“I’m here to capture the rapture and the resurrection at the same time,” says Tim Dundon, pushing a wheelbarrow brimming with fresh mulch, leading me up the inclined path into his shady tropical reserve. “Isn’t life triumphing over death the resurrection? The body turns back to basics and then the basics are picked up by the next generation and the next generation makes use of it and is happy to live inside this new entity because it didn’t go to the landfill. It went to the hill with the will.”

— from “The Sodfather” by Daniel Chamberlin, originally published in Arthur (Dec. 2007)

In the spirit of Tim Dundon, we’re doing some compost work here on the site, making sure nothing goes to the landfill, and all that we did back then is available to the next generation. We’re restoring lost blog images and credits, and posting text, photos and art from old print issues of Arthur Magazine online for the first time.

There’s a lot in the archives for us to choose from, and we’re not doing it in any systematic order. If there’s something you’d like to see online sooner than later, let us know in the “Comments” section below. Requested items will then be brought online, archived and highlighted in the blog.

Jay Babcock (jay@arthurmag.com) and The Arthur Gang

WILLFULLY DISTURBING: Artist Arik Roper on the art and inspiration of filmmaker RALPH BAKSHI (Arthur, 2008)

Originally published in Arthur No. 29 (May 2008)


Artist Arik Roper on the art and inspiration of filmmaker Ralph Bakshi

Art direction by Mark Frohman and Molly Frances

I found Ralph Bakshi’s work at a crucial time in my life, maybe the perfect age. I was maybe 13, exploring underground comix, Heavy Metal magazine, classic rock—all the common things adolescent males used to check out, before the internet was unleashed. Around this time, my father told me about a film called Wizards. I don’t know how it came up, maybe he saw one of my Vaughn Bode books and was reminded of it, but his description of the movie was intriguing: a dark, animated fantasy epic with violence, sex and an army from hell modeled after the Nazis. I had to see it. The year was 1986. The population was at the mercy of cable TV and whatever had been released on VHS to satisfy our movie desires. Fortunately Wizards existed on video and I managed to find a copy. It was moody, psychedelic and dark; it spoke to my interest in nature and mysticism, with some humor and voluptuous fairies thrown in. It blew me away. My drawings became more and more about this occult fantasy world, influenced by Bakshi and the others who designed the film.

Wizards was significant, but the real mindwarping was yet to come , and started the day I came across the video box for Fritz the Cat. An X-rated cartoon! I had intuited something like this must have been made by someone somewhere, and here it was. I put it back on the shelf scheming about how I could see this thing. I knew if I told my best friend Greg about Fritz the Cat that he’d rent it, since he didn’t care what his mother thought. Then we would sit back and lose our minds as we watched anthropomorphic cartoon pornography. I told Greg, he said he’d look for it. I was vaguely aware of the R. Crumb comic it was based on, so I looked for that in the meantime. The thing invaded my consciousness; I became so obsessed with the movie that I started to have dreams featuring the as-yet-unseen Fritz the Cat film. Finally Greg came through with the videotape and we watched the infamous flick. I was baffled and a little disturbed. Sure there was a lot of sex and drugs in there but what was with all the violence, the revolution, the racism issues? There was something nightmarish about seeing these talking animals screwing and killing each other. It was heavier, more bleak than I expected. And though it left me feeling slightly haunted, it didn’t diminish my interest in all things Fritz. I drew the character on my notebooks at school; I made a clay figure of him holding a cigarette and machine gun in my 8th grade art class; I even painted him—and my art teacher put it on display, eventually submitted it for a school an art show. The gun and cigarette got it disqualified.

Naturally the next step was to find out what else this guy Ralph Bakshi had made. I checked out library books on animation, read old newspaper articles on the Microfiche to learn more about the man. I managed to discover some other movie titles: Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, American Pop, and a version of Lord of the Rings. But where was I going to find this stuff? I didn’t even know if it existed on video. Every month I scoured the cable TV listings for any sign of Bakshi’s films, but nothing. Then one day Greg got his hands on Coonskin, or “Streetfight” as it had been renamed at the time. I borrowed it , brought it home after school one day and checked it out. I had read that it was considered offensive, so I was expecting shock value, but Coonskin was more than shock, it was from some dark place that I hadn’t visited before. It was relentlessly raw and visceral, the violence was staggering, and presented in the goriest of detail. I had some understanding of the laborious task of creating an animated film, and was amazed that anyone had put this much time and effort into making something so willfully disturbing. Where did this movie come from, who was it for? I didn’t quite get it at the time. I wasn’t really sure if the racism was being parodied or promoted, although the fact that no race, religion or sexual orientation was left unscathed was a clue that this was some form of harsh social satire. But there was much more to the movie than shock value. Later as I reflected and eventually read more about the film, I started to put the pieces together. Coonskin was basically a blaxploitation flick, and loosely modeled after Disney’s super-controversial, removed-from-circulation Song of the South. It was a look at racism in America from the black perspective, an urban fable full of crooked cops, hookers, mobsters, and the prison system all conspiring against the soul of America. It was very much a product of the times, saturated with that 1970s grit and melancholy that defined many films of that era. 

After seeing Coonskin, I knew Bakshi was something of a maniac—an unpredictable and possibly psychotic artist who was liable to go into any territory with his films. Nothing was sacred or off-limits. This was why I liked him. And why I was surprised to learn in 1988 that he was directing a new series of Mighty Mouse cartoons for the Saturday morning slot on ABC TV. (What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was full-circle for Ralph. He had started out at Terrytoons in the 1960s working on such TV cartoons as Spiderman and Deputy Dawg.) I was ready. I recorded every episode as it aired. I even got the episode where Mighty Mouse unexpectedly pulls out a crushed flower from his pocket and snorts it up, which was edited out for subsequent airings for some reason. The show lasted one season then was gone, but launched the career of its designer John Kricfalusi who redefined modern animation in the 1990s with his new project Ren & Stimpy.

During the next year or so I caught up on some of Bakshi’s films. Lord of the Rings had an entirely different look and feel. It was rotoscoped—an animation technique of tracing live actors on film— which was a stark contrast to the loose cartoon design of Bakshi’s previous films. Comical characters doing awful things resulted in maximum impact, but rotoscoping led to a more realistic style that was ultimately less personal and expressive. I felt something was lost in the process—the technique spoke louder than the content at times. I had the same impression of Bakshi’s American Pop (1981) and Fire and Ice (1983). Though the art was elaborate, they seemed to lack the fundamental soul of the earlier films. Still, they were boldly sincere and imaginative efforts which expanded on new concepts in animation. I realized that even as Bakshi struggled with the changing industry through the late ’70s and early ’80s to realize his visions, seemingly always on the verge of quitting, he’d never run out of ideas. Here was an artist with a vision who wasn’t content to compromise. Somehow he took “cartoons” and made them into “films” for adults (which includes adolescent males). He was inspiring.

