Archive for August, 2012

Calgary Hip Hop Comes To Schleswig-Holstein

- August 30th, 2012

 

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DJ Cosm and Teekay of Dragon Fli Empire/Photo by Tarik Robinson, dragonfliempire.com

 

ITZEHOE, GERMANY — What are a couple of nice, talented hip hop artists from Calgary doing in a place like Itzehoe?

 

Well, it’s a long story and (as I’m sure you’ve already figured out) I’m going to tell you about it.

 

First things first: What’s an Itzehoe and why wouldn’t Teekay and DJ Cosm of Calgary’s Dragon Fli Empire be performing here on Friday night?

 

Itzehoe (pronounced “Its-a-ho” — sort of like “It’s a boy!” but with the unfortunate connotation that the slang “ho” conjures up) is a nice little 1,200-year-old town somewhere between a half-hour and one-and-a-half-hour drive north of Hamburg (depending on the autobahn traffic). It’s a commercial and administrative centre for the surrounding mostly agricultural area, but it doesn’t have a lot else going for it.

 

Think Belleville, Ont., in other words, but about 1,000 years older. Belleville officially has a bit larger population but that’s only because it seduced Thurlow Township into an unholy marriage a few years ago. If you’re talking about the towns themselves, they’re pretty much the same size and share a lot of the same attributes.

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Belleville and Itzehoe: Can you tell the difference?

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If you find Belleville charming, you’ll find Itzehoe charming. If not, likewise not.

 

I’m not trying to put Itzehoe (or Belleville, for that matter) down here: I’m just trying to convey to you that Itzehoe is not a throbbing metropolis. It’s a pokey little town even though it has a quite-nice professional theatre complex and a homegrown circus troupe and the Kulturhof is pretty cool too (so maybe Itzehoe is a rung up on Belleville after all … but then Belleville has the Bay of Quinte on its doorstep).

 

No, I’m just trying to explain how unlikely a destination Itzehoe is for a popular, established hip hop outfit like Dragon Fli Empire (in the music business for 10 years, currently on their third European tour and with a fourth full-length album coming this fall).

 

They’re playing major clubs in places like Berlin and Oslo — and then hitting itsy-bitsy Itzehoe … but not nearby Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city and an arts-and-entertainment hotbed.

 

It’s sort of like a Canadian tour that includes Vancouver, Edmonton Winnipeg, Montreal — and Belleville (but not Toronto).

 

You get the picture.

 

And the reason for my curiosity?

 

Last week I was heading into a grocery store in an even smaller town about 10 km from Itzehoe when a poster on the store’s public bulletin board caught my eye.

 

Here it is.

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You probably can’t read it, but what jumped out at me was the line “STRAIGHT OUTTA CANADA.” Here’s a closer look.

 

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When I’m out of the country for a while, I become a bit nostalgic for things Canadian. Sort of like getting teary-eyed when a Stompin’ Tom song suddenly turns up on a Shanghai bar’s karaoke machine.

 

So, of course, “STRAIGHT OUTTA CANADA” pushed all my Nosey Parker and Canadiana buttons.

 

“What’s a hip hop outfit from Canada doing in a place like Itzehoe?” I asked a passing elderly shopper, who gave me the North German ice stare.

 

After unfreezing, the first thing I did was check out Dragon Fli Empire on the Internet.

 

I should point out here that my body of musical knowledge about hip hop is roughly the same as my body of musical knowledge about Gregorian chants — I know what I like, but don’t ask me to explain the difference between a melisma and a mixtape. So of course I had never heard of Dragon Fli Empire even though they’ve been around for a decade and are pretty big out west.

 

Turns out I like their music. Take a listen for yourself. Here’s a link to Mount Pleasant,  the cut about a Calgary bus route that first got them noticed in 2002. And here’s a link to JELL-O Pudding, a new song by Teekay from his just-released five-track digital album, the TKTV Beat Tape. While you’re at it, check out the whole www.dragonfliempire.com website.

 

And the second thing I did was fire off an e-mail to Dragon Fli Empire in Calgary. Here’s what I asked them (and I quote):

 

“What’s a poster doing on the bulletin board of my local grocery store here advertising a gig in Itzehoe next week for Dragon Fli Empire “straight outta Canada”?

 

“Main thing I’m interested in is how this European tour happens for a couple of hip hop artistes from Calgary — have you done shows in Europe before, do you have connections, how did the tour venues come about — Itzehoe, who ever goes to Itzehoe?”

 

And I got a very nice reply from Tarik Robinson (Teekay), one half of Dragon Fli Empire. We weren’t able to arrange a telephone interview because of the mad rush to get from Calgary to Europe, so I’m just going to reprint some of Teekay’s e-mail here. It explains pretty much everything .

 

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DJ Cosm/Adam Hicks (left) and Teekay/Tarik Robinson (right)/Photo by Allison MacDonald

 

So Dragon Fli Empire is just myself “Teekay” (Tarik Robinson) and “DJ Cosm” (Adam Hicks). We’ve been making music as a group for 10 years now and our early claim to fame was a song called “Mount Pleasant” about my life observations while riding Calgary Transit over a lively beat. This song got us unprecedented exposure for a Calgary hip hop group up to that point. We became favorites on CBC Radio and had some small exposure on Much, played some great festivals around the country and opened up for a lot of our hip hop idols. After our initial local and Canadian buzz we started to make some noise internationally with projects that released on labels in Japan and Finland.

 

We did our first European Tour in May 2011. It started with one festival in Chambery, France. They knew about us from a vinyl project we had self-released in 2005. Our song from that project, (an ode to headphones) became a favorite at their parties and they wanted us to come over. They couldn’t afford what it would take to get us over there in terms of flights & travel but put us in touch with an independent booking agent who had some connections. I was able to tap some connections as well and together we pieced together a 10-show headlining tour of France, Germany and Switzerland.

 

The first tour went extremely well, it was one of the most amazing experiences in our musical careers up to that point. So we did it again in February of this year (11 shows in France, Germany and Switzerland) and are doing it again now in August/September (7 shows in Germany, Denmark and Norway).

 

It’s definitely breathed new life into our desire to keep pushing on and we will be releasing new projects with an increased focus on this market because of how much they embrace what we do.  We don’t really make money touring but we don’t lose money either. And that’s not too important regardless.

 

The style of hip hop we make is considered a throwback to the ’90s and has a lot of jazz and funk influences. There is definitely more appreciation for that over in Europe. It’s honest expression from two guys who grew up in Calgary and love the culture of hip hop. I have a day job as an IT guy at an engineering company and Cosm is taking a PR degree at a local university. But we still make space in our lives for the love of music.

 

As for Itzehoe, our booking agent had dealt with the group of guys who are organizing the show there a couple months ago for another tour and said it was one of the best experiences she’s had. The guys are trying to rejuvenate their town with these shows, not profit-driven and have a pure love for the artform. I had no idea previously this town existed but they are going all out in promoting the show and I’m sure it’s going to be amazing. The group from the other tour that came through said the crowd reaction was incredible and they were chanting their name in the streets afterwards. They don’t get hip hop acts from across the pond often in Itzehoe.

 

 

That’s how Teekay and DJ Cosm are coming to Itzehoe on Friday night. They started the tour on Wednesday in Wiesbaden, part of the metropolitan Frankfurt area in central Germany, then on to Leipzig in eastern Germany tonight (Thursday), Itzehoe tomorrow (Friday), then the Danish university town of Aalborg on Saturday.  After a few days break, DFE plays Oslo on Sept. 6; Kassel, Germany, on Sept. 7 and Berlin on Sept. 8.

Atzehoe

In Itzehoe, they’ll be playing at a club called Atzehoe because the nickname of club owner Guntram Horst is “Atze.” Everybody in these parts knows “Atze from Itzehoe” — as Teekay said in his e-mail, he’s part of a group “trying to rejuvenate their town with these shows.” He’s very active in the cultural life of the community. Atze operates a couple of other businesses in Itzehoe, including the only legal bordello in town (as far as I know) — but that’s another story.

