Trucks, 1947-2017

John Oliver Can the sharpest voice on TV win the war on Trump? By Brian Hiatt

Photograph by Theo Wen ner

On the front lines in Syria with the young Americans fighting the Islamic State. By Seth Harp


His nephew Derek Trucks remembers the longtime Allman Brothers drummer.

Records .....51

ON THE COVER John Oliver photographed in New York on January 8th, 2017, by Mark Seliger. Styling by Stefan Campbell. Grooming by Bridget Ritzinger. Prop styling by Jakob Bokulich. Suit and shirt by John Varvatos. Tie by Paul Smith.

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HOTTEST COMICS IN HISTORY Everyone has a different style, but what does it take to be among the best? From Louis C.K. and Richard Pryor to Joan Rivers, Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld, we rank the greatest comedians of all time.



Hidden Figures







The Crazy World of Arthur Brown return for their first U.S. tour in 48 years. We spoke with the wild frontman about today’s rock iconoclasts and touring with Jimi Hendrix.

Is Joel Embiid the NBA’s most skilled young player? His spectacular season is among the reasons that Philadelphia 76ers fans have something to cheer about again.

With four Best Picture nominees directly addressing people of color, this year’s Oscars aren’t so white. We cover the best and worst moments from the ceremony.




The Edge discusses how the current political climate led U2 back to The Joshua Tree, how their upcoming shows will work, and what U2’s future looks like, on a new episode of the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast. It airs live on the SiriusXM Volume channel on Fridays at 1 p.m. before going online. Plus, you can subscribe on iTunes or Spotify so you never miss a segment.











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MANAGING EDITOR: Jason Fine DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR: Sean Woods ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITORS: Christian Hoard, Alison Weinflash SENIOR WRITERS: David Fricke, Andy Greene, Brian Hiatt, Peter Travers SENIOR EDITORS: Patrick Doyle, Rob Fischer, Thomas Walsh ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Hannah Murphy ASSISTANT EDITORS: Rick Carp, Jason Maxey, Phoebe Neidl ASSISTANT TO THE EDITOR AND PUBLISHER: Ally Lewis ASSISTANT TO THE MANAGING EDITOR: Ellen Nelson CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Matthieu Aikins, Mark Binelli, David Browne, Rich Cohen, Jonathan Cott, Cameron Crowe, Anthony DeCurtis, Tim Dickinson, Jon Dolan, Raoul Duke (Sports), Josh Eells, Mikal Gilmore, Jeff Goodell, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Erik Hedegaard, Will Hermes, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Steve Knopper, David Kushner, Greil Marcus, Alex Morris, Charles Perry, Janet Reitman, Stephen Rodrick, Rob Sheffield, Paul Solotaroff, Ralph Steadman (Gardening), Neil Strauss, Matt Taibbi, Touré, Jonah Weiner, Christopher R. Weingarten, David Wild

Correspondence Inside Puppy Mills In RS 1278/1279, Paul Solotaroff investigated the dark underworld of puppy mills, where captive dogs are forced to deliver a crippling supply of litters [“The Dog Factory”]. Readers and industry representatives responded. a s t h e di r e c t or of a rescue nonprofit, I am so grateful to you for helping educate people about where their “purebred dogs” might have come from. I hope that one day puppy mills and breeders will be a distant memory.

Stone’s Rising Star

i t ’s s i m p ly u n true that puppies sold in pet stores are “raised in puppy-mill evil.” We in the legitimate pet trade don’t just care about animals – we care for them every day, and are horrified by the inhumane treatment of dogs at illegal, unregulated breeding operations. It is disappointing that Solotaroff’s article presented illegal and unethical activities as representative of the legitimate pet trade.

Phil Stenger Via the Internet

Eric Rosenthal Cambridge, MA

Mike Bober Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council Alexandria, VA

on fossil fuels, nuclear power and renewable sources. Joseph Balachowski, Seattle

John Prine’s Time j us t w h e n i t hough t i might be getting too old to read RS, you publish an awesome feature on John Prine [“The Legend Next Door,” RS 1278/1279], and now I feel like I’m 24 again. I can’t wait for his big comeback, and the book. Rich Foley, Fayette, OH

a m a zing songs, bu t as a lover of albums I must say that Bruised Orange is a beautiful thing. Each tune is a fable, with a lesson to look at life’s ups and downs from an open-minded and empathetic viewpoint, and then move on.

Lisa Banik Via the Internet

i knew emma stone was a star [“Emma Stone’s Hollywood Ending,” RS 1278/1279] the first time I saw her, in Easy A, and she has only shined brighter since. She is a modern Barbara Stanwyck who can do anything: comedy, drama, singing and dancing. And like that Hollywood icon, she always performs with class and grace.

i n c a se you won der ed whether your subscribers are paying attention, I found the cover to be eerily similar to your 1994 photo of Liz Phair [“A Rock & Roll Star Is Born,” RS 692]. Now, as a father of teenage girls (fans of both Ms. Phair and Ms. Stone), I wonder whether declaring that a female artist’s “star” has been “born” means she must first be photographed in a state of undress.

i once hel ped r escu e a doz en dog s f r om a USDA-inspected puppy mill, and I’ll never forget the cruelty I witnessed. Your readers now know what I learned almost two decades

Love Letters & Advice

Cal Glattfelder Jr. Charlottesville, VA

ago: If you buy a dog at a pet shop, you are supporting a horrific industry. Save a life: Adopt, don’t shop. Stewart David, Venice, FL

the people who participate in this “trade” should face fines, property confiscation and imprisonment – ideally in a small wire cage in an unheated shed out in the woods somewhere, abandoned and forgotten. Ron Dickson, Seattle

us who just need to be shown a way forward so that we know what to fight for.

harness the energy of the most active Democratic and revolutionize America. Saddle up!

Cassandra Morin Portland, OR

Michael Chiavario Bellingham, WA

i loved the hansen interview, except when he said a third party is the only way to pull off the necessary changes to fight global warming. A revolutionary Democratic Party is possible. The Dems just adopted the most progressive platform in history. The two major parties can be changed. Let’s

not once did hansen mention the single most effective climate-change remedy: energy conservation. Existing building technologies can reduce energy waste by 90 percent. Primitive peoples used passive solar heating, natural cooling and insulation millennia before our modern reliance

prine is a music icon and one of the greatest songwriters of all time. So why isn’t he in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yet? Eric Chappe, Staten Island, NY

Iggy’s Way of Life i wa s at the 1970 g oose Lake Festival that Iggy Pop references in his recent interview [The Last Word, RS 1278/1279]. He was shirtless, of course, and stabbing himself with a splintered drumstick. I wouldn’t have bet he’d still be alive 47 years later, let alone dispensing insight about fast-lane living and aging. Phil Hailer, Quincy, MA

Saving the Planet you r i n t erv ie w w i t h James Hansen [“Will We Miss Our Last Chance?” RS 1278/1279] was full of the thoughtful discourse and bipartisan solutions that are missing from our current politicians and mass media. Hansen is a touchstone for those of

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2. Missy Elliott feat. Lamb “I’m Better” Missy doesn’t grace us with her futurefreak presence nearly enough. But here, she’s at her best, shouting out Scandal and her “dudes in Orlando” over a sci-fi slow-glide beat and rocking mirror-shade lip gloss in the eye-popping video.

3. Father John Misty

1. Arcade Fire and Mavis Staples

“Pure Comedy”

“I Give You Power”

Mankind gets a sidelong spanking in this bitter shot of glitter-soul nihilism. It’s like Elton John via Randy Newman.

Arcade Fire released a surprise single the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated, teaming up with veteran soul singer Mavis Staples for a darkly quaking dance-rock call to community and resistance in scary times.

4. Elliott Smith “I Figured You Out” The late indie-folk icon was a master of fragile Lennonesque gorgeousness, and this bonus track from a new reissue of his 1997 masterwork, Either/Or, reminds us why he is so missed.

Mike Campbell Songs About the State of the World The Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist is gearing up for the group’s upcoming 40th-anniversary tour.

The Rolling Stones “Street Fighting Man” There’s something about the lyrics and energy that make you want to get up and fight somebody for what you believe in. It’s a joy from start to finish.

Jimi Hendrix

6. Priests “JJ” “Who ever deserves anything anyway/What a stupid concept,” Katie Alice Greer yowls. But Priests’ surf-y punk rock makes getting hosed by life feel kinda awesome.

“All Along the Watchtower” This sounds like it’s about the world and how it could be better. It’s a sloppy record with odd production, but somehow it’s beautifully perfect.

Bob Dylan “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” Every time I hear this, it just stops me. I feel so moved by it. It’s on the edge of death and despair, but there’s hope.

The Clash

5. Nikki Lane “Jackpot” Fashion-designer-turned-countryfirecracker Lane is a little like Loretta Lynn if she’d ever had a booze-hound rockabilly phase. “Jackpot,” from her great new Highway Queen, is a trip to Vegas you won’t forget.

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7. Thundercat feat. Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald “Show You the Way” Genre-defying L.A. bassist-producer Thundercat brings on a pair of Seventies soft-rock smoothies, and yacht-soul magic ensues. Hilariously weird, and chill as hell.

“London Calling” This has that apocalypse kind of vibe, like the world is coming to an end but maybe we’ll make it through.

Neil Young “Rockin’ in the Free World” This has hope and fear, so it definitely still applies today. The music is just pure adrenaline. God bless Neil Young.

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© 2015 Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company. All Rights Reserved. 5, Life Happens in 5, Cobalt, and all affiliated designs are trademarks of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company or its affiliates.

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Rock’s New Protest Era How Rihanna, Bruce and hundreds more musicians are taking on the Trump agenda BY STEVE KNOPPER




ona ld tru mp’s pr esidency has inspired the largest wave of protests in America since the Vietnam War. And, just as it did back then, music is helping lead the charge. The new coalition includes everyone from rappers to rockers to EDM stars, with protest veterans and previously apolitical pop stars alike speaking out. Katy Perry appeared alongside Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards at the Women’s March in D.C. Rihanna told her 70 million Twitter followers, “The country is being ruined before our very eyes,” in response to Trump’s executive order limiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. And during a recent stop on his Australian tour, Bruce Springsteen paid tribute to the new movement: “We are the new American resistance,” he told the crowd. “There’s never been anything quite like this,” says Tom Morello, who re-formed his early-2000s supergroup, Audioslave, for a set in L.A. on inauguration night. “Dur-

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(1) Springsteen onstage in Australia. (2) Miley Cyrus at the Women’s March in L.A. (3) Katy Perry marching with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker in D.C. (4) Madonna at the Women’s March in D.C.

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R&R the next generation will have less [reproductive] freedom than their mothers and grandmothers is an outrage.” Speaking out hasn’t gone smoothly for everyone. Taylor Swift tweeted in support of the Women’s March, but it caused some to point out she still hadn’t condemned a president antithetical to her inclusive feminist message. “Taylor Swift has so many fans that if she lost some, she’s not going to suffer,” says Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast. “I’m not with this whole ‘you’re not a politician, you shouldn’t say anything’ – that’s bullshit. At this point in the world, it feels like the most selfish thing you can do.” Madonna gave a fiery speech at the Women’s March in D.C., but one comment – “I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House” – became COMBAT ROCK In L.A., Chris Cornell and a focus of right-wing outrage: Morello reunited Audioslave (above), and Newt Gingrich called for her John Legend condemned the travel ban. arrest, and a Texas radio station banned her music. When Baez attended the Women’s am Voith, an agent who esents Bon Iver and Vam- March in San Francisco, the event brought ekend. “They’re all charged back memories of her Sixties advocacy. “I was struck by the youth,” she says. “When up, and they want to do something.” Reproductive rights are another major I look back at the civil-rights and peace focus among musicians. The same week movements, I go, ‘Was it really this young?’” Baez tells a story about how her lighting Trump signed an executive order banning federal foreign aid from going to groups engineer took his three-year-old daughthat “promote” abortion, including inter- ter to the airport right after Trump signed national affiliates of Planned Parenthood, the travel ban, joining an impromptu proHalsey donated $100,000 to the organi- test. “That’s a feeling people have kind of zation. She credits the group for diagnos- yearned for or never had,” she says. But, ing her endometriosis, a uterine disorder. she adds, from her experience, songs are “Without that treatment, I wouldn’t be able more effective than shouting. She’s been to tour,” she says. “I’m not concerned about singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in alienating people.” Sleater-Kinney played concert lately, dedicating it to everyone, a benefit show for Planned Parenthood at “even Donald.” “He is a human being,” she D.C.’s 9:30 Club. “We weren’t even on tour,” says. “He’s just all screwed up. We’re in for says guitarist Corin Tucker. “The idea that a bumpy ride.” ing their new album to capture the resistance. Conor Oberst is one of several artists booking shows in red states like Alabama and Texas. “My acts want more work,” including shows in minor markets, says

Fight the Power: The Best Anti-Trump Protest Songs Dozens of artists have already released scathing indictments of the new administration. Here are some of the most powerful

Billy Bragg ‘The Times They Are A-Changing Back’

Carole King ‘One Small Voice’

The British folkie rewrote Dylan’s anthem as a call to resistance, adding lyrics about “Mexicans, Muslims, LGBT and Jews.”

“The emperor’s got no clothes on,” King sings in a new take on her classic ballad that balances its indignation with a sense of radical purpose.

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YG ‘FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)’

Loudon Wainwright III ‘I Had a Dream’

The Compton MC mixes rage with sadness, especially when he raps about how much Trump makes him miss Obama.

His postelection nightmare will have you laughing through your tears: “The new national anthem was ‘My Ding-a-Ling’!”

Fiona Apple ‘Tiny Hands’

Ryan Adams ‘Karma Police’

Cleverly sampling the P-Grabber-in-Chief himself, Apple chants “We don’t want your tiny hands/Anywhere near our underpants” over a marching beat.

Adams’ live acoustic cover of Radiohead’s anti-authoritarian anthem strips it to its core of raw desolation. JON DOLAN

F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017


ing the invasion of Iraq, everybody from Audioslave to the Dixie Chicks raised their hands to say ‘not in our name’ – but this, in the first weeks of this presidency, is beyond that.” “Artists were not willing to speak out before – but we’re in a whole different world,” says Jordan Kurland, a manager who helped put together the protest collection 30 Days, 30 Songs during the campaign. One of those artists speaking out for the first time is Blink182 bassist Mark Hoppus, who called Trump’s travel ban “disgraceful.” “For me, this is uncharted territory,” say pus. “But we’re kind o time of crisis. I don’t kn how to use my voice yet – but it feels good to do it.” E nv i r on me nt a l l y conscious musicians in particular are gearing up for a big battle. During his first 100 days, Trump says, he plans to approve the Keystone X Pipeline and drasticall pand coal and oil drillin have us spinning so fast we don’t know which thing to latch on to,” says Joan Baez. Trump also plans to revive the Dakota Pipeline – a project that was stopped by President Obama after thousands, including Neil Young, Dave Matthews and Bonnie Raitt, showed up to oppose it. “They brought the gift of music into the camp to lift spirits – it was a beautiful thing,” says Jon Eagle Sr., tribal historic preservation officer for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. But that was just the beginning. Says Raitt, “The fight is going to continue.” Trump has caused many musicians to rethink their artistic game plans: Morello’s other group, Prophets of Rage, are tweak-


Shania’s Hard Road Back After losing her voice and divorcing her songwriting partner, Shania Twain is plotting her first album in 15 years BY A N DY GR E E N E



o you recognize my voice?” Shania Twain asks, leaning forward on a hotel-room couch on a frigid New York afternoon. “It still sounds like me?” Twain – who sold more than 85 million records in the Nineties and early 2000s with country-pop hits like “You’re Still the One” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much” – is discussing her first album in 15 years. Out in the spring, it also marks her first recordings since she was diagnosed with dysphonia, a vocal-cord disorder that causes hoarseness and trouble speaking. The issue kept Twain out of the studio for years as she received voice therapy. She eventually found a timbre that’s recognizable, but deeper than before. “I’m a different singer now,” she says. “There was a lot of coming to terms with that. It’s been one of the obstacles in my life I’ve just had to learn to live with.” Twain believes the illness stemmed from stress – one source of which was her divorce from Robert “Mutt” Lange, which was finalized in 2010. Lange, a music-business veteran who crafted major albums by Def Leppard and Céline Dion, produced and co-wrote Twain’s post-1993 catalog, including 1997’s Come On Over, which remains the bestselling country album of all time. Their partnership ended in 2008 when Twain discovered Lange had fallen in love with her longtime friend Marie-Anne Thiébaud. The story became a tabloid saga in 2010 after Twain revealed she was engaged to Thiébaud’s ex-husband, Frederic, effectively swapping spouses with her closest friend. “I’ve learned a lot about myself,” she says. “It’s scary to learn how vulnerable you can be.” She tells the story on new songs like “Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl?” – a mournful ballad about “accepting that you’re not the most important thing in a person’s life,” says Twain. Others, like “Life’s About to Get Good,” celebrate finding new happiness. “I knew there was going to be a lot of pressure on me now after all those years of working with Mutt,” she says. That pressure increased when Twain decided to write all the music herself. “It needed to be really pure and my own story and my own emotional journey,” she says. “I was now alone all of a sudden, and I didn’t want to shy away from it. And that’s

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STILL THE ONE Twain at her home studio in January

not a collaborative thing; it’s a very personal thing.” For Twain, songwriting was a struggle in the years following 2002’s Up!, an ambitious double LP that failed to meet the expectations set by Come On Over. She focused more on raising her son Eja, 15, at home in Switzerland. “I wish like crazy that I had new music by now,” she wrote to fans in 2009. “It’s been hard to put [my writing] all together into song format.” She decided to ramp up her songwriting after launching her Las Vegas comeback show, Shania: Still the One, in 2012, which was followed by a successful 2015 arena tour. Twain built tracks on GarageBand before taking them to producers including Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga) and Ron Aniello, who produced Bruce Springsteen’s last two albums. “I told anyone getting involved musically to forget about my other records,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be related to Mutt’s productions at all. I wanted a more organic

approach.” The resulting material is less poppy than her Nineties hits. “I was reflecting on the darkness,” she says. Twain is aware that she’s returning to a different country-music landscape – one that has caught up with her forwardthinking pop instincts – and an industry that doesn’t bank on CD sales anymore. “It’s been so long,” she says. “It almost feels like another lifetime.” Discussing music streaming, she adds, “I’ve already adapted as a listener. The fun thing is more people actually hear your music.” Twain is not looking to return to the road anytime soon after her marathon arena tour, aside from a one-off appearance booked at the Stagecoach Festival on April 29th. Instead, she wants to get started on another album; she calls writing “therapy.” “It helped me come to terms with a lot of things emotionally,” she adds. “It’s sort of like when you finish crying. When you’re done, you’re done and you move on.”

