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Flashback: Article on National Glamour Archives in Washington City Paper

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That time my article on pin up painting collector Art Amsie’s National Glamour Archives appeared in Washington City Paper (February 16, 2001). The “archives” was an informal room in Amsie’s condo with a brag wall of oil paintings by many of the major figures of vintage pin up art. Think Gil Elvgren, Alberto Vargas, Joyce Ballantyne. The kind of stuff you see in calendars and coffee table books. Amsie had another claim to fame in that he had been an amateur club photographer who snapped shots of Bettie Page. Rather good shots, actually. Amsie passed away in 2006; I don’t know where his collection resides today. You can read the full article here.

Flashback: Article on Anarchist women’s collective published in Washington City Paper

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That time Washington City Paper published my article on Tute Nere, a DC-area anarchist women’s collective. You can read the full text here.

Somehow I learned that Tute Nere was publishing their own fanzine to promote women’s participation in radical anarchist activity in the area. That was the hook I needed to get City Paper to accept a short piece on the group, a part of my effort to document the more unusual underground activity in the region.

Flashback: Article on poet Buck Downs in Washington City Paper

city paper - buck downsThat time my article on DC poet Buck Downs and his poetry postcard project appeared in Washington City Paper (June 26, 1998). You can read the full article here.

Buck has a distinctive style of gnomic, fragmented poems that hint at deeper mysteries and insights. Third party presses (Edge Books, Furniture Press) have brought out collections of his work, and he has self published chapbooks, on-demand books, and his postcards. I still get poems on postcards from Buck, always a great read.

At the time, I was still trying to establish myself as a freelance writer, and I was frustrated by the lack of coverage for really cool stuff going on around town. This was a window of opportunity, of course, and this article on Buck’s postcards was one of several pieces I managed to place in the weekly alternative rag. The editors typically shoved these pieces off in the “Artifacts” section, with word counts not exceeding 500 words. Nonetheless, these little articles served as some form of documentation that interesting stuff actually happened in DC.

“Civilization’s Lost” in Stampzine

 

Stampzine is an assembling zine comprised of works featuring rubber stamping, edited by long time mail artists Picasso Gaglione and Darlene Domel. Participation is open, free, ongoing, and simple: just send 20 9″x5″ pages featuring rubber stamp art. The latest issue is number 20, which includes a piece I did with the rubber stamp I made for my poem “Civilization’s Lost.” Each issue is documented in a YouTube video; Issue 20 can be viewed here.

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Here are directions for participation in a future issue of Stampzine.

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Flashback: Faith’s Campaign Cabaret article in Washington City Paper

faith-cabaret-01.jpgThe following article appeared in The Washington City Paper on April 25, 1997. You can see the article archived online here. It attempts to document Faith’s campaign cabaret performances in DC, where she was running for mayor. I took the photos at one of Faith’s Campaign Cabaret performances the same year.

Faith’s Campaign Cabaret

Faith is a star. Not coincidentally, she is also a perennial candidate. In ’96, she ran for delegate against Eleanor Holmes Norton (picking up over 1,000 votes), and she has run twice against Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry. Her current campaign slogan is “Vote for Faith in ’98.” She’s running for mayor—again. Severely encapsulated, Faith’s platform involves running Congress and the feds out of D.C. (known to her as the “Devil’s Colon”) and using all those beautiful neoclassical buildings as art studios, theaters, and concert halls, a transformation to be funded by big Hollywood stars. It’s easy to get Faith on a roll about her plans: “I’ve got this one program I call ‘Shoot It on Film Before You Shoot Your Foe.’ It puts Tony Bennett in Anacostia starring as a Catholic priest, teaching kids to make movies.”

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Now 73, Faith started running when she lived in St. Croix, sponsored by her then-husband, a former attorney general in the islands. “I got fewer votes each time I ran,” she remarks. “You think they were trying to tell me something?” Before St. Croix, Faith played on Broadway in a series of musicals (“They were all flops,” she says with inspiring, unmayoral candor) before landing a role as Mazzeppa in Gypsy, the play Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne wrote for Ethel Merman. Faith claims to have stolen the show (you’ll believe it if you ever rent the video—and supposedly they tamed down her bit for the movie) with a bump-and-grind number she developed in N.Y.C. burlesque parlors. In the movie version, she teaches Natalie Wood how to strip, sings “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,” and blows a trumpet. She also appears on my thrift-store copy of the Broadway cast recording.