 

I’m trying to make e-mail contact with Teekay again to find out how the start of the tour is going. If and when he gets back to me, I’ll give you an update.

 

REWIND: 100 Movies In The Public Domain

- August 29th, 2012

UPDATE: This piece first appeared in December 2010. My friend Sheila Reagan was just asking me for a link to it because she wanted to dominate more public movies and, since I was already digging it up for her, I decided to re-post it on the blog. These things are a lot of work, after all, and — if the information is still valid and interesting — it bears repeating. So scrunch closer, kids, and let’s turn on the projector …

 

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It seems like every movie, TV show and song ever recorded is floating around somewhere on the Internet, free to be plucked out of cyberspace by anyone with a computer.

Most of those bits and bytes are pirated editions or, at best, have a very sketchy legal pedigree.

That doesn’t seem to bother most of the world under 30, but copyright infringement, plagiarism and theft of intellectual property are some of the very few things I’m squeamish about. Perhaps it’s an age issue, perhaps it’s just my background as an old-fashioned newspaper editor.

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I’m much happier delving into the mountain of movies — thousands and thousands of them — that are in the public domain and free to be legally downloaded, copied, reproduced, manipulated, whatever you want.

There’s a fantastic not-for-profit website called Internet Archive at www.archive.org that gives you free access to millions of documents and high-quality digital artifacts — including more than 2,000 movies and 2,000 TV shows that are now in the public domain.

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It’s got plenty of other great stuff too, ranging from a live music archive of more than 85,000 concerts (check out the Grateful Dead, Sheila) to 100,000 images of space and earth from  NASA to 745,000 audio recordings to more than a million digital books.

But for now we’re going to stick to feature films that are in the public domain.

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As I said, there are thousands and thousands of the critters — ranging from what is referred to as the first real motion picture ever made, a 46-second 1895 documentary called Exiting the Factory (original French title: La Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon) to movies made in the 21st Century.

I’m going to tell you a bit about 100 of those public-domain films that I find interesting or weird, but this list is arbitrary and is truly just the tip of the iceberg.

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First, however, I want to give you a very quick (and very crude) rundown on what “public domain” is. You can just skip the italicized part if you prefer to get straight to the movies.

In the context of intellectual property — which is what movies, books and the like are — “public domain” means the property (i.e. movie) in question is not owned by one person or group or company, but is as free to be used by everyone as the air we breathe.

Generally a film falls into the public domain because its copyright has expired or wasn’t filed properly in the first place or was not renewed on time (this only affects films released in the U.S. between 1923 and 1963, which I will sort of explain in a minute).

Any film produced by the U.S., Canadian or British  governments — i.e., with the public’s money — is also in the public domain.

All films released before 1923 are in the public domain in the U.S.

There is another key point: Where you are determines what the copyright provisions are for any given work.

In the U.S., it used to be a 28-year term, followed by a 28-year renewal term. Many films ended up in the public domain because somebody somewhere forgot to renew the copyright in that 28th year.

Then the U.S. copyright term got bumped up to 75 years from the movie’s release, then up to its current 95 years. There is now no renewal requirement in the U.S. and a law passed in 1978 made renewal retroactively automatic for any film released 1964-1977 as well.

Confusing, isn’t it?

Of course, Canadian film copyright law is different — and much tougher because the law that was written to apply to books and other individual works also applies to films.

For Canadian books and films, the copyright lasts for the life of the last surviving creator plus 50 years.

That makes sense for a book, which might have one or two authors and maybe an illustrator or photographer. But for a movie, with hundreds of people involved in the “creative process,” it becomes almost impossible to determine when a film would finally be considered in the public domain. (Most Canadian film production companies have film crews and casts sign over their rights to the company, but it’s still a quagmire).

The 1973 Canadian film Alien Thunder (or Dan Candy’s Law) is still copyrighted in Canada but is considered in the public domain in the U.S. I can only assume the film had no explicit statement of  copyright in its American release because that’s just about the only way a film made since 1963 goes public domain there.

In any case, you can’t legally download Alien Thunder for free and monkey around with it in Canada — but you can in the U.S.

Whew. I think that’s the gist of “public domain” although I’m sure I’ve misinterpreted some aspects. And I’m sure someone will correct me. Thanks in advance.

Now, the one movie that probably springs to mind first when you think “public domain” is It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s 1946 weepy/cheery in which distraught bank manager George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is saved from committing suicide on Christmas Eve by his guardian angel. You (used to) see it a lot on TV at this time of year.

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It actually isn’t in the public domain now, although it was from 1974 (when the then-copyright holder neglected to renew) until 1993 (when Republic Pictures was able to re-establish copyright in a complicated court case.)

Enough blather. Let’s get on to 100 movies in the public domain, many of which you can find at the Internet Archive or, in varying states, on YouTube.

They’re pretty much in alphabetical order, although you’ll notice a few strays because I wasn’t going to renumber the whole damn thing to get some late additions in.

Abraham-Lincoln

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1. Abraham Lincoln (1930)
One of only two D.W. Griffith talkies, the Lincoln film was a sort of “make good” on Griffith’s part for his earlier, better known — and very racist — film The Birth Of A Nation (also in the public domain), which glorified the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War U.S. South.

2. Algiers (1938)
Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr “come to the Casbah.”

AlienThunder

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3. Alien Thunder (1973, AKA Dan Candy’s Law)
Donald Sutherland as Mountie Dan Candy and Chief Dan George as wise, old chief Sounding Sky in the old Canadian West. In the public domain in the U.S., but still under copyright protection in Canada, where it was produced. Sutherland has reportedly said Alien Thunder/Dan Candy’s Law is the worst movie he was ever in.

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4. Angel And The Badman (1947)
Wild West gunman John Wayne is reformed by nice Quaker lady Gail Russell. Angel was the first film on which Wayne was the producer.

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5. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Sergei Eisenstein’s famous film about the Russian naval mutiny and social clashes of 1905, precursor to the 1917 revolution.

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6. Beat The Devil (1953)
John Huston’s offbeat takeoff on noir crime films like his own Maltese Falcon. Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida are a motley crew of conmen and dreamers thrust together in a seedy Italian port town and aboard an equally seedy tramp steamer bound for Mombasa. The film was co-written by Huston and Truman Capote, often on a day-to-day basis, and was basically an excuse for Huston, Bogart, Lorre and Capote to go on a month-long bender in various scenic Mediterranean locales. Bogart hated the finished film, in part because he had invested in the production and ended up losing quite a bit of money. The producers lost even more when someone messed up the copyright.

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7. Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)
Bela Lugosi, of course, and the nightclub team of Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who had a short-lived career in the early ‘50s mimicking the then-hot comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

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8. The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
D.W. Griffith’s aforementioned Civil War epic, grand in scope but contaminated by racism. Its premiere title was The Clansman.

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9. The Blue Angel (1930)
Germany’s first major sound film was directed by Josef von Sternberg and introduced Marlene Dietrich to the world as sultry, devious cabaret queen Lola Lola.

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10. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)
Mad scientist’s fiancé gets decapitated in car accident, he keeps the head “alive” in his lab against the wishes of the head (known affectionately as Jan in the Pan), and ultimately dies at the hands of an abused monster (telepathically controlled by Jan in the Pan) kept locked up in the lab. “I told you to let me die,” Jan cackles maniacally (wouldn’t you be maniacal in those circumstances?) as the lab goes up in flames.

11. Bride Of The Gorilla (1951)
No, it’s not a ripoff of King Kong. It’s about a curse placed on South American plantation manager Raymond Burr that turns him into a gorilla at night. The fact that gorillas are only found in Africa, not South America, didn’t seem to bother anyone.

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12. The Boy In The Plastic Bubble (1976)
John Travolta is a teen with a malfunctioning immune system which means he lives his life in a sealed, sterile room until he gets a protective space suit that lets him go out into the world — and fall in love.