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HEAVIER THINGS Mayer at Capitol Studios in 2014

Mayer’s Heartbreak Diary Following a breakup, John Mayer bought a Porsche and some Brioni suits, and recorded like it was 1977


he ones that destroy me are the ones I like best,” says John Mayer, sitting next to a massive recording console at Los Angeles’ Capitol Studios. He just blasted “Still Feel Like Your Man,” one of more than 30 songs he wrote beginning in late 2014, during a period of “intense sadness.” He had recently split up with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Katy Perry and was going through some deep soul-searching, which yielded his most emotionally revealing music yet. “It’s beyond a breakup record,” he says of The Search for Everything. “It’s about me. Proudly, it is, as my therapist says, a study into the metaphysics of absent love.” Mayer says he was looking for a change after 2013’s Paradise Valley, the second in a pair of more low-key Americana albums.

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“I wanted to make a record that was big from the outset,” he says. “I wanted my Seventies rock album.” So he started writing songs from scratch at Capitol, inspired by lavishly produced and famously expensive albums like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. He bought a Porsche and hired a driver to take him to the studio every day, arriving in a Brioni suit, to maximize the feeling he was making a “1977 roll-to-the-studio-ina-suit record.” In 2015, Mayer took a break and joined Dead & Company for a pair of highly successful tours. “That band taught me how to be a piece of something,” he says. He returned to record with bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan, a rhythm section he’s played with since 2005. Inspired by Drake and Rihanna, Mayer is avoiding a traditional release plan. In-

stead, he is putting music out in “waves,” a few songs a month (the first four came out in January) until a physical LP this spring. “It forces me to finish the songs,” he says. The process also allows him to tweak according to fan feedback; in late January, he was working on “Helpless,” a guitar-heavy jam – the kind of song fans noted was absent from the previous set. He was also finishing “Emoji of a Wave,” a heartbreak ballad with harmonies from the Beach Boys’ Al Jardine and son Matt. “I’ve never in my life been crying and writing at the same time,” Mayer says. “I’ve been trying to make this record for the longest time.” Even once the LP comes out, Mayer plans to continue releasing small batches of songs. “This record is alive and being made all year,” he says. “The Search for Everything is over when I tweet it’s over.”

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The Heart of the Allmans Drummer Butch Trucks kept the shuffle going in the Allman Brothers Band for 45 years before his death in January BY DEREK TRUCKS Butch Trucks met Gregg and Duane Allman at a club in Daytona Beach, Florida, in the mid-Sixties, and soon forged what he called a “spiritual” musical bond with the brothers. The Allman Brothers Band became one of the best live groups of all time. In 1999, they recruited Trucks’ nephew, guitarist Derek, into the lineup, beginning a highly creative new era. Derek pays tribute to his uncle, who committed suicide at his home in Florida in January.

certain we played “Statesboro Blues.” That was one of the first holy-shit moments for me as a musician. Butch was a rock drummer, but the melody was always there. He was always thinking of the rise and fall, the dynamic range. He was the heart in the engine, and Jaimoe [Johanson] was the mystery and color. The groove in “Whipping Post” and the shuffle in “Statesboro Blues” are quintessential Butch. As a kid, with any drummers who made the connection with my name, they’d be like, t hit me in st. louis, the first time i got “Man, nobody shuffles like Butch Trucks.” “In Memory onstage after finding out Butch had died. Our band of Elizabeth Reed” is another one. When the drummers has two drummers. I looked back at that posiplay that drum fill into the groove, you’re immediately in tion where he was that place, with just three w ith the A llman notes. Brothers Band. Then we The dynamics in the started playing “Statesgroup changed so much boro Blues.” Butch was a in the 15 years that I was major part of that sound, there. When I joined, in as much as Gregg’s voice. 1999, Dickey [Betts] was The way he played drums the in-charge leader. Then – it’s not here anymore. Dickey was out. A lot of My earliest memButch’s influence on me ories are of traveling was just the mindset he from Jacksonville, Florihad that Duane instilled da, to visit my uncle and in him. Butch would tell his family in Tallahasme about Duane turning see. It was a massive dearound to him onstage parture. My dad was a and saying, “If you give roofer; my mom worked me anything less than a in an elementary school. hundred percent, I will Butch’s house had these come back there and gold records and a drum beat your ass.” That’s alset. And anytime you saw ways been my MO with Butch – when he walked any band where I’ve been in a room, when he would leading the charge. RAMBLIN’ MEN Butch Trucks, Jaimoe and Duane Allman play – it was loud and inHe was as rambuncin 1969, the year the band’s first album was released your-face. tious as ever, his full His directness and Butch-blazing self to the brutal honesty are what end. I read an article yesallowed the Allman Brothers to maintain that integterday that was apparently the last interview he gave. I rity for so long. He was a Duane Allman purist. What read it thinking maybe there was some insight into why it was about then, when Duane was leading the band – it happened, what happened. He was talking about the that’s what it should be about now, every time you hit band he was playing with. There was a lot of looking forthe stage. ward. It didn’t seem like a note. That was the first music that was important to me His lasting legacy is how uncompromising he was – – listening to At Fillmore East with my dad and seeing the sense that we can make the best music that’s ever been the way it affected him. I remember him telling me stoplayed, by anyone, tonight. It’s a miraculous thing that the ries about going AWOL from military college in BarnesAllman Brothers had, and Butch was as big a part of it ville, Georgia, to go to the Fillmore shows, because Butch as anybody. I’ll never hear another shuffle and not think pulled up: “Let’s go, hop in.” I was nine or 10, playing in about his crazy ass. South Florida at this little dive bar, Tropics InternationAs told to David Fricke al. That was the first time I played with Butch. I’m almost



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Punk’s Blood Brothers How Canadian duo Japandroids survived a breakup and staked their claim as one of rock’s most exciting young bands BY DAV I D F R ICK E


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WILD HEARTS King (left) and Prowse in October

King has a “manic obsession,” says Prowse: “If a guitar doesn’t sound right, he will go home and play for 12 hours.” west icons like Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. He is more laid-back than King, with a thoughtful, measured speaking voice. Prowse says he was more “social” when the two met at the University of Victoria and started Japandroids in 2006 after a short stint with a female singer. “I was the one who would meet bands and say, ‘We should play with them,’ and book all the shows,” Prowse says. But, he adds, King “has a drive that far supersedes my own.” The guitarist oversees their artwork, including record covers, and “has that personality where if something doesn’t sound right with a guitar part, he will go home and play for 12 hours.” Prowse laughs. “My calming presence is a good balance to Brian’s manic obsession.”

It’s a sturdy unity. After two years of getting nowhere in Vancouver, King and Prowse decided to make a debut album, 2009’s Post-Nothing, then break up to preserve their friendship. But the LP was an indie sensation, and they started their first major tour – postponed after the first show when King suffered a perforated ulcer. For Celebration Rock alone, they played more than 200 shows, mostly with a skeleton crew: a tour manager and a sound man. But Near to the Wild Heart of Life is the first album Japandroids have made since King moved to Toronto in 2014, then started living part-time with his girlfriend in Mexico City. Japandroids eventually made the record in New Orleans, Montreal, Vancouver and Connecticut. Now, when they are not in the same room or van, Japandroids stay in touch via texting and Skype. “I almost don’t remember what it was like to see Dave regularly at a show or a bar in the same way as now,” King says as he mimics typing on a cellphone. “[But] we’ve played more shows than the Beatles ever played, in more countries.” King turns to Prowse and grins. “We’re doing OK.”

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inger-guitarist brian king and drummer David Prowse of the Canadian power-punk duo Japandroids turn to each other in confusion. They are lost for an answer to a simple question: When did the two friends – who met in college, formed the band more than a decade ago and have just made their third and best album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life – last have a serious argument? “Not recently,” King says after a long pause, standing at a bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. Prowse claims, “The big part of knowing each other this long is knowing how to push each other’s buttons” – but also, King adds, when you shouldn’t. “It only works if we get along,” he insists. “That trumps the little bullshit that could come between us. There’s too much to lose.” Near to the Wild Heart of Life – the follow-up to Japandroids’ 2012 breakout, Celebration Rock, which went Top 40 in Billboard – is the most commercially assured evidence of that bond. “North East South West” is a classic-rock gallop with glamgang vocals, and “Arc of Bar” – Japandroids’ longest-ever song – suggests mid-Sixties Bob Dylan leading New Order. King says that when he wrote the words, he first sang them to the tune of Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” “Most bands have boundaries, but these guys are pretty tight,” says producer Peter Katis, who mixed Japandroids’ new album. The record “is pretty austere,” Katis says. King played only one guitar on most songs. But there were up to “half a dozen tracks of that guitar” put through different amps. “That was the key, pushing forward in a way they were comfortable with.” King and Prowse, both 34, are actually a striking study in contrasts at the bar and also as they stroll through “Exhibitionism,” the Rolling Stones’ traveling show of studio and concert memorabilia, at a nearby gallery. King walks and talks with crisp, excited purpose, snapping cellphone photos of tour posters and vintage artwork as he recalls growing up in Nanaimo, a small town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. “It was very isolated, pre-Internet,” he says. “I was really taken with larger-than-life bands like the Stones and Guns N’ Roses.” At his Vancouver high school, Prowse was more interested in modern North-



’ v e a lways a n noy ed peo ple,” says Lena Dunham. “I was the girl in third grade where everybody was like, ‘This girl is so annoying – like, leave.’ ” But Dunham has done a whole lot more than freak out critics on the left and right for the past five years: In addition to her bestselling memoir and her smart feminist newsletter, Lenny Letter, HBO’s Girls, which begins its sixth and final season in February, has been consistently hilarious and innovative, even as a fair number of people could never stop confusing Dunham’s sometimes clueless character, Hannah Horvath, with the woman who created and portrays her. “People never gave us the benefit of the doubt that the show was actually a self-aware commentary on privileged white womanhood,” says Dunham, who has a collection of fiction out next year, and plans to direct movies. “When a guy plays an antihero, nobody’s like, ‘I think Bryan Cranston’s really promoting drug use.’ ” What do you make of the fact that some people are actually, somehow, blaming you for Hillary Clinton’s election loss? It’s amazing. I’m like, “Why don’t we check in with Russia, you guys?” I think it tends to come more from the right wing. No one is more studied in the art of the right wing planting a story and liberals eating each other alive over it than I am. Do people want me to go, “I don’t think I’m really good for this. I’m gonna bow out”? I wouldn’t see any use for celebrity if I wasn’t fighting rabidly for what I thought was right. I backed Hillary Clinton when a lot of people in my age group were on the Bernie train, so I was getting shit from the right for being a “libtard” – and getting shit from young people for supporting what they saw as a corporate candidate. On the flip side, your friend Taylor Swift took a lot of heat for not speaking up. Is that unfair? I just think everyone has to do it their way. When I was lesser known, I was like, “Who could not share their opinion?” Then I found out that when you talk about politics, people straight up tweet you the f loor plan of your house and say they’re coming to your house. You have to fucking watch it because people are nuts. Will you keep acting after Girls? I have mixed feelings about it. Obviously if the Coen brothers were like, “We’ve written this role for you,” or Andrea Arnold was like, “I want you to come play a complex mother in the North of England,” I’d say, “Of course.”

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Lena Dunham On the end of ‘Girls,’ getting blamed for Hillary Clinton’s loss, and her ‘whole other career as a rock-star housewife’ BY BR I A N H I AT T

But I have no interest in doing it for the sake of doing it. I really started by accident because I didn’t know who else could play this sort of specific archetype, and I’ve had an amazing time and amazing luck with it. My dad still laughs: “How the fuck did you win a Golden Globe for acting? You were cast as a bouncing ball in your school play and you wouldn’t stop waving at your mom and me.” So I don’t think that that’s really where my future lies. Maybe I’m retired. Your boyfriend, Jack Antonoff, is often making music in your Brooklyn apartment. What’s it like being close to that other kind of creativity? He’s in the back of my apartment right now recording with two artists. I have a whole other career as a rockstar housewife, making tea for musicians. I really love how private and emotional Jack’s work is, and how he’s super-public when he goes on tour or when he’s promoting something, and then he goes back into the hole for three years. That’s really appealing to me. He can be very secretive. If he’s working on something with Taylor, he’ll tell me I can’t hear it, which makes me crazy! How did you grapple with the challenge of making a series-finale episode? The ninth episode of the season is sort of the more traditional finale, and then the 10th is almost like a shortfilm epilogue. We did it a little bit of a different way. The show’s never been about that traditional connection, where it’s four best friends who just can’t get enough of each other. So to do a traditional everybody-gets-theirhappy-ending finale didn’t feel right, but at the same time we wanted people to have the satisfaction of closure. I think we found kind of a creative way to do that. We’ll see if other people feel the same way. What did you make of Adam Driver as Kylo Ren? He told me you’d never seen a Star Wars movie before. I had a lot of catching up to do because I didn’t know who anyone was or what they were doing. I was like, “What the fuck is a lightsaber?” But it’s really exciting to see your friends in an action movie, slaying people and doing supernatural things. It’s not an experience you get every day. And I love the fact that he’s not going to be known as [Girls character] Adam Sackler. If he has one role like that in his life, it’s going to be Kylo Ren. So I appreciate not being the person that gave him the role that’s going to, like, haunt him until his death, but I also thought he was awesome!

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‘Sneaky Pete’: Excellent Suburban Noir A grifter infiltrates a wealthy and highly dysfunctional family The wonderfully nasty Amazon thriller Sneaky Pete is a harsh look at family life through the eyes of a con man. Giovanni Ribisi plays Marius, a grifter who gets out of jail owing a AMERICAN GOTHIC Olyphant and Barrymore make a killer couple.


Playing a desperate housewife with a taste for flesh is the role she’s been waiting for BY ROB SH E F F I E L D


eet suburban zombie drew Barrymore – she’s just another sun-kissed California girl, except she’s got a nasty habit of feasting on human flesh. When we first see Barrymore in Santa Clarita Diet, the excellent new Netflix comedy, she’s selling real estate outside L.A., living the low-key minivan life with her husband, Timothy Olyphant, and SANTA CLARITA DIET NETFLIX

their teen daughter. Then one day, something weird happens – she starts puking toxic waste and gets an insatiable lust for the taste of dead people. At first, she just munches on the occasional foot, sweet-talking the local undertaker into giving her body parts. But soon, she transforms into a killing machine, making blood smoothies out of her victim’s internal organs. Before you know it, she’s complaining, “I’m almost finished with the guy in the freezer. It’s just thighs and giblets!” Santa Clarita Diet is a dark, modern take on the classic Bewitched template: Here’s a nice, normal blond mom with a spooky supernatural life she keeps as her little secret.

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Created by Victor Fresco (Better Off Ted), the show also has the suburban-dystopia vibe of Breaking Bad, except played for laughs. Barrymore soon recruits Olyphant into helping her murder, and he’s happy to assist, especially since Zombie Drew is also an insatiable sex inferno. All the neighborhood moms are jealous of her increased pep – when they ask how she does it, she smiles and says, “I’m just straight-up addicted to these smoothies,” taking a swig from her sippy cup full of human entrails. It’s a clever allusion to the desperate-housewife “Mother’s Little Helper” theme, right down to the way she has to cope with her sassy teenager, Liv Hewson. Like a lot of Netflix comedies, Santa Clarita needs a few episodes to get rolling, but it takes off as Barrymore starts hitting bloodthirsty heights, with great cameos from Nathan Fillion, Portia de Rossi and Patton Oswalt. Yet so much of it comes down to the uncrushable Drew Barrymore charm – like her fellow Gen X pinup girl Winona Ryder in Stranger Things, Drew gets her mojo back with a little help from the twilight zone. It’s her first high-profile performance in years, so it’s a treat to see her sink her teeth into something this meaty. Bon appétit.

Cranston and Ribisi supporting role – so the real pleasure is Margo Martindale as Marius’/Pete’s suspicious grandmother. As the matriarch of this awesomely screwed-up clan, she has to be one tough piece of work. Sneaky Pete hits home because it goes deep on the art of the long con – how a grifter sizes up the suckers, plays on their weak spots, wins their trust. But it turns out that being a con artist and being part of a family aren’t so difR.S. ferent after all.

