Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Naked Youth in the Garden

Easter today. That has precious little impact on me, frankly. But today my old friend and upstairs neighbor, Tony, prepared a ham and various fixings. Six of us. Very entertaining. Excellent conversation ... and a little bible study. I'll get back to the subject of that shortly.

Some years ago, on Christmas Day, a bunch of us picked up a friend. Our friend, a famously sarcastic Jew, said as he entered the car, "Congratulations on the birth of your gawd" ... a long drawl on the "aw" of gawd. We cracked up. Perhaps the appropriate greeting at Easter would be "Congratulations on the death of your gawd" but that would be uncivil. The christian would point out that Easter is about the resurrection ... but there is no resurrection without the death agony as Mel Gibson and the medieval catholics who are his models would have to note.

Easter is the mystical season of christianity. That said, it has long struck me that christian mysticism is curiously thin by comparison to its muslim rival. It seems the more strange given the passion of the dying Christ. Perhaps the mysticism that is heterodox in islam is orthodox in christianity, and thereby deprives the devoted of the curiosities of the arcane. By that I mean that the central mystery of Christianity is also its central doctrine. In Islam, notwithstanding the numinous poetry of the prophet, there is no mystery ... all that you need to know has been revealed, and you shouldn't be worrying about anything else; hence, the mysteries had to be invented, as it were, out of whole cloth. Maybe ... worth thinking about. But in Christianity, mysticism seems to leave us with nothing much more than occasional heresies such as the Da Vinci Code and the Last Temptation of Christ. (Of course, all the classical heresies are about the nature of Jesus ... human, divine, human and divine, or human or divine.)

If I were going to invent a christian mysticism, this is where I would start ...

Who is the naked boy in the garden?

That would be the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus has just been kissed by Judas, forsaken by his other disciples, and now faces the prospect of being seized by a bunch of studly Roman soldiers bearing swords. Then, in Gospel of Mark 14, this little, rarely remarked upon, interlude:

50 And they forsook him, and fled.

51 And then followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:

52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.

A year ago, before I started this blog, I thought that it might be useful ... perhaps even enjoyable ... to re-read the gospels. I got almost through Luke before other deeper reading called me away. Holy books are tough reads, unless you are a believer, because they must be constructed to be both opaque and blindingly obvious ... they must be indecipherable and crystalline clear. They have to please the fool and the sophist, the simple seeker after truth and the latter day doubting Thomas. They have to justify war and peace, love and hate, life and death, brotherhood and enmity. The inimitable aspect which pleases the spiritual is also the obfuscation which repels the rationalist.

But when I stumbled on those lines, my glassy eye came to a crashing halt. They scream across the centuries "gay".

The editor in me sees this as a catastrophic failure in redaction long, long ago. In other words, when the gospels were being composed and compiled, certainly textual decisions were made ... we do not know how or when or by whom. But this little lacuna points to something that has not survived, and its inclusion represents, perhaps, an error. What it points to might be baptism, a lost actor thread (i.e., is this the rich young man or Lazarus), or, provocatively, homosexuality.

It occurs to me that this just has to be his holiness' catamite, nervously wondering about a late night tryst, unaware of the momentous events, wandering into the garden hoping for a touch, a kiss, a little love. Then the brusque smelly soldiers grabbed at him ... they saw his vulnerable nakedness too ... and he ran away, forsaking the one he loved as had everyone else.

He ran away naked, his linen cloth stripped away.

Is the linen cloth a shroud, is it a whore's habit, is it a literary device representing the gossamer essence that separates the living from the dead?

I prefer to think of the flesh and blood Jesus as a rebel. Rebels do not support fat preachers like the Falwells, or Johnny-cum-lately convenience-seekers like dubya. They do not support the status quo. They oppose it everywhere they find it. It is passing curious that the church has seen fit to describe Mary Magdalene as a whore, but that they do not see the naked boy as queer. The church only pretends to rebel, but Jesus surely would have embraced the whore and the queer, both of them the meek and the trodden down.

I think the naked youth is queer, and no amount of Oral or Jimmy or Dr. Gene or the Cheshire Cat grin of Ratzinger-Benedict will ever convince me otherwise. It is all just too sweet, too convenient, too obviously a part of Jesus the revolutionary rather than Jesus the founder of the establishment.

I like to say that theology is bunk but religious history is fascinating. So in that vein, I pass to others vastly more expert in the peregrinations of divinity to discuss the possibilities underlying this error in editing. Everyone should read Will Roscoe's Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love, exquisitely illustrated by my good friend Winfield Coleman. I confess that I have not actually finished this tome ... again on the theology as bunk ... and I suppose now I will have to set aside some time and mow through it. The book is actually quite engaging and well written ... but I just prefer a rollicking tale of history lived over divine speculations.

At any rate, Roscoe speculates that the naked youth is Lazarus is the rich young man and is the discipline whom Jesus loves. One and the same.


Maybe is what theology is all about.

I also want to reference a couple of other books for the heretical. Try Theodore W. Jennings, Jr's., The Man Jesus Loved. And every liberal should own a copy of Daniel A Helminiak's What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. And no person who believes in science and history can really be without the paradigm-shaking arguments of John Boswell's Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. And for pure blasphemy, Jesus in Love ... nothing like a little blasphemy on Easter.

So here's to the Christ on the day of his not-death after his death ... and here is to his unsung lover, the naked boy in the garden.

Photos by Arod of the Praying Boy statue at Sans Souci, the palace of the gay emperor, Frederick the Great. I spent a fabulous day there with my sainted ex, RB, and wondered about the unique and rarefied joys of being a gay and intelligent emperor just before the French Revolution put paid to all that.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ideologues and Gay Freedom

To follow up on yesterday's post ... I think I based much of what I argued on three insufficiently answered questions ... leastwise unanswered in the current thread. I think I address subjects like this a lot since they represent core questions in the core ideas that I think about.

1. Why is gay liberation about sex first?

Homo-association is common in all societies. Armies, the workplace, sports, play, the church. Erotic male association occurs in all societies, too, but it often is either unnamed or misnamed. The difference between two guys hanging out and two guys living together as a married couple is that the latter two guys have sex. It is the sex that matters.

The virulent homophobia of the present day is the invention of monotheistic religions. In the case of christianity, the homophobia derived from a struggle in the early church which the sexual liberationist party lost. But the real repression only started in the 11th century, and it relates to the rise in the state side of the church/state dialectic. It is important always to keep that in mind ... both church and state attack homosexuals when it is useful to them ... in this sense, as I have argued before, gays are more like Jews in Western history than we are like women or Blacks. In the case of islam, its founder was a homophobe, and death is the punishment. Like everything in their holy book, there are contradictions and ways of reading different things from different passages ... holy books are like that, as they must be if they are to be holy. State and religious persecution of gays was also sporadic during the muslim centuries, but the key repressive feature was in the "protestant", flat, and family-centric society. It is true that muslim societies have generally tolerated old guys screwing pre-pubescent guys, but it is the tolerance of looking the other way. Their loathing of gay sex among equals parallels the christian world.