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Faith recreates her Mazzeppa bit in her weekly Sunday-night campaign cabaret at Mr. Henry’s on U Street (formerly the Andalusian Dog; show starts around 8:30), kicking the show off with a Gypsy video clip and a strip number that leaves little to the imagination and ends with her blowing the trumpet between her legs and sporting a “Free D.C.” sign on her butt. “It has deeply sociological significance,” Faith says from the stage. The oddly magical entertainment includes calypso campaign songs, reworkings of Evita tunes (“Don’t Cry for Me, Washingtonians”), Noel Cowardlike ditties by unknown songwriter John Wallowich, a Nat King Cole tune, and a rendering of Lord Buckley’s “vintage soul talk” number, “The Nazz” (aka Jesus of Nazareth). If you’re, er, lucky, she might forget to wear her pants when she roller-skates out in red, white, and blue for her campaign speech. Her husband, Jude, accompanies her skillfully on guitar and does an uncanny karaoke Frank Sinatra. When Faith forgets the words, Jude is there to help her out, and he fills in the gaps between her costume changes with smooth calypso and Fats Waller numbers—like a cut-rate João Gilberto. Filled with broad comedy and multiculti touches, the show is a mondo exotica throwback; imagine a gene splicing between Incredibly Strange Music doyennes Yma Sumac and Rusty Warren. And think what Faith would do if she ran the D.C. government.—Jeff Bagato

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You Gotta Have Faith

Nonagenarian. Perennial candidate for Mayor of DC. DC Statehood activist. Burlessque dancer. Actress. Comedienne. Cabaret performer. Faith has done many things. Once upon a time, she was a key component of the Broadway musical Gypsy, in its original run with Ethel Merman, as well as the film version with Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, and Karl Malden. Faith developed the role of Mazeppa, an aging burlesque dancer who blows a bugle while doing her bumps and grinds. She schools the young Gypsy Rose Lee on the necessities of stage life in the song “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” Contemporary reviews of the stage version and YouTube views of the movie version show Faith stealing the show with sassy hip snaps and a voice that could peel paint off your wall.

I first met Faith circa 1998 when she was doing her Campaign Cabaret performances in various nightspots around DC, adopting show tunes and calypso numbers to serve as self promotion, accompanied by her husband Jude on guitar. Film auteur Jeff Krulik (of Heavy Metal Parking Lot fame) was acting as their manager and booking the gigs. It’s hard to forget such a magical entertainment. Some images are more indelible than others. Like seeing a 75-year-old Faith rollerskate onto the stage in a nude body stocking to blow her bugle.

Recently while at work in George Washington University’s Burns Law Library, I ran across a book called Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance by Anthea Kraut. The back cover blurb mentioned Faith’s lawsuit against the producers of Broadway’s Gypsy for infringing on her copyright to Mazeppa’s dance routine. She had developed the number during her time on the actual burlesque stage, and reprising it during audition got her the part in the play. The climax of her performance made it a unique signature and brought the house down: bending over to blow her bugle between her legs, derriere facing the house. This “derriere pose” was deemed too risque by the film’s director, so she did a deep back bend instead, which is what you see in all the pictures. The case turns out to have been an important one in the struggle to gain copyright protection for dance choreography. But Faith was unsuccessful in gaining damages. The judge ruled that her dance–and the story it purported to tell of an ex-military woman now earning her living on vaudeville–was not significant enough to warrant protection, being both too low-brow and created by a woman.

I interviewed Faith extensively back in the 90s, writing a short article on her for The Washington City Paper (you can read it here), and later publishing the full transcript in my fanzine Mole. Over 30 years after her lawsuit, she was still angry about the copyright rip off,  But it was hard to tell if the story was just a part of her self-myth. It was great to see it confirmed in a big way.

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Using the article in Kraut’s legal monograph as a hook, I put together an exhibit for the display case in the Burns Library about Faith, her copyright lawsuit, and her mayoral candidacy. Included are vinyl LP copies of the soundtracks for both stage and screen versions, photos from her 90s cabaret shows, campaign ephemera, and a dented and warped old bugle I got on eBay. In fact, Krulik told me to get a beat up horn “just like the one Montgomery Clift gave her.” You see how the legend of Faith just seems bottomless? There’s always another amazing story about her. If she makes a visit to the exhibit, I’ll let you know.

 

Le Scat Noir Encyclopedia

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As a contributor, I’m pleased to announce that the latest issue of Le Scat Noir literary journal happens to be a weird and wonderful encyclopedia! This tome contains “entries from Acrostic to Zwine, and features contributors from around the world…Discover rare factoids, flash fiction, nubile moon spew, mythological arcana, cabalistic pathogens, pataphysical detritus, scatological schemata, crypto-heuristic scripture, and radical homomorphism. Over 100 pages of profusely illustrated weirdness.” It’s available only in paperback from Amazon. You can check it out and buy a copy here.

All my contributions come from a short text I called the “Space Word Book.” I lost track of how many entries from my work ended up in the Scat Noir book, but it includes pieces on “Earth,” “International Control Board,” “heatshield,” and “interstellar space.” These articles stand alongside those on Alphonse Allais, fart bear, ouija scramble, phubbing and reducing windows. Some entries are funny, some are weird, and some are deadly serious. It’s an exploration of the hinterlands of human knowledge that should prove edifying to anyone.