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Drew Barrymore’s Brilliant Zombie Return

hundred grand to gangster Bryan Cranston (who cocreated the show). He recalls how his cellmate Pete used to tell stories about his rich grandparents in Connecticut – and decides to drop in on them posing as Pete, whom they haven’t seen in 20 years. It’s a bold scam – he plans to worm his way into the family fold, then take the money and run, except nothing goes as planned. Cranston has only a

Flashback 50th ANNIVERSARY

Interviewing Dylan Inside Rolling Stone’s half-century-long conversation with the most fascinating – and difficult – subject in rock


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Getting to Know You (1) Dylan recording Self Portrait in Ma 9. With Wenner at


It took a few more letters and a couple of near-misses, but by June 1969, Dylan was ready to talk. Over several hours in a Manhattan hotel room, Wenner asked Dylan about everything from his new, sweeter singing voice (“Stop smoking those cigarettes and you’ll be able to sing like Caruso,” Dylan explained) to The Basement Tapes, first revealed to the public in the pages of Rolling Stone in a June 1968 article by Wenner. He also got Dylan to address the subject that was on the world’s mind: why he’d disappeared in recent years. “Well, Jann, I’ll tell ya,” Dylan said. “I was on the road for almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things. . . . And I don’t want to live that way anymore.” For his epic two-part interview with Dylan in 1978, Jonathan Cott sat down with the songwriter for marathon sessions that took place all over: backstage at a Portland, Oregon, concert; a tour bus; a hotel; and a restaurant, where Cott and Dylan

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n june 3rd, 1968, eight months after the first issue of R ol l i n g S t o n e hit newsstands, editor and publisher Jann Wenner sat down at a typewriter and wrote Bob Dylan a letter. “I don’t mean to add to the number of people that pester you every day,” he wrote. “But we would like very much to include some direct coverage of your activities in our publication. You don’t have to tell us what kind of oatmeal you like in between meals, but it would be nice to let us and our readers know what you think about your music and what is happening in popular music today.” Wenner, 22, couldn’t have imagined he was kicking off a 50-year relationship between Dylan and Rolling Stone, one that would produce one revelatory interview after another. The nine major interviews represent an ongoing conversation with the most 1 important songwriter of the past century, as well as his primary forum for communicating with fans beyond his songs. (In 2006, they were collected in the book Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews.) Dylan’s connection to Rolling Stone predates the first issue. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph Gleason was one of the first critics to recognize the singer’s immense talent. “Genius makes its own rules,” Gleason wrote in 1964. “And Dylan is a genius, a singing conscience and moral referee as well as a preacher.” Three years later, when Gleason and Wenner started a new magazine, they named it largely in honor of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” At the time of Wenner’s letter, Dylan had been out of the public eye for three years, following a motorcycle accident in upstate New York. “Getting Bob to speak would be a big coup,” Wenner says. “And by this point, he’d seen Rolling Stone and had a sense it was a for-real thing and it was in his philosophical wheelhouse, something genuine that would appeal to him.”

shared a drunken meal. “Our discussion got a little bit . . . livenition.” Wenner ran the back-and-forth verbatim. “People loved ly,” Cott recalls. that part,” says Wenner. “I’m just there being the reader. I’m just The interview was timed to the release of Dylan’s film Renalworking on your behalf to put you in that room with this person.” do and Clara. Cott asked Dylan why he made himself so vulThey eventually got into a conversation about the themes on nerable by putting out a movie that starred his ex-wife, Sarah, Dylan’s new album Modern Times, which expresses a dark, almost alongside Joan Baez, another ex. “You must be vulnerable to terminal view of America. “We really don’t know much about the be sensitive to reality,” Dylan said. “And to me, being vulneragreat Judgment Day that’s coming,” Dylan said, “because we’ve got ble is just another way of saying that one has nothing more to nobody to come back and tell us about it. We can only assume cerlose. I don’t have anything but darkness tain things because of what we’ve been taught. . . . I think to lose. I’m way beyond that. . . . It has as we get older, we all come to that feeling, one way or an1 nothing to do with the breakup of my other. We’ve seen enough happening to know that things marriage. My marriage is over. I’m diare a certain way, and even if they’re changed, they’re still vorced. This film is a film.” going to be that certain way.” The first part of the interview ran as For the magazine’s next interview, in 2009, Wenner a cover story in January 1978. (It was called on renowned historian Douglas Brinkley, who Dylan’s ninth Rolling Stone cover; traveled to Paris. He found himself backstage watching there have been 19 in all.) Annie LeiboDylan shake hands with French President Nicolas Sarvitz shot the cover during a loose seskozy and his wife, Carla Bruni. “I can see why he’s the sion in her New York studio, capturing head of France,” said Dylan. “He’s genuine and warm and an iconic image of Dylan in shades. The extremely likable. I asked second part of the interview Sarkozy, ‘Do you think the ran in November ’78 – with whole global thing is over?’ a cover that found Dylan in a I knew they just had a big less-playful mood. It was shot G-20 meeting and they at the end of a long tour, and maybe were discussing instead of allowing a Rollthat. I didn’t think he’d ing Stone photographer tell me, but I asked him in, Dylan had a buddy snap anyway.” Brinkley asked some images in the bathDylan why he spent decroom of Madison Square ades on his so-called Garden. (A urinal is clearly Never Ending Tour. “You visible on the cover.) never heard about Oral When Kurt Loder sat Roberts and Billy Gradown with Dylan in 1984, ham being on some Never his songwriting was at Ending Preacher Tour,” 3 a very different place: Dylan said. “Does anyDylan’s born-again Chrisbody ever call Henry Ford 2 tian phase had come to an end, and he was trya Never Ending Car BuildVisions of Bob ing to find his place in the MTV age. Dylan was er? . . . What about Donald in an especially combative mood, giving sharp Trump? Does anybody say he has a Never EndThree of Dylan’s 19 responses on everything from his religious coning Quest to build buildings?” ROLLING STONE covers: version (“I’ve never said I’m born-again, that’s Dylan last spoke to Rolling Stone in (1) March 1974. (2) January just a media term”) to his anti-NASA lyrics 2012, around the release of his Tempest album. 1978, shot by Leibovitz. (“What’s the purpose of going to the moon?”). When Mikal Gilmore met up with Dylan in (3) November 2001. “All you can do is sort of report what he says,” Santa Monica, he was greeted by an odd surLoder says today. “You can’t parse and say, ‘You prise. “He wore kind of a stocking cap, and he know, well, but this isn’t true.’ ’Cause it may be true to him in had on this red-hair-colored Beatles wig under the cap,” Gilmore some way or another.” remembers. “I never asked about it, but it was clearly not his hair. But even as he sparred with the magazine’s interviewers, It amused me and sort of threw me from the start.” Dylan maintained a friendly relationship with Wenner. When Gilmore asked about Dylan’s tendency to sprinkle recent Dylan came to town over the years, Wenner would often visit songs with unattributed quotes from writers like Confederate him backstage. In November 1999, Dylan even called out to him poet Henry Timrod. It hit a sore point with Dylan. “All those evil from onstage, something he rarely does to anybody in the audimotherfuckers can rot in hell,” he said, referring to people critience. “There’s a lot of people from Rolling Stone here tonight,” cal of his process. “I’m working within my art form. It’s that simhe said. “After the show, they’re gonna come backstage and interple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are auview me, then I’m gonna interview them.” thoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better In 2007, Wenner caught up with Dylan in Amsterdam for an to you than I can. It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melinterview tied to Rolling Stone’s 40th anniversary. He found ody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make himself literally begging Dylan to take their conversation seeverything yours. We all do it.” riously. “You’re not being very helpful with this,” Wenner said. Every writer who interviewed Dylan got wildly different “What can I do to get you to take this seriously?” Dylan flipped things out of him, which was precisely Wenner’s aim. “Everyit around on him. “I’m taking it seriously,” he said. “Of course I body wants to bring something out of him that’s pertinent to am. You’re the one who’s here to be celebrated. Forty years . . . 40 their point of view about the guy,” he says. “And their points of ANDY GREENE years with a magazine that obviously now has intellectual recogview are as diverse as Bob himself.”

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RandomNotes U2’s Special Delivery The Edge performed U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” at the Women’s March in L.A. Five days earlier, Bono (pictured with wife Ali Hewson at Paris Fashion Week) also displayed his humanity by sending pizzas to fans in Dublin waiting all night for tickets to the Joshua Tree tour.

Monáe’s Moment

WINTER BREAK Phish played their first show of 2017 at a resort in Mexico; this summer, they’ll break a Madison Square Garden record by playing a 13-night stand at the arena.

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Janelle Monáe stepped out in L.A., where she’s on the awards-show circuit for her roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures. But she’s not giving up music: “There will be a new album. I don’t know when.”

TRUE BLOOD Johnny Depp revived one of his favorite characters – rock & roll pirate – for a charity gig in L.A. with Hollywood Vampires, which also feature Alice Cooper.

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Isbell Cranks the Volume Jason Isbell’s dark 2015 album, Something More Than Free, was one of the best alt-country LPs in years. But he wants to have more fun on the follow-up, which he’s been recording in Nashville with producer Dave Cobb (right). “The driving force was more of a rock & roll influence,” Isbell says. “You might shed some tears, but for once there’s a chance you might also dance a little.”

THE BEAT GOES ON Nic Collins, the 15-yearplayed with his group W You Kno


I may have to get a tutor,” says Nic. THE LIVING DEAD Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart celebrated the premiere of the new Grateful Dead documentary, Long Strange Trip, with a short set at Sundance.

PUCKING UP Justin Bieber took to the ice during a celebrity hockey game in L.A.

SELENA AND THE STARBOY Selena Gomez and new boyfriend the Weeknd checked out classic Renaissance art at Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia.

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THE END OF FACTS Donald Trump is proving that if you connect with America’s anger and paranoia, you can steamroll our most sacred institutions without ever having to tell the truth

By Matt Taibbi


he order floated down from the lunatic’s castle late on a Friday. No more visas of any kind from seven countries, Donald Trump decreed, and mayhem replaced a weekend. Thunderstruck customs officials scrambled to make sense of the surprise order; planes landed and innocent travelers were detained; the Internet exploded; protesters stormed airports everywhere; the acting attorney general refused to go along and was fired like a contestant on one of Trump’s shows; it was Keystone Kops meets Pinochet. And then there were the lies. If there is one thing the first few weeks of the Trump administration have proved, it’s that keeping track of what we used to call “objective fact” is now a fool’s errand. Did the visa ban affect green-card holders? On a case-by-case basis, the administration said. The following day, a senior official said the ban “doesn’t affect them.” Reporters then asked if that was different from what was said at first. The answer, “No,” constituted a seemingly impossible third response to a simple question. The Trump administration is breaking new metaphysical ground in the mechanics of untruth. Trump went on to blame the media for falsely reporting that the plan was a “Muslim ban,” when a ban on Muslims was one of his most explicit campaign promises. He misled about it being “similar” to Barack Obama’s 2011 policy regarding Iraqi visas (it wasn’t close). He lied about everything with regard to the visa story, except for one thing: its popularity. “A majority of Americans agree with the president,” chirped Sean Spicer, already a challenger to former Disney tour guide and Nixon flack Ron Ziegler for the title of most loathed White House spokesman ever. Because this was the Trump administration, most sensible people assumed Spicer’s line was a lie. But it wasn’t. De28 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

spite near-unanimous condemnation by the international community and massive demonstrations, polls showed that more Americans than not supported whatever it was Trump was doing with the borders. This gets to the heart of a chilling truth that much of educated America has yet to face about the Trump era. Amid all the howling about Trump’s deceptions, the far more upsetting story is the mandate behind them – not so much the death of truth in politics, but the irrelevance of it. Donald Trump is proving that if you connect with America’s anger and paranoia, you can get by quite easily without facts. Clearly, we’re in the midst of a masshysteria movement that approaches the McCarthy era, with the caveat that our version is utterly ridiculous in addition to being terrifying. Take the fable of the “3 to 5 million illegal voters” investigation, another of Trump’s early provocations. (Incidentally, there have already been enough baffling episodes in this administration to fill several history books; like a bad hallucinogenic experience, it feels like years have passed already, when it’s only been days.) Trump called for a “major investigation” into an apparent incidence of mass voter fraud by undocumented immigrants. This story began just after the election as a report peddled by Trump’s favorite conspiracy theorist and aneurysm-in-waiting, Alex Jones of Infowars. But after the inauguration, Trump explained to congressional leaders that he’d gotten additional proof from “the very famous golfer Bernhard Langer.” Trump, according to a New York Times report, said that Langer had told him that while he, Langer, had been turned away from the polls, two people who “did not look as if they should be able to vote” had been waved through. Trump then speculated to Congress that the two individuals might have come from Latin American countries. An alarmed Langer, who is a German citizen and can’t vote in America, quickly issued a statement clearing things up.

Langer himself never went to the polls. He’d heard the story from someone else, and he in turn told the story to a friend, who in turn told the story to Team Trump. If the Earth were the truth and the story a rocket, it was past the moon and screaming toward Mars by the time it reached Trump’s brain. In any case, Trump never spoke to Langer, the actual ineligible voter in the story, and Langer in turn never saw the two suspicious people, who in turn were almost certainly legal voters, if they even existed to begin with. All of this insanity ended up being relayed with a straight face to real members of Congress, who probably all soiled themselves at the thought that Washington was finally being run by someone who thinks just like their voters. Trump Week One saw a string of such gruesome stories, from an order greenlighting the construction of the Great Wall of Trump, to the open embrace of the word “torture,” a low to which even Stalin never sank. Trump even ordered his Department of Homeland Security to begin compiling a list of crimes committed by immigrants, which, as many noted, is a trick culled directly from the Nazi Institute for Research on the Jewish Question, which kept lists of crimes committed by Jews. If you’re rolling your eyes at the increasing number of Godwin’s Law offenses in the Trump story, that’s fine, but consider this: If Trump isn’t stealing ideas from the Nazis, and it’s just a coincidence that he shares so many of their policy instincts, that’s not much of a comfort either. But for all of the lunacies of Trump’s first week, the war on facts might have been the one that shook liberal America the most. The anti-truth campaign started with Spicer, a career GOP stooge who 18 months ago was denouncing Donald Trump for insulting John McCain. The ginger-faced Rhode Islander spent the first day of the Trump administration swimming in the world’s most ill-fitting suit – the fabric looked hacked from an airport couch with F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017

from the start. His movement isn’t about facts. All that matters to his followers is that blame stays fixed in the right direction.


garden shears – as he insisted that Trump’s anemic inauguration crowd had been the biggest ever. It was such a whopper that even the Trump administration had to cop to it, sort of. “Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts,” said White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway on Meet the Press the next morning, and the Trump presidency had its first laugh line. Commentators wondered aloud if Conway’s “Alternative Facts” routine had marked the beginning of a new Orwellian dystopia. Fears in this direction even rocked the publishing industry, where 1984 hit number one on Amazon, triggering a new printing practically overnight. Facts are the closest thing we have to a national religion. In America, where sextapers become royalty and monster trucks massively outdraw Shakespeare, even advertisers aren’t supposed to just lie. The Illustration by Victor Juhasz

truth is the last thing here that isn’t openly for sale. This is why so many people responded to Conway not as if she’d said something stupid – we’re used to that from our politicians – but more as though she’d said something irreligious. The Washington Post reported with alarm on this crumbling of the Church of the Fact. As a test, they showed a group of Americans aerial photos of the Trump and Obama inaugurations. An astounding 15 percent of Trump supporters identified the clearly emptier Trump inaugural photo as the one containing a bigger crowd. We’re now such a divided people that we literally see the world differently. A primary characteristic of any authoritarian situation, from East Germany to high school, is the total uselessness of facts and evidence as a defense against anything. Trump is in the White House because he and his people understood this

hile trump’s new staff spent the first few weeks tearing apar t presidentia l tradition like a troop of apes let loose in the Louvre, progressives spent their energy pushing news outlets like The New York Times and CNN to begin using words like “lie” in headlines, as if this were somehow going to be a game-changer. When the Times finally began doing just that in its coverage of President Trump (“Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers” was the paper’s proud January 23rd formulation), a parade of selfcongratulation ensued. The Times covered its own decision like it was news. Other outlets, from CNN to The Nation, began running their own headlines containing what was unironically described as the “l-bomb.” There’s nothing wrong with calling Trump and his minions liars. They are liars. But no Trump voter is going to pick up the Times and suddenly be struck now by the deceptiveness of Donald Trump. What the Trump voter will perceive instead is a whining bunch of “snowf lakes.” And he’ll think Trump’s neck-bloated chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is right on when he calls the media the “opposition party.” The whole situation recalls America’s first great post-factual tragedy, the O.J. Simpson trial. Twenty-two years ago, that sprawling blood-soaked epic of crime and narcissistic impunity perfectly foreshadowed the election of Donald Trump. Apart from the monumental scale of the error – we put O.J. in the White House this time, instead of just letting him loose on golf courses for a few more years – that was exactly the same story of myopic intellectuals clinging to facts and rules, while scoundrels steamrolled their way to victory riding narrative and celebrity. Like O.J.’s lawyers, Trump doesn’t stand and fight but continually moves the battle to a different arena, one where facts mean nothing and anger means everything. O.J.’s prosecutors never understood that they’d been swallowed up by a bigger game. Can we afford to make the same mistake now?