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13. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Robert Wiene’s visually stunning expressionist horror film.

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14. Carnival Of Souls (1962)
Otherwordly woman conjures up ghouls by playing an organ in an abandoned amusement park. Filmed for $33,000 by Herk Harvey in Lawrence, Kansas, and Salt Lake City.

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15. Charade (1963)
One of my favourite movies, Charade is a stylish, suspenseful thriller set in Paris with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with a bunch of baddies like Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. It’s been called “the best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made.” The film had an incomplete copyright notice and so entered the public domain immediately on its release.

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16. Creature From The Haunted Sea (1961)
This horror comedy is a vintage cheapie from Roger Corman, the man who became a Hollywood legend by producing more than 300 shlock films, directing about 50 of them himself, and giving directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron their starts as directors. Corman made Creature and two other films — with the same cast and crew — in less than a month in Puerto Rico, where he was shooting because of tax breaks. Many of Corman’s films have ended up in the public domain.

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17. Dancing Pirate (1936)
A Boston dance teacher gets shanghaied by buccaneers. Surprisingly, it’s not a comedy. It was billed as “the first dancing musical,” which is absolutely untrue. Frank Morgan, who went on to become the Wizard of Oz in 1939, has a supporting role.

18. Dark Journey (1937)
British secret agent Vivien Leigh falls in love with German secret agent Conrad Veidt in World War I.

19. D.O.A. (1950)
Classic film noir in which a poisoned man tries to solve his own murder.

20. Dead Men Walk (1943)
Back-from-the-dead psycho seeks revenge on his good twin brother.

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21. Death Rides A Horse (1967)
One of the better spaghetti westerns in the public domain featuring ferret-faced antihero Lee Van Cleef. Quentin Tarrantino used many elements of Death Rides A Horse in Kill Bill, including excerpts of Death’s theme music.

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22. Dementia 13 (1963)
Slasher thriller was Francis Ford Coppola’s first “legitimate” (as in non-porn) directing assignment. Shot in Ireland on $22,000 from Roger Corman’s aforementioned American International Pictures (plus a $20,000 European sidedeal that Corman didn’t know about). Corman hated the movie Coppola brought back from Ireland, took control of it from Coppola and had another director shoot some additional axe-murder footage — not in Ireland, of course.

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23. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
This well-done silent horror film gives John Barrymore, in his prime, the chance to pull out all the stops as the split-personality Jekyll/Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the novel in less than a week of feverish, round-the-clock work fueled by a steady diet of cocaine.

24. Diabolique (1955)
Diabolique (originally Les Diaboliques — The Devils) is a French classic starring Simone Signoret as the mistress of a brutish teacher who teams up with his wife to murder him. Wonderful twists and turns. It’s either a horror film or a thriller, but whatever it is, Diabolique is considered to have some of the scariest scenes in movie history.

25. Divorce of Lady X (1938)
British romantic comedy with Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier.

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26.Dressed To Kill (1946)
Dressed To Kill was the 14th — and last — of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce series of Sherlock Holmes movies, several of which are in the public domain. Though not based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story, the plot is still good, Rathbone and Bruce are in fine form and you even get to hear Dr. Watson quack like a duck.

27. The Eagle (1925)
Silent star Rudolph Valentino plays a Cossack Lone Ranger in Czarist Russia. Famous for an early long tracking shot in a banquet scene.

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28. Ecstasy (1933)
Ecstasy is a stilted melodrama that became immensely controversial — and popular — because of the amount of sex in it. The beautiful Hedy Lamarr spends significant time running around nude and Ecstasy is said to contain “the first on-screen depiction of a female orgasm” (face only). Filmed in German in Czechoslovakia.

29. Escape From Sobibor (1987)
Alan Arkin leads a good cast in this story of the real uprising and mass breakout of Jews from the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp during World War II.

30. Embryo (1976)
Rock Hudson as a doctor whose experiments with genetics go very, very wrong — or right, depending on how you feel about seeing Barbara Carrera as the naked superwoman he creates. Again, missing copyright info put it into the public domain on release.

31. A Farewell To Arms (1932)
Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes in the first film version of Ernest Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical war novel.

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32. The Fast And The Furious (1955)
Mystery-comedy directed by Busby Berkeley, the guy better known for choreographing large-scale dance musicals like Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade.

33. Father’s Little Dividend (1951)
Vincente Minnelli (Liza’s father) directs Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in the sequel to Father Of The Bride.

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34. Faust (1926)
F.W. Murnau’s gothic, haunting deal-with-the-devil morality play was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time and put the producing studio, UFA Berlin, in serious financial difficulty. As I mentioned before,  anyone can  manipulate or modify films in the public domain: Just look at how American digital media artist Kurt Ralske compressed all 167,000 frames of the original 116-minute Faust into a three-minute blast of images. If you don’t want to watch the whole fabulous Faust in real time, just let Ralske’s three-minute visual tsunami wash over you. It’s stunning, non-linear filmmaking and your brain has actually synthesized the whole story by the end of three minutes.

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35. Freaks (1932)
Tod Browning’s Depression-era exploitation film about bad doings in a carnival cast real-life sideshow performers as the deformed “freaks” of the title. The freaks turn out to be the honourable, caring heroes and the “normal” circus performers are the villains.

36. The Front Page (1931)
Howard Hughes produced the screwball comedy, based on the stage play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur about a Chicago reporter’s schemes to help a condemned murderer escape so he can get an exclusive interview.

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37. The General (1927)
Almost all of Buster Keaton’s silent comedy classics — like this one about an unlikely railroading Civil War hero — are in the public domain.

THE GOLD RUSH

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38. The Gold Rush (1925)
As with Keaton, most of comic genius Charlie Chaplin’s silent films are in the public domain.

39. God’s Gun (1976)
Spaghetti western with Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Richard Boone and Sybil Danning. Van Cleef is a priest turned vigilante.

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40. The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Directed by film pioneer Edwin S. Porter for Thomas Edison’s movie company, Robbery was only 12 minutes long but is considered a cinematic milestone that used innovative filming techniques and location shooting (with the New Jersey countryside filling in for the American West). The end of film, in which one of the train robbers points his gun at the camera and fires, sent early audiences screaming out of the theatre.

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41. Greed (1924)
Erich von Stroheim’s silent drama about a dentist, his wife, her lover and a lottery win ran an incredible 10 hours in its first version. Under studio pressure, von Stroheim cut Greed down to six hours and then four hours, before MGM took control and hacked it down to about 2.5 hours for release. Most of the cut footage was destroyed so Greed is now considered one of the great “lost films” of movie history.

42. Glamour Gal (1945)
A propaganda documentary made for the U.S. Marine Corps tells the story of “Glamour Gal,” a mobile artillery piece and the team of Marines who operated it during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

43. Gulliver’s Travels (1939)
Dave Fleischer’s cartoon feature version of the Jonathan Swift satire of human foibles.

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44. Hands Of A Stranger (1962)
Experimental transplant replaces pianist’s damaged hands with those of an executed murderer. Then the hands take on a life of their own.

45. Hell’s House (1932)
A young Bette Davis starred in this condemnation of the New York state hard-labour reform school system.

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46. Hemp For Victory (1942)
Another World War II propaganda film, this one made for the U.S. Department of Agriculture extolling the virtues of hemp — the rope-making kind, not the smoking kind.

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47. Hercules (1958)
Italian production starring wooden American actor Steve Reeves started a “sand and sandals” movie trend. Sequels such as Hercules Unchained (1959), Hercules And The Tyrants of Babylon (1964) and Hercules Versus Moon Men (1964) are also in the public domain.

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48. His Girl Friday (1940)
Howard Hawkes remade the screwball newspaper comedy The Front Page with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

49. The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Actress Ida Lupino directed this film noir story about a psycho serial killer.