President Ubu

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While browsing Amazon, I ran across a new version of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi (handy Wikipedia reference) that links the megalomaniacal, illogical tyrant Ubu with our current Dear Leader. The adaptation is fittingly titled Ubu Trump.

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According to the synopsis, this book is: “Translated and Entirely Updated by Rosanna Hildyard. Though ostensibly Surrealist, Alfred Jarry’s 1888 play Ubu Roi bears disconcertingly close resemblance to America in 2017. This new version, which brings Ubu to the USA, is a bombastic, irreverent romp through the misadventures of the titular usurper of the White House, with a sharp eye for materialism and political infighting.”

I was actually pleased to see that someone else had made the Ubu/Trump link. Last year, I resurrected the “Ubu for President” campaign posters I made during one of the Obama elections. Some of these actually made it into paper boxes on the streets of DC in 2016. The first photo shows one of my posters in situ, collaged with the remains of a Washington Examiner magazine cover depicting the soon to be Dear Leader. Unfortunately, I got lazy and didn’t do much with this postering campaign.

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“Pere Ubu for President” was meant to be a joke. The text on the poster, referring to Ubu’s real estate development concepts, was a broad reference to the Trump organization’s modus operandi. Who would elect an obese, raving, ignorant sociopath, dressed in a kind of KKK outfit, as a leader? Now we know the answer to that.

Having never read Hildyard’s adaptation, I can’t recommend it over the original. If you have not read Jarry’s play, now’s the time. It’s a remarkably adept likeness of the Tweeter in Chief, performed only once in 1896. On the play’s opening night, it caused riots in the audience, starting with Ubu’s first pronouncement, a corruption of the French word for feces: “Merdre!” You can easily find copies of Ubu Roi available on Amazon. Once, the title was translated as “King Turd,” just to let you know the general zone of the satire involved.

When you’re done reading about King Ubu, you can read Jarry’s two sequels: Ubu Cuckolded and Ubu Enchained. It could be likely these plays spell out the full trajectory of the current regime!

Flashback: Rubber Band Ball article reprinted in Utne Reader

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I recently discovered that my article on rubber band balls can be found on the  Utne Reader website. You can read “Rubber Band Balls: The Ultimate Collector’s Item” here.

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The article was first published under the title “The Joy of Rubber Balling” in my music fanzine Mole, issue #12, back in May 1999. It describes my obsession with creating and maintaining a rubber band ball. On the next page, I interviewed my friend David Craig about his own experiences creating a rubber band ball (see below). As with a lot of things, he got in on the trend first. The “director’s cut” version appears on my website here.

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Needless to say, I was rather shocked when Utne Reader picked the article up for reprinting, which they did under the title “Bandarama” (Utne Reader #101, Sept-Oct 2000). Especially nice: getting paid for the piece. In some way, a paycheck helped justify all the wasted time putting together a fanzine. Not to mention the time wasted assembling a giant rubber band ball. (Coincidentally, I found the images of the Utne cover and my article in an Ebay listing; strange that “Bandarama” was one of the sample pages!)

One of the major differences between the two printings was the title, and the omission of my subtitle. The more professional rag seemed not to like the vague innuendo contained in my version. It’s funny that for their website, they changed the title again.

Yes, you do see Vanilla Ice’s name in the lower left corner of the Mole cover. I interviewed him about an outsider art site in Homestead, Florida, called the Coral Castle. It featured in a promotional photo his record company provided with his comeback CD. Turns out, he was quite an authority on the place. But that’s another post.

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I still have that rubber band ball today, although I’m not as diligent about maintaining it. It’s gotten pretty furry with neglect, so I’ve been doing some serious re-surfacing with fresh rubber. It could still use a lot more bands. At this point the ball weighs 7 lbs 11 oz.

Flashback: Article on the Bride of Frankenstein’s singing career in Cool and Strange Music magazine

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That time my article on Elsa Lanchester’s Bawdy Cockney Songs LPs appeared in Cool and Strange Music #28. You know Ms. Lanchester best as the titular star of Bride of Frankenstein, James Whale’s 1935 horror masterpiece.

Later in her career, she took up a kind of cabaret act where she sang silly ditties full of innuendo and double entendres. Many songs from this act ended up on two LPs, originally titled “Songs for a Shuttered Parlor” and “Songs for a Smoke Filled Room.” (Reissued as “Bawdy Cockney Songs” and, naturally, “More Bawdy Cockney Songs.”) Both are great examples of weird and strange thrift store scores.

Cool and Strange Music no longer has an online presence, but you can read the “director’s cut” of the article in my own archive here.

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