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From fighting climate change to funding Planned Parenthood, the public has never been so out of step with a president’s agenda By Tim Dickinson


h e e l e c t io n of d o n a l d Trump has created a misperception that America has lurched far to the right. But as a nation – and on a slate of issues – America is more progressive than ever. Take some glaring examples: Trump, whose election was funded by more than $30 million from the NRA, has vowed to curb background checks for gun purchases, even though more than 90 percent of Americans want background checks applied to all gun sales. In his first week, Trump targeted millions of undocumented Americans for “priority” deportation. But according to a national exit poll, 70 percent of voters want “illegal immigrants” to be granted legal status, with only 25 percent favoring deportation. With numbers like these, how did Trump ever get elected? His campaign strategy was to stake out multiple, and often conflicting, stances across dozens of issues, tempting voters of all political stripes to convince themselves that the version of Trump they found appealing was the authentic Trump. In fact, Jane C. Timm at NBC News cataloged 141 different Trump positions across 23 major campaign issues – an average of six positions on each – amounting to “the most contradictory and confusing platform in recent history.” The strategy worked; Trump won support from a quarter of voters who said they wanted policies more liberal than those of the Obama administration. As president, Trump has moved to the right. But national polls underscore that an agenda reflective of American priorities would look almost nothing like the policies now being crafted by the White House and Republican leaders in Congress. On the question of climate change, for example, Trump has unveiled a fossil-fuel-first energy plan, and the White House says it is “committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.” Americans strongly disagree with this approach. Seventyone percent want the U.S. to stick with the

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Paris Agreement to reduce global climate pollution, including 57 percent of Republicans. Fifty-five percent of the president’s own voters believe he should continue the climate-change policies of the Obama administration, and 73 percent want to maintain or increase government support for green energy. “There’s a lot of talk about this being the divided states of America,” says Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace. “But on some issues we’re not divided – a majority of people want the Earth’s climate to stay within that temperature range in which human life can continue.” On women’s health, Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans have vowed to fast-track legislation defunding Planned Parenthood. But 80 percent of Americans approve of Planned Parenthood receiving federal funds – including 65 percent of Republicans – when they are informed that tax dollars cannot be used to pay for abortion services. Vice President Mike Pence wants to relegate Roe v. Wade to “the ash heap of history,” but that’s at odds with the 70 percent of Americans who support a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. “One of the most heartening but somewhat perplexing things,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards says, “is the number of Trump voters who are deeply concerned now about losing access.” Trump and congressional Republicans have taken the first steps to repeal Obamacare, without presenting a plan for its replacement – a strategy opposed by 75 percent of Americans. Obamacare is now more popular than at any time since its passage. Nearly half of all Americans support the law as it stands, and only 16 percent support full repeal. Much of America’s discontent with the law, polls reveal, is that it is not generous enough. Nationwide, nearly 60 percent of Americans would favor replacing Obamacare with a federally funded national health plan. Despite campaigning as a champion of the working man, Trump tapped as his labor secretary the fast-food CEO Andrew

Puzder, a multimillionaire who opposed an Obama-era proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. A strong majority of Americans (60 percent) want to go much further; they support doubling the current minimum wage to $15 an hour. Trump’s pick for education secretary, the billionaire GOP donor Betsy DeVos, is one of the nation’s leading proponents of using vouchers to pull federal dollars out of public education and into private schools. But 57 percent of Americans, and even 46 percent of Republicans, oppose using federal vouchers for private-school tuition. In his confirmation hearing for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said he would not protect Americans who consume state-legal medical marijuana from federal harassment: “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” he said. Across the country, Americans have left the U.S. government behind on this issue; 75 percent favor legal medical marijuana, and 60 percent favor the full legalization of cannabis. More than 60 million Americans already live in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal under state law. The wide divergence of public opinion from the agenda of America’s GOP-led government highlights a dark reality: Republicans are only in command in Washington because our republic is undemocratic. Every Hillary Clinton supporter knows that Trump won in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by more than 2.8 million ballots. The undemocratic skew of the Senate is even more striking: Republicans now hold 52 seats in the majority – despite these senators having received 23 million fewer votes than the 48 Democrats who sit in the minority. These institutions privilege the votes of inland and rural voters above the populations of the coasts and America’s urban centers. The next page is a snapshot of what most Americans – including many GOP voters – support, in sharp contrast to the radical agenda of the Trump White House and Republicans in Congress. F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017


How Trump’s agenda is at odds with popular opinion – and his voters CLIMATE

What Americans believe: Significantly worried about global warming


Believe it will pose a serious personal threat in their lifetime



What Trump voters want: Require companies to reduce carbon emissions

Uphold or strengthen Obama climatechange policies






Trump’s position: Called to abandon the Paris Climate A eement and eliminate “the harmful and unnecessary policies” of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which cuts emissions and supports resiliency projects.


What Americans believe: Favor legaliza of recreation marijuana

How that’s changed: Favor legalization (1969)

Favor legalization (2005)







Trump’s position: “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a Senate hearing. “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”



What Americans believe:

What Trump voters want:

Want federally funded health insurance for all

Favor Obamacare as is

Keep or tweak protections for preexisting conditions

Keep or tweak subsidies to buy health insurance









Trump’s position: Signed an executive order on Day One, declaring, “It is the policy of my administration to seek the prompt repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”


What Americans believe: Favor universal background checks


What Trump voters want: avor universal kground checks

Favor passage of Senate bill expanding background checks (2013)


Trump’s position: Repeatedly vowed to roll back Obama’s executive expansion of background checks: “I will unsign that so fast.”






What Americans believe:

What Trump voters want:

Favor building a wall on the Mexico border

Favor building a wall on the Mexico border


Favor letting undocumented immigrants stay here legally




F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017



Favor letting undocument immigrants s here legally


Trump’s position: xecutive orders to build the o target millions of undocumented immigrants for deportation.


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Can the sharpest voice on TV win the war on Trump? By Brian Hiatt P HO TO GR A P H B Y M A R K SEL IGER 33 R ol l i n g S t o n e

John Oliver


n the wall facing john Oliver’s desk, on the eighth floor of an office building so far on the West Side of Manhattan it’s practically floating in the Hudson River, are 30 blue index cards. Each represents an episode of the 2017 season of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. And each and every one of them is blank. That’s one reason Oliver is already arriving at the office before 8:30 a.m. each day, though he has weeks until the February 12th kickoff of the show’s fourth season. But he and his staff also have a near-impossible task ahead of them: planning a season’s worth of television’s smartest, sanest show in the dumbest and craziest of times. H Oliver just wants to do his show, to continue using the extraordinary creative freedom granted by HBO to keep diving into what’s been aptly dubbed “investigative comedy,” which means devoting a huge chunk of every episode – or sometimes the entire half-hour – to lengthy, improbably hilarious, fact-stuffed explorations of arcane topics, from debt-collection laws to the racist history behind the disenfranchisement of U.S. territories like Puerto Rico. But there is the small matter of President Donald Trump, who is throwing off everyone’s plans, Oliver’s among them. Appropriately, a book currently sitting on his desk is titled A World in Disarray: “A little on the nose,” he says. In the face of a fact-challenged presidency, the work of the most thoroughly factchecked comedy show in the history of television seems sorely needed. Though he largely focused on other issues, Oliver did deliver some of the campaign’s most memorable critiques, observing in July that Trump has said “thousands of crazy things, each of which blunts the effect of the others. It’s the bed-of-nails principle: If you step on one nail, it hurts you; if you step on a thousand nails, no single one stands out, and you’re fine.” But again, Oliver is a reluctant combatant. “I hope we’ll be able to protect the majority of the show from the president,” he says, noting that the in-depth packages they’re preparing have little to do with Senior writer Bria n Hiatt wrote about Paris Jackson in January.

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Trump, and that, in general, he tries to go beyond “party politics.” “We’re trying to build foundations of incredibly complicated stories that we know are basically timeless.” That said, when we meet again two weeks later, this time just a few days after Trump’s inauguration, Oliver has conceded that the new president will likely dominate the first show, at least. Oliver is wearing jeans, Asics sneakers with black socks, and a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled up to reveal ferociously hairy forearms. He’s grown some facial scruff that somehow only emphasizes his acknowledged resemblance to Bart Simpson’s friend Milhouse. “It’s like getting some control back in your life, or wrestling back control of your face,” he says, pondering the beard-growing habits of off-duty TV guys. “You just feel like a kind of shaved gibbon all the time.” Oliver is effortlessly, casually funny in conversation, like a guitarist running scales. At one point, he launches into a miniskit about a Rolling Stone writer fighting Trump-induced malaise while interviewing a band – Imagine Dragons, he specifies. “What’s the point, then, guys?” he moans, playing the part. “What’s the point? What’s it like fiddling while Rome burns?”

How was your mood over the holidays? Oh, pretty bad. We had one show to do after the election. That was the one where you did the nowfamous “Fuck 2016” segment, which ended with you blowing up a giant 2016 sign set up in an empty stadium? We’d already planned the demolition, because it had already been a really bad year in many ways. It had been a fucking awful election campaign, humanity at its worst. And Prince died, and everything else. It was supposed to be a separate story after whatever we did at the top of the show, but it turned out to have direct connective tissue, so we did one story for 30 minutes, and then blew it up and walked away. The morning of Election Day, we went through all the safety stuff, and the guy had said, “Hey, you’re standing, like, in the blast radius.” Like, “This wave is gonna come through you, through your ribs, and it’s gonna move your heart.” And I’m a natural coward, with all the self-preservation skills of a coward, which is flee and flinch. But you looked stoic as hell in the final clip. We did the actual explosion the day after the election. I was so dead inside emotionally that I didn’t f linch – because I didn’t really care [laughs]. “Hmm, maybe a piece of something smashes into me and kills me. Would that be the worst thing?” I mean, he’d been elected less than 12 hours ago, so you’d think, “Yeah, I’d like to blow something up and see if I feel anything.” So it wasn’t bravado, it was total nihilism. Right after Brexit, you stated on air that this could happen in America. And you were visibly upset about Brexit itself. Yeah. I was furious. So I was not that surprised. At the moment when those first election returns came in, it was like muscle memory of watching the Brexit results all night thinking, “I know how this story ends. I think I know where we end up.” Way before this, you had mentioned seeing xenophobia in small-town England – you said people were ranting about Bulgarians. That’s why calling a referendum was such a myopic decision. That was an incredibly reckless, arrogant, self-serving move, to call a referendum and then not to energetically campaign to find a way to avoid what you’ve just set in motion. Not to have any sense of the depth of either xenophobia or resentment for European bureaucracy. It was a terrible idea from the get-go, as is proved by the fact that [David Cameron] is not prime minister anymore. Was it especially frustrating after you looked into the camera and begged the U.K. voters not to do it? I had my producers and researchers trying to find any argument to the contrary,

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INVESTIGATIVE COMEDIAN (1) Oliver hosting Last Week Tonight. (2) With Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. “I’m happy to be in his shadow,” Oliver says of his mentor. (3) As a young comedian (center) with the Cambridge Footlights in 1998.

to work against my prejudice of going into this thinking, “This is a terrible fucking idea.” And the researchers – who are incredibly nuanced in their thinking; very rarely does anything come back in black and white from them – returned saying, “There’s really nothing there. This is jumping off a cliff blind.” It was clear it would be a catastrophic decision for Britain and anyone in its immediate vicinity. To have that knowledge, and then to watch six hours of electoral returns come in through the night, just watching your country set fire to itself – it was pretty bad. What did that vote reveal for you? It’s hard to unpack the general shift toward the right in America and in certain parts of the world. The moment in that pathetic Brexit campaign that seemed to resonate most afterward was [conservative member of Parliament] Michael Gove saying in an interview, “People in this country have had enough of experts.” And that turned out to echo throughout the year, especially in the U.S. You can understand, right? Being lectured is annoying, when you’re a kid and throughout your life. But it turned out there was less collective investment in facts than people thought. Did you share the general shudder when Kellyanne Conway introduced the idea of “alternative facts”? It’s just a framing device, an earcatching phrase, but it’s nothing new. The content of what she’s wrapping a bow on is

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Normally, you would think, ‘I’m not going to get deported.’ But believe me, that’s something wrapped around my head.

something that everyone has been bearing witness to. We’ve had 18 months of feelings over facts. The only thing that’s remotely new about it is the location that it’s coming from. Is interviewing her essentially pointless? In general, it’s very dangerous to keep the old campaign architecture around with this presidency, to have an eightperson panel on CNN debating whether or not he said something. “Did he or did he not do this thing we watched him do?” There’s actually serious harm in that discussion. And, yeah. I really don’t see the point of talking to Kellyanne Conway because her language jujitsu is so strong. You know she can look you in the eyes and tell you the opposite of what you just saw happen, and she will be more confident in her answer than you are in your question. Th e W hite Ho u se p re ss c o r ps s e e m e d stunned by “alternative facts,” and by Sean Spicer’s haranguing them with falsities. That’s absurd. There’s nothing to be stunned about. Trump and everyone around him have been consistent to a fault in their behavior. There’s this sense that, well, D.C. is the dominant gene, and anyone who goes there will have to kowtow to how things are done there. But you’re dealing with a human wrecking ball. Is it going to be harder or easier to do a current-events-based comedy show in what appear to be seriously dark times? Yeah, um . . . harder? Certainly harder than I think people might imagine. How so? The main thing I tend to hear from people, in a well-meaning way, is, “Oh, wow! Your show’s set,” and, like, “You’re gonna be fine for the next four years.” But whenever these . . . I was gonna say these kind of administrations, but this may be a different level. But just for comedy alone, it can be more difficult because there is so much low-hanging fruit. Especially with someone like him. The old W. Bush days were not halcyon days for comedy in lots of regards, unless people really fought to find some more substance in what was going on. If you’re just making fun of personalities and sound bites, then you’re just attacking the window dressing, and there’s only shallow satisfaction in that. That is a philosophy of comedy that Jon Stewart put forth to everyone on “The Daily Show,” right? |

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John Oliver It’s what I liked most about The Daily Show – that Jon would really try and reach beyond just the fun sound bites. You could absolutely have fun with them, but that was the dessert. Those are the things that you could use to get people to listen to the main thrust of what you’re saying. You joked on the show that you fear you’ll always be in Jon’s shadow. I don’t think that’s a fear, and I don’t even have a problem with it. I’m happy to be in his shadow. I think that is only appropriate. Jon has managed to be relatively quiet lately, other than popping up with Stephen Colbert. Yeah. We’ll see how long that goes on for. You’ve gotta be able to do a year off. After you’ve worked at the pace he has, you just physically have to be able to do a year. I mean, he’s working on things. So he’s publicly quiet, but he’s not privately quiet. He’s using his brain and working on stuff right now. Do you have any similar ambitions of directing movies, writing movies . . . No! [Laughs] This is so all-consuming. Not only can I only do this, I only really see this, ’cause I can’t really think that far ahead. I can only think a few weeks at a time, just because there’s always pretty big calamities ahead that we need to avoid. So when you have the president of the United States, in his inaugural address, echoing a passage from a speech that the Batman villain Bane delivered in “The Dark Knight Rises” . . . Yeah, that would be the low-hanging fruit. Those are kind of the responses that Twitter can give you. The easiest jokes have kind of been told. The carcass will have been picked pretty clean. So we’ve gotta do something else. What were your overall thoughts on the inaugural speech? The American carnage? Again, I don’t know what people were really expecting. But there was definitely something jarring about a speech that negative, and that clunky, considering it’s an inauguration speech. You know, the kind of speeches that are sometimes carved in marble on the side of a wall? I’m hoping that some marble-carver is not chiseling out “American carnage.” My favorite part was the “and the crime and the gangs and the drugs” bit. It had a nice cadence to it. That’s right, yeah. He’s got bars [laughs]. There’s this endless debate over whether the use of his Twitter account is strategic or whether they’re tantrums. Where do you fall? Is Trump strategic, or is he sophisticated enough to know the power of the kind of linguistic hand grenade that he has become? Because even if he isn’t, it’s a classic

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magician’s misdirection trick, isn’t it? Is he sophisticated enough to understand the power to distract people from what you’re doing with ridiculous behavior? And the party he nominally belongs to is definitely sophisticated enough to know that. They could get a lot of shit done while people are gasping over the things that Trump has said. You could do hard legislation in the shadows, because if a magician comes onstage and releases a chimpanzee into the room who starts throwing feces at people, it’s going to be pretty easy for him to make a couple of moves and end up with a woman sawed in half [laughs]. They could get an incredible amount done while people are distracted by just the volume of nonsense. Your “Make Donald Drumpf Again” segment, complete with hats, was great at

It’s a magician’s misdirection trick, isn’t it? You can get a lot done while people gasp over what Trump says. first, but it seemed to get out of control. I would almost compare it to when a cool band has a hit song that becomes way too big. That is exactly how it felt. That got out of hand. We did that the night of the Oscars, right? So that was not supposed to be that big of a deal, because of the Oscars. And not just the Oscars, the Chris Rock Oscars. Good Oscars, right? We were not doing that with the sense that it would become bigger than our show normally is. And, yeah, the prevalence of it, after the fact, became a bit dismaying. It kind of slightly ruins the memory. But the idea of the Drumpf thing, I think, is really funny outside of what it became – to try and separate the brand from the man. And my favorite part of it was the link back to the attack on Jon Stewart, when Trump thought it was somehow discrediting to him to reveal that his original last name was Leibowitz. Yeah, exactly, and I’m really proud of that.

Which was blatantly anti-Semitic, by the way. Oh, yeah! There’s only one thing that is, and it’s anti-Semitic [laughs]. If it’s not anti-Semitism, I don’t know what it is. Yeah, I’m really proud of the way that whole thing linked together. It was supposed to be just a joke, like everything we do, not a stick to hit people with. It was supposed to be a much more nuanced, argumentative piece than the reductive end that we put on it. So just to see people using it as a shorthand was pretty dispiriting in the end. And there are always the people who are still doing the Drumpf thing two months later, and you’re just begging them to stop. Yeah, of course. That joke became old for us very quickly. There’s a reason we didn’t use it again. It really is the song I skip past. It’s “Creep.” It’s a good song, Thom Yorke! It was a good song when he wrote it. Well, at least you don’t have to go onstage and have people demanding you do “Drumpf” for them. “Do it! You are going to do it, right? Do it. Do it! Sure, you can encore with it, but you’re fucking doing it, right? And don’t do a slow version.” It’s OK, now you’re the “Fuck 2016” guy. [Laughs] That’s right. I’ll just bury it with something else. That’s the key thing – you don’t want to stop, in a way, because you don’t want the last thing you do to define you. It’s just that we’re not supposed to be that popular. Our show is not supposed to be [laughs] that relevant. You’ve made it clear you’re similarly irritated with the meme “John Oliver eviscerates; John Oliver demolishes . . .” whatever subject you’re addressing. Of course. But that has nothing to do with us. Our purpose was never to eviscerate or disembowel. If real crisis starts to break out – war, mass deportations – won’t the show have to change, and move away from some of the less immediately topical long-form segments? It’s a bit challenging, right? You have to look at The Daily Show during the most ferocious parts of the Iraq War. I don’t know if the show changes, or the tone might change. I don’t know. I’m cognizant of that, though, as we’re going into this year. Does this show need to change at all? Assuming you are not, yourself, singled out and deported, that is. Again, normally, you would think, “I’m probably not going to get deported, presidents have big jobs, they’re not that petty.” You are, in fact, a United States citizen now, though? No. No, I’m on the green card. Oh. So, believe me, that is something that is wrapped around my head.