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50. I Cover The Waterfront (1933)
It’s about a newspaper reporter who finds crime, corruption and love while covering the waterfront beat. Claudette Colbert was a mid-range leading lady when she played the love interest. A year later she was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars with the release of Cleopatra, Imitation Of Life and It Happened One Night.

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51. I Eat Your Skin (1964)
It involves a mad scientist and voodoo. I just like the title. In 1970 it was released on a double bill with I Drink Your Blood, a completely unrelated splatter film supposedly based on the Manson Family, which is not in the public domain.

52. Impact (1949)
Another pretty good film noir.

53. The Inspector General (1949)
Danny Kaye musical comedy.

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54. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)
Western-horror hybrid with the tagline “Roaring guns against raging monster.”

55. Jungle Book (1942)
Zoltan Korda’s colour adventure film based on the Rudyard Kipling story of a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. It was good enough to get four Academy Award nominations.

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56. The Kid (1921)
Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length film was a huge success. A mix in equal parts of comedy and bathos.

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57. King Of The Zombies (1941)
I just like the title. There are zombies in the movie but they are only the tools of a Nazi spymaster in the Caribbean. The movie was made during World War II, don’t forget, even though the U.S. wasn’t an official participant at the time of the film’s release. King Of The Zombies actually got an Academy Award nomination and spawned a 1943 sequel.

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58. Kansas City Confidential (1952)
KCC is a raw, brutal crime drama, little of which actually takes place in Kansas City. It has a great cast of truly bad-ass armoured-car robbers: Lee Van Cleef, Neville Brand and Jack Elam. Quentin Tarantino based his 1992 film Reservoir Dogs on the plot of Kansas City Confidential.

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59. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Margaret Lockwood is a wonderful dipsy old British nanny/spy who disappears on a train trip through Central Europe. It was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s last British films before he left for Hollywood.

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60. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)
Elizabeth Taylor was rightly considered one of the most beautiful women in the world when she made this romance with director Richard Brooks and co-star Van Johnson.

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61. Last Woman On Earth (1960)
B-movie king Roger Corman strikes again in this post-apocalyptic love/hate-triangle bit of pop anthropology, again filmed in Puerto Rico for tax reasons.

62. The Last Man On Earth (1964)
Not a sequel to Last Woman, this Italian production starring Vincent Price is based on the Richard Matheson horror/sci-fi novel I Am Legend, which also spawned the 1971 Charlton Heston movie The Omega Man and the 2007 Will Smith feature.

63. Little Shop Of Horrors (1960)
Probably Roger Corman’s best-known film, Little Shop Of Horrors is a black comedy about an inept florist and his flesh-eating plant. Corman made the film in two days for $30,000. Jack Nicholson, a frequent collaborator of Corman in the 1960s, plays masochistic dental patient Wilbur Force.

64. The Lone Ranger (1955)
Feature film pieced together from the hit ‘50s TV series with Clayton Moore as the masked avenger and Canada’s  Jay Silverheels as Tonto.

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65. M (1931)
The suspense thriller about a serial child killer was German director Fritz Lang’s first sound film and Lang considered it his best work. It was also the first starring role for a young actor named Peter Lorre, who had previously been typecast as a supporting actor in comedies.

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66. Man From Music Mountain (1938 and 1943)
There are two movies with this name, both directed by Joe Kane and both in the public domain. The first was made in 1938 with Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy. The second was made in 1943 with Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys.

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67. McClintock (1963)
John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara comedy Western based on Shakespeare’s Taming Of the Shrew. Lawsuits after Wayne’s death prevented the copyright from being renewed and the movie slipped into public domain.

68. Meet John Doe (1941)
Starring Gary Cooper, John Doe is one of Frank Capra’s string of “American everyman” comedy-dramas that kept U.S. moviegoers hopeful through the Depression and World War II.

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69. Metropolis (1927)
Well, Fritz Lang may have considered M his best film, but Metropolis was certainly his biggest. His futuristic vision of a deeply class-divided skyscraper city-state has special effects that are still staggering today. It was the most expensive silent film ever made and, along with Murnau’s Faust, almost pushed Germany’s giant UFA studio into bankruptcy. After its Berlin premiere, the film was drastically shortened for general distribution — and reworked entirely for the U.S. market, which feared the dangerous socio-political implications of the original film’s plot. A version of the film very close to the premiere edition was found in Argentina in 2008, restored and shown publicly for the first time in Germany in February 2010.

70. My Favorite Brunette (1947)
Dorothy Lamour teams up with Road partner Bob Hope (minus Bing Crosby except in a cameo role) in this murder-mystery spoof on detectives, mistaken identity and noir movies in general. Lon Chaney Jr., Peter Lorre and Alan Ladd also pop up in cameos.

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71. Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
George Romero’s low-budget feature about a small group of people in a farmhouse fighting off flesh-eating zombies started a new trend in American horror films and engendered a series of Living Dead sequels, knockoffs and ripoffs. Again, public domain status resulted from missing copyright information in the original release.

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72. Nosferatu (1922)
Max Schreck was a fairly successful and normal looking stage and film actor in Germany before he was cast as the unbelievably creepy Count Orlock in Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s unacknowledged reworking of Bram Stoker’s Dracula vampire melodrama. As with all Murnau films, Nosferatu is visually stunning and Schreck is certainly the scariest vampire I’ve ever seen. As I said earlier, Nosferatu’s creative debt to Dracula was unacknowledged, so when Bram Stoker’s widow won a lawsuit against the production studio, Prana Film, it declared bankruptcy rather than pay the widow her due.

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73. One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
The only film Marlon Brando ever directed stars Brando as the outlaw Rio and Karl Malden as his friend/nemesis Dad.

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74. The Outlaw (1943)
Howard Hughes produced and co-directed this Western that featured more of Jane Russell’s bosom than it did of purported title character Billy the Kid. Because of controversy over the film’s sexiness, The Outlaw got only limited release in 1943 although it had been completed two years earlier. It finally got general release in 1946 but by then, because of the ongoing notoriety of the production, Jane Russell had already become one of Hollywood’s biggest sex symbols. Hughes, a self-taught aeronautic engineer, did in fact create a special reinforced uplift bra to enhance Russell’s bustline but Jane, in her autobiography, said Hughes’ mechanical monster was a bust, so to speak, and she wore her own un-uplifting bras throughout filming.

75. Penny Serenade (1941)
Well, this film seems a little strange to me — it’s all about love and loss and adoption and loss and adoption and redemption and love. With a little Japan thrown in for good measure. But it got Cary Grant one of his two Academy Award nominations, so it must have some degree of cinematic value.

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76. Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
The first (silent) version of more than half a dozen film incarnations of Phantom. This one starred Lon Chaney (the dad, not the Junior you’re used to seeing in horror movies) in self-applied makeup that was considered quite shocking for the time — and is still pretty scary.

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77. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
I have nothing to add to what has already been said about Plan 9, dubbed “the worst movie ever made.” It’s a combo alien invader-zombie movie directed by cross-dressing director Ed Wood Jr. starring Bela Lugosi (in stock footage, since Lugosi died three years before Plan 9 was made), camp vamp Vampira and the wonderful Tor Johnson, a former Swedish wrestler who did ghouls better than almost anyone.

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78. The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
One of auteur director John Sayles’ early films, Brother mixes the story of an escaped alien slave from outer space with the black American experience of 1980s New York City. It’s part comedy, part drama and a whole lot of wry, sly social commentary. Again, in the public domain because of improper copyright on the film when it was released.

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79. Randy Rides Alone (1934)
One of John Wayne’s crappy Lone Star Pictures westerns. He was churning out about one a week in the mid-1930s. They were cheap and tacky but they gave Wayne the chance to develop from a twitchy football player into the stoic (repressed?) movie icon he became in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

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80. Reefer Madness (1936)
This cult fave was originally financed by a church group as the educational film Tell Your Children to warn against marijuana, but shifty film distributor Dwain Esper got his hands on it, added some salacious dope party scenes and released it as an exploitation film. Reefer Madness was “lost” until marijuana activist Keith Stroup found a copy in the U.S. Library of Congress and put it on the 1970s midnight movie circuit. New Line Cinema, by the way, got its start distributing Reefer Madness.