Which is why it’s such a pleasure to behold Unfiltered: The: Complete Ralph Bakshi, by John M. Gibson and Chris McDonnell (Universal/Rizzoli). At long last, over 35 years after his first movie came out, somebody decided it was time for a Bakshi retrospective. It’s a striking hardback volume, loaded with previously unpublished photos, illustrations and tons of precious info. We get the insane stories behind the groundbreaking films (Wizards was Bakshi’s attempt to make a “family film,” to get back to his early interest in sci-fi fantasy and prove that he could deliver impact to a PG picture), and how most of them almost didn’t happen due to production nightmares, studio underfunding and protests from offended citizens. In short, Unfiltered is the book I’ve been waiting to read since I was 13, but one I can appreciate as an adult.

Ralph Bakshi hasn’t made a feature film or TV special since 1992, which is a cultural shame. But the times have changed again, and in some ways, his vintage work feels current. Art and culture have caught up to some of his ideas, and the climate is now more welcoming to adult animation. But, at the same time, nobody in the US is using as a serious medium for storytelling. Meanwhile, computer animation has reworked the field, eliminating most traces of individuality and style. It is unlikely that Bakshi’s films could be made today: they are time capsules in both content and execution. He was a pioneer, merging the cutesy world of animation with with raw realism, cutting social satire, sex, violence, drugs, music and all the other “adult” themes which had previously been kept outside the court of acceptable themes for a medium that was thought to be for children. Bakshi knew one of the great powers of animation: that the hyperbolic drawn image has the potential to express more than live action ever can. By injecting the zeitgeist’s innocent image of cartoons with unflattering and dark sides of the modern era, he exploited a schism in the pop culture’s mind. Underground comics started this; Bakshi took it to the screen.

“You cannot overestimate how big a deal this hair thing was at the time”: DAVID BERMAN on a certain shift in punk culture in the 1980s

Sometime in 2004, I asked Daniel Chamberlin to write a piece for Arthur to explain how on earth he could be so into the Grateful Dead—how it had happened, what was the nature of the appeal given his other tastes in music, yadda yadda. He’d talk about the Dead in conversation, but I’m not he’d ever thought about writing such a piece. I wanted him to go for it, to really think it through and get it down. Make the pitch for the Dead! I had a hunch it might resonate with Arthur’s audience, such as it was. Dan wasn’t sure, but he went for it.

Somewhere along the line, I guess I asked David Berman if he’d like to illustrate Dan’s piece. Berman had already let us publish some of his “Scenes From the First Yes Tour” comics in the first issue of Arthur, so this wasn’t a completely out-of-leftfield idea… But I also think it must have been because Berman had mentioned the Dead somewhere — in a lyric, or a poem, in an interview, in a comic strip, in private conversation, I don’t know; something about the space between the notes of Jerry Garcia solos being the key to the Dead’s appeal? (Maybe a Berman scholar can help us out here. Please.) In any event, David gave us two single-panel comics to run with the piece in the July 2004 issue fo Arthur. You can see scans of them here.

I don’t know where in the timeline of all of this I received the following email from DCB, addressed to Dan. Maybe there was some correspondence back and forth between them while he was coming up with the art to accompany the piece? Dan can’t remember and neither can I. All I know is that I’ve saved it all these years, and Berman either never sent a follow-up, or it’s lost.

—Jay Babcock

From: “D.C. Berman”
Subject: RE: Alienated Deadheads
Date: Wed, 05 May 2004 12:20:19 -0500

oops. this is the first part of my response to your question and I haven’t even gotten to the part where i start liking the dead yet. more tomorrow.


You see a lot of reassessments of 1980’s culture nowadays. These reassessments might lead you to believe that sarcastic new wave music was the dominant trend in the decade but i remember it differently. I remember new wave as an aberrant, sometimes top 40, middle ground between the more rigorous fucktruck of hardcore (and what we now call post-punk bands) and the true ruling culture of (hair and seventies) metal and classic rock. This revisionism is standard procedure (consider how hard it is to find an admitted Uriah Heep or Three Dog Night fan on the links nowadays), and will soon have its chance to do a number on the present era as today’s teenagers tomorrow, wised up through learned humiliation, will replace their memories of attending dave matthews concerts with false ones about chasing down royal trux bootlegs at the corner store.

I have always held contempt for people who trust those that do not have their best interests in mind (like poor people who vote republican, for instance). They are in a word, dupes.  And from my olympian perch (for I had placed myself above all mankind except Greg Ginn) there were no bigger dupes in sight than deadheads. Instead of creating their own culture they had borrowed that of their aunts and uncles. In fact that’s what deadheads seemed like to me, even ones my own age, prematurely elderly. But worse, old folks wearing pajamas with teddy bears on them (the grandma glasses, unkempt hair and frail arthritic music). It really gave me a stomach ache just to gaze on them. Meanwhile things were changing a bit for young strident assholes. Rollins grew his hair. The Meat Puppets slowed down, Karl Precoda grew his hair (you cannot under overestimate how big a deal this hair thing was at the time), DRI went metal as did plenty of other hardcore bands. I started to soften to guitar solos. There was less dexedrine and more acid.”You’re Living All Over Me” changed my mind about a lot of things (I remember where i was when i heard the news that a group of classic rockers nobody gave a fuck about had filed suit against Dinosaur about the name and remember feeling the helpless frustration that they (the hippies) had done it again! (Though forcing Dinosaur to add Jr. to their name might have been the original hippies final cultural victory). A lot of people started changing their minds. It seems that while we were railing against the classic rockers our heroes had decided that the real enemy was the boring rules of hardcore. In those days all shows of an “underground” nature attracted the entire “punk community” of whatever town. No band could command an audience large enough to justify subsets of fans, so touring bands were constantly the object of abuse by those in the audience of a different punk rock denomination. Why did Richmond skinheads show up at decidedly brainy Honor Role shows? It was the only game in town. This set up all kinds of conflict which (considering the artists were contrarian in nature) drove a lot of post-punk bands to adopt hippy tropes (just to piss rules loving militants off).

More than any other band I think the Butthole Surfers started to crumble the distinctions between hippie and punk.

“Way to Go, Ohio”: An exclusive Q&A with THE PRETENDERS’ Chrissie Hynde and James Walbourne, by Oliver Hall (Arthur, 2008)

Originally published in Arthur No. 32 (December 2008)

Chrissie and James (photography by Lauren Bilanko)

For the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, Akron, Ohio has always been a hometown in permanent decline, a place she fled for England. Now America’s greatest ex-pat rock ‘n’ roller sees the future in her past: a reborn urban core where counter-culture businesses, including her own new restaurant (vegan, of course), are helping restore progressive community to a downtown trashed by short-sighted greed. That sense of small-is-better renewal runs through her band’s new album, which features the playing of James Walbourne, an acclaimed young rockabilly guitarist who joins Hynde here for an exclusive conversation with Arthur’s Oliver Hall.

Photography by Lauren Bilanko.

Chrissie Hynde is in Hollywood on a short promotional tour of the United States to promote the new Pretenders album, Break Up the Concrete, which comes with a piece of seed paper that will grow flowers. Hynde likes to joke that the paper contains high-quality cannabis seeds, but my feverish experiments have yielded naught, perhaps because the “soil” in my neighborhood is plaster sand and the “water” is pure chlorine bleach. Just the sort of ungreen conditions of city life that Hynde wants to break up. Accompanying her on this trip is the Pretenders’ brilliant new guitarist, James Walbourne, fresh off of stints playing with The Pogues and Jerry Lee Lewis. Walbourne, a contagiously excited Brit in his late 20s, is about to join us here in their hotel room, and Hynde wants to make sure I’m going to bring him into the conversation when he arrives. “This magazine is different, so you don’t have to do the Chrissie Hynde Story,” she says.