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What an insane thing to have to contemplate. It’s amazing, yeah, and, again, normally you could curtail the paranoid part of your brain with logic. And you can’t do that with the same ferocity because that logical part of your brain now tells you the chance is nonzero. On the other hand, the greatest episode of all time . . . [Laughs] But it’s not in the studio, it’s from JFK on my cellphone. They did want to deport John Lennon. [Looking faintly alarmed] They did? I believe there was the pretext of an old drug bust. Yeah. They had something on him! They got nothing on me. Nothing! [Laughs] I have a week and a half now to basically go through my office and apartment [laughs] and f lush everything. We’ll see. There’s a chance someone rappels down and kicks in the window and grabs me. That’s not usually how immigration enforcement works, but he doesn’t play by the same rules. And Trump’s verbally Bane-esque – why not use the fun side of Bane as well, which is like crashlanding out of planes? That requires a certain fitness level. He’s a 70-year-old man, but he said he feels 39. He couldn’t even say, “I feel 40.” Hold on – I am 39, and I feel 70! I sort of feel that if, say, “Saturday Night Live” got canceled right now, it would signal a national emergency. It would not! Well, Trump was kind of suggesting that he’d like it gone. He can’t do that. I think market forces would protect Saturday Night Live in particular. I think it must be weird for them to know that he is probably watching, in part because he hosted that fucking show. I don’t think we are really on his radar. You probably go well beyond his attention span. That’s true. SNL is nice and punchy. The only thing keeping you in this country is the sheer complexity of your show. [Laughs] That’s true. We don’t have Miley Cyrus singing twice just to break it up. Deportation aside, do you have apocalyptic fears right now? Most of the time you can be confident that it’s not gonna happen. Not with this president. We’ll see if we’re dancing on a pile of flaming rubble at any point in the future.

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Your wife gave birth to your first child in 2015 – how has being a dad changed you? Even when something like Brexit happened, I guess there was an extra level of sadness attached to that. Because when he was born, I thought, “He’s really lucky. ’Cause he can have a British passport, which is a European passport as well, he can live and work anywhere in Europe. He has that freedom of movement. Like, what a massive privilege to give to someone. And he can live in America, too. And as an immigrant, I know how difficult it is to come to this country, even with all the support of working on a TV show. It’s not easy to navigate the American immigration system, or any immigration system. And, so, I guess what made me extra-sad about that was I could feel his horizons contract and he wasn’t six months old yet. And that just seemed heartbreaking.

AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK Oliver with his wife, Kate Norley. They welcomed their first child in 2015.

And I guess I was lucky in that I haven’t had to explain to him what this election was. I skipped all that because he’s less a human being now than he is a highmaintenance houseplant. So there is not the complexity of having to frame it in a way that he understands, especially if Trump winning runs counter to some of the things you want to teach kids. That, I imagine, was very difficult for people. I’m quite glad I didn’t have to deal with that, on top of everything else. When you got married, it seemed like you were starting to learn how to not devote 100 percent of your being to work. Now you have something else pulling you away. How is that working for you? I’ve been, like, painfully, slowly, trying to introduce the components of being a fully functional human being. It’s really hard. Yeah. I get the sense that the healthy work/ life balance is something that is pretty elu-

sive, if it’s existent at all. I don’t know. It’s really – it’s really tough. Did parenthood crack you open emotionally, as it does for many people? Definitely. Definitely. Definitely – and I’m British. So you’re cracking a pretty dormant volcano [laughs]. He had a pretty difficult time, and it was not the easiest pregnancy as well. It was a level of trauma throughout his gestation and birth, and in the aftermath. So, yeah, it did feel weird doing a comedy show during some of that. And you probably feel things more keenly. I guess I’ve generally done that through other people. How did that manifest itself? [Somberly] I think that’s why I found Trump’s treatment of Khizr Khan and his wife [after the Democratic National Convention] – the parents of a soldier who was killed – I found that so heinous. That’s probably through my [Army veteran] wife, right? So that’s having some skin in the game with the military, or knowing the military through my wife. I found that so appalling that it was the only time last year I couldn’t think of a joke. And we went around and around and around on finding a joke to get out of that segment, because it was going to be the last part of that story. We could never come out with a joke that didn’t feel too glib. So we ended up just saying something that sounded like a joke but wasn’t. And that feels like a failure, to be honest, because I think it’s our job to put jokes on things. I think I was too personally offended by it. But that’s a failure. I don’t think that’s an excuse. I think that’s not doing your job properly. You should probably resign. Well, it definitely kind of sticks in my throat. We did come up with loads of jokes, just nothing that I felt like I could say. It’s hard for anyone to work in the face of something like a difficult pregnancy – doing comedy must be even harder. I think what happened with me is that I would – I guess this is from the ninja skills of repression that British people have – that I would flick the switch: OK, this. Now this. Now this. And now you can compartmentalize everything. And then, once your baby is born, you fall in love with it and realize, ah, that probably doesn’t fucking work anymore. Like that switch is broken [laughs]. And that’s a big thing – a big thing with something that has been one of the foundational ways that you got through life. That is a huge thing to lose. I’m going to have to work out how to deal with that. Is it possible that having your son in your life might make for better work somehow? I fucking hope so. Otherwise, I’m going to be really angry with him – it’s all his [Cont. on 56] fault! [Laughs] |

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Syrup, $300,000 cars and ‘magicianal’ rhymes: Inside the wild world of Migos, the rap trio fans think are better than the Beatles



r i v e dow n a n unmarked alley on Atlanta’s northwest side. See the thrift shop on your right and you’ll know you’re headed in the right direction; reach the dog boarder and you’ve gone too far. Approach the chain-link gate guarding a squat building with surveillance cameras all over its windowless facade: This is Quality Control studios, where million-dollar hits get made. As the gate slides open, follow the McLaren 650S Spider currently rolling into the parking lot, white paint aglow in the dusk. Quavo – 25, one-third of the hip-hop phenomenon Migos – is be-


POWER TRIO Offset, Takeoff and Quavo (from left) in Atlanta in January

MIGOS hind the carbon-fiber steering wheel with his sneakers off “because you gotta respect the suede,” he explains. His passenger is a young woman named Destiny, a nursing student who took a semester off to pursue modeling. Quavo told Destiny to remove her stilettos too, and when the Spider’s wing doors swivel upward, she pulls her shoes back on, delicately. Quavo is Migos’ de facto frontman, a onetime high school quarterback used to being the center of attention. As he relaces his Jordans, a lateJanuary drizzle hits his dreadlocks. “Raindrops keep falling on my head!” he sings, flashing a huge smile. Quavo’s got many reasons to be happy. There’s the Spider – a $300,000 car, give or take some options, and a splurge so recent it’s still got temporary plates. There’s Migos’ hit single “Bad and Boujee,” which rose, the previous week, to Number One on the charts and will return to that spot in a few days, certifying the trio as newschool hip-hop giants. Its ultraminimal hook – “raindrop/drop-top” – has gone viral and then some, getting riffed on everywhere from Twitter memes to placards at the nationwide Women’s March. If that weren’t enough good news, there’s the Falcons-Packers game, on in the studio lobby. “Ohhh, shit,” says Quavo, seeing his hometown football team well on the way to a 44-21 win. “Atlanta piped up!” In Studio B, Quavo’s cousin and fellow Migos MC Offset, 25, is in a swivel chair wearing a $1,000 Vetements hoodie. Beside him is Takeoff, the youngest Migos member, at 22, and Quavo’s nephew. “Weak-ass...Jeezy and Ludacris played the game,” says Offset, scowling at his phone. Quavo looks over. “They had them do the halftime show?” he asks. Offset nods. “Why they did that?” Quavo cries out. “Shoulda had us doing ‘Bad and Boujee’! We need to do that song at the Super Bowl!” Migos have been playing “Bad and Boujee” lots of places lately. A month ago, they played it on tour in Lagos, Nigeria, for a massive, hyped-up crowd. Last week, they were in L.A., where they played it on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, then again at a starpacked party celebrating the imminent release of their excellent new album, Culture. Last night, Migos played it at a sold-out event in Washington, D.C., the day after Trump’s swearing-in. “The inauguration was weak,” Quavo says, referring to the relatively sparse turnout. “It wasn’t as thick as the last house party, you dig? If it’s some buffoonery, some laugh shit, people ain’t pulling up. Trump’s laughable.” During the primaries, Quavo recorded a lyric in praise of his preferred candidate. It went something like, “Jumpjump, I don’t fuck with Donald Trump/I Contributing editor Jonah Weiner wrote about Run the Jewels in January. 40 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

feel the Bern, feel the Bern – Bernie Sanders!” Quavo explains his support: “Bernie was in the trenches back in the day, really in the streets.” Before the song came out, though, Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination and Quavo, disappointed, scrapped the line. Migos are not a political act – not in any explicit sense. “Bad and Boujee” is a hard-edged track about boning groupies and “cooking up dope with a Uzi.” As pop smashes go, it’s a remarkably dark song with few concessions to mainstream tastes: no candied melodies, no silky guest hooks. “We did it the trap way, not the pop way,” says Offset. Takeoff chimes in: “That’s what got us here.” Migos’ first regional hit, 2013’s “Bando,” was about turning an abandoned house into a drugdealing hovel. Their national breakthrough, “Versace,” arrived later that year, an ode to, well, wearing lots of Versace. Drake hopped on a remix, aping Migos’ distinctive triplet-stuffed cadences. Kanye became a fan and copied their flow too. Fans began calling Migos “better than the Beatles” – a prankish, hyperbolic meme that spoke, nonetheless, to the trio’s influence. A few weeks ago, Donald Glover made a point while accepting a Golden Globe for his FX series, Atlanta, on which Migos guest-starred, to praise them. He later called them “the Beatles of this generation” – and said that “there’s no better song to have sex to” than “Bad and Boujee.” Despite the rambunctious energ y of their music – buoyant Auto-Tuned warbling, intricate syncopations – Migos take pride in their work ethic, and so right now, with the biggest hit of their careers under their belts, they aren’t k ick ing back. They’re about to hammer out a new song. A tall guy named Durel sits at the mixing board. He plays various roles in Migos’ camp, including DJ, beatmaker, engineer and occasional snack gofer: “Yo, Durel – come here with the Lunchables!” Quavo commands at one point. Behind Durel, fast food and weed crumbs litter a console table. (Quavo says he smokes as much as half an ounce a day.) Also on the console is a cardboard box marked this end up – gl ass – fr agile – promethazine-c. Inside is a big bottle of codeine cough syrup, which some members of the crew have poured into Styrofoam McDonald’s cups, creating a woozy

cocktail with Mountain Dew Mango Heat and Peach Crush soda mixers. Their friend and collaborator Tray1 is sitting beside Takeoff, wearing floralprint jeans. On the floor in front of them, a Springfield Armory XD handgun lies askew on the carpet. It’s a plastic pistol, fashioned from black and tan polymers; marketing materials call it a favorite among concealed-carry weapons, which are legal in Georgia. When I ask Takeoff about it, he imitates the sound of gunfire. “That right there? That’s called brrrupp!” He grins. “Look around. You wonder where security at? It’s right here” – he points to Tray1, then waves a hand across the room. “It’s my brothers. My brothers are my security. You gotta stay on your P’s and Q’s. When you popping so hard, got these blessings coming down, you got the devil tryin’ to get at you. You gotta stay focused—” “—or you could just beat a nigga ass on siiight,” Quavo interjects, half-singing. “Shoot a nigga ass on siiight.” He delivers these threats playfully, but trouble has followed Migos even as their stars have risen. In March 2014, in a van on I-95 in Miami, they exchanged gunfire with unidentified assailants in another vehicle. Three months later, an innocent bystander named Paris Brown was killed in Atlanta by a gunman who intended to harm Migos, according to authorities; the suspected shooter later killed himself in a standoff with police. In April 2015, cops arrested the trio at Georgia Southern University, where they were booked to perform, on gun and drug charges. Quavo and Takeoff made bail and took pleas, but Offset is a convicted felon, his record dotted with arrests, so he spent eight months in prison. He read the biblical story of Solomon for solace: “He was a king that had everything, and he lost it all but still had faith,” Offset says. “So God blessed him with 10 times more. When I was in jail, like Solomon, I didn’t understand why I was going through what I was going through. I was on the right path. Wasn’t riding dirty. Then I got trapped in this hole. So I reached to the Word.” “Pee” Thomas, the co-founder of Migos’ label with Kevin “Coach K” Lee, recalls his frustration: “I’m like, ‘Why would you give cops the opportunity to arrest you when you know you in they crosshairs?


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Above: Migos performing in Miami, 2016. Right: Quavo (left) in a scene from Atlanta. Of “Bad and Boujee,” series creator and star Donald Glover said, “There’s no better song to have sex to.”

When you’re young, black and successful, cops don’t like that. Migos make $75,000, $100,000 in a single night. Salute to what cops do, but it takes them maybe a year to make that much.” As for enemies on the other side of the law, he adds, “If you don’t have haters, you ain’t doing it. But I say just focus on getting money in they face – that’s how you kill haters.” He adds, of Migos, “They’re their own biggest challenge. They can make hot records in they sleep. What they need to do is avoid the mistakes they made in the past.” In Studio B, for a moment, the smile leaves Quavo’s face. “You gotta learn to walk away,” he says. “There’s no room for fuck-ups now.”


igos keep “a few different spots” in and around Atlanta, says Quavo, but the three are used to sticking close together. They spent much of their childhood in the same small house, raised in the northern Atlanta suburbs of Gwinnett County by Quavo’s mother. “She F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017

was the father figure,” says Offset. “She knew how to raise you as a man, tell you how niggas is. ‘Homes right there is this.’ ‘This nigga right there is this – watch out.’ ” They all call her Mama and love her dearly. “She had a house full of niggas playing games, shoes off, eating all the food, and it’s hard times – but she never complained,” says Quavo. Takeoff loved professional wrestling as a kid, and the three transformed a backyard trampoline into a makeshift ring. Quavo was alone in his love for “the National Geographic Channel,” Offset recalls. “I used to cuss this nigga ass out ’cause he’d come into the room at 10:00 and wanted to watch the whales and the motherfucking ocean.” Offset and Quavo played football at Berkmar High School; the latter earned a starting quarterback gig, but Offset, a wide receiver, had a self-sabotaging temper. “I got kicked out of all Gwinnett schools ’cause I got in a fight, and I had to go to military school,” he says. When he returned, he got into a spat with the coach and quit the team in a rage. “I was tripping, going in the streets, doing dumb lit-

tle ignorant shit,” he says. “That was my wild stage.” All three were music fans – Tupac, Biggie, Cash Money, T.I., Goodie Mob, old soul and funk records they discovered on vinyl at an auntie’s house. As an adolescent, Takeoff downloaded beats from SoundClick and made demos while Quavo and Offset were off playing sports; at night, they united, fleshing out tracks. That wasn’t all they were up to. In December 2011, Quavo and Offset were arrested as part of a major gang sweep alongside alleged members of the Gangster Disciples crew. (Quavo says the arrest was “just for show” and the judge set them free.) “We cliqued together, called ourselves Migos, started terrorizing, got in trouble,” Quavo says. There was burglary, making money “in the streets” – which they describe as a means to an end. “We had to got-damn find some motherfucking money,” says Offset. “Doing this music took dough.” He explains that, in addition to recording gear and DJ mixtape-hosting fees, there were jewelry and clothes to buy: “You gotta f lex. You gotta look good, bro. Especially coming from the outskirts and wanting to take over the whole Atlanta.” Their hyped-up tracks caught the ear of Atlanta legend Gucci Mane, who helped introduce Migos to Pee and Coach K. “The music was crazy,” Pee recalls, “but what made me really wanna go hard for them is that they packed all their clothes and moved into the studio – literally lived there, sleeping on reclining chairs and making music all day.” Their styles are complementary but distinct. Quavo is the most charismatic member. Takeoff is the most rhythmically nimble. Offset is the most haunted, hinting glancingly at depression with curveball, downbeat lines (“I don’t plan on going outside today”) that undercut his brags. He came up with the spare “raindrop/drop-top” hook, trying to expel demons he doesn’t specify: “I had some little situations going on with life, family stuff going down, so I went downstairs to record. Sometimes that’s the best time to get music off – you might be mad, make some crazy shit.” “Bad and Boujee” was the crazy shit that resulted. The track has put Migos at the forefront of a new wave of Atlanta hip-hop talent that includes friends Lil Yachty and Young Thug. All are wildly different MCs, illustrating the “diversity” that Quavo says is one of the things he most loves about Atlanta. And so I’m surprised by Migos’ reaction when I mention iLoveMakonnen, the local MC who just came out as gay on Twitter. “Damn, Makonnen!” Quavo bellows after an awkward interlude. I mention support I saw online [Cont. on 57] |

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HISTS VS. ISIS On the front lines of Syria with the young American radicals fighting the Islamic State BY SETH HARP