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81. Road To Bali (1952)
The sixth of seven Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road pictures was the only one filmed in colour and the last to include Dorothy Lamour. It’s good, features a lot of celebrity cameo appearances and fell into the public domain through another one of those labeling mistakes.

82. Sabotage (1936)
Hitchcock film about “foreign” secret agents setting off bombs around London, not to be confused with his 1942 film Saboteur. Quentin Tarantino used a clip from Sabotage in Inglourious Basterds.

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83. The Great Saint Louis Bank Robbery (1959)
Based on a real holdup, the movie featured many of the cops and bank employees — but none of the robbers — involved in the actual events. The tough, gritty film featured Steve McQueen in one of his early film roles (although he was already a TV star on Wanted: Dead Or Alive at the time).

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84. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)
The title says it all.

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85. Santa Fe Trail (1940)
This cavalry western smashes history and fact to smithereens as it purportedly shows the early military careers and relationships of soldiers who went on to become opposing generals in the U.S. Civil War. Leads Errol Flynn, as J.E.B. Stuart, and Ronald Reagan, as George Armstrong Custer, are supposedly best friends and love rivals when, in fact, the two men never met.

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86. The Saturday Night Kid (1929)
Romantic comedy starring Clara Bow and Jean Arthur was one of the early talkies. It’s also a good example of how sexy movies were before Hollywood production-code censorship came into full effect a few years later.

87. Secret Agent (1936)
Spy movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock the same year he made Sabotage. Great cast with John Gielgud, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Young and Peter Lorre, who had recently fled from the Nazis in Germany.

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88. Shoot The Piano Player (1962)
The U.S.-release version of 1960’s Tirez Sur Le Pianiste, Francois Truffaut’s jumpy New Wave tribute to bleak cinema noir crime melodramas.

89. A Star Is Born (1937)
The original version starring Janet Gaynor, not the better-known 1954 Judy Garland remake.

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90. The Stranger (1946)
The Stranger is one of Orson Welles’ lesser known films today but it was his most commercially successful film when it was released — making far more money than Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons. Filmed immediately after the end of World War II, The Stranger has Nazi hunter Edward G. Robinson tracking down a war criminal (Welles) who has assumed a new identity as a school teacher. It is believed to be the first film after the war to show footage of concentration camps.

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91. She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
A Roger Corman film (of course). Bad guy shipwrecked. Rips off kindly islanders. Is eaten by shark. Revenge is sweet meat.

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92. Swamp Women (1955)
One of Roger Corman’s first films. Female gang looking for stolen diamond stash in the bayous of Louisiana.

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93. The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe (1972)
If you read my recent blog posts on Hollywood remakes, you know the French spy spoof The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe is a film I like a lot. So it surprised me to discover the film distribution company Peter Rodgers Organization says the U.S. release of the French film is in the public domain. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. The only way you can get copies of the film through amazon.com (in a North American format) is as a Russian version with English subtitles or as a badly recorded and dubbed version which may either be pirated or “public domain.” I just don’t know.

94. Teenage Zombies (1959)
A group of teenagers discover a mad scientist on an island. Not to be confused with Teenagers From Outer Space, also released in 1959 (and also in the public domain).

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95. Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
Musical western with an all-midget cast. Many of the cast members, after getting off their Shetland ponies, went on to play Munchkins in The Wizard Of Oz.

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96. The Terror (1963)
Roger Corman, Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, and at least five directors (including Francis Ford Coppola and Nicholson) involved in piecing together a convoluted movie about a haunted castle, tragic noblemen, ghostly and witchy women, double identities and jumbled plot lines.

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97. They Made Me A Criminal (1939)
Busby Berkeley (the dance extravaganza guy) directed movie tough guy John Garfield and The Dead End Kids (later The Bowery Boys) in this cinema noir entry about a boxer on the run after being falsely accused of murder.

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98. Voyage To The Planet of Prehistoric Women (1965)
Of course it’s a Roger Corman film, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring ‘60s sexpot Mamie Van Doren (still alive and still shaking her booty). Corman bought the rights to a 1961 Soviet sci-fi film, Planet of Storms, and used its special effects footage for the space flight sequences.

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99. Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)
Considered the first science fiction film, Le Voyage was a 14-minute wonder about rocket flight to the moon created by the Melies brothers — both magicians — in Paris.

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100. Zulu (1964)
Michael Caine’s first starring role has the Cockney lad as an upper-crust English army officer leading an all-star cast of layabouts and misfits fighting off an overwhelming force of Zulu impis in the middle of South Africa 130 years ago. In the actual Battle of Rorke’s Drift, 11 soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, the most ever for a single unit in a single battle in British military history. A pretty good film, although there was concern at the time of it being produced under the repressive, racist apartheid regime then in place in South Africa.

A to Z. That’s it. That’s all.

If nothing else, this piece may qualify as one of the longest blog posts ever written. I started out just listing the movies, then had to tell a few stories along the way and, well, at a certain point I figured I had to comment on all of them.

I’m going to watch a movie now. Bye.

 

NOTE: After this piece first appeared, I received the following e-mail from a film company:

“Almost all the post-1923 foreign films, including THE GOLD RUSH, listed in this article are actually copyrighted now since the US government adopted the GATT/Uruguay treaty in 1996. All this films were retroactively copyrighted. Canada is also a signee to the treaty so whatever films are copyrighted in their own country are still copyrighted in Canada. The only exception might be BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN because it’s supposedly PD in it’s own country. In the American films, GREED is definitely in copyright and has never been public domain. I would suspect the same for BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET since it was made after 1976 when copyright laws relaxed about the proper placement of copyright notices.”

To which I replied:

“I know for sure John Sayles’ Brother from Another Planet is Public Domain and I have seen so many versions — in vastly varying conditions of reproduction – of Gold Rush that I have to go with the Internet Archive’s assertion that it is public domain. As I said, film copyright and public domain is a very complex area. Just because someone claims something — whether it’s me or a film company — doesn’t make it so. I would be glad to hear other input.”

Nothing’s changed since I wrote those words. You can trust the Internet Archive to exercise a high degree of due diligence when it comes to Public Domain.

Child Brides And The Senate Of Doom

- August 26th, 2012

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Engagement photos of Senator Rod Zimmer and Maygan Sensenberger from “Rod Zimmer and Maygan Sensenberger’s Wedding Page” on Facebook.

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So 23-year-old Maygan Sensenberger will be making a Monday court appearance on the first anniversary of her marriage to 69-year-old Manitoba Liberal Senator Rod Zimmer.

 

Sensenberger was arrested by police in Saskatoon Thursday when she got off an Air Canada flight from Ottawa with her husband.

 

At her first court appearance on Friday, a Crown prosecutor said the plane’s crew had radioed ahead to alert police after the couple got into a heated argument that escalated as the flight neared Saskatoon.

 

Sensenberger threatened to kill her husband and “take down the aircraft,” the Crown prosecutor reportedly said in court.

 

Sensenberger was remanded in custody over the weekend at Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert and will appear in court again Monday morning, at which point she will probably be granted bail and the whole stinking mess will waft into the back corridors of Saskatchewan’s halls of justice.

 

All of which is fine by me. We get a few minutes or hours or days of chuckling or looking askance at the outrageous  knucklehead behaviour of people who should know better (we assume) and then we move on with the things in life that really matter while the headline perpetrators try to pick up the shattered, soiled fragments of their dignity and humanity.

 

The business of threatening to “take down the aircraft” is more than a little disturbing but we’ll see what comes of that accusation after a few high-priced lawyers have kicked it around the block.

 

Couples fight on commercial aircraft sometimes and occasionally those disputes reach the point where police become involved. It happens, It’s not nice, it’s not very adult behaviour, sometimes it’s whacked-out crazy, but it does happen. And the most it probably gets is about three paragraphs on an inside page of the paper.