Gay people living together in the past might have drawn attention to them, but they were punished for having sex, or for being imagined to have sex. Repression against gay people has always been sporadic and selective. The key to understanding the repression of gay people, though, is to understand the silence. The love that dare no t speak its name. Virtually every lie told about us relies on the fact that we have been silenced for two millennia.

2. What was the impact of 70s feminism's hostility to gay liberation?

I believe that the key impact of feminism's hostility to gay liberation came to fruition only once the AIDS crisis forced feminism to back off ... or more to the point, to join up and garner a cut of the fruits, as it were .. the funding and recognition that started to flow towards AIDS-oriented organizations and the political clubs in the early 80s. (Parenthetically, I note again that I always distinguish between the social movement of women for freedom and equality as against the ideological superstructure built around it. The former I prefer to call women's liberation”; the latter "feminism.")

That impact was to undercut the primacy of the sex question. Feminism sought to domesticate gay liberation, to deprive it of the creativity and radicalism that challenged notions of prudery, dominant mores, monogamy, and centrally regulated morality. The notion that "gay is good" cannot be separated from a notion that sex is good ... that sex is the most profound creative force in human life, and that liberating from domination by religion and the state would lead to free people immune from lies and ideology. Feminism has, with only a very few exceptions, viewed free male sexuality as threat. Andrea Dworkin was vastly more iconic than Gayle Rubin.

Those kooky gay guys with our Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, our predilection for cruising, our hyper-masculine affectations ... the so-called "clones" ... and our fierce determination to defend the right for people to love whomever and however they damned well pleased ... well, it just did not make for tight control. Feminism was and is prescriptive ... it is ideological, starting not from life but from first principles. A band of heroic lovers was not susceptible to the control of a committee of school marms. They didn't like us and we didn't like them. We didn't trust them. But things changed as they are wont to do.

When those feminists who had boycotted the movement in the 70s finally showed up, they brought with them a loathing of what one of them once called, spitting the words in my face at a conference at UCLA in 1981, "your penis politics." That conference was a crazy attempt to build a national gay organization on the left and was like some uranium isotope with a half life of a half a weekend. One of my best friends at the time did manage to find a boyfriend ... in a bathroom ... so it wasn't a total loss. The most hilarious moment was when a women dressed head to tow in expensive Western wear ... you know, the boots, the hat, the shirt, the chaps, the whole nine yards ... rose to vehemently attack drag queens for mocking women.

So with those furious days as precursor, the impact of feminism on the gay movement has been to de-sex it. And that has given pride of place to those who make ludicrous distinctions between gay sex and gay relationships.

3. What is wrong with the notion of the invention of [the discourse of] homosexuality?


The notion of the invention of homosexuality relies upon positing the first outspoken gays of the late 19th century as saying something new. No. They were saying aloud what could not be said. No doubt, saying it aloud changed it. But it did not invent it. Saying it aloud made it available for others to modify it, attack us, redefine us, be repelled by us. Finally all their allegations against us made without naming us were open for examination. Of course, it took century for us to rise to our own defense, and in that time they slaughtered us and jailed us and beat us up and drove us from our homes in numbers that the bigots of earlier centuries could only have dreamed about. But that is true of all repression in the 20th century. The means at hand allowed for industrial slaughter. You cannot blame that on us for breaking the silence. You cannot blame that on the Enlightenment. You cannot blame that on people fighting for their rights. You have to blame the slaughter on the slaughterers.

Homosexuality is often blamed on foreigners ... it always something imposed on an innocent population by the evil other. I enjoyed Tim Blanning's recounting in his The Pursuit of Glory of the attitude of the 17th-century Dutch:

In the Dutch Republic, it was asserted that sodomy had been completely unknown until introduced by the Spanish and French envoys attending the negotiations that led to the Peace of Utrecht in 1713. Henceforth it was known as the 'Catholic vice', part of the great conspiracy by the Antichrist whose headquarters at Rome was also 'catamitorum mater'.

Catamitorum mater would be mother of all catamites.

Dr. Massad might take a lesson from all this. He should blame the political stagnation of Arab societies not on European gays but on the rulers of Arab societies, and on the strange lassitude of their subject populations in developing some different approach, notwithstanding the amply models available just for the watching.

The wholesome working class guys whom Massad apparently favors and who are screwing their pre-pubescent cousins and nephews ... they are gay, Massad. So are the allegedly Euro-influenced middle class guys who screw each other. The job of freedom loving people is to defend their right to do what consenting people want to do, and to oppose the bigots and authoritarians who want to kill them irrespective of what a ideologue on foreign shores thinks of their allegiances.

Massad, like the church, like the prophet, like the high-feminist ideologues, supports the silence. Silence kills. Freedom shouts.

I have illustrated this post again with the work of Fred Holle. Check him out. I saw his paintings at an exhibition at American Conservatory Theater, and they impressed me with his mastery of the simultaneity of madness and the quotidian. His web site says that one can use his images for non-commercial purposes ... and gawd noze I ain't making a nickel off my scribblings.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Tiny Mind of the Ideologue

My somewhat tormented perorations on impostors in my last post came to rest in the notion of the neo-con as impostor. That is a subset of the notion that all ideologues are impostors in that they pretend that thought follows fact when their method is to force fact to follow their idealist impositions. It is true of left and right, and so soon after my little attack of dry heaves at the conceit of Michael Burleigh's Earthly Powers, by chance and the efforts of a friend I have run into a classic case of a left wing ideologue whose mouth has got well ahead of any reasoned thought.

My upstairs neighbor and old friend, Tony, pushed an article through the mail slot that he suggested I read. It is from a gay rag called The Guide which features thoughtful articles among many many salacious and lovely pix of ill-clad men. The piece is called Desiring Arabs and it concerns a new book by a controversial Columbia University academic, one Joseph Massad. The reviewer, Bll Andriette, writes:

Massad's overarching theme is that Europe's encroachment on the Middle East -- Napoleon's aborted invasion of Egypt in 1798 is the opening salvo -- poured acid rain on the Arabs' literary legacy of same-sex eros. Western conquest has had that unsavory effect, Massad contends, whether the interlopers were Victorian-era colonial administrators, European scholars unearthing and systematizing ancient Arabic texts, gay tourists on sexcapades, or Western human-rights groups and the gay campaigners that he contemptuously dubs the "Gay International." Indeed, these latter Massad accuses of being a sometimes witting tool of Western imperialism. Moreover, he says, they do no favors for erotic freedom in the Middle East.

Later he writes:

Massad does not dispute that some Arabs embrace gay identity. But he contends they hail from the increasingly westernized elites. "They remain a minuscule minority among those men who engage in same-sex relations and who do not identify as 'gay' nor express a need for gay politics," Massad argues. The evidence, he suggests, includes Zakharia's care in distinguishing "gay love" from "gay sex," pointing to a world where same-sex activity is a commonplace without name or label.