For this tour Hynde and Walbourne have been playing mostly acoustic sets in radio stations and record stores. In L. A., they played at Amoeba Music and made an unannounced appearance at the McCabe’s Guitar Shop 50th anniversary show at UCLA. They briefly shook up the sleepy programming at KCRW, and I met them shortly after they’d performed on Sex Pistol Steve Jones’s local radio show, Jonesy’s Jukebox. At Amoeba, Hynde took the stage and declared “I’m a wreck” before undoing the top button of her jeans. The Amoeba show and the KCRW appearance were delivered from a fiery fuck-you-it’s-live point of view. The shows were a thrill, since Hynde’s voice sounds gorgeous as ever, and because if she occasionally got lost trying to remember one of her lyrics—which is not hard to do when your lyrics have as many non sequiturs as a Beckett play—Walbourne would improvise their way back to the song.

Chrissie Hynde’s voice as a writer and a singer is a hell of a thing. You could talk about the dramatic range of a voice that can sneer “You’re gonna make some plastic surgeon a rich man” and break your heart with “Kid” on the same album, or you could talk about her expert control of tone and pitch and the effect of her voice on an audience, or you could talk about her vocal tremolo, which immediately distinguishes her from other rock singers—you could talk about all these things, and I hope that you will, but the cold fact remains: your band will never, ever be able to pull off “Tattooed Love Boys.” For my part, I suspect that Hynde’s performances are so emotionally affecting because she has never given up on the hard work of trying to imagine a public domain in which she and her art and her bandmates and her audience might more perfectly coexist. On their 1984 recording of Hynde’s song “My City Was Gone,” the Pretenders depict what it feels like to return home and find yourself in an urban-renewalized ghost town, where all local distinguishing marks have been erased or paved over, and everyone works at the same shopping mall. I imagine that if the late, great radical environmentalist Edward Abbey were still above ground, he would be merrily whistling the new Pretenders song “Break up the Concrete” while jackhammering up great chunks of the interstate and throwing beer cans heedlessly over his shoulder.

Continue reading

DAN DEACON talks to Jay Babcock about his new tent, his new album and his new live show (Arthur online, 2009)

Originally published online April 5, 2009

Dan Deacon at the controls (“photo by Zardoz, as interpreted by James Petz“)

Experimental pop musician/joybringer Dan Deacon on his new tent, his new album and his new live approach
by Jay Babcock

(April 3, 2009)

From Dan Deacon’s page on the Wham City site:

“Hi. I’m Dan Deacon. Before moving to Baltimore I went to college and grad school at the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase. For the past four years I have been touring a collection of pieces for voice, electronics and audience. In my spare time I enjoying booking shows at various weird places in Baltimore. I’m looking forward to touring less and finishing up a series of pieces for large ensemble. The future surrounds us. Let us begin.”

Dan Deacon has just begun his North American tour following the release of his second album. Released last week by the essential Carpark record label, Bromst an ebullient, anthemic, densely stacked minimalist rave monster recorded with “real” instruments, including a player piano. Bromst is bonkers in the best way: I hear Eno vocals, Koyaanisqatsi-era Philip Glass, Terry Riley, gamelan, Spike Jones, vintage video games, put-your-hand-in-the-air-and-knock-on-that-door techno, organized surges, simple chord progressions embedded in layers of drums and piano notes. (Stream Bromst songs at dan deacon myspace.)

Bromst is a unique album made by a uniquely multi-gifted artist: a class clown from music composition class, a populist intellectual with a fiercely whimsical streak, a serious composer who can elevate an on-the-edge-of-danger dance party into mass communion through charisma, imaginative group gameplaying and a certain fearlessness. If you haven’t witnessed Deacon live, check out the two youtubes included in the text below; in one, audience members sing from sheet music in a basement party; in the second…well, to write about it would be to reduce it. Goosebumps, baby! I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a performing artist so adept in creating group public joy without pandering—or one whose abilities, interests and ethic are so perfectly attuned to what the times call for.

There’s a lot more to say about what Deacon is up to, and why it’s so vital and inspiring. (A good place to start is this extremely perceptive thinkpiece by Rjyan Kidwell; also check out C & D’s interview in Arthur No. 27 with Deacon and director Jimmy Joe Roche about their “Ultimate Reality” film, available here.) I wanna wait to get my thoughts together on all of this til next week, though, cuz this weekend I am venturing for the first time to psychedelic Baltimore to see Deacon and his new 14-piece ensemble perform Saturday night as part of the 6th Annual Transmodern Festival.

But there’s no reason not to post the following conversation now, conducted by phone at 11am on consecutive days in February from two secret locations in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood (thanks Geoff, thanks Jack). Dan was waking up in Baltimore. The first day, midway through an answer to my second question, he confided, “I’m having a weird allergic reaction. The whole right side of my body is swelled up and I can’t open my eye all the way.” But I thought he was talking perfect sense and he was up for it, so we kept on rolling. The following is a condensation from those two conversations; any mistakes in transcription are mine, and will be corrected…

Arthur: That’s a great, evocative album cover. How did you come up with it?

Dan Deacon: I was camping with my dad this summer and one morning I woke up early, because you tend to wake up early when you’re camping, and the light was coming through the tent and it just looked really nice. I started thinking about tents, as a structure, as a place in which to live, and being a very old, old thing. I thought, I’d love to make a tent, an old fancy European-looking tent that you’d see in a movie like Lord of the Rings, where they have that kind of encampment set-up and some of them are just shitty tents, shantytowns, and then there’s the beautiful one. I realized I knew nothing about making a tent, I know nothing about construction, or sewing, so I designed it on paper first, then started to build it. It became this nightmarish project, but I’m really glad I did it. It’s 10 foot x 10 foot x 10 foot, it’s a hexagon-shaped tent, so it’s ten feet between opposite points of the hexagon, then ten feet straight up. I also wanted something [for the album cover] that could exist in reality, so if I used it in the live show, the audience could have some sort of connectivity to it, which a lot of what the record is about—about interconnectivity and feeling attached to things that otherwise feel abstract or you have no attachment for.

Continue reading

LIFE DURING WARTIME: From the 2003 diaries of DAVID BYRNE (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)

Life During Wartime

From the journals of musician-artist-activist David Byrne…

These are excerpts from a journal/diary. Obviously I’ve taken out all the personal stuff and left only the notes referring to the war, or rather, the invasion of Iraq. This makes me seem like a bit of an obsessive-all the rest of my life has been edited out and only the anger and paranoia remains. I’d prefer a life with the anger and paranoia edited out, but it seems that won’t be in the cards this year.