 

The reason this particular incident hit the titillation buzzer is two-fold: 1. The supposed prominence of at least one of the principals, and 2. The obvious extreme age difference of the two married principals.

 

But I don’t care about all that.

 

I really don’t care that a near-septuagenarian marries a near-teenager. I find it more than a little creepy but I just don’t care. I certainly don’t give two hoots whether they’re actually in love or just using each other.

 

I’m not related to either of them, I have no fiscal interest in their estate planning and I’m pretty sure I never ever want to be in the same room with either of them.

 

What I do care about, however, is that I (as a citizen of Canada) am footing the bill for at least some (if not most) of their fearsome foibles and frolics.

 

You can bet a substantial chunk of your bottom dollar that the tickets for the Air Canada flight from Ottawa to Saskatoon for the good (or not-so-good … who really knows?) senator and (probably) his lovely bride were paid for by the Canadian taxpayer.

 

Canadian senators have virtually limitless travel budgets (if you can call an open tab a “budget”) to do with as they please. It’s not at all uncommon for a senator you’ve never heard of before to spend $100,000 — or more — of your money each and every year galavanting across Canada and around the world.

 

That’s on top of the $132,300 base annual salary each of Canada’s 105 senators gets and the $151,000 “office expenses” each senator is entitled to each year. Oh yeah, and the $20,000 annual housing allowance allotted to all senators whose principal residence is not in Ottawa (and you can rest assured that almost every senator — even those political hacks who spent their entire working lives feeding at the public trough in Ottawa — somehow or other have their official residences outside Ottawa).

 

Then there are the extra stipends senators get for actually doing something apart from showing up once in a while — $75,500 extra for the leader of the government in the Senate, $36,000 for her deputy, $36,000 for the leader of the opposition in the Senate, $22,800 for his deputy, $55,000 for the speaker, $11,100 for the government whip, $6,500 for the opposition whip,  $6,500 for the government caucus chair, $5,600 for the opposition caucus chair, $11,100 for each of the 18 Senate committee chairs, $5,600 for each of their vice-chairs, and so.

 

If you’re a Canadian senator, you basically have to be a bump on a log or a doorknob not to get some kind of extra pocket change.

 

Oh, did I mention that Senator Rod Zimmer occupies none of the above extra-stipended positions. But he still pulls in a pretty good buck.

 

Since he was appointed a senator by then-PM Paul Martin in 2005, Rod Zimmer has received about $2 million from the taxpayers of Canada for salary, office expenses (a large part of which is for “entertaining”) and residential allowance.

 

In that time, he’s also spent roughly $1 million on travel expenses — give or take half a mil. Since he’s been a member of the Canada-USA Inter-Parliamentary Group, the Canada-Israel Inter-Parliamentary Group, the Canada-Arab World Parliamentary Association, the Canada-Russia Inter-Parliamentary Group, the Canada-Cuba Inter-Parliamentary Group and the Canada-Morocco Inter-Parliamentary Group, I think it’s probably safe to say that $1 million is on the low side of what Zimmer has cost the Canadian taxpayer in travel expenses over the past seven years.

 

And what exactly has Rod Zimmer done to earn that $3 million? What has Rod Zimmer done to warrant out attention over the past seven years apart from his freakish wedding to Maygan Sensenberger a year ago and his unfortunate airborne marital discord last week?

 

I dunno. Nothing, as far as I can tell. I may be missing something but I sure haven’t come across anything worth  $30,000 in my books, let alone $3 million.

 

Please don’t get the idea that I’m picking on Sen. Rod Zimmer in particular. I’m not — I consider ALL members of the Senate of Canada useless and unconscionably expensive lumps of cowplop, not just Rod Zimmer.

 

Zimmer has been in and out of hospital in recent years with throat cancer. So what? I’m not attacking Rod Zimmer for being alive or being a human being — I’m attacking him for being a senator and a waste of taxpayer money. I would be quite happy if Canadian taxpayers spent $3 million helping Rod Zimmer try to overcome his cancer. I’m sure Rod Zimmer has had very good medical care at taxpayer expense. But it makes me furious that taxpayers have spent about $3 million financing Rod Zimmer’s useless (in my opinion) Senate career over the past seven years when that money could have been so much better spent helping other people across Canada try to overcome their cancers or other health problems.

 

Zimmer can marry all the 20-somethings in the world he wants, as far as I’m concerned — just not on my dime. He can spend his anniversary visiting his wife in whatever jail cell or courtroom around the world he wants — but not on my dime.

 

He can entertain God knows who and I wouldn’t give a spit — if it wasn’t on my dime. He can rub shoulders with Russian and Cuban “parliamentarians” all he wants — but I would really prefer that wasn’t on my dime either.

 

And that goes for the rest of the useless doorknobs in the Senate of Canada.

 

As a collective group of parasites (and the parasites who make their living serving the parasites), they cost us somewhere in the vicinity of $100 million a year. We don’t know exactly how much they cost us because they’ve used the power invested in them to keep the federal auditor-general from examining their books in detail.

 

They haven’t used that power to actually do any good for Canada or the world. Despite the relative freedom and security that would seem to come with a long-term, financially generous appointment to the Upper Chamber (what’s the Commons — the Downer Chamber?), these senators carry on as political hacks and water carriers for whatever party or special-interest group that secured their appointments. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full, sir. Thankee kindly, guv (tug of the forelock).

 

Of course they expect you and I to bow and scrape and curtsey when they enter a room. Pshaw. Just because they say they are important people doing important things doesn’t make it so, even if they have convinced themselves their self-inflating malarkey is true.

 

So I wish Rod Zimmer the best of luck as he deals with the host of plagues visited upon him (some of his own making, others not), but I have no wish to share them.

 

Unfortunately, Rod Zimmer and his 104 Senate cronies are my involuntary financial dependants and yours, tied like millstones around our necks. Until we set them free from their gilded cage in the Senate, we are all doomed to a nightmarish symbiosis — like an embittered, raging couple trapped together forever in the pressurized cabin of an airliner streaking across an endless Prairie sky.

Also from “Rod Zimmer and Maygan Sensenberger’s Wedding Page” on Facebook, photos of wedding cake figures apparently posted there by Maygan Sensenberger:

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Wine Rant

- August 20th, 2012

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I almost fell into the trap of using that hoary old cliche “Wine Whine” for this diatribe. But this is no namby-pamby, mewling, pusillanimous, baby-faced, soggy-diapered whine.

This is a rant. A roar. A rage. A kick-in-the-ass, punch-in-the-nose, spit-in-the-wind honkin’ holler. So this is a rant. No whiners allowed.

And this is what it’s all about: The outrageous amount of taxes and profit the Ontario government extorts from the province’s captive consuming citizens who are forced to buy wine and liquor from an extortionate government monopoly.

There’s nothing new in this. But then there’s nothing new in the provincial government sticking its grubby fingers into our pockets and rummaging around to steal whatever’s there every time we buy a bottle of wine. So as long as they keep ripping us off, I think it’s incumbent on any right-thinking Ontarian to raise a regular stink about their revolting behaviour. And do it often so the buggers don’t have a day off from being told they’re a bunch of thieving whores of Babylon. We know it. They know it. So just ditch the sanctimonious claptrap, bub.

It truly is  awful, outrageous behaviour that has only acquired a veneer of social acceptability because it’s been allowed to happen for so long. If you strip away that veil of self-serving, hypocritical longevity, there is absolutely no real, justifiable, logical, defensible reason why the government of Ontario should charge double the real cost of a bottle of wine or hold an exclusive monopoly on the sale of wine and spirits.

Once prostitution is legal, should the government start running bordellos? Of course not! What an unthinkable idea! Should the government be charging a 100% tax on every dollar a hooker charges a john? Don’t be ridiculous!

Well, why should the government be doing exactly those things when it comes to an honest citizen trying to enjoy the simple, wholesome pleasure of having a bottle of good, affordable wine with dinner?