It is noteworthy that he prefaces the previous comment with this:

"Since the concept of same-sex relations does not exist in the Arab world, being 'gay' is still considered to be sexual behavior," asserts Ramzi Zakharia, GLAS's outreach director. "Just because you sleep with a member of the same sex does not mean you are gay. Once a relationship develops beyond sex (i.e., love), this is when the term 'gay' applies."

GLAS refers to "The Gay and Lesbian Arabic Society (, for example, was established in 1988 and claims chapters in New York, Los Angeles, Beirut, and Cairo."

Let's start here ... the notion propounded that "the concept of same-sex relations does not exist in the Arab world" is complete piffle ... idiocy ... one of those commonplaces that develop among people talking in closed rooms that are repeated so often that they start to sound true just so long as you do not compare them to reality. Folks, being gay IS a sexual behavior. When some straight Arab guy, or Afghan where the practice is quite common and roundly tsk-tsked by assorted campaigners of one type or another, screws some straight youth, what they are doing is gay. It is gay by any definition.

Now it may not be a "gay relationship" in the sense of gay marriage or commitment ceremonies or two queers gathering their nickels and quarters and buying a million dollar condo just outside the Castro. But it is gay. Gay equals homosexual, and vice versa. The terms are interchangeable.

The confusion here started, frankly, in the refusal of politically correct feminists to accept the fundamental arguments of gay liberation in the 70s ... and it was much abetted by the partial thinking of poor M. Foucault who had the misfortune of dying before he could complete, and correct, his thought. Let me explain.

The feminists of the 70s loathed and openly opposed gay liberation. They were motivated by two bad theories ... firstly that they had to counter the broadly propounded notion that feminists were frustrated dykes who just needed a good fuck by a proper man and they'd see the light; and, secondly, that all penetrative sex was male supremacist and since gay men are distincly penetrative, if you get my drift, they were the most supremacist of all. Those among my readers chary of hard thought may think I exaggerate, but I assure you that this is not hyperbole ... rather it is stated as fact from repeated direct personal experiences.

Gay liberation was founded on the notion that gay is good, by which we meant that "though some seek to deny it, homosexuality is normal and natural and not a threat to society or the individual." The quote is a paraphrase form memory of the opening sentence in the Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) Vancouver statement of principles. Frobisher will no doubt correct any inessential inaccuracies. I believe that he wrote the line. By "gay is good", we meant gay sex, gay life, gay community, gay individuals, gay lovers, gay people. We did not create some inane separation between the joy of versus sex and gay relationships. Such an distinction is pandering to our enemies, and chiefly our religious enemies.

An aside on poor M. Foucault at whose doorstep we must lay blame for the truncated notion of discourse ... in this case, the ideational underpinning of the silly notion that the homosexual "discourse" was invented in the 19th century. The truth is that the long history of both Islam and Christianity in regard to homosexuality is a history of silencing in literate or reported form of the oral and obvious discourse of homosexuality. I find some support for this in Tim Blanning's excellent The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815, my current reading material, who has an thorough review of gay life ... including sex ... on pages 80-85. Again and again, he notes the silencing. For example, he quotes a 1709 report by the "raffish journalist" Ned Ward "who in his account of the clubs of London and Westminster" uses the phrasing "that they may tempt each other to commit those odious Bestialities, that ought for ever to be without a Name." It is not that there is no discourse for homosexuality, but rather that it is impolitic or blasphemous or what have you to give the discourse a name. Everybody knew what it was.

Notwithstanding our current standing on the left ... to whit that we have after much struggle been accepted as a struggle ... we remain the poor sisters of liberation struggles. What leftoid is willing to credit Mayor Newsom for his courage in standing up for gay liberation ... certainly not current poster-man (smirk) Barrack. (Here's an article article along with an alluring photo of the good mayor in a recent speech in which he avers that politicians are too risk-averse.) But even today, the struggle for gays is against silence and for civil rights.

Against silence.

That is what the would-be liberal Joseph Massad completely does not understand ... I believe he willfully misunderstands it in favor of a pre-figured ideology, to whit the "not quite as popular as it was a decade or two ago" anti-colonialism. His argument has this structure. Arab men used to fuck with gay abandon and repression was rare. Then the Euros arrived with their discourses of sodomy, and the elites adopted these homophobic notions. So all homosexual repression is the result of colonialism. Therefore, to oppose it is to be a colonialist since the removal of colonialism would result in a return to the status quo ante.

Return ... if I might refer to my argument about Lev Nussimbaum and his love of monarchy ... return to that which cannot be re-accessed is the essence of the fantasy of monarchism. If I commit to that which cannot be, then I cannot gird myself against commitment to, or more importantly against, that which actually is. Parenthetically, this is the allure of religion. In the current case, it is that which immunizes a would-be thinker like Massad against taking a stand FOR gay sex ... for the right of free individuals to do what they want in free association with other free individuals. And by consequence, a man who poses as a liberal can find himself defending the brutal repression not only of Arab dictators but also of their fascist Islamist opponents. The fall guys are a bunch of gay boys who just want to fuck. Who the hell cares ... people have sex! Let them be. Leave them alone.

This is precisely the deadly game of ideology. By convoluted paths, it argues that the non-existence of a discourse of homosexuality in the past allowed people to have gay sex, but now the imposition of gay discourse by colonialists means that gay people cannot have sex, therefore gay liberationists should shut up and then everything would return to the situation of silence in which gay guys could fuck. Applied to a context such as cooking or bibliography, such idiocy would get you kicked out of the club. On the left, you get a book published and a professorship. What foolishness ... it would be funny if lives were not at issue ... if victims of this logic were not languishing in Egyptian prisons and at the end of Iranian nooses.

What we really have here is the fact that Massad is a reactionary, a homophobe. Not a liberal. He supports the repression of gays and he opposes free speech. His convoluted thinking ... I am too sane to call it logic ... amounts to supporting the repression of gays by the Egyptian regime and the Iranian murderers.

I will return to the depredations of ideologues against gays tomorrow.

I have read a lot of this to my sainted roommate and bartender, RL, who notes that his arguments reek of perversions and subjections of logic. Perfect.

I am writing this post to the stylings of the inimitable Noel Coward in his 1950 Las Vegas performance at the Desert Inn ... and I am spurred by the equally inimitable RL's production of a Gin Buck, a fine dinner of tortelloni and salad, and soon another cocktail whose identity is yet to be determined ... it is a Hearst with Punta Mes.

Check out this additional good article from the horny Guide.