Feb 9 

Dinner at GM’s birthday at Savoy-lots of New York Times, New Yorker and other writers present whom I didn’t know—Don DeLillo at least I knew. A situation where I couldn’t jump up and leave easily, so I guess I wasn’t going to manage to sneak out and see those Icelandic bands downtown. Surprisingly, after some chit-chat with my surrounding diners the topic inevitably turned to the war and soon got very heated. The New Yorker writer next to me, for example—a young, attractive woman-said, “the French are always a problem, they’ve CAUSED this problem; so many of these Arab intellectual problem people studied there, and their philosophers, Derrida etc., are all sympathetic”—this is a paraphrase, but you get the idea. It just went on from there. A surprising number surrounding me were gung-ho for the war. None are dummies, but it’s surprising how they toe the Bush propaganda line and don’t see it as propaganda at all. I actually shouted at one point (saying it wasn’t just the French—if you’re going to slander those who disagree with this policy then you’d better deal with the Russians and Germans too at this point) Their position is that the success of the U.S. intervention in Bosnia justifies the use of military intervention, but that took place after how many years of vacillating, and with at least a few other nations backing, no? Milosevic and co were actually still involved in their ethnic cleansing campaign when NATO began bombing. Korea and Turkey are now additional powder kegs in the conversations, both of them confusing issues and mostly avoided. Yikes, what’s going on here? 

It is amazing that this topic dominates bourgeois dinner conversation–as it should–but still, it’s a strange new world. Again, I don’t feel comfortable here. Yikes. 

Feb 12 

Well, I guess I felt pushed over the edge by last night’s dinner. Decided to see if I can take out a New York Times full-page anti-war ad and recruit other musicians to lend their names and cash, as the thing might cost as much as 80 thousand!! Josh at Luaka Bop has been helpful, thanks to his experience with the Beasties’ Tibet efforts. Danielle and I did a rough layout, and Josh brought in a coordinator, a guy named David Fenton who’s done lots of political ads–and in this case Fenton had just met with Russell Simmons, who guaranteed that he, Jay-Z, Mos Def and Puff Daddy are in. Move On (the organization that has organized some of the marches) has agreed to cover half the cost if need be, which is a relief. 

Osama is using the impending war to his own advantage (despite his undisguised dislike for Saddam) and is calling for more attacks on the U.S. Our government’s response is to suggest that we stock up on water and duct tape.

Feb 19 

The anti-war ad is coming together nicely. Russell Simmons brought in a bunch of rap and R&B artists; my favorite is Missy Elliot, but many are impressed that 50 Cent has joined, as he has the #1 record in the country at the moment. Massive Attack and Blur fell in at the last minute. We’ve almost got enough…I suspect that by the Monday morning placement deadline we’ll have a few more, and that will be enough. Almost got enough money, too. Odd that the rappers have declined to contribute cash (they who sell more records than the rest of us combined), claiming they have other Black causes that they also support. Well, OK. Some others, not surprisingly, claim shortage of funds, but most pledge something or other. I’m thrilled, truly, that this has come together.

Feb 21 Göttingen, Germany 

I’m here overseeing the printing of an art book. This evening some of the folks involved have dinner together at a local Italian place, Gerhard, Pascal, Amy and I. The talk turns to politics as I mention that my Times ad is going ahead and that I’m thrilled about the list of names. I say that while it all may seem obvious here in Europe, in the U.S. dissent has been stifled and ignored so it is a bold move for many of the musicians to speak out and to add their name to the list. Gerhard notes that this is the first time his parents’ generation, one that has remained staunchly pro-American since WWII, has broken with that unspoken alliance. Evidently that generation feel they have had a lot to thank America for-from the guilt over the war, then the Marshall plan and the post-war miracle–but now it seems they feel America, or at least Bush, has stepped over the line. Bush has broken a trust that has existed for generations and was worth untold millions in economic stability and goodwill. Whooops. Pascal, who is a fashion retoucher and is supervising a picture book by Roni Horn, is anti-war as well, but although he’s French he’s even more vehemently anti-French. He maintains that the French aversion to the war isn’t due to humanitarian qualms but rather it’s because they have business dealings with Iraq and hope to expand those deals in the future. They’re afraid that U.S. troops entering Baghdad will find and reveal contracts, deals and more relations with the French.

Feb 23 Frankfurt 

At the TAT [an alternative performance center] I listen to an artist named Thomas Bayern do a wonderful but somewhat nonsensical talk about highways that twist into Mobius shape and run upside-down and about how to model such things in cardboard. As if it’s the most natural problem in the world. As if everyone has been scratching their heads wondering “how the hell can we get the cardboard to bend this way?” He is an older man who speaks like a sensible lunatic. 

A few people here ask me how things are in NY and the USA, with the implication that the USA has lost its mind; they wonder if it is true, as it seems from here, that the country is blindly going along with George Bush and his fascist pals. I talk briefly with Bill Forsythe, director of the ballet here, who says he recently called his sister or some family member in Colorado and that they are all gung-ho for the war, and Bill said, really? And they also said that they’d just cancelled their trip to NY, as they are afraid of getting gassed, wary of the code orange alert that was issued a week ago-Bill said, “Really? Have you seen Bowling For Columbine? You live in Littleton, after all. They’ve got you, you know? Scared, irrational, hiding–that’s where they want you.”

The Times ad has run today, and it looks great. 

Feb 27 NYC 

Did a press conference with Russell Simmons, Lou Reed, Roseanne Cash and Tom Andrews, the ex-senator from Maine who is leading the Win Without War movement. I’m optimistic; though we are a pathetic showing, I sense that we’re the tip of the iceberg, and that the rest of it will heave into view sooner rather than later now that we’ve broken ground.

Feb 28 

Did a phone interview with USA Today.com, in which readers write in their questions and comments. It was about the antiwar movement and the Musicians United ad. Most questions were aggressive and challenging: “What gives YOU [me, the sort-of celebrity] the right to speak out and foist your opinion on us? What makes YOU the expert?” Sort of a reasonable question, if aggressively put.

The interviewer/moderator was nice, and in the end said she didn’t forward me some of the nastier ones that said, “move to France!” Nice to know that the “love it or leave it” concept is back after ducking its ugly head post-Vietnam. Later, as the venom sank in, I got a real chill, realizing I was actually hated out there, not just hated or despised as an arty pretentious musician, which I’m used to, but hated in a high school bullying kind of way–a mean, vicious and potentially violent way. I might have been scared of gas attacks and terrorist stuff directed against NY in recent months, but now I’m scared of Kansas even more. Easy Rider all over again.

Columbia Maryland

My parents watch two hours of news on TV every night! It’s incessant and interminable, depressing and mind-numbing. I listen and endless news networks play and replay Bush’s speech in which he claims he has a “road map” for the situation in the Mideast, referring mainly to a concrete policy plan for Israel and Palestine. This plan was supposed to have been revealed a week ago (I read in the Guardian, I think) and he promised that he would show a real plan for the region before acting on Iraq. A sense of a map of the road ahead is important to both the Arab world and to the EC, and both were mightily disappointed when he changed his mind and decided that this document would not in fact be released (maybe it doesn’t exist is what I think.) 

But here he is making a speech announcing that this “road map” will not actually be released now, as promised, but some time in the indeterminate future–and this is presented, and accepted, as good news. What is shocking is that none of the American news services reveal that this is actually a change of plan which creates a major problem for much of the world. Instead it’s presented as the administration hopes it would be, as news that something positive will be announced in the indefinite future. An announcement regarding a non-existent document is accepted as good news? Is regarded as any kind of news at all?