CALL OF DUTY Brace Belden before a battle in November

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n t he mor n i ng of his first battle, Brace Belden was underdressed for the cold and shaky from a bout of traveler’s diarrhea. His Kurdish militia unit was camped out on the front line with ISIS, 30 miles from Raqqa, in Syria. Fighters stood around campfires of gas-soaked trash, boiling water for tea, their only comfort besides tobacco. “I’ve never been so dirty in my life,” Belden recalls. When the time came to roll out, he loaded a clip into his Kalashnikov and climbed into a makeshift battlewagon, a patchwork of tank and truck parts armored with scrap metal and poured concrete. Belden took a selfie inside its rusty cabin and posted it online with the caption “Wow this freakin taxi stinks.” The rest of the militia piled into an assortment of minivans, garbage trucks and bulldozers, and rode south into territory ISIS had held for more than three years. Belden was manning a swivel-mounted machine gun, the parched landscape barely visible through the rising dust, when he spotted a car packed with explosives revving across the desert toward the Kurdish column. Before he could shoot, an American fighter jet lacerated the sky and an explosion erupted where the car had been, shaking the earth for miles around. It was November 6th, 2016. The Kurdish militia known as the YPG – a Kurmanji acronym for People’s Protection Units – had commenced a major offensive to liberate the city that serves as the global headquarters for ISIS. The YPG was backed by U.S. air power and fighting alongside a coalition of Arab and Assyrian militias. Also within their ranks, though scantly reported, was a group of about 75 hardcore leftists, anarchists and communists from Europe and America, Belden among them, fighting to defend a socialist enclave roughly the size of Massachusetts. Seth Harp wrote about an Iraq War cover-up in September. 44 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Belden, who is 27, started tweeting photos of the front shortly after arriving in Syria in October. The first widely shared image showed him crouched in his YPG uniform, wearing thick Buddy Holly glasses, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, a stray puppy in one hand and a sniper rifle in the other. “To misquote Celine,” the post read, “when you’re in, you’re in.” He has since amassed 19,000 followers under the handle PissPigGranddad, puzzling the Internet with a combination of leftist invective and scurrilous bro humor. Tweets like “Heading to the Quandil Mountains to lecture the PKK about entitlement reform” are followed by “The dude with the lamb bailed so now we’re fucked for dinner.” Belden had no military experience before joining the YPG. He lived in San Francisco, where he arranged f lowers for a living. Before that, he was a selfdescribed lumpenproletariat, a lowlife punk and petty criminal with a heroin habit who started reading Marx and Lenin in rehab. Once sober, he got involved in leftist causes, marching for tenants’ rights, blocking evictions, protesting police brutality. When he left for the Middle East, his girlfriend thought he was going to do humanitarian work in Iraq. She was “not stoked,” Belden says, to learn that he had joined the YPG. The first phase of the Raqqa offensive was a mission to take Tal Saman, a satellite village of 10,000 people 17 miles north of Raqqa proper. “We pushed up to Tal Saman till we had it surrounded on a half circle, then we just bombarded the shit out of it,” Belden says. Refugees poured out of the village, seeking protection behind Kurdish lines. “Hundreds of civilians coming across for days in a row,” Belden says. At night, his unit stayed in whatever building they’d just taken, camped out on rooftops in the excruciating cold. “The first week we were out it was awful,” Belden says. The stepmother of a fellow volunteer from the U.S. had gotten Belden’s number. She kept texting to make sure they were eating enough.

ÒKnowing that youÕre fighting for something - and that youÕre in the right - itÕs amazing. I had the time of my life, even though I lost my best friends there.Ó

The march on Raqqa slowed to a halt after two weeks, as the YPG consolidated its hold over a string of liberated villages. The YPG controls a region of 4 million people in northern Syria known as Rojava. Its tens of thousands of motivated fighters have been battling ISIS for five years. American as well as French warplanes have been covering their maneuvers with airstrikes for the past two, forcing ISIS off the roads and highways and open desert, and back into the urban strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa. Now, the Kurds are kicking the door down in both cities. But the YPG is not your typical ethnic or sectarian faction. Its fighters are loyal to an imprisoned guerrilla leader who was once a communist but now espouses the same kind of secular, feminist, anarcho-libertarianism as Noam Chomsky or the activists of Occupy Wall Street. The Kurds are implementing these ideals in Rojava, and that has attracted a ragtag legion of leftist internationals, like Belden, who have come from nearly every continent to help the YPG beat ISIS and establish an anarchist enclave amid the rubble of the war – a “stateless democracy” equally opposed to Islamic fundamentalism and capitalist modernity. They call it the Rojava Revolution, and they want you.


or eign er s i n t er est ed i n joining the YPG receive instructions by encrypted e-mail to fly to Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, a city controlled by a socialist opposition party sympathetic to the Rojava Revolution. Although volunteers are welcome, it’s not easy to reach the YPG. To the south is ISIS. To the west is the Free Syrian Army, a disorganized coalition of warlords and mercenaries dominated by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. To the north is Turkey, the archenemy of Kurdish independence, whose conservative, Islamist government is bombing the YPG. To the east is the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq – for years, its military force, the Peshmerga, permitted volunteers to cross into Syria. But last year, under pressure from Turkey, the KRG closed the only bridge over the Tigris, completing the total blockade on Rojava. My assignment was to get inside Rojava and report on the Western leftists taking part in the fight. From Sulaymaniyah, I traveled to Kirkuk, Iraq, where I met with a Peshmerga general who ordered four of his men to smuggle me across the blockade disguised as a fellow fighter. We made it through a series of regional checkpoints and arrived at a hardscrabble guerrilla camp in the foothills of Mount Sinjar, a forbidden zone controlled by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK. I spent a cold night huddled in a grimy kitchen, befogged with eye-watering quantities of cigarette smoke, F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017


Despite its radical ideology and connection with the banned PKK, the YPG has forged an effective alliance with the U.S. military (though the Trump administration has signaled a willingness to dissolve it). As of now, there are more than 500 American commandos embedded with the YPG, advising the Kurds on tactics, calling in airstrikes and disarming explosives. On November 24th, the day I arrived in Syria, a Navy bomb-disposal technician was killed in a town called Ayn Issa, a place I knew by name. It was about 150 miles from Sinjar, nearly to Raqqa. I was headed there to meet up with Belden.

while young PKK militants lectured me on the crisis of late capitalism and the American media’s sexual exploitation of women. Of all the armed factions in the region, the PKK is the most crucial to understanding the Rojava Revolution. Beginning in 1978, the PKK waged a communist insurgency against the government of Turkey, and was designated a terrorist group by the U.S. in 1997. Two years later, Turkish security forces captured the party’s founder, Abdullah Öcalan. Sentenced to life on an island prison, Öcalan underwent a political conversion. He gave up Marx and Lenin and started reading about anar-

From Mount Sinjar, I rode toward the Raqqa front in a minivan full of fighters, including a pair of Yazidi girls, 16 and 18 years old, both in camouflage uniforms, one with an eye patch, the other cradling a sprained arm. In August 2014, ISIS massacred thousands of Yazidi Kurds in the Sinjar district of Iraq and dragged the women to the slave market at Raqqa. The survivors retreated to the top of Mount Sinjar, where they were held under siege until President Obama ordered the first American airstrikes against ISIS. That allowed the Yazidis to escape into Rojava. When I asked the pair in the van

chism, feminism and ecology, especially the works of Murray Bookchin, a libertarian socialist who used to rub shoulders with Bernie Sanders in Vermont. In 2011, Öcalan wrote a pamphlet called “Democratic Confederalism,” which outlines a sort of Athenian-style direct democracy based on voluntary participation in neighborhood councils, placing a special emphasis on the equality of women. The 47-page blueprint for a society without a formal government might never have mattered had the regime of Bashar alAssad not pulled its forces from northern Syria in 2012, allowing local Kurdish militias – allied with the PKK and devoted to Öcalan – to take over. The Syrian Kurds, under the protection of the YPG, declared Rojava’s autonomy and adopted a constitution based on Öcalan’s “Democratic Confederalism.” For the first time since the Spanish Civil War, anarchists controlled a nation-size territory, and Rojava soon became a celebrated cause of the international left.

ll volunteers arriving in Rojava attend a month-long training course at a place called the Academy, an oil facility with four concrete buildings, running water, intermittent electricity, a laundry line and a potato patch. I met a dozen recruits when I visited, mostly Germans and Italians, but also two Americans, an Englishman, a Finn, a Spanish Basque and a Tibetan citizen of Hong Kong. In the barracks, they slept five to a room on floor mats, their rucksacks and rifles stacked in the corners. At dawn they went for a run in uniform, carrying Kalashnikovs. The rest of the day, recruits attended classes in weapons training, anarcho-feminist ideology and rudimentary Kurmanji. Those already trained, many of whom had already fought, sat around soaking up the few hours of winter sunshine, with little to do but smoke cigarettes and drink tea. One OCCUPY SYRIA of these was Karim FranFranceschi (third ceschi, a bearded 27-yearfrom left) has old Italian who was among recruited a group the first leftists in Rojava. of Western leftists In September 2014, ISIS about their injuries, they to join the Rojava controlled most of the borlooked at me like I was stuRevolution. der with Turkey. Only the pid. “Daesh,” the older one city of Kobani held out, and said, using the Arabic acroISIS sent its most hardened foreign fightnym for ISIS. We arrived at a YPG base on a hilltop ers to take it. The YPG’s heroic defense just across the border in Syria. The mili- brought fame in the international press. In tiamen were gathered around campfires, October 2014, Franceschi and a cohort of and it seemed no one was in command. Italian communists met with Kobani offiTrue to its anarchist ideology, the YPG is cials in exile with the idea of volunteering loosely organized, without ranks; the uni- in some kind of medical capacity. “They versal gender-neutral honorific is hevalê, were so desperate,” Franceschi recalled. or friend. It elects its leaders directly, and “They didn’t give a shit about medicine. even a general must wash his own clothes They wanted fighters. I couldn’t say no.” Franceschi was vague about his backand take his turn cooking. It has an allfemale fighting brigade, the Women’s Pro- ground, but wore a Mao pin, owned a fortection Units, or YPJ, and command posi- tune in Bitcoin and spoke seven languages, tions are jointly occupied by a man from including Arabic and Kurmanji. With no the YPG and a woman from the YPJ. Its military experience, he was sent to the troops are lightly armed and go into bat- front line, where Kurdish defenders were tle without body armor or helmets or even outnumbered perhaps five to one. “I felt boots, just sneakers and Kalashnikovs, scared as hell,” he said. “I knew there were wearing the black f lowery headscarves Chechen terrorists, crazy fighters from typical of Rojava, which the men took up ISIS. At night, we heard them speaking on the radio, more in Russian than in Arwearing in solidarity with the women.

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ANARCHISTS VS. ISIS abic.” For the next three months, he never slept more than two hours at a stretch. “I was lucky; I survived long enough to learn how to fight,” he said. ISIS made the tactical error of pulverizing the city to ruins, which forced its fighters out of their stolen tanks to move on foot. “That’s when the fight got real,” Franceschi said. More foreigners arrived, all leftists, and they formed a sniper unit. “This was the first internationalist team,” Franceschi said, showing me a photo of himself in Kobani alongside a Spanish anarchist, a British Kurd and Keith Broomfield, the first American known to have died in the ranks of the YPG. “A lot of comrades were martyred during that time,” Franceschi said. “There was a lot of violence. But believe me, there was so much warmth. The conversation, the intimacy that you get knowing that you’re fighting for something and that you’re in the right. There were no ranks. You could go to your general, slap him behind his head and ask him for a cigarette. It was amazing. I had the time of my life, even though I lost my best friends there.” Franceschi was back in Syria for the Raqqa operation. It would be his third tour in as many years, but he was disappointed in the international turnout. During the Spanish Civil War, something like 60,000 foreigners fought for the anarchists and communists against the fascists. In the Syrian Civil War, Franceschi said, “the Western volunteers are basically a joke, while ISIS has tens of thousands from the Middle East, thousands from Europe. So what does that say about us?” The sun was setting behind the pump jacks. We drifted over to the mess hall, a Spartan dining room hung with posters of foreign martyrs and portraits of Öcalan, who looks like a friendly version of Saddam Hussein. In one corner was a shelf of socialist literature. A trio of Italians were in the kitchen, shouting and brandishing knives over steaming pots and pans. The rest of the volunteers were seated at the table, tearing off pieces of flatbread to grab olives and slices of tomato from communal platters. The conversation was raucous, and a debate boiled over on the subject of toilet paper – specifically, the absence thereof in the Middle East, where pots of water are used instead. “Some people here,” Franceschi confided in a low tone, “still have this bourgeois thing for wet wipes.” “Bourgeois?” interjected a jocular Italian with a knife scar across one cheek. “Is bourgeois, clean your ass?” He raised a hand. “I don’t want a revolution.” This was Dilsoz (a Kurdish war moniker; many leftists refused to give their real names because of laws against taking part in foreign conflicts). He was 29 years old. Occupation: thief. He grew up in a squat house outside Rome and, despite never 46 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

finishing school and having limited English, could hold forth on Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony: “The dominant class transmit his beliefs, his values, to the proletarian class,” he said, subtly swiping two cigarettes from my pack. “The poorest persons, now they argue like a capitalist, the same person that oppress him, that send his mother to the factory.” With his scars and jailhouse tattoos, Dilsoz stood out among the other volunteers, most of whom were middle-class and educated, like Zerdes¸t (also a war moniker), a blue-eyed boy of 20 whose father is a doctor in Bavaria. Back home, Zerdes¸t hung out with a crowd of “bobos” – bourgeois bohemians, rich hipsters, professional-class liberals – who talked up the Rojava Revolution but never did anything to support it. One day he told himself, “OK, now you have to stop bullshitting.”

ÒI tried to have a normal life, a capitalist life, but I hate that. Most of the people in the world are poor, and our wealth only exists because they are poor.Ó The platters of salty noodles and mysterious canned meat were cleared, but no one was in a hurry to be excused. In the absence of beer or wine, the inevitable tea was served, the 10th of the day, and billows of tobacco smoke churned above the table. I turned to a brainy-looking 31-yearold whose Kurdish alias was Agit. “Before coming here, I had a very good management job,” he said with a German lisp. “I tried to have a normal life because my family and my girlfriend expected that for me, a capitalist life, but I hate that. Especially when I see that most of the people in the world are poor, and our wealth can only exist because they are poor.” Like Franceschi, he had come back to Rojava for the Raqqa operation. His first tour had coincided with an inf lux of a different class of volunteers: British and American veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them evangelical Christians, who came to kill ISIS and were ignorant of the Kurds’ revolutionary politics. They bickered among themselves and caused problems for the Kurds; a few of them did horrible things. Three separate times I was told of a British veteran known only as Tim, a crack shot, and by all accounts a cheerful

guy, who enjoyed tasting the blood of the slain and was once seen gnawing on a severed foot. “This whole thing is a magnet for idiots, psychopaths, sociopaths, plain assholes,” Agit said. These days, things are more organized. There is a German operative at the safehouse in Sulaymaniyah who vets volunteers as they arrive, weeding out the lunatics and selecting for leftists, who tend to get along better and keep a lower profile. The only U.S. military veteran at the Academy was a young Chicagoan with Ecuadorian roots who went by the alias Alan. He had served in the Marine Corps but was never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, so when he got out of the service he made his way to Rojava. On one mission to liberate a village, he was shot in the arm and hand, he told me. The Kurds gave him an inappropriately low dose of ketamine and he lay on the battlefield conscious and tripping balls. “We respect a guy like Alan,” Franceschi said. As for the pacifist liberals back home in Europe and America, “They’re not truly committed to anything,” Franceschi said, pulling out his phone to read a Murray Bookchin quote. “ ‘Today we are turning inward: We are looking for personal definition, personal improvement, personal achievement, personal enlightenment.’ This is the left today in the world. Even those here, many anarchists, they come here and they want to be amazed and live the Kurdish ways. You’re not here on a trip, man. It’s not your personal voyage. There is a war. There is a revolution. And they need fighters.”


itching rides around rojava, I was appalled by the environmental degradation. The most educated people throw their garbage directly out the window, and flattened trash accumulates like leaf litter in the forest. They don’t have a proper oil refinery, so caustic black exhaust wafts over the streets in visible strata. The only animals are dreadlocked bovids grazing knee-deep in trash, wretched chickens molting in cages, and stray dogs, which I knew from many stories were not unaccustomed to the taste of human flesh. And yet, making your way through the foot traffic and beeping motorcycles of a bazaar, the sidewalks crowded with crates of fruits and vegetables, cellphone shops, moneychangers and tractor mechanics, everything draped in a cat’s cradle of electrical wires, there is a peculiar charm, an aura of intrigue that is heightened by the jangly Kurdish ballads on every radio. On November 29th, I arrived in Ayn Issa, a crossroads town on the desert plain where the YPG coalition had its field headquarters for the Raqqa offensive. The people had all fled, and I found the unit I was F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017

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LIFE AT THE FRONT (1) Mørck (standing) spots targets near Raqqa. (2) YPG fighters sleep on the rooftops in villages they liberate from ISIS. (3) Chapman, an American, arrived in Syria on his 21st birthday. (4) Zerdeşt, 20, hung out with elite liberals in Germany until he decided to “stop bullshitting.”



looking for living in an abandoned house with a walled courtyard. Out stepped Belden, whose vaguely comical countenance I recognized from Twitter. He lit a cigarette and we sat in plastic chairs on the patio, where men and women from other units were constantly arriving to shake hands, kiss on both cheeks, hang out for a while, and leave.