Photos from the work of Fred Holle.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Impostor

The tale of Lev Nussimbaum aka Essad Bey aka Kurban Said, and its competent telling in Tom Reiss' The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, throws into stark relief both the attraction of the impostor and the irreducibility of historical context in human lives. Born into a wealthy oil-magnate Jewish family in Baku (now Azerbaijan) on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Lev responded to the brutal reverses of the 1905 and 1917 revolutions, and then the rise of Nazism in the country to which he as exiled, by writing and re-inventing himself. Reiss writes:

For most of his life until fortune threw him to a place where he could no longer joke about such things, Lev would keep up a kind of comic dialogue with his writer friends about his "transformation" from Lev to Essad. It was not that he mocked his conversion or allowed others to. But among those he felt he could understand, and these were mostly his fellow Jews, he seemed to think it fair to reveal the transformation. With anyone else, he grew circumspect, neither denying nor accepting that he was covering up something. Rather than trying to refute anything, he responded by diving deeper into his identity and becoming more and more the Orientalist--more and more Essad Bey.

Remember transformation for a moment. I'll come back to that.

Many Jews of the late-19th and early 20th centuries adopted a stance as eastern, Asian, non-European, seeing in Muslim and other Eastern peoples kindred spirits opposed to the Europeans among whom they lived and who reviled them as conjunctures demanded. Lev was of this ideational caste, if you will, and as such might not precisely be seen as an impostor if we can accept that he genuinely converted to Islam and subsequently adopted a Turkish name. But he rewrote his past, and he dodged his present, and his religious system was always an act and never a belief. The identity came first and religion had to follow. That is a less rare pattern than one might imagine ... I believe it is precisely the pattern that has so many atheist politicians trundling off to church every week (does anyone with a rational mind believe that Hillary truly believes, or for that matter Obama notwithstanding his genuine earnestness?).

There was one exception to the precedence of artifice over belief in Lev, however. He was a genuine monarchist, a devoted follower of the dead Czar as well as the exiled Sultan and erstwhile Caliph. The historical background is that his life declined along with monarchy. But there is more to monarchism than nostalgia. It represents a pointed and deliberate false consciousness especially in a man as quick-witted and intelligent as Lev.

Monarchism is the worship of impostors. How's that? Monarchy is like religion in that any rational analysis reduces it to the nothing that belies it. What props up monarchs and gods is charisma and history and, again, irreducibility. To abuse the phrase of the day, they are what they are. So long as they hold power, they are powerful. When they no longer hold power they are windbags ... nothing more than the puffed up claims that surround them. To believe in them after their demise is affect because there is nothing to believe in ... the charisma has become a chimera.

For a man who constructed his life from whole cloth, monarchy conveys a sufficient reference to a reality in which the impostor can invest so as to create an imagined reality that is the imposter's stock in trade. Look back, young man, for the future bodes ill. It is in your imagined past, young man, that you can find the girding that will save you, nourish you, make you into what you can no longer be.

Again, Reiss writes:

He had had few friends growing up and had a precocious child's wariness of other children. Indeed, his passage praising absolute czardom begins with a short speech on why "I love old people, detest the youth"; the old are "calmer, cleverer, and more modest," and when the young turn their backs on them, as they inevitably do, they "must consequently fall into barbarism."

I love old people too ... like my father before me, I have always had friends older and often much older than me. As I get older, I tend to grouse all the more at the barbarism of intemperate youth ... notwithstanding the obvious fact that they are pretty wallpaper. That said, I have always been young ... by which I mean that I am impatient and revolutionary by nature. I do not brook idiocy and my definition of idiocy is broad and sharp ... I also enjoy oxymorons ... and I fail to understand why people are stuck and incapable of understanding history and necessity. The older people who are or have been my friends are young in that same way. And by turns, so many of the young about me are old in the sense that they accept what is given to them and look only for their own comfort. They bear similarity to the young of Lev's day I that they accepted what was given to them and looked for their own aggrandizement through a reductionist view of history. Our youth seem to have no sense of history ... time will have to tell whether that is a benefit or a torment.

What Lev saw in the old was that they understood transformation in a loose way, a clever way, modestly and with a smirk and a smile. What he detested in the young was their ideological fervor as he experienced it in the rise of the goose stepping youth of the brownshirts and the imperturbable murderers under red banners.

So, transformation. Impostors do transformations. They are loose about it. The con man smiles and draws you in. My father called one of my younger brother's best friends a "beloved infidel" ... the guy was an impostor, but you had to believe and you had to accept the letdown because you knew you had believed. You could not pretend otherwise. Transformation on some level is not being able to pretend otherwise.

There is another kind of impostor, the one who does fake-outs, and regressions, and bait and switch. The one who substitutes glibness and the snide for the con man smiles. What is appealing in the impostor like Lev is disgusting in the ideological impostor.

I speak, of course, of neo-cons and other such reductionist ideologues of contempt and self-assurance.

My readerly ride through the terrifying years of the 20s and 30s with Lev/Essad was a little easier than it usually is. I have always found the interwar period one of the most difficult in history to imagine because the horrors into which it descended were so unprecedented in scale. Did Lev's peers know? Did the cabaret people, the communists, the brown shirts, the working class, the street walkers ... did they have any inkling of the guillotine blade under which they lived, of the rapid drop into hell which the uncertainty of their lives portended?

In that vein, I sought out some reading on the development of thought and politics in the 19th century. I really want to read about German and Italian unification, but then I stumbled on Michael Burleigh's Earthly Powers. Sure, I thought, there's a meditation on how junctures arise in history.

Alas, the book is mired in the inability of the simple-minded to get beyond finding someone to blame. And who, do you suppose, would be at fault for both Nazism and Bolshevism ... why the Enlightenment, of course, not to mention pretty much anybody who lived before during or after the events and to whom one can paste the label "liberal".

The book was so nauseating that I could not get past page 44 ... I actually wrote "this is unreadable" at the bottom of page 39. The problem too often with the modern ideologue is that he cannot let himself resist snideness no matter how many opportunities are presented. Adjectives and asides and little sneers everywhere. So, speaking of the era of the Enlightenment, he writes:

Censorship, lax in practice but all the more resented in theory, as well as ferocious blasphemy and sacrilege laws, sought to compel orthodoxy. The philosophes tended to highlight the most extreme cases, often omitting crucial details that might have modified their starkly contrived contrasts. (page 30)

Elsewhere, he refers to the "several existing tendencies and novel developments that are known as the Enlightenment" (page 37) ... in other words, the great force that initiated the permanent decentralization of religion and idolatry in European life if

In other words ... and this is the essence of the weakly expressed thesis of the book ... Catholicism and absolutism were kindly forces that occasionally did naughty things, but really given a few more decades they would have led the world to a peaceable kingdom of goodness and light, and the awful liberals and Nazis and Bolsheviks would never have come to pass. If only those horrible impostors, the philosophes, had not mucked it all up. O for a good auto-da-fe ... where was holy mother church when we needed it.