March 19 Valencia, Spain

The War, or more accurately, the Invasion of Iraq by the USA has begun. It’s a sad day–the U.S., as suspected, has had this on the agenda for years, and, having been unable to bribe, cajole, pressure and intimidate the nations of the Security Council to pass a resolution legalizing this invasion during the last couple of months, has decided to go it alone–alright, with the U.K., Spain, Australia and our close ally–Bulgaria–but these other nations are mainly there for symbolic purposes and their support is minimal. The reporting, from almost every TV network (CNN, BBC, MSNBC, etc.), is all controlled and manipulated by the US military and their spin doctors. The Invasion is variously called, on different networks, Operation Freedom for Iraq or War in Iraq. The videogame effects, the logos and graphics, the pounding theme music are all relentless and stupid, as they were during Gulf War I; they turn the reportage into a videogame for teenage boys, which it is, I guess. I ask myself, how can I write songs in this climate? It’s not that I am afraid, it’s more that I feel profoundly alienated-from the country in which I live, a country that I admire immensely for the many things it has brought the world and the mad creativity and invention that has issued from this place. I feel like an outsider, something I haven’t felt since my adolescence during the Vietnam War. But at least at that time resistance was cool, hip, exciting and connected to a whole new outlook on life. Now one is constantly surprised by who is actually for the war. Friends who one assumed were intelligent and independent thinkers seem to have been swayed by the waves of hype, lies and propaganda. [Of course, since I myself disagree with them, they can’t be using their intelligence, can they?] I wish all the actors would boycott the upcoming Oscars; a parade of glitter and of the global power of Hollywood that is hardly appropriate now. But I doubt that will happen. If I were a rabid Islamic fundamentalist I would find a way to disrupt the Oscars, since it is such a symbol of both the cultural bankruptcy and the powerful global influence of the US. I ask myself, what can I do now? Granted, there are continuing and immense demonstrations-in every city all over the globe–but can I do more than lend my body to the ranks of the undercounted?

Mar 24 Back in NYC 

It is a little odd, after all the No A La Guerra signs in Barcelona, to be confronted by flags and logos that say simply FREEDOM, when you know the implication of these signs is NOT freedom, they’re actually saying “ OUR WAY, which we call freedom, or the highway.” On the other hand, this is still a country where dissenting views can be spoken…but as they said about Russia, when nothing is permitted, everything (which I take to mean everything that’s said) is important, and when everything is permitted–as it sort of is here– nothing is important. The sheer force of marketing, graphics, salesmanship, propaganda and embedded journalism makes dissent, even thought itself, seem irrelevant. It’s negated by negligence.

Josh, Yale’s assistant at Luaka, tells a story over our common lunch about some friends of his who were having dinner at an Indian restaurant in NY. They were just ordering when a bunch of guys from the Dept. of Homeland Security burst in, guns drawn, saying they needed to search the place as it was suspected of assisting terrorist organizations. Josh’s friends watched for a while as the employees were grilled and questioned, and some were handcuffed. The guns were still out. One of his friends asked if the employees were allowed to call a lawyer; a gun was then pointed at Josh’s friends and they were told no, that under the Patriot Act it’s not required or necessary, and that if his friends had any more questions they’d be joining the employees downtown. They took the hint and left the restaurant, ate somewhere else and walked by later, and saw that the Homeland Security guys were still in there.

The Middle East looks like Western Cowboys vs. other (Eastern) cowboys to me, and the vibe I get, having just returned from Europe and having spoken with friends who work internationally is that the rest of the world is now contemplating how to balance the might and arrogance of the U.S. Sadly, it has little to do with whether we might be right keeping Saddam in line or not; rather, it’s the sense that the U.S. has no right to unilaterally decide who shall rule their own nations. Hell, Bush wasn’t really elected either, so the U.S. can hardly be said to represent the democracy they claim to be bringing to the oppressed of the world.

I go to see a recent Chinese film called Unknown Pleasures and before the film begins there are a pile of ads for several upcoming TV mini series–one I remember is Rudy, starring James Woods, the life and times of ex-NY-mayor Rudy Giuliani. I’ve never seen TV try so hard to get people out of the movie theater and back onto their sofas. The middle-aged woman a couple of seats down from me asks when the Rudy TV movie starts and I tell her, “tonight, at 8…if you leave in the middle of this film you can still catch it!” She didn’t think my comment was funny.

Then comes a hip hop music video–or at least that’s what it looks like at first, until one spots the fire engine red Coke cans prominently placed in our line of sight. The “It’s the real thing” line figures repeatedly in the tune, a play on the “keeping it real” philosophy ubiquitous in hip hop. The “video” is interrupted by a dramatic comedy scene in which Common, a Chicago rapper known for being “conscious,” issues-oriented and credible, is seated at a conference table across from a (white) record executive who tries to persuade him of the value of a Common action figure and other tacky merchandise. Common, of course, turns it all down, because, like the man of integrity he is, he’s “keeping it real”…with Coke. The video kicks back in. With Coke?! 

What a bit of mind-warping business this ad was! It’s not only cool now to sell out and endorse, of all things, Coca-Cola, but somehow selling out is NOT selling out, because it’s Coke, after all. Huh? Can we see that again? Did I hear that right? Have we entered some kind of mirror universe, where things are actually their complete opposites? Now, I don’t care if Common decides to sell out and play for Coke or not–but actually I’m surprised and a little shocked, as he’s one of the last people I’d expect to do this, which is probably why he was approached. Lil’ Kim would sign on for a sexy “action” dolly in a NY minute, but we wouldn’t expect to see this guy doing it. Which is exactly the point, eh? But I still don’t get it. How does seeing someone with integrity selling out imply that selling out now demonstrates a form of integrity? Does cheating on your girlfriend mean that you’re actually faithful to her? Does imposing foreign domination mean that you’re actually bringing democracy?….

War Porn: The lovely diagrams of high-tech missiles and bombers that fill the back pages of the Times like Playboy centerfolds, the charts detailing the inevitable advance of the troops. Deep into enemy territory. Thrusting across the desert sands….

After dropping my daughter at her Hip Hop dance class on upper Broadway I go across the street to a Starbucks for a tea and to read my book on Post-structuralism for dummies, or something like that. When I finish and I’m preparing to leave, a soldier, or someone dressed like one, comes in wearing full battle gear, a camouflage outfit (to blend in with what, I wonder?), slinging a machine gun. Haven’t seen the likes of this since my last trip to Israel, JFK airport security or South America. I stand next to the soldier and ask the Starbucks man if the toilet needs a key and I notice that the soldier is baffled, flummoxed-he can’t seem to decide which kind of caffeinated beverage option he prefers. It’s as if he’s never been in a place with so many weird coffee options before–not surprisingly. I myself still refuse to call small tall. The other customers sort of gawk in amazement. I also wonder to myself if anyone, myself, for example, in an Army surplus camouflage outfit with a few badges sewn on, could carry a machine gun out in the open around New York City. I guess the answer is yes, as he was alone-there was no troop vehicle waiting outside while he got all the jarheads their macchiatos and cappuccinos.