There is no moral imperative why the government should be carrying on this alcohol trade and imposing these usurious robber-baron tax levies. Selling booze doesn’t bear the slightest relationship to any function a real government should be engaged in. And coercing exorbitant amounts of taxation from a defenceless population should be the very definition of BAD government.

Monopoly apologists so often claim they’re using the vast profits and tax revenues from the LCBO to pay for important parts of the provincial organism, from schools to health care. What a load of crap. Anyone with half a brain can see how much money they waste and squander and splurge on self-indulgent fripperies. Why on  earth do we need those outrageously expensive LCBO mausoleums to sell us wine and liquor?

There has never been a monopoly that served the interests of anyone except the persons or organizations that control the monopoly. It’s a fact of life. Sometimes the sucker catches a momentary break when the monopoly slips up, but those loopholes are usually plugged pretty quickly and then it’s back to business as usual — the business being, in this case, ripping off the taxpaying consumer.

Why am I so het up about this particular issue at this particular time?

Because I’m in Europe at the moment — Germany, to be specific; Schleswig-Holstein to be even more specific — and I’m buying wine from multiple sources at reasonable prices. And the contrast to the Ontario wine-buying experience is so stark it just sticks in my craw.

This morning I was in an Aldi store — sort of a Germanic No Frills — and the wine aisle had lovely French Cote du Rhone reds and Graves whites for 3.99 Euros with a few good wines more expensive than that and plenty of adequate plonk for less.

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According to today’s Bank of Canada rate, one Euro is worth $1.22 Canadian (down about 10% from just a couple of months ago) and most Canadian banks are charging about a nickel premium to make that particular currency conversion at the moment.

So for argument’s sake, lets say one Euro is worth a buck and a quarter Canadian today. Which means that bottle of Cote du Rhone or Graves would cost me about $5 Canadian right now. And European prices have the tax already built in, so that $5 cost is exactly that — $5, with no hidden add-ons.

Compare that to the $15 you’d pay for the same bottle of wine at the LCBO. (Of course you can get a lesser-quality $10 Cote du Rhone at the LCBO — but I can get a Cote du Rhone at least as good as the $10 LCBO bottle for less than two Euros ($2.50 Canadian or less in other words) at Aldi here in Germany.

Now I would probably accept a doubling of the European price at the LCBO. But I don’t accept a tripling. That’s gouging. And the only reason the Ontario government can get away with it is because they’ve rigged the game to let themselves do whatever they damn well please. Shame. Shame.

Now I’m just talking discount supermarket wines here at the moment. You can toddle off to lovely, atmospheric 800-year-old wine cellars to sniff and sip fabulous high-end wines at much higher prices. But I don’t usually drink those wines and I certainly never buy them, so they just don’t matter in my universe.

They are there, however, and even at their most precious pricing they’ll be cheaper by a long shot than they would be at the LCBO.

Let’s deal with a couple of other aspects that seem to be raising their heads.

First, you say, “Well, of course European wines are cheaper in Europe.”

As if that explains everything.

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Then how do you explain this South African Pinotage for 2.69 Euros (about $3.35 CAN) or this Californian Cabernet for 1.89 Euros (about $2.38 CAN)? Last time I checked, California was a hell of a lot closer to Ontario than it is to Europe.

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I’m not saying either of those is a very good wine, but both would be drinkable. More importantly, they’re AVAILABLE for someone who CHOOSES to buy them. And they’re available at roughly the price you’d pay for a decent fruit juice or other liquid comestible you might sip after work or with your dinner.

Now you say, “It’s a different culture there — wine’s more part of everyday life so it’s more affordable.”

The only reason that it’s more affordable is that most European governments (Denmark’s an exception) don’t add out-of-this-world taxes to the cost of wine. For many Canadians, wine is as much a part of everyday life as it is for their counterparts in Europe. So why are Canadians/Ontarians paying massively more for the same commodity? I happen to drink more wine in Canada than I do in Europe — doesn’t that mean I should be paying less for my wine in Canada under this goofy drink-more/pay-less equation?

What it all boils down to is that the Ontario government is getting away with it because it can and will do so as long as it can. Especially the McGuinty Liberals, who have a terribly hard time shaking their well-practised tax-and-spend inclination.

I’d like to think the NDP would be more reasonable and rational, but I just don’t see a socialist party choosing to give up any kind of government monopoly.

So maybe it comes down to the free-market, lower-taxes mantra of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.

Well, it seems they’re half-way there. The PCs want to privatize the liquor business in Ontario — but they seem quite happy with the amount of rip-off profits — “revenue,” they call it — the government reaps from excessive taxes on wine and other alcohol.

I’m waiting for them to be philosophically consistent and rigorous and declare they’ll also reduce the tax load on wine if they form the next government.

I’d drink to that. I might even vote for them.

When Newspapers Were Newspapers And Men Were Men And … Oh, Cut The Crap

- August 14th, 2012

 

Listen, I hate to break it to ya, kids, but the glory days of newspapers are over.

That doesn’t mean newspapers today are bad (some are, some aren’t) or that newspapers of bygone eras were much better (some were sometimes, some weren’t most of the time).

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No, it’s just that the world has changed and the economic dynamics that used to make newspapers so damned lucrative have skewed off in directions that make the printed page less profitable than it used to be.

 

(Roy Thomson coined the expression “licence to print money” when he was granted the first commercial television franchise for Scotland in 1957, but he obviously thought the same sentiment applied to print journalism at the time — he kept buying chain after chain of newspapers long after he got into TV, including The Times of London in 1966.)

 

For 100 150 years, newspapers (generally speaking) made gobs of money and thus could afford to hire dozens — sometimes hundreds — of ill-tempered, indolent, ink-stained wretches (who would otherwise be hanging around saloons and racetracks) and sending them off to the far ends of the earth to interview maharajahs and abducted heiresses. Well, the lucky and dauntless ones, anyway, like Peter Worthington (I’m referring to Peter in his role as an ink-stained wretch, not as an abducted heiress). For most of the others it was school board meetings and dime store thefts (between layovers at the saloon and racetrack).

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“Legendary Toronto Sun newsman Peter Worthington, left, scores an exclusive lunch date with Elizabeth Taylor — and her husband-to-be Richard Burton — at Toronto’s King Edward Hotel in late January 1964. It was at the height of the intense media scrutiny that engulfed the scandalous couple, both of whom had left their famous spouses to be together.” 

 

Any half-assed Canadian or Australian journalist (and, believe me, there were many of those) could travel around the world, bouncing from a stint at one English-language newspaper in Manila to another in Mandalay. J-school grads can still do it, but it’s much harder today. And you may have to fly from Singapore to Dubai to get that next job now. Honolulu? Forget about it — my early 1980s job application is probably just making it to the top of the pile now.

 

Like I said: The glory days are over.

 

I’m not really dwelling in a miasma of golden-hued memories here. In a long-winded and completely arbitrary way, I’m just setting up the real point of this piece — the 1958 job-application letter that is about to follow. You kids might not want to use this as a model for your own job search but pay attention to the writer’s name at the end of the letter. I’ll tell you a bit more later.

 

 

TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN

 

October 1, 1958
57 Perry Street, New York City

 

Sir,

I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.

Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.

By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.

I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likeable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)

Nothing beats having good references.

Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers.

If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.

I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.

It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.

If you think you can use me, drop me a line.

If not, good luck anyway.

 

Sincerely,

Hunter S. Thompson

 

 

Yes, Hunter S. Thompson, god of gonzo journalism, instigator of Fear and Loathing (Almost Anywhere — pick your locale) and drug-abusing menace to society.

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Oh course, this letter was written long before Thompson was publicly acknowledged as any of those things (apart from “menace to society” — he had already served time in jail for being an accessory to robbery and been kicked out of the U.S. Air Force [honourable discharge] for bad attitude — “his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen” — before he turned 21, the age at which he wrote the above letter).