Burleigh like all neo-cons is an impostor. They claim a connection to the past, but they sing a tune that makes no sense. They pose as monarchists or defenders of holy mother church (I have no proof, but I'll eat my hat if this guy isn't a revanchist Catholic). But in fact they propound a radical theory of the dissolution of democracy. They are not conservatives ... they are radicals who seek to enshrine an entirely new political elite who are beyond critique.

What a contrast is the transforming impostor Lev from the dissembling impostor Burleigh. Remember that things called by the same names are not by force the same.

Mark Lilla, who wrote the saddeningly sycophantic The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West about which I commented here and here, wrote a "damning with faint praise" review in the New York Times. Lilla writes:

The utopians did not believe in God but they very much believed in religion. That is the truly novel development in the 19th century, and one which Hurleigh never manages to bring into focus: the less people talked about God, the more they talked and worried about religion. For the utopians, the revolution's defeat of the Catholic Church represented an enormous step forward for the human race, but also posed an unprecedented challenge. Once men thought themselves free from God they might think themselves free from one another, like elementary particles floating in the void. What modern, postrevolutionary society needed was a new religion, or a surrogate one, a system of symbols and ceremonies bringing individuals together without reference to a revealing, transcendent God.

There is so much teleology here that it is hard to swallow. Society did make some civic gods, and Burleigh blames all of that on the Enlightenment ... but history is never complete. So the fact that the first attempts at constructing a civil life without the stultifying effects of godliness were incomplete is hardly surprising. The fact that some of them were more bloody than anything that had come before is an effect of the industrial means at hand ... only a fool would wish upon us the medieval inquisition in possession of the tools of modern destructiveness.

Burleigh is just such a fool. In that, he poses as an impostor, for he is surely intelligent enough to know that there is no going back, and that his very stance is itself as much a daughter of the Enlightenment as is liberalism or socialism or agnosticism of what have you. So he pretends to this conservatism ... but it is a lie. No, for the neo-cons, there is much more afoot. There is a bloody reaction, the telling doom of their enemies, the victory of their snide asides.

Ooops ... now their hero is McCain ... how the feigning mighty are melting into dust.

I will try to return to the relationship of fascism and religion at a later point.

Tonight's drink is a PiƱa Colada, RL's very own recipe, as he says. And then, a hard day having been had by all, we followed that with an exquisite Blue Moon, this one slightly flavored with a little Marie Brizzard Parfait Amour ... which makes it just a little grapey in a carnavalesque sort of way.

Photo by Arod of a window on Noe Street in the Castro.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

American Idol 11

Amanda Overmyer ... Back in the USSR ... a little weak but still love her. She richly retorts to Simon that she has a minute and a half to convince people that they love that chick and want to pay to see her. Nice.

Kristy Lee Cook ... You've Got to Hide Your Love Away ... talk about slaughtering a song. It's embarassing. The Beatles should sue.

David Archuletta ... The Long and Winding Road ... The first one who did a Beatles song like the Beatles ... the voice had it, the purity of the voice. He's too young for the song, but he just nailed it. Made me believe.

Michael Johns ... A Day in the Life ... the arrangement is a little scattered, and he missed a key note; tough song. Still pretty convincing. Not an idol though, but a good middle brow singer. A little mature frankly.

Brooke White ... Here Comes the Sun ... nice, started out stronger than it ended. She's so likable, but I still just don't think that the funk rises to the level of the voice which is cool.

David Cook ... Day Tripper ... right song, made it his own, said something with it different than what Id ever hear in that song before. Wow!

Carly Smithson ... Blackbird ... took a while to take off, but then she soared. It seemed like two versions at once. But this is a tough song that needs voice and maturity, and she showed both. Convincing. Hit every note.

Jason Castro ... Michelle ... those tight Levis' ... ouch ... I think he just nailed that. Very romantic, rolling with it. I think he understood it and conveyed it. But the Levi's. The Levi's.

Syesha Mercado ... Yesterday ... feeble, nervous, afraid to grab it. Too much ornamentation in place of explaining the song to us. I think she hasn't got a clue. Really weak.

Chikezie ... I've Just Seen a Face ... after last week's breakout, he returns to the lounge singer thing. Boring. Then the seond half after the harmonica is live and different. This guy has a little bluegrass in him. Hmmm. Half a good performance.

Ramiele Malubay ... I Should Have Known Better ... tempo, girl, tempo. Seems stuck in a time warp. Nothing there, no depth. Just enough rhythm. Forgettable.

Thank goodness this is the end of the Beatles jag. I never realized just how difficult those songs are because there were so few good performances from a group of very talented competitors.

I think that Kristy Lee Cook is out. Michael Johns is vulnerable because he probably doesnt have a big natural voting bloc. But Kristy should have gone last week, and this will be the last pain we will have to experience from her.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sex, Money, Power

No one feels sorry for Eliot Spitzer, least of all me. But his fall is a farce ... and pile it on to the indictments of the religious and ideological dimensions of American culture ... and more than a farce, a tragedy. We have made the moral bar for public office so high, so perilous, so idiosyncratic, that it is a wonder that anyone shy of Jeeezus is allowed to run. That's how they handle it in Iran, by the way. Only they call Jeeezus by a different name.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, he was an idiot, and arrogant, and all that ... I am referring to Spitzer not to any putative Jeeezi. But so the flock whot, if you grok my vowel dissimulation.

Let's look at the great mystery ... it turns out that ... that people have sex. Yes, they do. People have been having sex for a long time. People also pay for sex. They pay for sex in many ways, and it is only a small minority of those who pay for sex who do so by transferring amounts roughly equivalent to a happy monthly wage for most us in exchange for present and future considerations.

Frankly, I tend to be impressed by a man who knows that he knows how to pick his whores, and how to treat 'em well. Can anyone in whose mouth butter assumes its natural warmed-up fluid state actually believe that perky Ashley Alexandra Dupre would be better off or happier in a job at MacDonalds or perhaps as a meter maid or, gawd phorphend, as a state bureaucrat processing license applications in Albany. Not saying that I recommend a life of prostitution, but there are plenty of folks who have done well by it, and that goes lo these centuries and millennia.

The morally rousable will point to the poor crack addict whores who people the dark alleys roughly a 13 minute walk from where I write. But I aver that their biggest problem is not prostitution but the illegality that accompanies it and serves as a shield between them and help and care. How does busting them, dragging them to jail, and then dumping them back into the hands of their pimp actually help them? Riddle me that.

But I digress.
So, let us accept as our starting point that people have sex ... yes they do. Let me go further in asserting that American society right now, as we speak, is the most sexually active, sexually diverse, and sexually prolific society in the history of humanity. Gosh darn, it's a heck of a lot of fun ... barrel of monkeys. The vast majority of sex going on is victimless ... sure we have rape, and we have coercion, and we have manipulation. But some degree of evil attends all human endeavor. Even figure skating has its Tanya Hardings, for crying out loud, and no one is calling for an end to figure skating as far as I know. Imagine if we applied our fevered public face against sex to religion ...