I see pictures of these guys in the daily papers, advancing heroically into Baghdad, pictured giving candy to some pathetic Iraqi children (whose parents they may well have just blown up.) These guys feature in all the embedded newspaper propaganda these days-in the Times, the Post and the Daily News. On CNN and especially Fox TV. These young soldiers, like NY cops, are loaded down with all sorts of gear: backpacks, gas masks, sunglasses, maps, satellite positioning systems, helmets, night vision stuff, a few guns, satellite telephones and maybe even walkie-talkies. These one-man command posts are slow lumbering dinosaurs compared to the Iraqis, the Vietnamese and the Chechens. They are America’s Knights, fighting men in the current high-tech version of medieval armor (which was equally high tech, sexy, heavy and expensive in its day), using the best yet simultaneously inappropriate technology to fight an enemy that doesn’t even wear a uniform half the time–the cowards.

Yesterday the Americans in Baghdad had a photo opportunity featured all over on the US media: pulling down an Iraqi statue of Saddam. It began with the Iraqis doing the job, but that was not fast enough for the U.S. TV crews, so a U.S. tank heaved in, shoving the Iraqis aside (a little metaphor here) and after draping a U.S. flag over the statue’s head (another little metaphor here) hooked up a chain and pulled it down. The lack of sensitivity by the U.S. jarheads and media is shocking-here lies the real shock and awe.

[This photo event it appears was carefully stage managed- according to a reporter form El Pais who was there. According to him the Iraqi enthusiasts were bussed in by the US military and there were only 50 of them, so they had to be moved around to make all the news shots look good]

April 13 

I read in a book review about a lynching in San Jose in the ‘30s in which fever and passions of the crowd who strung up and abused the victims (they were indeed guilty) had been whipped up and excited by the coverage in the local paper. I am reminded of the recent war and pre-war coverage in the U.S. media and press-the similar fanning of primitive animal flames until a conflagration is inevitable and unstoppable. The glorification of the technology, the single point of view, the rampant patriotism and the imagery that is geared to motivate and excite-the logos, the rapid editing with pulse-pounding music and the print attitude and it’s tech-y graphics-it makes the media as responsible as the Bushies for the death and future misery that will befall a people and a region….not to mention the US, when the blowback eventually occurs. 

April 14 

An Op-Ed piece in the Times mentions that the House of Representatives recently passed a resolution to “support” our troops in Iraq…and then minutes later they vetoed a bill for veterans’ benefits.

Another Op-Ed piece compares Bush’s saying the inclusion of the U.N. in post-war Iraq is “vital” to the way a upper-class person considers their butler to be vital, implication being that Bush sees the U.N. playing much the same role as a servant. 

April 27 

Two articles in today’s Times Magazine: The cover is a lurid cartoon of teenagers escaping from North Korea, an ominously dramatic replay of the mythic image of Berlin Wall jumper dramas. The escape to freedom, the desperate desire for the West.  The timing seems possibly ordained by the U.S. government-isn’t North Korea next? And isn’t this a perfect way to “explain” to the chattering classes another oppressive regime and the obvious need to change it? Does the Bush administration suggest what the Times focuses on, and when, or are these coincidences all part of the national zeitgeist?

Another article, entitled The Empire Slinks Back, is a book review of an apology for empire-a common stance now that Emperor Bush II is on the throne. The book claims, as many other recent articles do, that the Victorian empire, their chosen example, established law, democratic institutions and education in its outposts around the world. Whether it’s true or not, the unsubtle subtext is that the American empire will be a good thing for the cultures it obliterates and dominates. 

Ten Things That I’ve Learned From the Sufis, by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne (Arthur, 2013)

Originally published in Arthur No. 35 (August, 2013) as a sidebar to What the Sufis Taught Me

Ten Things That I’ve Learned From the Sufis

1. A remedy for boredom: Consider that our senses provide awareness for the universe. For transcendence, freedom is form.

2. Life is a bathhouse. Someone is likely to steal your flip-flops. If you feel impatient waiting for the world to value the knowledge that you value, you may discover a reserve of compassion by considering that ignorance is a shield for that which we are unable to face

3. For the Sufi there is no right and wrong. Life is a dynamic, ever-changing context. This can be confusing. How does one know the right way? Consider a simple rule: Dismiss that which insults your soul. 

4. That which we cannot forgive we are forced to carry.

5. What is savored by gratitude is burned into the soul of the world and lasts forever. 

6. The force of attraction that limits us is our interest in the world. Consider the words of Rumi: “We are that which we seek.” 

7. Look for what is arising.

8. The things that change are not our real life. Within us is another body that belongs to the changeless, and it is fully satisfying. For as long as we are embedded in what is transitory we are only creatures. 

9. The soul is perfect—nothing you do will ever change that you cannot diminish it.

10. Life lives—only death dies. 


THE SOUND OF THE BONE DRILL: BMX hero Mat Hoffman on the pain and the glory (Arthur, 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002). Cover photograph by Spike Jonze. Art direction by W.T. Nelson.


BMX superstardom didn’t come cheap, says Mat Hoffman

Excerpted from The Ride of My Life, BMX madman Mat Hoffman’s new autobiography written with Mark Lewman. Hoffman came out of retirement at the 2002 X Games and made history, pulling a no-handed 900 air. 

I’ve broken one wrist five times. The other wrist, three times. Between my ankles, I’ve had five breaks. I’ve snapped four fingers, my thumbs four times, my hand twice, busted my feet three times, and broken three toes. (You don’t think a broken toe would hurt that much, but your entire body weight is on it.) I’ve busted my collar bones five times, snapped my pelvis, my fibula, my elbow, cracked three ribs and separated a couple from my sternum. (Breaking ribs off the sternum sucks—just about every movement you can think of is centered in your chest.) Then there’s my head: one skull fracture, two broken jaws, two broken noses, a mouthful of teeth, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Every choice you make can be traced back to the instinctual need to seek pleasure, and avoid pain. These two forces are interconnected, different sides to the same coin. Since I started bike riding, I wanted more than anything to experience the highest highs. To get there, I was willing to accept the consequences. My medical records contain more than four hundred pages documenting my injuries. I’ve put myself in a coma, had over fifty knockouts and concussions, been sewn up with over two hundred stitches, dislocated my shoulder more than twenty times, broken about fifty bones, and had over a dozen different surgeries. I’ve torn ligaments, bruised tissue, severed arteries, spilled blood, and left hunks of my skin stuck to plywood, concrete, dirt, and bicycle components. I’ve had to endure not just physical pain, but the mental anguish of re-learning how to walk, ride my bike, or even remember who I was. I’ve dealt with mountains of health insurance red tape, and condescending doctors who took it upon themselves to lecture me before they treated my injuries, as if they needed to save me from myself. 

Not everyone understands that I’ve asked for it, accepted it, and willingly volunteered. Not to sound sadistic, but I consider each of my injuries a tax I had to pay for learning what I could do on my bike. I wanted it all, and wouldn’t take any of it back if I could. Yes, I will be sore and broken when I’m older. I can feel it already, the aches and pains of a body that has been beyond and back. I’ve given up as much of myself as I could, because I love bike riding that much. 

My insurance companies have always hated me, having paid hospital bills totaling more than a million dollars over the years. I’ve had to rely on surgery to keep me going. You know it’s getting serious when you start letting people take knives to your body to make you healthy. 

Here are my patient notes. 