Growing up in San Francisco, Belden never had money: “I was a troubled teen. I went to five different high schools. I always worked shitty jobs. I guess I should have gone to college – but a lot of good that did other guys.” He protested the Iraq War at age 13 but later forgot about politics, and formed a band called Warkrime. “I was a punk for a long time, and that doesn’t

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make you into the best dude,” he said. Photos from this period show him hanging around grungy bars, smoking, drinking, mooning the camera, holding a gun to his head, sitting passed out on a couch. “Don’t ever get addicted to drugs,” he said. Eventually, he landed in jail. “I got picked up for possession,” he explained, “and I had a previous warrant for assault after I got in this weird shoving match with a guy.” He was released and later survived a heroin overdose but ended up with a $4,000 bill for a five-minute ambulance ride, a debt he could never pay off on minimum wage. “I had to become a sober dude,” he said, “a straight-edge.” Politically, though, rehab further radicalized him. “All I did was read books on far-left theory,” he said. “I started to understand intellectually what I already understood emotionally.” In late 2012, he came across an article on the declaration of Kurdish autonomy in Syria, which led him to Öcalan’s manifesto. Rojava has never been mainstream news, but over the past few years the fringes of the Internet have produced a stream of glamorous war imagery: red stars on black f lags, Molotov cocktails, Banksy-style murals on bullet-riddled walls, and sexy female fighters posing with Kalashnikovs atop piles of rubble. “Grab your laptop and come to Rojava now,” said an early version of, a recruiting website affiliated with the hacker collective Anonymous. “Burn down government institutions, form a commune and grow some potatoes between the rubble of the old world.” To Belden, it looked like a post-9/11 reprise of the Spanish Civil War. In place of the anarchists and communists of the Popular Front, you had the Syrian Kurds, with their nearly identical anti-capitalist ideology; and in place of Franco, the Catholic fascist dictator, you had ISIS, the ultimate religious conservatives. The motto of the Spanish Republic was ¡No Pasarán! The motto of Rojava: No State/ No Caliphate. After four years of following from the sidelines, Belden started sending e-mails to the administrators of a blog called YPG International, asking how he could join. When they finally replied, “I kind of freaked out,” he said. But once he arrived in Sulaymaniyah, everything was taken care of. “If you’re a white twentysomething taking a cab from the airport by yourself,” he said, “the cabdrivers just know.” We got up to walk around the base, a cinderblock building with metal doors flung open to the elements, a dozen pairs of shoes on the threshold and an equal number of Kalashnikovs lying around. The courtyard was a wreckage of trash and debris, |

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including the shell of a burned car. On the rooftop, three tattered YPG pennants fluttered in the wind. Raqqa lay 30 miles to the south. From time to time, dull concussions thudded on the horizon. “Did you meet the little Jewish nerd?” asked Belden, who is Jewish himself; he used to have a Star of David tattooed on the knuckle of his middle finger, but had a spade tattooed over it before coming to the Middle East. He took me inside to a carpeted room with sleeping mats and pillows lining the walls and introduced me to Lucas Chapman, a skinny American in Coke-bottle glasses warming his hands on a stove heater. Chapman claims to remember nothing that happened before his 16th birthday. He hated high school in Dahlonega, Georgia, a town of 6,000 people just south of the Chattahoochee National Forest. “I just wanted to get the hell out,” he said. He attended American University in Washington, D.C., where he majored in Jewish history and immersed himself in socialist theory. “As long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in leftism,” he said. He worked part-time for a startup called Postmates, an Uber-like company of underemployed couriers. “On one of my last deliveries I brought some rich prick two MacBook Pros,” Chapman said. “He was barefoot in his underwear, and he literally wrote in zero dollars and zero cents for a tip. How does anyone do that?” After days like that, Chapman would go home, fire up a bowl and spend the evening studying Kurmanji and scrolling through He left for Sulaymaniyah in September 2016 and spent a sleepless first night at a designated hotel, sweat seeping from every pore, his mind racing. “What the hell am I doing here?” he thought. Noon the next day he was taken to a different room, where at least there was another American: Belden. That afternoon they were driven to a camp in the Zagros Mountains, and that same night they hiked across the border, a sixhour march without water, suffering under heavy packs, tripping over rocks and brambles. The sun had not yet risen when Chapman first set foot in Syria. It was the morning of his 21st birthday. A tall, scruffy Danish guy set down his Kalashnikov and joined us, introducing himself as Tommy Mørck. He was in his thirties and had why? tattooed across the four knuckles of one hand. He grew up in an unstable home and spent his twenties on the move, living in different countries, attending various universities, working unrelated jobs. “I never could find anything that could stick,” he said. “Not peo48 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

ple, not occupations, not places.” He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffered from heavy depression until the day he realized that there was nothing wrong with his mind; it was the modern world that was sick. He gave up on the system, went on unemployment benefits and started working 50 hours a week for a Danish green party. Around that time, Syria came to Denmark in the form of thousands of refugees. “They were treated like animals,” Mørck said. Within a year of discovering

MARKED FOR MARTYRDOM Above: The scene of a suicide bomb at the house where Belden, Chapman and Mørck stayed. Below: Portraits of foreign volunteers killed in action decorate the Academy walls., he was aboard a flight to Sulaymaniyah.


t the academ y, mørck met Belden and Chapman, and after training, all three of them were assigned to a heavy-weapons unit at Ayn Issa. Just two days later, the YPG coalition announced the start of the Raqqa offensive. “We were surprised,” Mørck said. They had expected to spend months doing guard duty, sheltered from real danger. Instead, Mørck said, “we fired the first shots of the Raqqa operation.” The three of them were put to

manning machine guns, Belden riding inside the makeshift tank, Chapman and Mørck straddling the beds of Hilux gun trucks. ISIS didn’t put up much of a fight. “Once they saw we were coming, they just ran,” Mørck said. They could only see the enemy – “dudes walking around with huge beards,” Chapman said – through binoculars. American commandos, snake-eating JSOC types without insignia, were milling around with the Kurds, and Mørck said he talked to uniformed American marines engaged in actual combat, lobbing mortars at ISIS. “But only until six o’clock,” Mørck said, “because then the Kurds want to sleep, and mortars are really loud.” As the YPG forces entered Tal Saman, they found a warehouse with a car-bomb assembly line and a blood-stained man cage. They picked through rubble mixed with skulls and spines, and stripped expensive gear off ISIS carcasses. “Technically, I did a war crime, because I peed on a dead person,” Belden said. “I didn’t mean to.” There were booby traps everywhere. Chapman was standing outside a house when the windows exploded with dirt and smoke. A Kurd stumbled out coughing, coated in dust, and immediately lit up a cigarette. Two more emerged carrying a fourth, whose foot had been blown off by a land mine hidden in an upstairs bedroom. By November 20th, Tal Saman was completely secured. I visited Tal Saman 10 days after that, a drizzly morning in the little village of collapsed one-story houses and wrecked buildings bristling with twisted rebar. Even the trees were shot up, shorn of upper branches, bark shredded. The actual front was a small metal bridge over an irrigation canal, south of town. A dirt road vanished into the fog on the other side, where the spurious caliphate lay. A throng of refugees was gathered at the foot of the bridge, Arab families with truckloads of household goods, flocks of sodden sheep and goats, cattle and camels, motorcycles and tractors and cars. The people were wrapped in blankets and cloaks, wreathed in the steam and smoke of campfires. There were no fortifications, only a rangy squad of fiercelooking Kurds standing guard. Women in black burqas were beseeching them to let their families across. A convoy of Land Cruisers and gun trucks pulled up, and a group of bearded British commandos got out and shook hands with the Kurds. One of them took out his phone and captured a photo of the refugees, provoking one of the women in black to throw up her hands and wail in misery. F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017



“What’s she saying?” the British commando asked his translator. “She says, ‘You take our picture, but you don’t let us cross.’” Garbled excitement came over the YPG radios. A Kurd with long hair hoisted a belt-fed machine gun and fired on the ISIS side of the road. Orange tracers floated forward into the mist, but I couldn’t see what he was shooting at. The refugees barely reacted. ISIS had retreated but continued to dispatch car bombs, and lone infiltrators could penetrate far behind Kurdish lines. My local colleague said the commander wanted us to leave and ushered me into his Daewoo. We drove 15 miles over cratered roads back to Ayn Issa, where the bulk of the YPG force, including Belden and Chapman and Mørck, had pulled back to await the next phase of the offensive. While fighting ISIS along a 300-mile front, the YPG is also battling the Turkish Army on its western flank, especially around Manbij, the third-largest city in Rojava. The day I met up with Belden, a Turkish airstrike west of Manbij killed a 27-year-old American named Michael Israel, an anarchist from Lodi, California, who had recently posted a photo of himself on Facebook wearing a YPG uniform and stomping on a Confederate flag. At the time, he was the 20th foreign volunteer to die and the fifth American, but the first to be killed by Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States. In the past, Turkish officials have vowed not to distinguish between foreigners and Kurds, whom they consider terrorists. I asked the Department of State if it had anything to say about Turkey killing an American citizen serving in an American-backed militia alongside American military personnel. A spokeswoman would not go on record other than to point to the Department of State’s March 2016 travel warning, which said that private citizens who fight in Syria could face criminal charges. I asked the Department of Justice if it would prosecute American YPG volunteers. A spokesman said it would not comment on hypothetical cases. But “regardless of its legality,” he added, joining the YPG “is a bad idea and we strongly discourage it.” Belden, Chapman and Mørck were more worried about surviving Raqqa than any potential criminal liability. Raqqa is 20 times larger than Tal Saman, with a population in the hundreds of thousands. ISIS has had four years to build and dig, and the ground is likely riddled with tunnels, the buildings booby-trapped to the last. “Mines,” Belden said. “Mines everywhere.” There is also a question of manpower: The YPG claims 50,000 fighters, but armed forces are prone to inflate their numbers, and the front line seemed oddly depopulated, even at Ayn Issa. “There’s, like, 40 of us,” Belden joked. Was it possible the F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017

Kurds were still as desperate for able bodies as they’d been when Franceschi arrived in Kobani? I pushed Belden for a serious number. “A thousand people on this front is a generous estimate,” Belden said. The others nodded. No one knows how many ISIS has; many have died in airstrikes but thousands remain, possibly tens of thousands, concentrated in Raqqa. “We’re going to die there,” Chapman said, cracking open a sunflower seed. It was late at night by this time. The tea had gone cold. The Kurds had rolled up in blankets against the wall, though the television in the corner was still flickering. I looked at Belden, who laughed and said, “We’re definitely going to die.” it’s impossible to say whether the Rojava Revolution has succeeded as a model of civil society because the country is so thoroughly mobilized for war. There are soldiers and police everywhere, fires

ÒShooting at another human being, not out of anger or desperation, but out of necessity - I wondered whether I had it in me. Now I know for certain that I do.Ó burning in the streets. The bullet-riddled buildings are drafty and cold, with only sporadic electricity. The Kurds’ chief pleasure, though, aside from tea and tobacco, seems to be one another’s company. Their food is monotonous – bread, tomatoes, beans, sometimes mutton – but every meal is eaten communally, with second portions, and the place of honor, forced on any guest present. I was there two weeks and barely spent any money. I shared in whatever people were eating and slept wherever they slept. They are desperate for imports, yet if I ever so much as took a dollar bill from my wallet the Kurds would ward it off like a talisman of evil. I saw no rich people, no corporations, no banks, no big houses, no fancy cars, no one homeless or begging or starving. The people were of one class and improbably cheerful. They were united in support of the YPG and seemed to worship Öcalan, whose portrait hung in every building. Not long after leaving Syria, I got a message from Mørck. Belden and Chapman had been transferred to another unit a little down the line. On December 13th, around

two in the morning, Mørck awoke to the sound of shooting. He knew the sentries enjoyed popping off rounds as a practical joke, but this sounded like it was just outside. He grabbed his rifle and pushed open the door to the foyer, which reeked of gunsmoke. When he peered into the courtyard, a Kurd standing in the adjacent doorway hissed at him, waving him back: ISIS was inside the compound. There was another spate of gunfire and Mørck backed away from the doors with his rifle raised. He was crouched against the wall with a broken window at his back. Should he cover the window or the doors? Either way, he would be exposed. His dilemma was solved by an explosion, an all-engulfing concussion that shook the concrete wall like a car crashing into it. Sediment rained down and a high-pitched tone pierced the billows of dirty smoke. It was a suicide bomber. Body parts were flung over a 50-yard radius, scraps of gore spattered all over the courtyard. On the exterior wall, exactly opposite where Mørck had been crouching, a violent starburst of blood and carbon was painted. The ceramic tiles on the patio were shattered, as if a cannonball had fallen there. But the wall had held, thwarting the bomber and saving Mørck’s life. Throughout the winter, foreign volunteers have been dying at an alarming rate: an Englishman and a Canadian in December; and in January, at least two Americans, including Paolo Todd, a 33-year-old from Los Angeles I’d met at the Academy. When I last spoke to Belden and Chapman, they complained of boredom, but Mørck was still in the thick of it; he sent an e-mail describing a firefight with ISIS in which half the men of his unit were wounded, two of them mortally. “I was surprised by my reaction,” he wrote, “watching a person I knew die and shooting at another human being, with the intent to kill, not out of anger or desperation, but out of necessity. I’ve been wondering whether or not I really had it in me. Now I know for certain that I do.” I also got an e-mail from Franceschi, who had formed a stand-alone unit of foreign leftists modeled on the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War. It’s called the Antifascist International Tabur, and its central mission is to fight in Raqqa, a battle that he says will last through 2017 and be “a hundred times worse than Kobani and Manbij put together.” More volunteers are needed, Franceschi says, and all of them will be trained by YPG. Recruits must meet only one prerequisite: “If they want to join us, they must have an ideal that is not just killing or destroying. They can be anarchists, socialists, leftists, whatever. But they must feel like this revolution is their revolution. Because these are ideals that people are dying for.” |

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With a cover like a Nineties feminist zine and a recording like a hi-fi fever dream of a cassette bootleg worn out in your preowned Cavalier, Sleater-Kinney’s latest reaffirms the power of that hoary rock cliché, the live LP. Recorded in March 2015, landmarks like “Dig Me Out” and “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” are as breathtaking as they were 20 years ago. But the revelations are raw reloads from 2005’s farewell, The Woods, and 2015’s comeback, No Cities to Love, which throb with new context. “1984 is such a bore!” Corin Tucker sneers on “Entertain,” before demanding, “Whose side are you on?” Whose side, indeed. WILL HERMES

The alt-country veteran continues his ongoing love affair with Reagan-era rock Ryan Adams Prisoner Pax-Am/Blue Note HHH½ No one hearts the Eighties quite as aggressively as Ryan Adams. Prisoner is the latest installment in a spate of releases that have cast a fond eye back to those bygone glory days. 2014’s 1984 was his Reagan-era hardcore homage, and the following year brought his collegerock reimagining of Taylor Swift’s 1989. Here he poses eternal riddles like “What would it have been like if Bruce Springsteen had been a floppy-haired indie guitar nerd?” and “What if Johnny Marr was a jean-jacket dude from rural Minnesota?” For an ace retro conjurer like Adams, it’s the equivalent of pondering the meaning of life itself. Adams’ métier here is the maudlin breakup song. Sometimes he swings for the fences, as on the album-opening “Do You Still Love Me?” with its cathedral organs, bighair riffs and vocal moves that recall AOR ballad crushers like Lou Gramm and John Waite. But usually the mood is austere; the forlorn title track lands between the Smiths and Steve Earle, as Adams somberly sings about love as jail. Sometimes he can almost be too faithful to his heroes: “Haunted House” is like a reconstructed Tunnel of Love, right down to its titular metaphor. But when the songwriting feels as personal and urgent as the scholarship (see the rawboned heartland rocker “Doomsday”), he gets close to JON DOLAN the magnum opus of his dreams.

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Clever Swedish songwriter tells some enjoyably bizarre stories

Singer Jens Lekman has always reveled in quirky, whimsical storytelling, sort of like the indie-pop inverse of Tom Waits. His fourth LP has a bizarre cast, featuring a Mormon missionary seeking the meaning of life, a pair of friends joyriding on a hot-wired Ferris wheel in the middle of the night, and a man curiously examining a 3D printout of his own tumor. The disco-y “How We Met, the Long Version” goes back to the Big Bang. Lekman’s voice sometimes sounds like Morrissey doing a Kermit the Frog impression, but his sharp songwriting makes this much more than a clever novelty. KORY GROW

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sample f lips and tasty guitar heroics; think 808s & Heartbreak: The Next Generation. To be sure, it’s a breakup record – presumably involving Longstreth’s relationship with exProjector Amber Coffman. The sense of separation is palpable. Once defined by talented female singers (Coffman foremost), the band is down to one lonely dude crooning into a digital hall of mirrors. “Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway, riding fast,” Longstreth reflects on “Up in Hudson,” envisioning an ex “out in Echo Park blasting Tupac, drinkin’ a fifth for my ass.” Longstreth may be lonely, but he isn’t alone, and his collaborators push him to new heights. Veteran engineer Jimmy Douglass, whose résumé includes Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack,” helps craft a masterpiece of post-Auto-Tune vocal processing, and Solange co-writes the island vibe “Cool Your Heart.” Whatemerges maybe thefunniest romantic train wreck since the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs. On “Keep Your Name,” Longstreth warbles like a chipmunk-soul Eeyore, then delivers a rap that name-checks Naomi Klein and “Kiss’ shithead Gene Simmons.” On “Death Spiral,” the metaphor is manifested via the score from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. On “Up in Hudson,” a sample of Peggy Seeger’s folk-song reading of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” gets pitched up into cartoon territory. Remarkably, the humor and the heartbreak coexist beautifully. On the finale, “I See You,” Longstreth drops the vocal masking and sings against a “Whiter Shade of Pale”-ish organ and Beatlesque backward-guitar smears, declaring, “The love we made is the art.” It’s sweet enough to make an ex reconsider – and a fan could hope Longstreth suffers more heartache, if it results in music this good.