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Hell, this letter was written even before Thompson’s Rum Diary year in Puerto Rico. This letter was written so long ago that Hunter had a full head of hair when he wrote it “in a frenzy of drink,” as he later recalled in The Proud Highway: Saga of A Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955-1967 (from whence the letter is abduced, I might add).

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And what an arrogant letter it is, written by a 21-year-old scruffian whose entire journalism career consisted of being sports editor of his high school yearbook, writing press releases for the U.S. Air Force, and short stays as a reporter at small-town newspapers in Jersey Shore, Penn., and Middletown, N.Y. Oh yeah, and a few part-time creative writing classes paid for by the G.I. Bill  at Columbia University (despite the fact he never graduated from high school, since he was in jail on the accessory to robbery beef at the time) and another short stay as a copy runner at Time magazine (from which he was fired for — of course — insubordination).

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Airman (2nd class) Hunter S. Thompson before his (honourable) discharge from the USAF in 1958.

For the record, let’s take a look at the Time article that captured Thompson’s attention enough to inspire his letter of employment aspiration.

Time magazine Monday, Dec. 15, 1958

Sunshine in Vancouver

To tart-tongued Columnist Jack Scott, 43, of the Vancouver (B.C.) Sun, no target was ever more tempting than the Sun itself. He railed against the paper’s promotion contests (“cynical seduction of a gullible public”), declared western Canada’s biggest (circ. 211,012) and fattest daily was slow of foot and dull of eye. Critic Scott’s proposal to brighten the Sun: “More deep reporting and vivid writing, the sort of thing that will grab the reader by the lapels and command his attention.” Last September Scott got a chance to put up or shut up; Sun Publisher Don Cromie, 43, called him in and said: “Jack, I’m about to play the dirtiest trick on you that I’ve ever inflicted on anyone. I’ll give you $2,000 a month and the title of editorial director.”

When the news spread that Scott had deserted his columnist’s typewriter for the editor’s desk, staffers were flabbergasted. His witty, five-a-week “Our Town” was the Suns best-read column; his special reports from around the world (Hiroshima, Israel, South Africa) had made him one of Canada’s most honored newsmen. But for twelve years he had been away from the day-to-day run of the news, working at home or out of town. Cracked one staffer: “He’s often been a professional sophomore—now he needs to become a senior.” By last week Sun staffers and readers alike were convinced that Editorial Director Scott was indeed a senior.

No One Is Scott-Free. Grabbing his readers by their lapels. Editor Scott ran an expose of shyster used-car dealers that put the worst offender out of business, followed up with a story on a bogus real estate firm that led to three indictments for fraud. He front-paged an account of Vancouver’s skid-row bread line, side by side with a Canadian Press story saying that Kraft Foods Ltd. blamed the high cost of food on the consumer demand for fancy preparation. Even Publisher Crornie did not get off Scott-free. The Sun ran a three-part analysis of Vancouver’s faltering Community Chest, which Cromie headed last year.

Scott sent Managing Editor Himie Koshevoy to Washington to do a three-part series on John Foster Dulles that turned out more balanced than the Sun’s bitterly anti-Dulles editorials. Down to Uruguay bustled Newshen Simma Holt to find Stefan Sorokin, leader of the buff-stripping, dynamiting Sons of Freedom sect of the Doukhobors, filed stories of the wealth Sorokin had gleaned from his followers in British Columbia.

Heat & Light. Scott’s most startling idea was to send to Formosa monosyllabic Football Editor Annis (the “Loquacious Lithuanian”) Stukus, onetime coach of the Edmonton Eskimos and British Columbia Lions. Scott’s theory: “Stukus will give the average guy a sense of identification with where the hell Formosa is and what’s going on there.” Stukus filed some earnest Hemingway-like prose, scored a major beat by wrangling an exclusive interview with Chiang Kaishek. Though the session produced nothing new, Scott delightedly ran Footballer Stukus’ picture cheek by jowl with the Gimo on the front page.

Flooding the paper with his brand of Sunshine, Scott made fresh and imaginative use of pictures. He restored Pun-diteering Columnist Joe Alsop (TIME, Oct. 27) to the editorial page, added Columnists Red Smith and Jimmy Cannon to the sports section. Says Scott: “You have to do everything with a flair if you’re going to keep them reading the paper when I Love Lucy comes on. You’re in competition all the time against that big glass eye.”

With Columnist-turned-Editor Scott in control, the Sun is meeting the competition with more heat and more light.

 

(UPDATE: I know, I know — Thompson’s letter to Scott was dated 10 WEEKS before the Time magazine piece on Scott’s goosed-up Vancouver Sun appeared. I can’t explain it. The article in question DID run in the Dec. 15, 1958 edition of Time — I’ve seen it — so all I can assume is that Thompson got the date wrong on his letter — either at the point of origin because he was writing it “in a frenzy of drink” or 35 years later when he was pulling together a collection of his correspondence from the 1950s and ’60s for The Proud Highway book. Thompson was still living in New York City in December 1958, so either scenario is possible.)

 

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Above, Jack Scott striking a Tarzan-esque pose during his column-writing days as a young reporter and, below, Vancouver Sun Fashion Editor Marie Moreau sent by Jack Scott (in one of his last acts as editorial director) to interview Cuban rebel leader Fidel Castro in early 1959. She found him sweaty, stinky — and magnetic.

FashEdMarieMoreau-Fidel-Feb1959

 

Three months after the Time article, Scott was fired as editorial director and shipped off to open a (short-lived) London office for the newspaper.

 

That may explain why Hunter S. Thompson was never hired by the Vancouver Sun and, instead, wound up in Puerto Rico writing for sports magazine El Sportivo — which folded shortly after his arrival.

 

Or maybe Jack Scott just had enough on his plate at the time and decided he didn’t need the added headache of (another) smart-aleck, preening, headstrong young hell-raiser on his reporting staff. But I doubt it. I think Scott and Thompson were cut from much the same cloth. Maybe Thompson’s cloth was soaked in liquid LSD, but much the same cloth nonetheless.

 

That’s it: No big denouement, no moral to the story. Just an interesting letter written by a very young man near the beginning of an interesting — and seriously dangerous — life.

 

I’ll leave you now with a few quotes from Hunter S. Thompson as the saloon door swings and creaks behind me.

 

 

As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says “You are nothing,” I will be a writer.

 

I have no taste for either poverty or honest labour, so writing is the only recourse left for me.

 

If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past 10 years, about 600 people — including me — would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.

 

Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors.

 

“Happy,” I muttered, trying to pin the word down. But it is one of those words, like Love, that I have never quite understood. Most people who deal in words don’t have much faith in them and I am no exception – especially the big ones like Happy and Love and Honest and Strong. They are too elusive and far too relative when you compare them to sharp, mean little words like Punk and Cheap and Phony. I feel at home with these, because they’re scrawny and easy to pin, but the big ones are tough and it takes either a priest or a fool to use them with any confidence.

 

You can’t hoard fun. It has no shelf life.

 

I’d hate to recommend sex, drugs or insanity to everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.

 

My life has been the polar opposite of safe, but I am proud of it and so is my son, and that is good enough for me. I would do it all over again without changing the beat, although I have never recommended it to others. That would be cruel and irresponsible and wrong, I think, and I am none of those things.

 

Freedom is something that dies unless it’s used.

 

On my tombstone they will carve, “IT NEVER GOT FAST ENOUGH FOR ME.”

 

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

 

People who claim to know jackrabbits will tell you they are primarily motivated by Fear, Stupidity, and Craziness. But I have spent enough time in jack rabbit country to know that most of them lead pretty dull lives; they are bored with their daily routines: eat, fuck, sleep, hop around a bush now and then … No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in a while; there has to be a powerful adrenalin rush in crouching by the side of a road, waiting for the next set of headlights to come along, then streaking out of the bushes with split-second timing and making it across to the other side just inches in front of the speeding front wheels.

 

So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?

 

Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.