Number 1: Collarbone Crush 

November, 1986. It was immediately following a Mountain Dew Trick Team show. I’d just learned 360 drop-ins, and was uncorking them all day. We finished our demo, but I still wanted to ride. I took my chest protector off, figuring I’d just do easy stuff. I lined up parallel to the coping to do a simple hop drop-in, like Eddie Fiola used to do. I stalled in position for a second and went for it. For some reason my brain told my body to react as if I was doing a 360 drop-in. I fell straight to the cement and took the hit on my head and shoulder. My friend Paige said it made a sound like a helmet being thrown off the ramp with nothing in it—a loud, hollow snap. That was my grand finale. I didn’t just break my collarbone, I shattered it. I knocked myself unconscious too. The show was right next door to a hospital, of all places, with two of the best surgeons in Oklahoma City on duty that day. In surgical terms, Dr. Grana and Dr. Yates performed a fourth degree AC joint separation procedure, provided reconstruction of the coracoclavicular ligament, and did a partial removal of my left collarbone. 

Number 2: Right Leg, Wrong Move

February, 1988. The 540 is a trick that makes you earn it to learn it. The price is a lot of slams. I finally thought I had them just about dialed in, and did one and looped out. My leg got caught behind me and I sat on it. There was a snapping sound and a blast wave of heat, pain, and nausea. Broken bones have a dull, throbby kind of ache to them. I got into Steve’s car to go to the hospital. Every time he hit a bump my leg would sway between my knee and ankle. My body was in shock, and the pain began to subside. We started chuckling every time it swayed, and then started laughing harder about what the hell we were laughing at. Dark humor helps. The doctor I encountered in the ER had very little humor. My first question to him was, “how long before I can ride again?” He told me I would be lucky to walk without a limp and would never ride a bike again. “Okay, thanks…bye,” was the next thing out of my mouth. I left that doctor as fast as I could, and my dad got me in to see Dr. Yates. Yates put in a titanium plate (the body rejects steel) and ten screws in my fibula to repair the complete syndesmotic disruption and fibular fracture of my right leg. I missed the first King of Vert in Paris because of this injury.  

Continue reading

“I know a whole lot. I ain’t gonna tell you nothin’ wrong”: T-MODEL FORD, life coach (Arthur, January 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (January, 2003)


[Note: ARTHUR has traded our former advice columnist, Neil Hamburger, to another publication for a comedian to be named later.]

This issue’s advice columnist is Fat Possum recording artist T-Model Ford, the self-styled “Boss of the Blues” from Greenville, Mississippi. T-Model, who’s been 78 years old for the last four years, has promised to tell ARTHUR’s readers nothing but plain wisdom. 

I know a whole lot,” he says. “What I tell you, I ain’t gonna tell you nothin’ wrong. If I can’t please you, I ain’t gonna hate you. I’m gonna make you feel all happy. You WILL get happy. If you shake my tree, I’m gonna shake your orchard. That’s the truth. I’m hangin’ like a apple on a tree. That’s why I ain’t fell. Cuz I’m HANGIN’!”

Email your questions to editorial@arthurmag.com 

Q: I’m 18, my boyfriend is 19. We’ve been together a year. We see each other on weekends. My boyfriend is so loving, but I just lie there. We’ve tried going out to dinner, massages, lots of kissing. Nothing works. I like having a cuddle, but I don’t want to have sex with my boyfriend. What should I do?

T-Model Ford: Uh oh. Well, it’s like this: you know, you go out, you kiss, and you hug, well now, that don’t get it. When you kiss, that‘s some dessert to you. If he ain’t interested in, he’ll ask what else to do. He ain’t interested in what she want to do. But now, if he interested in it, and she ain’t interested in it, she can’t change him. But now if he in it and sexy, he already ready, he waiting on her to tempt to do. Now if she don’t tempt to do, and she don’t want to, he can forget her, try to find him somebody else that wants sex. He gonna leave her! Age ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. I looked at bugs and antses. They do it! You take a hog, when she lay a pig, and three days after she lay a pig, the little male pig tryin’ to ride somethin’. That’s what sex is! Sex is ruler of the world. That’s for old–and the young. If you’ve got an old woman and she ain’t sexy, you ain’t got nothin’! You got an old man, and he ain’t sexy, you ain’t got nothin’! If he don’t feel on you, don’t rub on it, he might as well be DEAD. You take an old woman, you feel her, she close her legs up, don’t let you feel what’s down there, you LEAVE her. She ain’t sexy! I’m an old man, myself. I’m 80 years old, I mean, uh, 78 years old now, and right now, I’m sexier than a young man. You hear me!? I’m sexier than a youngun. I’m gonna tell you somethin’. In this week since I’ve been home…I’m gonna tell the truth. I done had sex three times since I been home. Now, can you beat that? I know you can’t. You know why? Cuz this lady woman, she opened her legs and let me feel down there, and rub on it, and I’ll suck on her tittie, but I won’t suck on that other thing. I got somethin’ to put in that other thing! Now, that’s an OLDER woman! Older as I am,… Now how come’n your woman can’t be that sexy? Huh? If a young woman ain’t sexy for you, you don’t need her! You hear me? 

Q: I’m 22. I have a cousin, she’s 21. We’ve known each other for most of our lives. She’s a fantastic person. She’s become really beautiful as she’s grown up. Well, one night three months ago she came round. We decided to stay in, watch a videotape, have a couple bottles of wine. I’m not sure how it happened, but we ended up showing each other what we like our partners to do, and this of course lead us to having sex. Now it was really good. I think I’m falling for her.

I know you is. You need to go your way, and let her go her way. Don’t try it with cousins. Dogs don’t know any better. He wouldn’t have his sister and he wouldn’t have his mama, but if he don’t know better, he’d have the mama and have the sister. You don’t want your name out like that, do you? Put her down, get you somebody who ain’t kin to you. It’s not trouble if you go with your cousin, it’s DOG. It’s dog do that. No human being don’t do that. If he’s a dog, he’ll do that. But if he’s not a dog, he ain’t gonna do that! 

Q: My hair is falling out, and I’m only 23. My hair was perfect up until about four months ago. Now when I wash it, it comes off in my hands. Nobody in my family is bald. I can’t understand why this is happening to me. Is this normal?

In one way it is, and in one way it ain’t. You got a worry, and you gets mad and angry, you reach up and get a handful of hair and pull it, break it loose from the roots and leave it there, then when you comb through it, it all comes out! It don’t hurt you. You see what I’m talkin about? Alright. See, I done that myself. I used to get angry with my girlfriend cos she lookin’ at somebody else. Just reach up there and get a handful of hair and pull it, break it loose, and when I comb it, all of it come out! That’s what do that. Or, either you’re sleeping at the foot or the head of the bed, and it’s rubbin’ it so, you can’t get off it, then when you do get off it, it done broke the root of it. And it wear your head bald-headed. He’s worrying, getting angry, he breaking his hair loose hisself. I know it is. You just watch him and see don’t he do that. 

Q: One day I’m happy and my future looks bright and hopeful. Then something unexpected happens, and I’m suddenly depressed and negative. Everybody I know seems to go through the same kind of thing. I feel like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster, up and down, up and down. I mean, is this why we’re alive? To experience this, to be up and down, up and down, is this the way it’s supposed to be?