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Movies By Peter Travers

Oscar Shows Its Colors The battle of ‘La La Land’ versus ‘Moonlight’ tests how serious Oscar is about diversity

French actress, with her first nomination, is way overdue for Oscar gold.

Best Supporting Actor Q

Best Picture


Hell or High Water

Arrival Fences Q Hacksaw Ridge Q Hell or High Water Q Hidden Figures Q La La Land Q Lion Q Manchester by the Sea Q Moonlight Q Q

54 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |


Lucas Hedges


Manchester by the Sea Dev Patel Lion


Michael Shannon Nocturnal Animals

And the Winner Is... La La Land (above), with its singing, dancing white lovers, a boffo salute to the golden age of Hollywood musicals...or Moonlight (left), with Mahershala Ali, a raw look at the dangers of growing up black and gay in Miami. SPOILER: Moonlight. On the diversity scale, it’s off the charts, allowing Oscar voters to congratulate themselves for being on the right side of history.

giving Washington a lift. It’s now a race. Game on.

Best Actress Isabelle Huppert Elle Q Ruth Negga Loving Q Natalie Portman Jackie Q Emma Stone La La Land Q Meryl  Streep Q

Best Actor Casey Affleck


Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield


Hacksaw Ridge Q Ryan Gosling La La Land

Viggo Mortensen


Captain Fantastic Q

Denzel Washington Fences

ben affleck’s kid brother, Casey, grabbed most of the pre-Oscar acting awards for his devastating turn as a griefstricken janitor in Manchester. FAVORITE: Affleck. SPOILER: Washington. There’s nothing quiet about the fireworks he sets off as a sanitation worker on the ropes in Fences. The Screen Actors Guild agreed,

Florence Foster Jenkins

this is streep’s 20th nomination, which should put her in her own category: goddess. The real contest is between Stone, bringing grace and grit to every actor’s struggle in La La Land, and Portman, embodying the newly forged steel in JFK’s widow in Jackie. FAVORITE: Stone, riding a wave of La La love. SPOILER: Huppert, gaining heat as a rape victim with her own agenda in Elle. It’s rare to receive a nod for a foreign film. But this world-class

at 20, hedges – so strong as a teen in crisis in Manchester – is the youngest in this group. Bridges, 67, was also around 20 when he got his first Oscar nod, for The Last Picture Show (1971). Now, playing a sly Texas Ranger, he’s the veteran. FAVORITE: Ali. As a drug dealer with a secret heart, he’s the bruised core of Moonlight. SPOILER: Can’t see it happening. This is Ali’s year.

Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis Fences Naomie Harris Moonlight Q Nicole Kidman Lion Q Octavia  Spencer Q Q

Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams


Manchester by the Sea

it’s a n oscar milestone, with three fab black actresses (Davis, Harris, Spencer) competing in the same category. FAVORITE: Davis. She’s on fire as the Fences wife who’s ready to stand up and be heard. SPOILER: Williams. Her fierce final Manchester scene, as Affleck’s partner in tragedy, represents a true supporting turn (Davis’ character is really a lead). But Williams is bucking a corrective trend in the year of #OscarsSoBlack. The time has come.

F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017


forget #osca rssow hite. That was so last year. Oscar 2017 can boast that four of its nine Best Picture nominees (Fences, Hidden Figures, Lion, Moonlight) directly address the experience of people of color. And each of the four acting categories have at least one black nominee. It’s historymaking for the 90-year-old Academy. And yet the musical La La Land, arguably the whitest of the year’s nominees (Manchester by the Sea comes close), made its own kind of history by tying the Academy record (set by Titanic, 1997, and All About Eve, 1950) for the most nods ever for one film: 14. If any movie can take the la out of La La and its wunderkind director, Damien Chazelle, 32, it would be Moonlight. Also wildly innovative, with eight nominations and its own wunderkind director, Barry Jenkins, 37, Moonlight tracks a gay African-American boy through three stages of life on the mean streets of Miami. Despite a lastminute sprint from Hidden Figures, these are the two to watch: FAVORITE: La La Land. This valentine to Hollywood is both retro and brilliantly innovative, plus it lets us escape effing Trumpmania for two hours.

Mahershala Ali Moonlight Jeff Bridges



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JOHN OLIVER [Cont. from 37] Just prep his future therapist: “Why do you think your father was angry at you?” That’s right. “He said he was pretty good at comedy before I was born, but I’m seeing a clip, and I’m not sure if he’s right” [laughs]. “Who wants to watch 20 minutes on retirement funds?” [Laughs] When you’re in the middle of one of your long, complex pieces about an arcane subject, do you ever think, “This is it – they’re gonna cancel us”? That’s normally around minute one. That’s when you say, “And tonight, our main story’s gonna be credit reports, or retirement funds.” You think, “What the fuck?” You wonder whether there is anyone sitting in an office in HBO going, “What is this? Describe to me what this show is before I watch this.” You know, but the harder, the drier the story is, the more we try and balance that with doing the stupidest thing you can imagine, either with part of that story or in the show in general. That’s another thing. If you see something very complicated, you might be about to see something utterly infantile. You seemed to love working with Billy Eichner on “Billy on the Street.” Are you jealous of his brand of pure silliness? Generally, I am jealous of him, yes, in terms of what he can shout at people, and his upper-body strength. But I like the balance between seriousness and stupidity. I think I would get depressed if I was gonna start doing just one of them. Before “The Daily Show,” funny news – for lack of a better term – hardly existed outside “Saturday Night Live.” Now it’s everywhere. What is it about it that works so broadly? I don’t know that there is anything fundamental about it. There’s so many more shit versions than there were before The Daily Show, and there will be after it. It depends on the team that is producing each version of the thing. What is needed to make it work, then? It’s exhaustingly hard work to do it well – it’s way harder and takes longer than it probably should. ’Cause you have to make sure that your foundations are rock-solid before you start building nonsense on top of it. That takes a long time. You have to deconstruct it so you can work out what the components of the story actually are. Then construct the story as it actually should be, which is sometimes different than how it has previously been told, ’cause it’s been misreported; then you need to break it apart again into comedic components. There are so many extra steps involved. You can also do it really quick and quite badly. How do you choose the subjects for the long pieces?

56 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Just whether it’s something that’s worth telling for that long, where we can show people things that they’ve never seen before. And whether it’s interesting enough for us to work on for this long, let alone for people to listen to for 20 minutes. They fall apart if it turns out it’s been misreported. Or if the story shifts to the point that we wouldn’t be able to say anything definitive about it. It starts with, “This looks interesting,” and then we all sign off that story to a researcher who will check the bones of it to see if it stands up. Then the footage producer will look to see if there is enough footage to tell that story on TV. Those would be the key stress tests. Jimmy Kimmel called your show educational, and I was shocked that you didn’t push back on that. You’re right, that is normally something that I would push back against heavily. I really like Kimmel. I’d never been on that show before. I probably trusted he was going somewhere funny, because he’s a funny man. So I don’t know if I was listen-

“The harder, the drier the story is, the more we try and balance that by doing the stupidest thing you can imagine.” ing to the middle of that sentence, or if I was worrying about where he was gonna make fun of me. And I certainly get really allergic to the sentiment that what we do is purely journalism, because I’m being defensive of people who actually are journalists. So we did a whole 20-minute piece this year about journalism. We need actual journalists doing their jobs so that we can take what journalism does and frame it. You were on Kimmel’s show the night after winning your Emmy. Were you able to take some validation from that prize? [Laughs] No! No, you can’t escape the fact you are an adult holding a trophy. And you’re walking up there and it’s Jon Snow, and there he is, like [Jon Snow voice], “Here’s your trophy.” Awards for comedy are very, very silly. The most fundamental barometer for whether or not something is good is people laughing. There really seems to be almost no gap between your on- and offscreen personas. You’re truly yourself on air. How do you do that? I’m not much of an actor, so I can’t really fake it. I think it helps, perhaps, not having that particular skill set, because it’s

just not there as, like, a parachute to fall on. Yeah, and also by the end of the week, I’m so enmeshed in this stuff that I want to give it its best shot on the TV, because, again, you wanna honor how hard people have worked on it. And, you know, by the end of it, it’s so densely written so that we want to have a joke on every single fact or clip or anything, that you’re kind of diving for the finish line knowing that you’ve gotta get by on 29 minutes. Just getting the words out is not a small thing. I think that’s why sometimes I’m physically, like, leaning, climbing over the desk. “No, you can’t, please don’t go! Don’t go! You gotta hear this one more thing. I know chicken farming does not sound like it’s worth it, but it is when you’ll get it tonight.” You’ve said that right before you got the call for “The Daily Show,” your career in England was failing. Why do you think that was? I don’t know. I was making something of a living, so I guess we’ve got to couch that concept of failure a little bit. They had just canceled the two shows I was working on, so I was at a bit of a fork in the road careerwise when Jon Stewart hired me. And there was nothing suggesting there was anything big coming my way. I was often fighting [with executives] on any show that I was working on. There was often a lot of friction, because I wanted to do something that they didn’t want to do. It was only under Jon Stewart that I had the cover to do everything that I wanted to do, because there was a kind of shared sensibility over there. What would’ve happened if you never got that opportunity? In the Sliding Doors version of this story, I’m guessing I’d just be doing stand-up in England to various degrees of apathetic respect. Have you thought about how long you wanna keep doing this particular show? Yeah . . . I don’t know. I guess as long as it feels like it’s still challenging, the learning curve is still there. The production of it is so ferocious. I don’t think there is a way to do this in a less intense way. I think we need to do this very intensely or you don’t do it. And what would the aftermath look like for you? Who the fuck knows. I’m guessing there won’t be one. It’s hard to imagine early retirement. I can’t do that. No. I don’t do well relaxing. I don’t really know how to relax, so that does not suit me well. I’ve always got to find something that can stop me thinking. From finding out what’s going on emotionally? Yeah. I’m British. Our lives are basically a marathon and a sprint of running away from ourselves.

F e b ru a r y 2 3 -M a r c h 9 , 2 017

MIGOS [Cont. from 41] for Makonnen’s decision. “They supported him?” Quavo asks, raising an eyebrow. “That’s because the world is fucked up,” says Offset. “This world is not right,” Takeoff says. “We ain’t saying it’s nothing wrong with the gays,” says Quavo. But he suggests that Makonnen’s sexuality undermines his credibility, given the fact that “he first came out talking about trapping and selling Molly, doing all that.” He frowns. “That’s wack, bro.”

t’s 8:30 p.m. migos h av e a full day of radio interviews tomorrow, plus a video shoot. Now it’s time to make music. “Put your timer on,” says Quavo. “This gonna go on for about 15 minutes, and when it come out the oven it’s gonna be a masterpiece. Leave for 15 minutes, you gonna miss some magicianal shit!” As Durel mans the board, firing up a beat he produced, Quavo enters the booth with a blunt. He spits gibberish first, hashing out rhythmic and melodic ideas: “Nigga, the ice on the boat,” he mumbles. “Waste on, coo on.” Bar by bar, he transforms this doggerel into intelligible ideas. “Prayer clean/Put on a pair of wings” becomes “Pull up McLaren and wings/Pull


up and spread my wings.” While Quavo proceeds through his verse, Takeoff listens intently, holding a seven-inch stack of rubber-banded cash to his head like it’s an old cellphone and shouting lines into it, revving himself up. The process is undeniably magicianal, but it’s also painstakingly incremental. Fifteen minutes becomes an hour, then two. Destiny has long since left. Offset takes the booth next. Quavo FaceTimes with his mom, who’s at “a $2.3 million mansion” he bought in town. “Stay vigilant,” I hear her tell him. “Don’t do no stupid moves.” Takeoff goes in last – by now it’s after 11. Quavo and Offset head to an adjacent room. Suddenly, a commotion erupts in the hall. A woman with bright-blond hair and a regal bearing is screaming, “Fuck you, Quay!” I see her take a swing at Quavo, backing him into a wall. O-Ron, the studio manager, puts his body between them. “Y’all niggas want a round with a real nigga from the streets?” the woman yells tauntingly. Quavo chuckles, seemingly unruffled: “We don’t want a problem, nah.” Soon she bursts into the studio and addresses Durel. “These niggas wanna fuck all these wanna-be-famous-ass ho’s,” she says, in apparent explanation for her anger. Then: “You corny. You been in jail? I been

in jail, nigga. Make your beats.” Durel purses his lips and concentrates on the mixing board as O-Ron leads her into the hall. Mounted above the mixing board is a flatscreen showing surveillance feeds from cameras around the property. In the bottom left corner, I see Quavo run out to the Spider and the woman chase him. Others join them at the car. Durel and Tray1 are watching the same feed with me, neither of them commenting. The picture is too small and grainy to say what exactly happens next, but I see the woman fall to the ground. O-Ron carries her, as she kicks furiously, away from Quavo. Soon a car arrives; she gets in and leaves. O-Ron returns and explains that the woman “fell down and busted her nose – her face is all bloody.” Quavo and Offset drive away in the Spider. It’s the last I see of them: interview, apparently, over. (Asked to clarify the circumstances of the incident, a representative from Migos declined to comment.) Takeoff, meanwhile, is still recording, refining inspired non sequiturs one by one. “Sensei way I kick the feng shui,” he raps. “Major bag alert with a Kim K.” He’s unaware of the fracas outside – focused on the music, focused on the money. The air in the studio is sour and tense. The track sounds great.


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Jimmy Kimmel The late-night host on Twitter anxiety, his space-age toilet, and loving Huey Lewis like an older brother You once tweeted that your hobbies include updating software. Were you kidding? I do do that. But I’m more focused on charging electronic devices. And not just my own. If I see somebody’s phone sitting there and it’s down at, like, 40 percent, it gives me a little bit of agita and, if I can, I’ll plug it in. People are always a little bit confused, but they appreciate it. It’s like people who never let the gas in their car get below half. I’m one of those people too. It says I need to chill out. I need to be medicated is probably what it says. How has social media impacted your job? It used to be you were only competing with other television shows for jokes. Now you have to compete with Twitter. Before you go on the air, you have to scour the Internet to make sure 25 people haven’t already tweeted a version of a joke you’re going to do. And people don’t understand that we tape the show at 5:00 and it airs at 11:30. They’ll go, “You stole that joke from me.” And I say, “I was in bed by the time you made that joke.” You love to cook. What does that have in common with comedy? Maybe I just like positive feedback. Maybe there’s some neediness in me. Maybe my mother gave me too much attention as a kid and I need to keep filling that bucket. What’s the most indulgent purchase you ever made? I have a very expensive toilet that warms up and fires a very powerful stream of water up my ass. It’s a couple of thousand dollars, but it’ll change your life in a very positive way. I’ve gotten used to it, and now I feel like the toilet is being rude when I walk into a bathroom and it doesn’t rise for me. Who are your heroes? The first name that comes to mind is Howard Stern. I started in radio, and Howard wasn’t always this successful multimillionaire. He was just another guy with a family trying to hang on to a low-paying radio job. It would’ve been easy for him to play ball and do what his general manager told him to do. But he didn’t do that. He jumped right into uncomfortable situations, even if they complicated his life. And 99.9 percent of people wouldn’t have the spine to do that. What’s the best part of success? Meeting the people you admire. I got to spend last weekend with Bill Murray and David Letterman when they gave Bill the Mark Twain Prize. We had dinner in the Supreme Court building in D.C. Jimmy Kimmel will host the Oscars on February 26th.

58 | R ol l i n g S t o n e |

Sonia Sotomayor came right up to me and chatted. I had to stop and take stock of the fact that I was talking to a Supreme Court justice. But, honestly, the best thing is I get to hire everybody. I work with a relentlessly funny group of people every day, including my cousin Sal. My brother and my wife work here too. My best friend since I was nine years old is my bandleader. And the worst part of success? The way success affects your relationships with family and friends. Sometimes there are expectations that are impossible to meet for a variety of reasons. There’s a lot of focus on you, and sometimes you just want to be a member of the family. And it’s hard to just be that. The one place you don’t want to be treated differently is when you’re at a family birthday party. I go overboard trying to be considerate and to help where I can, because I never want anyone to think I’ve changed. What’s the best advice you ever received? The first good boss I had gave me some good advice. My radio partner and I were doing something dumb that was only funny to us, and he told us, “You’re jerking yourselves off.” I think about it a lot when I’m going through ideas from the writers: They think it’s funny to work my agent’s name into a comedy bit, which always gets a big laugh in rehearsal, and I always think, “Oh, we’re jerking ourselves off.” My dad told me, “When in doubt, order the hamburger,” which was probably the second-best piece of advice I ever got. What did you make of the flak you received after joking in your monologue about the Kim Kardashian robbery? I don’t even remember. What was the joke? It went, “Somehow these guys found the one moment this decade that this woman wasn’t surrounded by 40 people with cameras.” Right, I did say that. Oh, fuck those people. People are mad about things they’re not even mad about nowadays. “Find real things to be mad about” is good advice. People attacking Steve Martin for saying Carrie Fisher was beautiful – you’ve got to be kidding me. It’s crazy. Everyone is looking to tear everyone else down constantly. You took on Tim Kaine in a harmonica battle during the run-up to the election. Are you a serious harmonica player? I have nine of them in front of me right now. The one song I can really play is “Piano Man.” Huey Lewis also played the harmonica, so I got one and kept it in my car and I would play it in there. Huey Lewis really had an impact on you. He has been like an older brother or uncle to me. He got me into fly-fishing. His son works here at the show, in the social-media department. You’re keeping the Huey Lewis legacy going. INTERVIEW BY DAVID BROWNE Well, somebody has to.

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Maybe juiciness comes from MC Hammer’s juicy raindance.

Go to on your smart phone to see Hammer do his thing.


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