Governor Spitzer today admitted that he is a member of a church that requires its members to pay for services, and moreover, Governor Spitzer secretly wrote large checks to a institution that lies, bedevils the innocent, manipulates the hapless into wasting perfectly good Sundays listening to their nonsense, and propagates fantastic idiocies as irreducible truths. The National Commission on Good Sense is outraged. Rationalists all over the country are demanding his resignation. The governor is currently cloistered with his priest although reliable reports indicate that both are still fully clothed. No choir boys are known to be involved at this juncture.

There is much falderal about feeling sorry for his wife. Let me state my bias ... I have been in three fabulous committed relationships, 10, 6, and 10 years and all of them open. I would have been in no relationships had they been "closed". Of course, now I am happily single and about as far from the dating scene as a jackass from a salmon fishery, but I think you grok the nature of my approach to sexuality. I think it is one of the pleasures that gawd gave us, and she-he who forsakes it gives up a good time when few await us beyond the grave. There should be no coercion in matters of sex, but let anyone who wants it seek it out.

The point of regulating sex is to regulate human economic, political, and social power. The point of the monotheistic religious loathing of sex is that sexually free people have no need of priests or their black magic. The point of applying ludicrous sexual rules to politicos is not the "honesty" thang, but to make sure that free thinkers play no part in public life.

One day, some horny politico is going to give a speech like this:

Okay, you caught me. I am not going to resign because I am a good person, an honest person. My wife knew I screwed around, and she told me more than once that if a whore kept me from buggin her at 3 in the morning because woody was interfering with my sleep ... well, bully for her. The only thing is that she has always insisted that I never see the same one more than twice. Anyway, I still love the old broad, and I hope she doesn't sue me for everything I am worth. I promise to publish the names of all my whores, but only 96 hours after we meet so they have time to change their aliases.

Larry Craig came close, but not close enough.

Photos of Arod by various homoerotic images about town, all from a walk with Loki a few weeks ago ... Rufus Wainwright, some advertising dude, something crypto-classical in the Mission.

David, We Hardly Knew Ya

Former gay stripper, David Hernandez, lost out last night, and I am sore sad. It's not so much that he was voted off ... that is not how it works. It's that no one voted for him. Middle aged gay guys who think guy strippers are cool ... we are not a large voting block on American Idol. I confess ... I have never voted, and I am not quite sure how to vote ... but now that I have an iPhone ... yes an iPhone, but I will deal with that later ... perhaps I could learn, and thereby sink one full level lower and closer to the hell that I decry and disdain. (BTW, I did call it (see the bottom of the post), notwithstanding that I thought it was two down, not one.)

But back to poor David. The guy is actually talented, but that kind of talent minus the kooky luck that accompanies all pop idols, might lead to a career as a male lead in drag shows. Maybe he can parlay it into something on Broadway, or in musical theater in Phoenix ... but the total package for big time pop star cannot include stripping, especially male stripping. That is not precisely anti-gay ... rather it is anti-sex, or, as we said in the "movement", it is sex-negative. More on that in my next post.

So, sweet David, I lift my Daiquiri made with kefir limes and light Matusalem rum ("original Cuban formula" made in the DR) to your efforts. You can strip for me any time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blogging American Idol

So, I'll just keep some notes on the singing and try to avoid the rest. This is the best American Idol for talent in a while, I think ... and it is a guilty pleasure, for sure. The songs tonight will all be by John Lennon and Paul McCartney ... wow ... an old hippie's delight.

Syesha Mercado: Got to Get You into My Life

Boy, she took the wind out of that song ... seemed a little lounge-act to me. She's been deeper in the past, but this one was flat and not very much. Nice voice. I just don't think she had an idea of how to approach this. [Simon liked it, thought she was nervous, but the others were kind of split.] Sweet gal, everybody probably likes her ... but not an idol.

Chikezie: She's a Woman

Wow! Starts all bluegrassy, and then rocks down. He just cut right loose and let 'em have it. He was so restrained before, so night club. But this was just rockin. I have never heard that song like that before. [Randy loved it. Pauls oozed with joy. Simon too ... wow!] He just plain smashed that out of the park!

Ramiele Malubay: In My Life

Cheesy, cheesy ... the audience is waving. This gal probably has a big career in the Philippines if she wants it because they love this kind of smarmy schlock. But there is nothing exciting in this. The thing with this year is the thrills ... and she is trying to woo us rather than blow us away ["Kind of pretty but kind of boring" says Randy. And Simon was bored to tears. Right. Forgettable.] She is better than that ... but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Jason Castro: If I Fell

I think this was a bad choice for him because it challenged his voice ... and left him just being sentimental. I adore this guy, and his earlier pieces have been mindblowing. This one fell flat. Nothing really there. Really disappointing. [Randy isn't convinced. Paula adored it, of course ... she's like me, she just wants to sweep him up and take him home. Simon says "a little bit student in a bedroom at midnight" ... exactly.] I agree with Simon. This was a bad choice, and he needs to think it out a little more. Why didn't he do Yesterday?

Carly Smithson: Come Together

Competent, strutting, a little slow. I wish I could sing like that, but I don't think I'd buy the record. This seems like a retrospective for somebody who doesn't have a public past yet. Yawn. Half rocker, half vixen, mostly forgettable. [Randy loved it, Paula loved it ... said she felt she was already watching a star ... Simon liked it too.] Well, I was cold, but I guess I was wrong.

David Cook: Eleanor Rigby

This guy's rendition of Lionel Ritchie's Hello almost brought me to tears. Probably not the right song, but this guy uses his voice. He articulates and tells the story the way he sees it. So this is the most original version of Eleanor Rigby I have heard since the Beetles did it. Good, but not quite out of the park like his Hello. [Randy has the pitch problems things. Paula thinks he is a thoroughbred. Simon thought it was brilliant.] This guy has got a career regardless. Wow.

Brooke White: Let It be

No drama, but moving in its simplicity. She has a little country edge in her voice that would rock if she could let it rip. But this song seems too deep for her. She can't do the saffron version, she can't make it her own, so she just drove down the middle and tried to let the innate quality of her voice carry it. There's more to greatness than that. [Randy talks about conviction and heartfelt performance ... daming with faint praise. Paula feels her heart. Simon thought it was one of the best of the night!] I agree with Simon that it is believable, but I want to be moved and this didn't quite do it. Maybe it flew above my head.

David Hernandez: I Saw Her Standing There

I think he is trying to do too much with this. It is a good old hard-rockin song in the 50s sense of rock. It is challenging the lower registers of his voice, too. He had a little trouble figuring out if this was rock or blues. Last week, he rocked our worlds. A little confusing this week. [Randy thinks it was overdone. Paula thinks he overdid it too. Simon says no, no, no ... corny verging on desperate.] I think he is a little desperate because he is the one known to have been a gay stripper, so I think he might have been pandering. A real drag because his Papa Was a Rollin Stone was knee buckling. Hope he survives.