Not exactly. You worrying about something. You thinking about something you done done, and you worrying about you can’t get to that no more. And it’s worrying your mind. You out by yourself, you wishin‘, if you ever done it, you’re worrying about it now, it’s on your mind, you wants to do it and you ain’t got nobody to do it with. And that’s what it’s doin’. You lay in the bed and think about it, or go out walkin’, sit by yourself, or… Ain’t happy with it? You need to leave it alone. If you can’t live happy, go on by yourself. Don’t let it run your brains up, your pressures up, and have you doin’ somethin’ you don’t wanna do. You feel like you wanna suicide yourself? Get out of that! Quit that! Get round a big bunch and enjoy yourself, that’s what you got to do. Get out with a big bunch and enjoy yourself. Don’t let that cross your mind. If you don’t want ’em, get you somebody that you can have sex with, and get with them. That’ll help it. I know: I’ve been through all up and down that line. See, I had a woman when I was in my young days, and she had me where I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t work by myself, coz all my mind was on her. And she had another man. Her husband. I took her away from her husband, and he come back into town where I went, and they poisoned me. For him, could get her then. I don’t know who she with, I ain’t seen her since that day. So I’m livin’ happy, and I feel good. Don’t NEVER let a woman get into your brains. When you got a woman and she go to worrying and getting close to your brains… If you ain’t gonna live with ‘em, you better cut out! Catch the first thing smoking going north, and don’t come back. 

Q: In my relationship, I am the gift-giver. During the year and a half that I’ve been together with my boyfriend, I’ve given him many presents. I’ve been very generous. It’s my way of showing that I like him. Yet he hardly gives my anything. That’s important, isn’t it?

It’s important, and otherwise… he USIN’ her. He done like her flesh and he don’t care about her a bit. She givin’ all of her good times to him, she makin’ him happy, but he not makin’ her happy. If he can’t change it, or she don’t want to change it, or if she like it like thataway, he gotta take off hisself and go into some other town. Or some other state. Stay away from her. When she go to writing him, and calling him, she done send a bad mistake. And she wanna call him back, and try to make up for it. But it’s too late! If her buggie don’t like mine, or like his, don’t get mad with him. Let it go. Go on into another town and make you a new life. That’s the way I do. When things don’t work like I want ‘em, and I can’t make ‘em work, I leave town and find me another town. And let the town furnish they own woman and you will do better. Don’t you carry a woman to another town for you to make up. LEAVE that one where you found her, and go to another town and try. You might get lucky. I know all about that stuff! I don’t let one woman stop my buggy from rolling! Let somebody else do it! I won’t wait. But if you don’t, it’ll hurt. It’ll get your mind all messed up. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. 

T-Model Ford’s latest album, Bad Man, was produced live by the genuinely legendary Jim Dickinson and released by Fat Possum this past September. It’s your own damn fault if you haven’t heard it yet. More info at www.fatpossum.com

T-Model Knows Better: an advice column by life coach/musician T-Model Ford (Arthur, Sept. 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 18 (Sept. 2005)


T-Model Ford is the 85-year-old self-proclaimed “Boss of the Blues,” also known as “The Taildragger.” T-Model Ford is featured at length in the new feature-length documentary, You See Me Laughin’: The Last of the Hill Country Bluesmen (available now on DVD, more info at fatpossum.com). Every couple months we call up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and talk about something that’s been bothering our mind. Got a question for T-Model, or something you want him to address? Email it to editor@arthumag.com

Is it hot down there in Mississippi this summer?

It’s hot… but I’m still standin’. 

How do you deal with the heat?

I just sit out under an acorn tree somewhere and drink water. Just don’t get where the air can’t get to you. You’ll be alright.

What about mosquitoes and no-see-ums and chiggers?

Well, the mosquitoes are at nighttime, and then I’ll be inside. Daytime, I’ll be out there, when we don’t be bothered with them. But at nighttime, heh, you be bothered with ‘em.

So what do you do if it’s hot at night?

I got an air conditioner and a fan. I let it run, and when I go in there, it’s cool in there. And then I pull off everything but my shorts. 

Have you ever had a problem with honeybees having a hive at your house?

Get you some diesel oil where you put in trucks. And get your spray gun and pump it up. Don’t turn it to just one place, let it spray all over. And you get in there. When it hit em, they gonna leave or they gonna die. You’ll get shut of ‘em. You’re gonna get that queen bee. He can’t do with that diesel neither. 

I have a friend who’s very sad because one of her friends died unexpectedly. She’s very sad and is having trouble eating. What’s the best way to deal with grief, when you’ve lost somebody you love? What’s the best way to get through that?

Tell her to get on her knees and pray to the Good Lord to let her get over it, and don’t worry ‘bout nothin’. If you worrying about something, it’s gonna continue, ‘til you die. Look at me: all my brothers and sisters done died and left me here. I’m 85 now, and I ain’t worried. A tree fell on me, got me in bad shape, but I’m still goin’.

I heard you just drove up to Flint, Michigan in your ’79 Lincoln, the one with 200,000 miles on it.

Yes, indeed. It went up there and back down without any trouble. It went 60, 70, 80, NINETY… it took it. And didn’t use no oil. And it’s ready to go back again

T-Model Knows Better: an advice column by life coach/musician T-Model Ford (Arthur, May 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 16 (May, 2005)


T-Model Ford is the 84-year-old self-proclaimed “Boss of the Blues,” also known as “The Taildragger.” Each issue, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks some questions about things we have on our mind. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum Records, the Mississippi label that releases T-Model’s all-bets-are-off blues albums. If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email ‘em to editor@arthurmag.com

How do you deal with traffic?

I don’t worry about it. I take my time. Don’t rush, wait your turn and your time will come. People want to rush too much these days.

Are bad people born that way?

It ain’t the way you born. It’s how you raised. If you in too much of a rush, you won’t raise ‘em right.

What’s a better pet: a dog or a cat?

A dog, if you train it right, is the best pet. You can’t depend on a cat, it’s up to its own devilment. But a dog? If you train him right, you can depend on him. You can leave a baby with him and he’ll stay right there. He’ll make sure that baby don’t get in the road. Pick him with up his teeth and move that baby on back up there. A cat won’t do that.

Do you have a dog?

I had two dogs that a white lady gave me, German Shepherds. I raised them up right, trained them right. 

What happened to them?

Somebody poisoned them. And my cat Tom, while I was playing guitar up the road, somebody let their dog out and killed him. I was pretty mad that night. I got out there in the yard the next day with my gun, laying up for that dog [to return]. The police came, and I told them, ‘You ain’t taking this gun. It ain’t done nothin’—yet.’ 

I think they took that dog up to the country. They knew what I was fixing to do.

If you’ve got some cash, what should you do with it? Hide it somewhere, or put it in a bank, or…?

If you want to save it, put it in the bank. You can’t hide nothin’ nowadays. So, best to put it in the bank. It didn’t used to be that way. But now, the young races is in charge. They rushing around…. Most of the old folk are afraid to go out, because of the teenagers robbin’ and fightin’ and killin’. If the old folk do go out, they take a gun. Yeah, it’s getting rough now, alright.  

T-Model Ford is featured at length in the new feature-length documentary, You See Me Laughin’: The Last of the Hill Country Bluesmen, available now on DVD.