Amanda Overmyer: You Can't Do That

So damned professional. She makes you believe, and takes command of the song. I think also that knowing what she believes in it means that it strikes one note hard ... this is what she makes of the song, and you have to buy it. Really impressive. Rocks the house. [Randy says she rocked it out Southern bar style. Paula agrees this is the best season of talent. Simon thought not as good as last week.] You know, the more I think about it, I loved this one. Simon missed it.

Michael Johns: Across the Universe

This is just pure voice ... nothing's going to change my world ... you believe because the sweet styling make you need to believe. It is a little corny, and maybe it gets a little too orchestral. But it is sad, and the styling remind you of the man behind the lyrics. I believe. [Randy was waiting for something big. Paula gets the inner strength in doing nothing but sing ... she says brilliant. Simon agrees with Randy ... should have done something brilliant ... solid, but you have to let yourself go.] Hmmm. The guys are playing down a little this week, and maybe Simon is right.

Kristy Lee Cook: Eight Days a Week

Country style. What a voice ... but she's rushing it a little. Take it back a little, and this is one of the most original Beetles covers you could imagine. What's the hurry. Great inflection in that country style. But the rush to git on with it means that she can't ornament the moments. But what a voice. [Randy thought it forced. Paula thought it too country, didn't get it. Simon thought it horrendous ... Dolly Parton on helium.] I still think she should have stepped back and given it some time.

David Archuleta: We Can Work It Out

I call this kid "the Dimple" ... he has the most incredible raw talent. He almost has to win. He seemed to forget some of the words in a weird way ... but then he took it over and made it his own. This is teeny bopper pop at its best. Still, he had a lot of trouble with this song, and only his underlying strength as a singer pushed him through. Disappointing. [Randy says it is not on point. Paula still loves him. Simon says it was a mess.] It was his weakest performance so far. This is where being 17 is tough because there's no experience to fall back on when the raw incredible talent falls flat. I still think he should win it.

I figure that Ramiele and David Hernandez are gone. That said, this was disappointing, not nearly what I expected, especially of the guys. Still, Chikezie and David Cook were the winners, with Amanda and Carly close behind. On balance, the choice of Lennon/McCartney seemed right but was obviously wrong ... those are tough songs to cover and require a lot more polish than one might expect from newbies and wannabes.

BTW, I skip the kill 'em off shows and just check the Internet the next day ... I can't stand the pain.

Photos from the American Idol web site, of earlier performances.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Fag-Baited in the Castro

Yes, fag-baited in the Castro in front of my house by a pert pretty early-20s-something female school teacher leaning out the window of her vast SUV planet killer bought for her by her parents in Kansas.

Back in the early 80s, I was fag baited a few times in the Castro. I remember a bunch of christians driving by and scraping their fingers in the "shame on you" symbol as Gaetano and I walked hand-in-hand ... this was at a time when the christians were routinely invading the neighborhood and staging little performance autos-da-fe, as it were. I was once threatened, and scared, by a group of cholo dudes yelling "fag" from a fast car screaming around the corner at 16th and Market late at night. And some kid once showed me a knife ad gave me the finger through the window of a bus at Castro and Market. All those were in the 80s. Once in the 90s a decrepit foul homeless guy screamed "fag" at me at Castro and Market.

But tonight was the most unsettling I have ever experienced in this neighborhood.

I really do not like SUVs ... and I especially can't bear the really big ones. Cities are drowning in brain-dead, me-me-me, SUV driving. I hate it when they buzz you, I hate it when they run stop signs, I hate it when they conspire to destroy our planet. So, Wednesday last, I arrive home from the dog walk, blissful from the oxygen notwithstanding the fatigue from a long day of labor in the modern work force ... and there in the driveway is this enormous blood-sucking SUV with those blinding "screw-you" lights flooding the front of the house, idling, and this tiny little missy blabbing away on the cell phone. You know, I would have let it slide if the thing hadn't been idling. But it stuck in my craw. I tried to get her attention, but she turned so she wouldn't have to look at me. Well that did it.

I have a voice that can crack concrete. I can project right through the president-for-life black-tinted windows of the most armored gargantuan SUV ever made ... and so I let fly with a "Hey" just slightly below the decibel level of a 747 preparing to take off. Little missy snottily powers down the window, and I told her ... let me not quote exactly ... to get her friggin planet-killer out of the driveway. She bleated something about how she didn't tell me how to live so ... I cut her off and said to get her planet killer out of the driveway. This went back and forth, and at some point she tried to excuse her behavior by proclaiming "I'm a school teacher" and "my parents bought me the car." It had Kansas license plates. And when I still insisted that she park somewhere else, she stated, "You're a homosexual so you're being mean to me." I'm pretty sure that is exactly what she said. I know I heard "homosexual." I suppose part of my problem was that that she had no more wit in her tiny gray matter than to fag-bait as repartee.

Little missy, on the dole from her Kansas-bound parents, can afford to invade the heartland of gay liberation and fag-bait her neighbors who express their considered opinion that it is an obscenity to drive an SUV larger than the houses in which 75% of the world's population live. I figured that she was raised religious given the snake-spitting manner in which she recited the word "homosexual". I called her on the fag-baiting, at which point she looked at me pissy, and backed out and went away.

Unsettling ... this neighborhood is going straight, and that is the result of the real estate crisis and 'publican favoring of the rich in public policy. Not much one can do. People can go where they want, and that is the way it should be. But it raises two issues for those of us who were around before and during gay liberation. Firstly, roughly 99.99% of all neighborhoods in the world are straight. There are perhaps a half dozen, maybe 10, gay neighborhoods in the United States, and in a decade, there will be none. We've already seen the self-righteous new helicopter parents in this neighborhood demand that gay bookstores not display erotic images, and we'll see more of that. And we'll see coddled little missies gay-bait their neighbors casually and out of that special haughty preciousness that is the gift of over-protective parenting to everyday life.

But secondly, and more significantly, when we came out publicly during the high days of the gay movement, we did so not just as individuals and groups of individuals ... we also did so as people, primarily men, who had relocated and collected ourselves in neighborhoods. We had behind us a place ... really two places, the neighborhood and the bars. In Vancouver, we used to call the bars "the ghetto" ... a lot of gays guys used that language ... you'd say, "what are you doing tonight," and the reply would be "I'm going to the ghetto," which meant going to the bars. So the neighborhoods were then and have been a source of strength and organization and creativity. I know everybody likes to assume that the intermingling of open gays into other neighborhoods presages the "happy" elimination of a distinction between gays and straights, but only those ignorant of history, whether coyly or foolishly, would deprive us of the ability to fight back should our militant enemies seek to move against us. Not having neighborhoods will make us more vulnerable.

And that is what is so unsettling. The little shit in her monster SUV felt perfectly comfortable gay-baiting, just as comfortable as she feels in driving a planet-killer in a crowded city for which she has no native feel. The history and edge and charm of our city were built by its rebels and misfits and free-thinkers, and not by the rich or by the coddled ... and we are increasingly at danger of becoming just another suburban hellhole drowning in SUVs and prams and plastic packaging and the self-centered.

Gay liberation consciously took as its models women's liberation and the black movement. But the truth is that we are more like Jews, minus the genealogical and religious angles, than women or blacks. Just as with the Jews, for millennia we have been the ever-present other, always available for a timely pogrom should the powerful or the ideological or the sanctimonious feel the need for it. It is hard to imagine a full-scale attack on Jews in America, but when you think of the social dislocation of the decline of the empire over the next decades, it is not hard to imagine gays taking the brunt of some misplaced rage. We are, after all, the target of the single most virulent religious and ideological hatred in America today. One of the two main political parties has come to power in large part by attacking us.

I have been reading Tom Reiss' The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, the story of a Jew born in Azerbaijan who masqueraded as a Muslim prince in the gathering gloom of Nazi Germany. The Jews of the 20s in Germany played huge roles in society, as do gays today. They had been supporters of the war, they were nationalists, they were integrated into the economic engine as it by turns sputtered and roared. They lived and worked side by side with everyone else ... but none of that saved them.

Would the Kansan school teacher in Papa's SUV come to our aid if we are attacked? Or would she view it as a real estate opportunity?

I fulminated over this post for a long time ... and when I fulminate, I do not write. I am sitting in the garden on a beautiful day as my ex pulls out the winter's weeds. I will try to write something happy soon. Photo by Arod of some street art that appeared in an abandoned gas station at Sanchez and Market in the Castro. They plan to build condos there now; perhaps there will be room for a few more Kansan remittance babies.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Daydreaming Boy

Just watched the men sing in the only reality show, as they call them, that I routinely watch ... American Idol. Quite an impressive lot. But one of them just plain blows me away, ever since the final 12 men.

Sweet shy Jason Castro, dreadlocked of Dallas, plain rocked my world with his innocent and genuine interpretation of the old Lovin' Spoonful 1966 standard Daydream a couple of weeks back ... I remember the song from my teenage years as What a Day for a Daydreaming Boy ... on the Best 12 Guys American Idol show on Fox. I actually bought the iTunes version and put it on my iPod. American Idol is a guilty pleasure, but only the singing part ... the eliminations and the recursive self-referentiality are so boring. One has to assume that the modern young TV viewer likes vast oceans of empty blather in which content appears only as occasional flotsam. But old farts like me prefer some content.

Anyway, young Castro got the song right not so much insofar as he imitated the original version but insofar as he made it a universal anthem to boyness ... to the carefree concernedness of being and tooling around and caring more deeply than you can fathom or handle. Of wondering and focusing laser-deadly-serious. I have never forgotten my boyhood, never allowed its contours to dissolve in the face of the greater and deeper satisfactions of adulthood. I remember all-day excursions with my dog Laddie, I remember hard biking on the Monkey Trails in Winnipeg, I remember dark anger at the surrounding world that did not get me, I remember first loves unrequited and not knowing what requitedness would mean or involve. I remember having my bicycle stolen at a public pool and raging at the injustice. And, again, I remember the enduring friendship of my dog. I was a lonely boy, a serious boy, a boy who knew, who really knew, that adulthood was what I was destined for, and boyhood was only a torment in the way of and on the way to freedom. Still, I love that boy who is gone, and I never forget his carefree concern.

Thinking about Castro's rendition of Daydream, I found a Paolo Nutini version on Youtube ... I have never heard of Paolo Nutini before, but he would almost certainly set the teenage girl set a flutter. His rendition is fully competent and everything, but seems strangely shy of the romanticism of boyness ... there's is an affected feebleness of the voice that seems staged and artifice. There's a somewhat better duet involving Nutini here. And there's a version by some apparently French group called Sixty-six here but it appears that they think that rhythm has no importance in what amounts to a folk song. A faceless man named James Gillespie has a rather bluesy version here that conveys a more adult sense of the boy in the man ... its emotion focuses more on "my bundle of joy" than on the daydreaming boy ... I can grok that interpretation even if I prefer to be swept back into the ambles and perambulations of boyhood.

The bundle of joy is the girlfriend. I did have a girlfriend rather late in my boyhood years ... I was 18 ... and I genuinely loved her and still have warm feelings for her. But my passionate loves were other boys. That said, passion is what leads out of boyhood, and the intrusion of sex chatter into boyhood ... the notion that boys should be thinking of girls at 10 or 12 or 14 ... is one of the ways in which modern life interferes with the boy. Boys should be left alone to fester and grow. As an adult, I find the notion of the boy appealing, but the reality of boys annoying. In other words, I recollect what it took to be a boy, but I really can't stand actual boys. They storm through the train in the evening commute, either loud and demonstrative or skulking and faux-threatening. If they think you notice them, they shoot daggers with their eyes. And, of course, there is an actual physical threat, rarely realized but always potential.

Still, boyhood has been nay-sayed by a combination of factors. Feminism ... which is the ideological concomittant of women's liberation ... felt it necessary to downgrade maleness. I think that was an error. Feminism ... again, the ideology as counterposed to the social movement ... has had to retreat of late, and that has been a boon to free thinking among radicals. The actual data these days suggests that girls outperform boys in education all the way up to, but not including, graduate school. The problem that feminism had with understanding boyhood was that it projected the dominance of men onto boys, and then failed to see that boys are themselves dominated, and it is that against which they recoil and fulminate. (I think that is true of men too, but that is another argument.) And so now the ideology has nowhere to go when it becomes apparent that boys are not really doing that well, while girls appear to be coming into their own, at least as a social average if not in every case.

... nay-sayed by a combination of factors ... commercialism has created the boy as a critical consumer, and then demanded that he be not-innocent. The boy has also been lumped in with "children" as the innocent object of vile threats. No matter that many children are victimized, that sweeping with a single broom leads to a preternatural protectiveness that undermines the wandering, wondering, glowering, inventive boy of yore. Boys may neither be male nor not-male ... neither strong nor weak, neither free nor protected. Because in each moment, some force rises up to undermine the thrust, and leaves out the boy so that the boy can be made into whatever his interlocutor, his inventor, deisres ... consumer, victim, criminal, annoying passer-by.

How hard it must be to be a boy now. Harder indeed than when I was a boy. And that was tough enough. I fear that modern life has deprived boys of their daydreams.

Here is James Gillespie's version ... the boy man.

And, for reference, here is the Lovin' Spoonful doin it just right.

I'll close this post with a song that was my anti-anthem in the summer of 1966: Summer in the City. Every time that I hear this, I am a lonely boy again, wondering, wandering, angry and ecstatic, just rolling along, hoping it all turns out somehow.